If you’re a hard-core traveler and have had your share of missed flights only because the airports that have budget airlines flying out from them are in the middle of nowhere, read; very far from civilization, train and tram connections; you’ll devise ways to hopscotch that will include some humorous note-worthy moments; all the while massively inconveniencing yourself.
Like a couple of weeks ago when I had a TUI flight to Sarajevo.
As I normally have cold feet before a flight, my solution is to push everything to the last minute. Everything including cleaning a house that looks like a war zone.
On the flight date (if it’s an afternoon flight), I wake up bright and early with just sufficient energy to sweep through the house.
At some point, I realize I’m thirsty, and need a hot cuppa, with some poached eggs and two slices of toast. I sip my cuppa slowly and leisurely, all the while swiping through instagram and generously apportioning all and sundry; a couple of likes, teary laughs, smiles and well done emojis, as well as comments here and there. I’m big on engagement.
Meanwhile, Little Miss Ashley is screaming blue murder as the clock has chimed ten; the time we had planned to set off. Little Miss Ashley doesn’t scream for screams’ sake. She hollers because at this time; she has bathed, brushed her teeth, dressed up and is in ready-steady-go mode; sitting beside her little suitcase.
I relax some more, as my chest warms up from all the tea sliding into my tummy.
The mad rush to finalize cleaning ensues, as well squeezing odds and ends into a suitcase that appears to be bursting at it’s seams. I always have an epiphany at this point; the sage feeling that half the items in the suitcase will neither be needed or used during the trip. I have no idea which half, so I ignore those thoughts. I exhale loudly when we are out the door headed for the bus then Antwerp-bound Roosendaal train.
Antwerp is one of our favourite cities in Europe, if only for the delectable Hector’s chicken that is grilled to spicy perfection; the only comparison (in our eyes and tongues) being made, is to Nandos. No one does chicken quite like these two, and if anyone does; we need to be introduced pronto.
We line up at the wrong place and are politely asked to pay first if our order is ‘take away’; so we move to the cashier to pay, and get back to the correct line which has swelled considerably since we went to the cashier. Apparently, we are not the only ones who love Hector chicken…the whole world loves Hector’s chicken!
Shifting my weight from one foot to the other, and letting out audible sighs, I impatiently wait for the line to thin, willing for everyone’s order to be served quicker. Amidst turning what he’s frying, the chef spots us, takes our receipts and hands over our tasty package.
We are now on half run-half fly mode as we cross the road to Antwerp’s magnificent train station. So magnificent is the station that its’ neo-gothic facade reminds one of a cross between the Taj Mahal and an ancient Cathedral. We glance at the lengthy lines snaking to the purchasing counters and pass, opting to get our tickets from the machines. A foreign couple seemingly fumbles at the machine with no success. They spot us behind them, and let us pass ahead, saying, “The machine doesn’t seem to work.”
With a card in, and a couple of clicks here and there, our tickets are printed out. Voila!
One of the assistants milling around asks if everything went well and we respond in the affirmative, we have our tickets. He then helps the couple as we set off for the escalators going two floors down into the belly of the beautiful station.
Brussels Charleroi is way, way, way out there..and each time we take off from there, we promise ourselves that this will be the very last time we’ll take flights from the airport.
Like the proverbial pregnant-lady-in-lengthy-labour‘ who kicks, screams, gnashes her teeth and pulls out tufts of her hair, all the while swearing this will be the very last time she pushes out a baby, then finds herself yet again in the same position a year later; we always find ourselves booking cheap flights that.., you guessed it…take off from Brussels Charleroi! (We can’t be blamed, can we? Ryan Air flights especially, when booked way ahead of the flight date are dirt cheap, it’s penny pincher heaven..)
Disclaimer: you may lose your pennies though, and be fined a hefty amount if you’re late for check-in. As well, for any hand luggage, they are serious about inflammable items and liquids being below 100ml. I felt a huge lump in my throat when gloved security at London Stanstead gingerly picked my never been opened 200ml tub of utterly butter and tossed it in the bin.
If there ever has been a day I restrained myself from diving head-first into the bin to retrieve a tub of brand new butter, that was the day. I pretended to be stoic, swallowed hard (I don’t waste food) and let it go.
I digress. When we get to Charleroi Train station almost two hours later, we still have to huff and puff to the airport bus stop. As it is Sunday, the bus will take much longer to arrive and we can’t afford to miss this flight so we make a beeline to the taxi-stands. Seeing a couple of guys milling about the taxi stand, loading their luggage to the boot; I do something brazen. (Travel teaches one to be foolishly bold, aye?)
