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

Analysis: China Raises Hong Kong Rhetoric to Tiananmen Level

A front-page commentary in The People’s Daily called the current demonstrations 'chaos,' the same word Party officials used 25 years ago to describe the Tiananmen Square protests More

US Airstrikes Anger Syrian Civilians Fleeing Their Homes

Pentagon officials say they have seen no credible evidence of civilian deaths caused by US airstrikes against Islamic State militants More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid