We were ready for our early morning flight. “We’ll be like firemen!” Grams declared. I had images of boots and sliding down a poll, but she said that all we had to do was lay out our clothes so we could jump into them. Of course we had done that the day before in Florence in order to catch the 4:30 AM train to Pisa. This time, however, we were a lot close to the airport. As a matter of fact, we were about 5 minutes away and there was a free shuttle from the hotel.
The alarm went off at 5:30 AM. I just about jumped out of my skin. I’ll never get used to getting up that early. After we got dressed, we went down to breakfast. It was a feast! They had every kind of fruit, and cereal and bread and rolls. I had juice and lots of fruit and a few kinds of cereal. We hadn’t expected anything so good.
After breakfast, we ran upstairs, brushed our teeth and zipped up our bags and rolled down to the lobby. Grams had already settled the bill, so we just waited ‘til the shuttle was ready to go. There was only one other passenger. She was a very nice young woman who represents several Italian family vineyards. She explained sulphites to us while we rode to the airport. Did you know that sulphites occur naturally in wine?
When we got to the airport, we got into the check-in line. As our turn came, a young man barged in front of us. Grams cleared her throat loudly and asked, in Italian, just what did he think he was doing? The fellow assured her that he had been waiting. I could tell that Grams was not convinced at all. A gentle hand on her elbow by Big Guy kept her temper in check. Then, the fellow who barged ahead tried to carry on his rather large bag. The Air France clerk said that it was too big. Then, he had him weigh it. It was also too heavy for carry-on. He put a tag on the man’s bag that would allow him to take it up to the plane, but then it would be put in the hold. This warmed the cockles of Grams’ twisted little heart. I know ‘cause she told me so.
When we got to the counter, we all pulled out our passports. I must say, the clerk was very impressed with how many places I’ve been. Can’t say as I blame him, I am well-travelled. Then, Grams gave him the moon eyes and asked if we could have some decent seats on our Paris to U.S. flight, pahleeeze and mille grazie. The clerk looked at her and smiled. Then, he looked at me and winked. I understood immediately, we were getting great seats.
After that we wheeled our two carry-on bags over to the immigration and security area. It was a long line. “Just like the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ ride at Disneyland,” laughed Big Guy. Behind us were a couple of little kids with their parents. They were on their way to visit their grandfather in Minnesota. The children were not happy, so I entertained them. I joked with them in Italian and they started to laugh. “You’ve done your good deed for the day, Gweeds,” Grams smiled.
The flight to Paris was very crowded, but mercifully short. We had been told by the clerk in Pisa that our flight to the U.S. would depart from gate C90. He even circled it on the boarding pass. So, when we got Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) and took the shuttle to the terminal, we immediately looked for the immigration and security line.
Somehow, the French have never seen the need to have a sufficient number of people at these stations. Of the 6 stations that could have been open, only 2 were. So, a line of several hundred people snaked around the immigration and security stations. When we finally got through, time was no longer on our side. We raced to gate C90.
Now, I must stop here and point out the wisdom in always checking out the departure board, even when you’ve been assured of your gate by the clerk in Pisa. We got to C90 and the gate was getting ready to close. With a sigh of relief, we handed the clerk our boarding passes. Then, he said (in French), “no, no, your plane is leaving from gate C80.” Grams got that look that no one ever wants to see. Big Guy said a few choice words I will not repeat here. Then, we turned on our heels and started rolling to the opposite end of the terminal. I have to say, I never knew that Grams could run so fast and swear in so many languages at the same time.
When we got to gate C80, the plane was already boarding. Now at CDG this means everyone gets on a strange tram-like thingy that then lowers to the ground and takes you halfway to Calais to get on your plane. It took two of these trams to get everyone there and the plane was an hour late departing.
However, when we got on the plane, I understood why the clerk had winked at me in Pisa. WE HAD THE BULKHEAD SEATS! Wow, a 777 and bulkhead seats, is there anything better in the world? Of course, as Grams is wont to point out, there is the yin and yang in any life. This plane was probably one of the original 777s off the assembly line. There were signs of age: broken plastic widgets and cushions that weren’t as fluffy as they once had been. Grams and I are well-padded in the posterior area, but Big Guy is not so well-endowed. He could feel the metal bar under his seat all the way home.
I put my sleeping mask on and only woke up when the meals were served or when the staff brought me champagne and a hug. What can I say? It’s always that way for the Gweeds.
11 hours later, we landed at LAX. We whizzed through immigration (all stations were open, cherie) and went out to catch the Airbus to take us back to Santa Tourista. “If I thought I could get back up again, I’d get down and kiss the earth!” Grams proclaimed. Then, it happened. What we feared the most; it started to rain. Now, ordinarily this wouldn’t bother us. But, we knew from friends back home that it had been raining steadily up in Santa Tourista since we had left. Since Santa Tourista was up the coast from LAX, any rain there meant it was already raining at home. The last time this had happened we were in Paris and by the time we got home, the only highway in and out of Santa Tourista was blocked by a mudslide. We all looked at each other, sighed, and waited. When the Airbus finally arrived, the driver said that it had taken him an hour and a half to get 20 miles out of Santa Tourista few days earlier. I put my sleep mask back on and stretched out.
In the end, the rain cleared up. We got to Santa Tourista in good time and a cab was waiting to take us back to our little pied a terre. When we got there, our neighbour was by our garage and helped us in with our bags. He regaled us with stories about the weeks of rain. Once he left, we 3 climbed into our beds and slept for 2 days. Crankshaft, our cat, was thrilled to see us (just kidding).
And that, my friends, is the end of that story. We love to travel and we love to come home.
Please give what you can to Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders).
And, of course
(hewa ni hataraki: work for peace)