Wednesday, March 7, 2012
We are back in Valencia. We arrive a little before 6:00 PM local time and Brian and Ofelia met us at the airport to drive us back home. If that were not enough, the two of them provided us with what will turn out to be the makings of a couple of meals, at least. In addition to a tortilla española, there were some cooked peppers, a pork loin roast, some dessert bars and a bag of mandarinas. We are so lucky to have such great friends.
We had decided to spend Sunday in San Francisco so that we would have no hassles getting to the airport in plenty of time for our flight on Monday. The drive from Nevada City was uneventful and traffic was heavy at times, but there were no significant delays. We dropped the car off at Advantage and were pleased to discover that the eleven-day rental with insurance coverage came to a total of $222. They called us a cab and we headed for San Francisco.
Susan had booked a night for us at the Palace Hotel, which is a Starwood property. Susan was able to get us a special rate and that saved us a bit of money. I was and am still having difficulty walking so we enlisted the aid of a bellman to carry our bags up to the room. To be honest, the room was a bit tired and the walls rather bare. The good news is that the bed was comfortable and there was an abundant supply of hot water for both bath and showers. Rachel had arrived in town earlier that day in order to be ready for the gaming conference that began on Monday. We gave her a call and she came over to the hotel.
We popped into the bar for a drink and a steak quesadilla. When we finished Susan and Rachel headed off to a kosher restaurant called Sabra, which is located some three blocks from the hotel. I headed back to the room to continue resting my knee. Susan and Rachel returned some ninety minutes later and we chatted for another half hour or so before Rachel headed back to Saul’s house where she will be spending the week.
We read for a while and we decided to go to bed early so that we would be well rested for our long day of travel. At 5:30 AM the ground began to shake. It turned out to be a 4.0 earthquake with its epicenter in Richmond. Given all the crap that has transpired in the last two weeks, I must confess that I was expecting this. Nonetheless, we turned over and went back to sleep. Susan got up first to grab a cup of coffee at Starbuck’s and to take a few photos. When I got up I showered and dressed and we headed down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. We knew the price would be ridiculous, but we sat down in spite of that. Breakfast ran close to $60. All of a sudden, I really missed Spain.
As ridiculous as the cost of breakfast was, as I already mentioned, it did not come as a surprise. The dinner we had in Nevada City on Saturday evening turned out to be one of the most expensive meals that we have had in recent memory. Six of us filed into Friar Tuck’s a little after 6:00 to have supper. We ordered three appetizers, four entrees, two bottles of wine and four mixed drinks. The bill exceeded $300. The quality of the food was average, the ambience was nothing to write home about and the service was adequate. I was and am at a loss to explain to myself why the restaurant was packed. Different strokes for different folks.
We made it to the airport in plenty of time for our flight. There was some problem generating my ticket for the second leg of the flight and we were told that by presenting the ticker that read, “Not valid for travel” along with my boarding pass for the San Francisco to Paris leg of the trip there would be no problem. Susan had called Air France on Sunday asking them to have a wheelchair for me and was told that there would be one waiting and that the request had been made. The wheelchair request did not show up in the computer at the airport and so arrangements were made to have one come get me in San Francisco and to insure that there would be one waiting when we arrived in Paris. We tried to improve our seating arrangements since we were told that there were a lot of empty seats on our flight, but as it turned out I was seat in an aisle seat and Susan was in a middle seat in the aisle behind me.
When we asked the stewardesses for some help in getting us reseated they said that they would try, but we would have to wait until every one was on board. I managed to change my seat to the two-side of the aircraft and after asking the stewardess if she would ask the young man seated by the window to change places with Susan he readily agreed and we ended up sitting together. As it turns out, we were seated in the rear of the plane where there was a large group of French high school students who were returning to Paris after a two-week visit to several college campuses.
They were, without a doubt, some of the rudest and noisiest individuals that it has even been our misfortune to encounter. They continually changed seat with three of them sitting in the two-side seats. They had no qualms about kicking the back of the seats in front of them. They shouted, they giggled and they were in constant motion. Nobody was able to sleep. Their chaperone did absolutely nothing to get them calm down and behave. The stewardesses did absolutely nothing to solve the problem. When I finally got up and complained to a stewardess about the people behind us constantly kicking the back of our seats, she showed up five minutes later to tell me that there was nobody seated behind us.
Air France is an unmitigated disaster. All of our recent flights have been on Swiss and have been an absolute delight. The cabin crew couldn’t be more helpful or attentive. They frequently circulate through the cabin offering water and light snacks. The pilot is always very communicative and lets you know what is going on. On a Swiss flight you always know how long it will be until takeoff, what the route will be, what the weather will be like, how many minutes to landing and when you are about to touch down. Now lets take a quick look at Air France.
Our pilot said nothing to us until we were thirty minutes away from landing. The stewardesses, who will address you only in French in spite of our flight being an international flight originating in the US, seemed to disappear after the evening meal service. At some point they seemed to have deposited in mid-cabin an assortment of beverages and some breadsticks. They never bothered to make an announcement that they were available. There lack of attention to the ruckus that was caused by the students was unconscionable. They were late and rushed in serving the morning meal. I had asked for water to take some pills and was told by one of the flight attendants that she was out of glasses. I guess the twenty steps back to the galley where there was an endless supply of plastic glasses was just too exhausting after all that she had not done during the flight. I had to make three requests of another flight attendant who finally gave me my glass of water.
As you well know, some fifteen minutes before landing there is an announcement made that tells you to turn off all electronics, return your seatbacks to their upright position and to stow away your tray table. It seems that whoever was responsible for making that announcement did not get around to it. When we had descended to 2,000 feet the announcement was made and the cabin crew scurried around to check out the situation. As we exited the plane one of the stewardesses asked us how our flight was. We told her that the only thing that kept it from being a complete disaster was the fact that the plane did not crash land.
A wheelchair was waiting for me as we exited the plane and that meant that getting through passport control and security was accomplished rather easily. My attendant took me to Gate 70 and as I got settled he told me that someone would come back for me as the flight was boarding. It was a little after 11:30 when we settled into our seats at Gate 70 and we would have to wait for four more hours until our flight was called. I could not fail to notice two things in the D terminal of the airport. All the signage for stores where one could make a purchase was in English. However, all the personnel would address you in French. I bought a beverage and a sandwich at one of the shops and the entire transaction took place in French except when the clerk told me that the price was 10 Euros. That she told me in English.
Our flight to Valencia started to board at 4:30. The flight was a codeshare with Air Europa. Merely stepping inside the plan and being greeted warmly by one of the cabin crew highlighted the difference between the two airlines and the two nations. The flight attendant not only stowed our two bags, but she also quickly filled my ice bag with ice so that I could apply to my knee during the flight. Sitting in a cramped position on the 10-hour Air France flight did not improve the condition of my knee. She checked in with me a couple of times during the 90-minute flight to ask if I was feeling better and if I would like more ice. By the way during the flight I heard her speak Spanish, French, German and English when addressing passengers of different nationalities. In sum, would I ever choose Air France again for international travel? No way! I have finally found an airline that is worse than Delta when it comes to customer service.
We are taking life easy today as we both try and recover from yesterday’s flight and the events of the past two weeks. We are glad to be back home and are looking forward to Rachel’s visit next week. Here are some of the photos that Susan took in Nevada City.