We are in France, preparing for Sunday morning when our grandson flies in from Oakland, California. We have guidebooks, reservations, euros, a French-English dictionary, a Paris apartment waiting, Michelin road maps, and have already parlez-ed un peu.
We have encountered a mouvement social (translation: union work slowdown) on the suburban railway, a number of modern ideas that don't work right (like automatic vending machines that don't recognize American credit cards), a bewildering array of cultures in multicultural Paris, summer heat and humidity, a greater number of bums and beggars, many crowds, and also lots of polite people.
They are preparing for the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget, and the Concorde, which has stopped flying commercially, was flying today. So there are necks craned to look out of bus and train windows, and people standing near the roads holding binoculars.
We made a remarkable (to us) discovery. We don't much care for plane travel any more, and have resolved to avoid it except when necessary. This is one of the luxuries of being full-time travelers: we're generally not in a hurry to get somewhere. We flew over to Paris to meet our grandson, and didn't like Heathrow and didn't like Charles de Gaulle, didn't like the lines, the crowds, the price gouging, the lack of interest employees have in their jobs.
Our first flight was in 1951. Flying was a special treat then, kind of red carpet, and most enjoyable. Now flying is affordable for the masses, highly competitive, suitable for businessmen who must travel, full of annoying security rules because of the threat of terrorism, and generally a less pleasant means of travel.
So, we have bought train tickets to Calais for our return to London next month, and plan to take the ferry to Dover across the English Channel, perhaps to snap a few photographs, then the train up through Kent to London. Which will be civilized and pleasant. So there.
We had come to Paris two days before Dan's arrival, so that we could acquire maps, re-acquaint ourselves with the French language, and figure out how to meet him at the airport. We stayed at the Ibis Hotel at Charles de Gaulle Airport, about 30 miles north of Paris.
The social movement, we found on arrival, was more than the momentary "petite manifestation" which punctuates every working day in the city, where one or another group marches down the street or the sidewalk, carrying signs and chanting. This was a real "greve" or strike, by railroad personnel protecting their right to retire at 55. Consequently, some train lines were stopped entirely, some train schedules were reduced, and the situation changed from one hour to the next. On our first trip into Paris we bought two-day passes for train and bus and subway, and descended to the tracks, where we joined a rather large number of patiently waiting people.
Here were vacationers, businesspeople returning from air travel, families, backpackers. Everybody was exhibiting that patient waiting stance which indicated they had been there for some time. Less patient, we retraced our steps, found the bus to Paris, and felt that at least we were in motion.
By the second day, the strike had apparently been settled, or the target area had moved, and the Charles de Gaulle Airport trains were back on schedule.