Thursday, July 18, 2013

A series of unfortunate events - vacation in France XV

Hi guys, I know you have been waiting for the finale of our trip and sorry for the wait - I had few lectures to give and few exams to grade!  About our AirFrance/Delta refund, well, I suspect that the airline is playing a persistence game with its customers - persistence wins, no?  The time and effort that Fabrice spent on the airline would have allowed him to make more money.  Even today, he had to write a long letter to provide further explanations, justifications, and pieces of evidence in order for the airline to process our refund - check back to see whether the airline keeps its promises.

July 8-9, 2013.  Monday-Tuesday

I hate to end our vacation with negative notes but what we experienced in these last 2 days within a span of 30 hours simply can only be described as the title of this post.  We had worst time in Paris ever, which is mostly due to our own fault - the worst kind!   

First, we failed to retrieve our luggage from the locker room at Paris Gare de Lyon.  The service was advertised as a daily of 24 hours of storage time, which led to my logical guess that it provides its service with 24 hour access.  Fabrice knew better not to believe his nonFrench wife in this matter so he tried to call the office at the dinner time, however, he failed to locate any contact information from the locker ticket/receipt or his iPhone.  Then the man could not follow through the important task because he was frequently interrupted by the needy kids at the dinner table.  I did not bother to take the task in hand since I was convinced that an operational schedule of the luggage storage service in a major train station of the capital city of France would at least be in syc with the metro subway service, which would be from 5 am to 1 am!  So after dinner around 10 pm, I said, "We are already at the bottom of the Montmartre hill, why don't we take the remaining hour to climb up the hill to have a look of the night beauty of the city."  Fabrice said, "Train stations in the center of Paris are absolutely not the places for the little kids to be at this hour of the day/night!"  So his stubborn and assumptive wife had to drag 2 overtired kids to follow his lead to take the returning subway.  By the time we arrived Paris Gare de Lyon at 10:45 pm, the luggage office lights were off, the whole bottom floor of the train station was dark with only few passengers walking as if they were chased by zombies.  Where are the people?I have been to this station countless times in the last consecutive 11 years but never seen it so dead!  The kids and I looked through the glass walls wishing we could penetrate them to retrieve our bags from the digitally controlled locker.  Zhuzhu was crying for her teddy bear TuTu locked inside, which attracted a passenger and she came by and also looked into the storage room.  With slight hope of that lady might have some magic tricks to unlock the door, I asked, "Is your luggage locked inside also?"  She looked at Zhuzhu and Niuniu attentively and answered, "No no, I was just wondering what could be done in the case like this."  Hearing her Parisian accent, Fabrice started to discuss with her about "what could be done".  Then the nice lady and Fabrice led us everywhere to locate the police or security guards hoping that they had a master key to control every room in the station.  However, the police were nowhere to be found and a security guard initially was unwilling to help then later he suggested us to go to the information office one floor up.  We thanked the kind lady so that she could get on her life and then walked towards the information office, which surprisingly was still filled with few passengers and 2 personnel.  At last, we were in good hands, I thought.  But when Fabrice finished his story, the man looked at him, and then us, and said (based on Fabrice's translation, "I am sorry but there is nothing I can do.  The luggage service was provided by an independent party that was not part of the metro system."  But then he grabbed his phone and started dialing.  Even without understanding his French, I knew the guy was calling to see if someone else know whether any guy worked in that office was at reachable distance - it was only an hour after the closing time, one could always hope!  But the answer from the other end was again negative.  Then he suggested Fabrice to transfer our reservation from the B&B hotel CDG airport to the one "in" Paris, "It should be free of charge as they belong to the same hotel system." the man said confidently.  Fabrice had just suggested me the same thing not long ago so he happily accepted his kind words and retreated himself to a corner to call the hotels.  While the French was on his iPhone to decide our fate, I went inside a room beside the information office where I found a guy who understood me and agreed on the severeness of our situation, "Could you let me know when your international flight leaves tomorrow morning?  It's important for me to know." He said, which led me to believe that he would find a way to access the locker room for us.  With the help of his computer, I pulled out our itinerary and showed it to him.  When he saw that our flight would leave at 10:40 am next morning, he said, "You should come back tomorrow morning to get the luggage since the place will be open at 6:15 am."  Then he turned his head away from me and the kids who by then had come inside the room.  I got out his office but with some renewed hope and planned to ask Fabrice to beg the semi-sympathetic guy for further help.  However, when Fabrice finally got off his iPhone, he walked to us and said, "I booked a room at the B&B in Paris and let's get to it before the train stops running."  "Did you transfer our reservation from the B&B from CDG to here?" "No, but it only would cost us about 60 euros per night."  "Did you cancel our reservation in the hotel at the CDG airport?"  "No, I'll do it later."

