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Report 298: Road to Marrakech

By StCirq from France/USA, Fall 2001

Trip Description: A short trip to France and on to Morocco for cooking classes, shopping and fun.

Destinations: Countries - France, Other Countries; Regions/Cities - Dordogne

Categories: Family/Friends; Hotels/B&Bs; Cooking Classes; Foodie Trip; Shopping; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 11: 11/12/01 An Inauspicious Beginning

A plane crashes in Queens this morning. I try to dismiss thoughts of it while I finish packing for today's trip. Fortunately, it's not a terribly hectic day at the office, and I'm ready to go when my father arrives at 2:30 pm to pick me up. We swing by school and pick up Taylor. I've said my morning good-byes already to Mitch and Madeleine.

Airport security is palpably stringent. My pockets are emptied, my laptop examined with care. Random searches of bags are being carried out, though not on mine. The people mover that takes me out to the satellite terminal nearly crashes into the one in front of it, then makes a terribly jerky "landing." People are noticeably wary of every even slightly odd occurrence.

At the United counter, an Algerian man is engaged in a lengthy, imploring conversation with the United rep. He's holding a ticket to Paris and then another, six days later, to Algiers, but he has no visa allowing him to stay in France in the interim. He claims a family emergency, a desperately sick child, has caused him to change his travel plans and that he has no intention of staying in France but rather plans to fly right out of CDG to Algiers tomorrow morning. But the United rep is firm - he will not allow him to board the plane until he gets confirmation from the Algerian embassy that the man has the proper documentation or that he has a ticket to fly to Algiers directly from the airport tomorrow.

The man pleads, grovels, but the United rep won't hear it. This goes on for 45 minutes; the United rep lets him call his wife in Algiers, but he can't get through, which makes the United rep even more skeptical about the man's story. They are still arguing when I board, the United rep offering to sell him, for $1600, a new ticket to Paris and on to Algiers.

The plane is only half full. A woman in front of me turns and asks if I have heard the exchange at the United counter. I say yes, and add that it was a bit disquieting. She says "Want to know what's even more disquieting? The guy just boarded!" I don't see him in the mush of people milling around storing their carry-ons, but 10 minutes later two burly security agents carrying enormous walkie talkies come down the aisle and escort the same fellow off the plane. We're nearing take-off time but then there's an announcement that bags have to be removed from the hold and it will take a half-hour at least. Then another team of security agents, and someone else is removed from the plane, and another announcement is made about yet more bags being removed from the hold.

An hour passes. Another announcement - there is a problem with the plane's brakes, and a mechanic is being summoned. Another half-hour goes by. One more announcement - the mechanic brought in to deal with the brakes has discovered an engine problem. By now I am thinking my husband's last words ("You're SURE you want to take this trip?") are becoming prophetic. Takeoff just about shatters what nerves are left of the passengers. We get up in the air, and the plane begins to shake violently. Overhead compartments open and clothes and bags fall out. People scream and clutch each other. In half a minute, it stops, and the pilot (sadistic little bugger that he must be) comes on and says "Sorry about that, ladies and gentlemen. I forgot to mention that the brake work we had done required us to keep the landing gear down two minutes longer than usual, and that's what caused the 'shuddering.'"

Dinner, by the way, was served with a plastic knife, but metal fork and spoon. I guess no one considers puncture wounds to be a problem. It is also the only plane I've ever been on where people kept going "SHHHHH!!!!" if anyone made any noise after they turned the lights off.

In Paris the fog is so thick you can't see the runway until you're on it. My suitcase is THE last one to flop onto the carousel. I race to the taxi stand and am in a cab by 9:00 am. Out onto the périphérique to find not the "fluide" signs but rather cautions that it's 43 minutes to this porte and 38 minutes to that one. My taxi driver is a jovial African who does his best to take detours off the périphérique, but inevitably we get back on and there's yet another sign indicating another delay. He drops me at the Gare d'Austerlitz at 10:05. I run to the window, buy my ticket, and am "composting" it at the little orange machine when I see my train pull out of the station.

Back to the ticket counter. I can wait for a 2 pm train or take a 12:15 one from the Gare Montparnasse. I need to keep moving, so I opt for the latter option, and am soon in another taxi with a driver who appears to be very agitated about some political issue, but who's got rocks in his mouth so that everything sounds like "Eh bof! Mckn foula craj, znf ta, non?" I just nod and say "mais oui, bien sûr, d'accord" until we get to the station.

Meanwhile, my glasses have broken. I've lost the little screw that holds one of the lenses in, and every time I go to a counter (for a ticket or a coffee or a whatever), the lens falls out and I have to do contortions with my bags and bend over and scoop it up. I find a pharmacie at the train station and buy some surgical tape and manage to bind the pieces together, albeit with a huge beige blob over my left eyebrow.

I buy a sandwich for the train and sit down to have a coffee. An elderly woman wanders over and sits down next to me. "Excusez-moi, madame," she says, "mais est-ce que je peux vous poser une question?" I say sure, and she continues: "Est-ce que vous aimez lire?" she asks? Yes, I tell her, I love to read. So out of a paper bag she whips a paperback, a treatise of some kind on the suffering of Afghan women. It's only 150 francs, she says. I say no thank you, I'm traveling and I already have several heavy books with me, and I have no room for more. She becomes very angry and slams the book down on the table several times in front of me, repeating "Il faut que je fasse ça! il faut que je fasse ça…!" then grabs the book up and storms off. What she HAD to do, I don't know - sell the book? It's been a very long night. I make a call to AutoEurope to tell them I'll be arriving around 5 pm, and then board the train for an uneventful ride to Bordeaux on the TGV.

At the Gare St-Jean, I have a 45-minute wait for the putt-putt train to Périgueux, but it stretches into an hour and 15-minute wait. It's freezing and windy outside, and the hopeful passengers are all crammed into one tiny bus shelter-type of building alongside the tracks. The train finally arrives, a tiny two-car affair, and we head off for Périgueux. Somewhere outside Libourne we inexplicably stop for 45 minutes. The conductor is a young woman who has no explanation and doesn't seem to understand why anyone wants one.

We get into Périgueux at 5:50. I huff and puff around the corner to the Europcar office. It's pouring rain. My car's not ready. I wait 20 minutes for it to be vacuumed and filled with gas, and finally, finally, I am on my way home in the Dordogne. Except that it's rush hour in Périgueux, and a blinding rain is falling. I realize I am going to need to stop for some provisions (at least a bottle of wine after all this!), so I head for the small Intermarché on the outskirts of town. I remember where it is, but I also follow the signs, and, in keeping with the rest of this trip thus far, I arrive to find it boarded up.

The alternative is to head into the zone commerciale a mile or two out of my way. I do that and pick up eggs and butter and ham and cheese and a bottle of Pécharmant. By 7 pm I'm actually on the road home. It's pitch black out, and still raining, and cars are going 120 kph, passing me in the ink-dark night on blind curves. Two local buses even pass me in what I consider to be a gutsy move even for a French person. I'm very tired and fairly stressed from the day's events, so I stick to about 70-80 kph on the tortuous roads and let the other drivers behave however they like. About 7:45 I pull into Le Bugue, and five minutes later am climbing the hill to St-Cirq. I can see my front door light like a tiny beacon in the dark cliffs above. Madame Lacoste's lights are off and shutters closed, so I don't bother her. I pull into the driveway, open the door, see a bright fire burning in the fireplace, and thank God I've made it.

I make the bed, take a bubble bath, munch on bread and ham and cheese, drink some Pécharmant, call home, call Patricia to regale her with stories of the day's travels, and by 10:30 am fast asleep in the Périgord.

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