Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly: Traveling to Lille

No one will probably believe me, but I actually really hate to travel.  I do it because I really like being at different places.  I hate it because I'm really bad at it.  Growing up, travelling meant climbing in our VW bus and driving 12 hours to visit our grandparents in Price and Helper Utah.  To read what my summer family vacations were like, click here.  I didn't get my first passport until I was in my mid 30's.  So every trip presents a steep learning curve for me.

This trip back to Lille has been no exception.  In my continuing effort to be real (that fine line between bragging and complaining) I decided to share the good, the bad, and the ugly of my latest visit to Lille.  


I will be staying for two months in France, like I did 3 years ago, in order to get some research done, spend an actual vacation with a certain Englishman, and have some down time to work on my writing.  I chose to stay at the same apartment so that I wouldn't have to figure out metro stops, grocery stores, church meetings, and other elements to living in a new place.  

Sadly not everything has gone to plan, because of other people and my own stupid mistakes.  But yet again, things have a way of working out.  As always 97% of what I worry about never happened which is proof that worrying works.  

I think I'll start with the ugly so that I can end on a good note.

UGLY

The MASTERCARD nightmare

The ugly began when I got a text from Delta saying that our flight has been delayed and we will now be leaving at 9:50 pm.  Which was weird because our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:50 pm.  Turns out Delta and Air France weren't communicating with each other very well.  Our flight was delayed until 11:55 pm (it actually didn't take off until after midnight).  

The biggest problem with this was that I had already bought my train ticket to get to Lille.  And our train was leaving 13 minutes before our plane landed in Paris.  This meant I would lose this ticket (nonrefundable) and have to get a later train ticket and arrive at the office to pick up my apartment keys later which closed at 6:00 p.m.  If I missed picking up the keys, we might have to get a hotel.  

I knew that my travel card (that I used to purchase the train ticket) had insurance so I contacted them to see about making a claim.  

And that was when the nightmare really began.  Mastercard claimed that our bank provided the insurance.  My bank claimed that Mastercard provided it.  4 hours, several phone calls, and one temper tantrum later, I finally got a native English speaking man on the phone who said he'd research my case for me and get back to me.  (He never did.)

When I tried to pull cash using my travel card, I discovered the pin number they gave me doesn't work.  I now have to get cash using my debit card and pay the foreign transaction fees.  

In other news: We are now shopping for a new travel card NOT with Mastercard if anyone has suggestions.

The AIR FRANCE nightmare

Words cannot express how I feel about flying Air France.  It's a surreal experience.  They are absolutely awful on the ground and a wonderful delight in the air.  Except for breakfast they served us plain yogurt that tasted like sour cream.  Seriously?  That goes in the UGLY category.

Air France has rules and fees for everything.  Despite having booked our seats together, Air France moved Bradford and me 6 rows apart and gave us each a window (which isn't all that great because of the huge gap between the window and the seat).  They said if we want to sit together we have to pay extra.

We were able to get two seats together on the upper deck in the middle aisle in very back of the plane for free.  But this would make us get off the plane absolutely last eliminating any chance to catch that train on the off chance that it was late (which it ended up being but more on that later).

The TRAIN TICKET nightmare

Two days after we land in Lille, we are jumping on a train to see our friends in Stuttgart, Germany.  I got an alert on my phone asking me if I wanted to accept an appointment made by the website where I bought the tickets.  They said I would be leaving for Stuttgart from Lille one hour after my plane lands in Paris.  Uh, what??? 

So I pull up my train ticket and discover that somehow I had accidentally bought my tickets for the WRONG DAY.  Noooo!!! and they were nonrefundable and nonexchangable.

See why I hate travelling?  I'm so bad at it.

When we got to Lille Europe train station we went to see if they would have mercy on us, (they didn't) and to see if we could buy tickets for the right day (we could).  He creates an itinerary for us that made us have a long layover in Paris and was almost 3 times the price of the original ticket.  I told him to try to replicate the ticket I had purchased.  He did and it brought the price down to only twice the price of the original ticket.

The WATER HEATER nightmare

After 4 hours of fighting with Mastercard, a 7-hour flight in the back of a plane, 2 hours waiting for a train to Lille, and running errands on the metro, I was ready for a nice relaxing shower before bed.  

I turned on the water and the towel warmer and began to get ready to take my shower.  After a few minutes I noticed the water was still ice cold.  I turned off the shower and checked the sinks, all ice cold water.  I went to the tankless water heater and the screen said E 09.  I was pretty sure this was an error code.  

I got back in the shower and got a washcloth wet with ice cold water and tried to rinse off at least the first layer of sweat.

BAD

Some things also happened on the trip that weren't exactly UGLY but not GOOD either.

Delta has a better movie selection than Air France, just sayin'. 

Our tickets for the train had assigned seats, we couldn't find our seats on the train, so we just randomly picked two seats we liked and hoped for the best.  They ended up being fine seats, but it was hard for me to relax because I kept expecting to get kicked out of them.  I eventually decided if it happens, it happens, and I fell asleep.

