You know how everybody who’s been to Europe call their travel “epic” and “awesome” and “unique”? Well, they all lie. At least, most of them. 99% of the people who had a “unique” European experience were on a Contiki tour following the footsteps of millions of people, their journey was “epic” only if you count the epic amount of time they spent on a bus and if you use “awesome” to describe how you had a couple of beers in Amsterdam and saw the Red Light District then you’re probably from Milwaukee and that is, indeed, the most awesome thing you’ve ever done. I, on the other hand, have had my share of epic journeys, have done really awesome things and have had experiences that are truly unique. You doubt it? Well, let me tell you a story about the most awesome weekend trip I ever had – about that time when me and Dave went on an epic journey to Scotland, to do a unique thing – extreme ironing on the top of the Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles.
Even though European countries are small, I try not to squeeze too many in one trip when I travel. Too much of a good thing is also bad. But this time I visited 3 countries in a single weekend and had a great time. First we had to find a flight within our student budget. Ryanair was flying to Glasgow from Belgium for a bargain price, so it was worth the extra train travel. Or so we thought. We bought our plane tickets, I got the train tickets from Delft to Brussels and on the day of our flight we arrived at Brussels Airport well ahead of the departure. We had to get up at 5 to catch our train and were very proud of ourselves for being able to rise at such non-student hours. We had, however, a small problem – we couldn’t find our flight. None of the departure boards showed it. Actually, no Ryanair flights were shown. When we tried to find the Ryanair stand to ask their staff about what happened to their planes, we couldn’t find that either. Staff of other companies was rather surprised to hear us enquiring about Ryanair flights. “Ryanair? They don’t fly from here at all! Their flights depart from Charleroi!” I got us to the wrong airport.
A quick evaluation of our situation showed us we were screwed. The flight was leaving in about two hours. By train it would take more than that just to get there and the check-in was closing 45 minutes before departure. The two airports are about 70 km apart and in normal traffic it would take less than an hour. But this was the morning rush hour and we were in the most congested part of Belgium. With the clock ticking, we’ve decided to try our luck and stepped into a taxi. We’ve explained our situation to the driver and immediately wished we haven’t. Seen the movie “Taxi”? Well, this was “Taxi” in real life. The guy was driving like he had saved the game and had 3 lives left. He employed every trick in the book, cut every imaginable corner, driving through gas stations, off and on the highway and what not. He got us there in 45 minutes through endless traffic jams. My hair started turning grey that day. By the end of the ride I was happy to pay the 140 Euros this taxi drive had cost us. I was happy just to be alive.
We finally arrived at the right airport, alive and with 15 minutes to spare. Not that being there in time did us any good, because we weren’t flying just yet. Charleroi Airport was covered in dense fog, and none of the flights was leaving. After waiting for a couple of hours in the company of a group of elderly Scots (in kilts, at 10 AM already drunk and singing obscene songs), we were given several choices – stay in Brussels and fly the next day, go to Paris or Dusseldorf (at our own expense, of course) and fly from there or wait a few hours, fly to Dublin and fly from Dublin to Glasgow the next morning. Why Dublin I don’t know, but I’ve given up following the logic of air travel a long time ago and Ryanair’s logic is in a class of its own. We chose Dublin. At the very least it would keep us moving, without extra costs.
Another couple of hours later we were at the check-in again. Dave, being Dutch, had no problems clearing the EU customs. With me it was a different story. I really don’t blame the Belgian customs. Sometimes, I get confused myself. I mean, I was an Israeli born in Soviet Union, living in the Netherlands, going from Belgium to Scotland but actually boarding a plane to Ireland. With an ironing board. Can you follow it? Neither could they. No wonder it took them the best part of 2 hours to let me through. They checked my passport, my residence permit and asked whether I had any other documents. I said “sure” and with a smile handed over my driving licence. My Dutch-issued driving licence. This really blew their mind. They said they had to look into it in and invited me to wait in a small separate room. Every customs officer on duty that day took a look at my papers, then they took them all somewhere else. I think they had to show them all the way up to the king before taking the brave decision to let the Irish deal with this mess.
And so, 8 hours later than planned and 140 Euros lighter we boarded a plane to the wrong country. The journey was just beginning…
This is Part I of the story about the most awesome weekend trip I ever had. Next week – Part II – Ireland.