Monday, December 09, 2019

Flying Home

An Australian friend recently said he tricked me I to saying “home” when talking about the States. Even though we own a house in France, the States, the place where my kids and my parents are, will probably always be home.
A bar in the hotel lobby. "In wine, truth. 
As I write this, we’re sitting at the airport waiting for our flight to board.
We made it to the airport, walking less than 1000 steps to the airport tram, which brought us to Terminal 1. 
Far luckier than yesterday when we tried to visit Paris for the afternoon. 
The view from our hotel window as the sun set. 
After teaching in the morning, we had a leisurely breakfast then walked to the train station to ask about tickets to Paris. 
The ticket clerk assured us that RER B to Paris was leaving in 40 minutes. 
But what about coming back? I asked. I wouldn’t risk being stranded in Paris after spending two extra nights at an airport hotel. 
Trains come back every 23 minutes, he assured us. 
We went back to the hotel room, got coats and hats for the blustery, rainy weather and returned to the station to buy tickets. 
Usually tickets are 10.50 euros each way, but since we were returning the same day, the man gave us a ticket good for the whole day. The total was 35.80. 
Cheaper than I expected! I told him. 
We waited with a crowd for the train to Paris and clambered aboard. We watched the lighted stations tick off over the doors, counting down the stops to Paris Gare du Nord. 
When we arrived at Aulnay-sous-Bois, the train was terminé. 
It’s hard to understand announcements even in English. In French, it’s even more difficult. 
We saw buses that said SNCF, the name of the trains in France. 
We figured out we were supposed to board the buses to go on to Paris. We headed toward them, out the gates when I pulled Earl aside. 
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” I said. “Sure maybe we can get to Paris, but will we get back?”
Earl agreed and we followed directions to the train that would take us back to the airport. 
A train was waiting. We boarded and watched people equally confused climb on then climb off. After about 5 minutes, the train left. Several people got off at the next stop because the train wasn’t going where they hoped. 
But we got back to the airport train station. And I returned with our tickets clutched in hand to ask for a refund in my best French. 
And the clerk gave it to us! You could have knocked me over in surprise. 
Earl suggested they would say “but you rode the train twice, so you used it.” But she merely entered the numbers from the ticket and returned 35.80 euros. 
That afternoon, we napped, we’d been awake at 2 am to watch American football. Then we took a local bus to Roissy-en-France again for dinner. 

This time, goat cheese salad followed by crepes (galettes). We met a nice American couple, chatted and exchanged emails. 
One last night in the airport hotel. It’s kind of nice to be in a hotel airport with nothing to do except read a book, have a drink in the lobby, or watch Saturday Night Live. 
Now we wait for the flight and by the end of the day, we hope to be in warm Florida. 
Life in France is complicated, but if it were easy, everyone would do it. 

Sunday, December 08, 2019

So Far, So Good

Earl and I arrived safely in Paris at the airport Friday night after an 8 hour drive from our home in the South of France.
I taught until 2 p.m., so we couldn't get an early start, but our friends were waiting when I finished teaching and we scurried out the door. They drove us to Carcassonne airport, an hour away, where we rented a car to drive one way to Paris.
After a few snafus, like not being able to find the keys after the inspector gave them to us, we were finally on the road.
The weather was gorgeous that day, in the mid 60s and sunny as we pulled away, heading toward Toulouse.

Villages we passed in the distance. 
The traffic slowed down a few times, but we had none of the rolling roadblocks that we had been warned about, where trucks, driven by striking drivers, pull up next to each other and drive very, very slowly.
On some local roads, strikers had started bonfires to block the pavement. In other parts of France, no gas was available to fill up the car.
When we picked up the rental, we paid for a fill-up, so that we didn't need to worry about finding gas once we got to Paris.
North of Toulouse, we suddenly found ourselves in fog.
Brouillard is French for fog. 
It was quite the contrast to the brilliant blue sky we had left behind. That morning, as I ran in Quillan, it had been foggy.
The back of the train station enshrouded in fog. 
I hoped we wouldn't be driving through the fog all the way to Paris.
I don't see well to drive at night, so Earl was responsible for all of the driving. I felt bad, but knew we could stop to rest as often as we wanted.
We didn't want to though. We wanted to get there.
I hadn't checked on parking so wasn't sure if there was a place to park the rental car, or how much it might cost. I did know that there was a Europcar counter open at the airport until midnight, so if we reached there by midnight, we could return the car and not worry about paying or parking.
Somewhere in the Lot area, the fog cleared and we saw the toenail moon rising as the sun started to send pink and yellow streaks across the hills.
Car photos!
We stopped twice at toll road plazas for a bathroom break, adding $15 worth of gas to get us all the way to Paris.
I used the bathroom and remembered the thing I don't like about toll plaza rest areas, no toilet seat on the toilets.
When we got close to Paris, the traffic definitely slowed, even though it was 10:30 at night. We crawled around to the northwest side of Paris for about an hour, following our GPS to the hotel. I went in and checked in while Earl unloaded our baggage.
We left our car parked illegally, lights flashing, while we carried the bags in, took the elevator to the fourth floor, used the facilities, and sauntered back to the car. We're becoming so French! Not even worrying about blocking traffic.
We drove toward the rental car return in Terminal 2. Yes, the Europcar lot was there and three young men sat inside the parking garage to accept returned cars.
We handed over the keys, reminded him of the damage on the car before we took it, all marked on the contract, and we went in search of a way to return to the hotel.
We waited for a bus, only to be told we needed to take the airport tram to our hotel, so back into the airport, down to the shuttle and the doors slid silently closed until we reached the stop.
The night was fair and we had made it to within spitting distance of the airport.
We were determined not to miss our Monday flight, even if that meant spending three nights captive in a hotel at the airport.
Some friends who had flown to Scotland for a few days were unable to fly back to France. They were diverted to London, then Madrid before arriving in Toulouse very early. As they drove toward Quillan, they saw the highway being blocked by truckers.
We were wise to travel Friday night to avoid more strikes. Our friends made it ahead of the highway blockers, so they also got home.
Saturday, I teach most of the day, so we didn't mind being held captive in a hotel room, but Saturday evening, we found a local bus that took us to Roissy-en-France, a nearby village with lots of hotels and restaurants. It's impossible to walk anywhere from here because we are surrounded by freeways and obviously don't want to walk on them.
The village was lit up with Christmas lights.
Roissy-en France

