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Grounded European travelers add to itinerary just to get home

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Stranded travelers turn to rail, ferry to get to their destinations
  • One woman plans 43-hour train-and-ferry trip from Latvia to France
  • World leaders cancel trip to Polish president's funeral because of air traffic snarl
  • Ash from erupting volcano in Iceland prompts flight cancellations in Europe

(CNN) -- Huge crowds of travelers across Europe packed train stations, ferry lines and the continent's few open airports this weekend, scrambling to find transportation because of a massive disruption in air travel caused by an Icelandic volcano eruption.

In the Netherlands on Sunday, Jen and Steve Patterson were trying to arrange for a trip home to the United States.

They were traveling in the Netherlands when volcanic ash closed much of Europe's airspace last week, and they've been unable to get home to their four children, all younger than 9, who are being cared for by friends and family.

An airline Sunday booked them on a Friday flight from Madrid, Spain, where airports have for the moment reopened, to Dulles airport near Washington.

"So the next challenge is getting to Madrid, whether by plane or by car," Steve Patterson told "CNN Sunday Morning."

"We were supposed to be here for just a week," Jen Patterson said. "That was hard enough for this mom. So another week without [the children] is really unimaginable."

Millions of people have been affected by the aviation disruption, which happened when an eruption beneath southern Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier worsened last week.

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Some European airports reopened Sunday, including several in France and all 16 that had been closed in Spain. But officials in each country emphasized that decisions were being made around the clock and could change at any time.

Video: Virginia family separated by ash
Video: Stranded travelers cram Eurostar station
Video: Volcanic delays
Video: From Warsaw to London with no plane
Number of European flights
April 18: 4,000 (expected)
April 17: 4,886
April 16: 11,659
April 15: 20,842
April 14: 20,087

Airports in much of the continent remained closed, with passengers unable to go anywhere. The British government said Sunday that British airspace will be closed for at least another 24 hours, and the Italian Civil Aviation Authority said it would re-open Italian airspace to all flights beginning at 7 a.m. Monday.

About 5,000 flights took place Sunday in European airspace, according to traffic authority Eurocontrol. About 24,000 flights happen on most Sundays.

The volcanic ash Sunday forced numerous world leaders to cancel plans to travel to Poland for the funeral of President Lech Kaczynski.

Passengers at England's Heathrow Airport spent time on Saturday sleeping, with caps and scarves to shield their eyes from the bright lights of Terminal 3.

Airlines passed out leaflets, advising passengers to go home and call the airline. Passengers were told they could not change their reservation at the airport.

iReport: High school class trip grounded

The problem, however, was that it took up to an hour to get through to an airline representative on the phone.

Across the world, most groused as they waited.

"We haven't got any more money because we have been traveling for three months," said Linnea Vilsboell, a Dane stuck in Hong Kong. "So our bank accounts are, like, zero."

However, others resigned to their predicaments by a distant volcano made the most of it.

iReport: Have your plans been disrupted? Send your images, videos

Russ Byer was supposed to fly to Los Angeles, California, on Saturday after a two-week vacation in Berlin, Germany -- until he found out about the cancellations.

"This is surreal!" he said, recalling his first thought. "Stranded by a volcano? Particularly one with an unpronounceable name."

Byer and his brother-in-law made bagels to pass time in the latter's apartment.

"We feel fortunate that we have a place to stay, flour, yeast and eggs," he told, the CNN Web site that allows people to submit pictures and videos.

iReport: Canceled flights create unexpected roommates

Bill Wohl also looked at the up side of being stranded.

He and his brother only see each other a few times a year. He lives in Pennsylvania and his brother, Mike, in Tennessee.

Both found themselves trapped in Heidelberg, Germany, where both were on business.

"It's great to see Mike, and we would not have had the chance to spend the weekend together without being stuck here," Wohl told

In Riga, Latvia, Aurelie Florence spent all day Friday trying to figure out a way to get back home to Nice, France.

Then she hit upon a plan:

Fifteen hours on a ferry boat from Riga to Stockholm, Sweden. Eight hours on a train to Copenhagen, Denmark. Ten hours on another train to Frankfurt, Germany. Finally, a 10-hour drive to Nice.

Florence's images of Riga

"Everybody here is trying to find a solution to go back home," she said. "I'm in the hotel with Japanese people. They can't go back home. I'm very lucky to live in Europe because I can take the train and I can take the ferry boat."

Her 43-hour trek was to begin Sunday night.

At the Gare du Nord train station in Paris, France, the lines separated into the haves and the have-nots: those who were able to snag tickets on the Eurostar -- the train that shuttles passengers through English Channel to and from the United Kingdom -- and those who couldn't.

Every five minutes, the station's PA system announced there were no more seats available on Britain-bound trains until Tuesday.

Still, some lucked out.

Simon Waller drove across Europe -- from the Czech Republic to Munich, Germany, and on to Paris -- and was fortunate enough to run into a woman from Kent, England, who had a ticket she couldn't use.

Others were still looking.

Nick Major had returned from a skiing trip in the Swiss Alps and was trying to get home to England in time to get his children back in school on Monday.

"I've got to get somewhere and I thought it would be better trying to get a ticket and get somewhere than trying to swim across the channel," he said.

And if that didn't work, did he have a plan B? "Maybe live in France," he joked.

The eruption started March 20 beneath the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in southern Iceland, blowing a hole in the ice. It worsened last week, forcing local evacuations and eventually affecting European airspace.

CNN's Jim Boulden, Pat St. Claire, Melissa Gray, Saeed Ahmed, Diana Magnay and Monita Rajpal contributed to this report.

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