Our European Vacation Saga

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Our European Vacation Saga

Hubby and I took a trip to Europe last month. We went to Italy and France. We also took the train through Switzerland to get from Italy to France, and saw the beautiful Italian/Swiss Alps.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the entire reason for this vacation was my mother-in-law’s desire to see her family in France. She has health issues, so it requires a lot of work on Hubby’s part to make certain that her dietary, hygiene and physical comforts are taken care of to a level to which she is accustomed. She could not make the trip without his careful planning. We decided to go too because it is just easier for her if Hubby is there handling all the issues that can arise.

A few days before we were scheduled to leave for Italy (we were going to meet his mother in France the following week), Hubby’s mom was admitted to the hospital with bronchitis. They kept her for a week, and once she was released her health care aids needed to be on 24 hour shifts. She could not go on the trip!

Hubby had taken trip insurance out on her (she’s 84), so the money will be refunded. She hopes to go to Paris in the fall, but as of this writing she is back in the hospital with pneumonia. I will be surprised if she ever makes a long trip again.

I am disappointed she did not get to go with us. I know she would have enjoyed seeing the family (posts to come!). Hubby and I did make the drive into Normandy, and I must say the countryside was beautiful. It reminded me of a cross between Western- Upstate -New York, and eastern Ohio.

Now, on to the saga-part.

I had wanted to drive to New York City to take the flight. I didn’t want a connection as I feared something would go wrong, and we’d miss our flight to Rome. Hubby poo-pooed me, but my desire to drive grew stronger the closer we got to our departure date.

I swear I am clairvoyant …

Hubby and I were scheduled to leave the Buffalo airport at approximately 4:30pm on Mother’s Day. We had a connecting flight at JFK (New York City – Queens to be exact). The layover was a bit more than 90 minutes. Tight, but doable.

At approximately 4:10, we heard a commotion at the back of the plane, and two people hustled off the flight with all their carry on luggage (a man and a woman in their 20s or 30s). They didn’t say anything to the attendants or to the gate agent. They just left. Now, I want to offer you all some advice: If you see anyone that had boarded whispering that they are afraid to fly and want to get off the plane, tackle them and duct tape them to their freaking seat. It will be less troublesome than letting them off the plane. (I am just kidding. Maybe.)

At around 4:31 after a huge confab between the gate agent, flight attendants and pilot, they decided to deplane all of us with all our stuff “for our safety”.

Now any idiot could see this was going to happen at 4:11. WHY they waited 20 minutes to deplane us, call security and the police for a bomb sniffing dog, I do not know. In other words, I have NO issue with the procedure, just with the delay in implementing the procedure. All I can think of is that they were waiting (hoping?) those people would get back on the plane, and none of the security procedures would be necessary.

So, we all piled off the plane, waited for security and the dog, and then piled back on the plane as there was, of course, no issue. The man sitting across from them said he overheard the woman stating she was “too afraid” to fly. The police did file a report on the incident, including their names, descriptions, etc.

So, at 5:15 we were all back on the plane waiting for take-off. At 5:30pm, we finally left the gate. We were assigned a position in line for take-off, and the captain announced, “About 8 minutes”.

This was really going to be cutting things close, but Hubby checked and our departure gate was 6 gates away, and with a lot of luck, we would make our trip to Rome.

Five minutes after the “8 minute” announcement, the pilot announced that JFK had just instituted a ground stoppage – nothing could fly in – and so we were going to sit until it was lifted.

At that point, 100 people started groaning. The woman ahead of us told the flight attendant she would now miss her flight to Zurich, and she’d rather get off the plane in Buffalo than be stranded in New York City.

I then piped in that we were going to miss our flight to Rome, and felt the same way.

A few other people also said the same (a LOT of international travelers on this flight!), and so we went back to the gate where half of us deplaned. Hubby and I had decided to travel with just carry-on luggage. This decision saved us a lot of grief over the course of our 17 day trip.

Hubby and I immediately went to the Delta desk and got rescheduled for the next day with a longer layover in JFK, and went back home for the evening. The next day, all went well with our travel. We did miss our first day in Rome, but we had had two excursions planned with the same company and they very nicely allowed us to reschedule our Vatican tour for later in the day when we landed.

Our economic impact for those people walking off the plane was a bit over $400. It was initially $1000, but the tour company’s willingness to reschedule us saved us a great deal of money! We didn’t bother to cancel our hotel since we “paid” with points (the St Regis!), and would not have received any credit back. We just did a VERY late check-in the following morning.

Oh, side note: when we landed, we deplaned to the tarmac! This was an enormous international flight, they dropped us off in the middle of of an asphalt lot, and we were bused in to customs. We found that really odd. To boot, when we arrived at the terminal, we saw all these people with masks on! We were wondering… “Wha…!?” I couldn’t believe the air quality was that poor that far out of Rome itself!

