Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I'm Baa-aack

That's right folks. I'm back in the country. Which is a feat more amazing than it sounds (more on this later). The trip was good, but exhausting. I think next time I do a trip like this one, I will make it shorter. The six weeks were great, but when you are always moving around, trying to book plane or bus tickets to the next city, trying to set up accomodation, etc. it gets to you after awhile. Not to mention the fact that by the time we got to London in week six, K and I kind of had an attitude like, "Oh, another church/castle/monument. Big whoop." We couldn't work up a lot of enthusiasm.

I will, hopefully, over the next few weeks be telling our story and showing some pictures. The pictures will be somewhat hit and miss because K lost her camera. We were at the Royal Show (an agricultural show in England, probably the biggest one there is) and her camera disappeared. It is quite likely that K set it down somewhere to taste something or try something on and then just forgot it. Or it could have been stolen. Either way, it's gone. So anyway, that's too bad, but we also had my camera so it wasn't a complete tragedy.

Now I would like to share with you the frustrating journey I had trying to get back to Canada (Beware this is a long story and will probably make you not want to fly):

First of all, K and I did not fly back together. She went on a trip to Ethiopia with one of her ag classes, and then just met me in Paris on her way back. Because her flight was being paid for by the university, she had to come back the way she went, so she had to fly back to Paris, and then fly from there to Canada. I did not have that problem, so I flew out of Heathrow. Now, I'm sure my travel agent knew what she was doing, but when I got to Heathrow I couldn't help noticing that there was an Air Canada flight direct from Heathrow to Calgary flying the same morning. I was not booked on that flight. Instead, I was booked to go from London to LA and then from LA to Calgary. A much longer flight with the added annoyance of having to go through US customs. But as I said, I'm sure there's a very good reason I was not on that flight.

So, I got on the plane at Heathrow, which unfortunately took off almost an hour late. This was a little bit upsetting for me, because my connection in LA was fairly tight (only about 2.5 hours between flights, now reduced to 1.5 hours) and we had to collect our bags and go through US customs in LA. I was flying United Airlines, and I can't say for sure that it was the airline's fault, but I flew them on the way to Paris as well and every single one of my flights took off an hour late. On the way there I had lots of time to make my connection in Chicago, so I didn't really care, but that is still a bad record. You'd think ONE flight could take off on time.

Anyway, I got to LA, and made it through customs all right, and there was still an hour before my plane was to take off. But I still had to re-check my baggage. It was tagged all the way through to Calgary, so I just had to place it on the baggage re-check conveyor belt. Except that no one was there and the belt was not running, and everyone's baggage was just sitting around, and I thought "Are my bags going to make it to the plane in time?" I was in terminal 6, and my plane took off from terminal 2. I considered hauling my bags to the correct terminal and checking them in there anyway, but just then an airport employee came up to me and said, "If you're making a connection just leave your bags there. They will transfer them to your plane." Okay lady, you obviously know what you're talking about, you work here, and the inner workings of airports are mysterious to me.

So I leave my bags, walk to terminal two, and get to my gate with time to spare. Yay! So we all get on the plane, the plane takes off and I am happy. Last flight. Then, about twenty minutes into the flight, the flight attendent announces that there is something wrong with the plane and we are going to turn around and go back to LA. NNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

I have been to LAX many times, and it is like an old friend, but I was nonetheless extremely unhappy to hear that I would be seeing it again so soon. And before y'all freak out, the flight attendant added that we were going back because the windscreen had cracked, and while it did not pose an immediate safety problem, we couldn't fly all the way to Calgary with it like that. So back we went. Our flight was cancelled, and there were no more flights to Calgary that night. So they said that they would put us up in the Holiday Inn for the night. I got re-booked on a flight that left at 7:20 the next morning. So inconvenient, but not horrible. And, by the way, you can collect your baggage at Carrousel 2.

My bags were not there. I went back upstairs to the ticket counter. They said to go back downstairs to the baggage office. I went there. She asked if I'd been upstairs to the ticket counter (yes and they told me to come down here you twit!) No one seemed overly sympathetic or very eager to help. She said she'd check to see if they had my bags. They did not. She said that United had obviously not transferred them to this terminal yet. They were still somewhere in terminal 6. At this point I cursed the airport employee who had told me to leave my bags there. I KNEW I should've taken them with me. So they never made it onto my plane, indeed never even made it to the correct terminal, and if I had made it to Calgary, it would have been sans baggage. Well, if they were still in terminal 6, could she contact United there and see if they had them. "No, they won't know where they are."

So my bags are somewhere in LA airport. I know because I saw them. But no one else knows where they are. They are in some sort of limbo, neither here nor there. As I have said, the inner workings of airports are mysterious to me. But after this, every time I get off a flight and my baggage has actually made it with me, I will consider it a miracle. So, the lady at the baggage office thought that they would probably turn up in time for my flight tomorrow, and they would read the tags and realize that flight was cancelled and send them on the first flight to Calgary, which would be my flight. But there was nothing else I could do. I just had to get on my flight and HOPE that my bags showed up. So off I went to my lovely room at the Holiday Inn, sans jammies and toothbrush.

This story does have a happy ending though. I arrived in Calgary at 11:15 am the next morning (on time even!) and yes, my bags did show up. I really didn't expect them to at that point, so it was a nice surprise. And they both had RUSH! tags attached to them. So I'm glad that someone actually made an effort to get my bags to me as quickly as possible. But needless to say, I'm a bit sick of flying right now. I think I'll stay on the ground for a while.

And now I will leave you with a few observations about the French:

1) French customs is a joke. Maybe I am just used to the US (although the customs in the UK gave me quite a working over as well!) but I was shocked. We got to Paris, I handed the guy my passport and that little card they always make you fill out. And he stamped my passport and gave it back to me. He didn't say one word. He didn't even ask me how long I was staying. And K, who was coming from Ethiopia, got the same treatement. Stamp, boom, you're in. We don't care how long you're here or why you're here or anything. I think customs can be kind of over the top sometimes, but that was ridiculously lax.

2) The French like pink toilet paper. It was everywhere. And that's never made sense to me. It's toilet paper people. You wipe you ass and flush it down the toilet. Who cares what colour it is?

3) The stop signs in France say "Stop". Not "ArrĂȘt". "Stop". I thought this was really weird since here in Canada the French are so protective of their language, and they would throw a fit if one of their stop signs said "STOP" instead of "ArrĂȘt". But I guess in France they're a little bit more secure and so don't mind if their stop signs are in English.

4) The French are breeding an army that, in 18 years when they reach maturity, will take over the world. That's right people. We'll all be eating cheese and croissants and drinking wine. At least that is the conclusion K and I came to after being in Paris. There are pregnant women everywhere. We didn't keep count, but they were everywhere you looked. And when we were in London, which is a bigger city, we didn't see any. So it's just the French. Any other theories on why this might be?

Anyway, I'm glad to be back. I think I just go away so I can come back and appreciate Canada more than ever.