In February half term, I took the chance to pop home for a few days. The winter snow was over in Toulouse so I hadn’t anticipated any problems with the flights. But there was one other main factor that can affect air travel. As most of us know, the French are very keen on striking, and when going back to Toulouse the air traffic controllers in France had conveniently decided to use that day to show how underpaid their £50,000 salary was. This meant that no aircraft could fly anywhere over France. The problem was that this was a Friday, I was meant to be in work on Monday and the next available flight was Wednesday. There was one “convenient” solution, however, as the lady at the easyJet desk put it. Instead of flying straight to Toulouse, I could instead fly to Geneva in Switzerland and then make the 650 km onward journey to Toulouse myself.
Opportunity knocks! I had never been to Switzerland. This wasn’t how I’d imagined seeing the country for the first time, but I didn’t really have a choice. So, off I went to Geneva with no idea how (or if) I would get to Toulouse. I remember it being a fairly pleasant flight until landing. Geneva Airport is immediately surrounded by mountains, making anyone looking out the plane window cling on to the armrests for dear life.
After getting into Geneva itself – a 10 minute train journey…no problems there – it was time to join the two-hour queue at the main railway station to speak to the nice lady in the ticket office to see how the hell I would get back to Toulouse. It seems most people on my flight had the same idea. This being a weekday early evening in continental Western Europe, I imagined a high speed train, leaving fairly soon, taking about 3 or 4 hours. But no.
It was now around 6pm and the next train left at midnight. It was a night train, which go extra slowly, and it was going to Barcelona, which meant changing trains twice in the early morning, and there was not even a chance of getting a decent night’s sleep as there were only chairs available. All of this for only…€200 one way – not that this mattered as I’d be sending easyJet the bill as soon as I got back. So I reluctantly bought the ticket and now I had 6 hours to kill in a dark city where I had never been before.
Geneva, allegedly an international centre of finance and politics, was remarkably small and not as modern-looking as I’d imagined. It could have been any generic small, quaint Romance city, with the exception of being situated on a vast lake that stretched for dozens of kilometres. I wandered the cobbled streets and ended up treating myself to an Italian meal with a couple of glasses of white wine, again courtesy of easyJet. I had only killed around two hours and it was starting to get dark. I honestly cannot remember how I spent the remaining hours in the city as it was now somewhere I just didn’t want to be anymore.
The time eventually came to hop on the train and I was glad to be leaving, but despite being absolutely knackered from being suddenly thrusted into a city I hadn’t envisaged of being in the day before, I didn’t manage to get any rest at all. With my eyes closed for most of the journey and iPod set to the euphoria of early 90s dance music, I was just in this state of oblivion.
After dawn had broke, I had to make my first change of train in Perpignan, near the Spanish border, to then double back towards Toulouse, before another change in Narbonne. I got to Toulouse late the following morning, 24 hours after setting off, and went straight to bed, but not before sending easyJet the bill for all of this.
Now I may have been naive in thinking that this refund would be dealt with promptly. It may well have been, were it not for a certain Icelandic volcano erupting the following week, cancelling flights for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people over the coming days. Not only did it actually take six months to get this €200 back, easyJet astonishingly thought that, rather than refunding me the full whack, they would just send €50 “for my inconvenience”. But they got a fair mouthful off me and in the end I ended up with both the €200 back with the original €50, and another country ticked off my list.