Winning the “Husband Points” Lottery.

Three years ago, we had made plans to go vacation with out friend in France. His house is beautiful and the country side is rugged and inviting. The time we were planning to go was what they call the “shoulder season”, meaning that it was leading up to, but not quite yet, nice out. It’s a good way of avoiding tourists and crowds, although where our friend lived, that was hardly a factor. His house is located on a terraced hilltop out side of an obscure and minimal village in a little traveled province of southern France. Hardly on the tour maps. The weather would be chilly and rainy but we knew how to dress for that. On the positive side, that would mean lots of fires in the mammoth fireplace. I hade visions of me sitting, curled up on the couch or out in the courtyard, wrapped in blankets and writing for days at a time, interrupted only by wonderful food, wine and conversation. It sounded like heaven.

This was to be no ordinary trip for us either. This was our “Last Hurrah” trip. At the time of the trip Action Girl would be about four months pregnant. We both knew that long distance journeys would be out of the equation for the foreseeable future. We both wanted to see our friend again but to be honest, it was I, who was looking forward to this the most. Left to her own devices, she would have fancied something with more palm trees. Still, it was looking like it would be a fun time.

The first problem started in a Paris Suburb. In 2005, Two youths, fleeing from Police ran into a power sub station, over the protective fences and were electrocuted. The Minister of Saying Things On TV at the time was then Mr., (now President) Sarkozy. He managed to fan the flames of racial discord enough to really get the riots going full tilt.

We watched the news and the pictures at home of burning cars and screaming protesters. “No big deal”, we thought. “This is France we’re talking about here. Protesting is a national sport over there. I’m pretty sure that their version of the Boy Scouts offer a merit badge in protesting. It’s a way of life for them. It’ll blow over. Besides, we’re not going any where near Paris. We’re flying into Marseilles.”

Two weeks later, the rioting had spread to Marseilles. Great. After each new news installment of what was on fire in France now, friends kept asking us the leading question, “You’re not going to go, right?” No, we were still planning to go. The only problem that seemed to be looming was that I was still waiting for my new passport to arrive. As usual, I had waited too long. My old passport had expired and only through the less than subtle prodding from Action Girl, did I get it in, supposedly, on time. It was getting down to the wire.

About two weeks to go and the passport arrived. I popped it into the luggage and foolishly thought that we were good to go. The rioters even seemed to be burning fewer cars and shooting at fewer police. What timing! Four days to go and then… oh dear. While doing the final packing, Action Girl happened to look at her passport.

Expired.

Not to worry. It would be expensive, but the government does offer an expediting service. All you need to do is send in your old passport, new pictures of your self and a bank check big enough to make a mortgage payment. The new passport will then arrive in one day from the time they receive it. So, we did all this and waited. And WAITED. Two days until we leave and still no passport. Action Girl calls the processing center and inquires what’s going on. They haven’t seen her passport. WHAT!?

Through a set of unfortunate events and misleading instructions, Action Girl had mailed her information and old papers to the wrong place. There was no new passport coming. Not in time anyway.

What I got that afternoon was a phone call from my cursing/semi-hysterical wife, telling me that the trip’s ruined and that she was going to call work up and try to get her vacation time back. After talking her down from the edge, I told her to give me the afternoon to work this out. I got off the phone and put my brain into overdrive. Mind you, “overdrive” doesn’t get used much. It smokes a bit and makes a grinding sound.

Where could we go? Florida and much of the southern east coast had just been flattened by a series of hurricanes. So had most of the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands. I didn’t know much of anything about vacationing in California, Washington or Oregon. We needed to find a place to go that didn’t involve passports but would be guaranteed to make my dear wife happy about this vacation on the fly. I had it! I called the airline and asked them, “What if we went west instead of east?” A couple hundred dollars paid to them for changing my mind, a quick call to my Mother to enlist her help in finding lodging and we were all set. I called Action Girl at home.

“Empty out the suitcases and start repacking for warm weather.”
“What? Why? Where are we going?”
“Don’t forget your swim suit.”
“WHERE are we going!?”
This was tough. I badly wanted to make this a surprise, but I supposed that she had lived through enough stress for today. I also guessed that she would have strangled me if I withheld this information until we reached check-in at the airport.
“Maui”

*Gleeful squeals*

“Do we have tickets?”
“Taken care of.”
“A place to stay?”
“Mom found a place. It’s on the beach.”
*More squeals*

So, we called our friend in France, gave him our apologies and flew from Boston to Maui. I hadn’t been there in about ten years and for Action Girl, it was her first time. We had a blast. I didn’t get much writing done. Most of our time was spent sightseeing and snorkeling. We had a blast.

