Extract from ‘The French Way Trekking the 40-day El Camino de Santiago‘ by Lorraine Thomson
THE UNFOLDING NIGHTMARE
I arrived in Paris, after a long-haul flight from Auckland and a change of plane and airline in San Francisco. After a one-hour queue to pass through Passport Control, amidst hundreds of hot, cross passengers zigzagging in slow moving rows – I was up against a disaster that was set to destroy my trip of a lifetime.
My carefully packed suitcase was not on the conveyor belt. A few other New Zealanders were also caught out. One couple from Tauranga received one of their suitcases, but not their second suitcase. The suitcases were lost on the San Francisco to Paris leg, as we had all personally retrieved and delivered the correctly labelled suitcases in San Francisco, to the conveyor belt for the onward flight.
Next involved joining another queue – this time of other disgruntled passengers at the Lost Baggage counter. After some time we were directed to a machine – a bit like a check in machine – to fill out extensive details. The airline [Air France] said by way of a machine, they would ring if they found the suitcase. I was not sure how that was going to work as my phone batteries were by this stage flat and my recharge cords for my phone, camera and computer – were in my lost suitcase!
Although this was the beginning of a nightmare for my much-planned trip, it was also the beginning of one of many episodes of kind-hearted generosity of total strangers. The lovely couple from Tauranga lent me their mobile phone charging unit and they also told me about and led me to an economical way of getting into the centre of Paris – a bus to the Opera area and very close to where I had a hotel booked. So I charged my phone on the bus [which they were also on] and when I got off, with no suitcase, it was just a five minute walk to where I was staying – Hotel Therese. My room was very small, but the hotel was very central for walking to the much-famed Lafayette department store, other boutique stores and corner cafes.
First stop was the nearby Café Palais Royal with its red canopy extending out over the footpath and I chose to sit at one of the outdoor tables with white tablecloths and on one of the signature wicker chairs. As I can only eat gluten-free [being a celiac] I knew it might be a mission to find the right food and so I ended up ordering a vegetarian salad and bottle of Vitel still water, which I knew would pose no problems. Sitting outside the café and people watching averted my sad state of affairs.
As the new day dawned, my travel dramas continued. There was no news on my missing suitcase, which I had hoped would have turned up at my hotel. It was now time to start buying essential items like toiletries, underwear and another suitcase. This included a visit to the Apple Store which fortunately was close-by. On arrival I almost sensed other people were like me and had been caught without charging cords. There was a long line of people – about 50 in the queue – waiting for the store to open at 9.30am. The store didn’t have all the cords I needed for my camera charging and / or cords for downloading photos – but I still managed to spend quite a few euros. Back at the hotel I found the store assistant hadn’t sold me one of the plug-in parts for the phone!
This is where kindness from a stranger came in again. The lovely staff at the hotel reception came to my aid – not only charging my phone, but also giving me the crucial adaptor part you plug into the wall in France.
On the way to Orly Airport in a taxi, I suddenly remembered the phone charging at the hotel reception – so one-third of the way into the journey I asked the obliging taxi driver to turn back to the hotel. After picking up the phone, the driver sped off at speed, weaving in and out of the traffic – more than making up the lost time.
As it happened, a one-and-a-half hour delay for the domestic flight to Biarritz, meant I had more time than I was planning. Air France – that’s two unsettling disappointments in two days! I was just lucky the pre-booked driver and shuttle at the other end waited the extra hour.
At Orly Airport, meantime, there was another incident. The security guy was not happy with the newly bought contents of my carry-on bag. I had a 150ml shampoo tube and another 150ml tube of conditioner – that were confiscated. I learnt, even on domestic flights, you are only allowed 100ml containers in your carry-on bags. The security guy was not receptive either, to my suggestions I could squeeze out some of the liquid!
The new Paris-bought suitcase went as checked-in luggage and I was left wondering if this too would go missing…
Lorraine Thomson is a former magazine publisher and editor who lives in Auckland. Currently studying for her MBA, Lorraine is an avid traveller and member of Global Women (New Zealand’s most influential women leaders).
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