Planes (Trains) & Automobiles

Philip Smith

Elsewhere in this newsletter you will read an article about our now annual visit to the Serbian Aikikai in Belgrade. As usual a fantastic time was had by all but getting there was a different matter.

The journey started so well, we got up as usual at home and my wife Judith ran me to Birmingham airport so that I could be in plenty of time for my Swissair flight to Zurich; connecting to Belgrade. Whilst I was sitting the departure lounge reading my newspaper over breakfast I kept one eye on the departure screen, which, ominously, wasn’t giving any information about my flight! Eventually the call came for barding some 20 minutes after the scheduled departure time so I dutifully picked up my bag and took my seat.

So we taxied onto the runway and stopped. Sat there for perhaps 10 minutes before we picked up speed and were finally off into the great blue yonder. By this time we ‘re about an hour behind schedule and the captain tells us that arrangements will be made for onward travel at Zurich.

Just before we land at Zurich he comes onto the intercom again to give us a list of gates that passengers should go to for their onward flights. A list that didn’t include Belgrade! At the end of his little speech almost as an aside he said, “Everybody else got to the Swissair desk”.

So a few minutes after we’d landed I’m standing at the Swissair desk waiting for information, and being diverted eventually via Munich now with Lufthansa to arrive in Belgrade at 3.55 instead of 2.55. OK so I need to phone Sasa to tell him the new plan. Switch on mobile phone – can’t make calls. Only got enough change to make one payphone call so in a flash of inspiration decide to phone home so that 1) If Sasa tries to get me on the mobile but can’t he might try there 2) Judith can phone my mobile company to sort out the problem.

Anyway sitting in Zurich airport is pretty boring, especially when your connecting flight (now to Munich remember) is delayed!! But there’s a 40-minute gap between landing and departure times at Munich so no panic; especially as the Lufthansa guy assures me we’ll make the connection.

Take-off from Zurich is about 35 minutes late but according to the crew we’re still OK for our connection so I put my trust in German efficiency and believe them.

My trust is misplaced. Land at Munich run to the gate which is almost literally shut in my face; apparently I’m 30 seconds too late and the gate can absolutely positively NOT be opened for me and the Serbian guy who has been running behind me. In fact (and I quote Lufthansa customer “service”) “You cannot expect us to delay a plane just because YOU are late”

After a brief but heated discussion when we tried to decide who was to blame for us being late at Munich (I personally think the delayed Lufthansa flight had something to do with it) we were offered a flight to Berlin with a connection to Belgrade. Oops no seats to Berlin so we now have two options stay in Munich overnight or fly to Zagreb and get to Belgrade by public transport or some other way. So the Serbian guy turns to me and says, “Shall we hire a car”. Sounds good to me and just as I agree my phone goes (its started working again) and it’s Mark Vanes phoning to see where I am. So I explain what’s happening and the new plan and say we expect to arrive in Belgrade about 10.00 pm (ish).

Now its a sprint to the Zagreb plane which turns out to be a propeller driven job, noisy bumpy and slow. So I’ve agreed to drive 300 kilometres with a guy I’ve just met and whose name I don’t know (he did tell me but I didn’t hear it properly over the engine noise) but there again so has he.

Zagreb airport (bit shabby but being refurbished) and I speak to Mire to fill him in on the situation. Serbian guy then tells me that his company are sending a car and driver to collect us (I’m thinking about the expense so withdraw 3,000 Croation Krone; I found out later that’s only £28 worth) and he will be here in about an hour. He goes to check where his luggage is and comes back 10 minutes later to say the cars outside!

So a few minutes later I’m sitting in the back of a black car (Opel Vectra) with two men who I don’t know or understand looking forward to a 3 – 4 hour journey; confidence is not increased when we stop on the outskirts of Zagreb to ask somebody where the motorway is!

When we get sorted out away we go and as we’re travelling our ETA Belgrade is coming down rapidly – I didn’t know Vectras were so fast; it seems like we’re doing warp factor 9 with the down side that we don’t appear to have any brakes: or at least the brakes only start to work within about six inches of the vehicle in front. One other complication was for about 40 kilometres of the journey the opposite carriageway was closed. Not a problem for our driver who simply pulled into the contraflow to over take; no matter what was coming the other way!

Despite this I managed to arrive safely (if a little shaken) at Belgrade albeit about 2 hours ahead of schedule to meet Sasa and Mark Vanes. This meant I could join everyone for the evening meal and really begin what was a fantastic weekend both on and off the mat.

One other twist to that weekends travel happened on the return journey when who should I meet at Zurich airport but Keith Hayward coming back from his trip to Athens!

All in all an eventful weekend; can’t wait for the next one.

Author: Philip Smith
Created: 12 May 2006