Sunday, April 18, 2010

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and Boats, or, How I Got to the London Book Fair

So you've probably heard about the eruption of Eyjafjallaj√∂kull, 

which has led to the cancellation of all transatlantic flights leaving travellers stuck all over the U.S. and Europe and prevented hundreds of foreign publishers from getting to the London Book Fair, which starts today.  Your correspondent, however, is not easily deterred. Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor airborne particles of sulfurous ash and jet-destroying silicates was going to keep me from schmoozing my colleagues from Britain and elsewhere. Undaunted, I set off on Friday from my office in  the Flatiron

for JFK Airport. There, I boarded a plane for Dublin. This was the flight I had originally booked weeks before--not because I am amazingly prescient, but because I got a cheap ticket on an airline I like, Aer Lingus. The leprechauns were with me, because I took what I believe was the last flight to reach Europe that evening. (A later flight to Dublin got halfway and was turned back.) An Aer Lingus official told me they couldn't promise any flights beyond Dublin--but friends in Edinburgh, my next stop, told me Scottish airports were open as of Friday afternoon.

So they were--but by the time I landed in Dublin Saturday morning, Irish airspace was closed and all flights across Europe were cancelled.  The airport was full of long snaking queues of befuddled travelers. (I must say that airline staff were extremely courteous, and almost every traveler around me displayed remarkable patience in a situation that was obviously unlooked-for by everyone.)

I went to Plan B, and booked the next non-cancelled flight to Edinburgh (the next morning). But that seemed dicey, so it was time for Plan C: the ferry from Dublin across the Irish Sea and train to London. The problem with Plan C was that I couldn't confirm on the internet that there were train tickets available--I was far from the only traveler who thought of the ferry solution. But my friends in Scotland told me there was a ferry from Belfast to the Scottish coast, and volunteered to pick me up at the dock (above and beyond the call of duty, since their house looks out on the Firth of Forth--the other coast of Scotland). Thus was launched Plan D.

I got into Dublin and caught the train to Belfast with enough time for breakfast--coffee was what made this journey possible. From Belfast Central, a taxi to the port, where I boarded the ferry to Stranraer. From there, Michael and Jane whisked me cross country to Edinburgh.

And this morning, after a blessedly civilized evening and a delicious night's sleep,  I hopped the train from Edinburgh's Waverly Station to London. 

I confess I actually enjoyed my trip. It was a beautiful weekend to be traveling around Ireland, Scotland, and England, and by the end of it, I felt like Phileas Fogg.  All that was missing from the adventure was a hot-air balloon. 

Tomorrow, I'll be at Earl's Court Exhibition Centre for the Book Fair, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and hoping to scoop up an armful of bestsellers that my fellow Americans aren't around to see. 

Then I just have to figure out how to get home.

(all photos via Wikimedia Commons. In the train photo I have taken a liberty: I did not ride the Flying Scotsman steam train. But Phileas Fogg would have. )