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My European Odyssey
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Leeds / Ibiza / Leeds.
I'm back from a brief visit with my mother, who now lives on the Spanish island of Ibiza. Even though Ann and I were able to drop in for a few days last summer as well, I normally only get to see mum every few years or so, and so I was very keen on using the opportunity of my sabbatical at Leeds University for a quick escape to warmer climes. For an island so renowned as a frequent getaway spot for British and other tourists, though, getting there and back proved surprisingly difficult, and any relaxation which three days away from my research work might have provided had already disappeared well before I arrived back at the hovel on Sunday night.

To begin with, it turned out that mid-March is still very much in the pre-season for Ibiza holidays - the tourist bombers of the FlyEasyJetStars of the airline world don't begin to operate until the start of April or so (which is when I'm already well on my way to Australia again). Searching for flights was an only marginally more straightforward experience than finding a train connection on the British rail network, and some of the first connections I found came with pricetags in the quadruple-figure range (and this is pounds we're talking about). I eventually did find something cheaper, thanks to KLM's very effective flight booking system, but even then the flight was still significantly more expensive than the £29 offers you see advertised at travel agents everywhere (KLM also wouldn't do eTickets for this flight, but insisted on sending me paper one instead - how very quaint...).

That flight turned out to require stops in Amsterdam and Madrid before reaching its final destination of Ibiza, which, when you look at a map of Europe, probably wouldn't exactly strike you as the most direct of routes - but by that time in my searches I was pretty much happy with any connection costing less than a week's pay. More stops also meant more opportunity for things to go wrong, though, and that's where the real odyssey started. On the way there, just after an already rough arrival into Madrid, the airport was closed due to high winds (a fact we were informed of only when already seated in the aircraft, if 'informed' is the appropriate description for a Spanish-only announcement over a muffled onboard PA system). Two hours later - spent in equal parts in the departure hall and again on the aeroplane which had been said to get clearance for takeoff any time now - I was finally underway, only to arrive on the island in the middle of a thunderstorm.

Well, such things happen - better safe than sorry, and all that. And at least this delay should have accounted for any bad travel luck to be had on this trip, right? If only. On the way back, after what had already been a scheduled five-hour overnight stopover in Madrid, that aiport was again where the trouble started. This time, though, it was a mechanical problem in the plane's storage area which delayed our departure for an hour. Unfunnily enough, one hour was also exactly the time that my schedule had allowed for transferring to the morning flight to Leeds - when I stepped off the incoming plane, boarding for the outgoing flight had already closed. (That said, some others on the flight missed connections to Sâo Paulo and Bangkok; I can't imagine how annoying that would have been.)

The next available flight to Leeds turned out to be in the afternoon. Time, then, to explore what Amsterdam's Schiphol airport had to offer - and in spite of the problems on this trip, kudos to KLM, who on arrival to Amsterdam immediately provided me with a €10 voucher for the airport eateries, five minutes of free phonecalls to anywhere in the world, and a €50 rebate on any KLM flight I may book in the future. (However, the ready availability of such preprinted vouchers in sizeable numbers doesn't exactly raise my confidence in the Flying Dutchman's reliability...) With all the various delays during this trip, I nearly got another research paper written...

Ultimately, I arrived back at my accommodation in Leeds around 5 p.m. on Sunday - some twenty hours after leaving my mum's place on Ibiza. Not quite as long as it would have taken me to get back to Brisbane, but certainly enough for a quick visit to, say, New York and back. And to add some final insult to injury, on arrival back to the U.K. neither of my Commonwealth Bank cards would coax any pounds out of the local teller machines - leaving a local taxi driver wondering what to do with the rather generous amount of Euros he's just earned. (Happily they'd resumed working again on Monday morning.) I never thought I'd say this - but on Sunday night, I felt distinctly glad to see the front door of the cold and messy student house I currently call my temporary home. Let's hope my trip to ICE 3 at Loch Lomond next week turns out to be more straightforward!

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