The long strange trip

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I know you don’t come here to see my vacation photos, but if there was ever a Man Against Weather post, it’s been my Christmas trip to the UK. My arrival last weekend — with a connecting flight in Paris — got caught up in the ongoing European travel crisis — earlier and more plentiful than usual snows across France, the UK and Northern Europe left thousands of people stranded for days at major hubs Heathrow in London, Charles de Gaulle in Paris and Schiphol in Amsterdam. I know two days stranded in Paris sounds about as awful as a kitten, but two days standing in line for 9 hours at a clip, no money, no power, and no language skills was pretty hellish — and I had it easy.

I arrived at CDG on last Sunday at 8 am local time. I left Tuesday morning about the same time, after two canceled flights and two nights in hotels. I can’t complain about being put up in a decent hotel and given meal tickets — apparently the EU travelers bill of rights is a pretty generous document — but everything else about how the situation was handled was grim and Kafkaesque — people would stand in line for five hours only to be told it was the wrong line, and so on. I spend morning to night on Monday standing in line to get a new flight, along with people going from Osaka to Johannesburg, Rio to Birmingham, Marseilles to Copenhagen…instead of taking everyone on a canceled flight as one problem, everyone got thrown into one giant line. By the time I got to the front, there were well over a thousand people in line with canceled flights (some folks said there were 3,000 people in the line — your crowd estimates may vary.) At that point there were literally three Air France employees at desks helping the line. Yeah, Kafkaesque.

From what I’ve seen on the news, Heathrow might have been worse. People were camped out for as much as five days, trains were canceled and the MP for transportation** is now seen on TV every few minutes, looking grave and concerned.

My luggage is still lost — but so are thousands of other people’s. Hopeful to get it back, but we’ll see. It took the efforts of an insider just to get it logged into the tracking system.

There were some good parts of the Paris ordeal. During one all-day line, I fell in with a crew straight out of central casting: a pregnant member of the US Air Force stationed in London, a teenager from South Africa going home to Cambridge, a Brummie snowboarder with a broken arm from a fall in Italy, a oil rig worker from Newcastle going home from Germany, and an Australian school teacher who lives in London — who uses graphic novels to teach. They were a good lot, and by the end of the day we were scavenging food and bedding for each other (this is not hyperbole.) In fact, considering the bizarre nature of the ordeal, the general civility and good behavior that I witnessed the entire time was nothing short of incredible. (I do hear there were incidents and police and the army were called out in various spots, though.)

However, if I may be the Ugly American for a moment, as I was stuck in Paris, I felt that the amount of snow that fell on CDG was nothing that would have given JFK much of a problem. Of course, now I’m going to see if that is true, as my trip home coincides with the immense blizzard that just shut down the East Coast! TRAVEL FAIL. Can anything go right? Will my faith in NYC snow clearing equipment be justified? Tune in Wednesday.

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Luckily, I’m surrounded by family and friends until then. So while I wait for flight information, I’ll just put on another cup of tea.

I may have more to impart after tomorrow’s adventure but for today here are some TRAVEL TIPS.

• Even if it’s only a ONE HOUR LAYOVER in a foreign clime, make sure you have access to LOCAL CURRENCY, and A LOCAL POWER ADAPTER. Not being able to charge my phone while trying to keep FMB and his family updated was a nightmare.

DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT ever make a credit card call from a European phone! I know this was incredibly stupid but when I did it I was demoralized, hungry, and jetlagged and not thinking straight. I paid the price.

• Along those lines: IT DOESN’T HURT TO TRAVEL WITH AN INTERNATIONAL PHONE CARD.

DON’T TRAVEL AT CHRISTMAS. This is what one guy at the airport told me, and he may just have been right.

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OBLIGATORY COMICS CONTENT:

• The Novotel hotel in Roissypôle where I spent last Sunday actually had BD on display in the lobby: Blacksad, XIII, and Debuy and Berberian.

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•I know this has been pointed out many times, but UK customs documents STILL note that prohibited and restricted goods into the UK include firearms, drugs, pornography, meat and poultry….and: HORROR COMICS. Luckily, I left my Kazuo Umezu at home.

Anyway, safe travels to everyone wherever you may be…and wish me luck tomorrow.

**I’m not sure exactly what she does, to be honest.

Comments

  1. I would like to apologize for my country who can’t manage a little snow. We’re not used to it but it was far from the first snowy episode of the year so people should have been ready …

  2. Damn. Heidi, if I’d have known, I’d have come and fetched you in the car.

  3. My wife and I had an almost identical experience at CDG on the 21st: what looked like minor snowfall to us Michiganders turned into waiting in one, no two, no three, no four different lines at CDG, only to be put into a holding pen with a crowd (bordering on becoming an angry mob) of people from all over the world who, when their city was called by one of three (yes, the exact same high level of readiness was in place the week before) miserable Air France folks would rush to the one podium (three people, one podium operating?) and make with the sad puppy-dog eyes in hopes of getting the seat on a plane they had reserved months back. It worked out okay (though only after a 400m dash to the gate and what my wife said was a beautiful trip, fall, and sprawl by me when I had a luggage malfunction) and we made it onto our plain. Which wasn’t full…

    But Paris is indeed beautiful in the snow.

  4. Or, rather, we made it onto our plane. But that’s a rather existentialist slip, eh? Camus would be proud. Anyway, hope you made it home safely!

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