Why I Hate Charles deGaulle AirportbySvenskaflicka©
I love to travel. I love the excitement before the journey; the planning, the packing, the arranging. Tickets, passport, taxi. I love going onboard an airplane, I love watching the landscape rush by and then sink out of view as the plane takes off. I love checking in, claiming luggage, going to the hotel, another check-in, arriving at my home-for-the-duration-of-my-stay. I love browsing through strange cities, having breakfasts at the hotel, lunch at a cafeteria or just a sandwich on the go, and dinner at a nice restaurant where your food is constantly a surprise. "Is THAT what I ordered?"
I love exploring new places, see beautiful houses and landmarks and historical sights. I love museums and shops and clubs and fountains. I love listening to different languages, seeing strange people, and eating ice cream at an ice cream bar at a quarter past midnight.
Luckily for me, my husband loves all those things, too. We love to travel together.
But we both hate, I mean really HATE Charles de Gaulle Airport.
When my husband is coming over to see me, he has to go through Paris, as there are no direct flights between USA and Sweden. And when we travel together, I must also go through Paris. Like the time when I had to change planes in Paris to get to Rome, and I was afraid that I would miss the plane to Rome because I spent 2 hours running around in the giant maze that is Charles de Gaulle, the Parisian airport. Whoever constructed that thing ought to be hanged by the hairs of his own nostrils!
I did make it in time, though, not so much because I figured out how that multi-dimensional map of the airport worked, but because I stumbled upon the correct gate. I got to Rome, and after a similar ordeal at the Roman airport, which will be another story, I found my husband and we had a wonderful time in Rome. As we were going home, there was some confusion with our tickets, so we ended up going to Stockholm on different planes. I was rather grumpy about it, as I had planned to make my hubby and myself members of the Mile High Club during the flight.
All this was mere nuisance, however, compared to what happened when my husband got us a holiday in Paris last spring.
It started as soon as I had arrived. We had planned to meet each other at the airport. My plane would arrive at 2 pm, his at noon. He asked me to try to get on an earlier flight if I had the chance, so we would have more time together in Paris. I managed to get onboard the first plane out of Stockholm, and arrived in Paris at about 10 am. Happy, I had a cafe au lait before I started searching for the gate where North American planes would land. Although I started my quest pretty early, it was noon before I found it among all the other gates. I spent a whole hour looking for my husband among all the other Americans, getting my hope up every time I saw someone looking like him, and getting disappointed every time I saw the person up close. The people working at the airport was no help. I asked if they could Paige him for me, but they claimed they didn't have such a system. I think what they meant was that they didn't do that for their clients, because minutes later, I heard a steward being paged by Air France. After one hour, I gave up, thinking that I must have missed my husband in the crowd. I went back to where Scandinavian planes land, to see if he was there looking for me, and when he wasn't, I decided to go to our hotel to wait for him there.
I spent half of all the money I had on a bus to get into the city of Paris, wasted another load of money to get to the part of town where our hotel was supposed to be, and spent at least 30 minutes trying to find the right hotel. Who knew there were so many hotels with the same name in Paris?
When I finally found a hotel that would admit to having a reservation in our name, I was tired, thirsty, and nervous, and had a very urgent need to go to the bathroom. The man at the front desk was rather reluctant to let me get into my room, since it was booked in my hubby's name and not mine. I explained that my husband and I had lost each other at the airport, but he was going to come there and check in shortly, and could I get to go into the room and wait for him, so I could freshen up and get off my feet for a while, pretty, pretty, s'il vous plaît? The guy felt sorry for me, and gave in. I got to our very nice room, freshened up, and then took a 1-hour-nap, waiting for my hubby. By 4 pm, I was really worried, and decided to go back to the airport, and buy a poster that I could turn into a sign with his name on, and then walk around with that sign over my head until he found me.
Luckily, I didn't have to go to that extreme, as I ran into my husband as soon as I got out of the elevator and stepped out into the lobby.
