Morning Dash for the Airport
After enjoying the wonders of France for the past four weeks, the day finally came that wanderlust-stricken travelers such as myself secretly dread but eventually have to face, the day that I would be returning home to North Carolina. Given that I would be departing on a late morning weekday flight, I already expected my commute to Charles de Gaulle Airport from my hotel in Zone 2 of Paris to take longer than usual due to the morning rush hour métro traffic, and I had planned to arrive extra early at the airport due to my flight being an international flight.
I gathered my belongings, checked out of my hotel, and swiftly made my way to the nearest métro station. My mission was to travel into Zone 1 and then hop onto a northbound RER B train as efficiently as possible. When I mapped out my route, I had planned on primarily taking RER trains to get to an RER B-serviced station as opposed to primarily taking métro trains since RER trains make fewer stops and travel more quickly, but I had not taken into account the fact that waiting times for RER trains are significantly longer than those for métro trains. Thus I ended up waiting nearly half an hour for an RER train, and when it came I ended up taking the train traveling in the wrong direction since the signage at the platforms confused me; I swear that it must have been Paris’s way of telling me to stay an extra day. Imagine waiting beside a platform for a train traveling in one direction, and as the train approaches you see the sign change and show that the arriving train is a different train, and that your train is actually the train approaching the opposite platform!
I did eventually make it to a major station servicing the RER B line but then trouble appeared again! I hopped onto what I thought was an RER B train until I looked out the window at one stop and noticed the station sign stating “Stade de France – Saint-Denis.” Well I knew that I wouldn’t pass by Saint-Denis on my way to CDG Airport so that could only mean one thing, I had taken the wrong RER train again! I quickly hopped off and carried my luggage to the opposite platform and hopped onto a southbound train, but it seemed to take that train forever to get moving, and my flight departure time was creeping closer and closer. I eventually made it onto an RER B train headed for CDG and arrived at the airport, but I arrived only with an hour to spare before the flight, so that meant that I would be spending another night in France.
Missed Flight! Plan B
After discovering that I would have to fly out on standby the next morning, I still had one issue to figure out given that I still had another 24 hours or so before I would have to fly out, accommodation. Would I pick a comfortable area somewhere in the airport and rest there for the next 20+ hours? Would I return to Paris for the night and come back to the airport the next morning? Or perhaps would I find a local airport to spend the night at so that I wouldn’t have a repeat scenario of this morning? Although I could tough out spending the night in the airport if needed, I really didn’t want to get woken up in the wee hours of the morning by security telling me that I would have to find a proper place to stay. I also didn’t want to have to deal with commuting to Paris, finding a place to stay, and then commuting back to CDG the following morning. Thus I chose to search for hotels near the airport.
After taking a walk around and noting the extremely high nightly rates for the airport hotels, I made a beeline for the McDonald’s in the airport which offered Wi-Fi and I searched my hotel app and found a nearby hotel which I promptly reserved. After walking out to the taxi stand and standing in a long queue for a coveted taxi, I was approached by a gentleman who mumbled a few words related to a taxi being available. Guessing from his watchful demeanor and him having a “lookout partner” who seemed to be spotting for people for him to approach, I was more than certain that he was offering rides to Paris in a gypsy taxi; I politely declined his offer for a ride. After finally being called up for the next taxi, a look of shock filled the taxi driver’s face as I told him my destination. He promptly told me that I could spend just a few euros for the short journey to the hotel as opposed to his rate of around 20 euros if I took one of the airport hotel shuttles, so my next agenda was now finding those shuttle buses. A few steps away was an airport guide from whom I inquired about the location of those shuttle buses; the entire conversation between us was conducted in French and I was quite proud of myself for being able to understand her and for speaking French well enough that she understood me!
After walking through the airport and finding the hotel shuttle bus stand, I hopped onto the appropriate bus and off I went to the hotel. I had already prepared for the possibility of there not being any food establishments near the hotel by buying several baguettes in the airport, I was prepared to survive on those baguettes through the night if needed. After arriving at the hotel and checking into my room, it was now early in the afternoon and I sat down and rested after such a lively morning.
Highways and Byways
After resting up for most of the afternoon, I decided to take advantage of the warm July weather and go take in some fresh outdoor air. Not too far away from the hotel was a fence blocking off a field bordering the A1 Autoroute, and I decided to walk over to it and check out the vehicles traveling along the highway. Given my background and interest in traffic engineering, traveling, and trucks, I was pretty much felt like a kid in a candy store standing there watching those cars and trucks and buses drive by. The warm evening air and hypnotic sound of vehicles passing back and forth placed my mind and body into a tranquil, inquisitive state, and I stood next to that fence and let my mind wander freely. Where did that car come from? Where is that truck going to? Which vehicles are traveling all the way to Belgium and beyond? As each minute passed by, my zest for exploring and traveling were more strongly confirmed.
