We decided to avoid another taxi rip-off and hired a car through the agency that rented us the apartment. The driver was on time, spoke English, had classic jazz on the radio and sneezed and coughed all the way to the airport. I suppose in a sense we were lucky that we were already sick, otherwise we would have been set up for a nice bout of disease once we were back home.
I always find it interesting how uninspiring the outskirts of major European cities are. Between industrial parks, chemical plants and blocks of dismal apartments, you tend to forget just how attractive the old city centers are. It’s almost as though you’ve visited two completely different places, which in a sense I suppose you have. The place where everyone lives versus the one supported by tourism and government offices. We rolled on marveling at the traffic heading into town.
I can’t say a lot of good things about Charles de Gaulle Airport. It seems to have been designed more with architecture in mind than facility. You check in and then you catch this weird rubber-floored people mover up a level, a relatively hard thing to negotiate since the floor has some give to it and the lack of stairs (an escalator would have been so much better) means you’re fighting gravity to remain upright. Once you’re on the boarding level you get to do it all again out to the pods where the planes dock. We decided to avoid the mover and walk, a fateful decision because we found ourselves at the base of a tall flight of stairs – not visible from the beginning of the trek – and now unavoidable. I lugged the suitcases up cursing myself for falling into that trap.
Every pod has its own security so if you’re timely, there are no crowds. We got through that last test and parked ourselves in the waiting area, pleasantly cool for an airport. I did a French tourism survey offered by a pleasant matron as we waited. A group of Americans moved the cordons aside and lined up by the door to the jetway only to be chased away by the gate agent. I wondered what they were thinking with that move.
We lined up and passed through the gate. I went first and MLW called me back, telling me that the agent wanted to talk to me. I went back and she told me I was not on the flight. I told her I found this interesting as I was standing there with a valid boarding pass in hand. It took them about 45 seconds to straighten it out and no explanation was offered. We boarded, settled in and left on time.
I spent most of my time watching movies – The Counselor, Captain Philips, All is Lost – and eating. I took a few photos of the coast of Scotland, recognized in the island of Islay, home to all those wonderful peaty Scotch Whiskies. We flew on chasing the sun, crossing below Iceland and Greenland and making land somewhere on the coast of Labrador.
One one of my work trips to Ireland, I took a return flight through LA and that route took me across the frozen north. I remember sitting in awe of the giant white expanse, picking out Hudson and James Bays and just marveling at the tundra. I was so rapt at the sight that I never bothered to take photographs, leaving me with just my mental images. Well, I had a second chance today and I capitalized on it, the weather was clear and the vista the same. I took a few photos and was grateful for the second chance.
We landed on time and cleared customs almost instantly. Finding our way to the lounge, I took the time to verify my status on the next flight, having just been called aside in Paris. “No problem” was the reply, “Party of two checked all the way through to Albuquerque.”
We settled in, had some ice water and shortbread cookies and people watched until it was time to head to the gate.
We waited for the first three boarding groups to pass through and moved up to the counter. I handed the agent my ticket and an alarm went off. She took mine and handed me a new one and we headed down the jetway. For grins I took at a look at it and it had me seated in 27F, interesting since I’d paid a premium to sit next to MLW in row 10. Leaving my bags I went back and challenged the agent.
“Someone changed your ticket, I can’t do anything about it.”
“Well, I paid for a premium seat so you’re either going to refund me the charges or you’re going to put me back where I was.”
“Oh, I can change that now, please wait.”
And so it was, I was back where I was supposed to be and left pondering how something this irritatingly dumb could come to pass.
One of the downsides of traveling back from Europe is that awful second flight home. It used to kill me when heading back to China, the last thing you want to do is fly for hours and hours and then sit around an airport and then board and go and get on another plane when you’re pushing 24 hours of being awake. There is no way that last flight could be good and this one wasn’t. Uncomfortable and interminable come to mind. But 4 hours later we were climbing in the car and heading home. A nice dinner at our favorite place – rosemary chicken and couscous risotto made the long day of travel a slightly better memory. And then home sweet home to start the week it takes to get back on the right time zone.