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-
“What? No, it isn’t Lions.”
“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!