I stood there and wondered how many tourists have a desire to stand nearby a highway, far away from traditional tourist sites, and watch traffic like I was doing; I liked being the unconventional traveler. I wondered if that Maersk container being pulled by that truck was the same Maersk container that I saw being pulled down the highway in my home city in America last month. I wondered where that airliner that had just taken off was headed to. I spent nearly an hour standing there and taking pictures and thinking about how different, yet similar two places separated by several thousand miles and an ocean can be, there being a difference in national languages and cultures and highway signage, yet there being similarities in daily activities and traffic patterns. I was supposed to be back on American soil by now, but I was grateful for the unfortunate missed flight as I had the chance to spend an extra day abroad exploring a foreign country, one of my biggest passions.
After spending around an hour watching traffic and pondering over travels and experiences, I decided to stop by a restaurant that I had passed on my walk over to the fence. I entered the restaurant and constructed a mental phrase of how I would ask for a takeout menu in French. Although this restaurant was near CDG and the staff were probably used to non-French speaking tourists visiting, I always jumped at the opportunity to practice my beginner’s level French with a native speaker, and I spoke in my best French asking for a menu as soon as a waitress approached me. My less-than-stellar French and/or my American accent must have given my identity away because the conversation quickly shifted to English with us talking about America. I find that this is how conversations often transition whenever I ask a native French speaker something in French, so much for practicing my French but at least they get to practice their English. At any rate I left the restaurant with a tasty meal in my hand and the feeling of accomplishment from practicing my French with a native French speaker in France, a satisfying way to end the day as I returned to my hotel room.
The next morning finally came, and I woke up extra early so that I could secure my standby status. I was told to be at the airport by 7am in order to place my name on the standby list for flights out that day, and that list worked on a first-come, first-served basis. There was no guarantee that an open seat would be available, but if one was available I had the best chance of securing it by having my name placed first on that standby list. After an unexpected event that morning I finally left the hotel and hopped on a shuttle bus to the airport. I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare and felt very positive about the morning, and then it hit me, something felt out of place! Where was my ring? Uh oh, did I leave it in the hotel room? I had owned my ring for quite some time and there was no way that I could leave France without it; I felt naked without it! I raced back to the shuttle buses and waited for the next bus headed back to the hotel. It seems that whenever you’re in a big hurry that your bus takes the longest time to show up, and I was racing against the clock because I couldn’t miss this flight today! I hopped onto my bus when it arrived and made my way back to the hotel, explaining in French to the hotel receptionist that I had left my ring in my room. I hurried down the corridor to my room and opened the door.
What a relief, there it was, my ring! I put it back on and quickly checked the room to make sure that I had not left anything else before departing back to the bus stop. Back to the airport I went, carefully watching the time to gauge whether I would make it to the airline counter on time or not. After what seemed like the longest bus journey, I finally made it back to the airport and hurried off to the airline counter, making it in time to add my name to the standby list.
It turns out that more uncertainty was in store for me that morning. I went through a security luggage X-ray screening and made it to my gate, and it was at some point there where I felt a bit of déjà vu. Something doesn’t feel right, where is my ring? Yep, once again it was gone! Well let me think, I took it off and placed it in the bin during the X-ray screening, so it must still be in that bin. The flight would be boarding soon and the gate usually closes a certain number of minutes before departure time, and I can’t miss this flight! I rushed back to the security luggage X-ray screening area and told a security personnel in French that I had left my ring in a bin and would like to check the bins for it; I was at least getting in a good amount of French practice this morning if nothing else was going smoothly. She allowed me to check the stacked-up bins for my ring, and I must have checked several dozen of them with the help of another security personnel but did not find any trace of it. Well the way I see it I left France a souvenir, or maybe some lucky traveler found it and gave it a new home. If you’re out there ring, tu me manques.
My failed attempt to find my ring didn’t stop me from accomplishing my mission of making my flight today, not tomorrow, not the day after, but today. I made it back to the gate in time and successfully secured a standby seat and boarded the flight before the gate closed; mission accomplished! My second trip ever to France came to an end and I once again felt the same feeling of not wanting my journey to come to a close, but once again I vowed that I would return again someday. Until the next time France…