Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Italian Job, Part II - Escape from Milan

Eyjafjallajokull had started erupting on Wednesday. My one colleague had been trying to get out of Milan since Thursday night, when his original flight to London was cancelled. By Monday morning, Malpensa airport was open. All flights to London had been cancelled and as for my American co-workers, the only way out of Europe was from Lisbon so we decided they would come to Portugal with me. They would take a plane from Milan to Madrid and then either a train, or a car to Porto. I felt confident my flight from Milan to Porto would leave as scheduled. But by 10am, Malpensa airport was closed, all of our flights now cancelled.

At this point we were all at the airport trying to make our way to different airline counters in search of a way out. We joked about flying to Capri or driving to Naples, maybe just wait it out on Lake Como. The ash cloud had not reached Southern Italy so the thinking was if we get a bit more south we might be able to fly to Portugal. The ash cloud hadn’t even made it to Portugal so we were hopeful.

While waiting with our Spanish intern at the Lufthansa counter a women ran over to us and asked if we were headed to Madrid. We said yes! We knew if we got to Madrid we would have a place to crash, showers, food and worse case scenario a 6 hour drive from Madrid to Porto. The bus was leaving in 30 minutes and the intern and I still had no idea were the rest of our sales team was…. We told the woman that we had a group of 4 and we would be on the bus. Frantic we ran through the airport, found the others, went to the bathroom, got money at a cash machine, grabbed snacks and within 20 minutes we were headed to the bus.

This was the being of our 36 hour overland journey from Milan to Porto. We had two bus drivers on the ride to Madrid. One drove faster than any Chinatown bus driver I can imagine and the other made jokes in Spanish over the loud speaker; “Good afternoon, is your captain speaking, we have good wind and the air is clear, we will make our final destination on time” Ohhh hahahhaha….

I was on the bus with the two other wholesale managers and our Spanish intern. We drove south, over the mountains then along the French Riviera. The bus was cruising along at a good pace, so no photos of Nice, Cannes, or Marseille. There were moments when everyone stood up to look out the window and see the ocean, sailboats and the Spanish tiled rooftops of Monaco and Nice. As we zoomed past some of the prettiest countryside I’ve seen, I decide Matt and I will have to do this at a much more leisurely pace. Suddenly I realized how close everything is. Nice to Porto is closer than New York to Disney World and people make that boring trip down I-95 all the time!
We stopped every few hours, I had a delicious baguette with cheese from a gas station right outside of Nice, purchased chocolate covered waffles at another French gas station and before I knew it, it was dark out and everyone was sleeping. My one co-worker (lets call her “X”, to avoid embarrassment) had taken some Tylenol PM to ease the uncomfortable sleeping on a bus situation and around midnight, still somewhere in France we stopped for a snack. The four of us stumbled out, sleepy and achy, and made our way towards another gas station. A large tractor-trailer drove past us full of livestock. “X” called out, in a sleepy sort of way-
“Its Lions!”
“What? No, it isn’t Lions.”
“Or tigers?”
“X , I don’t think there are lions or tigers in there. It’s cows.”

Then I suggested we all walk over to see the lions, tigers, or cows. X agreed but still thought that maybe the circus was in town. Eventually she saw what we all knew.
“ohhh its cows….”

Disappointed we all made our way back to the gas station were we proceeded to stumble over how to say Thank you. “Obrigada, Grazie, ohh Merci”

Somewhere between Barcelona and Madrid I watched a plane fly by in the night sky. Hmm… I wondered how it managed to get out, and thought of all the “test flights” that had been going on to prove how safe the ash cloud was. A few hours more, and we made another stop, the sky was that unreal blue you find early in the morning, just before the sun begins to rise, I could make out the Pyrenees mountains in the distance. I got back on the bus and watched the sun make its way onto the horizon.
Soon enough we arrived at the airport in Madrid to a sea of taxicabs waiting to pick up passengers from flights that would never arrive. It was an eerie sight as they lined the arrivals line, 3 deep. The four of us made our way to the front of the taxi line, and headed for our interns family home. After a good breakfast, and showers, a fellow co-worker that had driven from Porto to Madrid picked us up. We hopped into his car for the last leg of the journey. I must say this bit is sort of a blur, while I didn’t sleep, I am not sure how awake I really was. I know I arrived back home around dinner time, and Matt had made the 3 of us a delicious meal. My knee still hurts and I think I need to see a chiropractor at some point, but we made it home, quicker than most.

Our rescue car in Madrid!

The Italian Job, Part I

I awoke this morning to the sound of a low flying plane, my window directly above my bed I looked up to see a passenger jet going by. I must admit, after not hearing planes for so many days, the sound eased my mind. This week I went to three different airports on three different occasions and I never made it onto a single plane. While many of you stateside have no idea of the chaos Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano brought to all of Europe, I can attest it was madness.

For many people, they were home, so it had little effect but for those traveling, getting home or starting your holiday became seemingly more and more difficult as the days went by.

