Paris and the South of France Tour

Day 0 Thursday April 30, 2009
Home - Newark - Paris

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The plan was simple enough. Our plane from Bradley International[1] was scheduled to leave for Detroit at 4:11 p.m. This would allow us plenty of time to make the Air France flight to Paris, which was scheduled to leave DTW at 9:35 and arrive at Charles De Gaulle the next day at 11:25. We anticipated a nice leisurely day in which we could handle last-minute details and still have enough time to preclude any worry about making the connection.

We were taking this bizarre route because we wanted to use our Delta Skymiles to purchase business class tickets for the overnight flight. Flying coach four years ago bothered Sue’s feet a lot, and her condition had certainly not improved in the interim. It cost 200,000 Skymiles to do this, but I expected it to be worth it.

The elusive Franklin.

I awoke at five o’clock, my usual time. I was not surprised to find Sue awake. She evidently spent all night getting things ready. She has often pulled all-nighters preceding our trips. Sue is a night owl; I am a morning person.

I had planned to do a load of laundry, and I did. As I was getting the clothes together, I caught a glimpse of one of our two black cats, Franklin. He was[2] the one with little use for humans. He seemed especially suspicious of me, probably because I had usually departed for work by that time of day. On top of that, on the previous day I had trapped him in the bedroom in order to give him his Frontline drops. That had been an epic battle of wills; I had to remove the mattress and the box springs from the double bed in order to deprive him of his favorite hiding place.

Black shoes: in or out? In.

I was disconcerted to discover that I was missing my running shorts and the USB cable used to download photos from my camera to my computer. They were both at the office. I had some time, so I decided to make the trip. It only took about thirty minutes. When I got back, I finished packing.

Sue discovered that her backpack was broken. She could not attach the small backpack to the big one. Something was wrong with the zipper. I have never been much of a handyman, but I was able to diagnose the problem. The zipping unit was crushed on one side. The only way to fix it would be to use some kind of lever to wedge it back to the proper opening. I went outside to my get my tool kit from the trunk of my car. I was surprised to find it missing.

By then it was past 8:30, so the office was open. I called Jason to ask him to look in my office to see if my tool kit was there. He told me it was, so I made my second round-trip of the day. Thinking that I would not be coming in, the punk had parked in my space, and I gave him hell for it.

When I got back to the house with the tools,I spent more than thirty minutes trying to pound a screwdriver head into the zipper, but I could find no way to get enough leverage to make the hard steel bend even a little. I learned that it is a lot easier to crush a zipper than to uncrush one. We still had plenty of time, so I advised Sue to go buy a new suitcase.

The broken zipper after Chick fixed it.

Instead, she called Chick Comparetto, her father-in-law,[3] and asked him to look at it. Chick was a retired machinist; he had a lot of tools, and he knew how to use them. I explained the problem to him. He took the backpack with him back to his house. I was starting to get nervous.

The fully assembled backpack.

The main item on my agenda for departure day was to mow the lawn, a task that ordinarily took about ninety minutes. I really had no choice other than doing it that morning; there had been no available time during the previous week. Fortunately, the weather was good, so this plan seemed feasible. I waited until a reasonable hour to start so as not to disturb the neighbors. The last big worry was whether the lawnmower would start. I cleaned the sparkplug and the filter. It started on the second pull, and I was done before noon.

While I was mowing, our next-door neighbor was taking short rides on his bicycle with his baby in a little cart behind his bike. I was a little worried that he might take the occasion to complain about our cats, as he has done before, but he ignored me.

My trusty Husqvarna.

Chick came back when I was about half-finished with the lawn. He showed me the zipper and asked me if it was OK. He had somehow managed to wedge the zipper back open, and it seemed to function correctly. I had my doubts about whether it would survive the trip, but I told him that I could not see anything wrong with it.

Chick went back to his house. Since we would pass his abode on the way to the airport, Sue planned to drop off her key to our house with him. He had agreed to drive over daily to our house and provide the cats, who have their own door, with food and water. This arrangement had worked well on previous trips.

Sue finally packed her stuff while I was consuming leftovers for lunch. She was upset that she could not find her package of “wipes.” I was not quite certain what the function of the wipes was, but she considered them important enough that we planned to stop on the way to the airport to purchase some more.

While Karen waited patiently for Sue, Air France pulled the plug on our flight.

Promptly at two p.m. Sue’s sister Karen arrived to take us to the airport. Sue was still in the shower, but we had enough cushion that I was not too concerned about missing the plane.

After Sue got out of the shower, she was busily arranging things while Karen and I were outside at the car. Sue came out at about 2:25 to tell us that Delta Airlines had just called. Our flight on Air France had been canceled! They had rescheduled us to fly to Newark on a Continental flight that left Bradley at 3:22 in order to catch a flight to Paris that was to leave Newark at seven p.m.

We all jumped in Karen’s car. We scotched both the stop for wipes and the stop to give Chick his key. We saw Chick sitting on the stoop of his house as we went by. Karen honked, but it was unlikely that he recognized her car. She agreed to stop and give the key to him on the way back from the airport.

Karen put the pedal to the metal, and we got to the Continental counter a little after three. The ladies there did not seem overly concerned about whether we would make the flight. In fact, we were not even the last ones. A guy who was evidently in the army or the marines was flying to Norfolk. He thought that he was going through Washington, but he was actually on our flight to Newark. After he checked in, he had the gall to go outside for a cigarette rather than rush to security as we did.

Was this the first time we boarded or the second?

