Monday, December 21, 2009

The Great European Travel Disaster of 2009

It is not a good time for European travel. The Eurostar has stopped service indefinitely, other rail companies are experiencing major delays, roads are unplowed, accidents abound, and flights now come with many hours spent waiting at the airport. It seems the sudden cold snap followed by decent snowfall has caught a lot of the continent by surprise, upending the holiday plans of thousands of travelers. Add to that the various strikes or threats of strikes that are affecting transportation networks and you've got one big end-of-the-year mess that seems to have left no previously perfectly-timed itinerary untouched.

My sister and I got our own taste of The Great European Travel Disaster of 2009 this weekend. It started with a train reservation on Belgian rail line, Thalys, that was set to leave Brussels' Gare du Midi at 8:50am Saturday morning. Delay after delay found us leaving approximately 20 mintues behind schedule. Not bad, but not ideal either. Unfortunately, it was only a harbinger of things to come. As we kept an eye on the developing Eurostar story and unchanging weather forecasts, we hoped our return to Brussels would not be affected. But upon arrival at Amstedam Centraal Station we quickly heard rumors of no trains coming in and no trains going out. A frantic hour later we somehow managed to learn that our train would be leaving shortly from platform 11a. Running through the station and up to the platform, dragging bags and fellow passengers we passed information to mid-stride, we found our seats and thanked our lucky stars.

The biggest problem we discovered when trying to get back to Brussels was a lack of accurate information. At the Amsterdam station all of the information signs read "no information currently available." Everyone we talked to said "No Thalys." No Thalys right now, or ever? Turns out, it was only delayed by about 40 minutes, a hiccup that should not have caused the uncertainty and panic we witnessed and felt. But without information, the imagination runs wild, usually to the worst-case scenario. Our train had problems on the tracks, and some passengers had to stand for lack of seats, but we finally made it to Brussels, albeit two hours behind schedule. Our next train ride is set for tomorrow, on the Thalys from Brussels to Paris. We're crossing our fingers.


Greg Wesson said...

Best of luck with your trip. My holiday plans are not completely ruined. I was to fly down to Morocco, but today Gatwick was closed from 3 PM onwards, meaning my flight never got out. When finally it was cancelled, I tried to rebook, but I couldn't get a flight out until after Christmas, meaning my vacation would have been a very short 2 days. Not worth taking, really. So instead of sunny Marrakesh, I will be enjoying snowy and cold London.

Zhu said...

Arg, I understand your frustration!

It seems to be new to Europeans because usually, trains are relatively unaffected by the weather. I feel North Americans, especially Canadians and in the NE of the USA, pretty much expect flght delays because there are always snow storms at this time of the year.

It reminds me of the big storm we had in France in 99... pretty scary, we were in Brittany by the sea and I had never seen the sea like that before.

Nomadic Matt said...

how did you like amsterdam? I can't wait to hear that story!