Flights turn odysseys

Flights turn odysseys

The bus of President Toomas Ilves of Estonia crossed the  Hungary-Slovakia border on Monday. Ilves is in the second row’s left aisle seat.

Ilves left Istanbul on Sunday. On Monday he ate an impromptu dinner with President Boris Tadic of Serbia. In Poland, he stopped to lay a wreath on the fresh tomb of President Lech Kaczynski. In between, he and the Estonian first lady got their coffee and gas at convenience stores.

“I am not Odysseus returning to Penelope after 20 years; it has only been four days, so it is OK,” said Ilves, speaking by cellphone as he approached Estonia just in time to host a dinner for visiting dignitaries.

Airports rumbled back to life across Europe on Wednesday. But after volcanic ash shut down air travel across the continent for a week, passengers still faced uncertain prospects for boarding flights. Uncounted thousands of others, having opted for land or sea journeys, were telling of epic adventures that involved, among many weary details, big out-of-pocket expenditures and a shortage of clean socks. Prof Eric Sandweiss of Indiana University took his wife and twin 14-year-old sons on an Easter trip to northern Italy. After Ryanair cancelled their flight home from Pisa on Saturday, the earliest train reservations they could get were on Tuesday. The cost of meals, an apartment rental and scarce tickets on a series of trains reached $1,600.

Merkel’s travels

Nobody seemed to be the master of much in Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel embarked on an odyssey that took almost as long as her Estonian counterpart’s. After airplane stops in Portugal and Rome, Merkel rode in a bulletproof limousine from Italy to Germany.

In Moscow, huge lines at Belorussky station brought back memories of the former Soviet Union. Shortages empowered bureaucrats and created a vibrant black market in transportation tickets, some of dubious authenticity, travellers said.

But a young woman appeared with an offer too good to refuse, recalled Sergei Dreznin, a composer trying to make his way to Germany. The woman had a bus at her disposal and could take 50 people with her to Copenhagen via Berlin at a steep discount to the black market price. She needed the passengers to offset the cost of taking the bus to her wedding. It seemed like a minor miracle, not least because the woman also found two drivers with the visas needed to cross much of Eastern Europe.

The return of the ash

Stockholm, AFP: Several airports in Sweden, Norway and Finland, including in Finnish capital Helsinki, were closed on Thursday due to the return of volcanic ash, air traffic authorities said. In addition to Helsinki, which was likely to reopen at 1200 GMT, the airports in Norway’s second and fourth largest cities, Bergen and Stavanger, were shut.
The airport in Sweden’s second largest city Gothenburg was also closed, but scheduled to open again at 1200 GMT.

Norway, Sweden and Denmark had completely reopened their airspaces on Wednesday, but eastern bound winds brought volcanic ash from Iceland back into Swedish and Norwegian skies on Thursday, authorities said.

In Finland, where most airports had opened for only a few hours on Wednesday, authorities were hoping to open the Helsinki-Vantaa airport at 1200 GMT in time to welcome Finnair flights from Japan and China.

“The ash plume will remain over parts of Finland in the afternoon and restrict flight traffic beyond northern-most Finland,” airport authority Finavia said in a statement, adding Finnish airspace could be used normally for overflights. “Current forecasts indicate, however, that in the afternoon it could be possible to open the Helsinki-Vantaa, Lappeenranta, Mariehamn, Savonlinna and Turku airports,” it added.

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