My family was scheduled to meet me in Paris on Friday. We were planning to spend a few days in Paris, drive down the Loire Valley, visit the Palace at Versailles. We were planning to train to Southaven, England, and take a cruise across the Atlantic to New York.
But, Dad is still in the rehab hospital trying to recover. So, we canceled everything and I made arrangements to head back to Texas to see him.
I suppose the trip to Texas began in Sarajevo. I got up on Thursday and got packed to leave. Then, walked back down Old Town. The Cathedral was open for the first time since I had been in the city. Some tour group was inside checking it out. So I walked in like I was supposed to be there and had a look. It is a beautiful church on the inside. From what I understand, it is a typical Austro-Hungarian style church with horizontal stripes going around the inner walls from floor to ceiling. The city hall building in Sarajevo has the same style.
I stopped at the bakery that makes the Bosnian pita and got a pastry. She recommended a croissant with vanilla; yummy.
All week, I have been talking to one copper craftsman. I have stopped by his shop to look three or four times this week and listened to him talk about his art. He is passionate and meticulous. Not much of a salesman, but loves the intricacies of the work he does. The first time I was in his shop a Japanese tour group flooded into the little showroom. He answered their questions and let them look. He told me that his shop was featured in a Japanese travel show and, ever since then, he has made a fortune from Japanese tourists. They didn't seem too interested in the lifelong Bosnian culture that he poured into his work, but I am pretty sure everyone was planning to buy something. I told him I would be back when he was not so busy. I had decided then to buy a Bosnian coffee pot, but there was such a variety. Everything from very traditional copper with nickle lining to keep you from getting poisoned from the coffee and dying. Which would be a bad thing. Hard to sell coffee pots if all your customers die from copper poisoning. He also had these cool nickle plated pots; he carved through the nickle in little patterns to reveal the copper underneath. Beautiful. And he had some hand-painted ones. He told me he made the pots, but someone else did the painting for them. One of those would look great in my living room as well.
I finished my pastry as I walked back to his shop. He smiled when he saw me come in. I told him I was ready to buy. I had finally decided that I was in Bosnia and was getting a traditional Bosnian coffee pot. I chose a large one that had great hand-crafted detail. It would go in my living room. To be honest, I'm not really all about the Bosnian coffee. He liked my choice. "I usually charge 100 marks for them." I think that's about $40. "Since you are my friend, I will give it to your for 80 marks." Take that, rushing Japanese tourist.
It was work dragging my bags down four flights to the street, but I was looking forward to dragging it down the hill to Old Town even less. I expected my best shot to get a taxi would be in the new town...not a huge trek, but a little more intimidating with all my luggage on my back. Fortunately, a taxi rounded the corner of the building just as I walked outside. I waved to him and asked him to take me to the airport. He looked a little less than enthusiastic, but helped me put my bags in the back.
The airport was buzzing when I arrived, but I was way early for my flight. The agent at Austrian Air told me he could check my bag, but it would be a while before I could go through security. I got a ham sandwich at a little coffee shop, relaxed, and settled into people watching.
I had a short layover in Vienna, but everything was clockwork. Arrived at CDG, picked up my bag, and found my way to the hotel. I had booked a room at the Hilton at the airport. I usually avoid pricey American hotels when I traveled, but I was to fly out of CDG standby the next day, so I would need to be back at the airport early. However, when I settled into a late supper, I got a text from my brother. "Flights do not look good tomorrow." Because he works for the airline, he is able to get me a discounted rate on a stand-by ticket once in a while. I was trusting this to get me home. There is a direct every day from CDG to DFW, but there are also 4 or 5 connecting flights. I could have taken any of those flights, so I though my chances of getting a ticket were good. "They just rolled a bunch of people over to tomorrow that didn't get on today. You are currently 70th on the list and there are about 20 open seats." Yikes!
My brother is nothing if not industrious. He started checking Orly, and every other airport that looked like I could get there in a few hours. He found a First Class frequent flyer ticket from Orly on British Air. Now, I don't know if you have ever flown internationally on American Airlines frequent flyer miles, but you can get BA tickets. The problem is, the taxes are often as much as buying a regular discounted ticket. So, I sort of treat BA like a pariah...at least when it comes to traveling on miles. But Karl thought it was my only shot at getting home...probably all weekend.
The bad parts of the plan.
1. This was going to cost me about $450 in taxes and fees. If I had shopped early, I could have bought a one-way ticket for $550.
2. The ticket would also cost me 47,500 miles. It could have been a lot worse, but a one-way coach seat to Europe is only about 30,000. I could fly round trip to ANY Caribbean island for fewer miles than this.
3. It is out of Orly and I am sleeping at CDG. I knew I could make the transfer but had no idea how to do it. And it would cost me. So, I'd have to get up and get moving early. I checked the travel time on Google. About 35 minutes. Not bad.
4. The BA flight would take me to Newark. I like Newark OK. American would not take me the rest of the way from Newark. They would, however, take me to Dallas from Laguardia. Hm. There is an easy train from the Newark Airport to Penn Station. From there, you can get on the subway to get almost anywhere in New York City. Of course, "almost anywhere" does NOT include Laguardia airport--I have no idea why. So, when you get close, you have to transfer to a bus to get you the rest of the way. All of this I would have to do pulling a suitcase. Or I could pay about $200 for a taxi.
5. The flight from LGA to DFW would not be first class. In fact, the only seats available were middle seats between two husky women. OK, the last part was not on the website, but comes from my experience.
The good parts of the plan.
