‘It’s a funny feeling to be in a country by accident’ (That time we got stuck in Italy)

Once upon a time, the powerful forces of nature, Budapest airport, and the glorious company that is Ryanair all joined together in a magical but tragic alignment of the stars, and set off a chain reaction of events and strange surprises, the likes of which I couldn’t have predicted even if I’d tried. And the most surprising thing of all is that what could potentially have been a downright miserable scenario, turned out to be the best stroke of luck we received during our entire mini-Eurotrip, almost leading me to believe that it really was destiny all along.

The plan after our time in Budapest was to fly to Dubrovnik where we had an AirBnB booked for two nights, after which we would drive further up the coast of Croatia to Split. Good. Bloody. Times. We’d heard brilliant things about Dubrovnik, Rachel is a massive fan of Game of Thrones (although I’m grandma enough at twenty nine years of age to have never seen a single episode), and who doesn’t love a good road trip after all!? Rachel was in charge of booking the Budapest to Dubrovnik leg of the trip, and had been crafty enough to find some dirt cheap flights with a random flight-booking company she found on the internet called Kiwi. And when I say dirt cheap, I mean literally so cheap that we thought there must be a glitch in the system. Now that is cheap. The one catch was that instead of flying direct we would fly from Budapest to Milan with Ryanair, then Milan to Dubrovnik with Volotea; a small price to pay pals, a small price to pay.

Bright and early at 3am (therefore, so very early that it was actually still pitch black rather than ‘bright’), my alarm went off in our AirBnB in Buda Castle. Early enough to allow me an entire hour to wake up, get showered, and drink a coffee, but also early enough to have meant that after celebrating our friend’s birthday in the basement of a karaoke bar the night before, I only achieved two hours sleep to prep me for the day that was about to be thrust upon us.

When flying with Ryanair: to avoid disappointment, keep your expectations low

Although it had been drizzling when we drove away from the apartment, by the time we were standing under the shelter that bridged the gap between the terminal building and the aeroplane, the weather had really taken a turn for the worse, developing from a depressing drizzle to a highly aggressive pelting, creating grenade-like explosions with every giant drop that hit the tarmac. Cracks of thunder echoed around the sky, lighting the grey landscape up with a combination of flash and fork lightening that seemed to be right on top of us. I did the whole ‘counting-the-seconds’ thing between the thunder and the lightening to see how many miles away it was, and at one point there wasn’t even a full ‘one-Mississippi’, ya know?

Still, the line to board the plane continued to move onwards, and after the Ryanair hostess glared in disgust and literally laughed out loud at our attempt to bring hand luggage on board with us (it turns out, Ryanair had recently changed their hand luggage policy although in classic Ryanair style the lady didn’t explain that to us and demanded with a swift rolling of her eyes that our bags would have to go in the hold). In the hold they went, and when we boarded we were greeted with empty overhead lockers galore, twinkling back at us in a taunting fashion. The cheeky little beans. I sat down next to an American lady and Rachel’s seat was further back in the plane.

After an hour sitting in the exact same spot, watching the lightening through the window and wondering whether we’d be safe if the plane got hit, the captain announced that we would continue sitting in that spot until the storm stopped, because the plane actually needed to refuel and you’re not allowed to do that in a giant dramatic thunderstorm. Now pals, that seems quite logical to me, but at the risk of this turning into an XL complaint email to Ryanair, my main question at this point was why they had made us board the plane knowing that we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere for several hours. It just didn’t seem logical, know what I’m saying!?

The clock was ticking, and Rachel and I were increasingly worried that we would miss our connection in Milan. The American lass next to me, who was possibly the coolest lass I’d met in a long old time, checked her weather app which predicted consistent thunder and lightening until 10pm that evening. It was by now around 9am. We were clearly in for a long, waterless, wait. She beckoned the closest air hostess over.

“Excuse me, I was just wondering how long you’re allowed to keep us sitting here for? Because it says here that there’ll be storms all day long.”

“Well madam, we will pray to god and hope that he will stop the storm.”

“Yes I’ll be sure to do that too, but I mean- legally how long can you keep us sat here for if it doesn’t stop?”

“I hope god will look out for us and make the storm stop.”

“Yes. I hope so too. But what’s the maximum amount of time that we’re legally allowed to sit here and wait for, without leaving the plane?”

God is watching over us! Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Um. No that’s about everything, thankyou.”

After several hours, we were 100% certain that we would not make it in time to get our connecting flight, especially not as it became clear that we would now have to wait for our hand luggage to appear in arrivals before we could even have a hope of getting to our next flight. It was a sad, sad time. Because we had booked two separate flights with two separate point-to-point airlines, neither airline was obliged to help us figure out a solution to our terrible predicament, and we had no flight insurance. It was all rather awkward to be honest.

Then we remembered that technically the flights were actually booked through an agent. A random agent that we’d never heard of before, and would never have booked with in the first place had the price not been so ridiculously good value.

I got on twitter and google at the same time, determined to get to the bottom of this outrageous situation. Within minutes of various tweets and googlings, Rachel was on the phone to Kiwi, who told her we should call as soon as we reached Milan to confirm that we’d definitely missed the plane.

