Unfortunately, my experience of navigating my way to the Charles de Gauile Airport was nearly the nightmare I had dreaded it would be. But, my luck changed and for the most part, all ended well.
I was all set to leave my hotel room 3.5 hours before my departure (I guessed that it would take an hour door-to-door to get from my hotel to the airport), when I started feeling unwell. In my quest to hydrate myself as much as possible before my flight, earlier I had downed a bottle of water, an apple, a glass of fizzy Airborne and a cup of strong green tea. I had planned to check out and then buy a bite at the café to take to go for my airport journey. I had forgotten that green tea sometimes doesn't sit well with empty stomachs, and I started feeling like I had to hurl. And hurl, my friends, I did. So, a small setback with my departure time.
I recovered, checked out and bought a croissant and my trademark chocolate milk from the café and headed to the station down the street. Bought the ticket I needed and was on my way. Once I made my transfer and got on the RER, I ate my breakfast. I was pleasantly surprised that my croissant had traces of chocolate folded into the layers of dough. Yum! At this point, I felt 100% better.
In addition, I was smarter this time and wore a short-sleeved shirt and pulled my hair back so I didn't sweat my ass off while dragging my luggage up and down flights of steps at the metro stations. Things were looking up.
The ride on the RER train to the airport was about 40 minutes, and I was a few stops shy of CDG when I noticed that there were two stops on the train allocated to the airport. I asked a couple seated near me in French, albeit clumsily, about whether they knew how I could figure out what stop I needed and was told that there should be a terminal number on my boarding pass. Uhh no such number. Then a woman and her mother got on the train (they were Portuguese but going to Orlando), made the same observation I did and asked me if I spoke English. They were looking for the terminal for American Airlines while I was wondering about Continental.
Since I wasn't able to be of help, we decided to get off at the first stop and ask. But, an info desk was nowhere to be found. I spotted a layout map of the airport and noticed an area called New York something (can't remember the rest of the name), so I guessed that we probably needed the second stop for Terminal 2. We got back on the train and got off at the next stop.
We parted ways with well wishes, and I found an info desk upstairs where I learned I needed to go to Terminal 2A. Mind you...this airport is huge. Ridiculous even. And, particularly daunting when you don't speak the native language. My flight was at noon (would start boarding at 11:15 a.m.) and it was nearly 11 a.m. by this time. I started panicking when I saw that the walkways were jammed with people and started hauling ass with my suitcase to the correct terminal.
By the time I got to 2A, my legs were numb from my speed walking. (P.S. speed walking for me usually isn't a big deal because I'm normally incapable of walking slow...it's my curse of impatience...but this was the equivalent of a speed-walking marathon.) Found the Continental desk and sought out an employee to say that I had my boarding pass, but needed to check my bag and was worried about making the deadline (it was 11:15 a.m. at this time). He had no sympathy and sent me to the end of the line. I found a security person checking bags and told him I was on the noon Newark flight. He shepherded me to the front of a line and let me check my bag (whew!). But, I still had to go through customs and security.
I asked where I needed to go to get my receipts stamped for a VAT refund by customs for my London purchases(and if I still had time) and was told by the Continental agent to show the passport officer my receipts in the line in front of security. Waited my turn and then the passport agent told me the line for approval of VAT refunds was back by the Continental desk, and I would need to show the agents my items, which were in my suitcase. Screw that. At this point, I thought I was going to seriously embarrass myself by bawling my eyes out in the middle of the airport because I was so frustrated. Sucked it up and then moved through security.
Thankfully, I was able to board, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I loved my trip, but this morning's experience particularly made me ache for home. At least I got to sit in the roomy exit rows on both flights. And, the flight from Paris to Newark served two meals, and the vegetarian option was Indian (best choice for airline fare). I'm not a vegetarian, but it looked a lot better than the carnivore selections.
On my train ride to the airport (the good part), I thought about the places I'd like to visit the next time I come to France. I'd like to wander around vineyards sampling wine, see a performance at the Opera House, visit the Bastille and go back to Notre-Dame to see the crypt. As for repeat visits, I'd like to get back to Monet's house at Giverny because the gardens and water lilies pond are so beautiful (and they have yummy gelato on-site!), and Musee d'Orangerie, Musee d'Orsay and the Louvre (I was told it would take an entire month to visit every gallery inside...I can't express how expansive the museum is. You definitely can appreciate the length of it from any high point in Paris.)
I'd also like to have a better handle on French before my next visit, and perhaps take some official lessons. We'll see.
As for London, I'd like to have Phil accompany me and share meals with some incorporation of waffles (especially waffle dogs) every day. And, I think I can go to the Tower of London a million times and still think it's cool. Oh, and I'd like to ride on the London Eye and eat at Borough Market.
I wouldn't stay at the same hotel in Paris because it was south of the center of the city and a bit out of the way. I'd definitely return to the hotel I stayed in off of Bond Street in London, though. The area was lively so I never worried about being out late at night, the station connected to lines I used frequently and there was a shopping center that included Starbucks, Marks & Spencer (a mini grocery and prepared foods store) and a drug store, among others. And, I won't lie, it's a great area for shopping.
I'd like to thank everyone for your kind words of encouragement and interest in my adventure over the past nine days. Caroline, thanks for all of your words of wisdom and advice, translations and help with procuring directions. Jeremy, thanks for permitting me to crash your party. Thanks to all the Parisians who told me to go gauche (left) or droit (right) when I asked. And, Phil, thanks for supporting me when I said I wanted to take some extra days holiday and go to London.
It's been a blast!