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Monday I got up at six a.m. so I could leave for the Brussels train station at 7 a.m. to catch my 7:52 a.m. train to the Paris Airport. It was a train de grand vitesse (a really fast train) and it traveled the distance between Brussels and CDG (about 270 kilometers, or 170 miles) in under an hour and twenty minutes.

So at about 9:15 I descended from the train, then ascended the escalator into the airport and what a nasty shock that was, about like having someone's laptop fall on your face when you open the overhead compartment at the end of a flight and all the items stowed during the trip have shifted. I've been to quite a few airports in my life, and usually there's some kind of prominent signage telling you what terminal various airlines use. Not so in Roissy-Charle de Gaulle! You need to arrive at the airport already familiar with its layout, especially since the few "Information" desks randomly dotting the terminals tend to be closed.

Unfortunately I had no clue which of the terminals (A through F) in Complex 2 was used by Northwest Airlines, so after wandering aimlessly for an hour or so, I finally resorted to asking the concierge at the Sheraton, which is built into the airport, no doubt to accommodate stranded passengers or people with 5 a.m. flights to Tokyo, because no one in her right mind would stay there for fun. Even though I wasn't one of the hotel's unfortunate guests, the guy willingly looked up the information I needed on his computer, and directed me to Terminal 2E.

But even once I arrived in that terminal I was still uncertain where to go, because the signs at the various counters are generally for Air France. Lucky enough to find an information counter where an actual human being dispensed actual information, I was directed to a very long line in front of an entire bank of Air France ticketing counters. During the process of standing in that line, three different people inspected my passport and looked up my flight information on a small handheld computer, the last of whom directed me to another line, where two more people inspected my passport and looked up my flight information on a small handheld computer before directing me to an Air France counter staffed by a young woman who kept climbing over the luggage conveyor belts to ask the guy next to her how she should do her job, which did not inspire confidence on my part.

Travelers are instructed to check in at CDG two and a half hours prior to departure, because it's such a badly designed and inefficiently managed airport, where everything takes for flippin' EVER. My flight was scheduled to depart at 1:55 p.m., and I arrived at the check-in counter at about 10:45, a mere forty minutes sooner than the airport suggests, and the girl almost turned me away because she thought I was too early. But finally she issued me a boarding pass and I went to sit at the gate, which, of course, involved going through security, taking off my coat and shoes so they can be x-rayed, etc.

CDG is one of those airports where the planes are often nowhere near the gates. When the flight was announced for boarding, passengers queued up in a very long, disorganized line, so that three more people could inspect our passports, boarding passes and carry-on luggage--there were even random thorough searches where they made you take your shoes off again, and I was so grateful to have been passed over for that. We then walk through a door and stood on a sidewalk before boarding a shuttle that drove for ten minutes to a plane in the middle of the tarmac. They didn't bother boarding us from the rear of the plane, so getting on the plane took almost as long as the actual flight, because people at the front of the plane were standing in the aisle, taking off their coats and stowing their carry-on luggage in the overhead compartment, while other people stood impatiently behind them, waiting to reach their seats at the back of the plane.

Yada yada yada. Eight-hour flights just suck, no matter what, though it did help that I had brought David Sedaris's Dress Your Family in Denim and Corduroy as my reading material. But I'm a fast reader, and I finished it less than half way into the flight. So I watched Wedding Crashers and played some games on the console in the back of the seat in front of me.

After two bad meals and a few cans of carbonated beverages, we arrived in Detoirt and went through customs, where my declaration form was stamped COMPLEX so that I had to stand by and watch some fairly good-natured guy empty my suitcase, all the while explaining to him who I'd been visiting in Brussels and how I knew him. I said, "It was a friend I met in Tucson, Arizona, in 1988, when he was a Mormon missionary there," which seemed a fairly irreproachable answer. Then the guy wanted to know why I had bought $100 worth of chocolate when I lived in Pennsylvania, home of Hershey. "Uh, it's generally agreed that Belgian chocolate is just a little bit better than Hershey's," I said.

"Different," he said. "It's just different."

We were all in some windowless basement of the Detroit airport, and there were armed cops all over, and there was no place where you could acquire a cigarette lighter or a book of matches, but after customs, we still had to have our luggage inspected AGAIN, and go through security AGAIN, blah blah f*cking blah. The airport staff was not very nice, and seemed unable to understand why several hundred people who had just spent eight hours on a plane and god knows how long traveling before that, might be a little disoriented and slow on the uptake.

I had a four-hour layover, so I called Wayne, who had just acquired a nephew and a new car, only one of which he has blogged about at this point. The weather was abysmal, with lots of wind and rain, and the ceiling in the new regional terminal I was in leaked in several places. But my flight out of Detroit was basically on time and I arrived at my home after a mere 22 hours of traveling.

And it was at that point that I remembered why I kind of like staying home a lot of the time.

And then there's all the readjustment stuff: I had conscientiously turned my water heater to "vacation" setting, so that I couldn't take a shower until it had had a chance to heat some water, and my cat was freaked out both by the fact that I had left her for ten days and returned so abruptly, and some of my plants had wilted, so on and so forth, and I had a suitcase full of dirty clothes and a million things to do the next day, and I felt like shit.

But hey, I'm a seasoned traveler, I know how to deal with all this stuff, and I'm back in my routine and everything is going as it should, aside from the fact that on that nasty flight I picked up both a mild eye infection and a severe cold. But more on that later--or maybe not.

3 Comments

Wow, the eye infection is worldwide, huh? Is this the one where just one of your eyes turns quite pink and you have some minor vision interference? It's been passing all around my Utah circles the last few weeks, and I took my turn. But I think I got it from my kids, not my recent travels; perhaps I even helped spread it abroad.

Or maybe yours is something different.

Your description of the infection is exactly what happened: my left eye turned bright, bright pink, with angry veins all through it, and my vision was mildly impaired. It looked gross, and it also hurt. Mercifully it was short-lived.

Glad to have you home Holly! :)

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on December 1, 2005 10:37 AM.

Someplace High in Paris was the previous entry in this blog.

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