Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Ah, transport.

The feeling of being in transit. There is nothing quite like it. I love a good public subway system or a train barreling through the countryside from point A to point B. Heck, even walking through the airport terminal, staring at the different cities illuminated at each gate makes me think about the potential to be somewhere else, anywhere but here.

So, late start to the day be damned, let’s get to it…

Day 22: Transit

The word travel comes from a French word meaning “work” and sometimes, getting there is work. Between crowded buses, long airline delays, overnight trains and crazy rickshaw rides, transportation can be stressful, but it can also be a rewarding part of the tip. Tell us about a time when the journey became more important than the destination.

Eyjafjallajökull.

The name that strikes heart into the fear of any traveler who had the terrible misfortune at being stranded in Europe, while Iceland’s geologic activity reminded us all that Mother Nature truly is large and in charge.

What should have been your average press conference during a medical meeting, turned into something infinitely more sinister and set me and my colleagues, Paul and Andrea, on an amazing race to beat the ash cloud and make it back to New York.

Day 1: Vienna (The Autobus)

Eyjafjallajökull had been spewing volcanic ash for a few days, but didn’t appear to be an imminent threat. Sure it had closed Heathrow and was inching slowly its way South, but surely it couldn’t spread that quickly. Or could it? Well, as luck (and the travel gods) would have it, they decided to wreak some havoc. Our orderly press conference turned into a logistical nightmare. We had 30 journalists on our hands who were trying to get home to various cities throughout Europe. With the help of the meeting organizer, we arranged alternate transport via planes (heading South), trains and autobuses for all 30 journalists. Our efforts to get them out meant we pretty much sealed our fate.

Or so we thought. Paul, being ever resourceful and determined not to spend another night in Vienna (a city he disliked immensely), managed to procure a mini-van, complete with a driver. Our goal? Drive from Vienna to Rome where we would try our hand at an Alitalia flight.

Off we went to the store to procure food and drink for the lengthy overnight journey. All of a sudden our dire circumstances turned into a backpacking adventure. We were hitting the open road. All work responsibility had faded from our view and we were ready to relax and enjoy the scenery as Austria faded from view and Italy came into focus.

Mid-way through the journey, Paul had a pang of anxiety. The thought of our driver being able to stay awake for the duration of the journey and having two team members reporting into him was a bit too much to bear.

Day 2: Venice (The High Speed Train)

Arriving in Venice under the cover of night, a fine mist of rain covering the sidewalks and bridges cast a different light on the City of Love. As we scrambled to pull our suitcases together, we set off through the tiny alleyways to find our accommodation for the night. A tiny hotel, gilded out the wazoo. Its one redeeming quality was close proximity to the train station across the canal. Although, that being said, the Nastro Azzurro from the hotel mini-bar never tasted so good.

The next morning, bright and early, we set out for Roma on the first high-speed train of the day. Falling into my seat, it was déjà vu, all the way back to 1998 and my original backpacking/Eurail pass adventure. Within a few short hours, the Italian countryside faded from view and we entered Roma, the City of Fountains.

Day 3: Roma (The Queue a.k.a. Hurry Up and Wait)

I could hardly contain my excitement. After all, Rome had held so many great memories. I had faithfully tossed my coin into the Trevi fountain to ensure I would one day return to the city. According to our new travel reservations, we had more than 5 hours to explore the city and my mind immediately went into overdrive at the prospect of spending an afternoon in Rome.

As we walked towards the taxi stand we heard it.

Eyjafjallajökull.

We looked at each other, and telepathically knew what needed to happen next .We ran towards the taxi line and managed to find a taxi that would take us and our caravan of luggage to Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino airport. As we drove through the city he gave us the $5 tour, Mario Andretti style.

Arriving at the airport, you would have thought it was Christmas at O’Hare. People littering the hallways, queueing up in every direction to find a reservation agent who would tell them something, anything about their best prospect to return home. As we meandered our way through the two-hour queue, we managed to secure space on the last flight of the day leaving for Madrid. The station agent, advised us that this was to likely be the last flight for the night.

We thanked our lovely transit patron and made our way to security.

Day 4: Madrid (Flying the Friendly Skies)

As the glass of Cava hit our lips we knew we were one step closer to home. The short flight from Rome to Madrid was uneventful, but we were in transit. We were traveling West, one step closer to the final trip back home. While the expedition was a bit tiresome, every step of the journey infused a bit of adrenaline and a little more humor into the situation. We knew we had to make the best of the situation and were relishing in the travel adventure it presented itself. And let’s face it, a good pint of beer, glass of vino or Cava definitely made things better.

In Madrid, our quest West had come to a halt. We were the furthest South you could get from Eyjafjallajökull and knew our time on the run had come to an end. And besides, if we were finally stuck there were worst places in the world to be stranded. After all, a cuppa café con leche, manchego and iberico ham could make any situation palatable.

Day 5: Home

Waking up on the fifth morning, we got the call that our flight home was indeed scheduled to depart. As we made our way to the airport, suddenly the mood shifted, the high spirits were gone, and the realization that the trip was finally over set in.

The flight home was uneventful. Just the standard run of the mill travel. Looking back it was kind of a poetic way to end the trip. We had somehow managed to achieve both ends of the spectrum, when the destination is an important part of the journey,  but the journey. Oh the journey. It’s like the a unique Taoist saying I once came across. “The journey is the reward.”

 

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