It turned out that there had been some confusion with his ticket, and he had had to take a later flight, thus not arriving in Paris until 2 pm. After looking for me for almost an hour, he had concluded that I must have gone to the hotel, so he had gone there too, to find me.
We agreed that in the future, we would not give Charles de Gaulle airport the satisfaction of seeing us run left and right looking for each other, but go straight to the hotel and wait for the other one there.
We had a great time in Paris, going to all the amazing places; the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame, the Louvre... I could go on for hours about the sights, the food, the people, the nightclubs, the macabre catacombs full of bones and skulls that my husband lured his unsuspecting wife down into – but we'll move on to our next battle with the airport from hell.
Our plane home was leaving at noon. We didn't want to have to rush, worrying about missing the plane, so we were packed and ready to go at 9 am. We had our breakfast, checked out, and headed for the subway station, where my husband had found out that we could go to the airport for half the price of the bus.
On the way to the subway station, we passed a big market, and we went there, with our bags, and looked at clothes, home-baked bread, freshly caught lobsters, etc. I looked at some beautiful cross-stitch patterns, but I didn't have any money on me, so I turned to my hubby – and he wasn't there. I looked for him, calmly at first, he had to be there somewhere, then angrily, why the... did he run off like that, and then frightened, ohmagawd, where IS he?
I fought my way through the crowds, dragging my bag behind me. I couldn't fins my husband anywhere. I went to the subway station, to see if maybe he had gone there to wait for me, but he wasn't there either. In my best school French, I asked two men for the time, and they said it was 12.30. I leaned against a cold, white tile wall, then glided down against it, down to the dirty ground.
Our plane had already left. My husband was nowhere to be found. And I didn't have more than 15 cents in my wallet. I sat there for a couple of minutes, quiet, staring out into space, crying, unable to think or move.
Then I pulled myself together and went back to the market and looked once more for my husband. Time passed. I couldn't find him. I sat down on a low stone wall and took out a pillow from my bag. I laid down on the wall, resting my head on the pillow, cried, and tried to figure out what to do. An obviously poor and homeless man offered me a piece of cardboard to put under my back, so I wouldn't have to lay on the cold stone. I thanked him but declined the offer. The absurdness of my situation made me smile. I snapped out of my self-pity, got up, put the pillow back into my bag, and dragged it with me back to the hotel. I went straight to the front desk and turned to a woman who looked intelligent and nice.
-I don't know where to start... I said.
-You're lost, she said. Your boyfriend called one hour ago, looking for you.
This wonderful, wonderful person then helped me call the police, and as she realized that I didn't speak fluent French, she talked to the police for me. She left a message for my husband, in case he would call the police, that I was at the hotel, waiting for him. I then sat down in the lobby and waited. And waited. About 2 pm, my hubby came into the hotel, and I threw myself in his arms, sobbing, and he asked me where the... I had been, and the hotel staff smiled, and it was like a scene out of a movie.
We then took the subway to the airport, and my husband explained that he had looked for me all over the market, and at the subway station, and that he had even been out to the airport to look for me, and that he had been really worried when he couldn't find me. We agreed on using handcuffs the next time we walked through a market.
We came to Charles de Gaulle airport, and the battle began. We talked to a ticket salesperson, who refused to let me have a new ticket. I tried to argue with her. I had already paid for a ticket to Stockholm. When I missed my flight, they had most likely sold my place to someone else, so it wasn't like they had lost any money. Couldn't I get to use the seat I had paid for, but on a later flight?
The old... woman, refused. Rules were rules. I would have to buy a new ticket. $1.000. In a loud voice, I said some very insulting words in my own language about her personality, and what lack of physical pleasure that had caused this personality, as my husband took me away from the counter.
We tried a different salesperson, on another part of the airport. He was much more friendly, and said that I could buy myself a stand-by ticket for $250, and then wait until there was a vacant seat. All I had to do was to talk to the people at the gate, We walked back to the gate. I was worried about my husband having to buy new tickets for the both of us, as his ticket had also expired.
