Note: this one is long. If you’re not up for a long one, I’ve added cute cat photos from Morocco. Enjoy.
Sitting in a pleasant little organic cafe at Charles de Gaulle airport, with a lovely mini bottle of quite decent white wine and a proper plastic wine glass (it even has a stem! Oh, the French can even do fast food with panache!). My thumb, however, is still dripping with blood from the little chunk of glass that came off my bottle of grapefruit juice when I twisted off the cap. We’ve been at this airport since 11 this morning, when we flew in from Casablanca. We will be here until nearly midnight. We should have left at 1:45. It’s 4:40 now. Hence the wine.
Why are we not on that flight? Well, let me tell you.
We missed it.
We sat at the wrong gate, waiting for the wrong flight. One was an Air France/China Eastern code share; ours was (we were later told, incorrectly) just Air France. Both went to Pudong, both left at the same time.
Why didn’t we notice we were at the wrong gate? I mean, my god- I’m a virgo! Virgos are ridiculous about triple checking such things! I did triple check. I just didn’t notice that I was triple checking the wrong flight.
Three sleepless nights will do that for a person.
Let me back track on the past few days, to let you know where my brain was at when it decided to leave me.
I’ll illustrate it with cute cat photos from Morocco, in case you don’t actually want to read all 1856 words.
The day we left Marrakech (4 nights ago?), I sprained my ankle coming down the stairs. One of those stupid times when you forget about the last step and everything twists and goes crunch and you think, faaaack, not again. A half dozen years ago in Istanbul, my right eye exploded and aside from being incredibly unfun and leaving me quite blind, I also lost my sense of depth perception. Not a good sense to lose in a country like Turkey, with so many uneven cobbles and missing steps. I sprained my ankle about three times that year. I have depth perception now (yay LASIK) but apparently lost the ability to ascertain the depth of ancient Moroccan stairs.
Thus, I spent three days in Essaouira hobbling around on a swollen, purple, painful foot. Essaouira is very unevenly cobbled so my dignity was shredded with each gimpy hobble, followed by a yelp and a whimper. The beautiful terrace room we had booked and paid for in advance suddenly seemed like, maybe, a not so great idea. It was, after all, on the 5th floor, up narrow, winding, tippy stairs.
At night, I lay in our really lovely bed in our beautiful room, with my unhappy foot propped up on a pillow, sleepless from both the pain as well as from the many musical interludes of Ramadan: at 11pm a wailing horn blared from speakers nearby, all wavery and shrill, lasting about an hour. Then at 4am, also lasting nearly an hour, an extended call to prayer blared. I gave up on the idea of sleep.
I like Essaouira. I really do. I want to go back. But not in Ramadan and not with a wrecked foot.
Essaouira was the last bit of our trip, the part that was for unwinding before heading back to work.
We needed to make our way back to Casablanca for our flight, which also proved to be a challenge. The lack of sleep and pain didn’t help, nor did the staff at the bus ticket office.
There was a queue, but we were second in line. Even so, we waited nearly an hour before the woman in front of us was done. By that point, I was nearly blacking out from standing on a sprained ankle for so long. As it turned out, their system was down and we could only make a reservation, not actually pay for anything or get tickets. We told the woman we wanted to go to Casablanca tomorrow morning (demain matin, to confirm bilingually) at 11:45. She confirmed in both languages that indeed, we were reserved for demain matin a 11:45. We just needed to come back by 6 that evening to pay. Merci! Au revoir! Shukran!
Except she hadn’t reserved us for demain. She had written us in, quite boldly, the day after tomorrow. We found that out when we went in to pay.
And the day after tomorrow was when we were flying out. From Casablanca.
And the bus we wanted on the day we needed was now completely full.
Actually, no- not sorry.
You see, she was no longer there but a man was, and when we found out our names were down for the 10th rather than the 9th, he just looked up at me, shrugged, and said, well, obviously you’re bad at communicating.
Now, my French isn’t perfect but once upon a time I was fluent and it still comes out quite clearly and easily, even if some of my old vocabulary and grammatical flexibility is gone. Apparently I sound exotic and adorable, like, say, Jane Birkin (minus Serge Gainesbourg moaning in the background). And my English is, I’ve been told, decent. And the woman had confirmed our reservation request in both languages.
The man continued, loudly, in French, stating that foreigners were always fucking up and blaming them (and cited several examples of foreign stupidity) and he couldn’t help it if I was stupid enough to reserve the wrong day.
I suggested, politely that maybe she had made a mistake.
He suggested, not so politely, that I could go shove it.
I suggested that maybe she was stupid and had made a mistake.
He suggested I get the fuck out of there.
So I did.
Poor Doug was left behind in the office, with the man shouting incomprehensible obscenities after me and a dozen Euro backpackers staring.
And we still didn’t have tickets.
So I stormed back in, as stormily as one can on a gimped foot (insert little whimpers upon each emphatic footfall), and demanded the inhumanly early 6am bus, which still had 2 seats left.
So this started my stretch of travel loathing.
