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Every year Igluski takes a team of ski travel experts away for a week of skiing in Val d'Isére in mid-April, as a reward for their efforts during the long winter of busy sales. Val d'Isére has never failed to provide powder in April in the last 5 years I have done this. This year was busier and better for Igluski than ever before, so not only did I take the largest group away ever, I also secured seven rooms in the 5 Trident Club Med Village of Val d'Isere for seven nights from 11th April 2010 for the top sellers and managers . The other 25 of our group were spread between the superbly located 5* Chalet Cherrier and the very basic but lovable 2* Vieux Village, both run by well-known chalet package operators that provided flights, transfers and catered accommodation.
The only catch for those of us in Club Med was that we had to travel independently, as they ran out of UK flights. No sweat, we're travel experts, right?
Towards the end of our amazing week cocooned in the all-inclusive luxury bubble of Club Med, the word started to spread about some troublesome Volcano way off in Iceland blowing its top and spewing out ash and bad attitude. Did we care? Of course not! It was several thousand miles away and we were having the time of our lives, hunting powder stashes in the bright sunshine and enjoying long lunches with wine at either our hotel or at the brilliant Club Med Tignes, which has an excellent sun terrace for watching the beautiful people, or laughing at the kids ski school right in front. Those tiny kids with their big helmets and miniature skis are hilarious.
Our interest in this distant and insignificant Volcano was peaked when a rumour spread like wildfire through the resort that for some unfathomable reason the airspace around the UK was being closed. Surely this was being excessively Safety Sam and our Swiss airline would be back in the air within a few hours. That evening the seven of us independent travellers gathered around a TV to watch CNN deliver the news that not only was the UK airspace not opening but two thirds of western Europe's airports were also closing. Uh oh!
The next morning, the 25 of our crew that were on packages were getting loaded onto coaches, while we were frantically searching for ways back on our laptop (Club Med has Wi-Fi). Their tour operators had acted swiftly to secure coaches and ferry slots to make sure their guests were back on the day expected, even if they were a little weary after 22 hours on a Coach.
None of us stranded 'Volcano 7' had brought our full car licenses to hire a car, and even if we had, the prices being quoted for a seven-seater were somewhat shocking for a one way trip to London and we couldn't get a ferry space at any major port. Club Med had also gotten all the guests who had booked travel through them onto coaches to get home but we independent travellers were stuck. Club Med understood our predicament and promised to look after us until we found a way home and we were very grateful to have a roof over our heads as we could not find a train and bus seat anywhere online or by phone.
We gave up trying to get home Monday and had a lovely blue bird powder day after the Sunday snowshowers, with a nice Raclette meal back at the hotel. I know that all sounds great but we were feeling the stress of missing work. Eventually, after many hours on the laptops and phones, on Tuesday we secured some individual Eurostar seats. It was time to say a tearful goodbye to Val d'Isere for another year.
Myself and three others of the Volcano 7 finally got moving and we caught a taxi to Bourg St Maurice, a slow train to Chambery, a fast TGV train to Paris, spent a night in a 1 star Fawlty Towers-like special and a sunny lunching day in Montmartre near Gare du Nord, before finally catching the 20.53 Eurostar back to London. It had been a fun trip but this was a very, very expensive Volcano rescue.
The other three of the Volcano 7 couldn't get Eurostar tickets so they caught a transfer to Geneva, an overnight slow train via Basel to Amsterdam, spent a hazy night in the Flying Pig hostel, caught a train to Rotterdam and then an overnight ferry to Harwich and a train down London. Their trip was slightly cheaper but they lost an extra day (and several billion brain cells) by not getting back until Thursday night.
You never never know when the next Force Majeure, act of God or Casus Fortuitus is going to strike. In the last few years I've heard so much about how the travel insurance companies just don't have to pay for things, which seem to be getting more regular like Tsunamis, Earthquakes, and now Volcanoes.
Thank you Eyjafjallajökull for an eventful week but my feelings towards insurance companies has taken a nose dive from deplorable to an unprintable level.
Written by Adam Johnson
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