Here is the second installment about my trip to Europe this fall. In the first episode, I picked up a van in Paris to be used on my tip to Belgium….
The following day, I was to drive the van from my cozy little parking spot in Paris up to Bruges, Belgium where I would meet nine Australians who would constitute my group for the next week through Belgium, across Luxembourg, and up the Mosel River in Germany a bit.
First, though, I had to get out of Paris and drop off the bags that I picked up the previous day and drop them off at a hotel at Charles-de-Gaulle airport where I would also meet the company’s main baggage transfer person (which we called “baggagiste” since, well, we try to be French-chic like that). I was to get the bikes being used by the Aussies from the baggagiste (the Aussies were just using the bikes in Champagne, but were travelling to Bruges by train), load them on to my van and then drive on up to Bruges to meet them.
Well, there were a couple of smallish problems. First, I have a horrendous sense of direction.
Yes, I am actually a “tour guide” and one would think that in order to “guide” one should have at least a vague understanding of three-dimensional space (although, in my defense, I am fairly good at determining “up”).
While being a tour “guide” who is essentially incapable of “guiding” is technically not “ironic” it is rather unfortunate, which is why I prefer to refer to myself as a “tour coordinator.” While I would not consider “coordinating” my forté, by definition, I am infinitely more adept at coordinating than having any idea where I am going.
Thus driving out of Paris and then onto Belgium would be more than a bit daunting, but my life has been made infinitely easier since the advent of GPS systems and while the van did not have one, I did have my U.S. iPhone, which has a built-in GPS.
This brings me to the second problem: In addition to lacking a functioning inner compass, I am incredibly cheap. Thus, every time the iPhone would announce that it was “re-calculating” I would do a quick calculation that it just cost me about ten Euros (since I was too cheap to sign up for any European data roaming before my trip).
As I approached Charles-de-Gaulle, I estimated that I had already incurred close to 20€ (or $827.23) in charges, and it was at that point that I learned something rather telling—my parsimony is far more powerful than my fear of getting lost:
I turned off the GPS.
I figured I had it all under control since there were plenty of signs directing me to the airport (each one accompanied with a little airplane pictogram).
dIt turns out that there is actually a “town” at the airport called “Roissypole” (I had always seen signs for it in the airport on my many trips to Paris, but I never had any clue what it meant) and like all things, the Parisians designed this “town” with a host of one-way streets, jug handle turns, and poor signage (in other words, it was a lot like New Jersey). Roissypole was particularly impossible for those that are directionally challenged (I have decided that there are many of us out there, which makes me feel some sort of solidarity). After roughly 30 minutes, which included four trips through the “town”, then back out to the airport, and starting over via the main expressway, I finally found the hotel.
There waiting for me was our baggagiste, Aengus, who had such a thick Irish accent that I did not understand a word he ever said—I usually required that he write down any oral communication.
Luckily, we really did not have to communicate all that much (although I did need him to write down a couple of statements)—I dropped off the bags, grabbed the bikes, and I was on my way.
It turns out that Bruges is not all that far from Charles-de-Gaulle airport (only about three and a half hours), and this time, in order to get around my tight-fisted nature, I used the free Wifi at the hotel, programmed the route into my phone, and then shut off the phone’s data.
This worked well initially, but once I ventured beyond the French border, all that would show up on the phone was a blue line (which meant, by some miracle, I had been able to stay on course.) I also decided to employ those huge green signs that seemed to be everywhere along the route, since they seemed to provide directional assistance to drivers—I vaguely remembered making use of them in another life.
Once I arrived at the outskirts of Bruges, I realized something else—I might be stupid at times, but I hopefully learn from that stupidity:
I turned the GPS back on.
Yes, I was likely burning through Euros faster than my six-year old rips through cupcakes, but I really had little choice; I needed to meet the Aussies as they got off the train to deliver the bikes back to them in exchange for their luggage, which I was to then take to the hotel.
I pulled into the station parking lot just as my phone rang—the Aussies had landed. After brief introductions, we made the bikes for bags swap, and they were on their way.
I drove to the hotel (using the GPS—I was feeling a bit high and loose with my Euros), dropped off the bags, and had a bit of time on my hands until dinner. Bruges is perhaps my favorite city in Europe, but I was exhausted, so instead of walking around a bit, I went to the corner store, grabbed a couple of bottles of beer, and returned to my room where I found a bike race on TV.