Our last morning in Essaouira was spent dragging bags down 5 flights of narrow winding stairs at 5am, with no breakfast in sight and nothing open due to Ramadan. By the time we got to Casablanca at noon, we were parched and starving. Nothing was open, not even the hotel restaurant.
I like Ramadan, I really do. I think holy months are a great thing. Fasting is a great thing. But you know what? They’re great if you have a home and a family and meals to eventually come back to when the sun sets. They’re great when you don’t have to go anywhere or get anything done during the day. They’re great when you don’t have to get a million things done during the day when it’s 46 degrees in the shade outside.
At sunset, the hotel restaurant opened (the rest of our neighbourhood was shut tight for iftar) and served us quite possibly the most revolting meal of our lives. It possibly even beat out the bear paw I had back in June.
We retreated, defeated, to our room, and hoped there’d be no 11pm prayers so we could at least get a few hours of sleep before going out to the airport at 4am.
Yes, 4am. Our flight time had been changed from 7:30 to 6:30 am sometime in the middle of our trip.
6:30 is freaking ungodly.
There were no coffee places open at the airport at 4:30am. Nor at 5:30am. No breakfast. The lady at the info booth by the check in desk had assured us there were tons of them beyond the security check. She had also told us that you can’t change dirham after security, so we had to trust her that there would be food beyond that point because otherwise we would be holding on to worthless money.
Shortly before our flight to Paris, a little basement kiosk finally opened and made weak coffee and served stale baguettes with wilted cheese. We spent some dirhams there, sadly.
The duty free was also closed until just before our flight was due to leave. We discovered, however, that if you discretely catch the attention of the guys in there behind the curtain and mention that you had X number of unchangeable dirhams left, they would happily choose some duty free items at their version of the current Euro-dirham exchange rate and slip them to you (no need for receipt, no, and please don’t show your dirhams in case someone sees you). My 260 dirhams (26 euro) became 20 Euro’s worth of enormous Lindt chocolate bars of their choice. They chose almond and cherry almond. I’ll never need to buy chocolate again.
The first flight was uneventful.
We got in to Charles de Gaulle on time and checked the boards for our flight to Shanghai. It was delayed from 13:45 to 15:45.
Or so we thought.
You see, there were 2 flights to Shanghai leaving at the exact same time. One was AF/MU and the other was, apparently, just AF. We never saw that one on the boards.
We waited at the wrong gate.
By the time we realized our mistake and ran from Gate 52 to Gate 30 (on a sprained ankle, yet!), the doors had been closed and there was no further boarding. We had missed it by just minutes.
The customer service lady sneered at me when i explained the situation and told me I was stupid (apparently a unanimous appraisal these days) and instructed us to go to the ticketing office but failed to tell us where the ticketing office was. After walking around for 20 minutes asking anyone in uniform and getting no answer, I went back and asked, defeated, where it was.
She pursed her lips, rolled her eyes and turned back to her computer, ignoring me quite thoroughly.
Her colleague gave me the instructions.
We had to exit the airport. We had to go through immigration and customs. We got stamped for entering France (which means, I think, I can’t re-enter a Schengen country for another 3 months) and went to the ticket office in the departures area.
The lovely ticket woman was, most coincidentally, Moroccan, and was quite tickled that we had just come in from Casablanca (though she didn’t care much for Casablanca). She also, of course, commented on my stupidity but in a much more polite manner. She also managed to get us onto a midnight flight back to Shanghai even though our tickets were non changeable.
She said, “I cannot get the authorization to change your tickets.”
My heart sunk to the floor with a very loud thunk.
“I will, however, give myself the authorization anyway.”
Heart rises. Still feeling appalling and achy and on the verge of tears but at least the heart had risen.
“But where is your baggage sticker so we can re-route your baggage?”
We didn’t get one? The lady in Casablanca just slammed tags on the bags and nothing more.
“But why didn’t you ask for them? Are you—”
Oh, my stupidity.
Oh, my exhaustion.
But it’s all good now, as good as it can be when you’re stuck in the airport for an extra 12 hours, with a sprained ankle that you keep running around on (Gate 30 is FAR from Gate 52), with a 30 minute official visit to France stamped into your passport, with almost no sleep and a massive new stupidity complex.
Did I mention I have wine?
I do wish I hadn’t packed away the bandaids though. Stupid bleedy thumb.
Shanghai is humid. Holy crap. And with skies that only a week of typhoons can create- blue with whispy clouds. We got in at around 5pm, which was 11am in Paris. We had left at midnight, on time.
I had some serious karmic issues carrying over onto the plane ride: mine was the only seat-back entertainment console that didn’t work (even after the crew rebooted it for me twice). So no Ewan McGregor on demand pour moi. My inflatable neck pillow sprang a leak, a tiny squeaky one that emitted a high pitched eeeeeeeeee hiss when I tried to lie back an get some non-whiplashy rest. My sprained ankle– the one I ran on quite a bit all over the airport– ballooned up to the point where I thought even my toes would burst open like over ripe grapes. I was too tired to drink the champagne.
I was too tired to drink the champagne.
What is this world coming to.