Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Travel Day: The Return Trip

Thursday 7 August
The most bittersweet part of a trip is the day you fly home. It's the day I've been dreading, but by the time I've gotten all my stuff packed, checked-in online, searched for the best way to get to the airport, looked at which terminal I need to go to and checked three times that my alarm is set , I'm ready to just get this over with.

The whole flat is sleeping when I wake up at 7, so I quietly pack my few things left, and grab my lunch from the fridge. I didn't want to waste all my bread, cheese, and meat I had left so I made two sandwiches for the road. I wish I bought a citrus tarte for the road, too.

My flight doesn't leave until 12:25, but I know how fickle public transportation can be, so I play it safe and leave the flat before 8. I take the 4 line to Châtelet where I switch to a RER train going to Charles de Gaulle Airport and I only have to wait 15 minutes before it shows up. The train is PACKED so I get to spend the 45 minute ride standing up with my packs on, which was just lovely.

At the airport, I'm greeted by utter chaos. There are so many people everywhere, lines are crisscrossing into walkways and groups are just standing in corridors surrounded by luggage. I find the United counter, and ask where the line to check in starts. I'm told to follow the line *that* way, as he points around the corner. I start walking, turn, keep walking, turn, ask a person in line if this is the United check-in line who just points behind himself, and turn another corner until I end up back where I started from. The line loops around the entire square kiosk where United Airlines and Turkish Airlines are located.

I glance at my watch. It's 9:15.

At 9:30, I start chatting with a family behind me who is panicking. They are incredibly concerned with missing our flight to DC because, to quote the mother "I just gotta get outa here. Get me back to America." I was not in agreement with them. In fact, I wouldn't mind missing my flight! *fingers crossed* She asked me, "So... Did you like it here?" and seemed surprised at my wholehearted "YES".

At 9:45, I'm so enjoying the people watching. So. Much. Panic. There is a United flight to Chicago leaving at 10:05, and I am in line with several of them. At this point I've finally gotten far enough up to nearly see the United counter and the are several United staff members splitting us off into 'Chicago' and 'Other'. I stand in the 'other' line and look at the unmoving 'Chicago' line. There is no way that flight is taking off on time.

I'm particularly amused by a woman, let's call her Kentucky (I overheard her talking so I know shes from Kentucky). Kentucky is in line behind me somewhere, I'm not sure where. Every 10 minutes or so, shes up by me, yelling at anyone in a United shirt. Demanding to know when the line will move, when are we going to get checked in, and WHY didn't they hire more people. Now, I am also curious to know the answers to those questions, however I realize that person does not have the answers nor hold the responsibility for our current situation. I met eyes with a United lady, and did an eye roll in camaraderie over being in a customer service position.

At 10, I give up the fight and unclip my backpacks. It's usually more trouble to take them on and off than to just bear the weight, but my knees are starting to hurt. I've been wearing them for the past 2 hours. I'm horrified to discover that my entire torso is wet from sweat. Sexy.

At 10:05, when the Chicago flight is scheduled to depart, the Chicago line hasn't moved much and neither have we. I have new friends in front of me, a young family. He's from California, she's French, their children are around 5 & 8 and they live just outside Dijon. They're fluidly switching between English and French and I can't seem to get a grasp on why they chose one language over another. I'm fascinated and jealous. The dad goes and looks at the Departures screen. He informs us all that the Chicago flight just says 'Delayed' but DC still is 'On Time'. We amuse ourselves by laughing at Kentucky's antics and discussing how the weather this year really took a toll on the vineyards.

From 10:30 to 11, we see some action happening just out of sight. The people in line directly in front of the counter are angrily gesturing as they are escorted out of line. Within  minutes the whole area is empty and those people are now about 100 feet away. Uniformed security guards are rushing forward, and within minutes there are men with machine guns making there way through the crowds. We figure out that there is an unattended bag, and the bomb squad is being called in. Let's just say for a minute the bag did contain a bomb, they told us to stand about 200 feet back, not leave the building. We'd totally die! Just as a precaution, I hid behind a wall, right by an emergency exit. My position had the added benefit of being towards the front of the pack.

