Charles de Gaulle is the bane of my existence

This summer my mother and I went to France to see my sister. If you want the real ‘can’t make this shit up story’ then keep reading, if you want the sugar coated version, check out my sister’s blog.

Our story begins with the pre-trip departure. The phrase ‘Anne, you really have planed the most awesome adventure for us’ will go down in infamy as the most cursed words ever.

Mom and I stayed the night in Portland right by the airport, Thursday night so we wouldn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn. We woke up, had some coffee, and sauntered into the airport around 7:00 am. It was a dream, until we were airborne.

My mom and I sit down on the plane from Portland (PDX) to Philly. I am a magnet weirdness and socially awkward scenarios and on this plane it is clear there are definite possibilities for weirdness.

For instance, the woman who pulled out her breast so her baby could feed and left it out for the entire flight to see while she slept–never mind the guy sitting next to her was a 17 year old boy who couldn’t stop staring…..I wonder what he was doing when he went to the bathroom for an hour?

But the bare-breasted woman was not nearly as awkward as the teacher who was taking her class to Russia for a school trip.

Said teacher was sitting between my mom and one of her students when she suddenly became violently ill and vomited for the last 30 minutes of the journey.

She filled three barf bags and it was glaringly apparent that she was going to toss her cookies again but she was lacking a bag. It was not clear if she was going to vomit on my mom or on her student. Decisions decisions…who was the lesser of two evils to use as an impromptu air sickness bag?

The student lost that debate. The teacher vomited profusely into the student’s jacket. If that was me, I would demand an ‘A’–without question.

We finally landed in Philly where the sign/gate reader clearly said the plane from Philly to Paris was loading at A29 (we were at A2).

We had 30 minutes between flights to huff it down to the gate and get food. luckily we made it down to A29 with 15 mins to spare, when all of a sudden we hear an announcement that the Paris gate has been changed to A12.

Running in Ugg slippers with chunky luggage should be an Olympic sport! We made it to the gate at the last call only to end up sitting on the Tarmac for another 2 hours due to ‘weather’ issues. Apparently a breeze in July is reason to hold the plane until the ‘storm’ passes.

8 hours later we arrived at Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport more or less in one piece. While we were on the plane, I took two sleeping pills so I could be somewhat ‘normal’ and rested when we got to Paris.

My mom made this HUGE deal about me not using her as a pillow because she is claustrophobic. I want it noted that my mom had two seats where she could lay down and stretch out–I only have the one which was an end seat.

The entire flight mom used ME as a pillow and tried to ‘fluff me’ on more than one occasion. She slept great while I on the other hand, didn’t sleep a wink. Even two sleeping aids couldn’t render me unconscious for more than a thirty minutes! So I arrived in Paris tired, hung-over feeling, stiff, and really cranky.

Since our flight was already delayed from Philly, we arrived in Paris two hours later than scheduled. We had planned for a driver/shuttle to pick us up at CDG at 8:00 am Paris time, and when we didn’t show up it left.

My mom and I still needed to change money, which we figured we would do before we tried to figure out the cab thing. We went in search of one of those to one of those little window things where you can exchange your money inside the airport.

We found one and the girl working the window kept motioning us to go around and kept pointing to a door. I see a sign in French which I can’t read but it was open a little so I figured I would just go right on in.

There is a man sitting behind a desk in full French military uniform (weapons and all) and he starts screaming at me in French! I’m like WTF I don’t understand you. I asked him the standard questions parle vu English? Espanol? Italiano? Deutch?

No go to all.

He pointed to the sign and motions us out closing the door in a rather burlesque fashion. I examine the sign more closely and realize it was the French Border Patrol and Customs private office. I’m still trying to figure out why the door was propped open.

After being nearly deported we decide to tackle the taxi/shuttle issue once we got our money exchanged.

A taxi from CDG to our hotel would have been about 30 euro per person, so roughly $38.00 USD per person. We were not about to pay for that and we couldn’t find any cab driver that spoke English.

After some debate, we reasoned the shuttle service must have an office or something in the airport. We asked five people where the shuttle company desk was– each gave us five different stories and directions in very broken English.

I then tried to get on the internet with my iPad. Now the whole reason for me buying the iPad 3G in the first place was so I could get service anywhere and free WiFi. Ironically, I didn’t have internet the entire time we were out of the country….don’t ask me why!

Luckily I printed the confirmation email from the shuttle company and it says clearly if the shuttle isn’t there to call when you arrive and they will send another one.

My mom and I spent the next 30 mins and $35 USD trying to dial the ‘toll free’ international number with no success. After nearly 1 1/2  hrs we decided to bag the whole taxi thing and venture out on our own via public transit. I don’t know what we were thinking since we clearly couldn’t navigate the airport what would make us think the trains and metros were any easier?

We took the airport shuttle/tram to the airport train station where you can purchase RER (French railroad system, separate from the Metro) tickets at little self-service “billet” machines.

Did I mention it is hotter than Hades outside?

The billets machines are all in an open air/courtyard building (no shade) in the scorching heat. There is a line a mile long of people trying to use the billets. There is one line which is comparatively shorter line than the rest and we decided to stand in it…only to realize one of the three machines for this line was working.

As we are standing in this line fighting off heat stroke, my mom starts shamelessly flirting with this random French man. They talk forever and all of a sudden he mentions that there is a line which has no one….no waiting.

We leave the first line line that we have been standing in for 20 mins only to realize the new line is NOT for the RER. The guy takes us back to the original line (which has only grown) and we have to start the process all over again.

As soon as we get to the billets machine (25 mins later) the only “working machine” is broken but no one thought it would be polite to say anything to anyone. So the French man leaves us and we go stand in yet another billets line only to find that NONE of the machines are working.

