Travelblog: a comedy of errors

Our story begins with the cancellation of my flight from Paris to JFK Wednesday afternoon.

Four thirty p.m. Wednesday. Arrive Paris Charles de Gaulle Aeroport, proceed to American Airlines check-in, observe AA 121 FLIGHT CANCELED announcement on gate monitors. Call New York travel office, discover seats have been switched to Thursday flights to compensate, home agent updates and confirms the switch. Approach counter to review situation with agent, discover that home agent’s updated reservation removes us from make-good status for canceled flight. Supervisor gets involved, smoothes out situation, switches home agent’s reservations to earlier Thursday departure, confirms overnight stay at airport Hilton.

Five-thirty. Proceed smoothly to Hilton via shuttle bus and check in. Discover empty water bottle in front of door and someone else’s body hair on bathroom towel, begin to suspect that room was tidied (nicely) but not changed over following departure of previous guest. Interminable line at front desk and surly housekeeping staff give strong hint that I must make do.

Six. Assess clothing situation: one day added to trip, 12 hours of travel forthcoming, just completed four days in hottest Paris heatwave in three years. Out of clothes. Decide new garments must be purchased to maintain morale during travel. New clothes are in Paris; I am not in Paris. Proceed to airport train station, board citybound RER train. Train is not air-conditioned. Train gets virtually no ventilation from small open windows. Temperature in Paris is roughly 97 degrees. Temperature inside train is somewhat more than that, and stuffy. Train ride is supposed to be 40 minutes.

Six-thirty-five. Train stops two stations outside of Paris Gare du Nord. Train does not restart. Apologetic-sounding conductor speaks several times about an apparent electrical failure. Not knowing much French, am unable to tell whether the train or the entire RER is broken; sitting on an unventilated train, am unwilling to ask the woman sitting next to me if she speaks English. People disembark, loiter, smoke cigarettes on the platform. Sit on step of train, pass the time with 10-year-old French girl practicing her English on my clothing (“Blue! Orange, white, blue!”). Watch RER security guard board train with masked, energetic pit bull terrier. Wonder if the stopped train is such a bad thing after all.

Seven. Security has departed but train has not. Send desperate email via BlackBerry to Paris colleague looking for options. Three minutes later, train regains electricity and doors shut. Send “never mind the urgent email” email. One hour later, miss call from colleague; shortly afterward, receive email: “Still alive?”

Seven-fifteen. Arrive Gare du Nord, shirt nearly soaked through with perspiration. Want to go to Chatelet les Halles but train seems to have stopped working again. Wander station in a daze looking for clothing store. Peek in Monoprix and leave without discovering large and inexpensive clothes aisle. Hail taxicab, ask to go to Printemps, realize wallet is empty, ask driver in broken French to wait curbside at an ATM so he can complete his fare. Nice driver agrees. Taxicab is air-conditioned and cold. Driver receives huge tip for this fact.

Seven-thirty. Printemps is motherfucking closed. Wonder if maybe Galleries de Lafayette will have underwear. Discover strange Euro-style urban-and-sportswear store on walk, waste entirely too much time looking for desired items, buy the only non-branded T-shirt and white underwear in the building, somehow spend $50 on basics. Try to go to Galleries anyway but it is closed, making expensive-odd-sportswear decision suddenly seem wise. Walk around looking for cold water and find none. Stomach is starting to rumble.

Eight-fifteen. The Italian restaurant discovered in April, which would really be perfect to fix this wreck of an errand, is two metro trains away. Take the trains to St. Germain, discover they are pleasantly hot as opposed to the oppressively hot RER. This is somehow progress. Exit the Metro, look in another Monoprix, find T-shirts for 10 euros and boxers for 7. Buy a surprisingly bad baguette. Walk down rue du Cherche Midi, find Italian restaurant with ease. Restaurant is full. “No reservation? Maybe nine-forty-five.” Ask for recommendation, get pointed to another Italian restaurant not far away. Fatigue is starting to set in.

Eight-forty-five. L’Alto has room, is fairly priced, is attended by welcoming wait staff, and even has an air conditioner. Sit directly in front of A/C unit, commandeer vents, risk pneumonia without care. Order and drink a one-liter bottle of San Pellegrino, am so dehydrated that 33 ounces of water do not create any urge to urinate. Dinner is good enough. While paying for meal, weather turns and thunderclaps ring out. Wonder if at any point I subconsciously thought “It could be worse—it could be raining” and created a jinx.

Ten. Sprint to taxi stand. Paris assumes resemblance to Manhattan as rain intensifies and taxis suddenly disappear. One arrives, climb in, tell driver, “L’hotel Hilton, Charles de Gaulle Aeroport.” The reply: “[French] non.” In best “don’t give me that, I know it’s law” voice: “Oui!” “Non…!” “Oui.” “Ahhh.” Taxi heads to hotel, its passenger thoroughly worried that cab will pull over, take wallet, and leave me for dead (or at least soaked). Rain turns into incredible storm with cloud-to-ground lightning for the duration of the drive. Arrive at airport, taxi driver cannot find hotel. Sees sign, pulls into the service entrance of hotel, apologizes. Pay driver, tip well, run halfway around hotel in downpour to find front door. The worst is over.

