I’ve seen some pretty obscure happenings on my travels over the years but the site of six Asian women with a full size kettle making cups of noodles in the Ladies toilets in Amsterdam airport yesterday has to be right up there with the best of them. They took it in turns to boil the kettle and fill up each cardboard bowl with water before surreptitiously slurping the sloppy treat whilst a queue of bewildered ladies waiting to perform their ablutions formed around them. I don’t know what I was more baffled by… the fact they had bothered to pack a full size kettle in their hand luggage possibly in a vain attempt at saving a few euros or the fact that in one of the largest airports in Europe they chose to dine in the toilet.
It was merely the beginning of what was to be yet another unusual travel expedition for me which was to commence with my disembarking the beautiful Celebrity Silhouette in Amsterdam, after joining her for the last five days of her baltic cruise and heading to Flamm, a blog favourite of mine for those of you who have read before, to join the Celebrity Eclipse during her Eight night Fjords cruise through Norway.
Never straight forward, obviously or I wouldn’t ever need to write this blog. Feel free to peruse a map of Europe if you’re unfamiliar (I live here and I still had to take a look) but Latvia was not necessarily up there with my assumption of stop over choices en route from the Netherlands to Norway. However I headed to the airport and tried to settle myself for what was to be a 10 hour wait for my first flight to the capital Riga.
Theres a baggage storage facility in Schipol airport and though I contemplated a trip on the train back into the city, to be honest I was truly exhausted. I never really sleep much the night before I disembark or travel to a ship for fear of sleeping through my alarm and having performed in the farewell variety show the previous evening I needed the ‘coming down’ time and chance for the adrenalin to disperse for hitting the hay anyway. So I decided I would pay for some premium wifi, stream some of my favourite UK TV shows and have a quiet relaxing ‘me’ day.
The only spoiler to this plan was the fact that I couldn’t find a plug socket. Anywhere. A soap opera marathon was going to require three things… a set of head phones, some snack food and a power point so as not to be disrupted at a crucial plot crossroads. I wasn’t having any luck. I checked all the bars and cafes in the departure area and in the end I could only find one on the back of the fire extinguisher station. Sporadically therefore I would have to leave the relative comfort of my seat and go and sit on the floor for half an hour to recharge my devices. Less than glamorous but hardly arduous.
The day passed by relatively smoothly and after a painstaking slow check in process I headed to my gate for my flight to Riga, the Latvian capital. I wasn’t even sure what currency they used in Latvia. Good old google reliably informed me they had indeed joined the Euro and on my arrival, tired and weary I headed to the taxi rank with all my luggage to ascertain the quickest possible route to my hotel bed. A very grumpy taxi driver I can only describe as ‘lobbed’ my bags into the back of the car and before I had even closed the door set off at break neck speed through the airport car park. I deduced that maybe my hotel wasn’t that far away as he seemed rather disgruntled at my destination request. I felt guilty that the guy had got to the front of the taxi line for his turn to be taken up with my short jaunt but before I had time to apologise or indeed even fasten my seat belt he almost thrust me though the gap in the seats and potentially through the windscreen. He was swearing (an assumption, granted as my Latvian isn’t my strongest suit) and swishing about between carriageways like a Super Mario Cart. The journey was literally a blur and only three Euros later I found myself castigated on the pavement outside the hotel with no receipt and the driver speeding off into the distance in a plume of exhaust fumes.
I dragged my wares into the foyer and the much much friendlier hotelier helped me carry them to my room.
The alarm went off at 5am and off I headed back to the airport, this time safely ensconced in the hotel shuttle bus.
I tried to take a little nap on my flight from Riga to Oslo but the all too frequent shoving of the seat behind made that implausible.
I had to collect my luggage AGAIN on arrival in Oslo and head back to check in for the third time in 18 hours and pay for my luggage again as all three flights had been with different airlines.
I had a couple of hours to kill in the airport and this was put to good use trying to choose a bathroom suite online whilst on the phone to Steve. We are renovating our new home whilst living in it which to be honest is not the most fun I have ever had. Though Steve is the one living in the disruption more than I am so I won’t complain.
I boarded the tiny propellor plane to find there were only three passengers. It was about as close as I’ll ever get to travelling in a private jet! I felt pretty sorry for the cabin crew member who had to repeat all the safety announcements in English just for me. My Norwegian is about as good as my Latvian.
