I arose early on Good Friday – I was a man on a mission, with places to visit and things to do. Late last year when Ryanair was doing another of their promotions I managed to find an Easter deal to visit Stockholm – departing on Good Friday and returning on Easter Monday – for 98 euro return. Stockholm (or Sweden) had never featured highly on my ‘places I must visit’ list – partly because I had visited Malmo on a day trip from Copenhagen years earlier. This meant I had already been to the land of IKEA and Volvo, so it was not a gaping hole on my European travel map. This coupled with the fact that it was still sub-zero at night in Stockholm in April, meant my attitude towards Sweden was one of mild interest rather than burning desire. Don’t misunderstand me – I adore ABBA as much as the next person, but they are a band that has transcended time and space that can be appreciated from anywhere.
I packed my bags, taking special care to look after my passport card. When I replaced my ten year passport book last year I also invested in a five year passport card. This credit card sized item enables travel within the EU without the need for a regular passport. Good thing really. My passport is currently at the Nigerian Embassy in Dublin as I wait on a visa for my brother’s June wedding. This would be my first trip solely using the passport card. Into my hand luggage it went along with bank cards; phone, insulin; change of underwear and a book – my reading material for this journey was ‘The wonder’ by Emma Donoghue.
To the station I went to catch the 12.55 train to Dublin. This wouldn’t be a direct train – I would need to change at Limerick Junction. Regular readers will know of the existence of Limerick Junction – a bleak, desolate station in a field in county Tipperary where passengers from Limerick travelling to Dublin must change to the Cork train to their final destination of Heuston. The Junction is a hovel where dreams go to die, suffering as it does from a micro-climate where it rains 367 days a year, where the temperature rarely exceeds 4 degrees and where there are only two hours daylight even in the height of summer. While I might be exaggerating somewhat, you’ll understand the type of place it is.
Surprisingly that Saturday the Cork to Dublin train was already waiting at the Junction. The sun was shining. How unusual, I thought to myself. My seat was D33. I was seated at a table of four. The other three passengers at my table were three Dublin grannies who had been to Cork to support their grandchildren at an Irish dancing Feis (competition). Press 2 below for next page
I made my way to the airport in an almost fugue state. A 6.20am flight meant arrival at the airport at 4.30am – not the time of day that I want to live, laugh or love. After I made my way through the security screening I realised that I had lost my ring – between the metal detector / X-ray machine and the point when I was on my way to the gate. My father’s wedding ring had slipped off my little finger. Perhaps it was when I removed my belt and jacket, or took the liquids and laptop from my bag for screening. This was unfortunate. I have worn the ring intermittently over the past twenty years. I received it after my father died in January 2003, while I was on holiday in Melbourne. Having noticed that the ring was slipping off my finger more easily in recent months I had made a vague commitment to being more careful with it. Fully awake now I went back to the screening area. The guards re-Xrayed my bags and in an apologetic but firm manner told me that they could do no more, and gave me a card to report it to Lost and Found, who updated their website with missing items daily. I was peeved. I am not somebody who is sentimental over physical things, so I wouldn’t be weeping into my pillows over the missing ring. Save for the ring though, and a brown leather box, these were the only items I possessed that belonged to my father.
There was no point in stressing. It had happened, it couldn’t be undone, and I’d have to get on with my trip (after an email to Lost and Found). My first ever journey to the cradle of western civilisation – Athens. I’d been to Greece’s second city Thessaloniki a few times previously with work, and to the beautiful island of Mykonos, but this would be my first trip to Athens. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew there would be magnificent, ancient ruins for sure, but had been told by various people – Greeks included – to be careful, as it was a fairly grungy city where petty crime was sometimes a feature.
Travelling on Friday 3rd March, four days earlier Greece had experienced its worst ever train disaster when a packed, passenger train travelling at full speed from Athens to Thessaloniki had a head on collision with a freight train coming in the opposite direction. Fifty seven people (at the most recent count) had been killed. Greece was a county in mourning, while also seeking answers from the government who had privatised the rail network without securing the rail infrastructure’s safety.
As I sat in Dublin Airport waiting to board my plane to Bergamo, I had a thought. If I’d checked travel dates when booking my foreign trips six months earlier, I wouldn’t have travelled to Naples one weekend, returned home, only to go back to southern Italy the following weekend. I’d have stayed in Italy. Sadly, this was only a thought, so there I was again – sitting in Departures, waiting to board a Ryanair flight.
Upon arrival in Bergamo I realised why my hotel was so cheap – it was out in the countryside – and as my flight landed at 10.30pm I had to take a taxi there – there being no public transport at that hour. The driver was a sleazy grifter. He didn’t look like one, but he changed forty euros for a five-kilometre trip. In these situations, it’s not worth arguing. I paid the money and swore not to take another taxi this holiday. Arising at 7.30 I started planning my return journey to Bergamo Airport for my 11.50am flight. Sipping a strong coffee, an awkward fact presented itself. It would be quicker to walk from my rural B&B than to take a bus. Also 40 euro cheaper than Uber was telling me the 5km journey would cost. It seems like I had misjudged by driver from the night before. This is after all the most expensive part of Italy. The early morning stroll to the airport was scenic and rustic until I reached the motorway. I could see the airport in the distance, but how to safely traverse six lanes of traffic. A kindly Italian farmer pointed me in the direction of an underpass (he saw me looking bewildered from his tractor). Onwards to Lecce.
Ryanair is an airline that receives a lot of deservedly bad press. Its lack of customer service; its ability to charge extra for absolutely everything; its habit of charging more for a flight change than it is to simply abandon your initial flight and instead make a brand new booking; its hard sell at every point of the booking and flying process – I doubt the children’s charities who are meant to benefit from Ryanair lottery tickets receive much funding from the airline Like clockwork Michael O’Leary issues a press release every couple of years to announce that Ryanair are going to start charging to use the toilets on board. Cue lots of press outrage over this publicity stunt, even though everyone knows that free toilets are a legal onboard requirement in the aviation industry.
I have no issue with Ryanair. It is upfront about how horrible it is, almost proud of this fact. You get what you pay for – and woe betide you if you miss something – the airline won’t help. I like the fact that it flies to many destinations that other airlines don’t offer. It can also be very cheap so long as you check the small print. Your €9.99 trip to Amsterdam will actually cost you €140 when you add in the price of the return flight; the price of a carry-on bag and the train transfer from Eindhoven to Amsterdam. With a bit of plotting you can get some deals.
Two weeks ago the carrier had one of its flash 24 hour sales. I had a quick look at saw that a return flight from Dublin to Paphos in Cyprus including a carryon bag would cost €120. This is the longest flight on the Ryanair network. The flight lasts about 5 hours. More horrifically, the outbound leg of the journey was at 5.45am on Friday morning. Needs must.