Eleven. Home at last, room not quite cold, want water, minibar is locked, Parisians don’t drink tap water, call room service. Eight euro for a bottle of Evian, they say. Perhaps you should go to the bar, it is cheaper. Five euro for 50 centilitres, says the bartender. Perhaps you should just order the room service. Return to room, call room service back. “I just remembered, it is now nine euro fifty.” “Since when?” “Since I just remembered.” Give up, get ice. Watch no television as satellite is down. Unpack, repack, prepare for early morning.

One a.m. Thursday. Sleep.

Five. Alarm sounds, time to go. Head to airport on first shuttle. Arrive so early that the staff isn’t even at the counter. Check in, get breakfast.

Eight. “You’re going the wrong way,” an American woman tells us as we walk from breakfast toward security. “There’s a bomb scare. Unattended luggage.” Wait outside for security to blow up luggage. Proceed to Admirals Club lounge, enjoy a moment of cold air and hospitality.

Ten. Flight takes off on time. In business class, we are treated like the royalty we pretend we are, and the rest of the day proceeds smoothly at last. And thank goodness for upgrade fares, because in the back of the plane, the entertainment system is broken, giving the coach cabin an eight hour flight without a movie. Oh, and a malfunction during takeoff releases their oxygen masks….

Travelblog: Paris

Ha! You thought I was home? (The missus is in Cali, too, so we’re nine hours and 6500 miles apart, neither of us within half a day’s reach of home. I wonder if we’ll ever grow up.)

So yeah, Paris since Sunday until Wednesday night. Highlights: the Tour de France finale, which was fun and exciting and entertaining, and not unlike marathon day, but more on that when I am home and can upload my photos; traveling to Amiens on business, which is not exciting but is a great way to see some of the French farming countryside; excellent dinners at Les Gourmets des Ternes (the steak! the dessert! the owner!) and TokyoEat (save our anti-Americanistic waiter) and one amusing meal at AirGrill in the Amiens airport, which struck me as not just the nicest restaurant in the area but also the hottest. And probably the only.

And, of course, as I’ve chronicled many times in this space, tearing into a warm baguette in the evening sun while meandering around Paris is, while uncultured, one of life’s simplest and purest pleasures.

Vacation log: Massachusetts 2006, IV

Last stop on our vacation was Rockport, Mass. and Cape Ann. My grandfather settled in Salem when he came to the United States in the 1930s; he used to bring my father and uncle there every summer, and we still go, in his honor and for nostalgic fun.

Once upon a time, we stayed in Danvers at what is now an office building. For the past few years we’ve been in the Quarterdeck at the Yankee Clipper Inn, but this is the last time we’ll be going there. The inn has been on a slow decline ever since the current owner bought the property in 2001. This year, we encountered a green pool, a shortage of food at breakfast, and a “For Sale” sign in front of the Quarterdeck (a separate building with terrific ocean views). In retrospect, our stay wasn’t as bad as it seemed, but it was bad enough to leave people consistently miffed. That plus the suspicion that the inn might not even be there next summer led to a weekend of exploration, and we found a new inn that we’ll be trying in 2007.

Hospitality quibbles aside, the family trip to Cape Ann is always fun. We go swimming and fishing off the rocky coastline, explore the towns of Gloucester, Rockport, Essex and Ipswich, and spend hours playing ball and basically doing nothing. Friday sees us digging into tidepools on Bass Rocks, looking for crabs to race and starfish to stick to our fingers; Saturday we head to Bearskin Neck for shopping, penny candy and the all-family bubblegum-bubble-blowing contest. (This year saw a three-way tie for the lead. I came in second to last as usual.)

The food! Every year we rack our brains for places to eat, and every year we wind up with phenomenal food. Dinner at The Rudder in Rocky Neck is easy, plentiful, and thoroughly enjoyable, and everything from calamari to stir fry is done quite well. Likewise, we fell into Halibut Point for pub food and wound up with good salads, good soup, and a good waitress. Our annual dinner at the 1640 Hart House gets better every year—our food was uniformly excellent, and the servers are starting to remember us, which is a treat.

Deserving its own special mention is Roy Moore Lobster Co. on Bearskin Neck, our standard weekend lunch and hands down the best lobster known to man. The lobsters are brought directly to this fish shack from boats pulling into the harbor, and within hours they are cooked and served with drawn butter on paper platters. No middlemen means complete freshness. Roy Moore boils its lobsters in ocean water, too, which gives the lobsters a unique flavor, sweeter than usual and flat-out delicious. I like lobster but I love Roy Moore’s lobster. Served by the cheery lobsterman surrounded by bays of crustaceans and eaten out back on wooden lobster traps, this meal is one for the ages. I want more already.

We drove home Sunday, so thus ends my travelblog. But I’m off to Paris on business this weekend, and if I find anything interesting….

Vacation log: Massachusetts 2006, III

So much for abundant wifi—I found nary a signal the last three days of my vacation—but I’m home and can continue my travelblog.

