Saturday, July 14, 2012

Escape from Charles de Gaulle

Our plan for our fist day in France was to do the following:
  • Get some spending money
  • Get a SIM for the unlocked mobile phone we'd brought
  • Pick up our rental car
  • Drive to Tours where we'd be spending the night, with a stop on the way in Chartres to see the cathedral there
We were pretty excited to get off the plane after 6.5 hours, but we did see some interesting stuff on the way to the gate, including this retired Concorde:

The Concorde on its final landing...

We finally got to the gate and got off the plane.  We followed the signs (and the rest of the herd) through the airport. CDG is a pretty interesting place, in that it seems to be laid out as one main circular terminal building surrounded by a bunch of smaller terminal buildings connected to the main terminal via underground passages. You get from the terminal buildings on a kooky moving sidewalk that goes down then back up.  It's like riding a cross between an escalator and a regular flat moving sidewalk.

The moving sidewalk at CDG

After this we got to go through immigration. There were two lines: EU people and everyone else. Of course we got to stand in the "everyone else" line which was much larger, much slower and filled with mostly Americans.

The "Everyone Else" line

Here's what we looked like standing in the immigration line after all our travel:

Two everyone elses, one looking fresh, one looking a
bit worse for the wear

The immigration guy was my first opportunity to interact with an actual French person, so I was pretty excited. He called us over and I gave him a "bon jour" as I handed him my passport. So far, so good. He took a brief look at my passport, stamped it and handed it back. I thanked him with a "merci", so I was two for two. Then we put our passports away and I bid him farewell with a very pleased with myself "bon jour". This is like telling someone "goodbye" by saying "hello". Oh well, at least I was correct twice...

After immigration, you get to ride a more typical escalator, except for the fact that it is in a Habitrail plastic tube and there are about a dozen others crisscrossing the a large open area in the middle of the main terminal building.

I hear there's a hamster wheel somewhere too!

This took us to the arrivals hall where most people where collecting their luggage. We'd carried everything on, so we went straight past customs and out to the non-secure part of the airport. I must say the process was pretty quick and really easy.

After that, we needed to get some cash, get a prepaid SIM for the phone and get the rental car. As we were walking through the airport, we found the Avis counter and saw a sign that said we should proceed directly to the car park (since I am Avis Preferred). The excitement of finding the car rental place immediately pushed all our other to-dos to the back of the line; we had to get our rental car right then. Since the gentleman at the counter was busy, we decided to go to the garage and just try to find it. Surely there will be a sign, right? We followed the signs and found the elevator to the garage. Unfortunately, we had no idea which floor to go to, and nothing in the elevator seemed to give any indication. I'm sure it was there, but with our limited French we could not make it out. After choosing a couple floors at random, we decided we'd better go back to the Avis counter and ask the man where to go.

We got back to the counter and found the right floor of the garage with the Avis person's help.

The friendly Avis person who (spoke English and)
helped us out

We finally found the Preferred counter and a very nice lady helped us get our rental car (a manual transmission Opel Corsa). Here it is:

Our Opel Corsa parked in Chartres

At this point, we really had no choice but to take our car and leave. This meant that we could not get any cash or the SIM. We followed the signs out of the airport which seemed to entail going in circles about 6 or 7 times. Eventually, we found the exit toward Paris and were on the road. 

We had successfully escaped from CDG (which was actually not that bad), but had no cash and no phone. Oh well, that's no big deal, right?...

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