Very incompetent travellers

posted in: Family, Travel | 0

A recent Facebook conversation sparked this post, and for it, we’re being whisked back to 2005 and a blustery November. This is pre-Sawyer and a time when we would recklessly book a foreign mini-break on the Internet, usually late at night and after way too much wine. This also, rather splendidly, illustrates how truly incompetent we can be whenever Tracy & I  leave the country. It’s a longer than usual blog post, but stick with it…


Scorpio 24 Oct – 21 Nov

‘Buckle up your safety belt. A touch of turbulence is signalled over the next couple of days as the Sun and Mars trade blows across your ‘scope. Try not to do the same with your major critic. Your attention is better turned to the social round and the blithe encounters promised by more swift-moving planets; you’ll need to be nimble yourself, especially on Thursday. No sulking allowed.’

I never ever read  the horoscopes. It truly staggers me that people actually get paid to write this nonsense everyday. But this one I stumbled upon and a few of Neil Spencer’s comments did grab my attention today. It was Tracy’s birthday in seven days time, we were off to Berlin later in the week, and here he was speaking of safety belts, turbulence, sulking, and of being nimble on Thursday… The day we were flying.

It could be interpreted in a few different ways: Our plane could be in for a very bumpy journey across Europe (oh joy!!!), the whole journey could perhaps be a very turbulent and troubled one (just for a change!!!), or it could all simply be a load of overpaid garbage. I was more inclined with the latter, but as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t get the word ‘turbulence’ out of my head 🙄

Thursday 10th November 2005

After the near disaster of our trip back from Barcelona a year ago (another blogging opportunity), we were gradually getting pretty organised with this flying malarkey. Which is why we were up bright and early this morning. A 7:00 AM start would give us stacks of time to get to the airport; thus cutting out all of the usual stress. So after seeing Jake safely off to school, having a very leisurely breakfast, Tracy started to prepare a few sandwiches for the journey. I meanwhile, attempted to remove dog hairs from the car. We also decided it was probably wise to print off all of our travel documents and we even had enough time to give the house a bit of a clean before we left for Luton. How organised were we?

In truth; not very… We climbed into the car and looked at the clock; 10:35 AM. This gave us an hour and forty minutes to drive the 100 miles to Luton, park our car, wait for the shuttle bus (which is a good twenty minutes), and reach our check-in desk before it closed at 12:15 PM. Oh, and I needed to get petrol. What the hell had we been pissing about at all morning? This would be very tight, but if we had a clear run we might just make it.

Our clear run lasted for about five miles. We had no idea what was causing the hold up, but we’d hit about a mile long queue on the A50 to join the M1 south. This was not what we needed and it called for drastic measures. We raced across the lanes and hit the M1 heading north (yes north!!!) We’d simply go up to the next junction, turn round and start our journey south from there. This was surely quicker than queuing on the A50. It was now almost 11:00 AM and we’d only just started to head in the right direction!!!

For the next hour Mario (our trusty Alfa Romeo) thundered down the M1, and God help anyone or anything that got in his way. Apart from the words ‘Do you want a cob?’ the crazy race down the motorway was done in complete silence. We were both glancing from sign-post to clock and were desperately trying to calculate whether we stood any chance at all. By the time we raced off the M1 it was just before 12:00 PM and we had long ago abandoned plans of our pre-booked off site parking. That was simply too far away. No, if we were to stand any chance (and we did still have about twenty minutes), we’d have to go straight to the airport and put the car in the nearest car-park. It wouldn’t be cheap (£11 a day 😯 ), but at least we’d get our flight.

As if being chased by the Sweeney, I threw Mario into the airport car-park and abandoned him somewhere near a parking-bay. Not the best parking I’d ever done, but the circumstances were a little extreme.

‘Nice parking!!!’ Tracy gasped.  ‘Where’s the terminal then?’

‘I think it’s over there, but I’m not sure.’

‘Is it walkable?’

‘I don’t know, there’s bus stops up there, so maybe we have to get a bus,’ which was the last thing we wanted. We had thirteen minutes until our check-in closed, we’d thrown the car into the nearest car-park and we still had to wait for a bus. This was crazy!!! There was one girl stood waiting at our bus stop when we reached it, which didn’t strike me as being a very positive sign. Tracy had started to pace up and down by this point.

‘A bus has just gone, I only just missed it. Are you in a hurry?’ the girl asked. It must have been the pacing that gave us away.

‘We’re going to Berlin; our check-in closes at 12:15.’  I replied.

‘You might be ok. The terminal is just over there’  the girl indicated. Tracy’s pacing increased a notch or two.

