Friday, December 29, 2006

Part two: CDG Paris and beyond

After six agonizing hours in the air- a fortuitous jet stream cutting nearly two hours from the flight time- we landed at Charles De Gaulle Airport, Paris. If you’ve never been there, it’s hard to describe- CDG is an airport in the same huge, arrogant way that Texas is a state. It’s almost more accurate to describe Paris as the residential subdivision of CDG than the other way around. When your plane lands, you’ll taxi for 20-30 minutes, over highway overpasses and through traffic-controlled intersections before you’ll get to your gate. In our case, there was an additional 30 minute wait when we got there, as we had arrived ahead of schedule and the gate was not ready for us- which will give you an insight into a certain kind of bureaucratic mentality.

You see, no matter how big CDG is, it’s not big enough; as the world’s busiest airport, the demands on it’s facilities are huge- and so our “gate” was not a gate at all but merely a box painted on the tarmac, with an “x” for each piece of equipment... and not every piece of equipment had arrived yet. The schlepper with the stairs was there, and the bus for the 30 minute ride to the terminal was there- wasn’t that good enough? Mais non, it’s not a legal gate until everything is there; the plane may not pull into it. Well, we have customs to get through and a connecting flight- couldn’t you roll the stairs over to where we are then? Quelle idea! Passengers cannot wander willy-nilly over the tarmac! You must deplane at a proper gate! But your “gate” IS just a piece of tarmac with an outline painted on it! *Sigh* Never mind, I understand; it’s the Les Nessman of WKRP in Cincinnati school of management.

I must say, however, that once inside CDG, it’s fairly impressive and fairly well run. If you have questions, answers are available in French or English. I witnessed this myself; no matter in what language the questions were asked- Russian, Spanish, Greek- the answers were in French or English. Our connecting flight was located with only the minimal amount of nonsense that is required by customs and security.

I was horrified to learn that the last leg of the trip was another Airbus, but we got a break: our seats were in the emergency exit aisle. As there are international regulations demanding that a human body can actually fit through the exit for safety reasons, this section is twice as roomy as normal. An hour later we were in Nice. Deciding to splurge on a long taxi ride, 20 minutes later we were in Villefranche Sur Mer! We had left Indianapolis at 6:00 p.m. Friday, and it was now 3:00 p.m. Saturday- but we had arrived!

Next: Food, wonderful food!

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