Leave for South Africa

December 19, 2005

We have our flight from Charles De Gaulle airport at 7:30 pm. We will have to take the RER from town. Christian said it was not a problem leaving our things with him, so we went to St. Eustache Church, which was interesting, but I did not take pictures of it. Ron did though.

It was raining and cold, the kind of cold that permeates your bones and then it is difficult to warm up again. From the church, we went to an underground mall and found the RER station closest to Christian’s flat. He had recommended we buy our tickets ahead of time to avoid any lines when we needed to leave. We followed this suggestion. The RER tickets were 10 Euros each and if you take the direct train, it is 45 minutes travel time.

We were inspected three times by ticket inspectors while in Paris. This seemed surprising since they have large gates you must go through to get to the actual transportation.

There were numerous times I held the thought of summer in South Africa to get me through the chill of Paris. Regardless how lovely Paris is, cold is cold and it is difficult to appreciate things when you are shivering all of the time and fearing getting sick before your trip actually starts for real.

I had called South African Airlines a few days before leaving Budapest to reconfirm our tickets and reservations. They agent who was a man, very pleasantly stated that it was never necessary to reconfirm paper tickets with them. Part of the trepidation was the fact that they were frequent flyer tickets through Delta Airlines and I did not want any last minute screw ups.

We arrived at the airport 3 hours prior to our flight and feeling noble about being the early birds until we found about 150 people in line ahead of us. I have to say that SAA is very efficient. We were checked in with boarding passes in hand within 30 minutes.

In De Gaulle, the only places you can smoke are outside in the elements or in the Hippo Bar and Restaurant in the basement. De Gaulle is going through major reconstruction, so many parts of it in the International terminal look vacated. We bellied up to the bar for a beer and a smoke. We had an 11 hour flight of being smoke free ahead of us. Since we were not eating, they would not seat us at a table.

Boarding started to the minute that was on our boarding pass and we took off the minute we were scheduled. The plane layout was 2-3-2. It was not one a Boeing, but I forgot to note what type it was. It was nearly full though. We had the two seats on the right side, window and aisle. The problem was that our overhead lights did not work in the entire section and neither did the headsets for the video monitors. An eleven hour flight without some distraction is a long flight. There were about 20 rows of seats that had this problem, but the crew tried rebooting the computer unsuccessfully and could only offer an apology.

When they offered drinks, they announced that we should ask for all that we wanted then as there would not be any further liquor service after dinner was served. Dinner was beef stroganoff and surprisingly delicious. The crew was efficient and fast, but not friendly. They were not unfriendly, but very businesslike. They did their job and then disappeared. They did not resurface at all until breakfast was served two hours before landing. The crew reminded me of the Stepford wives, very robotic and there seemed to be an endless supply of them. They did not even do a follow-up with water, which has always been our experience with long haul flights in the past. Ron asked for crème liquor that is supposed to be customary to South Africa, after dinner was over. He received it, but received a negative look also.

The air turbulence was the worst that I had ever experienced in all of my years of flying. It was comparable to a ride at an amusement park and for the first time ever, I was getting a bit white knuckled. The ups and downs and side to side motions lasted for over two hours without a break. It felt like the plane was having epileptic seizures. At other times in the flight, it was bad, but not as much as those two hours. Not being able to read or watch the movie made is worse; there were no distractions at all. I started coming to terms with dying on a plane, but on an intellectual level only. Just as I was really getting into it, we were ready to land. I had just hoped it was on the run-way and the correct one at that.