I’m still looking out for a chance to get back to France. The fires are out and the rioters are just the local taxi drivers or school teachers and no one seems to be shooting at the police at the moment. I’ll get there yet. The trouble now will be convincing Action Girl to fly east, rather than west.

Bon Aloha.

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A House Guest in France, Part II

The first thing that I saw that was out of the ordinary at the train station was all the kids selling little bunches of Lily of the valley. Action Girl absolutely adores Lilly of the valley and within seconds, had bought her self a little clutch to happily sniff at as we started our journey. We hopped onto our train and were off to Paris.

Here is where I’m going to ruin your image of a couple roughing it across Europe on nothing but frame packs and baguettes. As I have said before, that is the the way I have done my European travels on many occasions and I have fond memories of those times. The important words here are “have done”, as in, “Been there, _have_done_ that”. I’m older now and though I think I’m still capable of roughing it with the best of them if I must, when left the choice between a family run hotel with fluffy, clean beds and a nice restaurant in the lobby or the local sweat and beer filled youth hostel… well… it’s not a hard choice. This extends to train travel as well. One of the bummers of getting older is that after a certain age you can no longer purchase a student EuRail Pass. This is a double edged sword though. Since we were now forced to pony up some real big money for adult, non-student passes, they can come as first class tickets! As we looked at the faces pressed to the glass in the stuffed-to-the-gills second class cars, any feelings of nostalgia quickly melted away with our complimentary drinks and adjustable foot rests.

We zipped along the fairly short trip to Paris and checked out tickets for the next leg of the journey. It was going to be a long haul from Paris to Lyon and we had splurged. The next train for us was the TGV.

FIRST CLASS, TGV.

Ahhhh! It looked like we would make the train change with time to spare at the Paris station and all would be good. Wrong.

After we arrived in the City Of Light, we stated looking for our train. After some fruitless searching we decided with some trepidation to ask at a window. Our hesitancy stemmed from two things. First, neither of us spoke French, though Action Girl can understand a bit of it. Second, we were in Paris; home to “the rudest people on the planet”, as innumerable ill-informed people will tell you. We steeled our selves for incomprehension, shocking incredulity at not being French or a possible croissant attack from the man behind the glass. Did he speak English? Yes, he did! Can you tell us about our train? The man looked at out tickets and grimaced and then shot us a pained smile. “This train is not at this station, I’m afraid. You need to go to the South Paris train station. I recommend that you take the Metro just out side the door. If you hurry, you should make it, but it will be close.”

We thanked him for his kindness and bolted for the Metro. With bags bouncing along behind us we melted into the Parisian crowd on their various errands. We had a still felt hopeful and we were making good time. Then the train slowed… stopped, and started going BACKWARDS. The conductor came on the P.A. and spoke at some length and the message made a visibly bad impact on everyone in the car. Action Girl and I exchanged panicked looks as we tried to figure out what the heck was going on. After a few whispered guesses, the smartly dressed woman standing next to me tapped me on the shoulder with her manicured finger and said, “Ze conductor ‘as said zat due to street protests, ze next station ees closed. We are going beck to ze last station. Where are you trying to go?”

We thanked our Parisian savior and told her about the train station. As soon as the doors opened to the train car, she practically dragged us over to a Metro map and explained in minute detail the route we needed to take, adding that we should hurry. “Eet will take much longar Zan dis train would ‘ave” Again we thanked her and bolted down a tunnel, following her directions.

She was right. It did take much longer and our hearts were pounding from a combination of running with our oversized packs for long distances and the anticipation of missing our fully-paid for, 1st class TGV seats. We ran a maze of underground Metro corridors, half expecting to find a huge hunk of cheese at the end rather than a train station. By the time we emerged like moles into the filtered light of the South Paris train station we were exhausted, sweaty messes. I loped up to the nearest information booth and disturbed the middle aged woman inside, happily reading her magazine. I could tell by her reaction to me that I mist have looked like a zombie attack victim. All that was missing from her was an oh so French “Mon Deu!”

I gathered what little breath I could muster, asked about our train and showed her our tickets. As it turned out, the fact that she spoke no english didn’t hinder transmitting the message to us. We had missed our train and she felt badly for us. We were crest fallen, exhausted and trapped in Paris with street protest raging through the city center. Great. I reached out for my useless tickets and encountered a metronome like wagging finger. On an unseen computer she immediately began typing. After a minute, and the unmistakable grinding of a dot matrix printer, she handed us shiny new tickets and pointed to a TGV train sitting by its self some distance off. We thanked her in our pathetic French and headed toward it. Another smiling Parisian, just doing her job, but with a sympathetic smile and efficiency.

Mon Deu! It’s enough to make you sing The Marseillaise

Next installment tomorrow…

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