At 12:00, people start rushing back to the United desk. I didn't get the memo, but I quickly threw on my backpacks and jump in the mob. I don't know how she did it, but Kentucky is right at the front complaining about being in line for over 2 hours and her flight leaves soon so all these other people need to get behind her. I catch eyes with the California/France couple and we snicker. A lady next to me is in a panic "Where's the line for Newark?! Our flight is leaving soon!" and tries to shove her daughter in front of me. I gave her a side-eye and said "My flight to DC leaves in 30 minutes, and I've been here since 9". She pulled her daughter back. *sigh* Airports really bring out the best in people.

My bag weighs 27 pounds, only a 6 pound weight gain. Not bad. After the usual paperwork and security lines, I made it! I'm incredibly sad I have to run through Duty Free shopping. I had some plans for the liquor store.

I get on the plane and am pleased to discover its a new one! Finally, a touch screen with an array of movies, unlike my previous 3 flights to Europe. I happily start a movie, uncaring that it will be another hour and a half before we depart. My favorite moment was when the pilot made an announcement, "Well folks we're waiting on the last 3 people because they decided to get a beer when they arrived at the gate". They were nearly booed when they got on the plane. hahaha

Four movies and eight and a half hours later, we land in DC. Nearly everyone on the flight has missed their connecting flights, including me, and the flight attendants have made several announcements letting us all know there are extra people on staff to help us all out. Once again I finagle my way to the front of the line and within 30 minutes I'm speaking to an already overwhelmed United employee. I try to be kind, because it's not her fault, but when she tells me I can get to Chicago tonight, and fly to Grand Rapids the next morning but I'll have to pay for my own hotel room, I kind of lose it. She explains its not the airlines fault for the delay, so its their policy to not supply hotel rooms, however she can give me a coupon for a discount. I reply that it sure isn't MY fault for the delay. She shrugs and hands me the coupon. It's 5:30pm.

At 10pm, I fly to Chicago. My bag was also supposed to fly to Chicago, but when I get there I find out my bag is still in DC. This is upsetting. It's nearly midnight, I'm cold and just want a sweater, a pair of socks, and to wash my face before I 'sleep'. I find one of the few couches and try to lay down for a rest. I have a draft of icy cold air blowing right on my back and there is construction going on in a nearby section of the airport. A jackhammer isn't exactly bedtime music. I give up at 2am and try to find a new couch. This one works out better and I wake up at 4am. My flight leaves at 7am, so I leave Terminal 1, find Terminal 2, go through security, and plop down at this gate. I make friends with some gentlemen from Alabama who were in Alaska on a relief project. Our flight is slightly delayed, I'd expect nothing less, because the crew is late arriving. I forgive them though because the flight attendant was an angel and made me coffee.

While filling out the paperwork to get my bag delivered to my parent's house, Mom sneaks up behind me. She takes over and I run outside to say "HI" to Dad. Paperwork done, we head up to the cottage, with a detour to IHOP for some American Breakfast. It's a post-Euro Trip tradition.

My macaroons didn't fare so well. Still delicious though. 

I wasn't tired until about 9pm but made it til 11pm. I counted and I had 2 hours of sleep in nearly 48 hours. Flying is fun.

Saturday I woke up to Monkey Bread! Gooey cinnamon bready goodness is what's for breakfast. 

Sunday we watched Dad become a (half) Ironman. 

Going back to the real world is tough, but I suppose it has to be done. Since I've been home I've worked and caught up with friends, including one who had TWINS while I was gone. 

The only thing keeping my post-travel blues away is planning my next trip :)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Versailles in the Rain

Wednesday 6 August
It's my last full day in Europe, so I guess its only appropriate that its raining. *tears*

I learned my lesson yesterday and I'm in line at Versailles by 8:45. A substantial amount of people are already lined up to get in, but it's not nearly as long as Tuesday. I make friends with some women from Minnesota in line behind me, and I tell them my story from yesterday so that they aren't sad about having to wait for an hour. Yes, I was there before it opened and didn't get in until 10.

It's hard to tell, but it is raining quite hard in this moment, hence the fashionable raincoat.


