I’ve known for months that on a particular November day Esteban and I would be leaving for Europe, so I was confident of my preparations. I had a packing list; I’d gathered my toiletries; I’d charged my batteries.
Yet, on the morning of our departure, I once again found myself doing the “Pack’n’Panic.” Piles of cameras, clothes, and bags accumulated as I second-guessed my choices. In the process, I accidentally left behind my umbrella, my blow-dryer and my f/1.7 lens. And probably a lot of other things I don’t yet know I’m missing.
But the important thing is that we got to the airport in plenty of time.
Time we didn’t need, as it turned out: We didn’t have to wait one second to print our boarding passes, check our bags, get through security, or even grab a bite. “Where IS everyone?” I asked Esteban. “This is eerie.”
We got the answer a few minutes later. Everyone was at gate G4! Yes, the flight to Paris was full. I felt terrible for Esteban, whose 6’4″ frame doesn’t conform to the diminutive leg-room standards of modern air travel. Here’s my man, head-and-shoulders above the rest:
But at least he had to endure this torture for only seven and one-half hours, thanks to a strong tailwind.
We soon discovered, however, that it’s not necessarily good to arrive in Paris ahead of schedule: They’d forgotten to unlock the door into the airport. All 278 passengers filed out of the plane, down the jetway, and up an escalator — only to find themselves trapped in a tiny vestibule.
As the escalator continued to belch traveler after traveler into the vestibule, people started to panic. Some were mushed against the glass doors that separated us from the airport; others were yelling down the escalator, “Stop! Stop coming up!”
It was too late for me, though: I was already on the escalator. I felt a twinge of dread as I neared the top and realized there was nowhere to go. Esteban was directly behind me, and another 10 or so people were behind him.
But, just as the escalator forced me into a poor old man in a houndstooth fedora, the doors opened and we all flowed like a flash flood of humanity into the airport. You could feel the collective sigh of relief.
Our collective relief was short-lived, unfortunately, as we were once again crowded into an overheated room. Two immigration officers stamped passports indifferently as the line grew.
Tempers flared as a few of the locals jumped the queue, and the stress was palpable as others worried about missing their flight and train connections. Around me, I could sense that some of the tourists were already growing disillusioned with Paris. None of their guidebooks had mentioned Paris’ legendary inefficiency and long lines, apparently.
“There’s probably a strike,” I joked with Esteban. “It’s a lovely day for a strike!” We later found out I was right. Many of the roads were blocked, and transit was impossible in Paris. Fortunately, we’d given ourselves plenty of time to catch our train to Bruges.
If Paris is legendary for its inefficiency, the opposite is true of the train grande vitesse, or TGV. The countryside sped by at about 250 miles per hour as we relaxed in quiet comfort.
Unfortunately, the smooth ride and gray skies made it hard for us to stay awake.
Not sleeping was of utmost importance, of course: If we could stay awake until bedtime, we’d wake up tomorrow on Bruges time. Voilà, no jet lag! I tried to make small-talk in Flemish to stay alert. (It didn’t work; I don’t speak Flemish.)
Three hours and a quick taxi ride later, we were in our apartment. It’s a charming little mid-1750s row house Esteban found through booking.com. Although the stairs to the bedrooms are treacherous, the living room and patio-garden are lovely.
In any case, we made it. We’re in Bruges!
We ventured only as far as the grocery store, but my first impressions are wonderful. How could you not love a medieval city in which everyone owns a bike?
I loved this family’s custom-made model. Notice that only the adult gets steering and braking privileges.
I also loved the fact that it’s difficult to take a photo of a bike without being photobombed by someone riding a bike.
I could grow to love this place.