April 19, 2009 19:53 – 19:53

Our final morning in France was not fun. Not fun at all. For starters, we lost the hotel key card. Because you need it to operate the hotel elevator, this meant we had to take all of our stuff down in one load—without the benefit of a luggage cart. Either that, or spend precious time getting a replacement key at the front desk.

In our haste—we were running a bit late—we neglected to actually check out of the hotel properly. Hopefully, everything there was taken care of, but we don’t really know yet. I hope they enjoy the Czech fan and baguette we left in the room.

When trying to pay for parking, the parking machine was rejecting Karen’s credit card (so were the toll booths), but we weren’t really sure of that fact until we took the parking ticket and tried to exit the gate. It said we hadn’t paid. This meant an additional five minute delay.

We took the rental car to where we thought Europcar is, but after parking it, we were informed that we were in the wrong place. Mind you, this place was fully staffed with humans, so it might have been a wonderful place to leave the rental car.

But, we got back into the car and drove to the correct location—in Terminal 1 at the airport—which was very difficult because there was a lack of sign continuity. More time lost.

After finding the correct location, I spent another 10 minutes looking for the rental office itself. When I found it, the sign announced its Sunday hours as 8 am to 8 pm. Great. Except that nobody was there, and another sign said we needed to go to the Arrivals level of the airport to area 26. Another 15 minutes lost. In our haste and irritation the night before, I had forgotten to fill the tank up. So, we turned the car in with the tank practically empty. So, they will fill the tank at a cost of about .3€ per litre more than I could have done it at a regular gas station. So, throw in a large dose of uncertainty, since we never got the final rental receipt for the car. I just checked my American Express account online, and today’s transactions aren’t on it yet. So, the jury is still out

Edit: Got the verdict from EuropCar, and it wasn’t as bad as it might have been. Petrol was way more expensive than I thought they’d charge, and they added a “refueling fee” on top of the charge for fuel itself–totaling about 105 Euros (effectively costing $142 for 13 gallons of diesel, compared to the 50 Euros it would have cost me at the pump). They inflated the “road fee” by about $16 (which AutoEurope is refunding), so all in all, it wasn’t terrible. About $85/day for the car rental, all told. AutoEurope is great, by the way. We might use them again. Not so sure about EuropCar, however, given how poorly they staff their vehicle return locations.

After many more episodes of uncertainty and ambiguity, we finally did manage to check in and make it to the gate for our flight—they were already boarding. Unfortunately, this meant that we had to take our seats in the plane without first being able to use the rest room.

On the bright side, the flight actually departed on time and got into Dulles a little early. The flight was full, but Karen & I both had aisle seats close together, so we were able to stretch our legs a bit.

I was seated next to a young French-Vietnamese teacher who was on her way to teach for two weeks at the Michelin French School in Greenville, SC. Michelin has their North American HQ there, and they have a French school for their French employees who work in the U.S. Everything in the school is taught in French (except for English, I would guess), so it provides cultural continuity for the children of Michelin employees.

My wonderful sister Sharon picked us up at Dulles—in our van. This was good because it meant that Sharon didn’t have to use her own gas. It also meant we didn’t have to transfer stuff from one car to another. In any event, we’re now home, and very jet-lagged. For dinner, we ordered a large Greek salad and pizza from Old Chicago on Huntington Avenue. They have excellent salads and pizza—and their other stuff is great, too. They deliver to about a 4 mile radius, so if you’re within their sphere, you should give them a try sometime.

It turns out that we’re accidental smugglers. We’d bought some fruit—apples, oranges, and a mandarin orange—at a grocery store somewhere—I think it was in France on the way to Prague. We ate some of the fruit while we were there, but lost track of it… until we got home, and I discovered an apple, an orange, and a mandarin orange in our luggage. This, after telling the kind folks at customs that we didn’t have any fruit. Mind you, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had a trained bloodhound there sniffing people’s luggage, looking for precisely what we were carrying. But, the cute little pooch completely ignored our luggage. In any case, although we didn’t know it, we were accidental smugglers. I’ve already eaten a third of the evidence, and will take care of the rest tomorrow.

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