Monday, November 28, 2005
In line for Europe
Getting back to Europe was an expedition in itself. Friday evening, after a whole week of training – I spare you the details – we drove to the airport of Niamey to register our luggage. When we arrived, there was an enormous cue and the registration office wasn’t even open yet. So we waited in line, practising our most deadly looks when some people made attempts to get in front of us instead of joining the end of the line. When it was finally almost our turn to enter the doors (behind which another cue awaited us), some guy comes out and invites the passengers for Dakar (Senegal) to enter first!
So add another twenty minutes to the hour and a half we had been waiting. Finally, we got in after a check of our passport and reservations, only to discover another cue waiting for us. Thankfully, this one was much shorter. So we register the luggage and ourselves and speed off to the party that was awaiting us. It was a nice party with nice people and good food and good music, but we were all so pooped after that week of training that we just sat there and chatted a bit. This didn’t prevent me from making an ass of myself on the ‘dance floor’ of course.
Anyway, after the party we sped off to the airport again, to catch that night’s flight to Paris, France. We had to cue again, right were we dropped off our luggage a couple of hours before. Then we had to cue for customs and police formalities. Right after that was another cue with a police officer. This gave us access to a next waiting room, where we had to cue… to get into another waiting room. There we had to wait, before we could get in line again for another cue, this time to get onto the tarmac. But before we could enter the big shiny Airbus that was awaiting us, we had to CUE AGAIN. This time it was the aircrew that was curious about what was in everybody’s hand luggage. So finally, up we go on the stairs and into the airplane, where I had to cue to get into my seat. So NINE bloody cues to get into the aircraft, and we hadn’t left the country yet at that point.
Take off was at half past midnight, and the idea is to sleep until you land at Paris’ Charles De Gaulle airport the next morning. Of course, this is merely a joke. You don’t expect that a tall (1.87 m) guy like me can sleep in this baby-seat that one gets in an aircraft? I tried every position imaginable, but to no avail, even though no-one was snoring in my vicinity. The guy in front did manage to step on my foot while he was going to the loo, which really made my night.
So the next morning I couldn’t even remember the in-flight movie I’d seen (The Island) as I was cueing again to enter the fortress of Europe. I must say it was a lot easier in Paris than in Niamey. After we got our luggage (cue, wait, cue again) we were off to the Thalys/TGV (high-speed train) station under the airport. It was 6 o’clock in the morning, it was less than 0°C outside and that meant it was equally freezing inside the train station, which was designed by a certified sadist or someone who was completely oblivious to the winter temperatures in France. Worse still, we had to wait for 45 minutes before any of the cafés or breakfast things opened. I tell you, I never appreciated a hot cup of chocolate milk more in my life. This was a big shock after the warm somewhere-in-the-thirty-degrees weather in Niger.
Was our ordeal over? Like hell it was! I must admit it was a relief that the announced strikes of the French railroads didn’t happen, but instead King Winter was playing with our dangly bits. It was snowing so hard that the speed of our Train de Grand Vitesse was reduced to that of a nineteenth century steam train. We arrived in Brussels an hour late and extremely tired. Luckily, Belgian stations are just a tad warmer than French ones (naaah-nah-nah-naaaah-nah) and my train to Antwerp was nice and toasty, in sharp contrast with the pride of the French rail-roads.
When I finally hit the blankets of my own bed, it didn’t take me more than thirty seconds to enter dream land. No cueing there!