Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Last night in Paris and our trip home.

It's Wednesday and we are all home, safe and sound.  But, I wanted to share pictures from our last night in Paris and stories of our trip home.  Leaving Paris, we have a 9:25 am flight on Monday.  We had decided it would be impossible to get to the airport from our country house by 6:30 am (3 hours required before an international flight), since some of us were going to have to take the train, while James drove the rental car with all of our luggage.  So, we made hotel reservations at a Holiday Inn near the airport for Sunday night and planned to spend the day and evening in Paris on Sunday.  We hadn't seen the lights of Paris yet, since we always left before 10 to catch the last train back to Joigny (and it wasn't getting dark until 10:30 or so).

The plan was to cram (and I do mean cram) all of our luggage and carry ons into our mini-rental car and have James drive it to the hotel, while the rest of us took the train into Paris.  James was going to have to drive all 8 of us to the train station in our host's car (5 seater) and then come back to the house and get the rental.  Man, this seems ludicrous as I write it!  And guess what????  It was!  Thank goodness, James had the thought to email our host and see if he wanted his car dropped at the airport (since he was arriving the morning after we were leaving.)  As it turned out, he did want his car at the airport, which turned out to be a life safer for us.  There was no way we would have gotten all the luggage and carry ons into the mini car.  As it was, we barely got everything into the two cars (with all the people too!)  But, we we drove into Paris.

Everything was going smoothly, we were following Garmin and TomTom, thinking we were right on track.  Oops...all of a sudden, we are in some neighborhood in Paris, 25 kms from the airport.  We had reached our checkered flag...but there was no hotel to be seen.  Turns out, the Garmin programmer (who shall remain nameless, because this could have happened to any one of us), programmed the address for Paris, rather than Roilly (which was the little town outside of the airport where our hotel was).  Unfortunately, every town seems to have the same street names.  So, we ended up in Paris instead of at our hotel.  After a few frantic calls to the hotel (by a very nice gas station attendant because I couldn't understand what the French recording was telling me when I tried to call the was telling me that I was dialing the number incorrectly...calling as if my phone were in the US, instead of France), we got everything straightened out, Garmin and TomTom reprogrammed and 45 minutes later we were at the hotel (lots of nasty traffic on the way!) 

After settling in, we got directions on how to get back to Paris.  Here's what we had to do:
1.  Catch Black shuttle bus in front of hotel to airport,
2.  Get off at Terminal 2 and catch the airport tram to Terminal 3,
3.  At Terminal 3, find the RER train station and catch the RER B train into Paris,
4.  In Paris, get off at the Notre Dame metro station, change to the Yellow line on the metro and head to the Eiffel Tower.

Makes me delirious just writing this out.  If it had been just James and me, I would have said let's go to the bar and drink champagne!  But, I had others with me, 3 of whom hadn't been up the Eiffel Tower yet.  So, we gallantly took off.  It only took about an hour and we were able to figure it all out and get ourselves into Paris.  Where, we tried to do a little shopping, but everything was closed because it was 5:30 pm on a Sunday.  Oh well...souvenir shops were still open and the girls managed to do a little damage there!  We had dinner at a place that I'm not going to tell you about because I'm embarrassed that this is where we ate our last night in Paris.

Oh well, I'd better tell you or you'll be thinking it was McDonalds!  It wasn't was a place called the Indiana Grill, an American style grill with burgers and ribs and onion rings and an adorable waitress who spoke wonderful English and spoke French to those of us who wanted to speak French.  We had a terrific non-French dinner.  And actually, it was perfect, since we'd had the perfect farewell French dinner the night before cooked by our wonderful friend Johanna...anything French would not have lived up to Johanna's dinner!

We had reservations at the Eiffel Tower for 9 pm, and since it was 7:30, we decided to walk from the Louvre to the Tower along the Seine.  A perfect way to end our time in France.  About 3/4's of the way there, the wind started to blow...HARD!  There were sand storms created by the wind blowing along the dirt paths above the Seine and we thought we were going to have to surrender and take a bus or the metro or a cab.  But, we persevered...even after it started to rain!

We arrived at the Eiffel Tower and saw this amazing sight:

It was cold and rainy at the top, but it was perfect.  The view was amazing and I'm so glad that this was how we spent our last night in France.

Blurry because I was shooting without a flash and had to hold the camera for a long exposure.

We returned to the hotel, following the directions in backwards order (almost, I had us a take a little detour, that almost caused us to miss the last shuttle to the hotel...but it turned out alright in the end).  We got to the hotel about 12:30 am and crashed, having to leave the hotel at 6 am.

In the morning, we needed to find a gas station to fill up the two cars.  I'd gotten directions from the front desk, that seemed pretty straight forward...alas no directions in France are straight forward.  After 2 loops around the entire CDG airport (including all three terminals), I stumbled upon a gas station and then managed to find our way back to Terminal 1 to park and start the journey home.  For the record...I HATE THE CDG AIRPORT!!!!!  With a passion.  Not once you're inside, it's fine inside.  But the design for getting to the terminals and the parking is AWFUL!!!  AWFUL!!!  AWFUL!!!  That's how I really feel and I had to share.

When we checked in for our flight, turns out it was going to be delayed an hour.  We were flying to Houston and we had just one hour to make our connection.  What I didn't know when I booked the flights was that we were going to have to go through customs in Houston.  This meant, collecting all our checked baggage, going through customs and then rechecking the baggage and then getting to the plane.  Liza and sent me an email after she got home telling me it was pretty tight to make it in an hour (although she had managed...but she was by herself, not with 8 people and 500 lbs of carry on luggage and 500 lbs of checked baggage...yep I weighed it!)  Now that our flight was delayed, it seemed impossible that we would make this connection.  The airline folks said if our flight landed too late, they would automatically move us to the next flight.  I decided to just trust it...I knew we'd get home eventually.

Our flight did leave about an hour late, but with good head winds...we actually landed at our original time.  We raced through the airport and went through immigration, then to baggage claim, claimed our baggage, took 8 baggage carts, loaded everything up and headed for customs.  On the plane, we had filled out our customs forms, disclosing that the Irey family had 12 bottles of wine and the Silveria family had 7 bottles.  The limit is two bottles per family.  However, the duty was suppose to only be a couple of dollars a bottle, so I thought we'd have no problems, just pay the duty and be on our way. 

The custom forms also asked if we had been on a farm or in contact with any livestock.  I thought we should be honest (we had been on lots of farms and had petted numerous cows and horses), but I checked with a stewardess who said "I didn't say this...but say NO! You will definitely have all your bags completely searched if you say yes."  Good thing I asked.  Since we had no products from any of our farm adventures, I felt ok answering no, plus, it had been a few weeks since we'd last been touching livestock...well, except for Eva, the horse on our second to last night.)  Ok, so I'm a criminal and I feel guilty, but I wanted to make our connection.  So, I told all the kids to answer no if they were asked if they had been on a farm.  (I felt bad about that too!)

At customs, there was a guy in training who decided, against the advice of the guy training him, that we needed to go to the room where they search your bags.  Bummer!  In we march...eight people, eight push carts filled to the top with luggage.  The guys in this room looked at us with a lot of amusement!  (Except one...who wasn't amused at all.)  After a lot of dialogue and being admonished that none of the kids could be pushing or pulling any luggage that contained alcohol (which caused us to rearrange all the bags on the carts), they finally can go through.  Without opening our bags.  It was a miracle!!!  It was 2:05 pm, our flight was at we still had a chance to make it, we dropped our checked bags at the check in place, and thought we were home free, until we rounded the corner and saw that we had to go through security again. took a while to get through security, with on of Megan's bags getting searched twice...discovering a small snow globe and having it confiscated by a very anal TSA person.  The boys headed off to the gate while the girls finished up at security.  Now it's 2:15 and I'm thinking we probably don't have a chance, as we still have to run to our gate and don't they close the gates 10 minutes before the flight???

A guy with a shuttle car for folks in need drove was empty and we were in need so we begged him to let us have a ride.  He agreed and when we arrived at the gate, they hadn't started boarding the flight yet.  It was about 10 minutes we made it...with a few minutes to spare.  Unbelievable!!  The rest of the trip home was uneventful, except one of our bags didn't make the connection, but it came 45 minutes later.  So all in all, a great trip home, with just one or two stories!!!

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