I ask if we could share the taxi to split costs. (I’m pretty certain everyone at this train station is headed to Charleroi Airport.) Their faces show a mix of hesitation and confusion, and I gather that they are not anglophone speakers. My experience as a black girl living in Europe has taught me that this request to taxi-share may be misconstrued by the speakers of anything but English, so we jump into the empty taxi next in line, and breath a sigh of relief when the driver tells us it will cost anything between 20 to 25 euros. That’s affordable, I think. The last time some driver charged me 50 euros and his faulty GPS almost led us to Luxembourg.
I digress yet again.
We are at Brussels Charleroi Airport after I have ‘not so gently’, used my paltry French to goad our calm taxi driver into accelerating.
“Rapidement…s’il vous plait!” I lean forward and shriek into his ears.
We finally get to the very secure airport with armed soldiers sauntering about, arms akimbo, their huge guns slung around their shoulders and stiff berets atop their heads.
We have to weave our way around and about to get to the entrance.
I rush to the nearest ATM and withdraw 50 euros as I have insufficient funds on me. Mr Taxi driver doesn’t have change so he begins to ask various eateries and magazine vendors to break the note down.
After about five of his requests for change being turned down; with desolees aplenty and nons, I decide to buy an overpriced cupcake just to get change.
At that moment, a happy bartender has decided to give him several notes, and I’m quite certain that with the time wasted, our flight may very well be airborne.
We line up at the ticketing desk. With three people ahead and the Sarajevo flight having no reading on the board, I’ve resigned to fate and very ready to make the long journey back home.
A young guy in a hat looking much like the splitting image of Bruno Mars is requesting to jump the queue.
“My gate closes in five minutes,” he says, with a calm I cannot understand.
“Our gate is likely closed,” I blurt out, strangely finding comfort that someone else understands my predicament. It’s like we’re kindred spirits.
“Oh okay,” kindred brother says while taking a step back. “The same problem.”
I urge him to pass and stand ahead of me. “At least you have five minutes to catch your flight.”
When we get to the front of the queue, the airline official sends us to another desk. Groan.
Little Miss Ashley casts me a look of fury. One that says, “Thanks for wasting my day mum!”
The board displaying Sarajevo still doesn’t have any signal yet the official makes a couple of calls. Lo and behold, we can still make it. He asks if we have our luggage checked in. Affirmative, I respond. “We just have carry-ons.”
We have our tickets on app, and the green light signals we’ve been checked in so we proceed.
Suddenly there’s commotion behind me.
“Whose bag in this?” one of the security men shouts in panic.
“Ugh..sorry, that’s mine,” I breathe out when I glance back at my suitcase looking forlorn and solitary.
Shoulders heave in relief. If it was unclaimed, there would be a big hassle, and the people who deactivate bombs would be called to examine it.
Security is busy. Lines of people banging trays onto the conveyor belt, and placing their bags ontop. I skip a couple of lines, meanwhile profusely apologizing as my gate is about to close. The folk in line seem to understand. There are two kinds of travelers; those who arrive painfully early and those who arrive painfully-a-couple-of-minutes before the gate closes.
I know the drill. Jacket off, ipad, laptop and cameras, all in one tray. Our suitcases and bags each in another tray.
I’m ready to go throught the screening.
“Beep beep, beep!!”
The security people have their eyes on me.
I have to get back.
“Your necklaces and bracelets have to be off ma’am.”
I’m now breathing like an overweight hippo that has run a mile, as I hurriedly remove my accessories.
Our luggage is scanned, then the mad rush to place everything back in the suitcases. Little Miss Ashley with her nimble fast fingers helps to order everything. We set suitcases rolling on the ground, grab the holders, then….RUN!
Everyone is busy as I take one last sweeping glance to see we’ve left nothing behind. Clothes, belts, shoes are flying off and landing into trays. Sounds and looks like striptease sessions in a busy market. Security is hawk-eyed. I keep it moving.
The signal for Sarajevo indicates we have to go through customs.
Our passports are stamped and we get through to boarding. There’s a huge crowd waiting to board. Imagine that! Our heart rate normalizes and we catch our breaths.
We purchase some overpriced drinks.
Boarding has begun.
We look forward to Backpacking the Balkans beginning for the second time with Sarajevo. Have you flown through from Brussels Charleroi? How was the experience like for you?