TRAVEL with pat and lew

* a rocky trip from Collioure to Vilnius … “this is the adventure part”

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 11, 2009

It  started out bad; got much worse; there was a recovery (at great expense), then it was ok, and finally, all it all ended up with a really terrific conclusion.

We had long ago booked Ryanair flights from Perpignan to Stansted (London) and then the next morning from Stansted to Vilnius, overnight at the Radisson in Stansted.

So all we had to do was get from Collioure to the airport in Perpignan.

There were several alternatives, including a taxi from our apartment to the airport (roughly 50 euros). The other choice was to train from Collioure to Perpignan, then take the shuttle bus from the Perpignan train station to the Perpignan airport, which is what our British neighbors in Collioure do all the time. The appropriate shuttle bus was scheduled to leave the train station at 3:45 pm, arriving at the airport roughly 20 minutes later, in plenty of time for a 5:25 pm flight. The latest train to arrive in Perpignan before the shuttle would depart left Collioure at 1:00 pm, arriving in Perpignan at 1:20 pm.

Since the day we were leaving was also the day the Tour de France was arriving in Perpignan, I thought it would be wise to confirm the shuttle bus schedule for that day (July 8). I sent an email to the people who run the shuttle bus and received the following reply …

HI, There are shuttles buses at every arrival in front of the terminal. You buy tickets at the driver. For the 08th july the departure from the railway station is at 15h45 French local time. Bests regard. Marc FIANCETTE, ResponsableQualité Formation Développement, CCIPPO, Aéroport Perpignan Rivesaltes

So we had plenty of time. We walked, with our luggage (there’s no place to check it) about a half mile to the main street in Perpignan, which was the finish line for the Tour de France. We enjoyed the atmosphere, walked back to the train station, had a snack at the café across from the train station and waited for the 3:45 pm shuttle bus.

Which never came!

I inquired inside the train station and was advised that, due to the Tour de France, the shuttle bus was not running from the train station, but only from the bus station, 20 minutes walk away. It was now too late to get to the bus station, except by cab.

But there were no taxis!

No taxis to get to the bus station and no taxis to get to the airport. There are always taxis at the train station; today there were none. Maybe they took off to watch the race.

It is now after 4:00 pm, still plenty of time to get to the airport if we can find a way to get there. A man comes to drop his wife at the train station; she is going to Paris. We ask if he will take us to the airport, and he agrees to try, although the route he knows is blocked off because of the race. Pat and I get in his car; he kisses his wife goodbye, and off we go.

Around and around Perpignan, with blocked streets and confusing directions, the clock ticking away. Finally, we are on the road to the airport. We arrive at the airport at 5:10 pm; the Ryanair plane is still there. But the gate has closed, and we would have to be the premier of France to get them to open it again. We have missed our flight. Peter – that was the Good Samaritan’s name – leaves, we’ve thanked him profusely but barely learned his name, and in the confusion, no way to contact him. Peter, if you’re reading this blog, please get in touch with us.

We try to evaluate our options.

We have paid for the flight we missed, a hotel room at Stansted, and the next morning 7:00 am flight from Stansted to Vilnius. The Ryanair agent, a Mr. Delaporte (who was very helpful and considerate), explains that rebooking both flights for the next day will cost upwards of 600 euros ($840). Plus re-booking the hotel (another $200 or more). If the air seats and the hotel are even available. Plus staying somewhere for almost 24 hours until the flight leaves at 5:25 pm the next day. Total misery!

Pat asks, “Is there any other way to get to Stansted tonight?”

“Yes,” says Mr. Dellaporte. “There’s a 10:00 pm flight from Girona.”

Girona is more than two hours drive from Perpignan, across the border in Spain. We could rent a car, but the drop-off fee, for a pickup in  France and a drop in Spain, is almost $1,000. Plus the car rental itself.

So we’ll take a taxi. But … there are no taxis at the Girona airport.

I call Nicolas.

Nicolas is the Perpignan taxi driver we have used to go to Girona and to Barcelona, and who we also hired for our friends Cindy and Ron when they came to Collioure last summer. Nicolas answers his mobile at 5:45. “Can you get us to the Girona airport before 8:30 tonight?”

“Yes,” Nicolas says. “I’ll pick you up at the Perpignan airport at 6:15. You’ll make your flight.”

