April 21, 2010
Adventures In Euroland-Journeys End.
Well, that's me back home safe.
It was a bit of an epic trek, and I will expand right here, a little later in the day.
Thank you all for your supportive comments and good wishes in the previous blogs' comments section.
My family are working in shifts to hose me down. Three days worth of travel grime is proving hard to scrape off.
As soon as I am presentable I will get scribbling.
Alrighty then. I are clean. Mrs Ranty, Praise Be Upon Her, volunteered to steam-clean the waist to thigh region. It wasn't pretty but medals were awarded once I had covered up the offensive zone. There were many tears but, with counselling, I think we will all emerge stronger, better humans.
I left you in Rome, I think. I had picked up a traveling companion. A man from Wimbledon, who had good experience of Italian and French transport systems so we hooked up when we checked into the hotel (the Radisson Blu) opposite the Rome train station (known as the Termini). We were asked if we wanted smoking or non smoking rooms. My new pal, (we'll call him Bob) said, in a disgusted tone "Non smoking for me", and was allocated a standard room. "And for Signor Ranty?", "Oh", says I, "smoking, most definitely". The chappy then says "Sorry signor, but we 'ave no more standard rooms, I 'ave to upgrade you to a superior room". Bob's face was a picture.
Next morning at 8 am we scoot over to the termini to try and find tickets to Milan. Bodies littered the place, forlorn faces as far as the eye could see. I joined a queue for tickets and so did Bob. Despite regular announcements over the tannoy saying that no-one would be able to purchase tickets to northern Europe until the 23rd April (!), we got two first class tickets to Milan. Five or six hours later we arrived. Suitably refreshed. Bob is jiggy with alcohol, but detests smoking. He has all the facts he needs on tobacco so I didn't bother educating him. Pearls to the swine, and all that. In Milan, we both got on Italian telly but I was not required to speak. (I wonder if the telly girl in in Rome phoned ahead and warned them about a scruffy little foul mouthed Englishman?). Queued for 4 hours and managed to buy tickets to a station on the Italian border. The plan was to take a taxi over the border to a TGV station and try to get to Paris from there. It had now been around 8 hours since I had indulged my love of tobacco so I told Bob I was heading outside. He actually wanted to stay in the station for some reason (we had three hours to kill) but I was not having any of it. Outside, 10 seconds after I lit up, a French bloke comes up to me with the word PARIS written on an A4 sheet. How much, I ask. He says "900 Euro". No thanks, says I. Bob walks up to me and asks what the Frenchy wanted, so I told him. Bob, speaking in French, asks the bloke the price. It turns out to be 90 Euro. We nearly tear his arm off. 20 minutes later we are sat on a luxury 60 seater coach heading for Paris. It was a very long 12 hour drive through mountains, valleys, towns and cities, but with regular stops for food, drink and fag-breaks, I was reasonably content.
This is the "EWWW!!" moment, so if you are sensitive, skip to the next paragraph. Remember the broken zip? I had found, in my "superior room" in Rome, a little sewing kit. In there was a tiny safety pin. I had it clamping my flies shut to avoid cries of "Pervert!" along the journey. It didn't do much, but when used in conjunction with an untucked shirt-tail, my modesty was almost assured. Anyhoo, I needed to pee. I used the coach toilet. Things were cramped in there and there was much ducking, swearing and fumbling. I got finished and looked for the safety pin. It was gone! I searched the tiny floor space but found nothing. I looked into the toilet and there it was, shining at me under a pint of cold piss. I rolled up my sleeve and reached in....couldn't grip the damn thing! I had trimmed my nails a day or two earlier and it took me well over a minute to fish the little bastard out of there. Washed up, dried everything off and re-attached my little friend. At least it was my own urine. But I may have gone in anyway. Just glad I didn't need a poopy.
Got to Paris at around 1:30 in the morning. Checked into a shitty little hotel near Gard du Nord. We had booked tickets to Calais for the next morning. Left the hotel at 6 am and strolled up the road to the station. Another scene from Vietnam when the Americans evacuated awaited us. By now we had picked up another refugee, this one from New York. He had been trying to get to London to see his fiance. He got as far as Milan and stayed there for five days. We met him on the coach to Paris. A nice bloke. A banker. Works for JP Morgan.
The rest of the story is fairly boring: arrived Calais, the American got grilled by UK Border people, we got on the shuttle, got to London, the American and I hopped on a train from Wimbledon to Kings Cross and we said good-bye. Both swearing to contact the other if we ever visited each others home town. I waited a couple of hours for my train to Aberdeen, (a textbook journey, no horrors to report), arrived on time, found a taxi to Aberdeen airport (to retrieve my car from the car park) and drove home.
The thing that constantly amazed me was the crowds. Not just the sheer numbers of people stranded, but their unwillingness to help themselves. The vast majority just sat. Waiting. For someone else to come to the rescue. To get them home. I imagine most of them are still sat there, demanding attention. Many muttered about compensation. Payouts. Apologies. From whom, I wondered? This was an act of god, followed swiftly by an act of stupidity. A volcano erupted and stalled everything. Then the Met Office (in cahoots with others) managed to turn a sneeze into full blown pneumonia. Smoke, from any source imaginable, turns (allegedly) educated people into morons. This was a classic example of fools over-reacting.
Would I do it all again?
I have to. It's what I do. In an hours time I will be on the phone to my travel people to organise my next trip to Libya. I leave on the 1st May. I am due to get home....well, whenever I get home. I'd prefer a 6 hour journey from North Africa to Aberdeen but if it doesn't happen, I know that I can make it using alternative modes of transport.
Just not this week though. I need to recover.