I happened to be in Milan for the week, not on holiday but for Salone del Mobile, possibly one of the largest furniture fair shows in the industry. I was there with seven colleagues. We were made up of a mix of our sales team, and our product development team, all there to work. We had our own pop-up shop/exhibit to look after and meetings scheduled back to back almost everyday. We were not the only show in town. During this week, Milan is full of designers, architects, magazine editors, shop owners from around the world, and the stylish hanger-oners. Hotels are booked, over priced, and difficult to get into. Restaurants are bustling from 6 pm to 2 am, and all of the big brands are throwing parties that folks loathe to attend, but in the midst of all the glitz and glam that is Milan, suddenly everyone is hustling to get on the lists. You spend your days working, and the evening, trying to get into a good restaurant (if you haven’t booked), cabbing it to a party, and then finding yourself in a swanky hotel bar, bumping into all of your drunk clients, or newly discovered design impresarios. It’s hectic, but it is fun.

I arrived at my first airport on the Thursday night, right after the volcano story begun. The airport hadn’t been closed, and I didn’t have a plane to catch, rather a party to attend in the hanger deck and so while it was a bit amusing, the full weight of us not being able to get home hadn’t really dawned on anyone just yet. The following day my one colleague who had a cancelled flight, made his way to the train station. Hoping to get a train from Milan to Paris, and then onwards to London, he arrived with the same intentions as hundreds of other travelers who had now become increasingly concerned. Imagine the Milan train station full of hundreds of designers all in their sleek black outfits, Prada bags, Gucci shoes and D&G glasses. It had become a very fashionable mass exodus. Soon you started to see those who had been kicked out of their hotels, roaming the streets with their suitcase, Blackberry in hand trying to locate a friend whom they could crash with. Plans started being hatched for way’s to get home. Train to Z├╝rich, then Paris, then London? Eventually there was a backlog: trains, buses and ferry’s were all booking up and new plans had to be made. You would over hear people discussing their way out of Milan and it started to sound more and more like people fleeing from an impending war. “I must get to Paris!” “We are all driving to Calais, then taking a ferry across.” “Do you know if anyone has space for me and my partner?” Everyone was constantly checking BBC and NY Times, comparing maps of the ash cloud, checking airport closings. “If you make it to Rome you may be able to fly out.” Most took it in stride some looked to be falling apart. A poor guy from Austria was in absolute panic mode, worried about getting back to his wife and children. The best solution I heard was from a PR agent, who might be one of the most well connected women I know. Her husband is a sports journalist, who focuses on sailing; he also has a sailboat of his own. The plan: He and all of his sailing buddies would take their large sailboats to Calais, and meet a caravan of Mini Coppers. Three people to a Mini, driver included, step onto a lovely sailboat in Calais, cross the channel and arrive back in the UK. An altogether, posh rescue mission for those stranded in Milan.

My adventure home was not quite as chic, but I did manage to get rescued by a fellow employee.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spring Break, Milan 2010, AIRPORT PARTY!

Surprisingly everyone was willing to go through the worst part of flying just to get to the party. We waited on lines, passport in hand, got checked off the guest list, and went through security. Boots off, belt off, watch off, do you have a laptop in your bag? A mix of those of us coming straight from working at our exhibits and a very fashionable set, waited patiently to get our bags scanned. I overheard an occasional rumbling of “this is ridiculous” but we all went along with the theme party. Boarding pass in hand we all marched out onto the tarmac and into the hanger. In the distance one of my co-works pointed out the plane he should have been on, to get back to London. The only thought was -pour yourself another glass of champagne and hope to fly tomorrow. We ended up leaving soon after, as the music was loud, and champagne became increasingly more difficult to get a hold of.

Hungry and with out reservations, we decided to get burgers at the Four Seasons hotel bar. Upon entering the bar we realized it had become a haven for Brits and Northern American’s looking for solace, from the over indulgent pasta dishes, and so we dined with friends and snuck off to scan the hallway’s and public spaces of a very posh hotel in Milan.

Sometime after midnight the suggestion was made to go to Bar Basso. Somehow, and I never got a straight answer on this, Bar Basso has become an institution during Salone del Mobile, and everyone floods the streets surrounding the Bar. It is an interesting scene, as you are rubbing shoulders with Design superstars, magazine editors, and owners of very well known furniture brands, along with students and design groupies. And yet everyone is standing in the street drinking beer from bottles, like they are on Bourbon St. We bumped into one designer who had stored champagne glasses in his coat and he poured each of us a glass from the very large bottle of champagne he had at his feet. And everyone spoke of missed flights, and sorting out trains in the morning, fabulous exhibits and design bombs but mostly we drank in the street as if it were Spring Break Milan 2010.

No sleep til Porto

I just received word that Nicole and the rest of her co-workers made it onto a bus headed for Madrid. They will drive across the south of France and Spain all night an arrive in Madrid in the morning. From there they will be picked up by someone from the company for the 5 hour drive back to Porto. Here is a photo from the bus via Maggie.

Apartment Hunt

I honestly thought that finding an apartment here wouldn't be that hard. Turns out that rentals are a little harder to come by then expected. There are tons of places for sale but not many for rent. When you do find an apartment for rent, it is fairly common for the place to come without any kitchen appliances. The apartment will have a kitchen with no kitchen! Some have been fancy. Some have been a total wreck (think haunted house). Here are just a few images of the apartment that we have seen in our search.

The Volcano

So, Nicole went to Milan for work this week...and got stuck there because of a VOLCANO! I am going to have to let Nicole type a post about how crazy it was when she gets home...whenever that may be. Until then here is a map of the ash cloud effecting Europe.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


This thing all the way in Iceland is making my life hell, all the way in Italy!
And nobody can even pronounce it!