The Hall of Mirrors


So many people...

...They all started to give me anxiety

Marie Antoinette's bedchamber

King's bedchamber

Gallery of Battles

Occasionally I would look out the windows and could see the growing line of people still outside waiting to get in. I also noted the pouring rain and felt really bad for them. 

OMG this room is empty! I escaped the craziness of the Royal Apartments and visited the Princess' Apartements. Not quite as excessively lavish but still really beautiful. 

After a long day of fighting the crowds I say goodbye to Versailles for good. 

Look at how big the lines are at 1pm in the pouring rain!

Remember how sometimes I think I'm really smart? Well I did that again. I wanted to walk to a different train station than the one I left from yesterday. This station was a bit further BUT I wouldn't have to switch trains at all, instead I'd go directly into Montparnasse Station. 

It's pouring so hard I miss the turn and 30 minutes later the rain lets up enough for me to snap out of puddle jumping and focus on where I am. After another 15 minutes of wandering (I really miss having cell phone service) I stumble upon a train station. I have to switch another 3 trains and metros to get back to the city but at least I'm not wandering around in the rain right!? 

I really wanted to see the Catacombs and I wasn't expecting to spend 2 days on Versailles, or 45 minutes trying to find the train station. Once back in Paris I thought I'd go to the Catacombs just to see how long the lines were. It was still pouring rain and the lines were around the block. My rain jacket, while conveniently light and portable, doesn't have the BEST all-over rain protection so I'm still incredibly soaked from my excursion in Versailles. My desire to put on dry shoes and clothes currently outweighs the desire to see the Catacombs so I turn around, go straight into the supermarket for wine. Obviously. 

Happy and dry back at the flat with a cup of wine, I receive a FaceTime call from Mom. She emphasizes the importance of it being my last day and reminds me it's only 3pm. I look out the window at the sun peeking through the clouds and feel guilty. After a heavy sigh, I throw back the rest of my wine and grab my rain coat. 

Back at the Catacombs, the sun is hiding behind angry clouds and it's once again pouring. Determinedly, I find the end of the line and am greeted by two gentlemen in uniforms. They kindly let me know that I will probably not make it to the entrance before they close for the day. I thanked them for saving me the time and dashed back to the metro. 

I hadn't been to Galeries Lafayette yet, and shopping is always a solution to rain, so I took the metro to the Opera House. I walk up the stairs from the metro and its SUNNY and hot. I'm so confused. Ten minutes ago I was in the midst of a torrential downpour.

I checked to see if there were any shows going on tonight, but its the off season of course. I walk over a few blocks to Galeries Lafayette.

Take the escalator to the 7th floor and you're on the roof and have a lovely view of Paris. 

After Galeries Lafayette I went back to Place des Invalides since the last time I was there I just laid in the grass. 

The weather was giving me an emotional rollercoaster ride. Sunny and hot one minute and rainy the next. I started to feel like the metro stations were a weather vortex. I walk up out of the metro and now its overcast and drizzling. I snap a picture then think "huh, it looks like a wall of rain coming at me" moments before said wall of rain hits me. I struggle in panic with my rain coat for several minutes, which was plenty of time to once again get completely soaked. This time, thanks to the rain coat struggle, my hair is even wet and honestly it was like I had just stepped out of the shower. 

All I really want to do is sit in the comfort of my hostel and drink wine while packing. Lucky for me the hostel has a great view of Paris, so I justify my guilt away. I've had an amazing time here, I don't need to feel pressure to pack my last day full of random activities. Plus, the weather is making it miserable to be out on the streets. 

I sit at the kitchen table, and enjoy the view while snaking on some pâté. I reminisce about my trip and try not to be sad that I'm leaving.

I packed up all of my things, and I am shocked and impressed with how everything fits. I suppose it does help that I have one more carry on item than I did when I left the US but I was still expecting to have to leave a few things behind. Thankfully that was not the case. I spend the evening hanging out in the hostel with old and new roommates.

At midnight I run to the window to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle for one last time for the entire 5 minutes before before heading to bed. I have a big day tomorrow.

Bonne nuit Paris