-Don't worry about my ticket, he said. I get a discount through my job. What's important now is to get you home. I can buy a ticket for $200, but until I get my next pay check, I don't have $1.000.
(My hubby works for a travel agency.)
We got to the gate and explained the situation to a young man there, who couldn't believe that anyone would have told me that there was such a thing as a stand by-ticket for $250 – he better check with his supervisor. He rushed off, and I followed him while my hubby waited by the gates. Now... WHO was the supervisor of the young man? Of course. The old woman with the mould-filled womanhood. They chatted in the office for a couple of minutes, and when they came back out, the young man was much more chilly towards me, and repeated what the old woman had said: buy a new ticket for $1.000. I tried to argue that the other salesperson had said $250, and I could tell that the young man had serious doubts that there really WAS such a salesperson. I can only imagine what the old woman must have said about me. The young man then washed his hands of me, and ran back to the gates.
I went back to my husband and stated openly what I thought about Charles de Gaulle airport, about snobby, cold-hearted Frenchmen, and stupid paragraphs. My husband suggested that we would try a different airline company. Air France was obviously not going to help me. I told my husband that in worst case I'd just stay in Paris until I got arrested for illegal immigration, and then the state of France would have to pay for my ticket back to Sweden. He didn't seem to find that funny. So, we looked at the odd airport map again. My hubby is much more used to travelling and reading weird airport maps than I am, so he found our way. To get to the part of Charles de Gaulle airport where all the Scandinavian airlines had their offices, we had to go by bus. It took about 10 minutes.
When we got there, not only did we meet living, breathing human beings, but also sales staff that I could talk to in Swedish. I explained all that had happened. The woman at the counter thought that it was an outrage that Air France had been so reluctant to help one of their clients, and she worked some magic and found me a ticket for $270, on a plane that was leaving the next day.
Great. A ticket. Now we just had to get $270. My husband only had $200, so I made a collect call to mum. Now, my mum is used to me always being late for dates, meetings, appointments, etc, because I have this tendency to always miss my bus. So, when I called her and said that I was stuck in Paris because I had missed the PLANE...
She promised to lend me the money, but how was she going to get it to me? This was Sunday afternoon, and all the banks were closed. We toyed with the idea of sending the money through Western Union, but the office closest to where my mum lives is about 30 kilometres away, and that too would be closed until Monday morning. We agreed on me going over to the Western Union office at the airport to get all the papers, while she would make a few phone calls, and try to think of something more efficient, and I would call her back later in the evening.
It turned out that the office of Western Union was situated in the same part of the airport as Air France, so hubby and me took the bus back, and went to get the papers. After that, we had a few hours to kill, so we sat down and tried to take a nap in a crowded, noisy airport, where there were no comfortable benches; like there is in Arlanda airport in Stockholm; but only some horrible steel chairs with metal handles to rest your arms on. We definitely didn't feel relaxed when we saw a small group of army soldiers patrolling the airport, carrying automatic guns. Wherever they went, the crowds got less noisy, and people looked pale and nervous sneaking peeks at the soldiers, who found a plastic bag that someone had lost, and examined it. It contained some fruit and magazines. The soldiers moved on, and we all sighed of relief.
In the evening, I called my mum again, almost finishing hubby's telephone card. Mum hade made a few phone calls here and there, and had found a much quicker, much more efficient way of getting me the ticket. She had called the airline that I had talked to, and told them what the nice woman I had talked to had said to me – I'm purposely leaving out her name and the name of the airline company that she works for, in order not to get these wonderful dearies in trouble – and then mum had paid for my ticket over the phone with her VISA-card. All I had to do was to show up one hour before the plane left, and show my passport at the counter, and I'd get my ticket. Relieved and grateful, I thanked my mum and promised to call her from Stockholm. Me and hubby then went to fix his ticket. I was all set.
Hubby suggested that we would go back to town and find a hotel room, but I protested. That would mean we would have to pay for the ride into town, a room for the night, and then the ride back. We decided to "rough it", and stay at the airport over night. We went for burgers, and then started looking for a place to sleep.
