03 Getting There

The view from our balcony the morning of our departure, just to let us know what we'll be missing...

It’s always beautiful the day you leave. The view from our balcony towards the ocean, sun rising, rhythmic rolling of the breakers, sweet salt air and an occasional dolphin plying its steady, elegant course, an osprey swooping across the dunes—all of it marshaled as if by conspiratorial intention, like a woman fully aware of her beauty, utterly confident in her seductivity, who, nevertheless,  finds attention turning inexorably and inexplicably and (if she’ s to be believed) foolishly, away, in another direction.

It’s time to go.

We are packed, locked and loaded, nervous about all the things that could go wrong.

Max hops in the RV, as always, ready for anything.

We have a sheaf of papers for the dogs, secured with great effort and at great expense, the acquisition of which included a daylong trip Alice made to Gainesville for the sole purpose of obtaining one rubber stamp on one document certifying that… well, something to do with rabies, and this is in addition to the other fifteen documents certifying the same thing.  That, plus a raft of health certificates, medical records since they day they were born (necessitating communication with their original Vet in New Jersey) documentation sufficient, it would seem, to quality one for top secret status in the CIA—all for the purpose of getting two profoundly annoying dogs into a country, France, notorious for actually liking dogs.  Go figure.

They know that nothing bad has ever happened to them as a result of a ride in the RV, so why worry now?

First leg:  The 450 miles to the home of our friends Norm and Mary Sweeters in Pinehurst, North Carolina, where we will be spending the night. I had done this journey several times before and expected it to be uneventful.  I was wrong.

Midway there, we entered a filling station driving a perfectly configured RV, pristine, really, not a dent or a scratch, despite 30 thousand miles logged, buffed and clean and fine.  Ten minuters later, leaving the filling station, that selfsame RV has now acquired a nasty crease in the left rear panel that, had it been worse, might have separated the entire rear portion of from the vehicle rendering it inoperable and, probably, me too, if only from exasperation. Fortunately, there was no structural damage, and after a predicable amount of grumping and griping on my part, we were on our way again.      I won’t attempt to describe exactly how it happened, but, as I made a determined effort to calm down (Jerry Stiller, the great sage from Seinfeld, somehow inhabited my psyche and I found myself repeating, “Serenity now…serenity now”—I’m not kidding) I did also find myself reflecting on the rather remarkable chain of small, concurrent circumstances that had to coalesce in order to coordinate perfectly in engineering the unfortunate and dispiriting mishap:  I had to pick that moment and that exit to make a pit stop; of the three available gas stations, each equally accessible, none recommending itself more than any other, I had to choose the one that I did, and it, in turn, had to have an odd, low-slung, rail-like stanchion by the pump I chose, extending much farther that one would expect, further than any other rail-like structure at any other gas station or even any of the other pumps at that station, and, witnessed by the fact that an after-event inspection did not reveal it (the stupid stanchion) to have any apparent purpose, rendered it pretty much indiscernible from the driver’s perspective; a large U-Haul truck needed to suddenly appear and park, somewhat rudely, directly in front of us; and a last-second decision to swing hard to the right, towards a grassy area in the back, in order to give the dogs a chance to wee-wee rather than heading directly out to the highway– all had to be made in perfect sequence.  Change any one of these things even slightly and the accident—one that will undoubtedly cost several thousand dollars in repairs—doesn’t happen.   To put it more simply, one of the first things you learn when you drive an RV, especially one of the very long ones, is that each turning movement, one way or the other, not only propels the front end in the direction you have turned, but also propels the rear-end in the opposite direction, much more so than you might imagine, and certainly much more than with a simple automobile.  In other words, it’s something you definitely need to take into consideration, even with a small 23 footer like ours.  I thought I was clear of the pump area when I turned right, and, indeed, I was, except for the unseen and purposeless extended stanchion.  Boom.  Left rear hits stanchion.  Big crunch.  Not good.

“Serenity now, serenity now…”—because, as I say, we’re operable, and we’ve got more pressing issues to think about, namely, all the things that are undoubtedly going to go wrong at the airport.      Indeed, as we get closer we become more and more convinced that we have made some kind of horrible and irreversible mistake.  We’re nervous about, well, just about everything.  Will the dogs be okay?  What if it turns out to be like one of those shocking stories where some horrible and mysterious thing happens during the flight and upon arrival one is confronted not with happy and relieved companions—but stiffened corpses?  How can we possibly put the Monsters in such peril?

No, we're not traveling light...

And what about our luggage?  We have clothes and electronics stuffed in golf bags (the on-line instructions are explicit about “only golf clubs in golf bags”), a bike box so unprofessionally cobbled together that it looks to be solid duct tape; suitcases that we know are over the proscribed weight allowance, and God knows how many of them.  Could we possible be within the limit?  What were we thinking?  Whose idea was this?  (I notice we’re both looking askance at each other…)

Okay, okay, let’s get focused:  I need to get Alice and the dogs and the cages and everything else dropped off at the arrivals area—and goodness knows what kind of madhouse that’s going to be—while I then try to park the RV in the long term lot which appears from the map to be in some odd and probably obscure and unmarked distant locale.  I need to remember to make note of the exact spot so that I can provide that information to Brian, which he’ll need he picks it up to drive it back to Florida.  Sure, they say there’s a “shuttle” that will take me from the lot back to the terminal, but, hey, I’m used to Newark airport where saying, promising and doing are in separate universes altogether.  What if the shuttle takes forever, or never shows up at all?      There’s nothing about any aspect of this that is likely to go well, so I better just get my mind right and soldier on.  Yes, that’s it.  I’ll do that.  But then…      Five miles from the airport we make one last grassy knoll stop for a canine wee-wee and steel ourselves for the coming ordeal.  A deep breath, and then we head in for whatever awaits.

