This is, perhaps, why I've never bothered up to now to try and get to the U.K.
It has taken me 37 years to make my first trip to London, for next week's Book Fair. I wish that I could say, like Thoreau, that I was well-travelled in other ways, but it is, alas, not the case. University to bookshop to press, the last 12 years have been pretty tightly packed with other things. Throw in two boys seven and under, and my wife's business, which requires that she be available on an almost daily basis, and our opportunities to jetset about have been rather limited. Part of me regrets this—who doesn't want to see oneself as a cosmoplitan world traveller?—but part of me is quite happy to be an armchair traveller. And now the Gods—being a bit of a megalomaniacal polytheist (& recent Battlestar Gallactica convert)—seem to be conspiring to give me a quick Continental Grand Tour, and I'm seeing much more of Europe than I expected to.
Without a word of a lie, on Wednesday morning, as we were passing Iceland, Alexis said to me: "You know, we should have planned a brief stopover in Amsterdam." Little did we know that at almost precisely that moment, a volcano had erupted, spewing ash capable of shutting down a jet engine. So perhaps it is her fault. I've always thought the dame had rather special abilities.
We were supposed to be in Amsterdam for an hour. We're into our third day. Much of this time has been spent trying to get our baggage, or arranging alternative modes of transport. We managed after several hours on the phone to rebook a flight with KLM, the Dutch Airline, who had the temerity to play Bjork records while we were on hold: as if Icelandic ash wasn't enough! Luckily we then went down to the central railway station, this still at before 6 am Amsterdam time, to get one of the last tickets on Sunday via train to London. A good thing too, as KLM has already cancelled our Sunday flight. So we'll be seeing Brussels and I assume France tomorrow via a train window, to arrive in London in the early evening.
We don't yet have our baggage, and there's a better than reasonable chance that we won't by the time we leave tomorrow morning. We've been lucky to get a decent hotel in the hearet of Amsterdam, at an exorbitant price, but there are travellers who have not had a bed for more than two days, and others who will be stranded longer than we will be.
Our main fear is that this ash cloud may not dissipate enough for us to leave on time next week. If the volcano keeps spewing ash, then there's a chance that things may stay shut down for quite some time. And the pressure on the airlines will be greater every day, as the accumulation of cancelled flights and backlog causes more and more problems. So we may very well cut our London trip short to try and find a way via train to the south in the hopes of finding a plane that can make Canada close to our original return.
Not all of it is bad, of course. We're making the best of things. Did a canal boat tour, had a wonderfully over-priced peasants' dinner in a restaurant dating from the 16th century, we're in a hotel from the 17th, hit a museum, the Red Light District, and we're planning on going to the Van Gogh museum and doing a trip to the countryside to see the tulip fields today. We're finally over our jetlag, which cost us much of yesterday. And we've learned a lot. For instance, you don't NEED to buy a beer to use the washroom in the bars around town, and if you shower enough, you can stretch the same set of clothes (almost) three days. The Dutch advertise their pornography channels using a Mozart soundtrack. Who knows what else we'll discover by the time we make it back to Canada?
I'll try and keep you all posted about the further European education of a provincial publisher.
(from Thirsty: A Biblioasis Miscellany.)