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Old 06-10-2002, 01:49 PM   #1
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Abandon all hope, ye who fly here...

Austin to Strasbourg via London/Paris, 8/9-Jun-2002

I was up earlier than I'd have liked, having many errands
to run prior to my 15:55 departure from AUS. I ran the cat
to the vet, scrubbed down the apartment, packed for my two
week trip, and tossed out anything that might spoil while
I was gone. Planning on a two-week trip, I wanted to get
a ride to the airport rather than incur the few hundred
dollars in parking fees I'd otherwise pay. Luckily,
dbaker was available (read: still asleep when I called
and too groggy to come up with an excuse when I asked)
although we had to take my car since his lacks any trunk.

I arrive comfortably early (insanely early if you ask
dbaker, I'm sure) which was good because the saturday
afternoon airport activity was the usual leisure travel
mess that weekends in AUS entail. Unlike the weekday
business travel, nobody on saturdays knows where they
are or where to go next. I stood for quite a long while
in the elite/first class check in line while a group of
students ahead of me debated the feasibility of carrying
three cellos and two guitars onto the 737 to houston.
While I stood, at least 15 pax were checked in from the
non-elite line which was a pretty eggregious failure of
the CO staff. All told, though, I managed to get my
boarding pass and still had enough time for a Shiner at
the AUS p-club.

The flight to IAH boarded 10 minutes late, left the gate
10 minutes late, and still arrived at IAH on time. Such
padding on those segment times. I sat next to a very
delightful HP employee and we talked AUS and airlines for
the whole flight. She was a recent hire (since 9/11!)
and was quite enjoying her job.

I navigated IAH, bought a book in case the atlantic leg
was tedious, and tried to find a seat in the completely
packed d-terminal p-club. Things thinned out a fair bit
when CO10 to CDG started boarding. It was weird not
being on that flight, it's my usual itenerary when I'm
off in the d-terminal. Sadly, BusinessFirst was packed
solid (as was economy -- the flight was overbooked) so
I rode out the flight way back in 40F in the rumbly
behind-the-engines territory of the 777-200. Aside from
a brief scare of being seated directly in front of two
screaming babies (they got moved up a half-dozen rows to
be closer to mommy, thank god) there wasn't much
noteworthy about the flight. To my right was a pair of
newlyweds whose excitement was infectious and I shared
my row with a very congenial british couple.

Food was completely forgettable, some chicken and gravy
thing in peas and carrots. I watched a few movies,
listened to mp3s and found myself unable to rest or sleep
for anything more than a few minutes at a time. With
such a gruelling day of travel still ahead, the sleep
would have been a nice buffer between me and grumpiness.

And it turns out that I really should have gotten that
sleep. The travel turned to hell upon landing at Gatwick.
I deplaned (from way back in row 40) and navigated the twisty
path to the customs area. There must have been several flights
that all arrived at that time because there were hundreds of
people queuing up to pass through the three customs desks.
I was reminded of Paris and the saying "Lines at Paris don't get
longer, they just get wider" because the pile was quite disorganized.
It took a solid hour to finally gain admittance to the baggage claim
area where I discovered to my dismay that my bag hadn't joined me
for the journey. It was, according to the cheerful CO rep, still
sitting in Houston along with several others from my flight.

CO immediatly gave me a slip which I can redeem with receipts for
up to $50 in spending on toiletries and clothing. Clearly, though
the logistics will be difficult with regard to my bad. My stay in
the UK would be over in five hours as I left for Strasbourg.
We left it with the bag not arriving until Monday afternoon and then
somehow being forwarded on to me in Paris. We'll see, I guess.

Too demoralized to take any pictures and too exhausted to do much
of anything else, I made my way out to figure out the best way to
get crosstown to Heathrow. This turned out to be a 17 pound bus
ride which took about 45 minutes. I grabbed 200 pounds from an
ATM to cover the trip and my anticipated spending next week when
I make it back to the UK.

How is it that in my two weeks in europe I have managed to book myself
time in the two countries in the region which haven't migrated to the
Euro. I've got a wallet full of Euros, UK Pound notes, and Swiss Francs.
I'd better not go out drinking, my wallet is a confusing blur of brightly
coloured cash and there's no way I'd be able to wrap my brain around it
after tossing back a few Guinnii.

I arrived at Heathrow in short order, early enough to actually catch
an earlier flight to paris and then strasbourg. I only had a 30 minute
wait in Heathrow, followed by a quick jaunt over the channel and into
CDG. CDG perked me up a bit, we deplaned in the brand-new F hall.
Quite nice. I also got to enter france officially, something I'd
never gotten to do at CDG before having always been bouncing right
back out to a non-france destination. This afforded me access to the
mystical Hall D reserved for intra-france flights. (It's exactly like
Halls A, B, and C, just with more people speaking french). I laboured
through a monotonous two hour wait at my gate sitting in the hard plastic
blue seats which anyone who has ever passed through CDG surely still has
bruises from on their rear ends. I'm sure I attracted looks from the
others around me, I was suffering from that viscious cycle of "sit groggily,
nod off, jerk awake startled from head bobbing down" familiar to anyone
who has taken a high-school geometry class.

