Monday, April 19, 2010

Getting my ash kicked

Rightiho, I'm back, and I know you're all burning to hear how my ski trip went. Well, no broken bones, which is always a bonus, especially when you're as bad a skiier as I am. The scenery was absolutely stunning, both on the slopes and in the village, a direct contrast to the French resorts I've visited where the mountains might be gorgeous but you'll be staying in a concrete block surrounded by other concrete blocks.

The Trummelbach Falls, ten cascades inside a mountain that form the main defiles of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountain glaciers.

Lager Hell and Special Hell, our main tipple last week.

I'm the one on the left.

Overlooking Lauterbrunnen and the Staubbach Falls.

The North Face of the Eiger, under which we skiied (note: under, not down)

Mountainside near Wengen.

Unfortunately the holiday was marred by the very selfish eruption of an Icelandic volcano whose name I won't attempt to spell. Unless you've been living in a hole you'll have heard about the travel chaos this has caused in northern Europe, with pretty much all flights being cancelled wherever the ash cloud hit. I'm reliably informed this is not because of visibility issues (come on, how do you think planes fly at night?) but because of several historical instances of plane engines getting clogged with ash. What you don't want at 30,000 ft is for all the plane's engines to fail. You really don't. Look at it that way, and not flying suddenly becomes the better alternative.

Anyway, since I was up in the Swiss Alps, this necessitated a journey of nearly 24 hours by bus and ferry. I frigging hate buses, and ferries are even worse. Travel sickness, quite apart from the stagnant boredom of coach travel, is unpleasant for even a short length of time.

So in case you're wondering what it takes to get home when your flight is cancelled, here's a little run down of my Saturday.

0515: Alarm goes off. Ski rep has organised travel for us with bus leaving at same time as if we were taking our flight, which might be less painful if I'd been able to get to sleep before midnight. Anxiety about 24 hours of coach-sickness plus likelihood of actually being able to get on ferry, despite assurances of booking, don't help with sleep either.

0600 First at breakfast for possibly the first time in my life. Mainline coffee and actually manage porridge and toast. Can't usually eat early in the morning as tiredness makes me feel quite sick, but am also aware this will be the last actual meal I'll get for a while.

0630 Board coach.

0640 Realise have left passport in pocket of suitcase now buried in coach hold. Add 'will I be able to get my passport out before we get to the ferry' anxiety to the rest.

0830 Having slept most of the way so far, wake up to buy food at last service station before Geneva airport. Realise have Swiss francs and British sterling, but no Euros, yet will spend about 12 hours travelling through France. Buy bags of junk food to sustain self.

0900 Arrive Geneva airport to meet refugees from Serre Chevalier who will be sharing our coach. Said 'fugees include Jonny the Hyperactive Ginger Kid (had to be ginger, didn't he? Give them a bad name, Jonny) who has definitely been eating Energizer batteries and doesn't stop talking or kicking seats for the next twelve hours.

0930 French-Swiss border. Renew panic about passport, but turns out they don't really give a fig and we just drive right through. Put on headphones and listen to Flight of the Conchords radio show.

1000 Get text from Easyjet: Your flight has been cancelled. Helpful, as it ought to have taken off at 9.30.

1100 Realise that have taken seat on left side of bus for journey that runs east-west during the morning, then south-north during afternoon. Why does this matter? Well, where's the frigging sun? Bus does not have air conditioning but rather vents that blow uncooled air just behind seat in front, ie onto absolutely nothing.

1200-2100 Time blurs into one great big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff. Read some of book (carefully, mindful of travel sickness). Swallow vast quantities of travel sickness pills. Drink pints of water. Eat crisps, chocolate bars, Haribo and the occasional tuna sandwich, which is all I can really find to eat, especially once we're into France and every other item of food contains poulet or jambon. Begin to seriously crave fruit and vegetables. Visit various service stations where French staff treat us with contempt--possibly because we're clearly English, or possibly because that's how they treat everyone. Bus is still fecking baking, but then I never got to use the hot tub at the chalet, so I suppose it's nice they've given us a sauna to travel home in.

2130 Arrive Calais, and disembark Swiss bus to wait for English bus which is on its way over from Dover. Am still not sure if it arrived empty or not. Suspect it did, which is a ludicrous waste considering the people who must be desperate to come south across the Channel.

2140 Retrieve passport from bag. Relax tiny bit, but am still not convinced abut making 2310 ferry on which we're apparently booked. Calais absolutely freezing, especially after hyper-heated bus: am wearing two t-shirts, sweater and ski jacket, plus gloves and scarf retrieved from suitcase. Consider digging through case for salopettes too but am mindful of Fecking Boiling status of last bus and don't want to spend rest of journey wearing sauna suit.

2150 Jonny The Mad Ginger Kid is now literally climbing the walls of the foot passenger terminal. Then wrestling with his dad. Like, really trying to knock the guy out. Wonder if Jonny's mum will have left home when they arrive back.

2155 Foot passenger terminal like refugee camp. Have been checking Twitter all day and hearing depressing stories of passengers stuck without any form of onward travel in Europe, or even worse overseas where they've got no chance of travelling overland. Realise we're actually quite lucky.

