May 9, 2010

What it was like to be stranded (near Paris)

Posted in travel, vacation at 3:59 pm by Marise Phillips

We spent exactly one week longer in Europe than originally planned. We were due to fly home (from Paris to Heathrow to SFO) on April 15, the day the volcano blew up, and the airports began to close just as we got on our plane that morning — only to be asked to get right back off. Boo.

Being stuck was equal parts annoying and interesting.

Annoying because neither of us could spare the additional vacation days from work, especially not Jason, having started a new job just a month before we left. We basically spent the entire time on pins and needles, wondering when and how we would be able to get back home. Early reports emphasized the fact that this volcano erupted for months on end last time, which made for a very unsettling first couple of days.

Moreover, we were a bit sick of Paris by the time we were due to fly home (crazy, I know!) plus not entirely happy to have to spend more money on lodging and everything. And due to the massively increased demand, we couldn’t rent a car to explore the surrounding area, which is a bit of a shame because there were some nice day trips we might have been able to take advantage of.

All the same, some very good things came out of being stuck: my (relatively new) manager was kind and supportive throughout, as was the friend of my parents helping to take care of our house and cats. Jason and I bonded strongly with a few fellow stranded travelers, not to mention one another. We found it amusing how well-balanced our stress reactions were; in other words, when he was freaking out, I was calm and vice-versa.

We were very thankful to have chanced upon a fantastic B&B near the airport, with wonderful hosts who bent over backwards to help us in a variety of ways. Best of all, they invited us over for drinks the last night we were there, which extended into a lovely impromptu dinner. They gave us a gorgeous hardcover book of the town we were staying in (as our hostess is a 4th-generation resident and town mayor), which all three of them signed (including their sweet, shy, handsome son) — all in French of course. So that one exceptional evening, in and of itself, more than made up for the impersonal/harried feeling we got from our week in Paris.

In retrospect, it’s been interesting, having taken part in an historic event — and we have certainly added some cool stories to our repertoire.

And strangely: no, my French did not improve at all, I don’t think. I’m in such a frustrating phase with it, kind of like I am with skiing. I barely ever get to use either skill, and so when I do, I just end up falling flat on my face. Ah well, at least I can still understand when I read and listen to it!