The story of the French Air Traffic controllers, Euro Control, Go Opti, the 2:30 from Ljubljana, the Slovenian police, the Italian police and the hairy taxi driver.
Anyone who has read my previous travel blogs will know that I don’t usually go negative and that’s mostly because I usually have positive travel experiences – the odd delay and nothing to write home about… except this time.
It all started a few weeks ago when on a whim I decided that I would go to Slovenia for my birthday. Previous readers will be aware of my utter grá for the country and I have some amazing friends there who it’s always fun to meet up with.
Sadly, there’s no direct flight from Dublin (or Belfast) to Ljubljana – some 20km or so from Bundoran’s twin town of the beautiful medieval town of Škofja Loka (had there been, it’s likely this story would have ended a lot differently!). Ryanair recently opened a direct route to Trieste in Italy (though formerly belonging to the Slovenes but that’s another story) and just 40 km from the Slovenian border. I checked the flights, train and bus connections and booked the hotel and was set for off (the return flights were approx €100 – not too shabby!).
Travel day (and my birthday) arrived and after an early start I got to Dublin Airport with plenty of time to spare for the 10:20am flight which would bring us down across Europe and into the quaint Italian sea port. Everyone had boarded by 09:45. The flight wasn’t full and I had a full row to myself – it was my birthday, I was happy. Was. Then the fun started. The captain came on the intercom to say they were waiting on a new flight plan to be filed as they needed to avoid French airspace due to the air traffic controllers being on strike there. No problem, we were still 30 minutes from our due take off time. Minutes then turned into hours as due to a computer issue at Euro Control who do the flight plans, a plan couldn’t be filed with the Irish Aviation Authority (and no doubt many other regulators across Europe) and we couldn’t fly without one. So we sat on tarmac until everything was sorted and we eventually pushed back at 12:25 and were wheels up at 12:38.
By now we were well over 2 hours behind schedule which started to eat into later travel bookings that I had made for the train to Trieste and the onward bus to Ljubljana. Had all gone to plan, I was due in Ljubljana at 6pm and in Škofja Loka by around 7 and potentially in the pub a half hour later!
Fate had other ideas however and having landed at 16:10 in Trieste I knew I wasn’t making that bus. Enter the Go Opti service (with thanks to both Luka and Jaka for the heads up on this) – a shared taxi service going in your direction and you share with maybe up to 6 or 7 other people. I logged on and got the last spot to Ljubljana from Trieste airport. Thing was, it wasn’t departing until 8:15pm and it was now just after 5. And bless Trieste Airport but there is little to do there so I decided to kill the time by taking the half hour train ride into the city. This was a decision I came to be thankful for as it gave me something to do for the few hours, it is a really scenic journey into the port city of Trieste and it was going to be the only opportunity that I would have to see the city on foot – more on this later….
I was barely in Trieste and walking around for a while before it was time to jump back on the train to the airport and prepare to meet the taxi driver Stefan from Go Opti. He was there ahead of time and picked up 5 of us and got us away on schedule. We dropped two passengers in Postojna (home of the famous caves) and then went on towards the Slovenian capital.
The familiar site of the Golden Arches at Ljubljana train station greeted me as we turned into the station and some chicken wings and fries went down well as I waited for my good friend Jaka to arrive from Škofja Loka as he had kindly offered to pick me up after my eventful day of travel. I knew I was already “home” in Slovenia as the first person I saw in McDonald’s was someone I knew from Škofja Loka. It is a small country of only 2 million people after all! Seeing the familiar face of Jaka lifted my heart and we caught up with our lives on the 30 minute journey northwest to Škofja Loka and talked about our plans for the following few days including my deferred birthday dinner (which after the disastrous day that had been my actual birthday, I put off for one day!)
Next day was spent reacquainting myself with the town and bumping into people who instantly recognised me and said “you’re back!” Lunch with the former mayor Miha at Pr’ Pepet and dinner with my long time friends of many years Jaka, Sergej and Luka at the lovely Na Vasi in nearby village of Zminec.
Friday was time to chill out and head to Ljubljana for some shopping and dinner with Irish Ambassador to Slovenia HE Adrian Farrell where we discussed the ongoing positive relationship between Bundoran and Škofja Loka. It was back to town later that evening to meet up with more of my Slovenian friends and attend an event at the Ostrigi venue organised by Jaka, Sergej and the team at KŠŠ.
Jumping then to Saturday and the long eventful journey home. My original plan had been to get the bus to Trieste early, spend a few hours wandering and then head to the airport however that meant being on a bus to Ljubljana at 8:10am and after a late night on Friday i didn’t really fancy an early start, so that plan got shelved and I rearranged the bus tickets for the later departure. It meant I was in less of a rush on Saturday morning and had a final chance to walk around SL. I mean, what could go wrong…?
I boarded the Flix bus from Ljubljana to Trieste at 2:30pm. All was well until we were pulled over by the Slovenian Police after about a half hour and boarded for a passport check. Normally not a problem – we would be crossing into a different country after all. However two passengers were flagged as having “no status” in Italy. This led to a 2 hour stop and then we got on the road again only to have been escorted by the Slovenes to meet their Italian counterparts. Another delay ensued and we eventually got on the road at 7pm – 3 hours after we were due to arrive in Trieste Centrale and less than 2 hours before my flight (at 20:45 which I was now more than nervous about missing) – we were at this stage just outside Postojna so still had a distance to go.
Got into the bus station and waited an age for a taxi – at this point I was googling cheap hotels in Trieste and not having much luck. A taxi came just after 8 which looked like it was being driven by one of The Hairy Bikers! Despite knowing that time was tight I decided to chance it – we then had to go detour as I didn’t have enough cash. (Thanks to Google Translate for the help on that one – with his lack of English and my lack of Italian). We landed at the airport at 20:37 but I had been tracking the incoming flight from Dublin and knew before I left the bus station that it was delayed. In fact I could see its lights coming into land as we were close to the airport.
The airport was pretty empty and with no line at security the staff couldn’t have been nicer and more encouraging that luck was on my side and that I would make the flight. I horsed my bag through the scanner and went through without trouble.
Nearly there and there was a long queue at passport control but I was comforted by the fact that the boarding screens now read 21:15 for the flight to Dublin. At this point it was just after 20:50. Passport control moved slowly with just one officer on duty but I got through and ran upstairs to see the back of the queue for Dublin just getting ready to board!
As I write this we are hurtling towards Dublin in one of Ryanair’s Boeing 737-800 fleet and I am sandwiched in between a large Italian man and his mother who don’t speak English. I don’t care. I’m just grateful to have made it on the plane. Thank you to everyone for a great few days in my home away from home – you know I will be back of course (though maybe not through Trieste) and Mr Hairy Taxi man, wherever you are as you weave the streets of Trieste, thank you for putting your foot down, not killing us and getting me to my flight on time – I am forever in your debt.
So where to next…?