In retrospect, I should have known this was going to be a tough trip when, at 2am on the Champs-Élysées, three witches joined the taxi queue behind me. Eighteen hours later, I was eating dinner in a Greek restaurant in Brussels. Now, a further 12 hours into the journey, I'm in London's Heathrow Airport. I should be home in 12 more.
Home now, going through my notes while attempting to compile an expense report, I found the key folder from the hotel in Brussels. I had used it to jot notes on. But check out the hotel's disclaimer on that page.
Other notes on that scrap include "the TGV ticket machine hates me," "Greco-Belgian dining: lights out for the flambee" [sic] "Toilet at CDG: € 0.50" and my favorite even though I don't really remember why I wrote it, "Pardon me, do you have any pschitt?" There's an alternate citation for Pschitt in Ennnis' photostream, although it's actually my photo from last year's trip to France.
I arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport around 11am for my 1:15 flight. I knew there was a cabin crew strike, but all the information I had gleaned suggested that long-haul flights were unaffected. It didn't take long for me to figure out how good my gleaning had been. There were three flights to the US that had not been canceled. All three departed at 1:15pm. I estimate that each one was a 747 and that all 1,500 passengers-to-be were standing in a long snaking line, and it was not moving at all.
3pm. There were only ten or a dozen people in front of me when they stopped checking passengers in for the formerly 1:15pm flights. The most patient man I've ever seen explained again and again that there was a mandated ratio of passengers to crew, and since they didn't have a full crew, they could not load all the passengers. He looked me right in the face and without even the trace of a smile, he said, "you should come back on Tuesday."
Almost any other week, I might have said, sure, I'll spend a weekend in Paris, why not? But this was Friday afternoon and I was already missing part of Podcamp Boston 2, and if I didn't make it back by Saturday evening, I would miss the Photographic Resource Center's Annual Benefit Auction. This was not on my menu.
A few (very expensive) calls to American Express Travel eventually netted me a flight early the next morning from Brussels to London and (after a 7-hour layover) home. I went downstairs to the train station to buy a train ticket to Brussels. I thought that would be the easy part.
It was not to be. The line at the ticket office was absurd. I went to the ticket machine. The touchscreen did not acknowledge my finger. I gave it the finger and tried a different machine, joining the queue behind a nun. The machine declined her credit card. Not a good sign at all. Turns out the machine didn't like my plastic either. A good samaritan accepted cash and used her own credit card to book passage for both of us.
TGV: "train à grande vitesse" the romance of the original high-speed bullet train. Now we're traveling in style. Oh, but it's running an hour and a half late. Finally, the train arrived, I boarded, found my place. Shortly after departure, a group of older men stood up in their seats, produced sheet music, and began to sing, barbershop harmony style, a tune I recognized after a moment...
C'est une chanson qui nous ressemble.
Toi, tu m'aimais et je t'aimais
Et nous vivions tous deux ensemble,
Toi qui m'aimais, moi qui t'aimais.
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s'aiment,
Tout doucement, sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable
Les pas des amants désunis.
They ran out of steam a couple of times and despite the scattered applause, packed up their music and sat down again. I suppose I was lucky to have gotten even that much live entertainment, Autumn Leaves - or rather Les Feuilles Mortes - is a favorite of mine.
I made do with my ipod until we got to Lille, the last stop in France and about 3/4 of the way to Brussels. There, the lights inside the train switched off and very unwelcoming sounding announcements in French and Dutch came over the PA. Apparently, this TGV had run out of V. I followed the barbershop singers and others as they left the train cursing heartily in Dutch. Half an hour later, we were on another TGV, but nobody seemed to feel like singing anymore.
I checked in to my hotel in Brussels at 9pm and asked for a 4:30am wakeup call, then set out for dinner.