Milan Bergamo is nowhere near Milan

With our arrival in Milan, the sun was finally shining and as predicted our second flight was a mere twinkle in the distance if we squinted hard enough. We sat in a cafe inside the entrance to the terminal building, drinking coffee and water and making ‘here we are in Italy’ Instagram stories in a mild state of hysteria. Rachel called Kiwi who informed her to sit tight in the airport and await an email in the next few hours telling us what to do. We had absolutely no idea how long we would be either at the airport for, or in Italy as a whole, but overall were very much grateful that this mysterious company of flight angels appeared to be taking care of us.

On a whim we googled how far Milan was from Milan Bergamo airport. Because perhaps it was destiny that we went to Milan with this day in Italy that we’d been gifted by the gods? It was just under an hour away, ie too far to just hop there and back whilst waiting for a flight. Learn from this pals: ‘Milan Bergamo’ is really ‘Bergamo. Near Milan.’

Kiwi is amazing

On the exact dot of the two hours that Kiwi promised us an email with a solution to our problems, an email with a solution to our problems did indeed arrive. It informed us that there were no more flights available to Dubrovnik that day, so instead they had booked us into a nearby hotel free of charge, would credit us with €20 each towards the cost of our dinner that evening, and had booked us on to a flight the following morning to Split, followed by a second flight later that day to Dubrovnik. THIS COMPANY IS AMAZING.

We decided that as we wouldn’t arrive into Dubrovnik until the evening, and were due to leave the following morning, there was really no point in taking the second flight as we would have mere hours to see Dubrovnik in before a long drive back to Split. Our PA skills came into full force as Rachel contacted the hotel we were booked into to work out how to actually get there (a shuttle would pick us up in an hour), and I contacted our Dubrovnik AirBnB host who was incredibly sympathetic and gave us a full refund even though he didn’t have to. What a nice guy! We swiftly booked an extra night in Split, scarfed down the most genuine-looking Italian meals that we could locate inside the airport, and were on the hotel shuttle just in the nick of time. LUCK WAS ON OUR SIDE!!

The Winter Garden…is also amazing

We walked into the sleek 4-star Winter Garden Hotel feeling decidedly underdressed, overtired, and frankly in need of a shower. The rest of the clientele seemed to be exclusively airline pilots, stewards and stewardesses, polished to perfection and each with identical chrome wheelie cases sliding behind them; we were a pair of very frazzled-looking lasses with a bag each of over-packed hand luggage and with any makeup that was once on our faces, still on our faces, just no longer in the places we had originally applied it.

Once we made it to our room, we pondered what on Earth we should do next. The town of Bergamo wasn’t far away, so maybe if it wasn’t destiny that we should go to Milan, it was destiny that we go to Bergamo? I’m not gonna lie here, we were very much lacking in general energy, in fact I was feeling more on the brink of exhaustion than I’d felt in a long old time, but if you get stuck in Italy by accident, surely you should do more than sit in a hotel room? I went to ask the very gracious and super-friendly receptionist a few questions.

First of all, how often did the bus to Bergamo leave? (We’d just missed one)

Secondly, how much is a taxi there? (Around twenty-something euros each way)

Thirdly, we’d been put in a double room, could we move to a twin? (Yes)

Fourthly, could we book ourselves in for dinner at the restaurant. (Absolutely madam)

Fifthly, could we book ourselves onto the shuttle back to the airport in the morning? (Consider it done)

Sixthly, I’m so sorry for all the questions I just want to make sure I’ve asked you everything so I don’t keep bothering from you. (Did you want to ask about the spa?)

I didn’t think we would be allowed to use the hotel spa as we were sort of an emergency booking and I knew that was something you had to pay extra for. (Ah ok Madam, well let me just check your booking anyway. Yes, with your package you have free use of the spa, would you like me to book you in?)

WOULD I!!!

Every cloud has a silver lining

After a brief conversation with Rachel it became clear that destiny was clearly calling. This was just what the doctor ordered for two weary travellers on the brink of collapse.

We sat in the courtyard of the hotel’s bar, ordered some freshly-juiced juices, and marvelled at our incredible bad-luck-turned-brilliant-luck, before proceeding to the spa, complete with pool, sauna, steam-room, ice-shower and generally everything amazing. Oh my giddy aunt Nora, we truly could not believe it.

NOT ONLY DID I LOVE KIWI.COM, I ALSO LOVED THE WINTER GARDEN HOTEL.

Dinner that evening was an amazingly refreshing selection of Italian dishes, cooked to perfection and served outdoors back in the courtyard complete with floating white globes above us in the sky. Our time in Budapest had been amazing but also very much jam-packed and simultaneously laden with heavy food, so this whole experience had been the perfect breath of fresh air before hitting Croatia.

The following morning, superbly well-rested and still revelling in the wonder of DESTINY before our flight to Croatia, we had breakfast (which was full on delish) in the restaurant on the roof as the sun came up over the surrounding fields and mountains of the Italian countryside. It. Was. Glorious. Every thunderous storm-cloud has a silver lining pals, and this one was so silver it was ridiculous!

LOGISTICAL STATISTICALS

  • This post was definitely not in any way sponsored by Kiwi or the Winter Garden Hotel; I was just astonished by Kiwi’s amazing customer care and the Winter Garden’s loveliness.
  • If you book flights via Kiwi, they guarantee to help you with cancelled or delayed flights (in which case they will either find you an alternative flight or refund you the cost of your flight), plus if you get stranded somewhere like we did, they guarantee transport to another airport, overnight accommodation if your delay is more than eight hours overnight, plus food and drink. I mean, guys: what a brilliant guarantee!
  • To book flights with Kiwi go here.
  • To find out more about the Winter Garden Hotel, go here.
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