Paris, France — Tuesday May 9, 2017

I left Phoenix Sunday morning, and today after 11 hours sleep, my head is finally clear enough to write. I can’t sleep on airplanes, so when I fly to Europe, I arrive here feeling like a zombie and get absolutely nothing done the first day. I stay up as late as I can to try to adjust to the local time zone, and the next day I feel better.

I almost always have problems when I fly over here, but perhaps that is because I fly United, which is not the world’s best-run airline. The problems this time were not United’s fault, however. After we pulled away from the gate in Phoenix, someone in first class had a medical emergency, so we went back to the gate, and the passenger was carried off in a stretcher. Apparently the crew had given the passenger oxygen, because we had to wait for a replacement oxygen canister to be delivered before we could take off. At least there was a benefit to someone. One of the passengers on the upgrade standby list got moved from economy to the newly vacant seat in first class.

I did make my connecting flight in Washington Dulles airport, but this time our takeoff was again delayed. The pilot explained over the intercom that for some reason that no one would explain to him, all flights for Europe were being held on the taxiway. Naturally, I thought there must have been some terrorist attack, but after a long delay, we were finally cleared for takeoff. The delay was never explained.

That wasn’t my only concern, however. My row companion was the gentleman pictured below, who took up his seat and part of the seat between us. You know you have a problem when someone sitting in your row asks the flight attendant for a seat-belt extender.

Then a Frenchman got on-board, who was to occupy the middle seat. He was skinny enough, but there was no way he could fit into that middle seat without leaning into me. Luckily, there were some empty seats, and the skinny French guy was re-accommodated.

The plane was a new Boeing 787-9, and I must say it is the most comfortable plane I have ever flown in economy class. There was plenty of legroom, everything was new, and the reading lights were bright, pure white LEDs. Instead of covers that can be pulled down over the windows, there was a dial below each window that could be adjusted to make it turn more opaque. I like to see some daylight when I fly, and normally on long flights, everyone closes the window covers for better video viewing.

Everything went smoothly on the flight, but upon arrival in Paris, there was a tremendous crown waiting to clear immigration. The crowd waiting to enter France was many thousands of people, and we moved forward very slowly past airport shops and around corners. After about an hour of inching forward, I reached the sign pictured below with estimated wait times. You can see that people with European passports could expect to wait an additional 19 minutes, but those with other passports could expect to wait yet another hour.

Luckily, I have dual nationality thanks to the fact that my mother was an English immigrant, so I entered France with the Europeans using my British passport. Until Brexit takes place, I’m still a European as well as an American.

At least I didn’t have to wait for my luggage afterwards, It had been delivered to the carousel over an hour earlier.

I wish I could show you some pictures of Paris, but I was too groggy to go sightseeing yesterday. I took the train from the airport into Paris and then the subway to the hostel where I am staying. I only left once to walk to the corner grocery store and buy two cans of beer to help me sleep. Perhaps that wasn’t a good idea, because I had to repeatedly get up in the night to answer a call of nature.

I got off the train from the airport at the North Railway Station, la Gare du nord, and switched to a subway train. This morning I read online that the North Station was closed last night, because two people at the station reported seeing three suspected terrorists that the police have been looking for. However, the suspects, if they were really there, must have made their escape before the police cordoned off the station, because they were not caught. This city continues to live in fear of another terrorist attack.H

I did have some interesting conversations with several people who are also staying here at the hostel. One was a Japanese guy who has been traveling the world. The other was Brasilian. He spoke very little English and no French, but we conversed almost without problems. He spoke to be in Portuguese, and I answered in Spanish. I really need to spend more time on Portuguese. I can usually understand it, and I can read it, but I cannot yet think in Portuguese, which makes trying to speak it very laborious.

I had breakfast with the Japanese guy this morning, whose name I cannot spell. The Brasilian guy, Jorge, ate at a table by himself. I expected he would sit with us, because he is very talkative. However, Jorge and my Japanese table partner have trouble speaking with each other, because both speak their native languages plus very halting English. Jorge has the habit of switching to Portuguese without thinking that I am the only person present who can understand him.

I was complaining about waiting two hours in the line for immigration yesterday at the Paris airport, but the Japanese guy told me it took him 12 hours to get through immigration in the UK. He said he was pulled aside with several other people and locked in a room. Finally he was exhaustively questioned about whether he was planning to work illegally in the UK and was allowed to enter the country with a tourist stamp in his passport.

Today I am heading for the Champs Élysées, which translates into English as the Elysian Fields. Perhaps there were fields there in ancient times, but today if is the widest boulevard in Paris and perhaps the best-known street in all of Europe. The Arc of Triumph is in the middle of a traffic circle at the end of the street.  I just hope the weather is good for walking, because I plan to walk a lot today.

I wonder if the cafeteria is still open for breakfast? I could use another cup of coffee. True, I’ve had four cups so far, but that’s hardly enough to recover from yesterday’s ordeal.