Now, as I mentioned, Charles de Gaulle doesn't have any comfortable benches. Only metal armchairs, which isn't comfortable even to SIT in, let alone sleep in. We wandered around with our bags, glad that we had both been clever enough to bring that kind of bag that has its own wheels and a handle, which made dragging them back and forth the entire airport much easier. There wasn't ONE bench in the entire airport. We were beginning to consider that thing where your luggage comes out, or that tiny table where you can change a baby's diapers, but then we found the perfect spot.
French people, be they natives or immigrants, are a rather religious crowd. And with so many religious people working at almost all hours, every day, they need an extra room. Some work places have nurseries, other have smoking sections. Charles de Gaulle airport has a Praying Room. A place where those who believe in some religion may go to say a quick prayer, just as a smoker may go to the smoking section and get himself a fix (yes, I see tobacco as a drug), and just as us "normal" human beings may go to the bathroom.
We peeked into the prayer's place. Apart from the hallway, that was full of shoes, there were 3 rooms; one for Islam, one for Christianity, and one for Judaism. The Hindus and Buddhists were sadly discriminated against.
I don't know if it was a sign of anti-Semitism, or if there just weren't any Jews working at Charles de Gaulle airport at the time, but the Judaism room had been turned into a storage facility. The Christianity room had those horrible metal chairs. I was beginning to understand why the Air France staff was so stiff and uptight.
The Islam room, however, had no furniture, only a few carpets on the floor for the believers to kneel on. This, I told my husband, was the ideal room for us! We could sneak in when everyone had left, and sleep on the carpets until the Muslims came back for their early-morning-prayer! He protested against sleeping on the floor, carpets or no carpets, and guessed that the Muslims would be annoyed with us sleeping in their praying room. I argued that mercy with the poor and homeless is one of the 5 pillars that constitutes Islam, but, finally, I gave in. It WOULD be rather respect-less to sleep in a religious room.
We walked here and there with our bags, looking around for a flat surface other than the floor. We hung out in different shops, bought a sod for hubby and a pocket book for me. The pocket book shop had an "international section" where you could find books and magazines in other languages than French. All the big European languages were represented, but not Swedish. Curse this discrimination against Scandinavians!
One by one, the shops closed. We noticed that there were much less people in the hallways. The boards telling of arriving and departing flights turned more black and empty. Charles de Gaulle airport was closing for the night. We weren't completely sure if travellers were really allowed to stay inside the airport at night, so whenever we passed one of the cleaners, we walked in haste, trying to look like we were in a hurry to get to some place that we actually knew where it was. We hid out in a deserted part of a great hall until the cleaning crew had gone, and then we snuck into a cafeteria. The kitchen was closed and barred up, but the booths were available. We spread our jackets on the hard benches and laid down. After a lot of tossing and turning to get less uncomfortable, we fell asleep.
We were woken up very early the next morning, by the cafeteria staff who shook us both gently by the shoulder and said the most insincere "good morning" I have ever heard. We got up and collected our things. In an effort to compensate for using their restaurant as a hotel room, we had a small breakfast, and then took the bus over to the "Scandinavian Halls" of the airport.
I showed my passport at the counter, and got my ticket. It was such a relief. Hubby's plane was leaving 2 hours after mine, so he stayed with me until it was almost time for me to check in. Then we were nervous that he would miss his plane, so we kissed and said we would see each other in Stockholm. Feeling like a heroine out of a Hollywood movie, I saw him get on the bus, and then I went to check in.
I had to wait a while, but I finally got on the plane and got to go home, after having involuntarily spent almost 24 hours at the airport from hell. When I arrived in Stockholm, I felt like kissing the ground. I called my mum and told her that I was back in Sweden. I thanked her over and over again for her help, and promised to call again when I got home. I then checked the trains' time table, and went off to Arrivals to wait for my husband.
* * * * *
Hubby has asked me if I want to go back to Paris for our next holiday. I'm discreetly trying to interest him in a trip to London instead...
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