As the plane took off and became smothered in the clouds she came and sat next to me
“I hope you don’t mind me asking?” she enquired “But what are you doing going to Sogndal? ”
I told her all about my journey to the ship, what I do onboard, the usual questions and we happily chatted the flight away. There was no view to behold as the marshmallow white of the sky had completely enveloped the aircraft.
I asked her about her life as cabin crew flying only in Norway with this domestic airline. She worked away a week at a time and was home every other week and had two children that her husband predominantly cared for. Every night she stayed in different town in Norway in a different hotel and therefore in a different bed. I pack and move every four or five days on average and I find this hard but compared to her I felt a little embarrased. She was utterly lovely and I really enjoyed talking to her. As the plane came in to land it became apparent that Sogndal was a very small place indeed. Throughout the caribbean season I frequently take island hooper flights on small aircraft in and out of petite airports but this was indeed the smallest airport I had ever seen. The guy waving the plane along the runway to its halt was the guy that opened the aircraft door and the same guy that unloaded the luggage and then drove it and put it onto the tiny conveyor belt in the arrivals hall. I say arrivals hall but the room was about the same size as the downstairs of my house. After asking a very accommodating big ginger viking whether or not I procure a taxi in this tiny hamlet he arranged for someone from the town to come and collect me.
“it will be about 20 minutes” he said. Theres no taxi’s here. we have to call the next town and they will send someone. You can wait in departures.”
I thanked him and headed inside out of the damp and cold to discover that Departures was half the size of arrivals!! This place was so lovely and as I waited a guy casually strolled in off the street and enquired about when the next flight was to Oslo like he was catching a bus. I loved it. This, i thought, is real community.
When the taxi arrived another typically ginger Nordic gent helped me put my bags in the car somewhat more courteously than they had been handle in Latvia. I got into the back of the plush four wheel drive and enquired about the journey.
“how long will it take to get to Flaam?” I asked politely. As per usual I was thoroughly embarrassed to death at being English and therefore having no command of the local language what so ever.
“its about 15 minutes to the ferry. Then the ferry is about 15 minutes. Then about 50 minutes on the other side” he answered.
“Ferry?” I replied??
“yes. he said. Its the only way to cross the fjord to get to Flamm”
“ok I guess” I replied and settled in for the journey.
As we wound our way down the beautiful narrow causeway into the village at the base of the fjord, I started to feel a rather strange sensation. I was getting hotter I think… I felt a little flushed and after a few seconds realised the sensation was coming from my legs and my backside (insert delicate whispering voice here)
Worried for a second I thought maybe I had a blood clot or worse still at my ripe old age was losing control of my bodily functions in public. I saw a light on the door frame out of the corner of my eye and realised it was in fact a heated seat. What a numpty I am.
We rolled up to the dock for the ferry and quickly and efficiently boarded for what was a short and scenery-free trip across the water. The cars were packed in and the sides of the ferry built up very high. I didn’t see a thing. I literally had no idea where he was taking me.
At the other side we headed off on our way and I whiled the time away marvelling at the sheer grandeur of each hillside and mountain and the breathtaking beauty of the tumultuous waterfalls as they spilled their wares around us tumbling into the icy fjord below. In and out of tunnels through the mountains I could see we were following the base of the fjord around into the valley. A little tired now and somewhat oblivious of time we entered another dark passageway and didn’t seem to emerge. I day dreamed and contemplated, thinking about how hungry I was (no shock there then) and how much I was looking forward to taking a power nap once I got onboard. Eventually we emerged froth other side of the tunnel and it took me a moment or two for my eyes to adjust.
“wow that was a long tunnel” I said
“yes” the ginger viking replied “the longest in the world. Twenty five kilometres through the mountain”
It was then it struck me. Even though this was an indirect somewhat crazy way to transfer from one ship to the next, it occurred to me that despite my fatigue I had embarked upon a journey that most people in their lifetime would never take. Three flights, the tiny plane. “Gunn” the lovely airline steward, the ginger vikings, the ferry across the fjord and the longest tunnel in the world just for little old me to get to a ship and seeing some songs.
I’m so blessed