Europe trip epilogue

Time to go home.

With the new job this year, I’ve been through quite a few airports, and some (looking at you, Des Moines) have obviously been a bit more, shall we say, cozy than others.

I really didn’t expect that at Orly, but that’s what we got. Once you pass through security, all the gates are right there together. You find a seat, you better hold on to it.

Speaking of holding on to seats … I was one of the lucky masses pulled aside to have our bags and bodies checked before we could board our planes.

It’s not weird in the slightest that all of us pulled aside were English speakers. Nope, not a bit.

So I wait my turn—and wait and wait, because they’ve got a dozen of us pulled out of line at a time and only three people to check us out, gotta love French efficiency—and finally it’s my chance to get groped.

They search everything. I had already turned off my phone and put it in my backpack because it’s not like I was going to use it on the plane. Nope, I have to turn it on, then the dame checking my bag shoves the phone back in there, still on. She also takes everything else out, including an old book wrapped in cellophane that I had bought off the street. She had to unwrap that too just in case I planted a bomb inside.

Just glad I didn’t have anything too personal in the backpack. Know what I mean?

So she gets done tearing everything out and shoving it back in willy-nilly—if I pack better than you, you’ve got a serious problem—and the one guy on duty comes over to feel me up. I was wise enough to not say he should have at least bought me dinner first.

They finally get done with me and we head off to the bus to take us to our plane, which is about halfway back to Paris proper, I think. We’re among the last ones to board and of course, we’re three rows from the back of this monstrosity. But it’s OK, because the fine attendants on Air France are going to treat us well, right?

Eh, no. Figures we wouldn’t be treated rudely until we were headed home.

Signs, signs, where are the signs? Let’s jump ahead to New York, shall we?

Here’s the good thing: being Americans and all, our line to get through customs is significantly shorter than the line for non-Americans, so we breeze through, even though we apparently didn’t need to go into as much detail as we thought when writing down what we were bringing back with us. A cursory glance from the Customs guy and the form went into the trash.

OK then.

Next, we have to wait for our baggage so we can go around a corner and give it back. I know, makes as much sense to me as it does to you reading it. The big problem is that, once you get around that corner, there were no signs for Delta. Finally found the right line after getting pointed in one direction, then back, a couple times.

So that was fun. Almost as much fun as going through TSA again just to get to our next flight, then waiting for the flight crew to get out of the bar and show up.

Speaking of said flight crew … if we have to wait on you to show up, don’t give my wife grief when she asks for coffee and water. Lazy ass.

Whew. That felt good to get off my chest.

Random notes. So let’s empty out the notebook, so to speak:

• So way back when, I referenced watching “Captain America: Civil War” on the flight over. On the way back, I checked out “X-Men: Apocalypse” and (sigh) “Batman v Superman.”

Let’s start with that last one. BvS had its moments, but it really is a slog. I’m probably not the only person who’s come to this conclusion, but here it is: I think Zack Snyder actively hates Superman (he seems to hate joy and happiness as well, and apparently loathes logical storytelling, but that’s another rant). That’s the only possible explanation I can see for this and “Man of Steel.” Not sure why one would take on the job if one hates the subject of said job, but I guess the money’s good for ol’ Zack.

As for the X-Men, it’s interesting to watch this movie when the rest of the MCU looms over it. It’s not bad, per se, but “Apocalypse” is yet another example of the disaster porn that these superhero movies have become. Still, Michael Fassbender does a hell of a job as Magneto, especially when his wife and daughter are accidentally killed, ruining his dreams of a simple life in Poland.

Oh, yeah, spoiler alert, yada yada.

Anyway, “Civil War” rocks, “Apocalypse” isn’t bad and “BvS” is exactly what everyone else has said it is. OK, to be fair, the dueling funeral scenes for Superman and Clark Kent at the end were moving, I’ll give them that. Oops, spoiler alert again.

• Lest this whole thing come across as too gripey, let me just end on this note: this really was an awesome experience, and I mean that in the traditional sense of awe-inspiring. To be honest, I never thought we would ever be able to afford an overseas trip, or be able to find the time to do so.

I’m glad we did. Standing (almost) at the top of the Eiffel Tower … seeing the lingering effects of war interspersed with the beautiful countryside of Normandy … drinking German beer in Germany … heck, getting sick from eating food from a street vendor in Paris … it was a hell of a ride. I’m not sure how well I’ve shared the experience–years of striving for journalistic objectivity may have dulled my ability to tell my story, but hopefully I’ve done a good enough job of keeping my many fans out there entertained while I took my sweet time finishing this.

Thank you all for reading.

The grand finale (Europe Trip Day 8)

Let’s talk about the Louvre.

