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Monday, July 25, 2011

Marathon Women

We did it on purpose. We made our longest day of flying the first day of the trip. We flew to the farthest point on our journey, and worked backwards. That way, we reasoned, we would never have to spend such a long period flying again. And we were right, not that it made a shittin' bit of difference when all was said and done. That's called foreshadowing. Please take note. I don't want to foreshadow for no reason.

So we took the shuttle from the Hilton to Air France for our flight to Paris. We checked in nice and early to avoid problems and complications and all that. We ate in Chili's because we really didn't know if and when we would eat again. Sure, they actually feed you on foreign carriers, but what, and when, we had no idea. That was around 3 PM and the flight was scheduled to take off at 6 PM or so.

A thing about scheduling. Let's say you book your trip through some consolidator such as Expedia, and you book it far in advance, like, when you think prices will be best. You lock in your rates. But you don't lock in flight times. Every month between when you book until you actually go, sometimes more than once a month, you get notifications of flight changes. Add an hour. Subtract half an hour. And on and on. Just a few days before we left, we got news that our layover in Paris was going to be longer. I mean, it's good to know but there's nothing you can do about it. More foreshadowing there, as you'll see.

To keep up with this, we "invested" in a tiny, miserable netbook which I hoped would help us keep abreast of this sort of thing without being any fun so I wouldn't be tempted to use it a lot. It weighs about a pound and a half and fits in my shoulder bag. It has no memory worth mentioning and is very slow. I hate it, but I bought it to hate it so I would look at the sights and interact with my spouse and not always be staring at some stupid screen. Well, so I have to have wifi for it, of course. And I have to be able to charge it. So in the hotel I paid maybe five bucks for wifi. In the airport it cost me another five bucks for half an hour. Then I had to sit on the floor behind a pillar and fill it all up with American electricity. Many people do such things in airports.

Oh, I know, why not get an internet enabled cell phone? Because that means contracts. We use TracFone which has no contracts and is very cheap for the way we use a cell phone, which is basically to call 911. Thus a crappy netbook requiring wifi and recharging is better for us. And it worked very well for what I needed it for, which was checking reservations and professional e-mail to find out I didn't have a job. But that's not important right now.

I had an actual paper journal with me and a variety of pens with which I took notes in writing so I could produce this blog later. It's a much more pleasant way to spend time in Europe, or anywhere, than hunched over, staring at a screen with a keyboard so small only a five-year-old could use it easily. So I wrote in this journal at every opportunity, and I still fell behind, but I took many notes which I can barely read. All this, and the pictures, and the tickets I saved, and the daily cruise programs, will be very helpful, I'm sure. Because my brain is fried and Joyce's isn't much better.

It got close to time to board and suddenly my name is called. "Here, you're getting different seats," the agent says cheerfully, handing me a new boarding pass. While I'm trying to comprehend this, Joyce flies over the counter and strangles him. Actually all she did was make them give my original seat back. They thought I wanted to be able to hear the audio for the movie and whatnot. No, I can read, and prefer to. If that happens, they should ask you first rather than split up a family.

So, with that out of the way, we boarded yet another flight from hell, which is to say it was perfectly average. We had the oddest seats, two aisles, and the two next to me were empty! A young woman decided she wanted the window seat. Joyce also wanted it. Fight ensues. I play peacemaker. She's an economics student and is studying for finals. The center and aisle seats are extremely not conducive to studying. We relent. We really prefer aisle seats anyway. So she gets all her gear out and starts studying. We take off, level out, and they serve dinner. We eat it. She gets up to go to the loo and never returns. I get up to go to the loo and find her playing craps or something in the kitchen with six or seven young men from Ethiopia or some such place. Maybe Morocco. Several hours later, I go to pee again and find her asleep with them in a tangle of arms and legs. One more item to add to the list of things I don't understand.

A zillion hours after take-off, we land the next day in Paris, and discover that Charles DeGaulle Airport is really a poorly disguised biathlon course. Of course nearly every airport in the world is under constant renovation. So you grab your bags and run 500 yards, stop to pant and they shoot at you with signs that point in the wrong direction and people who work in the airport but know nothing about it. Run another 500 yards with bags. All turn around at once and run back. Most of this is happening in dimly-lit corridors with low ceilings on slippery flooring. Even if you can read French, you soon realize the information was for last week, when everyone was routed in the opposite direction. Grab your bags and run up and down several escalators, half of which are not working. End up in a dead-end tunnel. Turn around and realize that a narrow passageway you passed a while back is the official escape route. It ends at a security station. They take your water bottle, but it's empty by now anyway. Even though you never left the international part of the airport, they treat you as if you had just arrived from Somalia with a hand grenade clutched in your sweaty fist. On the other side, you put all your clothes back on, sometimes inside out, and finally stumble onto a concourse. Look out the window and see your bags being transferred merrily onto the plane to Warsaw. They rode while you did the airport obstacle course. Next time I'm going as baggage.

Suddenly we realized that, if our stopover had been any shorter, we wouldn't have had a snowball's chance of reaching the gate in time. Could this have been done on purpose? No way. Bought new water with credit cards because we still had no Euros, because they don't do Euros in Miami, boarded and collapsed.

The flight to Warsaw isn't terribly long, but we got to nap a little. The plane was half-empty besides, and it was a small one. And it was a good thing, too, because they used a ladder when we landed in Poland. As crazy as Paris was, this is even crazier. We walk off the tarmac into the terminal, and immediately begin climbing a long set of zigzag ramps. Higher and higher we go, until, at the very top, we have a lovely view of the runways. Then we walk some distance on this top level, until we arrive at a long series of working escalators to carry us down, all the way down to ground level again. Okay, that's really Polish, and I am allowed to say so because Joyce is Polish and she said it first. Climb up and ride down? Why not just walk straight across?

We collect the checked bags and go out, through no customs, no passport control and no security, into a waiting room where our little man with a namecard collects us with a cart, and we just walk out. Welcome to Poland!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like Florence, Italy. No passport control or customs or anything. Walk off the plane with the stairs down to the tarmac, go into the little airport. Collect your bags. Walk away.