sareini: default (cthulhu)
This is something I've been meaning to write up for some time. I'm finally getting round to it now because I'm (a) down with the sickness right now (damn flu!) and (b) at something of a loose end while I craft things in Fallen Earth. So I might as well use the time productively.

So anyway, eight years ago Nick and I went to Disneyland Paris. A couple of establishing facts you might need to know for this - one, it was the first (and so far only) time we'd been on holiday together, and two, Nick's knowledge of the French language extends only as far as being able to order a Coke. I, on the other hand, have a GCSE (B grade) in French and while my speaking ability has never been all that great, I can understand the language pretty damn well.

So anyway, Disneyland Paris. Great place, although going in January might have been a slight mistake. The frozen lake was pretty cool to walk past every day though, with ducks, geese and swans waddling across it and occasionally approaching tourists to see if there was a chance of food. Pretty much all of the staff at the resort spoke English, or at least knew enough of it that even Nick didn't need to worry about making himself understood, so all was good there.

Then the last day of the holiday rolls around. Because it was a package deal, we had a coach to take us to and from the airport to the resort, and special tickets supplied by the travel firm so we didn't have to pay coach fare. With that in mind, we'd spent nearly all our money and so were left with about £5 in Euros at that point, maybe a little less (my memory is a little flaky there). We packed, had a farewell ride on the Haunted Mansion and It's a Small World, and then went to get our coach that would get us to the airport a full hour and a half before the plane left (I like to be early). This is where things started to go wrong.

The coach driver refused to take our tickets. For some reason, the travel company had taken off part of the ticket stubs before giving them to us, and so the coach driver believed that they'd already been used. He was insisting that we pay full price for the coach journey, which of course we couldn't do as we'd efficiently spent all our money before this point. Plus, you know, we had the tickets, so we didn't think we should anyway.

After five minutes of arguing this point with us - mainly me - the coach driver switched to speaking French and refused to communicate in English any more - apparently so he could insult us without us knowing, or so he thought. Thankfully Nick couldn't understand what he was saying, or there'd have been an incident right then and there, and I figured it was best not to tell him. I ended up having to get a member of the hotel staff to act as my interpreter, however, as my French-speaking ability simply wasn't up to the task at this point, and so this went on for another 15-20 minutes, to no avail. Eventually the staff member admitted defeat, and so we had to go on to Plan B - calling the emergency line with the travel firm and trying to get them to help. Bear in mind that, at this point, we only had one hour before we needed to be boarding our plane.

Twenty minutes later and we had a fax explaining - in two languages - that the tickets we had were perfectly valid and so we were to be let on the coach, please. The insulting coach driver who had started all of this had long gone, so we had to wait for the next one. When he arrived, in the increasing rush, either I mis-explained where we needed to go or he misunderstood, and so he dropped us off at the wrong terminal at Charles DeGaulle. Which wouldn't have mattered much anyway, as we got there just in time to hear our plane being announced as having left. Crap.

We spent the next twenty or so minutes at the help desk for our airline, getting sneered at by a rather unpleasant lady whose general attitude was, "It's your fault, you deal with it." It was around this time that I started to realise that my French classes had left out some important phrases - namely, "You'll be hearing from my lawyer," and "I demand to speak to someone from the British Consulate!" But with that a loss, we had to find the general help desk in the hopes that they would, you know, help us. It was now about 6pm.

A few facts about Charles DeGaulle airport: it's a no-smoking airport, which meant that Nick was going off outside to smoke every half-hour or so; it apparently closes at 11pm, and all the security guards there carry automatic rifles. Those last two facts become incredibly intimidating when you're starting to wonder if you're going to have to sleep there overnight. The queue for the general help desk was quite long indeed (I suspect it was the only help desk worth a damn in the whole airport) and so we were waiting for about two hours before we got to the front of the queue. I explained the problem to the admittedly very understanding help desk man, and he explained that the only thing he could do was put us on 'standby' for seats - that is, we'd be put on a list and if someone didn't turn up for their flight, we could get their seats. Only problems with this were that it would cost us £300 each and there was no guarantee that there would be any seats available for the next few days, even. It's now half past eight in the evening.

In a last act of desperation, we scrape together the coins to call the emergency line for the travel company again, desperately hoping they can do something to help us because at this point the only other option is for Nick to go looking for any underground poker games running in the area and try to win us the money for tickets that way (and they probably wouldn't allow an interpreter at the table either). They say they'll see what they can do and to call back in an hour(!)

Call back at 10pm. It's now one hour till the scary security guards with the guns might well kick us out of the airport and force us to sleep on a bench in a bus station in a foreign country, and it's amazing what that thought can do for your foreign language skills. I was remembering verb tenses I hadn't used since I was 11. The travel agency couldn't get us on any flights that night (mainly because there were no more) but they could get us on one in the morning. So they wanted to know what hotels were near the airport so that they could arrange for us to stay overnight. The only ones I knew (ie. the ones I'd seen as we were on the coach or I could see looking out of the building) were the Hilton, the Shereton, the Ibis and the Novotel. We ended up being sent to the Novotel.

We get there at just after 11pm. We're tired, harried, haggard and generally in need of a relax. Nick is in a trenchcoat and he's got his hair loose. I'm still trying to look respectable in a blouse and jeans, even as I explain to the poor night desk receptionist that yes, we do have reservations and they were made by "the agency". All in French, while Nick stands behind me and tries not to look too sullen and menacing. To this day Nick is convinced that, with the way we arrived and were booked in, that night clerk was convinced that Nick was either a rock star or a professional assassin and I was his handler.

This is what our room looked like. The Novotel, by the way, appears to have been the cheapest choice out of the four hotels. To this day I wonder what would have happened if I'd only told the emergency line I only knew of the Hilton and the Shereton...

There were seats arranged for us on a flight in the morning, as well as a pick up from the hotel in time for it, and the room was all paid for in advance, we were told (provided we didn't open the mini-bar...) The next morning, however, the hotel staff (who really can't be blamed as it was all rather confusing) didn't understand this and so still tried to insist on us paying the bill before we left. Cue another call to the emergency line and a half-hour wait, which unsurprisingly at this point had us miss our rebooked flight. Although it was worth it to see the face of the poor staff member who took the call from the travel agency, who were obviously chewing him out, and the abject apologies we received as we were ushered into a taxi after that. Like I said, they really must have believed we were 'connected' by the end of it.

In the end, a third flight was arranged for us, where we ended up flying Business class, with extra leg room and an in-flight meal (gods-awful though). And eventually we were back in the UK, only one day late and with an interesting story to tell, at least.

We haven't been on holiday together since. We're too scared of what could happen to us this time...

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