Mom realizes there is a real person who is selling tickets so she goes over and gets us two tickets for the RER. We have to then make it through the RER turn-style. My mom has no problem….me on the other hand…

As I was passing through the turn style doors, the turn-style doors slam like little vice grips on your stuff (my suitcase has a huge dent in it now).

As I am standing there trying to force my luggage through the door, my mom leaves me standing there like she doesn’t know me, hysterically laughing. Not only am I standing there cursing up a storm trying to free my luggage from the jaws of death…but no one comes over to help me, not even the RER workers or police.

I finally work my bag free and we get on the RER but it’s so packed and we have to stand. Now for those of you who have used lots of public transportation you will know what I mean when I say NEVER EVER EVER take anything larger than a backpack on a crowded subway–it’s just asking for problems.

People get annoyed with idiot American tourists trying to manage 2 suitcases, a purse, carry-on, and a huge camera bag oh AND don’t speak the language.

The entire ride some random gypsy was on the RER playing the polka on his accordion….I felt like I was in a really bad vacation movie (think National Lampoons European Vacation).

The RER is hot with no AC, and NO ONE, I repeat NO ONE wears deodorant. To add insult to injury, the train rocks so bad that you feel like you are going to be sick at any given moment.

We finally get to the station where we need to now catch the Metro (M)….but we have to go through yet another turn-style. From the RER turn style fiasco, I learned that I need to turn my suitcase sideways in order for it not to get stuck. One would think my mother observed my embarrassment and learned from my mistake but that was clearly not the case. Vengeance–my mom got her bag stuck in the turn style!

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander–I just kept on walking. But my mom lacks my good humor, she did not handle it with the same ‘finesse’ that I did. She starts screaming for security (which of course never came) and was blocking the turn-styles for 10 mins. Finally someone has to scan their own card so the door would open and mom could get through…I laughed until I cried!

As we are walking to the M the halls were really narrow. Apparently I’m was not walking fast enough for the French population and were jumping over my bag to get around me.

At this point I’m hot, majorly jetlagged, hungry, tried, and CRANKY. I just want to get to the hotel, I don’t care that people have to jump over me or want to pass me….f*%^ it.

Mom on the other hand is very concerned about proper etiquette.

As I am walking in front of her she yells “Anne, Anne, these people are trying to pass you” but I can’t really hear her because I have my back to her and it’s loud.

So every time she calls my name I stop and almost get run over….never mind that I have a blood condition and am on a blood thinner….a simple fall could mean death and mom is worried that I am making people mad by not moving. So rather than just dealing with it and getting the hell out of there, she makes me stop and almost get trampled.

Finally I told her I didn’t care who I made mad–I just wanted to get to the hotel. She stopped bugging me about that point as she realized I was about to have a total and complete melt down!

Did I mention it’s hotter than Hades?

We took another hot, smelly M to the station by our hotel. Again it was only a stroke of genius that I printed off all the M stuff close to our hotel. We get off only at the M stop by our hotel, I was relieved to breath air again.

This feeling quickly disappeared when we realized that we had to carry our bags up three more flights of stairs (Europeans don’t believe in elevators or escalators at the metro stations like the Americans would) to get out of the metro station.

As we are lugging our bags up the three flights of stairs a nice young French man came up to me and asked if he could help with my bag….totally ignoring my aged mother. He didn’t really speak English so I just went with it LOL. While he carried my bag, I helped mom with hers.

We finally made it to our hotel room (though we had to walk another 2 blocks or so in the scorching heat) at 3:00 in the afternoon….we were originally suppose to check in at 10:00 and meet Susan there (my sister).

Susan had been waiting in the hotel lobby for 2 1/2 hrs and left a note saying she would be back in a couple of hours (but no time notation) and gave us her address (she doesn’t have a phone there) but told us specifically NOT TO LEAVE THE HOTEL SHE WOULD FIND US.

We decided to just get to the room and try to get on the internet again and sleep while we waited for her. Thank GOD the hotel had an elevator….but it would only really fit one person at a time though the sign said a max of 4 people and 300 KG… f-ing way that is possible! Maybe for sardines!

We get to the room and we still didn’t have internet access even though we bought the Orange Internet Provider SIM card which didn’t work.

In a fit of irritation, we just went to sleep.

Susan came back to the hotel about an hour or so after we started napping. We told her of our adventures and all of a sudden realized she was talking kind of funny.

Apparently when she took the M to our hotel she didn’t realize the turn-style doors swung toward you and she got hit in the face (hard…remember my suitcase is dented now from the turn-style??) and thought it knocked her teeth out.

She did have all her teeth still but she had a big fat lip. We laughed until we cried….we all had a REALLY bad experience with the M station turn-styles that day.

Finally I just couldn’t take anymore of France or my family. Susan said she would take mom out for a while so I could relax and take a nap….this was after I curled up in her lap and practically cried because I was so hot, tried, and sore from the hauling of the luggage.

They came back to the hotel about 6:30 that night and I couldn’t even get up from bed. Even when Susan shoved a croissant in my mouth literally….I was way too tired. I was really glad I slept though because unlike mom three days later…..I was actually human the entire trip and felt great.

Bottom line…. Charles de Gaulle is a name that is going to live on in my memory not as a WWII freedom fighter or first French president but for the cluster-f*&^ Paris airport!

From the time we landed at 10:00, it took us five hours to get to our hotel and the airport was only 7 miles away….we could have walked there in that time!

CDG has altered my opinion of international travel drastically.

And just think, there are eight more fun filled days ahead!

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