It was about at this point, stood at a cold bus stop in the mid-stay car-park at Luton Airport that I thought of my mum and dad. They were roughly a week into their around the world trip and we couldn’t even get to bloody Luton on time 😯 If I’m honest though, it never really entered my head that we would miss the plane. If we could make it back from Barcelona safely after what had happened there, then we could make anything. We were also flying with a budget airline and I’d heard loads of stories about how much more flexible they are. Yes we might be a few minutes late, but the check-in wouldn’t be closed, I was pretty confident of that. Missing planes just didn’t happen.

Eventually our bus arrived at 12:10 PM and dropped us outside the terminal five minutes later. We raced through the crowded building like maniacs, scanning the line of check-in desks. Tracy was first to spot it…

‘Late check-in, Berlin, look.’ We sprinted to the end desk, elated that we’d actually managed to get our flight. This was certainly cutting it fine.

An exhausted Tracy reached the desk first. ‘Hiya… Berlin.’

‘I’m sorry love that one’s closed. You’ll have to go to the information desk and ask for a transfer.’ The words were delivered in such a matter-of-fact tone that it took quite a while for the facts to sink in. Transfer? Had we actually missed our flight then?

Tracy backed away from the check-in desk in tears. Surely if these two women could see how upset she was they’d let us on the plane?

‘Ah bless…’ I heard one utter to her colleague. Obviously not then!!! Maybe we’d get more joy at the information desk.

I did genuinely still think that we stood a chance of getting on this plane. ‘Hiya, we’re going to Berlin but the check-in has just closed.’

‘Oh OK, I’ll ring and check that we can’t get you on it.’ There you go. I knew we we’d make it. ‘Hi, I’ve got two passengers for the Berlin flight… Oh right, OK.’ Mmm… That didn’t sound too promising. ‘The baggage has just been loaded.  I’m sorry but I’m afraid we can’t let you on.’ Shit!!! We really had missed the plane, and I stood there in complete silence for what seemed like an age!!! We had actually missed our flight 😯 After paying out £70 we were eventually given tickets for the 19.15  flight later that day. We now had about six hours to kill in Luton airport!!!

‘Well at least we can move the car to the off-site car-park.’ It was the best I could come up with.

‘We could find a pub and get some lunch.’ A much better plan if you ask me.

‘We could go back home for lunch, we’ve got so much bloody time!!!’  We wisely decided on the pub.

So we loaded our cases back into Mario, paid our £11 (we’d been less than an hour!!!), and drove to the quaintly named village of Slip End. By 12:45 PM we’d found a table in the Frog & Rhubarb and ordered our food and drinks. It was while washing my hands in the gents that I spotted our plane; it flew above the skylight in the toilet… And we weren’t on it.

Our next problem concerned our accommodation in Berlin; we’d booked an apartment for five days, and I’d informed the owners that we’d be arriving at about 4:40 this afternoon. We were to pay for the apartment on arrival and Mr. Hanzig would be waiting for us. Unfortunately we now wouldn’t get there until about 11:30 tonight. We desperately needed to let him know.  The thought of arriving in Berlin in the middle of the night and having nowhere to stay was not a pleasant thought!!! Luckily I’d printed off all the emails we’d exchanged, so for the next hour we attempted to contact Mr. Hanzig. We sent a text message in Tracy’s best German (which is 100 times better than my non-existent German!!!). She left a message on someone’s answer-machine and I tried and failed to send an email on my temperamental mobile. All we needed now was a reply, just to reassure us.

By the time we’d been shuttled back to Luton airport, we still hadn’t received any reply from Mr. Hanzig. We’d contacted him hours ago and it was a major worry. We were just praying that we’d hear something before our flight. We still had time. We were so damn early this time, our check-in desk wasn’t even open. Oh well, at least we’d be first in the queue, for a change… Wrong; we rounded a corner and saw the queue. It was massive. What is the point in getting there so early? Yes you won’t miss your flight, but come on!!! Eventually, a few hours later than planned we did check-in for our Berlin flight. And as it was Easyjet’s 10th birthday, they gave us all a free bar of bright orange chocolate… It’s a shame they weren’t as generous with us six hours ago 🙄

Just to rub a bit of salt into our weary wounds, our plane was about ten minutes late taking off… They were probably waiting for a few latecomers. May that Neil Spencer prediction of sulking and racing around was true after all…

‘Good evening and welcome on-board this Easyjet flight to Berlin. Sorry about the slight delay, but hopefully we should be able to pick up some time on the journey. Just to let you know, we’ve had reports of very strong winds ahead. We’ll try to avoid them, but things might get a little bumpy at times…’

Turbulence. Bloody great!!! The winds hit us about an hour into the flight, and they hit us pretty hard. Our plane shook violently.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, as you may have noticed… Oooops…’

I’m not too sure what happened at this point, but the rumour amongst the passengers seemed to suggest that the stewardess had fallen over!!!

