Wednesday, April 21, 2010

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.

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