But for the kindness of strangers

We have known since we arrived in Austria that we might have some difficulties getting home from the IFAJ congress because of some bad flight scheduling on our part – inadvertent but still our fault.

But neither Kelly nor I had any idea of how hard it is to get there from here, or that we would be eternally grateful for the kindness of an Austrian bus driver who took pity on two stressed out Canadians.

Our return flight has us leaving from Graz, Austria at around 9 am on Sunday morning. The conference wraps up this evening with a farewell dinner in Protoroz, Slovenia – an almost five hour drive south east of Graz. The conference organizers had arranged coaches for everyone to get back to Graz and Ljubljana tomorrow, but the first one won’t get to Graz until long after we were to have left for Munich, where our flight home to Toronto awaits.

The first option was to try to change the flight. Our optimism was quickly quashed by a chat with our very helpful travel agent in Guelph, who suggested we get to Graz the night before and stay in a hotel there. Sounded easy enough so we booked the hotel just to be on the safe side.

Option two had the Slovenian organizers suggesting a taxi the morning of the flight, leaving Protoroz at about 2:00 am, at a cost of about 260€ or almost $400 CDN. We didn’t like the price or the time and we didn’t know what we would do if for any reason no taxi cab actually showed up at 2:00 am to drive us.

So we looked into taking a taxi (or private transfer as they seem to call it here) this evening. The hotel was kind enough to call around for us – and the best to be had was 400€, payable only in cash. We only had about 250€, 9000 Yen and 100 Swiss Francs between us. Unfortunately, this is where it got complicated. Slovenian bank machines don’t accept Canadian bank cards, only credit cards. Our credit cards don’t have pin numbers. The only place to get a cash advance or to exchange currency is at a bank – but banks in Slovenia are closed on Saturday and Sunday. Today, of course, was Saturday. And we were 150€ short.

This is where IFAJ President David Markey stepped in and offered us the 150 Euros on the spot, no questions asked, so that we might get home. Several members of the American contingent also immediately came forward and offered to help us sort ourselves out so we could get home. Thanks, Greg and Diane. And thank you David, you are a class act.

At the same time, one of our Canadian colleagues mentioned that the driver of her tour bus had said he was heading back to Austria. Kelly and I immediately searched him out and never have I been so thankful for being able to speak German. We explained our predicament and he offered to let us ride along on his bus to Graz for free. I told him we had booked a hotel at the airport and he said no problem, he was leaving in 15 minutes.

Five hours, two traffic jams, lots of rain and a closed tunnel later, we arrived at the Graz airport only to find that our “airport” hotel was actually 11 km away in the Graz city centre. I was mortified but the driver’s only comment was that he was sure that in Canada, 11 km away would be considered near the airport. I told him he could drop us at the airport and we would take a taxi from there but he would have none of it and drove us all the way into the city to the hotel.

Now here I am, thanking my lucky stars while sitting on a bed at the Best Western and marveling at the kindness of strangers as the great IFAJ 2008 adventure draws to a close.

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