Thursday, Oct 6
Thursday, Oct 20 - Leaving for Home, and Impressions of Europe
Our trip to Charles de Gaulle Airport was a nightmare! Our taxi left the hotel at 7:45 am to take us to the RER (commuter) train station, and then we had to find a ticket counter where they spoke English and enter the gates with our luggage, again lifting it over the stanchions. Many turnstiles weren’t even working properly! Then the train ride to the airport, which wasn’t much of an improvement over the Metro as far as space for humans and luggage. Then trying to find our way from the airport train station… it took us an hour to decipher the chaotic system, go through the correct gates, and climb the correct stairs. We went in a full circle before we discovered which airport terminal we needed to get to. Not Terminal 1, as the guidebook said. But no helpful signs as to how to get to any of the terminals. We finally discovered some shuttle buses, got a tip from a grumpy information booth employee on which one to take, then rode to the terminal, which we thought was supposed to be Terminal 2C.
Everyone acted as if we should know where to go and what to do. Finally we figured out we were actually supposed to be at Terminal 2E, and then took a few minutes to find the business class Delta check-in counter (which had “Air France” written over it, go figure). Sigh. Stood in line for a passport check, then stood in line for another passport check, then stood in line for security, which was actually the shortest line of all (presumably because everyone else as off wandering, dazed, through the hugest, most confusing terminal in the world), then stood in line for yet another passport check. Then found we were supposed to board at Gate 76, and went to enjoy a croissant in the business class lounge. Our whole 10 minutes of non-stress!
It was now 10:30 am, almost three hours since we’d left the hotel, and the airport was supposedly only a 30-minute train ride from Paris! Finally we headed for our gate – we must have walked at least three miles all together to get there. Yet another passport check at the gate, but it turned out the gate was – not for boarding the plane! It was for boarding still more shuttle buses, packed to the gills and hot as Hades, to drive out to the airplane. We had to wait in a standing-room-only bus for the one in front of us to empty before they finally opened our doors. We then had to walk across the tarmac and up the stairs to board our huge, trans-Atlantic jumbo-jet. What kind of modern, international airport is this?! Unbelievable! We taxied for what felt like six or seven miles and then waited another 15 minutes after that for take-off. I was never so grateful to be off the ground in my life, grateful to be out of the wad of red tape and rudeness that is French travel and the French way of managing things. Sheesh!! Charles de Gaulle is a mammoth airport, supposedly the premiere international airport of France. But Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky is run better!
Things we appreciate about the U.S.:
Clean and plentiful public restrooms, good manners (yep!), soft bread, butter, coke, English, efficiency (yes, sounds weird, but it’s true), wide open spaces, families with children, more room between tables in restaurants, well-designed airports, friendly customer service, highway and road lanes that people actually use, things staying open during lunch hours and after 7:30 pm, better help with transportation matters, toilet paper that doesn't take a layer of skin off. Did I mention clean restrooms?
Things we liked about Europe that we should have in the U.S.:
Patient waiters that don’t interrupt your conversation, not being rushed through a restaurant meal, fewer obnoxious “safety” rules and barriers, and long-distance train travel that’s easier and more convenient and more widespread than Amtrak (but we would have better restrooms than the European trains have).
What we liked about Italy:
Laid back, friendly, easy-going, not rigid, fairly safe urban settings, accountability left more to the individual, antiquity, leather, fashion, ordered chaos, gorgeous Mediterranean shorelines, Tuscany, sing-song language, relaxed approach to life, people prefer to round off change for purchases rather than be anal about it, service folks don’t require tips, demonstrative affection, good food that varies by region, excellent wine (much of which never gets exported), generally good weather, good-natured people.
What we disliked about Italy:
Not being able to find public restrooms, and when you do you can’t figure out how to flush the toilets, no sidewalks, chaos and disorder although it seems to work, crazy drivers, people with heavy accents wanting to give you a tour of something-or-other for money, everything closing down for a couple of hours in the afternoon.
What we liked about Austria:
Beautiful alpine vistas, tidiness, efficiency, wide open spaces and gorgeous countryside, familiar landscape and climate, quiet order, old-world feel, willingness to speak English, more reasonable prices, wonderful fortresses and castles, clean and well-marked restrooms, sidewalks, reasonable evening meal times, fantastic weather.
What we didn’t like about Austria:
The food and wine aren’t quite up to par with Italy and France; temperatures are chillier. Otherwise, no complaints.
What we liked about Paris/France:
Efficient (if subhuman) subway system, café atmosphere, regal-sounded language, open affection, gorgeous parks, fantastic museums and cathedrals, good weather, astounding food, courteous waiters, good wine (yep, they got excellent wine, you gotta admit).
What we didn’t like about Paris/France:
Terrible restrooms, if you can even find them, tiny restaurants
with patrons packed in elbow to elbow, noise and crazy drivers (big city
de Gaulle airport, not very many children around, everything being so
expensive, rudeness and unwillingness to help tourists (outside of restaurants),
topless women on billboard ads (Brenda’s gripe, not Pat's), things
being closed at odd times, red tape, disorganization, disenfranchised
immigrants swarming the streets, begging and sleeping in the subway tunnels,
European socialism at its worst.