Ash Wednesday

Iceland … a tiny place, but definitely with aspirations for world domination! I feel bad for Iceland and its economic woes, I really do. The collapse of their banking system put many of Bjork’s fellow countrymen in dire straights, and I even think Damon Albarn from Blur lost out on his property value and might have to put his pub up for sale there … if it were worth anything nowadays, that is. I guess the only good side was that Iceland could finally have made it into the realm of “damn, one can finally afford to visit this usually overpriced island in the north”. But THEN … yup, you guessed it: volcano went and screwed that up, too! Poor little craggy island. Just can’t get a break.

But the gods of fire were not content in just ruining the economy and travel situation of those under their own keep. Hell no! A sleeping giant of a mountain had to blow its top and kick enough ash into the sky to clog a jet engine for thousands of kilometres round, stranding the happy traveller in distant lands and ruining the careers of businessmen from every corner of the world. Need to grab a connection flight through Europe? Good luck, pal! The airline industry is all out of sorts with losses claimed to be in the billions of Euro. But wait … if you think about it, there is a good side. The hotel industry has had a veritable orgasm of biblical proportions! All those cancellations forced the airports to put most of us weary suitcase-rolling pax up for the night at any B&B, motel, hotel and camping spot they could get their hands on.

From my own experience, after being trapped for the night in Vienna, I was given the option of a hotel, taxi ride included, all for gratis … but the hotel turned out to be nearly 70 km away from the airport! And that was the closest available! The airlines may have lost out, but the hotel business is booming. Nice enough of Austrian Airlines, and they are even throwing in compensation for my cancelled flight, too, so I cannot yell or complain at them (I will reserve that for a molten pit of magma in the land of geothermal heating). Those guys did the best they could and have been quite fair about the whole thing. They even gave out free cola, water and juice! Sweet! But, by my own personal choice, I just couldn’t fathom a 70 km ride to a bed late in the evening, especially when I had to be back at the airport early in the morning for the possibility of a rental car to get my tired bones back to Poland. (Unfortunately, the car turned out to fall through at the last moment that next morning after it being promised to me the night before. I may not have issues with the airlines, but a certain numb-nut who was not so “thrifty” is definitely on my list of people who should suffer an agonising bout of itching and burning haemorrhoids for eternity.) Through my days of backpacking and puddle-jumping, I have become no stranger to waiting rooms, airport benches, hours of wandering whilst waiting for ticket terminals to open, and I usual have the “what the hell” nature to deal with it. I get a bit more feisty when I have been on tour for a month and am just ready to go home (more so when you look at a map and just say to yourself: “but I am so close! This isn’t fair!”), but life is life, and I must admit, if you are going to be stuck in an airport overnight, you could do worse than Vienna International arrivals hall. No, they didn’t throw out cots for everyone to crash on, but there is free, fast wi-fi (all the better for Skyping your wife and telling her how annoyed you are), a plethora of eating options (the “Golden Arches” being open 24/7 for your artery-hardening pleasure) and a place called “Pizza & Pasta”, which, thanks to someone’s wondrous foresight, installed padded bench seating! Oh, bliss! The temperature in the place was also phenomenally conducive to sleep without the need of a blanket. I would almost have given this palace of comfort a five star rating if they had just had some lovely red-clad Austrian Airlines beauty to hand me a pillow … and fluff it for me, since I am wishing. What makes the whole enchilada just that much better is that at no time throughout the evening or morning did a disgruntled employee of “Pizza & Pasta” attempt to remove me from my post because of not ordering anything from their establishment. The woman who began preparing for another day of business at 7 am just gave me a jolly smile as she positioned her salt and pepper shakers on the table before me (or maybe it was a smile of pity for this un-showered, seemingly homeless bum crashed in her work station).

In the end, after the car situation turned belly up and Vienna airport decided to cancel all flight for the next day as well, I came to the decision that I just could not impose on their hospitality any longer. The airport was grand, but I had explored all the nooks and crannies I could and was becoming bored (as well as even more ripe from lack of shower). I decided to do what man did before flight became the rapid mode of affordable transport: I meandered onto a metro train or two, staggered into a bus to Bratislava, fell onto a train to Prague and transferred over to two more trains to finally get on the right track so that I may reach my destination of home. It turned out, though, that once I finally made it to my final stop, my wife and child were waiting for me at the wrong platform, so I didn’t get that immediate “jump out of the carriage, family runs into your arms with tears of joy in their eyes because you have been gone for a month” moment. Yes, it happened a few minutes later, but I am an instant gratification kind of guy at times, so let me whine a bit. Makes the story more dramatic anyway, doesn’t it?

As a side note … news reports are coming in that airlines are questioning the extent of closures and cancellations, but then following that line up with reports of more volcanic ash spewing into the air. The gods are not pleased! Does any country still sacrifice virgins any more? Maybe we should look into that.

Flight of Fancy

Flight of Fancy

Friday, Jan. 22: Why does it seem all flights I have to take leave at an hour where most piss-heads come home […]