Monday, October 13, 2014

A few days ago . . . at the end of the line


It's a restless night, as I ate too much for dinner. It's my last night in Paris and I want one more Café Liègeois before we leave France. Of course, dining solo, I feel I should have a little meal before dessert. I choose the quiche lorraine. As I recall, it's a "safe" choice here at La Terrasse. I had one recently elsewhere that was stuffed with stomach-rocking greasy ham.


Café Liègeois, very good, above average in taste,
 looks good but presentation unexceptional 


Even so, it's more food than I need to sleep peacefully. Overeating is enough to awaken the GERD that has calmed down as a result of some procedures I had before the trip. I'm looking forward to having a nice bowl of steel-cut oatmeal for dinner when I get home.

Half awake, half asleep I'm having dreams that puzzle me. I know I'm not home, not in my own bed. I know I'm going somewhere today. I try to pull myself conscious enough to think. Where?

Airport. Getting to the airport. Going home. Am I pulling my little luggage train to the metro to catch an airport train? Can I pull the luggage train down the metro stairs to do that? Am I pulling it to the Arc de Triomphe to catch the airport bus? Can I haul it that far? Am I traveling alone, or? The funny little beeps from my mobile phone signal that its alarm is about to start tweeting its wake-up song.

I remember. Our tour leader has arranged a private shuttle to the airport for the four of us who are leaving today. I see the end of my neatly-folded boarding pass sticking out of my nerdy traveler's neck dangle, printed yesterday morning. Fingers crossed. I assume that since Air France invited me to print it, it means the flight is a go.


We've had reason to feel iffy about our flight. All but one husband, who would join his wife on the tour on the final leg in Paris, arrived in Lyon by the start date of September 11. Official end of the tour would be September 24, with departures scheduled to dribble on until September 28. "What could possibly go wrong?"

Yup. The French penchant for striking. In this case, the Air France pilots. Not the first time I've run into this situation, only it was trains and metros, with some air involvement, for the most significant occasion.


Air France pilots on strike
Don't you love the dashing strike attire?



Appears to be a demonstration by Air France 
non-pilots opposing the strike


It is announced as a 10-day strike, ending September 23. Whew! We should be okay. Meanwhile, while we will enjoy Lyon, the husband who is coming over to meet his wife in Paris, is sweating out how he will get here, because his arrival is right into the strike.

Our tour guide in Lyon declares it is the second largest city in France. Funny. I've heard that same claim about Marseille. I've already covered a few of our activities in Lyon (previous four blogs), a bit more to tell. I regret that I run out of steam by the end of a day and make promises to revisit each day which I seldom fulfill. I'll try. I'll try, 'cuz there have been some neat things.

View over Lyon


In Lyon

Negotiations, negotiations, negotiations. I did not read the technicalities of the pilots' strike. There were long treatises in the French papers about the issues, technical enough that I might draw just the opposite conclusion from what was said with my reading in French. BBC and CNN didn't devote much time to it, at least while I was watching.

We move on to Colmar via TGV (the high-speed train) and are picked up by one taxi at the railroad station making three trips. He did not get word that our train is running late, so is a bit cranky. He flies through the streets like a Tijuana taxi driver (a thrill or more a minute). I kinda like speed if I don't have to pay the speeding ticket.


Colmar train station


Night scene. Our hotel on the right.
Colmar will be headquarters for several textile events for this group of quilters. I don't take the first day trip out to the Beauvillé factory and visits to some charming Alsatian villages. I've been there several times in the past, so it seems like the best opportunity for a day of rest, really much needed. The next day it's the DMC factory. Everyone who does embroidery knows who DMC is. I don't embroider (except for the occasional decorative touch to a quilt), so my interest is cursory at first. But then I really get into it. This is an amazing operation and I leave only a sample here, to be revisited in more detail.







100% cotton, undyed
(spellcheck wants to change this to "undead")



Color added. If you bought color #123 for the project you did
20 years ago, you can buy #123 now and it will match
your original.


Examples of retail packets of Perle cotton

And, oh-the-machinery! Yes, I must show you some of that later.


Then there is the quilt show, Carrefour européen du Patchwork 2014 at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and three other villages. We must travel there by bus, as the towns are too small to have accommodations for the international crowds of quilters. We are spending two days there. My dream would be to be able to rent a bedroom in a French house for the whole show -- four days -- and meander through all the venues. I think there are 25 this year.




At the quilt show

At the table, La Maison des Têtes, Colmar






It's time to head for Paris. We take a bus to Strasbourg to catch the TGV there.



On another track. Not our train.








Did I mention I like speed? If I won't get the speeding ticket? Here's speed, 320 kilometers per hour. That's 199 miles per hour. So freakin' cool.





A bus picks us up in Paris at the train station. We have some trouble meeting up with him, so my French cell phone comes into use. He takes us to our hotel via the Paris scenic icons route.







Arriving at the hotel. No bus driver has ever taken us down
this street before, a feat of derring-do.


Hotel lobby



Rainy evening, mud and muck




My favorite breakfast

At almost the deadline, the pilots reject the proposed settlement. The strike is extended until September 30. Word is that despite that, some international flights may resume flying. It's time for us to get really vigilant about flight information.

Our people who leave at the official end of the tour are, in the main, going to destinations other than the U.S., so they are not affected by the Air France strike. We on Air France scramble to its website.

Next to the part where it says CONFIRMED, there is a big red box advising of the strike and notifying us that we can rebook a flight after September 30 at no charge. Make what we will of that advice. 

Negotiations continue. I'm not sure when it was actually settled, but flights begin trickling back on line. I watch flightaware.com. They display a chart like the one below for each flight, showing which are flying. This one is for the flight four of us are taking to San Francisco. We see a big list of "scheduled" which fall one by one to "cancelled" as its time approaches.

We sit tight with our reservation paperwork. Meanwhile our tour leader takes a walk to the nearby Air France offices and finds an operation set up to help with arranging options for travelers. We mentally file away this info. She has received an email from AF which doesn't sound encouraging. So far, my inbox is silent on the topic. Our time gets closer, Saturday, Sept 27, and my reservation still says CONFIRMED on the website and "scheduled" on Flight Aware.

Passengers can check-in online 30 hours in advance of the flight to obtain their boarding passes. We figure if they let us get our boarding pass, it will be good. That puts check-in time at Friday morning at 4:40 a.m. I'll do mine when I wake up Friday a.m. That doesn't happen until perhaps 6:00 a.m. and by that time, our leader has sent an email with the subject "Hooray." We're in. I also have an email from Air France inviting me to check in now. So I do. I'm rewarded with a boarding pass, which I transmit to the hotel front desk for printing. All those little hints to change flights for free are gone.

Yesterday's flight was cancelled. How early did those passengers know? I'll only be convinced when we lift off from CDG.



You can see by this excerpt from the Flight Aware page that we did get home as scheduled all along. I've inserted in red cancellation dates since Sept 23. There were a whole lot of cancelled flights before that date. It is a good flight and the trip is over for me. The husband who joined us and his wife are with us on the flight. Four more still in Paris are due to come home on Sunday, three on our flight and the fourth in the afternoon. They pack their bags, take a shuttle to the airport, and find both flights cancelled. They're not into tablets and computers so are taken by surprise. They get hotel vouchers from Air France and make it back home on Monday. The oddest coming home tale I've heard is that a plane headed to SFO had to stop in Oakland to refuel. Say what?


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