Monday, July 23, 2007

The High Price of Cheap Travel.

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Forgive me for seeming to turn this into a travel blog in recent weeks, but everyone needs a break sometimes, and travel is much less infuriating than politics these days, right?

Well, not always! I'm sitting in the airport in Rijeka, Croatia, waiting out a two hour delay for a flight back to London, where I'll stay for two nights before returning to California.

This airport was little used until a few years ago, when European tourists started to flock back to Croatia after a period of post-war trepidation. There are now flights here from several points in the UK and Germany, as well as flights from Oslo, Norway, Vilnius, Lithuania, and Riga, Latvia - mostly on low budget airlines that operate in the early Southwest model - providing basic "bus service in the sky" for minimal prices.

It's great for affordable jaunts around Europe, but they often fly out of smaller cities, and in an airport such as Rijeka's, a two hour delay can be quite hellish! First of all, there is no air conditioning, and it's well over 100 degrees. Somehow, converting to the lower Celsius doesn't make it any more bearable!

On a positive note, there is relatively cheap pivo (beer) and an ATM machine, so although I spent my last Kuna in anticipation of quickly boarding a flight to London, I can regroup reload.

And there is more good news! Through a barely audible sound system, someone has announced that Easyjet is springing for a sandwich and soft drink for all passengers of the delayed flight. Better yet, in Croatia, pivo is apparently considered a soft drink!

Still, it's a sauna in here, and a free beer isn't quite enough to make up for the fact that I will arrive well past 10 PM and by the time I get to my room, it will be too late to satisfy my craving for some Chicken Tikka Massala from one of the many Indian restaurants on Brick Lane, which would be an easy walk from my room if not for the pounding rain in London that has, apparently, delayed our flight.

That's right - delayed because of rain! And I'm thinking, "If pilots can't fly in the rain, why even bother building an airport in Seattle?"

But again, there's hope. Our plane just touched down on the single runway that makes up the Rijeka Airport, to thunderous applause from those with the remaining strength to clap. Soon we are loaded up, ready to depart. But wait, now we are told that we won't have permission to take off for another 30 to 40 minutes!

We are, at this point, the only plane left at the airport. There isn't a cloud in the sky, so the "rain delay" excuse won't cut it here. Apparently, now we don't have permission to land in London, so we can't take off. All I can guess is that our piddling flight from Rijeka has been given a low priority now that it's out of the regular schedule. No "first-come- first-served" when it comes to runways!


So I arrive in London a full 3 hours late.

By the time I get my luggage and pass customs, it is nearly 10:30 PM. I have a 1 hour bus ride to central London, and then a 30 min. tube ride to my hotel. And there is a phalanx of distressed passengers overwhelming the driver as they scurry to load their luggage and claim a seat before the bus is filled up. It takes nearly 30 more minutes just to load the bus, but I do get a seat.

But now I'm really concerned. I seem to recall that the tube only runs until midnight, so if I miss it, the cab fare across town will eat up all my ale money for the two night stay!

To make matters worse, since my room is a rented student flat on the campus of Queen Mary University of London (an experiment designed to free up some of my lodging budget for a ticket to Spamalot), there is a distinct possibility that check-in is not even available this late. I want to call, but I have no working cell phone, and there is no time to negotiate a pay phone. I make a snap decision to get off the bus at an earlier stop in hope of beating the cutoff to enter the tube.

Success! I enter the line to buy my ticket with 20 minutes to spare (thanks in part to catching a break on the time - since the last tube is at 12:15 AM)

But now there is some commotion in the station. Lots of yelling from behind me, out of view but getting louder. Then, a group of men, still yelling, run towards the line I'm standing in. I can see one guy in the back has blood streaming down his face, his nose obviously broken.

He is screaming at another man, swinging wild haymakers in the general direction of the guy he's chasing, as two other guys try to tackle him. The first man stays just ahead of his bloodsoaked pursuer until he feebly tries to leap the turnstile but gets no elevation and bounces backward, landing in a heap on the ground in front of the machine.

Within seconds, the bloody guy is on top with the other two still trying to restrain him. Punches start to land, and before security guards arrive to pull them apart, I hear at least a few blows arrive to his head, each with a sickening thud.

Finally, the hooligans are dragged off to whatever fate awaits those caught brawling in the subway, as I stand in my line, holding about $1,500 worth of scuba equipment in my bag and hoping that late-night theft is a less frequent occurrence at this station than bloody fights.

Fortunately, the remainder of the early morning is uneventful. I get on the tube and finally reach my room at about 1:10 AM. The office is open 24 hours a day, the receptionist is very friendly and sympathetic to the travails leading to my late arrival, and the bed is unusually comfortable.

I drift off to sleep dreaming of my next low budget travel adventure.


  1. Giraffe9:15 AM

    As they say in Scotland, "Pure Dead Brilliant!"

  2. Lost Wages Joe10:21 AM

    Sorry, seenos, but after the entries you submitted from your island retreat, I'm having a little difficulty whipping-up any sympathy for your travel woes (perhaps if I read the blog in the comfort of my home rather than in my cube at work...). Today's entry only succeeded in taking a little edge off the envy!

    There's lots of crap going-on in DC which is going to require your pithy commentary upon your return (I'm afraid that any commentary I can offer comes-off as more "pissy" than "pithy"), so enjoy the rest of your trip.

    P.S. Training camps are opening this week. Russell isn't signed yet, but all the buzz from the Summer work-outs has been extremely positive. Save a couple Euros for football season!