We wondered at times though if we were ever going to make it to Paris or in what condition. Starting two days before we traveled our plans and budget seemed to be unraveling, but thankfully it all worked out and here we are. We’re sore and jet-lagged, but all in one piece with an intact budget, ready to get out and explore the City of Lights, our first stop in France.
Our first indication that things might not be going as planned was when we tried to check in online for our flight to Paris 48 hours in advance (as requested), and got a notification that Air Europa was unable to complete our check-in and would we please see someone at the airport? We also learned for the first time that we had somehow purchased “lite” fares on Air Europa, meaning the cost of checking our bags was going to cost an additional $300 at the airport. When I booked the tickets the price included one checked bag each, up to 50 pounds, but now we were being told something different.
Minor panic set in.
We spent our last day in Uruguay packing and resting because we knew we would be facing a long, long flight on Thursday, and we worried most of the day that something was wrong with our tickets. But that evening we tried checking in again and were successful, although apparently not for the second leg of the trip, from Madrid to Paris. As that flight would be on Air France versus Air Europa, Brett decided to check the Air France site and discovered we had also been checked in for that flight. Yeah! We also decided to pay 40€ at check-in to make sure we sat together rather than let Air Europa randomly pick seats for us. However, we still had that $300 luggage fee hanging over our heads. We had read if we could pre-check the bags online it would only cost $100 per bag instead of $150 for airport check-in, but the Air Europa baggage check site did not work for us.
We were feeling a little less panicked, but still . . . .
Thursday morning we were up bright and early and outside at 8:00 a.m. waiting for our driver to pick us up for the drive to Carrasco airport (remises are the recommended way to get to the airport in Montevideo – $36US for a private driver versus around $55US for a taxi). He finally showed up a little before 9:00 – the transport company had supposedly given him the wrong time. Whatever – he was a very pleasant man, and we had a lovely drive along the Rambla out to the airport, a nice way to say good-bye to Uruguay. We went straight to check in and learned our bags would be checked through to Paris and there would be no baggage fees! It turned out our entire flight was booked with Air France, with the flight to Madrid operated by Air Europa, and not the reverse as we had thought. Air France did not charge for the first checked bag, so no fees for us! We relaxed a little and went for coffee, and I enjoyed a couple of last empanada before boarding begin.
Every (cramped) seat on the plane was taken, but boarding went well and we began our taxi on time only to stop after a couple of minutes. Eventually the pilot announced there was a mechanical problem and we would be returning to the gate. Sigh. About 30 minutes later though the problem was fixed, we taxied out to the runway and took off for Madrid around an hour later than scheduled, meaning we would miss our connecting flight to Paris. Sigh again.
The flight was, to put it nicely, brutal. We spent 12 and a half hours in very, very cramped seats. The two middle-aged women in front of us fully reclined their seats almost immediately after take-off and left them that way the entire flight giving us about six inches of space. When I would recline my seat, the woman in back of me would tap me on the shoulder to put it back up (she also kicked my seat repeatedly). Brett sat on the aisle and was hit on the head or pushed and had water spilled on him among other indignities. The movies advertised were not the movies available, which were old and uninteresting. Thankfully the food was OK. I was able to sleep for a while thanks to my TRTL neck pillow, but for most of the flight I kept reminding myself “it’s an adventure, right?” We had paid for cheap seats and we got what we paid for.
A couple of hours before we landed, gates were announced for new flight connections. However, a flight attendant came to us personally with information about our connection. And, when we landed in Madrid a representative from Air France was at the gate to personally greet us and hand us our new boarding passes! Apparently we had been the only passengers ticketed by Air France versus Air Europa, and who were flying to Charles de Gaulle versus Orly airport.
Our big concern had become whether our luggage would make it to Paris or not because of the changes, but there it was in Paris and so off we went to catch a taxi to our Airbnb rental. The taxi was a flat-rate 50€, well worth it because in our exhausted condition we did not have to haul luggage up or down stairs or on and off a bus or train, or try to figure out the Metro, and because our driver turned out to be a lovely man originally from the Ivory Coast who had lived in Paris for 50 years. He spoke a little English and his taxi was a Mercedes(!) so we had a very comfortable ride over to Montmartre. Although neither of us is particularly suspicious, we figured out during the drive that our flight to Europe had been on the 13th of the month, and wondered if that was why everything had been off a bit.
Our Airbnb is fantastic! The apartment building was constructed in 1908, so the rooms all have 12-14 foot ceilings with original, ornate moldings, and tall windows that overlook a small park across the street. We have every modern convenience though, including a dishwasher and induction stove, and the bed is extremely comfortable. Our hosts are a lovely older couple, around the same ages we are, and they left us some treats including a very nice bottle of Bordeaux! Before we collapsed, Brett and I walked down the street a bit and purchased a quiche Lorraine, a baguette and two croissant from a boulangerie, and found a small supermarket and bought a few supplies (cheese, butter, jam, fruit, soup, and a bottle of Chardonnay). We fell asleep around 5:00 p.m. but woke up again at 2:00 a.m. and enjoyed a slice of the extremely delicious quiche before falling asleep again. We awoke about 10:00 a.m. this morning, and both of us have our fingers crossed that the jet lag won’t be too bad this time.
But, we are in Paris! We’re moving slowly this morning – we enjoyed coffee and croissants for breakfast, and will go out later this afternoon to figure out the Metro. There’s a station just down the street, and we plan to buy a book of passes. We’re very happy too that we will have no more flights for another five weeks – all our travel throughout France will be by train and car.
So, the adventure continues!