‘Ladies and gentlemen, as you may have noticed, the seatbelt sign is now lit and the toilets will be out of action during this time. Erm… If anyone happens to be in the toilet, then please hold on tight.’

I wasn’t sat in the toilet, but I held on tight anyway. Tracy had other ideas…

‘Where’s the Easyjet chocolate?’ She asked.

‘It’s here.’ I handed her the orange bar.

‘Well if we’re going to die, I’m going to eat the chocolate first.’

Fortunately we did survive the turbulence, which meant I could eat my chocolate another day. A calmer day perhaps.  We even landed a little earlier than planned, which was a bonus. All we needed to do now was to find our apartment and hopefully meet Mr. Hanzig, who still hadn’t replied to our messages.

Now I’m not sure whether this is a budget airline thing, or whether it’s just us; but we did have an uncanny knack of flying to major cities, and flying to their second or third choice of airport. Berlin has four, and according to our guide book the one we were at (Schönefeld) was a good forty minute train journey into the city. We’d also read about how easy and efficient the railways were in Berlin, but we were desperate to get to this apartment as soon as we could. For all we knew, Mr. Hanzig had been waiting for us this afternoon and had now given up and gone home. Not a good thought 😯 No, we needed to get there as fast as we could, so we leapt into the nearest taxi.

I must clarify something here… I will bumble my way around most foreign languages. I’m not the best, but I will have a go. I feel it’s only polite to try… There is however, one exception to this rule. I don’t do German. It absolutely baffles me and I’ve never been able to get my head around it. Fortunately for me, Tracy loves it. So the dialogue below is either by her or an actual fully qualified German person… And so, back to the taxi.

‘Hallo, where you go?’ Our driver asked.

‘Guten Abend Berlin Mitte bitte.’

Our driver seemed reasonably happy with that, so we took our seats and off we went.  Tracy had just given our driver the area of Berlin we were hopefully staying in. As Berlin is pretty vast, our driver would obviously need a bit more information, so Tracy routed out our printed travel documents. Five minutes later and she was still trying to find them.

‘They’re not in my bag, are they in yours?’ She asked.

‘I never had them in mine. You had them on the plane.’

Our taxi continued to make its way into Berlin,as Tracy emptied the contents of her bag onto the back seat. ‘I’m telling you, I’ve not got them. They must’ve fallen out of my bag on the plane.’

There was no denying that we’d certainly had a turbulent journey today, but this latest bombshell made the atmosphere inside our little taxi rather tense, to say the least. We were heading into a very major capital city at about 11 o’clock at night and we didn’t have the address of the apartment we were hopefully staying in. And even if we did, we had no idea whether anyone would be there waiting for us. I was a bit lost for words. We’d missed our flight and now we’d lost our travel documents… And then it hit me. The email I’d tried to send to Mr Hanzig would still be on my phone. It would have all the details on there.

‘It’s on my phone.’

‘What is?’

‘The email I tried to send. Look, 69 Holzmarktstraße, Berlin Mitte,’ which Tracy gratefully relayed to our driver.

After a brief moment of panic, when our driver suggested he dropped us off in the middle of a huge dual-carriageway, in not the most salubrious looking area, he did eventually pull up outside 69 Holzmarktstraße (a huge tower block). 23€ was probably a lot more than the train would have cost, but he at least found the place. We’d have stood no chance. Not a chance.

Laden with luggage, we made our way to the imposing tower block.  The main door was locked, and we were presented with a panel of about a hundred numbered buttons. One of these would ring a buzzer in the apartment I’d booked. Which one was anyone’s guess. I didn’t really fancy buzzing them all, especially at this time of night. Luckily Tracy remembered something from her old German school exchange visit and went over to the bank of mail boxes.

‘Hanzig, 13.09.’ She called. I pushed the corresponding button and prayed that Mr. Hanzig would reply. We waited… And waited… Nothing. Shit!!! We were now stranded in some suburb of Berlin at 11 o’clock at night with …

‘Hallo…’ The intercom fizzed into life.

‘Erm, hallo… Es ist herr Coley.’

‘Ah yes, come on up.’ And with a click, the door was unlocked and we were almost there.

The apartment was on the thirteenth floor and was truly wonderful. Mr. Hanzig gave us a quick guided tour, but if I’m honest only two things were going through my mind at this point. How the hell had we even managed to get here, and how utterly fantastic the view of Berlin was.

‘Buckle up your safety belt. A touch of turbulence is signalled over the next couple of days as the Sun and Mars trade blows across your ‘scope. Try not to do the same with your major critic. Your attention is better turned to the social round and the blithe encounters promised by more swift-moving planets; you’ll need to be nimble yourself, especially on Thursday. No sulking allowed.’

Absolute, utter 100% garbage… 🙄