Wednesday 28 April 2010

The Great Escape

I always wanted to keep social and UKOUG things separate but on this occasion there is no separation.

I was honoured to be asked to speak at both OUGN (Norwegian user group) 14-16 April and Collaborate in Vegas 18-22 April, and sponsored by the ACE Program. The timing meant that I would need to go straight from OUGN to Vegas. My itinerary was:

13 April = Belfast-London-Oslo
16 April = Oslo-Copenhagen-Chicago-Vegas

This routing was selected by Oracle Travel and at first I was a little frustrated and disappointed as I knew a lot of friends were in Denmark for Miracle Open World and I would miss them. It wasn't that I didn't want to go to OUGN, I did, I just would have liked to have seen my friends as well. Then a great friend Dan Norris who works in the Exadata Team in Oracle, was given a training assignment for Berlin the same week and he too was routed through Copenhagen, but on the Saturday. He too was very frustrated to be so close yet so far to our friends. However as I did not need to be in Vegas till the Sunday, I decided to pay the change fee and stay the Friday night in Copenhagen, see my friends at what undoubtedly would be a great party and then travel with Dan to Chicago on the Saturday. I was happy.

Then things got even better, the course Dan was teaching was condensed and they were going to finish on the Thursday evening, which meant he too could have Friday night at our friend Mogens Nørgaard's house in Copenhagen. He tried to change his ticket but it was going to be too expensive so he actually bought a new ticket on a low cost airline. You may think we are stupid paying good money for one night, but if you knew Mogens' and the other OakTable members who were also to be there you would do the same.

Then Thursday the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano erupted, and all European airspace was closed. It was very difficult to do anything on the boat, there was broadband but pretty useless. Provided by satellite the Internet had a 140,000 km round trip and it was suggested that to ensure a good surf experience you should avoid sites with high graphical content. This meant that it was not reliable and I still don't know how they did it but you could not download email, either direct from web mail or via VPN. We tried hard to get information but apart from no flights it was very difficult. I did however find a fellow ACE Director Sten Vesterli and Jørgen Holmer-Bretlau from Oracle Support Denmark who also wanted to go to Copenhagen, so I would not be on my own.

Sue Harper, product manager for SQL Developer and a great friend of UKOUG was also on the boat, she simply wanted to get back to UK and another presenter Antony Helijula of Peak Indicators was in the same position. They decided simply to stay in Oslo and see how things worked out. (How did they get home? Read all about it here).

Jørgen managed to hire a car, one way to Copenhagen, I am still in awe, no one since has managed to do this, and I will try (I can't promise) never to moan about Oracle Support again, it truly was great. When the boat docked we caught the train to Oslo airport and I went to see SAS, you see, although they could not provide me with a flight to Copenhagen, if I didn't use this leg, and later turned up for the Copenhagen - Chicago leg, I would have found my flight cancelled. I expected the airport to be chaos, but actually it was rather quiet. Tony and Sue travelled with us, they wanted to talk direct to SAS since they couldn't get through by phone and Internet access had been so poor.

After getting the hire car we started on our mammoth journey 650 km, they took it in turns to drive an hour apiece, and to be fair the journey was not arduous at all. It is a single route E6, broken only by a roadworks diversion. It took almost 8 hours to get to Copenhagen airport and then once Jørgen collected his car he dropped me at the main railway station, where I waited for Dan. You see there were no flights from Berlin either and Dan had made the journey up by train. He had caught a direct train but had been made to get off at Hamburg as the train was simply too full. He had then had to stand on a slower train all the way to Copenhagen, everyone was just trying to get home anyway they could.

Still Dan and I met up at the station and had some food before getting a local train to Måløv to meet up with our friends. We had directions from the station but we managed to miss an important 'turn right' early on and spent a good hour dragging our luggage around until we were so far out of the town we gave in and consulted google maps. Eventually we found the house and joined in the fun. (here you can see Dan playing iPhone LightSaber with Graham Wood).

A lot of stranded people or 'Ash Refugees' had a hard time, but we did not, the best place in the world to be stranded is in this house, we had all we needed and we were all friends. In fact just two months before I had been on holiday with 5 of them. This was always meant to be a party it just went on a bit longer. It would be great is other Måløv refugees would comment with their story or blog link to this post).

Back to the OakTable, I am not technical enough to be an OakTable member but as the only 'unworthy' refugee in the house, I think now I must now rank as the #1 Groupie).

