Jetsetting 01/01/2010Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures.
Tags: bomb scare, british rail, customs, delays, england, france, manchester, paris, travel
Sometimes you have to set two alarms because your flight leaves just before ten. Had trouble sleeping, even after watching an episode of The Big Picture celebrating captured hearts and minds of the occupied Japanese. Roy Orbison couldn’t quell the free association afflicting my mind, and the darkness couldn’t diminish my restlessness.
The fear of sleeping through an alarm and missing something as important and difficult to correct as a flight continues to afflict me. Normal procedure is to book late in the day: meetings, engagements, reservations. But Pete was adamant that if I waited until the 24th I should land early, so I stood staring at the shower trying to remember the correct use of soap.
Seven-thirty seemed like a safe time to depart, giving an hour to get to the airport and clear customs and security. Burned a métro billet from a carnet and sought any ticket machines at Garde du Nord that took bills only to wind up leaning against the wall counting 20¢ pieces out and waving people past. All of the stairwells to my platform were sealed off with emergency tape and helpful RER employees pointed walkie-talkies down the hall.
Packed, one entire side closed to the public and protected by a soldier wearing a red beret. Trains were running late, people were pressed against one another, all of the obvious foreigners loudly confused. An explosion echoed through the station, and amidst the craning necks and fingers in ears I noticed a couple machine gun toting military types and some RER officials joking. Looks like the suspect device had been destroyed, and the crowd thinned as the security tape came down.
When the B Line finally arrived it was standing room only, the cattle cars made perilous by rolling suitcases ad swinging backpacks. Fortunately we skipped the inner banlieues stops, reaching Charles Du Gaulle at exactly nine. I found the entrance to the international terminal but they were confused by my computer printout, sending me around the corner to the Flybe desk.
Clearing customs was a quick enough annoyance without anyone asking me where I’d gotten my camera or who had been touching it. Security was another matter, clogged thick with travelers and only one gate open. The couple standing in ahead of me had a 9:55 flight to Southampton and he stood in line while she attempted to convince an airport employee to allow cutting. Her request was ignored but then so was her brazen cutting the line. Me and the guy followed, ducking under the rope and dumping shoes and computers in plastic tubs. No one said a thing.
Our flights were both delayed due to fog, with no information coming across the channel as to when flights may arrive. To make matters worse we found ourselves in a terminal that had a small café which advertised both alcohol and beer but was serving neither. I considered an espresso but instead entertained myself by wandering around the little glass box where we’d been collected. No water fountains, no bathrooms, a flight to Tripoli was delayed but one for Liberia was cleared to board. Little kids ran around or found the Playstation 3 set-up next to the information counter. We accepted vouchers for 8€ worth of non-alcoholic compensation.
Over the next several hours I had to go to the bathroom twice. This involved escaping the glass box through a special corridor where the second door wouldn’t open if the first was ajar. There was a maximum capacity of five, but three felt particularly crowded as I inadvertently led a chain-gang out only to find myself unable to secure exit. After the bathroom there was a closed duty free store and the security line for giggles. The more frequently I passed through, carrying less bags and wearing less clothing, the more insistently they frisked me.
At about four hours past scheduled departure a plane was arranged for the yuppies of Southampton, who cheered and filed out onto the tarmac. Still no news from Manchester, and no further vouchers to satisfy boredom’s many urges. The passengers for Tripoli boarded. An announcement was made that our plane had finally taken off from Manchester. I was as comfortable as I could manage curled up on some side paneling.
Something wretched called London Pride only set me back 5€. Customs was a breeze, although the woman holding my passport seemed on the verge of asking, “What are you doing with your life?” and accused me of living in Paris. Well, no, she asked. I got my stamp and wandered through the rest of immigration, a collection of winding hallways and weigh stations where dogs sniff your bags for drugs and machines sniff you for explosives, and carrying an apple is a crime against humanity. None of the counters were open, none of the officials were on hand, no machine guns. I wandered unrestricted through the entire customs office and popped out alone on some side hallway.
Blackpool North train bound for Chorley. I did not understand that the train I was taking was actually sitting at the end of the train I could see. I did not understand how to buy the cheaper ticket, which means when I scurried aboard with another passenger and we were trapped by first class I could have stayed. The conductor balked he saw my ticket, concerned I wasn’t getting my money’s worth, but I have a table and we were already at Bolton. I think it’s pretty unlikely anything worse is destined to happen today, so I’ll just keep my seat, thanks.