We grabbed dinner at a kebab place that is very special to us.  I showed the worker the picture of the guy who was so good to us 3 years ago.  He told me that he no longer works there.  Boo! 

GOOD 

I purposefully put all the good stuff last so that this post ends on a positive note and to serve as a reminder that there are good people in the world.  

Our Credit Union

We have been banking at the same credit union for 17 years and we love them.  They know our whole family by name, and when we have a crisis we can call them up and they will put in the time and research to try to get it solved for us.  Our most favorite banker of all recently left to be a stay at home mom and our family went into mourning.  Yesterday she has agreed to work for our family a couple hours a week so that she can keep taking care of us by managing our accounts and making our travel arrangements like booking train tickets for the correct day. The kids are thrilled that Kelsey is back in our life.  

The Air France Flight Crew

As much as I hate Air France, I really do love it when I'm in the air on one of the their planes. Their crew really went above and beyond with our flight.  As I watched the flight tracker I could see that we were going to land about 45 minutes early thus making it possible to for us to possibly catch our train and save over $100.  I asked the steward what he thought.  He wasn't sure so he went to talk to someone else.  

A different gentleman came to our seats and said that he has found us 2 seats on the bottom deck right behind first class and invited us to move down there so that we can be the first ones off the plane.  (No one was flying in the first class pods).  We gathered our stuff and walked down a flight of stairs (first time I've done that on a plane) and he helped us get settled in row 10.  (We had previously been on row 92).  We had a wonderful conversation with a flight crew member and he told us that Air France doesn't allow their employees to work more than 35 hours a month.  A month! Can you imagine?  

Because of this kind gesture, we were able to race through the airport and customs and get to our train 8 minutes before it departed.  The train ended up being 40 minutes late, so in the end all of that mess with Mastercard would have been for naught anyway.  

The Stuttgart Tickets

First of all, I just have to say I have married the most patient, kind man of all time.  When I told him I had bought the Stuttgart tickets for the wrong day, he didn't get upset or mad at me.  He just calmly said that we can get it taken care of.  This isn't the first time a mistake of mine has cost us money in France and every time he's so kind to me about it.  

After the pain of paying way more for a train ticket than we needed to, I reached out to our friends to let them know about my mistake and added cost.  They were kind enough to cancel our hotel reservations for us so that we can stay with them (which they had initially offered and we declined so as not to be an imposition) thus saving us more than we have paid in the extra tickets.  I'm so grateful to have such gracious friends as the Swensons.

The Water Heater

I reached out to Johann my landlord a couple of days ago with a question and he informed me that he now has a service that manages the apartment for him.  It's an office close by where I get my keys.  I asked Christophe at the office if there were any problems do I contact him or Johann, he said to contact him.  

When I discovered that the water heater was broken, it was 10:00 p.m. I decided to shoot off an email letting Christophe know so that he'd get it in the morning.  I figured that it would probably take a couple days to get a repairman out and that we would have hot water by the time I got back from Germany.  

I literally fell asleep while trying to write Christophe I was so jet lagged.  Bradford woke me up so that I could finish the email.  I shot off the email and went to bed.  

True to my jet lag nature, I woke up wide awake at 1:00 a.m. ready to start the day.  (Seriously, I hate travelling.)  I decided to see what my wonderful Pleasant Grove friends were up to since it was late afternoon over there.  I was shocked to see an email from Johann.  

He said that he had been told by Christophe that the water heater wasn't working and sent me some questions and a manual in French.  (I had already found the manual in English.)  I wrote an email answering his questions figuring he'd see it in the morning.  

Imagine my surprise when wrote me back!  At 1:00 a.m.!  He had more questions.  Pretty soon he and I are writing each other back and forth and I'm sending him photos of the water heater, and he's sending me photos from the manual of what I should look at.  

At 2:00 a.m. I had hot water!  I gave Johann the good news and he asked me to check some pipes in the "cave" in the morning and wished me a pleasant night.  (This "cave" deserves its own post.  It truly feels like a cave.)

I have never met Johann in person but he is a wonderful landlord.  He worked tirelessly 3 years ago to help me get the Internet, he replaced my fridge because it was forming ice crystals in the back, and he kept the fan I had bought so that I could use it again this time.  He has upgraded the kitchen, added a dryer to the laundry room, and even held the apartment for me for months in advance while I tried to decide if I wanted it again.  And he's charging me the exact same rent as 3 years ago.  I feel truly blessed to rent this place from Johann.


So when all is said and done, things have turned out all right, thanks to wonderful people who have been placed in my life.  

When I think of my relationship with travelling, I think of it kind of like pregnancy and childbirth.  I have time to get ready anticipating the event.  I go through lots of pain and trials when it finally gets here.  I end up with feelings of happiness and euphoria.  Later, I  remember only the good parts and forget the bad.

Unless of course I write a post titled the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.