The Long Road Home: Weathering Storm Ciara back to the castle

By Christopher Williams, Sports Editor

WELL, NETHERLANDS—A major winter storm raged across northern Europe on Feb. 9 and delayed transport back to the Netherlands as Kasteel Well students wrapped up their first independent travel weekend.

The storm, referred to as Storm Ciara, brought thunderstorms and high winds up to 75 miles per hour to multiple countries between Feb. 8 and Feb. 10. The rain and wind damaged property, blocked roads and train tracks, and caused power outages that cancelled flights and train rides across the continent. As a result, a number of students, including myself, did not return to the castle until varying times on Monday.

My friend J.P. Ríos and I traveled to the Czech Republic during the first travel weekend to meet a group of friends and explore Prague—perhaps the one of most beautiful cities in Europe. The weather did not concern either of us as we arrived in the Czech capital early Saturday morning to sunny skies. However, our obliviousness of the storm potentially changing our travels plans would eventually come back to haunt us.

An email titled “Please read: Storm predicted” sent to all Kasteel Well students by the Office of Student Affairs at 2:19 p.m. warned everyone about possible flight and train delays and cancellations due to the incoming storm. Ignorantly assuming our travel plans would not be affected, we went about our day as planned and put all worries behind us.

Sunday morning brought panic as a message from our airline, Eurowings, stated our 4 p.m. flight to Düsseldorf was cancelled. Fear hit as the thought of being stuck in a foreign country and missing classes on Monday raced through our heads; we had no other option but to find a train back to Well that evening.

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The earliest train back to the Netherlands departed from Prague at 4:30 p.m. and required us to make five transfers in multiple German cities until we arrived in Venlo, a city in the Netherlands about 45 minutes from Well, at 6 a.m. on Monday. In total, it would take roughly 14 hours of travel before reaching Kasteel Well. Left without another choice, we each purchased the tickets and boarded the first of many trains.

About an hour into our trip, we received word that the Deutsche Bahn, the German train company we booked our tickets through, cancelled the trains we needed to take that night due to the storm. Each passenger had to leave the train at Dresden and find another way to their final destination.

Since each of our scheduled trains were cancelled, we received complimentary lodging at a Dresden hotel for the night. Although we would not make it home in time for classes on Monday, it certainly outweighed sleeping in the station that night. We hailed a taxi thanks to J.P.’s trilingual abilities, made a mandatory McDonald’s stop for Chicken McNuggets, and checked into the hotel.

We woke up at 5 a.m. just to see that the earliest train departed Dresden at 10 a.m. With all our bags already packed, we made our way to the station, waited to board our train, and hoped the rest of the day would go smoothly.

To say the least, our day did not go to plan. We were met with more cancellations in each new city that we arrived in, and I began to think we would never return to Kasteel Well. The cancellations did not upset me in the slightest, and I felt content with staying in Germany for the rest of my life. After all, becoming a citizen couldn’t be that hard, right?

Three cities, three cancelled trains, two German pretzels, 40 McNuggets, one purchased singing toy goat, and 11 hours later, my group finally arrived in Düsseldorf, completing our unexpected, yet somewhat enjoyable tour of Germany. We were in the home stretch, and only a quick train ride to Venlo and a bus to Well separated us from the Castle.

We triumphantly marched through the gates of Kasteel Well shortly after 10 p.m., 30 hours after we began our journey back from Prague.

It’s safe to say that I will not forget this experience anytime soon. I spent more time on trains in a country I did not plan to visit than in the Czech Republic, ate more McNuggets than expected, and, most importantly, learned how to stay composed in high-pressure situations. Above everything, Storm Ciara provided us with an incredible bonding experience.

Whether you plan to attend Kasteel Well or travel independently in the future, here is some advice to ensure that you do not end up in a similar situation as this: look at the forecast for both cities you depart from and arrive in ahead of time. Flights are not always reliable, especially if there is imminent bad weather, so be sure to plan accordingly with a backup mode of transportation like trains and buses to ensure you get home safely.

Most importantly, be sure to look on the bright side. As terrible as a situation could seem in the moment, always try to make the most of the time you have together with your friends or family. Those moments you share may prove to be some of your favorite memories down the road.