We boarded the plane almost as soon as we reached the gate. Everyone had just gotten settled in their seats when the pilot announced that Newark had put a hold on our departure until 4:57. There was evidently no particular cause for this. The airport was just busy, and this was the way that the air traffic controllers there dealt with it. We all had to get off the plane and return to the gate area.

How did the lady in front of me get through security with all those potential weapons in her hair?

The agents busily attempted to reroute passengers who had tight connections. They told Sue that we would still make our connection, but we were both pretty nervous by this time. The worst-case scenario now was that we would have to stay overnight in Newark and fly the next day. This would not make us happy.

This seems a little cramped for first class.

We boarded the plane, which was a small commuter aircraft, about 4:15. We took off right at 4:57. The flight must have been pretty smooth. I slept right through the service of drinks.

On the ground at EWR.

We arrived at Newark at Terminal A in short order. Somehow we had to make our way to Terminal B, and this was not a trivially easy task. We had to walk down a long corridor past security and then locate the people-mover that served the three terminals, the train station, and the parking lots. We had to pass through security again. Sue set off the metal detector. The TSA people wanded her and apparently determined that the likelihood that she would blow up the plane was reasonably remote. We eventually found our gate. The flight was listed there as a Delta flight, but it was obviously run by Air France. People were already boarding when we arrived at the gate. The agent assured us that our bags had just arrived and would definitely be put on the flight. In fact, she said that she would probably do it herself.

Sue was happy to find a seat on the people-mover.

Air France tracked our progress on the television screen. At this point we were about fifty miles from where we started.

The seats that they gave us in business class were not together, and nearly all of the business class section was occupied. However, the flight attendant asked a young French guy if he would change places with me, and he readily agreed. So, Sue and I were able to sit together in the center section for the entire trip. The flight attendants offered us orange juice or champagne before the takeoff. For some strange reason Sue selected orange juice. I accepted a glass of the bubbly, and it was good stuff.

The plane left the gate on time, but it seemed to taxi for hours. Even after our aircraft finally reached the front of the line, there was another long wait for clearance.

Each seat in business class has a small display attached to it to be used for in-flight movies. When the plane took off, we were treated with a telecast shot by a camera mounted in the nose of the plane. So, we got to see Newark from the pilot’s perspective. This was a new experience for us.

The delicious mini-crepes.


Pretty soon the flight attendants came around offering us the very important hot wash cloths. If they let us keep these things, the practice would be worthwhile. In our experience, wash cloths had beens as rare as hen’s teeth in Europe.

The attendants brought around a cart of aperitifs. Both Sue and I selected the twelve-year-old Glenlivet. Knowing that ice would be a scarce commodity in European beverages, I took mine on the rocks. Along with the drinks we were given some delicious cheese-filled crispy mini-crepes to munch on.

The card (“menu” means a fixed set of courses) for dinner and breakfast.

Not much later we were served supper. The entrée[4] was foie gras and chutney, which was served with bread and three types of cheese. The cheese and the foie gras were excellent.

Everything but the main course came with the entrée.

I had ordered the bouillabaisse – fish, seafood, carrots, and potatoes; Sue selected the beef. Her cut was served quite rare. My fish was not served at all. I must have dawdled over the first course too long, and the flight attendant forgot about me. She was startled when I told her that I had not been served. She apologized and immediately brought the bouillabaisse. I thought that it tasted pretty good. Dessert was a peach tart.

What will it be? Tournadoes of beef ...

... or bouillabaisse?

We did not die of thirst. There was “sparkling” water and a choice of wines. We both selected the one with the unpretentious title of Cahors Clos Triguendina Cuvée Prince Probus 2005 Jean-Luc Baldès, which was advertised as a “southwestern red.” I rated it as good but not great.

Air France provided each person in business class with a small kit. It included an eye mask, socks, a sewing kit, a comb, and some toiletries.

After supper I became very sleepy. I doubt that fifteen minutes had passed before I donned my sleep mask, my earplugs, and neck pillow, positioned my seat to the supine mode, and fell asleep in the very comfortable chair. At one point I was even able to roll over onto my side after I loosened my seatbelt a bit. The only disconcerting note was the screaming baby in the coach cabin. That kid really had an outstanding pair of lungs, and he knew how to use them. I had never before heard such a loud sound come out of a human. By the way, Sue did not even hear the kid.

Air France gave each of us one of these little kits. Why is everything brown?

Besides ourselves, there seemed to be no tourists flying in business class. All the other passengers seemed to be traveling alone. They were all pretty well dressed as well. Round-trip business class tickets from Newark to Paris cost $4,750. Could all these people really have paid that much for the seats? The meal was wonderful, and the seats were comfortable, but you could buy a lot of tacos at Jack-in-the-Box with $4,750.

Goals of the trip: I customarily set specific goals for myself, but this time my objectives were much more nebulous. My primary goal was just for the two of us to get through the trip. Sue’s knee seemed to be much improved in the last few weeks, but she was still having some trouble walking up and down stairs, and because she had had to stay off of it during the period of the treatments, she was not in the best of shape. I was afraid that she would get so frustrated at holding up the group that she would have a miserable time. She had been on the verge of this on previous trips, and in those days she still had some cartilage.

Aside from that concern, I basically wanted to relax, make some new friends, learn something, and have a good time. My only other specific hopes were to see the Porphyry Chair that was allegedly in the Louvre and to learn as much as possible about the French popes when we visited Avignon.

[1]  The local airport for the Hartford-Springfield (MA) area. It was called International because Air Canada operated a few flights per day to Montreal and Toronto.

[2]  I tried to use the past tense throughout the journal. It never implies that the present situation is different.

[3]  It’s a long story.

[4]  I soon learned that in France the word applies to the “starter” rather than the main course