Volcanus Interuptus

“I’m not kidding. Our flight was just cancelled.” One look at Claudio’s scowling face told me he was dead serious. We’d thought we’d dodged the bullet, arriving at Malpensa just as Italian airspace reopened. We were on our way to Madrid to begin RIOJA ROUNDUP the next morning and were due to board within the hour.

Planes were taking off—we could see them zipping down the runway. And Spanish airspace had reopened. The mood at Malpensa was buoyant, the relief palpable as travelers realized they’d soon be winging their way home or to new adventures.

Except for those of us sulking around the Lufthansa counter. Ash from Iceland’s impossible-to-pronounce volcano was now drifting over Germany, Lufthansa’s homebase. Which is precisely where our pilot and crew were stuck. Grounded, at least until morning.

It was too cruel. A volcano in Iceland? Forget today; how would this impact the rest of the travel season?

This volcano just caps off an absurd succession of roadblocks we’ve faced ever since starting La Dolce Vita Wine Tours 10 years ago. Let’s review. In 2001, there was that hurdle known as 9/11. Then came the war in Iraq. Then oil prices went haywire. Then the dollar decided to commit hari kiri. Then the Great Recession arrived, which devoured everyone’s savings and put their will to travel on hold. Not a good decade to start a travel company. Now a volcano...called Eyjafjallajökull? What next, an invasion of green Martians?

Every other flight to Spain was filled to capacity with the morning’s backlog of stranded travelers, so we rented a car and took off on a 17-hour drive. Milan to Genoa, then on past San Remo, Nice, Marseilles, Provence, the Languedoc, then into Spain, to Barcelona, and finally, to Valladolid. Lo and behold, we’re on time. Take that, volcano!