On flying to and being in Paris.

Have I mentioned that I don’t much like flying?

I mean, it’s fun, it really is, except for takeoff and landing and turbulence and crying babies and feeling hot and crowded in your seat. Overnight flights are the worst. I can’t sleep sitting up. Except when I’m at home in my chair in the middle of the day and a catnap pounces on me. But those usually only last about ten or twenty minutes, and then I wake up refreshed and ready to continue my day. A catnap in the middle of the night on an airplane is very inconvenient. So I was a bit worried about my overnight flight to Paris. I figured I’d be doing great if I got three hours of sleep, but I expected much less than that.

I worried for nothing. I don’t think that I’ve ever had such a wonderful travel experience as I had on my way to Paris.

I had a window seat from Chicago to Montréal. The guy on the aisle was already seated when I got on the plane, and he seemed annoyed that I had to crawl over him. We had a short conversation about filling out the customs form we’d both been handed as we got on the plane, but although he was cordial enough, he was not “nice.” Which is why I was thrilled when an announcement asked if anyone would give up their seat for a later flight, and his hand shot up. He had the time to wait, he was well compensated, and I didn’t have to sit next to him for two hours. On a molecular level he just rubbed me the wrong way, and I suspect the feeling was mutual.

He got off the plane, and three young french-canadian men got on. The nicest-looking of the three sat next to me. And he was delightful! I knew the flight was going to be fun when, on the long taxi to the runway, he said in his sweet french accent, “It seems like we may actually be driving to Montreal.” I don’t like being “that person” who chit-chats on the plane the entire flight, but once we started talking we didn’t stop. We mostly talked about travel, and languages, and how fun it was to meet new people. He taught me some french and I taught him about fringe festivals. He was adorable.

Yan and I. (a piece of me, at least ... )

As delightful as our conversation was, I did not want to sit next to another chatter on the flight to Paris. I had only two things on my flying “to-do” list: eat, and then sleep. If I didn’t get enough sleep on the airplane, I wasn’t going to have a chance to sleep again until midnight the next day. When I’d checked in online, I had changed my seat from an aisle seat to a seat smack dab in the middle of the airplane. The agent at the airport was surprised that I had deliberately chosen the middle seat, but I told him I didn’t want anyone crawling over me while I was trying to sleep. Nor did I want people bumping my arm as they walked up the aisle. A window seat would have been my first choice, but the middle of the plane was just fine by me. Besides, it cut down on a lot of the forces of turning and turbulence, being right on line with the balance point of the airplane.

A side note about Canadian airports. It turns out that travelers who are only connecting in Canada still need to fill out that darn customs form. I had 50 minutes to get to my new gate, which was only about 1/4 mile from the gate I arrived at, and even with having to fill out the customs form while in line (because I didn’t do it on the plane like we were supposed to), I think I only spent about 20 minutes total between flights. I figured I’d have plenty of time to go to the bathroom before boarding my next flight. Wrong. When I got to the gate, the line was long and the announcement warned that it was the final boarding call. Note to self: allow plenty of time to connect in Canada. They seem very efficient about the whole getting-people-on-the-plane thing.

I boarded the plane, threw my backpack under the seat, and ran to the bathroom. Came back to my seat and decided that the backpack would be better stowed in the overhead compartment in order to give myself leg room to sleep, but figured once the seats to my right and left filled, I’d never be able to access the bag again until we landed. So I quickly pulled out the things I thought I’d need for the flight — neck pillow, eye pad, iPod, noise-reduction headphones, aspirin, vitamins, gum — stowed the backpack, and settled in and waited for my seatmates to board.

They never came. I had a whole row to myself! I looked around the plane and it was fairly full. Nobody else had an empty row like mine. I couldn’t believe my luck. As I was eating my hot, creamy chicken with rice pilaf and wine-marinated vegetable salad, watching my french film, in my row all by myself, I couldn’t stop pinching myself. When it came time to sleep, I stretched out in the row and was fairly comfortable. At least until my hip fell asleep, but then I just switched sides. It was fabulous.
I’m not sure how long I slept. If nothing else, I hovered in a state of deep thought for at least an hour, and I’m pretty sure I actually slept after that. The flight was only six and a half hours, so I’m sure I didn’t get more than three hours of rest, but considering that I was expecting less, I felt great. Woke up to the sun shining, had a nice cup of coffee and a muffin top, we landed, and I didn’t give much thought to the fact that it was actually only 3am My Body Time. Getting through customs was a breeze. Found my luggage. Grabbed a cup of coffee at the first cafe I came to, then decided to try to get on the internet so I sat down in another cafe with better seating and ordered another cup of coffee. The internet attempt took forever to connect, so I eventually gave up and took off to find the train into Paris.

I’d given myself 9 hours to get across Paris from Charles De Gaulle airport to Gare de l’Est. It took an hour. Stowed my luggage in a locker at l’Est and took off on foot around Paris. Found a place to eat, had a beer. Found a shop I’d gone to on my first trip to Paris, and went in there for old times’ sake and chatted up the shopkeeper. Found an internet place, spent 15 minutes simply updating my facebook status on a keyboard with keys in the wrong places. Gave up. Found another cafe with free wifi, and had a coke and another coffee and sat down to write. Which is where I am now.

I’m surprised that I don’t have more I want to do here in Paris. I ate already, so I don’t want to keep doing that. I don’t really have anything I want to buy, so shopping feels like a waste of time. I guess I’ve decided to just drink, since I’m so thirsty. It’s hot and humid here. I haven’t showered in 24 hours and I won’t get to shower for another 24. I’m going to feel disgusting by Prague.

Another two and a half hours and I’m on the train to Prague. I’m going to miss hearing all this French around me, though.

And where normally I sit around and edit my blog posts, this time I’m just putting it up there. My computer’s almost out of juice. Hope I can plug it into the train … I didn’t bring any paper to write my play on.

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