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Slow Glasgow-ing

December 24, 2010

At 12pm on Saturday, I locked my door, pulled out the handle on my newly-acquired, regulation-conforming carry on case and headed downstairs. It was the first day of the Christmas break and so I had booked myself a four day trip to Glasgow. My train was due to leave Lyon at 1pm and arrive in Paris at just after 3. This would give me an hour to get to Porte Maillot, where I would take a bus out to Beauvais Airport, Ryanair’s definition of an airport in Paris.

Arriving at Part-Dieu 25 minutes early, I took my place amongst the other several hundred people gawking at the departure screens, waiting for the platform to be revealed. At 12.55, it was announced that the train to Paris was 10 minutes late. Oh well, I thought, that still gives me plenty of time. Porte Maillot is a mere 25 minutes from Gare de Lyon in Paris.

I wandered around for a bit before returning to consult the screen again. This time, the departure had been revised. It was now 40 minutes late. This presented a major problem, in that I was now due to arrive in Paris at 3.45 and I had to be on the 4.20 bus to Beauvais. Cutting it fine, but still possible. Fortunately, the delay was scaled back to 25 minutes, and at 1.30 the platform was announced. I boarded the train and waited. And waited. Finally, the train pulled out of the station at 1.45. This meant I would arrive in Paris at 3.50 at the earliest. I reasoned that if I missed the bus, I had a good excuse and could simply catch the next bus.

In the end, after briefly wandering around lost, I finally found the bus departure point  at 4.30. In front of me stood an enormous queue that appeared to be at a standstill. After 10 minutes it had barely moved. I was waiting when a girl with a thick Scottish accent approached me.

“How ye along?”
“Sorry?”
“Are you alone?”
“Oh. Yes. Yes I am.”

As it happened, the buses weren’t running to the airport at all, blaming the snow. Alex, the Scottish girl, was attempting to find a fourth person for a taxi to get out to the airport. As luck would have it, I was selected to be that person. Given that there was no information offered about the buses and noone had any idea of what was happening, I hate to think what may have happened had I not been the fourth wheel.

For the next 15 minutes Alex, her friend Edie, a Chinese girl called Mun and I struggled to catch a cab, competing with various other people to find one. Finally, we headed across the road to a nearby hotel and soon had a driver willing to take us out to Beauvais. We loaded up the bags, climbed aboard, and hit out into the wet Paris streets. Passing onto the motorway, we were rather bemused by the decision not to run buses: there was not a patch of snow on the road.

This all changed about 40 minutes into the journey, when the first traces of white stuff appeared. An hour in, things were getting hairier and traffic had slowed to 60kms/h. The snow was falling steadily and had built up sizeable deposits on the windscreen, out of reach of the wipers.

The good news was that Edie’s mum worked at passport control at Prestwick Airport in Glasgow, so we were given running updates on flight delays. The flight was scheduled to leave at 7.50; already it had been pushed back to 9. Given progress was slow on the increasingly treacherous roads, this was welcome news.

The snow increased, and conditions were quickly becoming dangerous. The cab driver stuck to the wheel furrows left by the car in front as we crawled along at 30. Nostalgi FM offered some light relief as Alex and Edie slept in the back seat. As the cab driver became more confident, the acceleration increased, until the cab started sliding on the road, at which point he would back off and apologise. This continued for the next hour, destroying my nerves in the process. We passed a car that had run off into the road into a ditch; this did not exactly help to inspire confidence.

Finally, two hours and €140 later, we had arrived at Beauvais Airport. Our flight had progressively been pushed back to 9.20, then 9.40, and was now scheduled at 9.55. Edie remarked that any further delays would probably result in cancellation. The thought of spending the night stuck at the airport hung over us as we sat and ate at the airport cafe. Fortunately, no other delays eventuated and we boarded the plane, which finally took off at 10.15.

Thanks to the time difference, we arrived in Glasgow at 10.45. I was asked the usual questions by border security and walked down the hall that informed me I was now in the UK. I got to the train station just as the train pulled in, and soon we were speeding north to Glasgow.

I stepped out into the chilly air and briskly walked to the hostel, checking in at just after midnight. Upstairs, I stashed my bag and fell into bed. Despite delays, a lot of sprinting and one of the hairiest drives I’ve encountered, I had made it to Scotland.

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