Dan, my colleague from Gurob, and I, arrived back in Liverpool at 4am on Tuesday morning after leaving Cairo on Saturday. The extreme delay is due to the volcanic ashes spreading over Europe from Iceland, the fact that we made it back at all is due to extreme creativity...
Here is what happened:
1) Saturday, 10-10:30am Packing of luggage and survival of the journey to the ground floor of the Carlton Hotel - Cairo, 26th July Street, Downtown.
2) Journey by taxi to the airport - we refused to pay the demanded £E100 (payed £E80 in the end) and had to give the driver directions to Terminal 3 despite the fact that he must have been there several times before...
3) Flight to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines (Scarelines)...
4) Arrival at Transfer/Transit desk at Istanbul Airport. The flight to London Heathrow had already been cancelled, so Rome seemed a good option - we change our booking, receive a mis-printed boarding pass, but after a short struggle with tired staff were allowed to proceed to the gate...
5) Once there, Dan treated us to a Gloria Jean's Australian iced coffee - never tasted anything that good! :-) We also roamed the souvenir shops to find stacks of Turkish Delight tasters (for free) in bowls in the shelves. Dan ate so much he ended up on a sugar high!
6) Still over coffee, Dan calls Esme back in Liverpool who dedicated hours to researching options to get home for us that and the following night.
Esme books us onto a ferry from Le Havre to Portsmouth for Sunday night (when our hopes were still high) - this was soon scrapped.
7) We got the plane and fly to Rome!
8) We arrive in Rome and spent a long time waiting for our luggage at the conveyor belt - Gave up after a couple of hours and had to declare the luggage as lost! Hopes are still high to receive our luggage back soon, especially given that my little toy turtle is in my bag :-(
9) No trains, planes or automobiles from Rome! Everything's booked or taken or stopped running for the night! Thus we ended up sleeping rough at the airport that night. Didn't get more than an hour or two each as it was cold and noisy...
10) Sunday 6am: At the break of dawn we decide to take a train into Rome - once in town it took a while to find a cashpoint but in the end we managed to get to the main train station, Termini, in Rome and set up camp there. By that point neither of us had much battery power left in our mobile phones...
11) We check out trains - nothing going north was available, at least not on the Rome - Milano route, so we thought about heading south where we expected planes, trains and automobiles!
12) At c.7:30, after a struggle with the Italian payphone system, we called Joseph, my boyfriend, in Oxford who managed to reserve us a hirecar from Europcars at Florence Airport. He managed to spell Dan's name "Bootright" instead of "Boatright" which caused some laughter...
13) We bought a train ticket to Florence / Firenze for c. an hour later, and therefore had a bit of time to stroll into Rome and see some archaeological wonders :-) also escaping the crowds that had by then amassed at Rome's Termini station – people queued up for several hours only to be told that they were stranded in Rome for several more days!
14) After purchasing crisps we got onto the train bound for Florence!
15) Once there we got onto the shuttle bus from the main station to the airport - Florence is very lovely! We then collected the hire car (and were told that we CANNOT take it over the border all the way to Le Havre (despite this being okay on the internet) but to take it to Nice and leave it there, without offerin to reserve us a (likely unavailable) car from Nice)! I also finally managed to post my - by that point - well-travelled postcards from Cairo...
16) Dan got behind the wheel and I behind the map - despite this arrangement Dan actively changed to course from Nice-bound to Le Havre (not paying attention to the car company's instructions) - this was the best decision ever!
17) At the first service station we purchased an in-car-travel-charger for our phones in order to re-mobilise all our problem-solvers in the UK!
18) We drove through a large portion of beautiful Tuscany and northern Italy - wonderful!
19) Swap drivers: I was given the privilege to drive our Fiat Punto through the Alpes and below Mont Blanc - what an experience! Such a shame it was dark, otherwise Dan's pictures would have come out better!
20) Once on the French side of things, Dan took over the wheel again and I finally was allowed to go delirious from my lack of sleep!
21) c.7:00am Monday morning, after Dan had driven through most of France, and c.100km south of Paris, I took over the wheel again. I managed to navigate through most of Paris ringroad's Monday morning mayhem whilst Dan spent some time unconscious, catching up on sleep. I do not like French traffic!
22) At c.10am we reached Le Havre without any sanity left but with a lot of rubbish from packets of crisps and pocket coffee sweets in the car! At least we were early!
23) We checked in to the Ferry nice and early to avoid the crowds there!
24) After getting slightly lost in Le Havre on a mission to refuel the car before return and another struggle through French traffic, we managed to find Europcar and returned the car. This went surprisingly well given that the booking we'd initially agreed upon said that, of course, we could return the car to Le Havre!
25) After this we returned to the ferry port's terminal building and sat and waited to be let onto the boat. We were allowed on board at c.5pm with a huge number of other people!
26) After a while relaxing and working at a table in the boat we bought the first proper meal in c.60 hours! Ship food can be extremely tasty!
27) We weren't able to leave the ferry until c.10:30 due to the large numbers of people at the port, but eventually were allowed onto British soils!
28) Joseph met us at Portsmouth and kindly drove us to Heathrow airport where Dan had parked his car.
29) Dan drove very well and fast and got us to Liverpool at c.3:50 on Tuesday morning!
A huge thanks goes to Esme for organising the ferry for us and constantly being there at the other end of the phone and to Joseph for booking the car and driving to Portsmouth, then to Heathrow and back to Oxford! Your help has been greatly appreciated!