Reflections and images from my travels

Archive for August, 2015

France gets the last laugh!

It was all going so well! I was on my way to Wales from Toulon, France. I had to connect through Paris Orly through to London City airport.

The ethers that be must have thought “right, quite enough of this trouble free travel for you”. I had one hour to connect flights in Paris, Orly and thought; of course, that is enough time. In fact, the airline also thought this was because that was how the flight was set up by them. Usually, when you connect flights you go through a separate stream to your connecting fight gate. With this flight you had to exit through baggage in the Arrivals area and were dumped in the mayhem of the airport with no direction. It didn’t help that our flight was 20 minutes late coming in to Paris. I thought I had made an error after looking for the flight connections sign in vain for 10 minutes. The clock was ticking. I snuck my way back into the baggage area (so much for security) and in fact did see that you had to exit! I quickly went back out and went to find a departures board. None were easily available on this level. I ran upstairs. Time was ticking away! I finally found a board and went to my smart phone to confirm the flight number and of course my smart phone was completely frozen (perhaps a new feature with the latest OS update). It took 5-7 minutes to reboot and start up. I could feel my chances of connecting quickly fading away. I finally found the area for the connection and it was the furthest from where I was located (of course) so I quickly ran through the airport and got to the area and quickly spoke to an attendant about where I was supposed to connect. She told me it was the correct area but that I had to wait in a long line to go through a security officer and then security again (why you have to do this with internal flight and already having gone through security is beyond me). I went to the line and pleaded with the attendant there showing her my boarding pass. She was wonderful and took me through the preferred line (no one was waiting in that line) right to the security officer and literally pushed aside a passenger was was coming forward from the long line up (sorry, chap royalty coming through). The security officer was a bit taken back thinking I must be someone important (I did say royalty didn’t I?) and quickly waived me through. Great! I went to the second security area and really did remove anything that was metal but left my trainers on (I usually remove my shoes but I was rushed and had gone through security up to that point as I was with no issues). I went through and of course the machine beeps. I had to take off my shoes, get into the scanner and got a pat down all using up time. I ran to the boarding gate just as passengers were boarding. Yes, I did it! I was happy to leave Paris.

Trouble over…….right? Nope! I arrived at London City Airport thinking now I can relax. I had a three hour wait until my private hire saloon car (I have to go back to speaking British English don’t I?) would come at 3 PM to deliver me to Heathrow so I could get another flight to Manchester. Security at this airport was great. A happy lot with a great sense of humour. She asked me the standard questions including what I did for a living. Upon hearing I was a physician, she said “oh you lot should be OK to let into the country, you never get into trouble do you? However, when you do go bad you are very bad, aren’t you?” Ha! With a mischievous grin she let me through. It was nice to be back in jolly old England. Fully relaxed now, I went to the luggage carousel. I waited, and waited and waited. Oh no, this cannot be happening. I proceeded to the baggage agent and inquired about my missing luggage. She confirmed that yes my bag was still in France and would arrive later that day on another flight. Of course, this would be after I had to leave London City Airport with my private hire. Great! She also said “you are not the only one this has happened to on this particular flight”. What did France have against me? In 30 years of travel I have never had this happen to me although I do recognize it does happen. I asked if the luggage could be delivered to Heathrow as I had a 5 hour wait there for my Manchester flight and she said no. It had to be a physical address. I only had the Wales address with me but quickly emailed my friend Mike to try and get his Manchester address to give them. We were scheduled to leave to Wales the next morning. The agent promised the bag would arrive to a Manchester address layer that evening. I felt further distressed when she asked me to describe the bag so it could correctly be given to the courier company delivering it. “A large, orange 100 litre soft sided sport bag (duffel is not understood here) with Patagonia written on it”, I said. She was busy typing away when she said “sorry, we don’t have the colour orange in our system but I can put yellow spectrum in”. This was not going to end well, but, I held my temper and said “fine yellow spectrum, how can that be mistaken for anything but orange”. She uncomfortably laughed sensing my frustration. I was given many phone numbers for the airline and the courier company handing the delivery and went out to get a coffee and food (a stiff dram of scotch would have been my preferred prescription!). What should have been a restful time waiting for my private hire was filled with emails to my friends about the delay and getting their Manchester address (which I did get) as well as checking the status of my luggage recovery through the airline and courier website online tracking system. My private hire came at the appointed time (they are all wonderful) and listened to my tale of woe sympathetically like a priest and said “I guarantee your bag will not come until tomorrow no matter what they tell you”. Pessimist, I thought. I was just happy I was not departing to Africa within the next 24 hours and had booked a nice stretch of 10 days in England.

