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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants 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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs