By the time you read this Pete and I will either just have arrived home from our first overseas trip in over two years, or we’re nearly there. We’ve been to France for a two-river cruise. From Paris we went down the Seine through Normandy and back. Then we caught a high-speed train from Paris to Lyon, where we boarded a river ship on The Rhone down to the Med.
But first, let’s talk about Getting There.
In these days of not-quite-over-covid it’s not the easy process it was in the past. I’m sure you’ve all read about the debacles at airports around the world as people tried to get off on holiday – long lines, cancelled flights, and lost luggage. Brisbane was no exception so although we didn’t expect the international terminal to be quite so bad, we were concerned.
We needn’t have worried. The place was almost empty. Immigration was a no-wait doddle and security was a breeze – no more digging out of laptops etc. Just put your bag on the belt. We flew business class, so had priority passes, but it wasn’t much worse for everyone else. We showed the staff at the SIN desk our covid vax certificates (we’ve had 4 shots each) and all was good. Although we were not obliged to wear masks in the airport, we did – especially in slightly more crowded areas. It was just common sense as far as we were concerned. All the airlines expect passengers to wear a mask when not eating or drinking and we were quite happy with that, too.
We flew Singapore airlines to Singapore. It’s a great airline but there were signs of cutbacks. No more pre-take off drinks. No more toiletry packs. Nuts and nibbles handed out in little bags, not little plates. But the food was nice and delivered as courses, not on one tray.
From Singapore, we would be flying Lufthansa to Frankfurt and from there to Charles de Gaulle in Paris. We kicked our heels in the business lounge until close to midnight when our flight would leave. The flight was delayed by nearly an hour, mainly because there must have been a dozen passengers in wheelchairs. That is, people who use wheelchairs every day, not the people who are pushed onto the plane. That’s not a criticism except that maybe LH should have started boarding a bit earlier.
Anyway, we were on our way. LH is NOT one of the great airlines but it’s still better than sitting down the back. In this plane business class seats were 2 X 2 X 2, which meant if you were in a window seat and you needed a wee, you needed to clamber over the person sleeping next to you. And Pete and I were both given window seats. It’s bad enough clambering over your husband/wife, let alone a total stranger. Still, the bed was flat which is a plus. We both got a few hours’ sleep and we both agreed the food was ordinary.
The last time we flew into FRA and then on to Amsterdam we had to go through immigration into Europe, then over to the domestic side of he airport, where there was no business lounge, which was a pain in the butt after such a long flight. So, we wanted to spend those five hours before the flight to CDG in a comfy lounge, not some crummy crowded coffee shop. We asked at an LH lounge how we could manage that and we were given directions. Go here, go through immigration and there’s a lounge just there. You can’t miss it.
FRA is a very big airport. It has little trains that take people from one terminal to another. We spent near on two f…ing hours wandering around this place trying to find where we’d been sent. The signage wasn’t much help and eventually we ended up in a virtually deserted corridor. But there was a bright side. A screen announced that we could contact help via a video call. OK then. We got some action on our second try and were given simple instructions.
Peter was not at all surprised – positively vindicated – when we returned pretty much to where we’d started from when we got off the SIN flight. We went through immigration with only the slightest hiccup when Pete forgot he was wearing a mask so the automated facial recognition system couldn’t identify him. We passed our carry-on through security and were both held up by self-important, officious staff. An officer waggled some kind of sensor inside my backpack and scanned the results. I expect it was drugs or explosives. I hadn’t brought either.
But we were right by an LH lounge a mere 5 minutes from our gate. So that was a pass.
We walked to the gate at the due time and the lack of a crowd caused a tinkle of fairy bells in my brain, but not sufficient to result in action. That happened when a lady in an LH uniform asked if any of us were bound for Vienna. I had checked the board before but had another look. The flight had been changed to another gate – fortunately the next one, which was, indeed, crowded.
We sat in business class and watched what must have been half the upper school of an American Jesuit college pass us by, one by one, along with four priests. The ‘masks must be worn’ rule was enforced on the flight. The lady in charge handed out masks to a pile of these kids. Well, I was bullet-proof in my younger day, too. On that subject, (masks) the boss-lady objected to the P95 mask I’d worn from Brisbane to Frankfurt because it had ‘those toothy bits on the side’. Eh. She gave me a new, white, disposable mask. What did I care?
The food on the FRA-CDG leg (a fifty minute up and down like SYD to CAN) was actually very good, a tasty-looking appetizer and a dessert. Pete ate, I declined the meal but I kind of regretted it.
CDG on a hot Sunday afternoon was very relaxed. We’d claimed our luggage in minutes and wandered through the unattended customs doors to meet the Uniworld rep who would take us to our ship. She called us a taxi (at Uniworld expense). It was a hybrid Lexus driven by a big black guy with apparent ambitions to drive a F1. Pete still has the imprints of my fingers on his arm as the car flicked from one lane to another on the motorway, leaving everyone else in its wake.
We registered on the ship, SS Joie de Vivre, showing our vax certificates (you had to be at least double vaxxed to get on), and went off to our stateroom to unpack before repairing to the bar for a well-earned drink.