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

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid