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April 29, 2002
Crossing the Channel (Russell)

During our week in Paris, we have gotten used to the routine of going out every morning, walking to the pâtisserie a block away, and getting French pastries for breakfast.  While Joss would consistently have an éclair ŕ chocolat, the rest of us would try different things, including a tasty beignet ŕ pommes (something like an apple jelly doughnut -- Russell lived on those for six months when he was a starving student in France twenty years ago).  On April 29th we went to the pâtisserie for the last time.  We are going to miss French pastries.

We set the alarm for 8:00 that morning so that we could get all of our suitcases downstairs for a 10:00 AM taxi.  We had requested a taxi that could fit four people and six suitcases... as well as accept a credit card instead of cash.  We ended up going to the airport in a big, roomy minivan, driven by a man who has been a taxi driver for almost 20 years.  He was a superb conversationalist; in French, he and Russell chatted about everything from how the brain conducts three million transactions per second (just what you want to hear from your taxi driver as he's barreling down the autoroute) to how he has crossed the USA twice in a Harley-Davidson.  He even showed us pictures of his beloved cycle; he will be going to Milwaukee next year for a gigantic Harley celebration.  After all this time on the continent we have become very comfortable with the French language; we are going to miss that as well.

The taxi dropped us off with all of our luggage at the British Airways terminal for our flight to London.  Unfortunately, we discovered that we were actually supposed to be at a smaller carrier, British Midlands.  Fortunately, we had all of our luggage on luggage carts (we have concluded that the United States is the only place where you actually have to pay for luggage carts -- just about everywhere else we've been, they're free).  Unfortunately, we further discovered that not only was our 1:30 PM flight cancelled, but the airline had no record of our reservations.

The situation took more than an hour to resolve.  British Midlands had only one woman at the ticketing desk, and she was obviously having a very bad day (no doubt having to deal with all of those impatient American and British folk).  We had to wait more than half an hour just to talk to her.  The 1:30 PM flight had been cancelled due to horrible weather in London (just what we wanted to hear), but there was another flight at 2:30 PM.  According to the computer, our reservations had been cancelled because they had not been reconfirmed by February 27th -- odd, because we didn't even make them until the beginning of March.  Fortunately, she not only booked us on the 2:30 PM flight, but she even put us in Business Class (our original reservations had mistakenly been made in Economy).

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While Cameron and Joss play Game Boy and our luggage waits, Russell tries to get airplane tickets

Paris' Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle Airport is a huge place, with moving catwalks and escalators that greatly entertained Cameron and Joss.  BD's Business Lounge didn't have any food, so we bought some sandwiches.  While Russell and the boys played cards, Gail chatted with a family who were visiting from Canada.

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The maze of catwalks and escalators at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle

In order to actually board our flight, we had to pass through the gate and then get on a bus that drove out to the runway.  We just missed the first bus, so we had to wait on the second bus for almost half an hour until the last passengers had boarded.  The flight itself was only about an hour and a half, and uneventful.  Nobody cried.

We arrived at London's Heathrow Airport at 4:00 PM, went through Passport Control, picked up our luggage (all there), and zoomed through the unmanned Customs gates.  After debating the various options for getting into London itself (bus, train, underground, combinations of the above), we chickened out and got a taxi.  Amazingly, all of us and our things fit into the little black bulge-mobile, and we had a very comfortable 45-minute ride into downtown London.

Considering that it's been months since we've had to haul our massive loads on and off an airplane, we did very well.  We are so comfortable with the processes by now that this lifestyle has become second nature to us.  While we were checking in at our hotel, Gail ran into a couple from America who overheard us talking about our experiences.  They confessed that they had also tried to do a trip around the world, back when their daughter was five years old.  They only made it six weeks before they turned around and went back.  Hearing this, we felt particularly accomplished.

Our accommodations for the next five nights are in a superb location -- the London County Hall Travel Inn occupies part of the old government buildings right next to Westminster Bridge and the London Eye, just across the Thames River from Big Ben and Parliament.  Now, if only it would stop raining outside...

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A superb location: the London Eye, Big Ben, and Parliament

 

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