According to the museum’s website, there are over 35,000 pieces of artwork on exhibit there. Depending on how you calculate it, it could take years to look at everything that’s there, and that’s with just a quick glance at each piece of art.

Or, you could be like us and just wander the grounds, which are a work of art on their own. Considering the sewer grates are ornate and beautiful, we didn’t feel like we missed much by not standing in line to get inside.
We also checked out a church next to the Louvre, Salle paroissiale de Saint Germain l’Auxerrois. Beautiful architecture.

Anybody want a keychain? With this being our last day in Paris, we spent some time doing some final souvenir shopping. Had we known that the proprietor of the last shop we went into was going to insist we take a complimentary keychain in every color he had, we wouldn’t have bought the ones we did earlier in the day.

So … anybody who wants an Eiffel Tower keychain, we’ve got plenty to spare.

How about that view. Before we took our evening boat cruise on the Seine, we ate dinner at a restaurant along the water (PRODUCT PLACEMENT WARNING: Eddie Bauer Travex waterproof pants come in very handy when clumsy oafs like me knock a whole pitcher of water onto themselves). The actual restroom facilities for said restaurant were downstairs where the boat we’d be going on was docked.

I obviously can’t speak for the view from the women’s room, but the urinal in the men’s room was right below a porthole that, yes, looked out toward the Eiffel Tower.

I dare say that’s the most scenic piss I’ve ever taken.

Let’s end on a lighter note. The only time we got rained on during our time overseas was on our final night in Paris, on our evening boat cruise of the Seine. The downpour didn’t last long, fortunately, and the view of the City of Lights, even in the rain, was breathtaking.

Normandy (Europe Days 6-7)

It seems appropriate that I’m writing this entry from the airport in Baltimore, sleep-deprived after getting up at 3:30 a.m. for a 6 a.m. flight and wishing I could have slept on the plane.

This is about hitting the wall.

So after our whirlwind tour of Frankfurt, Germany, a train ride to Paris, France, and two packed days around the City of Lights, our third full day there was one spent dealing with hitting the proverbial wall.

We took a lot of bus rides (again), just checking out the sights. Did a little shopping. Ate some good food (more macarons; a delicious, ridiculous, oh-so-sloppy French version of an American cheeseburger in a little pub along the Seine) and generally took it somewhat easy.

It didn’t make for the most exciting blog, I’ll admit, which is why we’re going to go ahead and jump to …

Day 7, and our trip to Normandy.

When we were planning our trip to Europe, we knew Paris was the destination. But when our travel agent brought up the possibility of a day trip to Normandy, we knew we had to add that in.

I read every book on WWII I could when I was a kid—some that really weren’t proper “kid” reading material. I’m not sure now what it was about that war—and to a lesser extent, other wars—that piqued my interest. But I devoured every detail. I was hesitant to ever ask my grandfathers about their experiences, but I did eventually talk briefly with my paternal grandfather about his time in WWII.

He came into Europe through Normandy, although he landed a couple days after D-Day. And I think one of my grandfathers was involved in the Battle of the Bulge, although my memory may be playing tricks on me.

Regardless, I’m proud of their service, and I’m proud of all those in my family who served our country.

Back to Normandy. Our tour guide first took us to the hills overlooking Omaha Beach, where we toured the German bunkers that still stand. It’s awe-inspiring to look out over the English Channel and imagine the massive fleet that filled the waters below; to stand above the deep craters left behind by the Allied bombs; to go to the American cemetery where rows and rows of white crosses mark the graves of those who died on that day, and the days after.

While we were at the cemetery, there was a group of Americans who must have had a family member buried there, because the National Anthem and Taps were played over the speakers. The anthem came at a good time for us; nothing against France, but it was good to hear a bit of home.

I wish I could say more about the experience, but it’s one I’m still processing damn near a month later. To walk on beaches and fields where such an important conflict took place, to see grave after grave of those who gave their lives to the ultimate cause … it’s a lot to take in, and to try and find the right words for it has left me lacking (hopefully, only so far).

This looks familiar. I was struck again by the similarities between home and western Europe. Normandy is about a three-hour drive from Paris, so our tour guide drove us by highway. And just like in the States, there are travel plazas along the way—your typical gas station/convenience store.

Friendly French. Speaking of our tour guide, Celine was quite chatty, which was nice. Aloofness is not a trait one wants in a tour guide. She was also very forthcoming with her opinions from the time she went to the States as a high school student—we love our peanut butter too much, apparently—and on the presidential election. I won’t go there because I’ve vowed to not discuss politics because we’re all snapping at each other because of the two despicable people running for president, and I won’t be party to that.

Restaurant du jour. Our evening dinner was at Le Scheffer, a restaurant not too far from our hotel. I’m not a big fan of fish, or seafood in general, but if you serve me haddock in lemon butter, apparently I’ll devour it.