Saturday, August 28, 2010

The journey

At the airport
On a bit of a shopping spree since I can still easily communicate with people at the checkout. I'm buying some disposable toothbrushes behind a Frenchman at the airport. He is using a credit card because he is out of cash (as I always am at the end of a foreign trip). The clerk asks him, "Do you wanna bag?" "Huh?" "Do you wanna bag?" "What?" "A bag." "Oh, no." Tomorrow morning, that will be me. Strangely, or not, this Frenchman has no hair on his legs. Though he is overweight and eating potato chips, his legs (in either long shorts or manpris) are very elegant. Must look into this.

Rees is super excited as it appears we get individual TOUCH SCREEN TVs on the flight.

On the airplane
And what do you know, WE DO! Everything is beautiful on Jet Airways, an Indian airline. The stewardesses in lovely saffron Nehru jackets, the stewards (wow, are they coiffed), in lovely, dark gray, band collar suits, the elegant older woman in a sari sitting in first class as if on a throne. Urdu/Hindi first, English second. Cold towels graciously served before take off, warm towels before landing. Pillows in nice paprika red. Key moment is when one stewardess walks down the aisle spraying a rose scented air freshener. Nothing but roses. But what else do I smell? Now the cabin is filling with the aroma of curries. Fingers crossed it's gluten free.

Flight is under 7 hours, not much farther than CA to NY, but 'cause it's international, as usual, ever so much nicer.

Unbelievably, after we got on, there was a sock dropped in the aisle. A SOCK. The stewardess asked if it belonged to the kids. It did not. I feel like a magnet for socks. Why can't people (and cats) just keep them to themselves? Must other people's dirty socks follow me everywhere??? Huh???

OMG that was the most delicious airline food I've ever had: rice, dal, spicy chicken, and a chickpea salad. I'm saving my yogurt (plain) for breakfast with the almonds I brought.

For me, I choose the "D" movies: Date Night and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Have yet to explore the Bollywood options, the news, the short features, or the games. So much to little time.

Kids are so enamored with the touch screens they stay up well past bedtime. Even Kadin is wide eyed at 11pm glued to Avatar. Eventually, about the time of sunrise in Belgium, he goes to sleep. Rees stays up all night. I sleep for a couple of hours. Greg not so much.

Is it my imagination or do people on this flight throw their trash down on the floor more than usual? The flight attendants keep picking things up. First class was littered when we got off.

Next airports
Brussels is the port of entry. We don't have long to make our connection (1 hr) but must go through passport control, to another terminal, then pass through security again. Luckily we do not have to claim our large bags.

Still, we are caught up in the masses of overseas migrants who arrive at such places early in the morning. Lines, lines, lines. Some clever marketing person has thought to advertise mattresses in this part of the airport. Mean.

At security, for the second time today, they need to search my carry on jam packed with jewelry making supplies. This always turns my stomach in knots (and actually makes me shake), but they have a job to do. I'm glad at least most of my containers are see through! Then Kadin is the lucky random selection to get a more thorough pat down. Not a big deal, there is so nothing on that kid (and I was so proud of him for not freaking out and also for having all his clothes on right side out and forwards!). But it all takes more time. Run!

We run to the gate, but they are running late too and just about to begin boarding. The flight to Lyon is a much smaller plane. Many women at the gate are dressed in fancy kente cloth with beautiful gold jewelry and braided hair. Lots of people seem as dazed and confused and as foreign as we are.

Just over an hour to Lyon on Belgian Air. No elegance here. Rees finally conks and conks big time. Flight attendant speaks many languages. Lyon countryside rather beautiful, Lyon airport rather ugly. We wait forever for our bags. Rees can barely function, says he feels like he is going to explode, that he wants to die, and so on. And it is a grim scene. Exhausted people from all over the world, crying babies, dirty floors. It seems no one works here, there is no music, no color, no cheerful sense of order or cleanliness, just bland, intermittent security announcements.

The luggage too, when it finally begins spewing out onto the belt, does not look like ordinary vacationer's luggage. This is some serious immigrant style baggage: big ugly suitcases, cardboard boxes, baskets, plastic tubs wrapped in more plastic, wicker, drums, surf board bags taped together. We fit right in.

We finally emerge from baggage claim and find we have 10 minutes to get our train. We had anticipated that this might be the most difficult part of the trip: 4 large bags, only 2 of which wheel, 2 wheelie carryons, 4 small backpacks, and 2 zonked children. We find the train station, find the ticket counter, purchase tickets, and with two minutes to spare, we return our luggage cart, heave the big bags on our backs, validate our ticket, and race down to the track.

Only the train is not there. Were thinking we needed about 10 more minutes to get it all right. And miracle of miracles, it seems that that is the only error we've made: the train is scheduled about 10 minutes later than we thought. Another train comes about 3 minutes before ours, so we scope out the most efficient way to board with all our stuff.

Scrutiny of our tickets reveals that we have seats in car 6. So we try to guess where car 6 will be based on the train that comes just before. As that train is pulling away, I notice there is a train parked right behind it, and (gack!) it's OUR train, waaaay down the platform. It's the moment we've been waiting for!!

The mad dash down the platform begins and at the last possible minute, we hop into the nearest car somehow managing to include everything and everyone.

We are a miserable mass of people and bags in a narrow corridor and not in the right place. Only one car off, but turns out the only way to get where we need to go is up some stairs, through a car, down some more stairs, and back again. This would all have been relatively simple and doable if we knew what we were doing, but we don't.

So begins the public spectacle of us shuttling our bags one by one up the narrow windy stairs, down an endless narrow and rocking aisle strewn with feet and elbows (pardon, pardon, pardon), and back down some other windy stairs to our car. We do this what feels like 10 times. Basically a set of 10 reps with 50 pound weights in the glare of stranger's eyes.

I am actually quite proud of us for managing so well, we've been up all night and are navigating a system we've never seen before. However, the passengers we derange with bag after bag after bag are not so generous. It is the sweaty, bedraggled, humiliating moment all trips seem to require. Check.

And so far, that has been the worst of it! The train is very comfortable and efficient, and the French countryside begs exploration.

Another miracle when we get to Grenoble is that the hotel I booked, knowing nothing of the city, is a mere 200 meters from the train station. I chose it because it was 1km from our apartment (which we can move into on Sun) but didn't think about the arrival part. Hooray! No struggling with cash, taxis, luggage, directions. We're in! And out...goodnight!


Dais said...

Jen, I love reading your blog. I just love it. I now want to take the Indian airline for the spa experience that you made it sound like. The train? Not so much! But a postcard of that French countryside would be lovely. It sounds as if you managed the journey to Grenoble with grace. (I would need a week or more of decompression) I hope that Rees can realign gently. Let's Skype sometime, once you've guys settle in a bit. =) ~Dais

Anonymous said...

What a stitch! Jen, you write so beautifully. I could almost experience the whole journey. Congratulations on surviving the hardest part of your travels!


Felicity Tucker said...

Yea, you made it! Corky says hi. He's waving his feelers and looking very handsome in his greenish shell. Thanks for transporting me through your description - the next best thing to being there.

Lisa said...

Love it! And hey, I want some of THAT airline food!