1. I can actually get to Texas.
2. I get to fly first class across the pond. Let's just focus on that. Woo hoo! Party Rock is in the house tonight!
I decide to give myself an hour to make the transfer to Orly. Get up. Shower. Dress. Repack. Recheck google for how to get to Orly. Um. Now, Google says it will take 90 minutes to get there. WHAT! I suppose the first time I checked, Google thought I meant I wanted to go right then. At midnight. Why would anyone want to go from CDG to ORY at midnight? That doesn't seem logical. Dang, Google, get a clue.
So, I rushed back into the airport. I saw a public transportation desk and asked the best way to get to Orly. There is a direct shuttle bus. It leaves from a different terminal. Of course, it does. Why would it leave from the terminal where I am. Can't I take a train and, you know, skip all the traffic? Um, no. I started to trust my own instincts and try it anyway, then the little voice in my head says, "Even though Parisians can be kind of snotty and abrupt, she probably knows public transportation better than you." So, how much does it cost? 18 euros. Could be worse, but, as it turns out, I don't have 18 euros. If I were taking a train I could use those little ticket machines that take my credit card. But I have to buy a ticket on the bus.
So, I am 30 minutes behind, hopping on a train to get to some other terminal and looking for an ATM where I can spend about 10 dollars of fees to get 20 euros. The ATM is not on the same level as the buses. So, I find the ATM. It is out of service. Ugh. Find another. Score. 20 euros. Find the bus stop for the Orly express. Yikes, time, time. I start to get on the bus. Some guy grabs my bag, hopefully to put it under the bus. The driver says, "That will be 23 euros." WHAT. OK, I have three euros in coins, but they are buried in my backpack. And the driver is tapping his watch, and I'm saying, "I know, I know." He says, "You want to just use a credit card?" I can use a credit card? Why was I searching all over Paris for a stinking working ATM? Sure.
I'm a little obsessive so I ask Google to map me the route to Orly. It seems the driver is following the best route. Good. But, we are in horrible traffic. They say you need to be at the airport 3 hours before an international flight. I'm hoping that's something they say for the benefit of the Filipinos. And you really only need to be there two hours early. In that case, I am still late. Google thinks we can get there about 1.5 hours before flight time. I'll take it. Only, we keep surprising Google by the amount of traffic. Maybe 1:28 before flight time, Google offers. Come on. We arrive 1:15 minutes before flight time. The lady gives me a bit of a sneer, but not too much attitude, and checks me in. As it turns out, BA charges all those extra fees for some reason other than an on-time departure. We leave about 30 minutes late.
Two years ago, I got upgraded to Business class on a Qatar Air flight from Doha to LAX. I was in this little pod where my seat expanded to a bed. I watched movies as they fed me grapes and massaged my feet. That was the image I had of Business class on British Air. Let me make this suggestion. If anyone ever offers you choice between a Business class ticket where you will fly four hours on British Airways and a Business class ticket on Qatar Air where you will fly 15 hours--take the trip thru Doha. I shouldn't complain because my seat did lay down almost flat. There was a little TV I could watch. And I wasn't sandwich between two sweaty, lady wrestlers. But there was not even a plug to charge my phone. (Somehow it had gotten all depleted on the trip from CDG to ORY.)
The movie options were limited; I landed on "Coco," a weird kids movie about the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos. Day of the Dead. Yikes. Who thinks up these movies?
We arrived in Newark a little late. I filed into the long immigration line. Several years ago, they invented this system where you go input all your information into a computer. If the computer likes you, you are sent on into America. Somehow, the system never likes me. I don't know if it is the weird places I travel. Bosnia. Andorra. Perhaps it is the fact that I have been out of the country for several weeks. Or maybe it is just the way I look when the machine takes my picture. But I am pretty much always sent to the line for further screening. I finally get out of immigration and get my bags. There is a long line for customs, but it rolls pretty fast. I find a tourist information desk and ask about the best way to Laguardia. "When is your flight?" It looked like I had plenty of time, but she told me, "You will miss your flight unless you take a taxi." She looked at me and added, "or an Uber." I guess Uber is the recommendation for shabby looking people.
A shared Uber would be $60. No conversion to a different currency necessary. Thank the Lord for that. A Russian/Ukrainian guy picked me up. OK, the guy actually moved here from Crimea. You tell me which country he is from. He was Ukrainian when he left. Maybe not now. I had a great talk with him. He was very interested in what I do at the seminary. Asked lots of questions about my faith. "I have a little girl," he told me. "I want to give her a spiritual heritage." We talked a little about what that would look like. He seems to really have a desire to walk with God. To return to the Orthodox church would honor his heritage. Would be interesting to know what he does with all that.
I paid with a credit card on the Uber app. Tip? Dang, of course, he was awesome. So, $75 instead of $60.
When I checked in, I found a window seat and made the swap. One robust, sweaty lady is better than two. At least, when you are talking about being mashed into an airplane. The lady who actually sat next to me actually stayed on her side of the armrest and I relaxed for my final leg. (I'm sure she was thinking, Sure, park me in a middle seat next to jumbo, the offensive tackle who has lost his muscle tone. Oh well.)
I pulled my bags outside at DFW. It was hot, even in the evening. My cousin Kelly, my Mom, and my girlfriend Lisa all pulled up to the curb in a van to pick me up. My cousin Marty was there and my Dad was not--but other than that, it was an exact reversal of what I had planned. I was to pick up the four of them in Paris. Instead, they were picking me up in Dallas.
Dad is improving. Not sure when he will be able to travel again, but we won't be taking any adventures this year. At least not any that require planes or ships or trains. My family, my church, my co-workers, my students in Paris, and even a few random travelers in other European countries have all been praying for my Dad. Thank you, God, for hearing those prayers. I plan to spend about a week here and then travel back to California to get ready for another semester. So, the travel blog ends here. I feel a little like Bilbo at the end of "The Hobbit." "Well, I'm home."