Saturday, July 6, 2013

Day 1 to Day 2 - Cars, Planes and 3 Hour Dinners

Your intrepid Ramblers, circa 2013, set out for their latest ramble (silver anniversary ramble edition) on Friday at noon.  After final instructions to Director of Homeplace Security Jenna we hit the road to Dulles.   Luckily airlines can be counted on for one thing in these times - delayed or cancelled flights.  Happily (and thankfully) our flight was only delayed a minor amount. That extra time is always welcome when venturing into the traffic vortex known as Northern Virginia (why do you people live there?).  After hitting up Fredericksburg for some gas and Arby's grub we hit the real traffic. Thankfully it only slowed and never came to a dead stop (like the other side of I95).  We made it to Dulles by 2:20pm got parked and then did the underground maze wander that is the Dulles walkway system.  At this point we entered the equivalent of the airport twilight zone (cue the Rod Serling). We hit the Air France check-in desk (cue the theme song) and the Air France representative handed us a letter from the airline apologizing for the plane being late (who does this?), they also ably assisted us with the ticketing kiosk and kept the bag check line moving at a reasonable clip.  Just when that rare bit of airport magic seemed to be an aberration we hit the security area where the initial view of the line looked reasonable until realizing it snaked around a corner and seemed long but ok when an official TSA dude says "keep walking to the next security point" and you realize LOTS of people are converging on the same point.  Any seasoned airport navigator knows one phrase for this type of outcome (S**T). As countless of our fellow airport lemmings converged into a big line we noticed a lighted arrow that alternatively pointed left or right. When we arrived at the sorting hat  ...errrrrrrr lighted arrow our fate was designated to the right which sent us..wait for it... right back to where we started. As we approached the new line, the original one, with Rambler Hance cursing the genius of all things TSA and government run in general, a happy TSA agent (they do exist--contact Nassim Taleb about the follow-up to the Black Swan) appeared and began to tell us we have been selected to go through the TSA-PRE line. The wonders he prepared us for included keeping our shoes, jackets and belts on, keeping our laptops in our bags, and not taking our liquids bag out. There had to be a catch... retinal scan, finger printing, body cavity check, direct NSA email bcc, something.  But no, it was pure random TSA-generated advertising. Give the people a taste of breezing through airport security and they will run panting to sign up. THEY ARE RIGHT!  If any readers fly more than once or twice a year, run, do not walk, to your local TSA office and get signed up for TSA-PRE.  Now that we were sure we had somehow warped into some alternative universe of air travel pleasantness and efficiency we snapped back to the next Dulles maze - the train system.  Finally arriving at our gate and we again find lots of helpful Air France folks as well as a seating line system similar to what Southwest uses (albeit with assigned seats).  Rambler Jane had booked our travels in Premium Economy which to your author means 4-6 inches of leg room and nothing else. Oh no.. on Air France (my new favorite airline) it meant that plus a foot rest, leg support and a little pod similar to business class albeit without the ability to really lie down (that would be an issue later).  Here is Rambler Hance in his pod.

 After we settled in it was a typical transatlantic flight - read a little, eat dinner, try to sleep, read/watch a movie, try to sleep a little more, have breakfast and before you know it 7 hours have past and you are landing.  One note on the plane. It was a new Airbus A380 the biggest and baddest plane in the sky right now. It had two decks of people and massive wings. Truly an engineering marvel.

Upon arrival in Paris is was foggy to our dismay but we found our way through Charles De Gaulle airport with relative ease (Rambler Hance's Travel Rule #10 - if you have seen one big international airport you have seen them all).  After hunting up our baggage and tracking down an ATM machine (le distributeur automatique  de billets) we headed off to Hertz. I have to admit, since joining the Hertz Gold Club I have been nothing but thrilled - until now. First, we did not get the Mercedes C Class we thought we had reserved, they tried to give us a Chevy van type SUV but we finally held out for the Volvo.  Hertz negative points for the experience.

Once we procured the car, a nav system and all the insurance required Rambler Hance did some quick math and determined your ramblers could have shipped one of their cars to France for half the price. But twenty-five years of love knows no bounds so off we went.  After circling the airport three times because Gabrielle (our French GPS voice) kept telling us to turn left we finally got the translation parsed and went straight, but tilted left, and exited the airport. Vive le France!.  Lets just say when 90% of the road signs are unintelligible a GPS is a wonderful thing.  As we cruised around the Paris beltway and headed southwast towards Tours here is one American's initial impressions: they farm in France - a lot, they are the kings of graffiti (Paris is littered with it and other towns can be as well) and the roads are top notch although the speed limit moves up and down all the time. Oh and the toll booths take credit cards but not mine evidently.  We stopped for a bladder break at one of the regular gas, food and facilities locations along the French equivalent of U.S. interstates and verified another of Rambler Hance's Travel Rules (#3) - that is even optically great looking French sandwiches bought at a Tigermart are mediocre at best.

After a three hour tour across southwestern France we arrived at Tours and Rochecorbon more explicitly.  We checked into the hotel and our cave room and then broke the cardinal rule of transatlantic flight, we took a nap rather than powering through until the normal local bedtime.  Some things can't be helped. A little exploring in the local town in search of a snack and a bottle of wine was largely uneventful and we retreated to our hotel for dinner at their four star restaurant.  Initial impressions of French dining: Presentation is VERY important as is food quality but dining is to the French what running was to the Greeks, a marathon not a sprint.  We were clearly the geeky American tourists because we took pictures of all our food and so far almost everyone we have encountered knows way more English than we know French. When in doubt we have found a pleasant bonjour and merci plus fingers for courting goes a long way.  Below is displayed some of the beautiful food we had our first night.  Rambler food rating a 5 star (U.S. scale) but we will rescale upon the visit to Paris. Stay tuned!

After eating all that food and spending 3 hours doing so it was time to hit the hay. With Day 1.5 in the books the tally was in:  400 km driven, 6200 km flown, awake for 36 hours, ate one incredible meal and your Ramblers had descended on France.

Tomorrow we are going to the Abbaye Royal de Fontevraud where my people the Plantagenet's are buried.

Until then au revoir and keep rambling.

1 comment:

  1. It's quite common in France for the car hire company not to have the car you thought you'd booked available. You did the right (ie French and therefore expected) thing by insisting on an alternative that suited you not what they wanted to give you. And I agree, GPS is invaluable for visitors to France.