Where were you when the volcano blew?
Not Mount St. Helens (May 1980); but Iceland’s “Eyjafjallajökull” (April 2010). We were in Budapest’s Great Market Hall lunching on the Hungarian equivalent of pizza when we heard the news.
Homebound delay? “Schade.” (“What a pity,” one says in German.)
Those were easy words last week. Now, six days past our original departure date, we are grateful for our extended holiday in Europe and for a safe journey home.
Airspace closed. No flights anywhere. More time in Europe. What to do?
Enjoy the unexpected gift and play.
We had planned our 15-day trip to Europe for months—Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest—two well-organized weeks, then a third that was a complete surprise. All were great, but the real travel lessons happened more “on the fly”—or not, in our case. More about that in a minute.
My husband and I were very lucky to be staying with a long-time Austrian friend after the volcano erupted. Amid the travel chaos, we plotted our strategy in the warm hospitality of our friend’s 800-year-old, restored farmhouse outside Vienna. A wonderful dilemma.
We decided to hit the road in our rental car to Telč and Český Krumlov in Czechoslovakia. Our intrepid GPS “Ted” guided us through unknown small burgs, rolling countryside, vacant border crossings, and one-lane roads to reach our destinations. Skeptics we were, exchanging occasional worried looks (“Wir sind nicht mehr in Kansas, Toto!), but Ted never let us down. We will long remember those days of unplanned, unfolding wonder, getting by with our hybrid “Germlish,” a sense of humor, and each other. Two hundred fifty additional photos of preserved medieval beauty are proof that wonderful things can be the hidden treasure of disruption.
Truth is, it wasn’t all bliss. The unknown can be stressful and challenging. We worried some about our dog’s care at home and rebooking our return air travel. Meanwhile, we cheered each other up, reminding ourselves of our good fortune.
What did we learn on this trip, especially from our bonus week?
• Proactive strategizing helps; worry does not.
• Speaking another language, even badly, is a huge advantage. Body language helps, too.
• Be able to communicate electronically if necessary. Our blackberry with international service saved us.
• Bring an extra week or two of medications and your prescriptions.
• Have a plan “B” (and “C” and “D”).
• Bring only what you can carry yourself. Check no bags. Being nimble can make or break catching your flight.
• Smile, be polite, and thank those who can assist you. Courtesy pays off anywhere.
• Don’t trust the internet. We would have missed our homeward rebooked flight if we believed the airline’s website. See point 2.
• Try to relax, laugh, breathe, forgive, and control what you can.
• When frustrated, appreciate even the illusion of progress, e.g. snaking slowly through airport lines.
• Understand what’s most important. At the end, all we needed were our passports, boarding passes, blackberry and credit cards. All else was meaningless.
• Remember to look up—metaphorically and literally. Upbeat works and the best sights often are the rooflines.
It was a memorable adventure and we’re glad to be home. If Dorothy spoke German while in Oz, I think she’d say, “Es gibt kein Ort wie meine Heimat.”
(Maggie McGuire, a former guest columnist, wrote these observations during her flight home.)