Our Martha’s Vineyard stay was terrific, as expected. Food: great meals at Atria (best restaurant on the island for us, casual elegance with smiling service), Among the Flowers (go for the lobster roll, stay for everything else), The Terrace (highfalutin dining at the Charlotte Inn, and worth it), and Larsen’s Fish Shop in Menemsha. Decent I-don’t-know-what-to-eat food can be found at The Wharf in Edgartown and Slice of Life in Oak Bluffs. And for our money, Vineyard Scoops is better than the more famous Mad Martha’s ice cream.

As for activities, we did our usual complement: bicycling the island with stops at the beach; walking all the town centers, including Menemsha; cruising around in our car, discovering back roads and small shops. The charms of the island continue. We love the variety of lifestyles and the continued immaculateness of the Charlotte Inn. It’s a great escape from the mainland.

Midweek I’ll post a rundown of our last vacation stop, in Rockport.

Quotable

From the footnotes on the menu at Atria, in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard:

“If you are smoking we will assume you are on fire and take the necessary actions.”

“Unsupervised children will be given a double espresso and a puppy.”

Vacation log: Massachusetts 2006, II

Took a few days, but I’m back with another travelblog post. We are now on Martha’s Vineyard after a great stint in Nantucket. Here’s an update through today.

Nantucket is a perfect place to relax. The seemingly universal attitude on the island is one of easygoing, upbeat nonchalance. We spent two nights at the Union Street Inn, just off Main Street in Nantucket Town. The inn is newly renovated and perfectly run; we were most impressed with how simple and effective our stay unfolded. A lunch visit to the White Elephant confirmed that it is sophisticated, beautiful, and not for us until we have a few kids to keep busy (and perhaps a boat, and cousins named Chad and Muffy).

There’s not much to do on Nantucket, in a good way. We did plenty of damage shopping, mostly at Victoria Greenhood for jewelry and Marina Clothing menswear (surprise of the week: I outspent Amy so far). Provisions serves up great take-out sandwiches and Even Keel is lightning quick at lunchtime. We had one good dinner at Centre Street Bistro and one mediocre one at Slip 14, although the environment was fun.

We spent one day biking around the island, and can recommend Young’s for rentals. Down the block, Indian Summer Surfwear has good active beach clothing; more impressively, they sold me the world’s greatest backpack in 1990—I just stopped using it last year—and they still have a nice selection. Had we had more time we would have biked or shuttle-bused to the far side of the island, but that will have to wait for our next trip.

After two-plus days, it was back onto the high-speed ferry to Hyannis, and following a quick round of Pirate’s Cove miniature golf in Falmouth (David Wertheimer: 33 going on 12), we drove to Woods Hole and took another ferry to the Vineyard. We arrived in Edgartown, quaint and cozy as ever, just before dinnertime.

We are back at the Charlotte Inn. No words I compose on the fly will do justice to the feeling we get when we are here. The inn is impeccably gorgeous, upscale without being stuffy, comfortable without losing its elegance. We are currently sitting on a private patio overlooking a semi-private garden and yard with an intricate and immaculate floral display in front of us. Off to the corner is a converted shed that displays antiques and period pieces from the early 20th century. We had tea and snacks on the porch this afternoon with an endearing summer staffer (were I older I’d call her “just lovely”) and the innkeepers remembered us and welcomed us back with a smile. It’s our fourth trip overall, the second since we got engaged here, and we hope to return for years and years to come.

Next post I’ll run down our Vineyard explorations and food. We’re here for three glorious nights. Time to kick back some more.

Vacation log: Massachusetts 2006

It occurred to me in this era of abundant broadband and laptop lugging that I could keep a nice travelblog during my vacation. I left New York today; my itinerary covers 10 days in Massachusetts. We’ll see if I can keep this up every other day if not daily.

For quality research purposes, I’ve boldfaced hotel, restaurant and activity names; if I’m diligent about it I’ll hyperlink things when there’s time.

First up: Hyannis, where I’m currently in a Sheraton Four Points that Starwood should be ashamed of. This hotel has, among other detractions, mosquitos in the hall; iron scorches, stains, and tears in the carpet; cracks and glue on the bathroom counter; dust mice stuck to the curtains; three sets of holes in the front door where security latches used to be; silverfish by the ice machine; and mildew in some rooms (I’m in my second room). It’s not all bad, really–our current room is clean enough, the sheets and towels are new, and the TV, clock and Internet access all work fine. But this hotel is in dire need of refurbishing and some quality control. Then again, for $45 after Starwood point redemptions, I shouldn’t be complaining.

Now, dinner on the Cape is another thing entirely. Amy and I drove to Chatham for our second meal at the Impudent Oyster, a fantastic local spot with a great combination of quality, hominess and style. The food is excellent, service friendly and professional, and the bartender makes what my well-versed wife calls the best dirty vodka martini she’s ever had. The restaurant is 45 minutes from our waystation in Hyannis and was worth the drive. We’ll be back a third time for sure.

This lovely Sheraton is just a one-night affair, as tomorrow we grab the high-speed ferry to Nantucket. Assuming I can find wifi on the island, expect another post over the weekend.