Sunday, September 16, 2012

Europe Trip 2012 - Day 1

I have just reentered that place otherwise known as "my life" after galavanting across France and England for  about ten days.  The trip was planned in least the flight was...and the details were pretty much left to gel about a week before the plane lifted off of the ground.  My traveling companions were my mother, and my friend, Bonnie, who - after 33 1/2 years of teaching Special Education - was seriously past due for a few days to herself and a change of scenery.  It was meant to be a laid back type of vacation with just enough structure to keep us moving from point A to point B without too much difficulty.

As if that is possible with travel...but whatever.

My sister, Linda, lives in France...and visiting her and her family was the major point of the trip.  But seriously, while you are over there may as well do the tourist thing because there is so much to see and do in Europe.  After all, if you are going to ride for eight hours or so on a may as well make the most of it.  When Bonnie joined our trip...I knew that going to London and Paris was going to be part of the travel agenda.  After all, London pretty much owed me a decent few days after what it put us through in 2006.

Sideways blowing freezing rain.  In mid-May.  Seriously.

For three days.  Add three teenagers and two retirees to that trip and the good times just kept on rolling.

Let's just say that it took all of the charm out of watching events such as the "Changing of the Guard" at Buckingham Palace as it doesn't hold the same appeal when the guards are wearing gray raincoats instead of the smart bright red jackets and black hats that are distinctive...but actually quite funny if you think about it long enough.

It was everything you are probably imagining right now.  And more.  So much more.

So, going back to give London a chance to redeem itself seemed appropriate somehow.  Plus, the Olympics had just been there and I was quite sure that the city had accustomed itself to having guests from every corner of the earth, right?

Funny thing...when I was checking the schedule for the Olympics...I failed to recognize that the Paralympics were going to be going on while we were there.  After all, I was not exactly familiar with these games...having only heard from them because of one of the track and field stars who made the semi-finals with prosthetic legs.  But in London and Europe in general?  The Paralympics are HUGE I tell you.  So much so that there were guides all over town available to assist people who were clueless.

Ahem.  That would be me...or more specifically US...but I'll get to that later...

Anyway, the trip started out as just an idea last January...that 2012 would be a great year to take a trip since Jill was to graduate in May (she did, thankfully) and Brian was in his second year at a local college (on scholarship...rock on).  So, I started combing (stalking) Delta's website and found that I could burn 60,000 points for a round trip ticket to Paris instead of the 120,000 points I thought it would take and had saved.  Needless to say...those tickets were scored and the trip morphed into reality nine months later.

By the way,  you can end up planning for something like a big trip until every detail is nailed down...or you can just do a little bit of winging it and hoping for the best.  A lot of it depends on your personality and the desires of those who are traveling with you.  Since one of my travel partners threatened my life if I scheduled anything concrete and the other one was just along for the ride...I thought it was in my best interest to keep things loose.  I overplanned in 2006 and tried to be fairly unstructured (which is really difficult for me...but I'm getting better) this time for a change of pace.

And, of course, the weather decided to cooperate.  Not that I didn't feel the need to check 863 times before departing just to see if they were going to change the 0% chance of rain for the three days in London to something like torrential downpours or a tsunami or something...but is to be commended for being spot on.

The first challenge that we had was getting everything in one suitcase and one carry-on bag.  Since we had access to a washer-dryer at my sister's house and the apartment in Paris, there was no need to carry every single solitary item of clothing that we thought we might need over the 10 day period.  We were trying to not have to check bags coming over...and had even thought that our flight on Ryan Air would mean that everything had to get in one carry-on bag.  So, everyone packed light and packed a travel-size Febreeze.

Which we used.  Liberally.

Part of the issue with one bag is that it has to actually fit...and it had to weigh less than 22 pounds.  Seeing as I was using a suitcase circa 1987, I was already down something like seven pounds before I packed a thing. But we managed.  And my mother...who I was concerned would be the one to blow the plan...actually had the lightest bags of all.

We made it to the new International Airport in Atlanta (which totally rocked by the way...which is code for "this was too easy and you are going to seriously get a giant BOHICA on the return flight"), got on an Air France flight and spent the next 8 1/2 hours watching movies and trying (insincerely) to sleep.

May I plug Air France while I am talking about it?  Not only is the food better, but the planes are nice, the attendants are helpful, they give you a pillow and a blanket without you having to ask for it, and they give you free champagne and wine with your meal.  Not that I'm a big drinker...but I couldn't help but notice this little detail.  Probably because I ordered the champagne in the hopes that it would make me sleep.  It was even a bit charming that everyone was speaking in French first and then English.  (The return flight?  Not so much.  I was almost screaming "ENGLISH!" on the return trip when we were about to land in Atlanta...but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

When we got off of the plane at the end of the flight...we walked off and had our all we had to do was find the trains, get on the one that I had pre-purchased tickets for...and get on it.  Simple, yes?

No.  Actually, more like HECK no.

We walked from one end of the Charles de Gaulle Airport to the other (a total of something like 4 lie) having absolutely no success in finding the trains...despite asking twelve people who reluctantly spoke English to us when they realized that I know about as many French words as my dogs know in English. We finally found the trains (it took well over an hour) and then saw the word "retard" beside the train we were supposed to be boarding.  Just so you know...I'm not being unkind..."retard" apparently means "late" in French...although at first I did halfway think that the board was mocking me.  So, after another unplanned 45 minute delay...we waited.

We met people from Georgia, Montreal, and California while we were trying to figure out what we were doing...and we finally made it onto the train to Nantes, France.  Of course, my sweet friend, Bonnie, had gotten confused in all of the hoopla, and had convinced herself that we were headed to England on the train because she thought that my sister lived in England...not France.  Never mind that everyone was speaking French.  She also was under the impression that Linda was a flight attendant...because I had once mentioned that Linda met her husband in Heathrow Airport.  (Linda worked in fraud prevention in the telecommunications industry before teaching English in Paris and becoming a homemaker for the record.)

And why yes, we DID have a good time with that all week.

We arrived in Nantes, Linda picked us up at the train station, and she drove us to her beautiful home.  Photos tomorrow...along with more commentary...

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