Wow. Hard to believe -- it was finally time to go back home, after five amazing weeks in Paris.
I had pretty much packed everything up the night before, so finishing up and heading out was pretty quick -- just one last check to be sure I hadn't left anything behind, and I was off. Boy, was my suitcase heavy! Getting down those spiral stairs was quite a trick -- I just lowered the suitcase down one step at a time and took it nice and slo-o-o-o-ow.
After dropping off the apartment key at the security office, I went back to my neighborhood quick-stop bakery for one last French breakfast (speculoos cappuccino and pain au chocolat).
Then I was off to the airport. Pretty awkward with the 60-pound suitcase (about which more later), but I managed OK, with the kind help of a young French man who carried my suitcase up the longest of the staircases I had to navigate. I had a bit of a panic moment at the RER station when it wouldn't take my credit card, and there was nobody on duty at the ticket window, but luckily I had saved just enough French cash to buy the one-way ticket to the airport.
The United checkin at CDG airport is just obscenely long. They have no kiosks; they don't have enough clerks; and they are unbelievably slow. It took me just under an hour to get through the line to check my bag and get a boarding pass. Then another hour or so to get through the whole passport / walk / security maze. I am very glad that I got to the airport super-early because I wasn't stressed out at all, knowing that I had plenty of time. (By contrast, the people just behind me in line were on an earlier flight, and they were totally panicked the entire time.)
The one snafu (and it is relevant for the My Life in Food blog) is that CDG is divided up into little departure pods, with 8-10 gates after the security checkpoint. So there aren't many services in each pod, and there was just one little cafe near the gate. Remember how I told you I had just enough cash to buy my RER ticket? Yeah, so when the cafe's credit card machine broke just before I got to the front of the line, I realized that I had no way to get any food (no ATM, no time to go back out to buy something else). I really wished I had bought something outside, but how could I have known? Luckily there was a convenience store that took credit cards even for small purchases, so I bought a soda, bag of chips, and package of cookies, and that tided me over until the flight.
The flight was pretty much uneventful. Mediocre airplane food, of course. Thank goodness for the on-demand entertainment system -- I watched three movies on the way home, and got a little bit of work and an even littler bit of napping done in between.
The passport line in the US was un-frickin'-believable. It was just insanely, insanely long, snaking back and forth, and just as you thought maybe you were getting to the front, you realized that the line then wound over to another side area where you were channeled through a whole new maze of zigzagging rows. Incredibly frustrating and a truly crappy way to re-enter the country. We really ought to be able to do better than this. The dumbest part is that when you get to the front, they ask you what you're bringing back to the country with you. In passport control. And then you have to go pick up your bags, and go through customs, another long (but not quite as long) line, where they ask you the same freaking questions as the passport control guy!! So irritating.
Finally, finally, finally I made it through and got to an area with a cell phone signal, and called John, who came to pick me up -- and then I was officially home.
I'm writing this almost a week later, and I still feel a little discombobulated (waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning; wondering why people aren't speaking French; missing my early evening kir; and feeling a bit overwhelmed at times by having an entire walk-in closet full of clothes to choose from). I am so grateful that I had the opportunity for this once-in-a-lifetime experience that I'll never forget.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Stay tuned for tomorrow's incredible celebratory meal (for Heather's brief homecoming for her UMd med school interview), at a location to be disclosed soon.