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a flight of fancy

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Well, that was fun. I’m getting much better at finding my way around places, compared to a decade ago. I got up early and left home at 04:15 or so, thinking the bus to the airport would arrive at 04:30 at advertised. It arrived at 04:20, about a minute after I arrived at the bus stop, and was surprisingly full for that time of the morning. Some check-ins at the airport were mobbed at 05:00, with people queueing around the terminal for cheap holiday flights, though my check-in was no problem.

The flight boarded on time, but left about half-an-hour late, and the excuse was a new one on me: “we have a wide departure window”. Meaning… what exactly? That the tower gave you a wide time window, in which case you gave no excuse for leaving late in that window… or that the airline decided they could afford to be slack at that time of the morning… which is also no excuse. At least they served a nice little continental breakfast, different each way, which was even more welcome on the way home.

This was my first visit to Charles de Gaulle airport, north of Paris, and quite an experience it was too. Let me see… if you’ve seen U2’s “Beautiful Day” video you have a general idea of what Terminal 2 looks like, but not the scale of the place. It contains six medium-sized terminals under one huge roof, A-F, an overall size roughly equivalent to Heathrow Terminal 1, 2 and 3 combined or Chicago O’Hare International. Terminal 1 is a separate huge building of its own.

I landed at Terminal 2F, and after a bus ride to the Terminal proper I had to take one of the walkways to the central area of the Terminal, where the RER station was. One of those walkways collapsed just over a year ago, killing six people, and that area is still cordoned off.

This is the point at which I ran head-first into Paris’, well … interesting transport system:

  1. Try to catch the advertised bus from the airport to the Air Show? The information desk said to go to the bus stop at the RER station, which was what I remembered. No show – no bus turned up in 3/4 of an hour, no signs anywhere, no hint of a schedule.
  2. OK, back to Plan A: the train. Should be simple… until you try to buy a ticket:
    • Ticket office? Not for the RER (suburban railway), only machines. Machines that don’t take notes, only coins and cards.
    • The machines are running OS/2 Warp – old – and in French only. (I later found a machine in a remote suburb of Paris that did have an English mode, but putting some of those at an International Airport would make too much sense, of course.)
    • That’s manageable, because I have enough French vocabularly to get by.
    • The thing was: of about eight machines in the station, only two were working. The hedgehogged ones had “fixed by July” signs on them, and the working ones had huge queues behind them.
    • I resigned myself to joining the back of the queue at one machine… the screen of which was stuck with an inscrutable message… then it rebooted. The rest of the queue started swearing, in a multitude of languages, then wandered off to the other queue leaving me in front.
    • Great: after an extended self-test the machine was running again, and I could see how to buy a single to Le Bourget. No notes accepted, no coins in my wallet, so a card it had to be. I tried three different cards, and each was refused; carte non acceptee. This process was interrupted by concerned queries from those behind me: “is it working? taking the card? what card is that?”
    • No luck, I thought, and turned to walk away, but someone stopped me in time: it had worked, it just hadn’t told me clearly.
  3. The train was there, and I made it on board just before it left. At Le Bourget station the shuttle buses were filling up, but I was on one in ten minutes, and at the airfield in ten more. Whew.

a wide shot of a wide bodyI’ll write about the Paris Air Show proper next, but here’s a teaser: the star of the show, the Airbus A380-800 a.k.a. the flying ocean liner.


Written by brian t

June 21, 2005 at 1:35 pm

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