Finally I got to board the Airbus A320 and promptly slept through the
entire flight to strasbourg. While I'm sure we took off, flew, and
subsequently landed we could very well have taxied the whole way and
I wouldn't know about it. I was Dead To The World.

A 35 Euro taxi ride later and I was at my hotel. Well, I dunno, can I
really call it "my hotel"? After all, they claimed to have no record
of my reservation. It turns out that when expedia tried to make a booking,
the hotel replied "we can take one, but not two" and expedia managed to
translate that as "bookings are made". Bleh. Thankfully, they had room
that night and only monday night was the potential overbook.

I tracked down Jim who had arrived a few hours earlier, we strolled to a
pizzaria a few blocks away and I wolfed down a nice gorgonzola pizza and
a half bottle of chianti. Unable to stay awake any longer I headed back
to the hotel. With no power adapters (in my bag, of course) my laptop
battery died within a few minutes of connecting to the net. I suffered
a similar forced shutdown a few minutes later and drooled my way through
the night.

Up at 7a, quite well-adjusted to the european timezone, I showered and
tossed on my very grungy clothes from the evening before. By my count,
I smelled like sweat, airplane, passenger grime, the combined stench of
six airports, the smoking section of cdg, and gorgonzola cheese. I also
looked exactly like I was wearing clothes I'd been moving and napping in
for 22 hours. Add to that my mess hair (no gel, no brush) and unshaven
face and you'll begin to get the picture. I was a tragic mess.

Our meeting was scheduled for 9a, and naturally no stores opened until
(you guessed it!) 9a. Jim called and pushed us back until 10a and I
headed out (after coffee-ing up -- damn I love this thick, black eurocoffee)
to try to put together the makings of a real person.

Thanks to an apothecary next to the hotel I was able to quickly get some
toothpolish and a toothbrush. The "Gallerie Lafayette" department store
down the block supplied the rest (albeit at some ungodly prices).

I bought new underwear, new socks, new slacks, a shirt, a tie, jacket, and hair goo.
I came out having spent just shy of what the flight here cost. But I am
sporting the latest french fashion! (pictures available, of course)

I must add that strasbourg is a whole lot harder to negotiote as an english
speaker. I haven't found anyone yet who spoke more than just a few english
words. It was quite an adventure this morning learning how to say "suit"
and "necktie" and "alterations". Rather, more accurately, learning to
pantomime all of those concepts. I can also cheerfully say that any stereotypes of french rudeness are false or at least don't extend to strasbourg. I got nothing but cheerful and eager assistance from the sales staff I dealt with today. The woman at the dress clothing section of the department store even called to find a tailor open at that hour (most stores in strasbourg don't open until 13:00 on monday) and *walked me over there* since it was difficult to locate.

I managed to make it back to the room, groom myself to the point of presentability, and head out to the meeting within about an hour. Quite a success. I also now know how to say "suit" in french, which is a curious "costume".

As of this writing, 18:47 on Monday night, I still have no luggage.

Pics are at

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Old 06-10-2002, 02:55 PM   #2
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Great trip report! Sorry about bags on CO. I'm sure that you'll keep us posted about the status of that. Very strange that they misconnected since you had so much time in IAH. Just be glad that they didn't fly to CDG or something since they'd have to fly back via IAH and it'd be a day or two longer until you saw them again. What is CO's plan for getting them to you in Strasbourg?

I agree about Strasbourg, both in regard to language and local acceptance of Americans. My experience has been that once you get outside of Paris, the locals are much less overwhelmed with tourism. I think that it's an unusual French experience, too, since it's a border town. In Paris, I think that your experience ultimately depends on your attitude. If you're willing to make an attempt to speak to someone in French, they'll be a lot more accomodating. There are a lot more English speaking people there, though, so if they're feeling friendly enough, they may just respond in English. Perhaps somewhat a relief, but seems like a lot of wasted effort if you've concentrated and focused on what you want to say in French. They often want to practice their English as much as you want to practice what you've been working on.

Where are you staying in Strasbourg? I stayed at the Sofitel there for a weekend and it was in a great location.

(Re: Pictures)

I like the new clothes. The three-button blazer is quite stylin' Having seen the price of your airline ticket, I can rest assured that the blazer is of top quality. Send Continental the bill for the entire thing and include your $50 voucher. I would expect at least 50-75% compenstation.

I don't mind the new gates much. I just try and board first so that I don't walk in front of people that complain the entire way out about how long the gates are. I'm excited for the new terminal E!

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Old 06-12-2002, 05:58 PM   #3
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Just a brief update since I'm two guinnesses into the evening and unfocused. I received my luggage tuesday afternoon with few difficulties. It was required that I fax over to air france a customs release form which allowed my bag to officially enter france. CO managed to get my bag to strasbourg and it was delivered to my hotel within an hour or so of my faxing the release form. I was staying at the hotel Hannong on rue du 22 november which is right in the middle of strasbourg. It was quite comfortable but perhaps a bit more geared toward romantic or tourist stays and not so much for business travel.

Strasbourg was quite an experience, overall. I don't think I've ever been anyplace with such a small percentage of english-speakers in my life. I'd estimate that only one in twenty people spoke more than one or two words of english. It was quite an interesting experience to be able to chat in english with my cow-orker and know that nobody around us had any idea what we were saying. Strasbourg was much more challenging to navigate than other european cities I've visited. It was a great deal of fun!

Business went well and we caught the 17:20 train from Strasbourg to my beloved Checked in to the swissotel and got a topfloor suite style room (first time with my club swiss gold). Went to my favorite fondue place only to learn that fondue isn't offered in the summer months. Dinner was good nontheless and we followed up with some guinness at a nearby pub.

I'll be in Basel through Friday night and then off to London (via Strasbourg) for the remainder of the trip.
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Old 06-18-2002, 03:03 AM   #4
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We concluded our business in Basel and caught the train back to Strasbourg. The return trip went just fine, although the schedule wasn't very accomodating to our flight time and we had to leave Basel at around 13:00 in order to be back in Strasbourg in time to catch our flight. We slacked a bit in the Strasbourg airport and then boarded the completely packed AF 737 to Paris.

The short flight to Paris was quick, accelerated by the cheerful sisters next to me. They were on their way to Budapest and seemed quite excited to be travelling. I shared no common langage with the pair but their english and german was on par with my terrible french and we managed to "charades" our way through the flight and chat a bit.

The paris airport was as expected. Our departing flight was from the new Hall F 2 so I got to actually spend a bit of time there. It's quite nice, much much better than the older Halls A through D. Spacious, well-ventilated and with comfortable seating. Sadly, all the pics I took are trapped in my camera since I'd managed to leave dbaker's CF card reader in Basel. (eep!) I hope he doesn't read this until I've had a chance to replace it.

After an hour's wait or so we boarded the more typical airbus A320, also packed to the brim with pax, and endured the flight to London's Heathrow airport. Since I'd brilliantly checked my main luggage with all my books and magazines inside I passed the time by listening to mp3s and napping. Got a bit of a startle when I awoke from a nap early into the flight only to discover that the art-angst girl sitting in the middle seat between Jim and me was quietly sketching a picture of me sleeping in her little drawings pad. That was just a little bit weird, but right on par with other weird behavior on her part which included drawing a detailed picture of the seatback in front of her as well as pulling out a 1960's-era Super8 camera and shooting footage of the curtains between coach and business.

At last we arrived in London, stood for an hour or so to pass through customs, and then caught the London Express train to paddington station (cheap and fast, recommended...) From there we caught a cab to our hotel near the Gloucester (pronounced "glouster") road tube station.

I spent the weekend doing touristy stuff -- no work until Monday. Watched the England v Denmark world cup game in a pub off Baker street with a pile of rowdy and drunk english football fans. Went out clubbing saturday night. Did the tower of london tour (morbid!) and walked across London Bridge (twice!). There's a solid week of activity that I wasn't able to accomplish and I'm quite interested in returning as a tourist instead of on business.

Sunday night we hired a taxi to drive us out to Surrey for Monday and Tuesday's meetings which have occupied our time since. Tonight we head back to London for additional meetings on Wednesday and Thursday I fly back home.

dbaker travel services emailed me that I've been confirmed for a BusinessFirst upgrade for the return trip, which I'm quite looking forward to. With a 09:30 departure I likely will not be able to sleep on the flight so it'll be quite nice to be up front.

More as it happens, naturally... Cheers!
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Old 06-19-2002, 12:32 PM   #5
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We wrapped up our business in Surrey monday and tuesday. We ended up staying at a country inn right across the street from Hampton Court. Unfortunately there wasn't enough slack time to do that tour. I'd like to make it back out that way sometime while on vacation and not on business. I suspect that it would be great to do the Hampton Court tour and then the Tower of London tour given that most of the people who lived in Hampton Court eventually ended up in the Tower of London.

I'm also told that like a typically ignorant american I have completely mixed up my London landmarks and that I was walking the tower bridge. feh. Thanks, phule.

We took a cab back into London proper on tuesday evening and checked in to our hotel near Paddington station. The Best Western Paddington Court Hotel is an absolute ghetto. It's terrible. Avoid. But it's well-located for our needs, Jim will be able to catch the London express to Heathrow from paddington station for his early flight home on Thursday.
I'll have to take a shuttle for my flight leaving Gatwick.

Wednesday we took a train from Liverpool station out to Harlow for a meeting, but we ran past Harrod's first to do a bit of shopping. I looked around and gawked at the insane prices (125 quid for a leather belt! nuts!) and Jim bought a pair of shoes. Our meeting was short and we made it back to London by 16:30 or so.

Flight leaves early in the morning, so we're basically a dinner away from leaving. Weather has been phenominally sunny and hot, not just by English standards but in general. I hope nobody blames us Texans for bringing the heat wave with us.
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