While I’m talking to Nicolas, Mr. Dellaporte is booking the change in flight to allow us to go from Girona to Stansted: 100 euros each for the re-booking, 40 euros each for the fact that we don’t check in on-line (how could we!), total 280 euros ($390).

By the way, we learned from Mr. Dellaporte that Ryanair knew the shuttle bus would not be running from the train station because of the Tour de France, and had posted a notice on their web site to that effect. But they did not take the next step, which would have been to send an email to all passengers leaving from Perpignan on July 8 to advise of the problem.

What do you think are the chances of getting Ryanair to reimburse me for the consequences of their failure to advise me of pertinent travel information?

At 6:25, Nicolas calls. “The traffic is terrible. The Tour is over and everyone is leaving. They’re all going to Girona which is where the next leg begins tomorrow morning. But don’t worry. I know back roads. I’ll be there in seven minutes.”

Seven minutes later, Nicolas arrives. We load the luggage, and off we go. We are now commitrted to the second Ryanair flight and to the taxi ride to Girona, with no guarantee that we’ll make it.

Nicolas takes us through back roads around the mess in Perpignan. We go through the village where he was born. There is some traffic as we approach the highway, and our hearts drop, but Nicolas says not to worry, we are in his hands now and we will make our flight.

And we do.

Usually, we negotiate a fare for a long distance trip with Nicolas. Tonight, however, is on the meter, and the fare increases at 7:00 pm. We arrive in Girona at 8:15 pm, the fare is 300 euros ($420).

We have now spent an extra $810 because Mr. Marc Fiancette told us there would be a shuttle bus at 3:35 pm. Had we known there was not going to be a shuttle, we could have taken a taxi and waited at the Perpignan airport. (There were plenty of taxis at the train station at 1:30.) Of course, had we known there was no shuttle, we could have taken a taxi from Collioure to the airport.

Could have, would have, didn’t.

What are my chances of getting anyone in the French railroad system to even consider reimbursing me for the consequences of Mr. Fiancette’s bad information?

Of course, Ryanair, with the best on-time record in the world, leaves 45 minutes late, all of which we have spent standing in line.

Our room at the Radisson is superb, although we only get 4 hours sleep. The 7:00 am flight leaves on time and arrives on time in Kaunus. Ryanair celebrates the on-time arrival with a flourish of horns.

Now the good part. Our home exchange partner was leaving Kaunus on the same Ryanair plane that brought us. He had arranged for his parents, who brought him and his wife to Kaunus, to wait and drive us back to Vilnius, saving us two more exchanges, more waiting, and who knows what other difficulties.

The parents were a delight. We chatted, learned a few words in Lithuanian, and then they gave us a driving tour of old town Vilnius, which is lovely.

As Pat and I say to each other on days like these, and there aren’t very many of them, “This is the adventure part.” Our life, and our travel which is such a big part of our life, is so wonderful that we can put up with an occasional “adventure.”

But … I’m still deciding how to deal with Mr. Fiancette and Ryanair. I want my $810 back!

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4 Responses to “* a rocky trip from Collioure to Vilnius … “this is the adventure part””

  1. Laura said

    Iam looking for a good home exchange website which is free to start with. I came across http://www.visitswap.com which looks good to me. Anyone else registered on it?

  2. Jon said

    I’m glad all turned out well. Continue to enjoy your travels (travails?) and return safe. Good luck with the $810. Lots of love.

  3. Kate said

    Just a warning about ryanair- you will probably waste far more money trying to get anything back and they have a very bad reputation for customer service. I would write it off to experience if I were you but if you fancy a challenge be sure to read all the ryanair small print first- they will almost certainly not take responsibility for it.

    Suggest you read the comments here (skytrax) before trying ryanair: http://www.airlinequality.com/Forum/ryan.htm

    Personally I avoid them although last summer our exchangers pushed us into ryanair flights. Fortunately this year they are pricier and less convenient than British Airways or Easyjet so it’s a non-issue. I find that they are too stressful and undependable to travel with luggage/kids/tight connection times/going to somewhere off the beaten track where you have to depend on them to get you home.

  4. Ursula said

    As always, your traveling notes are thrilling (even the less “adventurous” ones).
    Have a great stay in Vilnius. My husband and I just came back from Riga, another worthwhile destination in the Baltic.
    Best regards,
    Ursula Godwin Niesmann
    http://www.jewettstreet.com
    Home Exchange Vacation Club

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