Friday, 24 April 2009

Volcanic Ash Flight Disruption: Stranded in Oslo

Stranded Passengers in an Expensive City!

26th March 2010: A week before our cheap flight to Oslo, Norway…

I have the phone pressed to my ear, I’m eagerly waiting for Richard to answer…


“Oslo! I’ve found two return flights to Oslo for £40 each!”

“Yeah? Ok… Can you ski there?”

“Yes. I’ve done all the research! There’s a ski resort in Oslo canlled Tryvann, and an even better one a short train ride away. Let’s book it! It’s so cheap!”

“Ok – the dates we agreed yeah? There’s no taxes or anything?”

“No. It’s all there! Three nights in a hotel in Oslo! I’ll text you when it’s booked...”

Day 1

We’re walking down the hill, through Slottsparken to the city centre, using a city map. After ten minutes we come across the large modern train station and nearby tourist centre. We wait in line and a friendly man calls us forward.

“Can I help?”

“Um, hi, do you know how to get to Geilo ski resort please?” I ask.

“It is by train.” He replies in his Nordic accent. “Instead there is Tryvann which is much nearer – just ten minutes from the city. It is quite a long journey to Geilo but you’ll probably have more than enough time to spare because of the volcano disrupting all the flights. You’re from the UK, no?”

“Yes, um, what volcano is that then?”

“Haven’t you heard?”

On the way back to the hotel we ponder what we have just learnt about this random volcano eruption in Iceland disrupting flights and whatnot. We hadn’t heard a thing! When did this happen? We must have gotten one of the last flights out of the UK… After deciding that perhaps the man was just exaggerating or joking, we get ready and head off to start some sightseeing. Perhaps it was some sort of weird Norwegian humour? Confuse one bewildered British couple per day?

Day 2

After a fantastic day getting in some last-season skiing, we turn on the TV in the hotel room. The BBC world news tune starts. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beeeeeep.  

“Good evening. The civil aviation authority says it cannot allow any flights up whatsoever until further checks have been carried out. It is anticipated that all flights in Western European airspace will be grounded for all of today and tomorrow.”

Not a problem, we don’t go home until Monday – who cares…

Day 3

“All European airspace remains closed and the ash cloud has travelled further South forcing airports to ground flights as far apart as Canada, Turkey and Russia. The crisis leaves thousands of passengers stranded across Europe with no means to get home.”

Panicking, we ring Ryan air to find that all flights are cancelled for the next three days. We are advised to re-book on the next available flight and told that we cannot claim for any food or accommodation.

“We need to find a new hotel” I say to Richard “Where shall we stay?”

“The cheapest three star hotel possible. I am not staying at a hostel.”

We use the hotel’s internet to book the cheapest three-star room in Oslo. We find a new hotel at the other side of the city.

Over the next two days we re-book our flight and find out it is cancelled a number of times. In the mornings we watch the BBC world news. The ash cloud is getting worse, spreading and growing with immense speed. Great plumes of ash are spewing from the volcano on the news. Even more airports have closed. We book the next two hotels and spend another day visiting museums and the rather stunning modern opera house. What a lovely city to be stranded in, if you can forget about your bank balance…

Day 6

“Ah - the embassy. Here, look.” I point at the map and rub my eyes, sitting in a pile of squashy duvet. It’s too soon after waking up to peer at the tiny map-writing. We check out of the hotel, dragging our suitcases down the hill to wait for the bus. Sitting there like little homeless vagabonds, we discuss what we think the Embassy will do.

“They have to do something. Maybe they will arrange a discount for group hotel bookings?”

“I don’t think enough people are stuck are they?”

“Of course they are! It’s terrible! Just think how many people we have come across who are stuck.”

We traipse around the streets near the embassy and eventually find it, iron gates outside and security. After getting our bags checked, the large doors open and reveal a small enclosed reception area. A few other people are waiting on a sofa area accompanied by an array of bags, coats and suitcases.

“Er, hi, we are stuck in Oslo and we are from the UK,” we timidly announce to the British lady behind the glass.

“Ok, are you in a hotel?”