Well, apparently we live under a rock because we had no idea that the Rome international airport terminal had burned down a few days before!!

What a beginning to our time in Italy!!

To make it even more welcoming, when I went to customs the custom agent didn’t even open my passport or ask me a question. He picked up my passport, and tossed it back to me! No Italian passport stamp for me.

While I don’t want to go into too many details right now about our trip as I plan on breaking out the cities, what we did, the costs, etc, I will say that our travel within Europe was quite smooth. We did very well with the trains once we learned that they departure gate wasn’t posted until 15 minutes prior to departure. We walked nearly everywhere, took taxis only a few times, and used buses in Paris (which were frequent, inexpensive and clean).

Now for the final part of the “saga”…

We flew out of Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. We flew business/first class the entire way. We did not have any checked luggage. We had the car pick us up at 7:30 am for our 10:30 am flight. We arrived at the airport by 8:15am.

We had to apply for the VAT refund – you get your purchases of $150+ either stamped or scanned – and then you submit for your tax money back. The perfume I bought in Paris was eligible for 16% back, but I had the store do my tax refund and got 14% back instead (they take a fee). And in my opinion, if you can go this way for a few euro (in my case under 10€), do it!! I had purchased a purse in Italy, and needed to do my own VAT refund for that item. I had to pull the purse out of my luggage, show it to the tax officer along with the filled in paperwork. The line for this was significant. (Remember, if you are checking bags and your VAT purchases are in your checked luggage, do your VAT refund FIRST!! They need to see the stuff if you don’t have a scanned CRT.)

We checked in to our flight using a short sky priority line.

We went through customs, security (metal detectors only, set too low for bras… all the women got pulled over for additional screens since our under-wires went off) via a priory line, got to the International terminal quickly, and literally had two minutes to spare before boarding.

Charles De Gaulle airport is a lot of work!!

Our flight was uneventful, but 30 minutes late. As we touched down, Hubby looked at his phone and saw the notification that our connecting flight home was cancelled due to “weather” (Sonny-boy said it was 83° and sunny, so my guess was weather somewhere other than NYC or Buffalo that did not allow the aircraft to get to JFK to fly out). We arrived at about 12:30pm and we were put on the 9pm flight that evening.

At this point Hubby looked at me and said, “Wow! You really did have a premonition!”

Sooooo after we got through customs (NOTE: You declare OVER $800. Hubby won’t make the mistake of checking the “yes” box on that again when we only have $400 worth of goods with us (we had mailed the perfume and declared at the time of mailing)), we looked at one another and had a discussion on whether or not we were renting a car to drive home, or flying into Rochester. The 9pm flight to Buffalo was not an option as we were concerned it too would be cancelled. The 9pm flight to Rochester was already cancelled.

We went up to the Delta desk where the very nice Sky Priority lady switched us to the 4:41 Rochester flight.

Hubby and I again talked over driving, but decided to take our chances on the Rochester flight. We knew we’d have to rent a car in Rochester but an hour drive home seemed to be a better option than a 7 hour drive home from NYC, so off we went to the Sky Club.

Our flight loaded fine. But the door didn’t close. Apparently there was a “weather line” from up in Canada to down in Pennsylvania, and they needed more fuel and a re-route.

We sat on the tarmac for FOUR hours before take-off (one hour of that in the take-off queue!) for a 45 minute flight to Rochester (the flight attendants were fabulous! I need to write Delta and tell them how good they were under these trying circumstances). Once we landed, Hubby asked if I minded if we took a hotel. While I was disappointed, we had been up since 6:30am, and it was now 4am Paris time for us. We were both pretty exhausted.

We rented the car, took the hotel, and drove home the following morning.

We have decided it is a drive to Toronto or Detroit next time we take an International flight. At the very least, we will be avoiding NYC air-space like the plague.

I have to say our trip itself was quite enjoyable. I am not a fan of the city of Paris (that is putting it mildly), but loved the Normandy countryside. Our time in Italy was fabulous, and I can’t wait to share the experience with all of you! Over the next few weeks, I will share my travel experiences, the sites, the food, and even the costs!

And that my friends, Our European Vacation Saga.

• For more of the Travel posts on Ann’s Entitled Life, click here.

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  1. MichelleK says

    OH Ann – always an adventure… but I am soooo anxious to hear all the details!! LUNCH soon?!!!

  2. Wow! What a great story teller you are. Looking so forward to reading the rest of the story.

  3. I’m going to be coming back and reading the stories of the European adventure for sure!!
    Still not getting notificatios, can’t figure it out Ann! 🙁

    • Didi, the notifications is not you, it is me. There is a way at the bottom of the page, but there is an issue and I contacted a programmer. I am waiting to hear back from him.


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