I had been planning this trip for months—shocking myself with a degree of organisation I rarely exhibit. Near the end it nearly all came unstuck—now I am on the train to Zagreb. Here is what happened:
- My mother-in-law became ill just before I was to leave and then died at the end of June. We made a quick trip to New York for the memorial.
- A week or so later my closest uncle passed away after a long illness. This time I did not go to New York, guilt notwithstanding.
- Two days before I left, when I called Direct Line to put my car insurance policy into force, they told me that they do not cover four of the countries I will travel to. When I explained that weeks ago I had called and listed each verbally—I did so twice, to be sure—all they said was, “I am terribly sorry but we cannot (I just love that term ‘cannot’, as if such a thing were beyond the realm of philosophical or practical possibility) insure cars in those countries”. When I explained that I had planned an entire trip on that basis—and spent hundreds of pounds getting my car into shape, they offered further apologies.
- A frantic search for other insurers came to nothing. My son came up with an ingenious idea—“why not travel by car to Croatia (which is covered) and then rent?”
- I phoned American Express, my travel agent, to organise a car. A helpful woman swung into action. One by one she informed me that no rental car company would allow me to travel through the Balkans.
- I explained my problem and she said, “Well, American Express Insurance is terrific. I used them myself and they were excellent for travel, cover the dodgiest countries—they are brilliant.”
- Uplifted by her assurances I phone them—not a chance.
- As panic set in my colleague and I ring round. Surely someone must rent cars or drive cars in this region. How can they rebuild their economies without this most basic economic ‘engine’?
- Thirty minutes later my colleague calls elated. “It’s all sorted, Rod, you will be a consultant to XXX and they are fully covered across the region—you will come in under their policy”.
- I confirm this with their CAO and shout with joy. He puts me in touch with their broker who lists the many benefits of this fantastic policy. “And what about my car?” “Oh, we do not handle car insurance”.
- My heart sinking, I realise I cannot drive there—and I do not want to fly. The train is the only answer. I call Amex again. “All the trains are booked—you have left this really late, you know! I suggest you phone the train company directly.”
- I call the company. “You have left this really late, you know!” I know. “Let me see………..we only have a few seats left………and they are in………..First Class.” I never would have chosen First Class for this trip……..but………well, they are the only seats. “I will take them”.
- Now I sit on a train, the sky is crystal clear as I twist and turn through the Austrian Alps. I have six seats to myself, and am feeling embarrassingly good. Yesterday I met two fantastic people—more on that in another blog post.
- This was indeed all for the best—my family is also pleased I will not be driving. The train is safer, greener and less stressful.
But before I sign off feeling obnoxiously smug and self-satisfied, a few reflections:
- We in the UK take a lot for granted. What if I could not travel from London to Wales or even Cornwall in a rented car? Or my insurance policy would be void as I crossed the borders?
- When I meet the successful Balkan social entrepreneurs, will I be able to bear in mind the obstacles they have faced? Those I encountered in setting up Catalyst pale into insignificance.
- I am very sad to lose two close relatives—I will miss them both, and I leave for this journey with a heavier heart. But can I even begin to compare this with the suffering of many of those I will meet who lost parents, siblings, children, friends and neighbours in a decade of anxiety, armed conflict, bombing and worse?