‘Stuck in Egypt,’ the first text reads. ‘We might emigrate! Do you fancy Christmas in Hurghada?’
My Norwegian parents have been on a Nile cruise, but have found themselves stranded by the ash cloud. Thus grounded, my mother is entertaining herself by building up a hefty phone bill. ‘They think we’re leaving tomorrow,’ Thursday’s know-it-all text reads, ‘but they clearly haven’t read the news’. She spoke too soon – Monday’s text comes from Macedonia.
My mum’s busy thumbs keep us updated. The first few days are spent in an all-inclusive with ‘terrible food and undrinkable wine’. They’re hopeful of leaving any second, however, though their plane is stuck in Oslo. Then comes the decision that transforms their luxury holiday into a National Lampoon-style road trip.
‘They’re flying to Athens and then taking a bus to Oslo,’ I tell my husband. He looks at me with incredulity, then bursts out laughing; she is his mother-in-law, after all. He sobers up somewhat when I tell him they will drive night and day without stopping. Sympathy sets in.
My husband and I get the map out: Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. 2,000+ miles. Ten countries in three days. I tell my mum it’s the American approach to holiday-making, and to be glad it doesn’t include Albania – our internet research shows us that driving there is dangerous, whilst Macedonia only requires ‘defensive driving skills’.
My mum and I take turns going for the glass half-full/glass half-empty approach over the next day or so. A group of pensioners driving for 50 hours whilst sleeping folded into upright seats – surely there is a better way, I opine. We’re lucky to be getting home, my mum counters; the mood is good, we’re singing in the bus and I’ve never been to Serbia. I want to say that a) there might be a reason for that and b) that part of the journey is likely to be overnight anyway. I think the better of it.
Then I hear tales of people sleeping in airports, couples using up their savings on hotels and someone apparently stuck in China until early May. The bus doesn’t seem so bad and I send my mum a text to that effect. She, meanwhile, has revised her opinion on the all-inclusive, which was ‘actually rather nice’. She is missing the group of Swedes who kept them company and remembers that another group got to fly home from Hurghada before they left for their overland adventure. But the Macedonian country-side is proving nice.
‘Home, sweet home!’ is the message from the Serbian border. ‘Christmas in Norway after all.’ At this point they have endured a prolonged stay in Athens airport and their first seated sleep, and the text is accompanied by a rather glum photo of my dad, who was clearly not consulted when the caption ‘we’re in good spirits’ was written. I decide that this is a bad time to remind her that home is in fact not Oslo, but Trondheim, and a further ten hours’ drive north from their destination.
‘If you get home in time for Christmas,’ I text back. She doesn’t reply.
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