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.
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.
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.
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.