When you think of transport, either public or planes, take a moment to think of what could go wrong if you have somewhere to be and you need to rely on them. Ok, got a little mental list? Well I can guarantee that probably 9/10 of the things on your list happened to me today.
Let's start at the beginning. As we know, my original flight to Amsterdam on Friday morning was cancelled due to Gatwick airport being closed because of the snow. I was looking forward to meeting my cousin and spending the day together in Amsterdam, which we couldn't do. However, I was lucky that I found another flight the next morning at 8.40am so I quickly snapped that one up thinking, that's it, I've had my share of bad luck. Wrong.
I left my hostel this morning at 5am and got to the train station only to find there had been residual strike action so there were no trains until 6am. That's ok, I can deal with that- that's why I left plenty of time. So I got on the train at 6am and was merrily on my way when 5 stations off from the Heathrow terminals, there's an announcement over the loudspeaker - “Attention, I've just been informed there's been a signal failure and this train will be terminating here. Passengers are advised to seek alternative transport”. That's it, no other information. So we all get off and ask what other transport we could possibly take at that time to the airport. “I dunno” shrugs the driver. “That's not my area”. Everyone flounders for a few minutes, waiting for someone to make an executive decision. Eventually a local who's been waiting on the platform pipes up and tells us if we catch a bus to another station on a different line there is a connection train there to Heathrow. By this time I feel nervous so I decide this is the way to go. We all wait in the freezing cold for the bus to turn up. It's late. When it does turn up, every single person getting on asks the same question - “does this go to Heathrow?” and the bus driver, instead of making some kind of announcement that yes it bloody well does, answers each of the 40 or so questions. By this time I'm starting to sweat. It's nearly 7am. Relax, I tell myself, I have time. That's why I left early.
We get to the train station where all of a sudden everyone suddenly has nothing to do while we wait for the connecting train. It's been a flurry of excitement up until now and suddenly we're all stuck waiting for the train. That's the worst bit. The train comes at 7.20 and then crawls towards the Heathrow terminals. Anyone who's been to Heathrow knows there are 5 separate terminals on 3 separate locations. Mine was (of course) not on the one that this train was going to and I was told I had to change again and wait for another one. It's 7.45 and I'm on the platform waiting for this other train. Now I start to panic – I haven't checked in yet because I couldn't print off my boarding pass so it's going to take some time for me when I get to the right terminal. The right train comes and takes me to the right terminal. As soon as the doors open (it's 8am by now) I burst out and run as fast as I can to the British Airways section. And stop dead. It's PACKED. People everywhere and worst of all there's a line for the bag drop a mile long. I run up to a self check in kiosk and print off my boarding pass. It tells me the gate will close at 8.20 so I have less than 20 mins to get this bag in. I find a helpful looking lady and ask her if I can skip the queue. Sorry, she says, she can't move from her post so she can't walk me down to the front. She points me to another lady, who looks less helpful. I run up to her and she turns away and locks herself behind a glass door so I can't speak to her. I look for someone else but there's no one. By this point I'm desperate. I qucikly check to see how big the hand luggage measurement is so I can see if my big bag will fit in. It doesn't. But it's not too big so I decided, screw it. I'm taking this bag on board.
So off I sprint to the other end of the terminal to get to my boarding gate. It's not really a sprint given the weight of my bag but it feels like it! I make it to my boarding gate at 8.15, red faced and puffed and praying my thanks that I've actually made it! Just in the nick of time.
Except it's not. After my mammoth effort to get there on time, we're late getting on to the plane. I happen to see another girl from my train that morning at the same gate so we start talking. It turns out we're sitting next to each other on the plane. We both congratulate each other on our good fortune in getting to the gate and plane.
As we've been waiting on the plane, stationery for 40 mins, the captain announces that we've missed our window of opportunity to clear the run way so we have to wait. He says it may be another hour. So we wait. We finally take off at 10am. As we are getting close to make our descent the captain again makes an announcment. A storm has just come into Holland so Amsterdam has closed its airport. We are a small aircraft so don't have many supplies or fuel. So we land in Brussels of all places! I can say I've also been to Belgium!
The captain says we'll probably be here for 30 mins. OK, I think, I can deal with that.
We're stuck in the plane, stationery for 5 hours.
Every hour the captain tells us we'll be moving soon and each time we all believe him less. After 5 hours of waiting for Amsterdam to open its airport again, it does!! Yay! But by this time, the snow has settled in Brussels and the wings are frozen. So we have to get the nifty wing defreezer (there actually is one!) to work its magic on getting rid of the ice on the plane. Problem is, there are a number of planes now around us all waiting and having frozen in the meantime. So we're in a queue to get access to the defreezer gun thing. By the time the thing gets to us, the nozzle on the gun has broken so we have to wait another hour for another defreezer to come.
Finally it does and we're defrosted and then another 40 mins after that we're in the air, bound for Amsterdam.
When we finally land at the airport the plane erupts in cheers. I feel elated – finally I can see mt family!! I've arranged with them to catch the train to where they live. Throughout the day I kept in touch with them, letting them know what was happening. They are so lovely and tell me not to worry about it.
So I get to the airport where I say goodbye to my new friend and make my way to the train station. A man stops me and asks me where I'm going. “Uh, to Utrecht and then Weert” I say. “Not today you're not”, he says and tells me that all the trains that way have been cancelled due to the snow. I am gutted. SO close but yet so far! So I call my family once again and they tell me to sit tight and will come and get me by car. That's no mean feat – it's 2 hours at least each way. It's such a kind act.
So I am waiting at the airport now for my family to come and get me. I feel slightly delirious from all the events today and one thing is on my mind – I just want to see my family. As I wait here for them, I'm struck by how I've never even met them before and they are willing to drive 2 hours on a freezing night to come and get me. I can't describe how amazing that makes me feel. So, after all the events today, the disappointments, the frustrations, the stress, in the end I am so fortunate.
I wrote that as I was waiting at Schiphol airport yesterday evening. My family came to meet me – my two female cousins and their parents and took me back home to their house. My first impression was to marvel at how tall they are!! I felt like quite a dwarf next to them. This was my first experience of meeting relatives overseas and I was struck by how happy it made me.
The weather got worse as we drove back to where they live, in Weert. The road became very snowy and dark as we drove. This snow was much worse than in England!
This morning we woke up to find most of the snow had melted and all has turned to slush. I went to church this morning with my cousins - the church itself was stunning. I've never seen one in Australia like it. The service was in dutch so I tried to make sure I didn't sit down or stand at the wrong moments :) However all the singing was in Latin and they used the Gregorian style for the music notation. I recently took lessons in reading this kind of notation and singing so it was fantastic to be able to follow along (somewhat!).
Today is Sinterklaas in Holland - the best festive holiday I've been told. We put out our shoe at the fireplace last night and this morning woke to find chocolates in it! And today is teh day that they exchange presents. Really, today is Christmas for them (which I didn't realise) so I feel very fortunate to be able to spend this day with them!
Tomorrow evening I am supposed to fly out of Schiphol airport again but to be onest I am not sure of my chances. I heard that last night the airport had to find beds for thousands of people who were stranded at the aiport. So I am just praying that the weather doesn't get any worse!