Eero Saarinen's famous design for the main terminal at Dulles International

Dulles International Airport could be the nicest, cleanest, most modern, friendliest, best organized airport I have ever been in.  We pulled in to an uncongested Arrivals area and were immediately approached by two smiling Skycaps who smoothly assisted us with all our belongings, four-legged  and otherwise.  Piece-by-piece we unloaded the overstuffed RV’s cargo onto the curb, with their help until finally, the dogs popped out looking for adventure and, as always, a pat on the head which was provided generously and enthusiastically by the porters.

Alice suggested they wheel everything inside at which point we’d put together the cages for Max & Chloe.  No, they said cordially but firmly, we’ll help you put them together out here, and then we’ll all head in together. I pulled away to take the RV to the parking lot, hoping to get back as fast as possible to help Alice with what was likely to be a complicated and, possibly, contentious check-in process

What, me worry?

Despite my fears, finding the parking lot was a snap, and the spot to catch the shuttle was obvious and nearby.  The bus arrived while I was still a few paces from the shelter, and I actually had to jog the last few steps to get there as the bus did.

I had hoped the parking process wouldn’t take more than an hour; in fact, it took less than twenty minutes, and when I arrived back at the terminal, I expected to see Alice in the middle of our mountain of luggage, struggling with the dogs, anxious for me to help her do battle with the guardians of check-in who would no doubt do everything in their power to find cause to refuse us, our mangy dogs and our unwelcome belongings

Instead, our luggage was nowhere be seen, having already been seamlessly checked in– without incident of any sort– and the Monsters were being gushed over by a crowd of travelers and airline personnel alike.  They—and Alice—were happy and smiling and ready to go.

This was more than I could have hoped for.  Much more.

So much for all that worry….

Next stop Paris.


About Dulles International Airport

As mentioned above, this is quite a place.  Incredibly efficient, well thought out, comfortable and even beautiful.

This starts with the exterior design, done by the famed Finnish architect Eero Saarinen in 1962, during the Eisenhower Era.  (No surprise that it’s named after his influential Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles).  The main building has an elegant upward swoop to it, evocative, one assumes, of a plane taking off.  Everything inside is glass and soaring metal trusses, angles and long, functional but visually pleasant expanses adroitly incorporating check-in counters and baggage processing areas, waiting hubs and pedestrian walkways.  Maybe it was an off-day (this airport is ranked one of the busiest in the country) but it seemed uncrowded and, well, sort of calm, for an airport.  As our bags and pets were processed, Alice and I stood back as smiling airline personnel coordinated with cooperative equally genial baggage handlers (this includes the ones who trundled the Monsters off to their waiting fate).  This is nice, I thought; this is amazing.  Who knew?

One plane; all business class; 79 seats– but only 12 passengers.  I was concerned that this airline, Open Skies, that I had grown to like, didn’t seem to have long for this world with a passenger load so paltry, but I was told by the flight attendant that this Washington-to-Paris offering was brand new and that they were confident that this route, like their prior ones, would grow soon to profitability.  In any event, for this flight, it felt like being on our own private jet with cheerily under burdened flight attentands (except, of course, that one who was trop, trop francaise avec une attitude…). A good movie on my laptop, a bit of a snooze, and before we know it ve are beginning zee approshe to Paree Orlee…

Aerotrain Terminal

The newest feature, and maybe the most pleasant and welcome, just opened this year, is the Aerotrain, one of those zippy people movers that stitch together the various parts of the airport, some of which are pretty far slung.  This is a significant improvement over the old way of doing things—even though the old way did have its unique and quaint aspects—which were something called “mobile waiting lounges which were, as the name implies, a sort of train car that you’d camp out in while waiting for your flight and then, at the appropriate time it would find its mobile way to wherever your plane was taking off, without your having to exit the lounge.

Old mobile lounge at Dulles

These now recede into the lore of the airport.

Yes, there’s been some money spent here and I did have the thought that it may be no coincidence that this is the airport most of our congressmen and their staffs would use most often.  Somebody’s been appropriating some dough for this.  There’s a surprise…

If your situation should require it, or if circumstances allow Dulles to be one option amongst several, I can recommend it as a preferred point of arrival or departure.

One thing:  On September 11th, 2001 American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757, left gate D26 en route to Los Angeles. It made it only to the Pentagon…


Arrival in Paris…

Within minutes we are through immigration.  A few more minutes and we await our bags and are told that our encrated dogs– assuming they are, as we have been asured (but who knows?), on the plane– should be coming out the conveyor belt… over there.   Will they indeed arrive?  Were they actually put on the plane?  Did they escape, make a break for it, bolt the Big House?

Et, voila!  Ils sont arrivées!



Anybody home?

We are met at the airport by Alice’s brother, Henri, who has rented a mini-van, driven the night before the four hours from Luxembourg, stayed the night in a nearby hotel to be close to the airport for a speedy jump to the airport– and then spent, this morning, one and one half hours stopped dead in traffic within a stone’s throw of our arrivals area.  This thanks to a nationwide (that nation being France) general strike by the Unions protesting the raising of the retireement age of government workers from 60 to 62.  Impossible n’est pas francais….

But eventually Henri arrives with the mini-van frazzled and frustrated that we had to wait, despite the fact that it was through no fault of his own, and soon we are onboard, rolling along out of the City, and the weary monsters, confused but safe, nestle down for a good sleep the entire way, excepting one quick excursion for their very first wee-wee on European soil…

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N E X T :  Luxembourg I




[click any image to launch gallery]

N E X T :  Luxembourg I


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