Wednesday, 24 July 2013

One thing not to do on Holiday

We had a relatively simple plan for our holiday this past July.

A flight from Cork to Amsterdam, two days there before getting a train to Brussels where we would spend one night and then fly on to Slovakia for 10 days with Dominikas family. But where I'm involved, the simple things rarely work out as they should!

Things started fantastically well, we immediately fell in love with Amsterdam (as you may have guessed from my previous post). The two days spent there were just perfect, we visited (among others) the Heineken Experience which was amazing and the Anne Frank house, which is a tragically moving experience and a must-see if you are in the city. We could not have wished for a better start to our holiday, but when you begin on a high, the only way from there must be down I guess?

Following a short stop in Antwerp, our train pulled into Brussels. We disembarked full of enthusiasm to be in the European Capital, home of the EU Parliament and so many other EU departments. This surely must be a wonderful city? It will be clean and inviting and the people will be so friendly, yes? Well...about that...
Again you may have read in my previous post about Brussels, that I was less than impressed with the city. Despite some amazing classical architecture and a great night out (mostly thanks to This band). The capital of the EU was a major let-down and I was so looking forward to leaving the next day and flying on to Bratislava.

So with that in mind, we spent the next morning salvaging what we could from that particular leg of the journey. The guy at reception in our hotel told us that the airport was only 15 minutes by train, so we had some time to kill. We went to visit the EU parliamentarium, to be honest it seemed very bland and boring, we should have visited the mini-europe instead.

Shortly after this, we made our way to the train station and boarded the train to Brussels airport. In a few hours at least, we would be in a familiar city drinking a cool, tall glass of Kofola (if you have never tried it, you don't know what you're missing!). We got off the train, made our way to departures and looked for our flight number on the departure screen. For some reason we couldn't see it. No matter, it was probably hard to spot in the middle of all those flights, so we asked an airport official what gate the flight to Bratislava is leaving from... His response made the pit of my stomach drop right to my ankles, "There are none". When he asked what airline we are flying with, and I told him Ryanair, what he said made the very ground beneath my feet evaporate "Ryanair fly from Charleroi, this is Brussels national airport".

As you can imagine, we were quite surprised to say the least. Of course when the guy in the hotel said the airport was 15 minutes away, and as we were flying with ryanair, we should have suspected something. Ryanair would never fly to such a convenient airport!

We ran straight outside to a taxi, we had 45 minutes before the gate closed, and the airport was 80km away. There was a chance we could make it (according to the taxi driver at least). So off we went, the taxi metre rising to a terrifying number (€195 at the end of the trip!). We gave up looking at the time, we were really pushing it, any time we hit traffic our hearts and breathing stopped, the taxi driver, to his credit, was driving like he was an extra in the next Die Hard movie.

We pulled into the car park in Charleroi, jumped from the taxi. The driver had our bags out in second, wished us luck and we ran, hell for leather, into departures to see in big red writing on the screen above us. The gate for Bratislava was...closed. No matter how much we begged and pleaded with the check-in lady, we were not being left on to that flight.

So after that panic was over us we decided we better go about looking for the next possible flight to the Bratislava area, the closest we could get was a flight to Vienna, which cost more than we could possibly afford. So as a last resort we priced a flight back to Ireland...also more than we could afford.

So there we were, trapped in Brussels, with no way on to Slovakia, and no way back to Ireland. We couldn't possibly be more freaked out. It was getting late and we were too afraid to pay for a place to stay, or even a meal as we had to keep the money we had for any possible travelling. We went to both the Irish embassy and Slovak embassy (Dominika is from Slovakia), neither of which would help us in any way.

We were camped out in the main train station when we realised we hadn't tried pricing a train to Bratislava. A ray of hope after hours of despair! It would cost almost every penny we had between us, but at that stage we couldn't care less. We got the tickets for a combined €500, and used what little cash we had left to pay for a quick meal and a crappy hotel room for what remained of the night.

So at 5:40 the following morning we boarded our train bound for Vienna. The journey would take us across Germany, stopping at Frankfurt and Wurzburg and take about 10 hours, but we were damn glad of it. I must say, going by rail is so much more relaxing than trying to squeeze myself onto a Ryanair flight, no worries about oversized cabin baggage or feeling cramped by the lack of legroom. In fact, the 10 hours on the train afforded us some fantastic views and seemed to pass very quickly compared to a flight over the same distance. But still, I will make sure to double check which airport I am going to next time.