Sunday, 27 June 2010

Travel troubles and tips

I did make it to Charles de Gaulle Airport on time, thanks to pre-ordering a taxi so the strike didn't affect me immediately, but then the airline decided to delay the flight anyway because so many passengers were late in arriving at the airport. The air-traffic controllers also had issues which complicated things.

After five hours wait I was on the plane bound for Singapore. I watched as many films as I could tolerate and listened to music on my MP3 player before doing a spot of planning on my laptop. It's a shame there's no power or wifi in the air. I can totally understand why Europeans might not be heading to NZ in droves. There's plenty of interest and NZ is considered an exotic location but the distance is a major turnoff and so is the expense. I tried to point out the money issue's worse for NZers heading to Europe but the major stumbling block is the very uncomfortable long-haul flights. Thirteen hours and 10 hours+ is appalling. I hated it. The service was good but being confined to economy class for so long is not great for arthritis and back problems.

Another delay occured at Singapore as connections had to be adjusted for the delays occurring in Paris. Ouch! As for the last stretch (haha) I gave up on films as I was by the bulkhead: silly tiny screens to pull out, not allowed my carryon luggage with me because there were no seats in front to put it under. It wasn't that I was keen to be home, I was just keen to be out of the plane. I think I must have invented a Frances kind of meditation to get me through that stage with only my music. I didn't dare sleep in case I missed out on a meal.

Returning home was not smooth sailing. After I emerged from immigration I headed towards biosecurity where I received a steely look and told I would be searched. This rather concerned me. Could I have accidently left an apple in my bag? If so, instant fine of $400. I asked what the problem was, they wouldn't tell me. I felt the guilt of the truly innocent swamp me. Eventually, after making me sweat a bit, they decided to get a special search guy to come and go through my suitcase. They found what they were interested in but I explained it was a gift and not what they might think. No mercy, rip, rip at the gift wrapping, what a mess. I was NOT impressed and they weren't apologetic about it either, just sheepish. I realised, of course, they were just doing their job but after being awake more than 30 hours I wasn't in the mood for unnecessary stresses and destruction

Too bad because there were more to come.

I couldn't find my friends at the airport. It wasn't like them not to be there. I was unnerved, what to do? After 15 minutes of searching through all faces in the terminal I decided to catch a taxi as I had no NZ phone or cash to buy a phone card.

The taxi driver had great difficulty in finding the address even when we were on the correct road. We were both becoming frustrated. Yay, at last we saw the letterbox and a light was on. My friends were understandably surprised to see me. I asked for the car keys. Unfortunately my car battery had given out. My friend dropped me home before returning to watch a World Cup game of football.

Safely inside my home, having turned on the water and the hot water cylinder I realised I had left my passport and travel documents in the back of the taxi, in the dark. Bummer. Phone call to taxi company, phone call to police. Was it time for bed yet?

Yes, 2.30am so sort it out later in the morning. My passport is now at the airport, I'll collect it after work, my car is now running OK. Tomorrow it will be great to meet up with my work colleagues again.

It has been great to spend the weekend with Laura and discuss the new futures for both of us but we both face significant challenges. Life is becoming a blur it's so fast. It's not boring.

Travel Tips from my experience

Allow plenty of time when making connections to and from the airport as traffic can be diabolical
The train will be less subject to traffic jams
Book your TGV trip 2 months in advance to get a PREM ticket- often only 22 euros.
Get to know where in various buses and trains are the areas to stow your suitcase as negotiating the aisles with them is awful.
Keep hold of your train ticket as they will come through th carriage and check them
Buses can be cheap in the regions
remember to 'compostez' your train ticket in the machine by the trains
Beware of pickpockets in Marseille
The fountains at Versailles are usually only working on the weekend-check if this is important to you
No filming is allowed in art galleries but Versailles is OK
Take a batobus on the Seine instead of a bateaux mouche because it's less touristy and cheaper
Invest in good walking shoes
Always carry a street map of where you want to be- obvious but trying to negotiate Paris without one is just horrid
Check maps at train and bus stops
Beware of trainlines that split- make sure you book the right line
NZ Credit cards are sometimes not functional with some booking sites
Hotel meals are expensive-dine locally
Buy ingredients for meals from a supermarket or a specialist shop, not the minimarts or mini fruit and grocery outlets in Paris as the later have poor quality and are very expensive
Buy a cellphone that works in France-often you buy usage by the week.
Make sure you have plenty of memory sticks for your camera
Ensure you have power adapters
Scan your passport and airline ticket and any other essential docs and email them to a hotmail or gmail account for safe-keeping
Be prepared to lose one earing of each pair
Ensure you have enough hairdye to get you through the trip
Be VERY careful about the weight of your luggage
Make sure medicine prescriptions will see you through your trip
Get a list of prescribed meds from your doctor in case they think you are a 'druggie'
Be prepared for french men to flirt with you- it's not serious, it's their hobby
Ignore begging requests - if you can
Search out free guided tours and entertainment
Visit the Eiffel Tower early to avoid the crowds
Driving on the other side of the roads at roundabouts is not for the faint-hearted
Being a driver or motorcyclist or pedestrian is risking life and limb in Paris- but it's normal
Doctors, chemists and lab tests are all expensive- you must pay in advance and claim insurance later
Make sure you have a few words of French to offer the locals to show you care about their culture
Restaurants don't want to cook meat well done
Salad is often a separate course after the main at dinner parties
It's normal to walk around with a baguette under your arm
Parisian street signs in tbe city centre have the street name and arrondisement number attached to the corner building
Gare SNCF is for trains
Gare Routiere is usually for buses
The french DON'T eat rich food and heavy sauces these days
Check you will have wifi in your accommodation-internet cafes can be hard to find
Buy a cheap french hairdryer if you are not staying in nice hotels
Beware the hotel room with NO tea and coffee-making facilities
Youth hostels are very noisy-try to stay in your twenties so you can tolerate this
Bread doesn't usually come with butter
You may have to weigh the fruit yourself in the supermarket at a special set of scales before going to the checkout


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