Monday, January 30, 2012

Airports, Angels Wings and Garmin....

Charles De Gaulle Airport, Paris France

"If God had really intended men to fly, he'd make it easier to get to the airport."  ~George Winters

Those overnight flights are killers.  There is nothing comfortable about sleeping upright in a cramped airplane seat with strangers all around you, babies crying, men snoring and folks strolling up and down the aisle at all times, bumping into you as they pass your row.  And how about that person behind you who insists on using your seat back as a brace when they get up or sit down?  Or the person who wants to take off their shoes and stretch their legs out on the seat armrests, practically tucking their stocking feet into your armpits?  Really???  Why do people do this?  This is not your living room, I want to say.  But, of course, I do not.  I politely try to refrain from doing those same things myself and be the best seatmate possible to those around me.  I'm not always successful, but I try.

The flight from Dallas to Paris was long and uncomfortable but we finally arrived at about 9:00 am Paris time.  We landed in a rainstorm and due to construction at the terminal, we had to deplane on the tarmac, walk to the outdoor stairs leading to a temporary elevated walkway that took us to the terminal, climb the stairs with all of our carry on luggage (that's right, no elevators), and traverse the walkway across the top of the tarmac and into the customs building.  All this while jetlagged, stiff, sore, wet and confused.  Needless to say, my mind was screaming for coffee but from the looks of the line in customs, that was not going to happen any time soon.  I sighed and began to look around me, taking in the strange surroundings. 

Everyone was crowded together into a tight mass, moving and winding slowly through the customs lines.  The signs were in French and the announcements on the loudspeakers were heralded by a soft sweet melodic sound that we later dubbed "angels wings".  We quickly learned that each time we heard the "angels wings", a feminine French voice would come through the speaker system, instructing and guiding us through the maze of customs and connecting flight information.  Of course we understood none of it but I must admit, the angels wings and the corresponding woman's voice was a soothing sound in such a busy and confusing airport.  It was almost mesmerizing and when I visited Charles De Gaulle a few years later on another connecting flight, I was instantly elated to hear the familiar sound of "angels wings".  

It took forever to navigate through that customs line and then to find our baggage claim, but eventually we did and thankfully all of our bags were there waiting when we arrived.  It took an equally long amount of time to find the rental car counter, as we were planning to drive ourselves from Paris to Ducey, a small town in Normandy and our stop for the night, before we traveled on to pick up "the boat."  Finding the counter was only half the battle - the second half was actually finding the car.  But eventually we did and we struggled to fit all of our bags into the tiny French automobile.  Tom and Jim are no strangers to packing cars, though, and they quickly figured out how to squeeze every last drop of luggage into that tiny hatchback.  Now for the next adventure - getting out of Paris and into the countryside!  But this would be easy, we reasoned, for we had borrowed a Garmin from a friend and surely we could plug it right in and we would be on our way.  Or so the instructions would have you believe. 

Apparently we had rented the only car in Paris that did not have a cigarette lighter adaptor to supply power to the Garmin.  That's right - there was not one single 120 Volt adaptor anywhere in that car and the Garmin battery was as dead as a doornail.  We looked at each other in disbelief and Tom said to me, the trip planner, "Sandy, you did a MapQuest on this place for backup, right?"  My expression said it all.  No - MapQuest had been the last thing on my mind.  After all - Garmin was supposed to replace MapQuest, making the program obsolete in our new world of modern technology!  After a few long moments of silence, Tom slowly got out of the car and began to unpack the bags in the hatchback.  We had the stand by maps of France but as luck would have it, they were tucked in the bottom suitcase.  This day was getting longer by the moment!

Hours later, we were still circling Paris with no idea of how to get away from that city.  It was as though we were reliving Rome all over again, driving in circles around this massive city and fighting traffic, going around and around in a giant toilet-bowl like manner.  Tom was trying valiantly to read the maps and the street signs, Jan was doing her best to interpret the French and Jim was driving us through the chaos, operating on no sleep in the last 24 hours.  I resolved to stay quiet, realizing that I had little to offer to this effort.  When it seemed that we could no longer function, I saw a Comfort Inn hotel and suggested that we pull in and ask directions.  Jim pulled up to the curb, Tom risked his life by opening his door into oncoming traffic and jumping out, then ran to the hotel lobby in search of someone that could speak English and help us find our way.  He came back with written instructions and thankfully, the English speaking concierge was helpful and we were soon on our way out of Paris.  We breathed a sigh of relief as the traffic thinned and the passing scenery became pastoral instead of Parisian.

We hadn't eaten since the airplane breakfast and when we saw the familiar McDonald's sign in a small country village, we quickly pulled in for a meal.  I am not a McDonald's fan but I must tell you, I had the freshest salad at this tiny restaurant that I have ever eaten at a McDonalds.  None of us could believe the quality of our meal and we were all wishing that the US McDonalds could come here to take a lesson.  Or maybe we were just famished.  Either way, it was wonderful and our moods instantly elevated as we nourished our tired bodies and soon we were even chuckling a bit at our escapade.

Our itinerary for this day called for an overnight stop at a Best Western in Ducey and a visit to Mont St. Michel.   I was excited to see the French monastery, built on a rock off the coast and inhabited by Monks since the 15th century.  The pictures I had seen were breathtaking and I understood that it was only a few miles from Ducey.  As we drove towards the coast the countryside was becoming more hilly and as we came up over a rise in the road I gasped -- there, miles away, I could see the hazy image of Mont St Michel rising from the ocean.  Jim paused the car on the top of the hill and we all looked, straining to see this amazing sight.  Our excitement increased and we were suddenly energetic again, anxious to get to the hotel, check in, and then go out to explore this vision.

Travel Tip:  Even with a GPS device, things can go wrong.  Before leaving print a MapQuest of your first leg of the trip as a backup.  It will come in handy when you're jet lagged and tired in a strange city!

No comments:

Post a Comment