Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to
Alice: I don't much care where.
The Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.
Alice: …so long as I get somewhere.
The Cat: Oh, you're sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.
Thursday, 15 April 2010
A friend's call wakes me up. "Have you boarded yet? There's been a volcano eruption in Iceland. An ash cloud is spreading itself over the North Europe. Many flights have been cancelled." I check the websites of the Schiphol airport, Air Baltic and Riga International Airport. Nothing extraordinary. All flights seem to depart and arrive as scheduled. There seem to be no problems when we arrive at Schiphol. We arrive in Riga on a cloudless warm day, happy, looking forward to the concert of Gotan Project the same evening. (It was terrific!)
Friday, 16 April 2010
Carefree sightseeing in Riga. The city centre appears to be extremely small. We have visited all the sights including climbing the tower of the St. Peter's Church, visiting a couple of amber stores and checking out the prices of Rigas Balzams. The next day would be for visiting a museum or two and shopping.
Saturday, 17 April 2010
Of all museums we picked the Museum of Foreign Art. The same building also houses the History Museum of Latvia and Presidential office. Because of the president the building has a guard marching up and down the street. While Vovka was playing with his camera trying to depict the guards I decided to check out the flights at the Riga International Airport. HELL!!! All flights are cancelled!
All of a sudden we lost all the interest in foreign art. Instead we went to a café with a free WiFi network to make Skype phone calls with our foreign cell phones. Riga Airport could not give us more information than we already had – all the flights for Saturday were cancelled. "Call again tonight. We might be able to give you more information on tomorrow."
AirBaltic was totally unreachable. "All our agents are busy. Please hold the line." After listening to this message for about thirty minutes we gave up.
Of all the car rental companies we manage to reach only Avis. Renting a car in Riga and returning it in The Hague would cost us EUR 2,000. Nice price!
At the railway station we learned that there is no direct train connection between Latvia and Lithuania. All the trains go through Russia which is a no-go area because of visa restrictions. Mental note: always take my Ukrainian passport with me, just in case.
All the bus companies have doubled their prices and threw in extra busses, but are still fully booked a week ahead.
Sunday, 18 April 2010
I wake up with a terrible headache and a serious food poisoning. At that point the fact that our flight (and all other flights Westwards) has been cancelled didn't sound as bad news at all. I stay at home trying to get myself together, Vovka heads for the airport. He is reporting every once in a while.
"There are two tickets to Berlin for tomorrow if anything is flying tomorrow. Once we change the destination, we'll not be able to change it back meaning we will have to wait for the next available flight to Berlin. There are also places for the flight to Amsterdam for the day after tomorrow. That sounds more realistic to me." "Ok, let's take that."
"There seems to be an opportunity to rent a car here and hand it over to people who want to go from Hamburg to Riga. This way we won't have the high price for returning the car in another country."
"Ok, those people are not in Hamburg, but in Munchen." "Can they take a train to Hamburg or somewhere North?" "No, there are no train tickets available."
"A taxi company offers a car with a driver all the way to the Netherlands. EUR 100 per seat. But the car is for 8 persons. I don't think we can find six more people who want to travel with us."
Later we started checking the possibility to get out of Riga by boat. Unfortunately the ferry from Riga to Lubeck is discontinued as of January 2010. There is a ferry from Klaipeda to Kiel. How do we get to Klaipeda (Lithuania)? Not by train. Busses? None of them connects to the ferry.
What if we rent a car to Klaipeda? That is possible. The car with a driver would cost us EUR 200. That's when we discover that the only places available are the luxury cabins. EUR 600 doesn't sound like a good deal considering the fact that we would still need to take a train from Lubeck to The Hague.
It's almost half past nine at night when we finally end up at a restaurant to have a dinner. The restaurant was not crowded. There was a couple at a table next to the window and a group of five men next to another window. We chose a table in the corner. I was watching the guys. They seemed very relaxed chatting and drinking red wine. Wait! Did one of them just say "gezellig"?! I get up and walk over to their table. "Are you stranded just like us?"
They guys have arranged a car to Berlin through their hotel. The car has six places and they occupy five of them. "Is it possible to change the car for something bigger?" "No, I don't think so. We have already arranged everything, have given them our names and numbers. But you can ask a hotel to arrange something for you. They are very helpful." "What hotel are you staying at?" "Iceland Hotel!"
The hotel is called Islande (has nothing to do with Iceland) and the woman at the reception was indeed very eager to help. She wasn't sure what Dutch I was talking about and wasn't sure who booked a car where and how. But she gave me the number of the taxi company their hotel works with.
I dialed the number and got the driver of the car. It sounded like the car that would bring 'our' guys to Berlin. Unless there is another group of five Dutch men staying at Islanda Hotel and travelling to Berlin by car tomorrow morning. "We have 1,5 places available." "Great, we'll take that!"
Fingers crossed! But if this doesn't work tomorrow morning, we will try renting a couple of bikes…