Thursday, July 19, 2018

Orly ordeal

Our day had two goals. The first was to see some of Versailles. As you've seen, we did. The second goal was to get Sue to Charles de Gaulle airport. She had a flight out to California the next day, and had made reservations for the night at an airport hotel. That worked out, too, but it was much less fun.

The gardener's house in Marie Antoinette's hamlet at Versailles.

The problem was that the SNCF (the French national railway) was on strike. That meant that trains were not running normally. We decided to go to Versailles as part of driving Sue up to the Paris region because the regular direct trains from where we live to the airport were not running. Sue would have had to cross town to change trains in Paris with her luggage, not a good option. There was also a suburban train near Versailles that normally has a direct train through the city to the airport, but that wasn't running either, requiring another change in the city to get an airport train. And because the trains were on strike, driving around Paris from Versailles to the airport (and back for me) promised to be a traffic nightmare.

The mill, with it's non-working water wheel.

Ken had found another option on the internet. There is a bus that runs directly between Orly airport, south of Paris, to Charles de Gaulle airport, north of Paris. The bus company advertised that their drivers handle luggage for passengers, so Sue would not have to schlep her bags onto a bus. Orly airport is about a half-hour drive from Versailles in normal traffic. My plan was to leave Versailles before rush hour, get Sue's ticket and see her off on the bus, then get out of the Paris region as quickly as I could. The best laid plans...

What I didn't know was that Orly is in the middle of a giant renovation. They're building two new train lines into the airport to connect it directly to central Paris. The main parking garage in front of the terminal was closed. Car traffic through the airport crawled. I asked a guy that was helping direct traffic what to do. He said to just park in the passenger drop-off area and leave the car briefly. It took a good fifteen minutes to crawl about a hundred yards to the drop-off area. I found a spot for the car and we went into the terminal. First we had to go downstairs to the arrivals level, where the bus stops are. Once we found the elevators (remember, we had luggage), they were out of order. An uniformed airport employee standing (and smiling) in front of the bank of three non-working elevators politely directed us to a second bank of elevators at the other end of the terminal. Once we found them, they too were out of order. All three of them. A clone of the first airport employee was standing in front of them as well. Smiling.

So, we found a stair and, with a rush of adrenaline, I carried Sue's big bag down the stairs. I'm glad I didn't have to carry it up. We made our way toward where the bus stop was and along the way Sue spied the ticket machine. She bought her ticket without any problem and we went outside to the stop which was pretty much where it was supposed to be. According to the sign, the next bus to CDG airport would come by about a half-hour later. I got nervous about the car being parked in the passenger drop-off for so long, so I decided to move it while Sue waited for the bus. I told her: if I'm delayed, and the bus comes while I'm gone, get on it! We said our good-byes, but I assured her I'd be back, if only to make sure she wasn't still waiting or stranded.

Well, getting around the airport took forever. Every parking area I found was either full or closed. I pulled into one open parking garage only to see, once I was at the entrance barrier, that it was for monthly subscribers only and, since I had no ticket, I had to back the car out. What fun! Traffic moved at a snail's pace. The time for Sue's bus to leave came and went (I actually saw the buses go by me on their way to terminal in the restricted bus-only lanes). When I made it back to the original passenger drop-off area, I parked the car again and went into the terminal, back to the stairs to change levels (no elevators, remember?) and hurried to the bus stop. No Sue. I assumed the bus came and she got on it as planned. The only thing to do now was to go home. I got out of the airport and on my way south on the autoroute. Traffic was heavy, but not too bad, and about two and a half hours later I was home.

I decided to call Sue at her hotel to make sure she had made it. The hotel phone went unanswered for about a half-hour. I'd get voice mail, then after a minute or two of waiting, the line disconnected itself. Finally, I got a person on the line who told me that there was no Ms. N. at the hotel, and there was no reservation under her name. WTF? I verified my information and called back. When I finally got through again, the same woman scolded me, saying that she had already told me there was no Ms. N. at the hotel nor was there any reservation. I insisted that there was a reservation. She asked for the reservation number. I fumbled around but couldn't find it, so I hung up. Then, of course, I immediately found the reservation number. I called back once again and read the number to the lady at the desk and, presto! I heard Sue's voice say, "Hello?"

She told me the bus arrived on time, the driver helped her with her bag, and they drove up to CDG without any hassles. She checked into the hotel and was settled in. Boy, was I relieved! All's well that ends well, eh?


  1. And you were not at all stressed by the experience. While my sympathy goes to the workers who were on strike, I have a little knowledge of what is going on, it really is a pain when you are on the receiving end.

  2. elevators in airports around paris are always out....the ones in metro stations also with a stroller

  3. We flew out of Orly a few years ago. It is so small and odd inside going to the gates. I love to read travel tales that end well- it's funny how the hotel clerk made you work hard to connect with Sue. I think your plan was a good one, you had no idea Orly would be so hectic.

  4. All these things have happened to me, but not on the same day.

  5. chm, that's for sure!

    andrew, mostly I was worried that my fried would be on her own, stranded, or lost. Fortunately, she's an experienced and savvy traveler. Still, I worried. ;) And I don't blame the strikers, that's part of life here in France.

    melinda, it's always a challenge!

    evelyn, she sounded like she was a tad over-worked!

    chris, oh yes. I did. :)

  6. andrew, um, that should read "friend." :)

  7. What a mess! Except for those photos. I might enjoy that even more than Versailles. We felt like we spent more time taxiing from JFK to our hotel in Downtown Brooklyn than we did flying from Málaga to JFK!


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