More time was spent at Heathrow trying to find out the status of my luggage recovery but I kept getting “we do not have your bag in our system” through the courier online tacking website so I called them. You had to wait at least 10 minutes before you got a live agent. The agent was excellent but I really felt for her. She must get so many irate travellers letting loose on her. In fact, the courier has nothing to do with the airlines who lose track of the luggage and are just contracted to do the deliveries once they receive the found luggage. The latter part of that last sentence is the key. I just had to be patient. As my Manchester flight boarding time drew near, I came to realize that my private hire driver spoke from experience and, indeed, was not a pessimist.

I landed in Manchester and was greeted by my friends Mike and Karen. Smiles and hugs ensued and I immediately felt better despite the challenges of the day. I had met them previously when Anna and I hiked in Peru in 2014. We really connected with them and at that time they had spoken of a cottage they loved and owned in Wales. I had warned them that when I came back to England I would come to pay them a visit and would really like to travel there with them to stay at this cottage. They accepted my proposal to do just that earlier that year when I emailed them (thank you..thank you). Wales, like Scotland, was a country that I have always wanted to visit and now I would have the chance. As we drove back to their lovely home in Sale the question was…..would my checked luggage join us?

Farewell to France……

I am back! I know it has been about 2 weeks since I last posted. What can I say? I continue to have fun.

Last time I blogged, I was in Florac and had to make my way home to Bormes. It was going to be by bus and train. Just before I got on the bus in Florac I snapped a picture of the mountain above the town. A fond memory after my wonderful trek.

Mountain coming out of the mist, Florac

Mountain coming out of the mist, Florac

I returned to Bormes without incident but did witness a very drunk woman on the train from Marseille to Toulon. Despite what we think of the normalization and appropriate use of alcohol in France, alcoholism is a problem.

I was picked up at the train station in Toulon by Glenn and Maysan (after an interlude where we sat across the street from each other for 1 hour!). At that time they informed me that their son would be playing a soccer tournament in Sweden and they were going to attend. They would leave that Saturday July 25th and would return on July 30th with their son Iskander. I would drive to Nice early on the 25th to drop off Glenn and Maysan and I would spend a half day there to tour and then I would have their car (yes!) and the run of the villa. The next morning the 22-year-old son of an acquaintance of theirs, Jeremy, would arrive to spend some time after touring Europe. Also, another friend of Glenn’s, Nic, would be arriving from Calgary on July 27th AND their daughter Yasmeen and her first cousin Nigel were arriving from Calgary and Vancouver respectively on July 28th. I did wonder if they really were going to Sweden for a factitious tournament (just kidding).

I was a little tired and beat up after the trek, so, it was going to be a relaxing week. On July 23rd I blogged and blogged to catch up as the internet at the villa is “temperamental” and I seemed to have it’s attention and I was able to finish the blog about Corsica and the trek (you are welcome). I felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and now I could just……relax!

Relax I did! I had plenty of pool time and we attended a nice birthday party for a friend of Glenn’s and Maysan’s at a lovely beach side restaurant and enjoyed a huge plate of lobster and spaghetti. Yum! It was quite a late evening and their was a little too much wine.

The next morning came too early. I drove Maysan and Glenn to the airport in Nice and had a nice tour through old town and up to the panoramic overlook for a picture of the very long beach and promenade.

Promenade des Anglais, Nice

Promenade des Anglais, Nice

I drove back to Bormes and Jeremy and I went to a kickboxing championship in Le Lavandou. We did have a glitch. It was advertised to be on the main beach but when we arrived there was no one there! I went to a local retailer trying to find out where it was being held and after a rather comical demonstration by me of kickboxing he was able to tell us the location. We arrived a little late but were surprised by the flock of Ferrari’s just outside the venue. It was an “interesting” evening. I am not a fan of men beating each other senseless. However, it was entertaining and I was impressed by how the referees controlled the match and stepped in to stop a couple of them because of injury, and in the case of the headline match, because one opponent was getting pummelled.

All went well with the pick ups early the following week. The subsequent days involved getting up early to do a bike ride before it got too hot, hikes to Notre Dame de Constance and lying around the pool and reading as well as stretching on a pad in the back garden in the afternoon. Now this is a life I could get used to! It was a pleasure having all of the company around and especially the younger guests. Nic and I were like parents cooking dinners and arranging the days for all. I just wish we had better luck finding and buying take away roast chicken for dinner (private joke)!



Glenn, Maysan and Iskander returned mid-afternoon on July 30th. We were one big happy family and had a great dinner that night on the patio with take away roast chicken (YES, it is possible). It was nearly a full moon and the sunset was beautiful that night. What a great way to end my time in France.

Almost a full moon (97.2%) on my last night in France

Almost a full moon (97.2%) on my last night in France

The next morning Glenn and Maysan drove me to the airport in Hyeres and I was off to the United Kingdom. They were such great hosts and did so much arranging and driving ensuring that my time in France would be memorable. It certainly was!  I am forever grateful. Thank you so much.

I wondered if Wales could live up to the high standard set by France! Read on to find out.

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