News / Europe

Correspondent Diary: Stranded in Europe

VOA Correspondent Sonja Pace recently traveled to Poland to cover the aftermath of the plane crash that killed President Lech Kaczynski and the rest of his 95-person entourage. She recounts how a short reporting trip turned into a nearly two-week stay and a long journey home

I was only supposed to be in Poland for three days to cover the aftermath of the plane crash.  Then it was decided I should stay on another four days for the state funeral, especially since President Obama was supposed to be there.  Those kinds of changes happen all the time in the news business and you automatically make the adjustments.

But, I should have been paying more attention to that volcanic eruption in Iceland and the ash cloud it was spewing out.

I covered the funeral - President Obama couldn't make it because of the ash cloud, nor could most of the other leaders.  I filed my last story of the day late that Sunday.  Then when I turned on the television news - all I saw was stories on ash clouds and the falling dominoes - one country after another had closed or was closing its air space and grounding its planes.  Reality check: Poland's air space was closed and here I was trying to get to the epicenter of the cloud - Britain. I pretty well knew it wasn't going to happen as I'd planned. That was confirmed by a friendly text message from British Airways on Monday morning informing me my flight had been cancelled - as if I didn't already know.

So, Monday I took the train from Krakow to Warsaw, checked into a hotel and spent the rest of the day thinking of Plan B or Plan C.  One option was to stay put and wait out the cloud. But, who knew how long that might take - there was talk of days if not weeks of disruptions to air travel.  Renting a car and driving across Europe was out since I hadn't brought my driver's license with me.  So, I started checking into train travel with all sorts of possible fanciful connections across the breadth of the European continent.  Under normal conditions this would have been delightful, especially since I love traveling by train.

I decided to take a break from searching out trains online and headed to the hotel bar.  I realized that many of the hotel guests were in the same shoes and it seems some had even more fanciful plans than I had contemplated to get out.  One couple told me they were renting a car and basically driving along the Baltic coast to then get onto a series of ferries to get back to England.  That sounded like an ordeal.  I overheard another group talking about catching a train to Italy and then maybe trying to get a flight out - that sounded appealing, but I reminded myself that "home" was London - not Italy.  

I needed to refocus - so over I went to the Warsaw train station, stood in a long line and with the kind help of a Polish colleague, bought a ticket for an overnight train from Warsaw westward - I booked as far as Cologne, Germany.  Then I figured to catch another train from there to Brussels, from where I could hope to catch a Eurostar train directly to London.  My travel agent in London almost dashed those hopes when he told me the Eurostar was woefully overbooked and I would likely have to make my way from Brussels to Calais and onto a ferry to England.  Ok, that didn't appeal but was a last resort.

The overnight train was definitely not the Orient Express, bur rather a very bumpy, creaky phalanx of vehicles that lurched its way along.  Pretty soon it was dark and you couldn't see anything - so there went the potentially interesting part of the trip. It was a bit like camping without the tent and the views - and I never liked camping anyway.

I got off in Cologne and realized a good cup of coffee will do wonders and at least make standing in line for yet another train ticket bearable.  With what I know must have been a silly grin on my face I boarded the train to Brussels and three hours later I launched my assault on the Eurostar terminal, where to my great delight I was told there was one remaining seat on a train five hours later.  I took it.  

All in all, about 24 hours after I'd started out I got home.  After a good night's sleep what once seemed like an ordeal began to look like an adventure.  Give me another two weeks, I'm pretty sure it will seem even more so.

I suspect the so many other travelers stranded by the "cloud" might feel the same way, regaling friends and family with stories of their great adventure when the planes were not flying and the skies were empty.  Well, at least I hope they do.

You May Like

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs