Monday, May 05, 2008

Euro Day 14: It's Terminal

Saturday, July 21, 2007. The end is nigh. Like drunken revelers waking up on the morning-after-the-night-before, we dragged ourselves from our beds to watch Paris awake just one more time. The thought of going back to the Real World seemed a bit sad and boring. But at 11:40am that morning, we would be buckled into Air Canada flight AC881 to take us from Charles de Gaulle airport back to CanadaLand.

Since we had booked our extra night at the Hilton through the good folks at Adventures by Disney, they would also be supplying us with a lift to the airport. Alex had given us the rundown during the previous evening: be in the Lobby by 8:30am and she would connect us with the driver that ABD had contracted. No fuss, no muss.

The morning went smoothly with packing, breakfast, and checkout proceeding sans problem. At the appointed time we were in the appointed place looking resolute and stoic for the trip ahead. By 8:45am I was getting antsy at the clear absence of a driver. While I always appreciate punctuality, my bigger fear was that we were in store for a repeat of the ABD misfire at Heathrow a week earlier. Just when I could feel the butterflies in my stomach starting to sprout claws, fangs, and a taste for flesh - our driver pulled smoothly into the Hilton loading lane. Relief!

With utmost courtesy and efficiency, the driver stowed our bags and invited us to our seats. We quickly said our final goodbyes to Alex and the Parisian minivan joined the morning traffic. Our driver made a point of double-checking that we were, indeed, heading out on Air Canada. I silently smiled in relief knowing that we were in good hands.

It did not seem to take much longer than 20 minutes and we were there - Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG). The driver deftly pointed the minivan through the inevitable airport construction sites and motioned towards the terminal entrance. Our bags retrieved, we gave our thanks and beelined it to the doors. Our standing goal at any airport is to rid ourselves of our bags right away, and then camp out in a restaurant or at the boarding gate for awhile. Never rush, never stress, never be late.

Inside Terminal 1 at CDG it looked like any other large airport terminal. As Veteran Travelers, we naturally sought out a directory so that we could find the Air Canada check-in area. No directory could be found and, instead, we had to rely on a Friendly Face at a nearby 'information desk'.

Air Canada, it seems, is located at Terminal 2 - not Terminal 1. The ABD driver had screwed up.

The killer butterflies made a return fly-by of my internal organs as the Friendly Face explained how and where we could catch a shuttle to Terminal 2A. Like a row of ducks, the four of us pulled our suitcases back through the terminal out to the shuttle stop. The shuttle stop was not quite what we expected. Rather than a signposted area where people waited in orderly fashion for well-marked transportation, the CDG shuttle stop was simply a stretch of construction-ravaged pavement covered by giant amoeba cleverly disguised as 200 anxious travelers all trying to get away from Terminal 1.

Once in awhile a bus would appear in a magic cloud of construction dust, and the crowd would lurch forward to (1) quiz the driver on where he was going and (2) push their way onto the bus if there was a hint the bus was going somewhere useful. We Four exchanged glances that said "How are we going to survive this?". Into the crowd I pushed - using my shoulder-slung carry-on as a plow whilst my family followed in the human wake behind me.

We made it to the leading edge of the amoeba. Now we could only wait and play the game. One bus came within 5 minutes and it did not take long before the news rippled through the crowd that this one was headed to Terminal 3 - no good for us. Through the din I was able to pick out the odd bit of English and was able to surmise that those voices intended to go to CanadaLand, too. While I'm always the most patriotic of souls, this time I could not afford to be Canada-nice. These voices were competition. I resolved to help them if I could, but not at the expense of my family. The bus was to be Sanctuary. Our Sanctuary.

10 minutes passed and I was caught looking the other way as the murmur of the crowd turned into a roar at the appearance of another dust cloud-shaped bus. Hopeful lemmings with their matching luggage surged towards the front of the bus. I could only imagine the moral decisions the bus driver was making at the moment, but I was positive he was considering plowing through crowd just to hear the satisfying snap of bones and silencing of shrill voices.

All of this provided an opening for We Four. The crowd, intent on speaking to the driver, had all but ignored the rear door. And that's where we were standing at that very moment! Burdened with the thoughts of never, ever seeing Terminal 2, I hoisted myself and my luggage onto the bus and hoped beyond hope that it was headed to Terminal 2. I interrogated the passengers as I deftly pulled my family up the stairs and into the small patch of land I staked out on board. Luck smiled on us. We were going to Terminal 2.

As the doors were shutting, a hand appeared from outside and grabbed the door. My first thought was that my fellow Canucks were expending their last, best chance to get on board. But, no - it was a different family and the father (attached to the hand in the door) was yelling excitedly in some Oriental language to his family, or maybe to the driver, or maybe to us. Before I could think about my actions, I pulled him inside. There was still enough room in the rear door stairwell for 3 - maybe 4 - more bodies. He, in turn, pulled his family in behind him - not 2 or 3 or even 4 passengers. By my count, this was a family of 7 who had improbably found a way to balance themselves and their luggage on 2 steps in an overloaded bus with a very bouncy suspension.

Any flaws in the bus's handling or the driver's ability were more than made up by the fact no one on the bus could move. Quite simply, we were relying on a totally organic suspension system made up of human beings fueled by airport sweat and fear. 7 minutes later, the doors opened at Terminal 2A. We ungracefully exited the bus, suitcases navigating the steps and curb at crazy, dangerous angles. We smelled the air like we'd never smelled the air before. Here was freedom and Air Canada.

From that point on, the trip was like any other airport experience. CDG is badly laid out and expensive and under construction. After checking in and then getting something to eat, we encamped at the boarding gate to await the inevitable Air Canada scheduling disappointment. True to form, our flight was delayed and no one at the Air Canada gate could tell us why or when we would be leaving. It felt like home again and reminded us why we usually avoid Air Canada whenever we can.

90 minutes later than planned, we took off - across water, across time. At Toronto Pearson airport we still had 30 minutes to catch our connecting flight back to London, Ontario. The functionaries at Air Canada, however, would not permit us to board our connection since 30 minutes was not enough time to transfer luggage, etc. We were given a new flight and found ourselves en route to our final destination (another) 90 minutes later than we had planned.

From there, into the minivan that Dee's sister was kind enough to drive out to the airport for our arrival. And then, the familiar ride through the streets of London - and home.


For those who've braved narcolepsy and read all previous 21-ish posts on the topic of Euro Tour 2007, my thanks to you! They are as much a testament to the Ego Of Blogging as they are a reflection of the fun I had in writing them.

Many of the regular visitors here in the last few months have come from the family of Disney enthusiasts over at - all with a special interest in Adventures by Disney. I hope I've given you a taste of what you're looking for and have answered some of your questions. Nevertheless, I'm always happy to answer more questions - here or over there. My final word - we loved what ABD had to offer on this tour! Notwithstanding the screw-ups with the airport transfers that bookended our week, we found the tour pretty darn amazing and worth every penny we spent. And, in fact, we plan to partake of the ABD Costa Rica tour (Path to Pura Vida) in August of 2008!

And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.


Sonny Drysdale said...

Crazy - (may I call you 'Crazy'?)

as any parent who has ever organized such a Trip, or made such an investment in the Memory Vaults of Childhood, a.k.a. 'A Family Vacation' as tha ne you and yer kin jes wen thru, well we all know there's bound to be problems at the Airport. ANY airport - be in one in Paris, France or even the lil one here in lil ol Bugtustle.

Landsakes alive, I wish I cuulda warned you 'bout that aferhand.

But the important thing is that you done yer kids proud. Theyze and ther Ma autta be awful prit proud of their Pa.

Until these posts, I've never even thought of doing Euro the Disney way. But you've sold me.

Thanks for all of these - and we're all still waiting for photos of Crazy in a 'Goofy' hat from Disney Paris (or do the locals pronounce it as 'Dizmay Paree'?)

Anonymous said...