“No, we were last night though. We have been booking them online”

“Ok, well that’s really what we have been advising people to do.”

“Ok, is there any way we can get some help with hotel costs or anything?”

“No. You can use our phone to ring home or your airline but there is a long wait. Would you like a cup of tea?”

PAUSE… Would we like a cup of TEA! Excellent. We can’t have a place to stay but we can have a good brew. What else were we expecting from the British embassy other than a cup of tea exactly? Were British embassies not built to provide worldwide ample tea-drinking opportunities?

We wait with the other travellers to use the phone. There’s a group of young people about our age who are from the UK. They came skiing here just like us. We natter about our various predicaments and eventually it’s our turn to use the phone. We stay on hold to Ryan Air for over half an hour. No one at Ryan Air seems to have a definite answer about anything. We have no idea if we can claim anything back from them, and all insurance companies class it as an act of God. (Of course – why else would a volcano errupt?)

Playing it safe, we decide to try and book the cheapest accommodation again the next night and eat at cheap restaurants, which aren’t common in Oslo I have to say. We have no idea how long this will go on for. 

Day 7

“We can’t use the internet in there – we need a ticket.”

“Well get one then!”

“Well I don’t know how long we’ll have to wait – can’t we go somewhere else!?”

“Oh for god’s sake, fine, let’s do it your way.”

“Oh don’t be like that.”

We find ourselves in the middle of the train station concourse scratching our heads. The only internet café nearby is packed. After wondering around for a few minutes we come across another one, still packed. We pay the machine for a ticket and log in with the details provided: ERROR.

“Urgh! For god’s sake! “

“I think you have to put in that code.” A kind man next to us said, pointing at the bottom of the ticket.

“Ah, thanks. That’s great.”

“No problem” he said. He looked down at our bags. “You’re stranded too?”

“Yep, are you?”

“Yeah but I got flown to Oslo when the ash cloud wasn’t over Norway. I’m coming from Australia and I’m trying to get back to the US.”

“Whoah! What a joke! Where are you staying?”

“At the hostel over the road, but my friend might know someone who can let me crash on their couch, so we’ll see!”

After a few minutes the man logs off, says goodbye and wishes us luck. His situation makes us think how near to home we actually are. We begin researching train and bus routes home. We need to get home because of work so we’re prepared to pay a little over the odds. After an hour or so of searching and debating, we find that the only company who arranges coach trips from Oslo to the UK is booked up a month in advance. Most trains are also booked up and all very expensive, and bus routes into Denmark or Germany, then into Paris work out more expensive than the trains.

Perhaps we could get a train to South Norway, get a ferry to Denmark and drive the rest home? Or get a train to East Norway and get a ferry from Bergen to Aberdeen and drive South to get home? Or get a ferry from Oslo to Germany and drive home? Or get trains to Paris and get the Eurostar home? Or to Paris, Germany, Denmark…. To Aberdeen? Ferry… Car… Train… Bus….?

Day 8

We email work and home to update them, then forget our troubles for an hour or so and visit the fantastic Vigeland sculpture park in Frogner Park again, tens of strange human sculptures seemingly going about their daily business. The angry child is a particularly amusing sculpture.  

After a little more internet searching back at the station, we get wind that John Cleese was stuck in Oslo and has just paid a cabbie £3,000 to drive him home. Richard decides to ring Hertz car rentals to get a quote for renting a car.

“The whole way home?” I ask him.

“Yeah, it’s fine! Let’s see what they say.”

No quote possible, we have to speak to individual rental stores to find out what cars are available.

Day 9

Still no planes up in the air. The ash continues to spew out of the volcano on TV, polluting the skies for thousands of miles around. On the news, various aviation professionals are in debate. No one seems to know what to do, what’s going on.

After a huge varied buffet breakfast (Norwegians are renowned for their big breakfasts) we make our way to the city centre. Queuing up at AVIS car rentals in the train station concourse, we listen to the conversation going on at the front of the queue. It’s a Belgian couple trying to rent a car to drive home, and they get quoted the equivalent of £1,300… They take it! We’ll give that one a miss I think.