2156 Hear through Twitter that Dan Snow is bringing Dunkirk-style flotilla of rescue ships to Calais on Sunday. Consider hiding until then so will have legitimate excuse to tell Dan Snow he's my hero.

Dan Snow, we heart you!

2200 English bus turns up. Says Mayday Travel on the side, which makes me laugh hysterically for a bit.

2215 Passport control consists of putting name and date of birth on a list passed down the coach, then getting off to show my passport to some bloke who looks at it for about half a second before waving me on. Border between France and England appears to be one of those metal barrier things they use to keep crowds from rushing the stage at concerts. Phone informs me we're now on British Summer Time. Is black as night and freezing outside, so that seems about right.

2240 Flashing sign implores me: Important Pets Must Be Declared Here. Wonder if this means unimportant pets don't have to be declared.

2241 Suggest Jonny the Mad Ginger Kid is declared as pet. Mild hysterical giggling from rest of party.

2300 Bus rolls onto ferry. Am immediately seven years old again on camping trip to France. Hated ferries then, too.

2310 Find bar on ferry. Ferry begins to move, or maybe that's the combination of sleep deprivation, travel sickness and lager.

2330 Phone begins to lose both signal and battery power. Probably shouldn't have been Tweeting all day, but desperately needed to keep contact with Real People and a Real World outside the Sauna Coach.

2350 Change watch to UK time. Is now 2250 and feel I have back-slid a little in my achievements, especially as still have 2310 in my head as Very Important Time to catch the ferry.

2350 (UK time) Ferry docks. So tired and cranky is all I can do not to shove over party of school kids blocking access to Mayday Travel. Collapse into seat and go straight to sleep.

0010 Wake up as absolutely freezing and noise from outside incredibly loud. Skylight is open but am in window seat and can't reach to close it.

0020 Rest of party realises why bus is freezing and noisy and attempt to close skylight is made. Unsuccessful. Wish had actually got salopettes out now.

0030 So tired fall asleep anyway.

0130 (ish. Probably. Losing definite track of time now) Arrive Gatwick. Drag cases to pick up point for car park and nearly fall asleep again.

0135 On way to find loo meet hilariously optimistic ski party looking for check in. Try not to break down in hysterical laughter.

0145 Car park shuttle driver informs us we're among first passengers to arrive at Gatwick for two days. Flight ban expected to continue until at least 1pm Sunday, but we all expect it'll be longer. Tells us test flight came down in Andover yesterday. Pretty glad not still waiting for flight.

0200 (maybe. Really can't tell any more) Arrive car park. Aim suitcases at boot of car. Fall into back seat. Sleep.

0330 (possibly. Can no longer even focus on arm, let alone watch) arrive home. Hear Demon Puppy barking from outside and realise with rush of homesickness that I haven't missed her at all.


  1. Sounds... er... fun? Glad you managed to get home at least!

  2. SO glad I didn't go anywhere this Easter...

    V glad you are back again and all in one piece.

  3. Wot a nightmare. Glad you made it home safely. I was watching your tweets as you progressed!

  4. Thanks guys. And throughout all that, I was actully one of the LUCKY ones!

    Thanks for the company kept on Twitter, it definitely saved my sanity.

  5. ... and breathe...

    Glad you're back!

  6. Glad you're back safe, and that journey sounds HORRIBLE.
    Lovely pics, though!

  7. Horrible indeed, but small fry compared to a lot of people!

  8. My daughter and family were in Tenerife- they flew to Madrid, got a train across Spain, night in France and are now, I think, driving the length of the country to Sangatte to catch Eurostar at 2.00 Wednesday. Meanwhile we have their dog who has just torn her crucius ligaments. Better than my friend who looked after a rabbit which died.
    Glad you got home Kate

  9. They were lucky to get a flight out of Tenerife, Fenella! I've heard of so many people trapped on various islands. That sounds like a horrific journey back--I'm sure they'll sleep for weeks once they're home!

    My mum remarked earlier that there must be a lot of pets in kennels waiting for owners to come home. That's an extra concern no one needs.

    A while back I looked after a couple of dogs for a week. Well, actually I looked after one while the other went to the vets the night before I took over. He didn't come back. That's actually one of the things I panic about whenever I go away and leave my pets behind: they're always in capable hands but things can still go wrong.

    I hope your daughter and family get back okay, and that their dog recovers!

  10. Thanks.. its so glad i did't go anywhere this easter.. we glad you are back agin and all in one piece.

  11. Thanks.. its so glad i did't go anywhere this easter.. we glad you are back agin and all in one piece.

  12. Your photos looks really good, Nice sharing, well done for the making it happen and great article by the way.

  13. Nice post...nd pics. are just cool. The situation for all the travellers across the Europe is really gloom...I'm so glad you managed to get back home safely! But I must admit, I had a great time in the French resorts during my ski holidays last winter and I always prefer to cross the Channel with ferries france.

  14. Good information, and nice pics. The situation for all the travelers across the Europe is really gloom, i'm so glad you managed to get back home safely! But I must admit, I had a great time in the French resorts during my ski holidays last winter and I always prefer to cross the Channel with ferries France.

  15. I guess the ferry companies on the English Channel have made a fortune with so many people traveling on their ferries who were not able to take planes