Home Tech Apple Ten years ago on Macfilos: All done and dusted in Switzerland

Ten years ago on Macfilos: All done and dusted in Switzerland


Exactly ten years ago Macfilos and its editor were stuck in the Great Icelandic Dust Cloud. Remember that? I’d set off to catch a routine flight from Athens to London, via Zurich, when the volcanic dust suddenly threatened mayhem.

My flight to Zurich was cancelled. So I took myself to the Swiss Air desk and asked to be put on an alternative flight to Switzerland — anywhere would do, I reasoned. Better than being stuck in Athens airport.

After much argy-bargy, I managed to get a seat on a flight to Geneva. It was probably one of the last flights to leave Eleftherios Venizelos airport. Sadly, when I arrived the dust had wreaked total havoc with flights all over Europe and everything was grounded.

I was told that there was no chance of flying on to London for at least five days and I was advised to keep checking Swiss Air for updates. Judging by the long lines at the airport, there was no point in hanging around a minute longer.

Lauterbrunnental viewed from Wengen
Lauterbrunnental viewed from the heights of Wengen

But what to do? All the hotels around Geneva were full, of course, so I decided on a very reasonable course of action: I would rent a car and spend a few days in one of my all-time favourite spots in Switzerland, the Bernese Oberland, in one of the valleys below the Jungfrau. It was easier thought than done since even cars were at a premium because of the cancelled flights.

Eventually, discouraged by the queue at the car rental desks, I wandered down the corridor into France and managed to squeeze a Ford Fiesta out of Hertz. In the circumstances, this cross-border transaction turned out to have been a masterstroke.

Far from the madding crowd: Cow's company on the mountain path from Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald
Far from the madding crowd: Cow’s company on the mountain path from Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald

I spent the next two days in comfort in a small hotel I know well from visits over 40 years, the Silberhorn in Lauterbrunnen, and kept in touch with Swiss Air by phone. In between, I made some entertaining treks to Mürren, Wengen and, even, Grindelwald over in the next valley.

In nearby Interlaken, I bought a Swiss SIM card for my iPhone and filled in the days with blogging for Macfilos. It’s as well I was occupied because there was absolutely no chance of getting on a flight and I began to realise I was stuck, possibly for a couple of weeks.

Thank you iPhone

This is what I posted on Macfilos at the time, back in 2010, when I was writing mainly about technology. I don’t even think I had a camera with me at the time because I can find no records for April 2010.

Just where would I have been over the past four days as a dust-cloud victim without my trusty iPhone? It’s appropriate in a way that the saga started in Switzerland because the iPhone is truly the new Swiss Army knife of portable communications.

After being grounded in Geneva on my flight from Athens to London, I spent two days kicking my heels in Switzerland while flight after flight was cancelled.

I’d rented a car because there were no hotel rooms within a 100km of Geneva. Finally, I had had enough and pointed the Hertz Ford Fiesta in the direction of Calais.

Apart from being an essential email and phone tool, my iPhone has been finding hotels, checking the availability of tickets and, primarily, helping me on the 500 miles north-west towards England. TomTom has really come into its own, despite the difficult circumstances.

And in my spare minutes the phone has kept me entertained with podcasts, Kindle books and NetNewsWire feeds. I don’t think I could have managed without it.

Now I am typing this post in the international train station at Lille where I’ve secured one of those rarer-than-rocking-horse-manure Eurostar tickets to London. Again, thank you iPhone.

Can I dump your car in Calais?

In desperation, I called Hertz and asked if I could take their Fiesta and drop it off in Calais. And that’s where the wisdom of choosing a French-registered car paid off. If I’d gone down the opposite corridor and taken a Swiss car from Geneva airport, I would not have been able to drop it off on the northern French coast.

Brooding magnificence – Lauterbrunnental with the Jungfrau on the left, viewed from Schynige Platte

As I set off from Interlaken in the little Fiesta, I had another of my brainwaves. Why not drive to Lille instead of Calais and get the Eurostar train to London? This I resolved to do, pushing the Ford to its limits, and arrived exhausted in Lille after a spending a night en route.


The Hertz office at the train station was unmanned, so I dumped the car in the underground car park in the designated Hertz bay and posted the keys through the letterbox. I wasn’t sure I’d done the right thing, but I determined to cross that particular bridge later. As it turned out, all was well and I just had to pay the surcharge for leaving the car in Lille instead of Geneva.

In the absence of flights, all trains were full. I stood in a long queue outside the Eurostar ticket office and hoped for the best. Eventually, I bagged a seat on a train later the same afternoon and was home in time for supper. Quite apart from the loss of the airfare from Zurich to London, this little dusty exercise cost me the best part of £2,000 — all of which I was fortunate to get back from the insurance company.

Ten years, yet it seems like yesterday. Then I was in lockdown caused by dust; now, a decade later, it’s a virus causing all the bother. Who would have thought it? I really wish I could just rent a Ford Fiesta and get the hell out of it.

The images in this article were taken five years later, in 2015, during the test of the then-new Leica Q


  1. A great read ofr Sunday morning and beautiful images of the Q. I particularly like the last one. In time of lockdown it makes me lust for wide and wild spaces.
    Stay safe

    • Thanks Jean. That last one is one of my favourites from the original Leica Q collection. It was the first time I has gone away for a vacation of this type with just one 28mm lens. It didn’t disappoint.

  2. I well remember the chaos caused by the volcano ..lovely pictures, by the way!

    We had a similar, er, change of plan a few years ago: took the boat to Dover, at the start of a gentle cruise to France, but on checking the gearbox oil next morning I found that it had turned to margarine; a water leak in the oil cooler / heat exchanger was the problem, so I handed it over to the engineers just outside the harbour, went to get the car, drove us onto the ferry, and then we DROVE around the French coast instead of sailing!

    We went to Gravelines, which we’d always meant to do, and found that we saw much more going by car than by boat! Then on to Ghent – which we couldn’t easily have reached by boat anyway. Then along the French cliffs to Boulogne (..towards where we’d had a bumpy ride the year before..) and stopped at a couple of ancient guest houses along the way, which we’d never have done by boat!

    It was an unanticipated trip, or diversion, and we enjoyed it all the more. And we also stopped in Brussels and Bruges on the way back!

    Thanks, oil cooler!

    • Thanks, David. Sometimes, as you say, fate intervenes. Today I should have been settling in to the Queen Mary II but she isn’t going anywhere. Instead, I might have a paddle in the Thames.

  3. Nice work Mike. I remember those days – the airplanes stopped flying over London. I never noticed the noise they made until flights resumed – now the sound wakes me up every day and I developed hayfever. Now we have hardly any airplanes overhead and I’m more rested.

  4. Great way to extend a journey, too bad you could not have found a stewardess who needed a ride to the nearest airport! ha

  5. Great story.
    Sometimes unexpected misadventures turn into memorable adventures. I’ve had a few – an overnight drive through Turkey after a missed flight. A post 9/11 drive to get home to Chicago. A vacation a while before the Euro) when the only currencies I could pick up at my bank in Milan were French Francs and Pesetas, so changed my vacation plans completely from planned through Austria and Czechoslovakia to a tour through France, to Burgundy, across to Biarritz, to Santiago, back through the Pyrenees to Nice and back through the Alps along parts of the Route Napoleon to Milan. Sometimes without the certainty and predictably of a plan, life becomes much more fun.

  6. Nice story, and reminder of that volcanic moment all those years ago. I had forgotten it was ten years ago. I do recall my boss being stuck somewhere warm and sunny for several weeks, while we were still at work. hmmm. Some people have all the luck.


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