We find our way to the nearest Hertz rental store and its right by our first hotel. We go in and there is one car available. We are quoted £1,100. It’s not worth it, is it? But we may not get home for weeks. We decide that is a ridiculous amount of money and retire to Dolly Dimple’s pizza restaurant.

We book our next hotel at the internet café. This one is up in the hills on the outskirts of the city, near Tryvann ski resort where we were to be found a few days before, unaware of the drama that would unravel… We jump off the bus and drag our suitcases up the road and up the steps towards the hotel. The atrium is a magnificent glass-fronted affair, with a contemporary art piece in the centre, resembling a huge pile of snowflakes. Wow we got a good deal here!

Richard queues up to check-in and his phone rings. It’s Hertz and they have a car for £290. A Norwegian who was stuck in France had driven it home to Oslo, and it needed to be driven back. I listen for snatches of his conversation while he stands in the queue.

“Excellent! I’ll bite your hand off for that” I hear him bellow. “Great! Thank you so, so much. Are you sure - £290? We can come and get it tomorrow? Ok. Great, thank you so much. See you tomorrow. Bye…”

Richard leaves the queue to come and tell me the news…. “We’re going HOME!” I screech, “HOME!”

We check in to the lovely hotel and catch the bus back into town to treat ourselves to a meal in a funky Mexican restaurant. What’s another £30 now?  

Day 10

We catch the bus to the city centre again and walk to Hertz. Yes, The car is ready. Yes, Insurance is included. Yes, we can have it for three days. Yes, we can drive it all the way to Calais. It all just seems to be falling into place finally.

Richard takes the driver’s seat and we head out of the underground car park. It feels weird to think we will be going home in this car, all the way from Oslo.

“Follow signs for Goteborg” I say. We negotiate the various parts of the city, travelling South past the Opera house, such a familiar sight now. We eventually pass the suburbs, speed by forests, lakes and coastline, and find ourselves in Southern Sweden in what seems like no time at all. After stopping for snacks and petrol we continue on our long journey.

After a few hours we pass over the immense Copenhagen bridge, I can’t see land behind or in front – we’re on a piece of concrete in the middle of the sea. In Denmark the speed limit is faster. The land is flat and the journey has become decidedly more boring since we left the bridge. After a number of hours we speed South into Germany at dusk. I must have offered to drive at least three times but Richard soldiers on.

It’s dark, damp and late, and we decide to stop for the night in Hamburg. I plod into the hotel rubbing my eyes, dragging my bag. Richard works his magic and gets a discount. We find ourselves tucked up in bed before we know it.

Day 11

We continue our journey early, without breakfast. Whizzing along on the Autobahn for another few hours, eventually we reach the Netherlands and stop briefly for a bite to eat. After half a day we arrive in Belgium, and finally, bums aching from the car seats, we arrive wearily in France. Richard parks the car at the Hertz car park and we make our way to the foot passenger area to pay for the ferry. £60 each! What a rip off. Well that put us both in a mood if the long drive didn’t.

Finally! The white cliffs appear and the ferry docks. We are greeted on UK soil by the NHS handing out free bottles of water – thank you NHS, it’s not every day you get something for free, especially not in Oslo.

We find the coach to London from Dover and after three hours we arrive at Liverpool Street. Hunting around for a bus to Stansted, we feel so close to home but yet so far. We join an immense queue and find ourselves on a coach out of London by dark.

By the time we find our car at Stansted airport car park and begin the hour and half journey home, we are tired, hungry and just a little irritable, but pleased to be nearly home. We turn the corner into our road and park the car. I pick my suitcase up gladly for the last (but ceremonial hundredth) time and we climb the stairs to our apartment. Dumping the bags, we change into clean pyjamas and flop straight into our own bed at last.

(For info on the Tryvann Ski resort, check out my Alpine Ski Resort Guide):

Text and Images Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2012
All Rights Reserved

Flights to Oslo, Norway. Volcanic Ash flight disruption. Skiing near Oslo, ski holiday Norway. Hotels in Oslo. Drivng from Oslo to UK.

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