Dan and I were meant to fly out Saturday, so we went off to the airport which was even quieter than Oslo had been the day before. It was just like the scene in The Longoliers where they wait for time to catch up. We were told they could not do anything until air space reopened, but after a little bit of persuasion and waving of the Gold Card they allowed us to rebook on a flight for Tuesday. We knew the chance of it going was slim but at least we (or should I say 'I') could stop worrying until then.

Oracle travel tried to deal with everyone but there were just so many people affected. I spent 4 hours on hold one morning until I simply gave up, but after 2 days they did advise that if you could sort something out yourself they would honour it.

I was meant to be giving 3 presentations at Collaborate. The first was a panel for the Fusion 'Soup to Nuts' day organised by Floyd Teter and I joined in via Skype. I had already postponed my Monday session to Thursday but really thought I would have to cancel. I made the decision that if I got out Tuesday I would go but if that didn't work I would cancel, although getting back to UK would be just as difficult.

Then just after I finished my Skype session at 1.30 am in Denmark, Dan announced his wife had seen a notice on the SAS website that if you had a booking on a CPH - ORD flight Thursday - Sunday, there was a bus leaving Copenhagen at 6am for.............. OSLO where they had diverted the ORD-CPH flight that day. Oslo would open for a few hours and only for flights North and West.

We had to pack very quickly, and normally I am a very organised packer but not on this occasion, my US only suitcase had been opened as well as my small Oslo case, and everything just got thrown in. I had to wake Mogens to get a taxi organised, I hate waking people when they are in a deep sleep, you never know how they might react, anyway it took a few attempts to get him to register what we wanted but then he was OK.

Part of me didn't want to leave, I had a lot of friends there and we were having an awesome time, but I also wanted to be at Collaborate, I had made a commitment and I don't like to let anyone down. Dan wanted desperately to get home, his family were worried and they missed him. It was also his son's first communion the next weekend and he desperately didn't want to miss that. I felt guilty about the others in the house, they all had reasons for wanting to get home quickly and no one was depending on me, and I love a good party.

We asked Mogens to organise a taxi as we didn't want someone who was tired or who had had a drink to drive us to the airport. Big mistake, Mogens would have stayed awake at the wheel better than our taxi driver. I am a very nervous passenger anyway and Dan did his best to keep the guy awake by tapping him on the shoulder and talking to him whilst keeping me from hysterics.

Again the airport was surreal, there were very few people and no one from SAS appeared until just before 5am. Dan was very insistent that we would not get on the bus unless they guaranteed us a seat on the plane. A 'very nice man' Peter assured us that we would be and all the correct details were taken from us, so we trusted him. He also told us that the bus would be luxury, and it was defiantly the best coach I have ever been on, which is good because it was 9 hours.

However our trust in Peter was false, when we arrived in Oslo airport there was a very big queue for check in, but luckily my Star Alliance Gold Card got us to the front of the queue only to be told they knew nothing about a coachload of people from Copenhagen. At that point I lost it, I didn't shout I basically burst into tears whilst still trying to be assertive. They told us we could be put on standby, but we knew the flight was overbooked, and that the airport was likely to close in the next hour or so. I asked for a supervisor and she took a bit of persuasion but eventually she gave us seats.

Sadly there was worse to come. When we eventually took off there were about a dozen spare seats on the flight. Not enough people had seen the message. It seemed criminal with so many people desperate to get home. We flew over Iceland but there was nothing to see and I settled down to watch 'Up in the Air'.

We arrived in Chicago and for once immigration was quick (not many flights arriving), and I collected my bags which were tagged to Vegas and handed them back to United. I then left Dan and went to my terminal to collect my boarding card. Oh how silly I was to think my issues were over. United informed me that I wasn't booked on the flight and that my ticket wasn't valid because .......... I was stuck in Europe! Luckily there were seats on the flight, and I was soon settled ready for the final leg of my journey to Vegas.

Now what else could go wrong? Well how about no luggage in Vegas? I don't like Vegas and have repeatedly said that I hated it from the moment I landed 3 years ago, I saw 100+ slot machines before I saw my luggage that time. Well this time I saw an awful lot more, it was about 18 hours before I got my luggage. I arrived at about midnight and had a quick drink before sleeping soundly. I do have to say that the Luxor were excellent and although I rang everyday with an update, they had every right to charge me for the full booking but they never, they only charged me for the days I stayed.

Tuesday I registered for Collaborate, wearing dirty clothes but a very fetching new Vegas T shirt, and spent the day a bit shell shocked and telling my story to everyone that asked. A few years back I was known as the 'elevator lady', now I am the 'volcano beater'.

Was it worth it? Yes, I kept my commitment.

And do you know how to say Eyjafjallajokull? Well try this:

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