A 13th century church
We sat at an Italian restaurant with heaters on the terrace. 
We split a salad, it was choose your own ingredients -- artichokes, black olives, ham...
We soon found ourselves surrounded by four tables of Americans, which is weird because in Quillan there are so few Americans.
Today, we may try to venture into Paris by train, if the RER is running, but we're nervous about getting back. Some French friends invited us to dinner at their place, but we declined because we wouldn't be getting a train back until 10 p.m. or so.
I am not going to risk missing our flight on Monday just because I couldn't get back to the airport hotel. So, I will ask before buying train tickets and will make sure we come back early while there is light out, in case we have to take a taxi, if they're running.
Strikes make things complicated, and a bit more expensive. So far, our flight is not cancelled on Monday, but the airline has warned us to get there early and they are opening their check in earlier.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Foiled Travel Plans

Is it just us or are travel plans always complicated?
We had planned to go back to the States for Christmas and stay for Grace's wedding in January.
Grace and Jack just got some engagement photos back. 
At first, we thought we'd go back to the States in the middle of December. Then, I realized we wouldn't have a full week at Mom and Dad's in Florida, so I suggested we move the date earlier.
Now we're set, flying to Orlando on December 9th and staying with my parents, in the warm Florida weather for a week before heading to Ohio.
I purchased our train tickets more than a month ago and settled down to enjoy November and the first week of December in our French home.
Last week, Annamarie, an older French woman, began warning us of the upcoming strikes. She used the word "méchant" which I had always thought of as "naughty," but it apparently can mean wicked and nasty. The strike could last for a month, she predicted. Trucks that deliver food and fuel won't be able to get through!
"Close your drapes and blinds before you leave for your trip," she cautioned an English friend who was flying to England for a week. "You may not be able to get back for more than a month."
I had seen the notification that there would be a strike on December 5th. Then Toulouse warned of strikes on December 7th and 8th.
Our train to Paris was scheduled for December 8th so we could fly out the next day to Orlando. I got a little nervous, but no one else seemed alarmed.
Earl and I considered trying to fly to Paris if the trains might not run. But the big lines usually run -- the TGV.
Monday night at French lessons, I asked the teacher, who agreed that we might not be able to get to Paris.
"Should we fly?" I asked.
"Maybe the planes won't fly," she said.
"We could rent a car and drive!"
"But the truckers and the farmers often block the highways so you would need to take back roads. Then, you are in Paris. A bigger crowd means even more trouble!" she said, warning us of the black bloc protesters who throw projectiles at cars and cause mayhem at protests.
Plus, she added, you may not be able to get to Carcassonne airport to rent a car. The gilet jaune (yellow vests) will block the roundabout so you can't get through to the airport.
As Earl and I walked home from class, we decided to look for a backup plan after our guests went home for the evening. We had some friends over for apero -- drinks and nibbles.
But during our friends' visit, Earl received a text saying our train on Sunday had been cancelled.
Now we had no hope of a train ride to Paris. If the trains weren't running, would the planes be flying?
I talked to the airline to see if we could move our tickets up before the strikes began on Thursday.
We could. Icelandair was very accommodating, even waiving the $250 change fee, but we would still need to pay $545 for the extra price per ticket. Gulp. That was a bit pricey, plus we'd still need to catch a plane from here to Paris.
I called our credit card company to see if they could help with the extra costs or allow me to cancel the tickets and buy new ones.
The poor young woman with the southern accent sounded distraught for me as she searched and found a warning about disrupted travel in France. In the end, she could only help if the flight is cancelled on Monday.
Finally, I seized on the idea of renting a car on Friday and racing for Paris before the weekend strikes. It's possible that the strikes that begin on Thursday will rollick into the weekend, including Friday, but so far, no one is talking about Friday.
I have to teach until 2 p.m. Then we're getting a ride from our friend Jules up to Carcassonne -- an hour away. I have reserved a rental car and we'll have to figure out a way to bypass the gilet jaune to get to the Carcassonne airport.
Once we have our rental car, we'll drive toward Paris, about a 7-hour drive from Carcassonne. We'll pray for no highway closures and should reach our hotel near the Paris airport before midnight.
We chose to stay near the airport in case the trains or taxis aren't running from downtown Paris when it is time to get our flight.
It might not be the best time we've had in Paris, no runs along the Seine
Last January we spent a few days in Paris and it snowed. 
 or meals at the restaurants along Rue Mouffetarde or  Avenue des Ecoles

but hopefully we'll be ready and our flight will leave on Monday.
If not -- we'll be foiled again.

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