Volcanoes Happen

by

On April 15th, airports came to a standstill, planes were grounded and travelers stranded. The Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland had erupted, creating an ash cloud that forced the cancellation of many flights and disrupted air traffic across northern Europe. Unfortunately (maybe we were fortunate in the long run), my husband and I were among the millions who were left to fend for ourselves.  

It all started on Saturday, April 18th. We had been traveling in Europe, a vacation my husband and I had been planning for nearly a year, and were in Athens to catch a flight to Paris to get back home to Portland, OR. We arrived in Athens where we had a five hour layover. We grabbed some breakfast and reading material and tried our best to pass the time. I glanced up at the departure board and noticed several flights were cancelled. I looked over my shoulder and saw a young girl on a cellphone crying and then to my other side, another girl in tears fiercely typing away on a laptop.

Image by Sverrir Thor

 Okay, something was not right and I got a horrible feeling that our five hour layover may become extended. I headed over to the information booth and asked what was causing all of the flights to be cancelled. This was the first time I was informed of the volcano erupting three days ago. This was news to me as we didn’t watch television on our trip (most places we stayed in didn’t have them in the rooms) and with little internet access, didn’t catch up on our news. We were totally out of the loop, which became blatantly clear.

We needed to quickly find another route to get home. We found out that there wasn’t another route home and that we may be stranded in Europe for days, weeks, months even. This is when I started to cry. OMG, this can’t be happening!! What were we going to do? Where were we going to stay? How am I going to afford this? The airlines weren’t very helpful to say the least. They were able to re-route us to Rome free of charge, but couldn’t get us on a flight until two days out. From Rome, it was up to us to figure things out. Taking a train, bus or ferry were not options.

We eventually found a hotel in Athens where we used the internet to find a flight out of Rome through the same airlines we booked our flight out of Paris with, avoiding buying a new ticket. The flights were all sold out until April 24th which would mean four nights in Rome (a total of 6 unexpected nights stay in Europe). The dollars were quickly adding up and our trip was turning into a VERY expensive voyage.

On Saturday we finally get to go home!!!  The plane arrived in Chicago for our layover and my husband and I sprinted down the airport to our gate (mind you the Chicago airport is by no means small). We find our gate, only to learn that the plane has just left the terminal and we watch it taxi off. I felt like I was in a movie. We literally just missed it. We find out that was the last flight to Portland with the next one not leaving until 9:57 AM the following morning. We are done spending money so we decided the airport would be our hotel for the night. We found a nearby gate where others were also camped out and claimed two empty benches. I felt like we were homeless on a bench and each person had claimed their own. What made it even more bum-like was the vendor from a pretzel place across the way came over with a large bag of pretzels that had been the leftovers for the night and offered them to us. Though it may seem small, that kind gesture is probably what helped keep me sane. I felt like someone actually cared.

One major learning I can take away from this is to make sure you have International calling on your cell phone when traveling abroad!! Having this would have saved us a ton of stress and time.

Looking back, I consider ourselves lucky and perhaps it all happened for a reason. The unexpected extended stay allowed us to explore Rome, catch up on European politics (thanks to BBC News) and provided a great story to tell friends and family when we returned. Ironically, as it turned out, Rome was one of my favorite stops along our journey.

This post is by Lisa, special to Work Shoe Blisters.

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