When a Chinese meets a French, problems arrive!  The French was overwhelmed by getting us all out of the "unsafe" station asap, whereas I was aiming at obtaining the best possible outcome.

His answers to all my above questions made me conclude that it would be a better idea to book a hotel room at where we were - we did not have to use the metro trains in Paris, you see.  However, Fabrice did not give me the chance to express my best possible solution.  Clearly the man was confused the French-speaking capability with the executive decision-making authority!  He rushed us all onto the M1 train and then M13 train to reach the B&B hotel 30 min later at Malakoff, a dark and scarily quiet district located at far South-east of Paris!  Worst of all to me was that he paid the walk-in price of 107 euros for a room with 1 full- and 1 twin-size beds.  "80 euros would have gotten us a room in the center of Paris!" I said to Fabrice disappointingly and then I heard, "Do you really want to wake up the kids for 100 euros?"  Fabrice was fired up, which forced me to keep my mouth shut, but I was determined to send him to hell with my silence.  I hated him to condemn me for my respect for "his" money - did I tell you that we have separate sets of bank accounts?  Now you see how hormones mess with women's minds!  After his shower, the man walked back downstairs while I was in the shower.  When he came back, he said, "I cannot trust that guy would wake us up on time.  He said he would come up here to knock at our door tomorrow at 6 am."  Look, for 107 euros, we could not even get us a room equipped with a telephone or an alarm clock!  His iPhone was dead and our life style turned back to stone ages!

For the record the front desk guy did wake me up from my dreams with his knocks on the door on time and then my cell phone alarm backed him up 30 min later.  The kids got their much needed showers in the morning and then we all headed to Paris Gare de Lyon for the third time in the last 24 hours.

Second, Fabrice reminds me to pay close attention to the purse stealing habit of some Parisians every single time when we get on trains.  However, this very man lost his wallet on the way to CDG airport.  He must have lost it at Gare Chatelet les Halles at which we got on our RER.  It was overly crowded and he had to use all his energy and attention to squeeze 2 large heavy and 3 small suitcases in between passengers and I had to focus on Zhuzhu and Niuniu to make sure that they would not be smashed into meatloaf by the crowd.  When he had a moment to breath, Fabrice asked whether his wallet was in my possession.  The man was living in a thread of hope to find his wallet in one of our 9 bags since he noticed his iPhone was still safely living in the very pocket in which his wallet was kept.  I was also in denial because I knew he had changed clothes at the luggage locker room earlier and I thought that he simply had forgotten to transfer the wallet from his dirty clothes to the clean ones.  However, our worst fear was confirmed by en email from Bank of America (BOA) to report to Fabrice about his "unusual activities".  He read the email only 2 hours later after we had plugged in his iPhone at the CDG airport.  It was then we moved on to acceptance phase - the man lost his French ID, American ID, >400 euros cash, 5 major credit cards (1 French and 4 U.S. ones) and >2200 euros credit card charges - the thief spent $50 on both ATM and visa cards issued by BOA at Chatelet les Halles train station, as well as over $1700 at an Apple Store.  It was then the BOA detected its usual uses and blocked those cards.

My fingers and toes are crossed for the thief to be caught by a video of the Apple Store!  

All my angers against Fabrice had then shifted to against the thief and myself - I blamed me for not being with him on speaking terms since the night before this incident!

Third, AirFrance put us, a family of 4, on the wait list.  We had gone through so much to arrive the airport 2 hours ahead of the original departure time only to find our flight was overbooked?!  The AirFrance person gave his explanations/instructions to Fabrice in his utmost professional tone - gentle, unsympathetic and emotionless - then Fabrice also in his typical pragmatic voice translated what he was told to me.  The bottom line was if no seats available in our flight, each of us would be given a minimal of 200 euros of compensation for their oversight.  "So you are telling me that the 4 of us spending an extra 3 hours in Paris CDG airport would allow us to complete the grieving of your lost wallet?  Boy, that was a super fast fix!"  I refused to let the opportunity of my revenge go.

Do any of you know how difficult to live with God?  If you do, give me some sympathy here!

After sending our bags to heaven through the luggage carousel, Fabrice and I finally could walk with our 2 kids lightly.  We proceeded to the gate at which the kids and I were watching all other passengers boarding and Fabrice was finally got his "alone" moment to deal with his personal loss with various credit card companies.  Thanks to the fact that majority of the automatic machines in France do not take the U.S. credit cards, Fabrice's American Express, discover, and Chase Visa cards were intact.    

Fourth, I had gotten into a small fight with a stranger at the park behind the Notre Dame.  Told you hormones mess me up big time!  What happened was that Zhuzhu and Marie wanted to get on a swing that was occupied by a little girl who was not even swinging!  The girl was just hanging on to the swing waiting for her caregiver (mother or nanny) who was speaking loudly in some kind of language on her cell phone.  Seeing me approaching, she started to free one of her hands from the phone to push the little girl on the swing and continued on chatting away for a long time.  The chatty chick completely ignored my very existence or maybe she was even annoyed by my standing in her way, during which Zhuzhu and Marie had come and gone several times checking whether it would be their turns to use the swing.  Plus, 2 other little girls came close to wait for their turns.  Seeing such inconsiderate behaviors of the woman, I asked Zhuzhu and Marie to leave the girl and the swing.  "But we have finished playing with everything else!" they insisted to have their turn.  So I had to ask, "Would you ask your girl whether it's possible for her to share the swing with these 2 girls?  We will keep it brief."  My words were polite but my attitude must not be gentle, which evoked that woman.  She stared at me angrily and yelled, "Here is Paris.  In Paris, we have to wait in line for everything.  I live close by and we come here everyday.  We are not like some tourists!"  I was not sure what issues that she had with us tourists but what she did and said certainly got on my nerves, so I pointed to the direction where Fabrice was sitting on a bench holding Niuniu and yelled back, "It's funny, I live right there too but I am quite happy to have tourists to share this swing with us, you see.  By the way, if you want a swing for the girl all by herself, you should install one at your backyard."  She seemed shocked by what I said and could not respond with words.  But she regained her senses back shortly after that so she removed the little girl and said to me, "I just don't like your approach."  Whatever, so long as Zhuzhu and Marie would leave the swing!  I put them on and let them each to have exactly 10 swings/pushes - I made them to count in French!  Now when I come to think of it, I have never met any Parisian speaking with audible voice.  I suspect that the woman was a nanny, not the mother, of the girl, because a mother would not have passed on an opportunity to teach her kiddos to share.  Furthermore, the woman spoke to me in English naturally and her English was way too good to be a local.  No offense to Parisians here, you guys just love speaking French more, I accept that, I would definitely speak Chinese while in China, too!
Edit:  The remaining of the story will be posted in the next one.

So what's the worst travel experiences that you guys have? 

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