There has been a long drought, but Natasha is once again an international traveler. Boris and I left today for France to take a river cruise through Burgundy and Provence. The rules continue to change-including a change in COVID testing that happened just this week. Fully vaccinated and staying on a river ship that is smaller than most hotels, we feel as safe as it is going to be for a while. France also instituted policies that go into effect the day after our arrival that require that you must be vaccinated to go into most buildings. While that will mean we have to carry around our vaccination cards, it will also make the indoor spaces safer.
Check in to your flight(s) with an international destination also necessitates another level of requirements. We got multiple emails in the days prior to departure to ensure that we were “travel ready”. You have to check the requirements for countries where you will be in transit as well as those for your final destination. Sometimes your COVID test has to be done no more than 48 hours before departure, sometimes 72. Sometimes you fit an exemption; sometimes you do not. Sometimes you can upload the paperwork 48 hours prior to departure, sometimes 12. Residents of certain countries can travel to others, some cannot. As of this writing, having been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks prior to travel, we will able to enter Germany (in transit) and then France with an uploaded vaccination card. You must also carry the original with you. We uploaded our information through the airline website. The EU authorities had it in their system when we crossed passport control in Germany.
It also didn’t help that they had completely changed the airline check-in and TSA security checkpoints at IAH while the airport is under major renovation. Oh, and did I mention that the luggage belts were not working? We were relieved when we got to the gate and very glad that we had gotten to the airport an hour earlier than we normally would have.
We had a quick turnaround in Dulles (Washington DC) with no time for lunch. I am not big on airline food, but I had to partake on the flight to Frankfurt. Before boarding, there was an extra check-in at the gate counter and we were glad all our information was already uploaded in the system. While the flight to Dulles was completely full, I had a row to myself (until someone moved over to the end of my row at mealtime) on the flight to Frankfurt. I ended up starting an HBO series that had been highly rated and watched the whole series. I never slept. Prior to takeoff from Washington DC, we had pulled away from the gate and then sat on the apron for about an hour.
I would have used the term tarmac (instead of apron) here because that it what I thought the hard areas that the planes traveled and parked on were. However, I learned when preparing this post that tarmac is really a trademarked term for the materials used to create the roadways at airports. The proper terms for the different areas used by the plane are the apron-where they park and load/unload passengers and luggage; the taxiway-surfaces the airplanes move along to position for takeoff (and to the gates after landing); and the runways-that the planes use to take off and land.
Anyway, the point is that we left very late and weren’t able to make up all the time in the air. We landed in Frankfurt 20 minutes late. That might not seem like much, but when you have to clear customs-as Germany was our EU point of entry-and only have an hour and 10-minute layover to begin with, you are in trouble. Rather than having a gate assignment (maybe because we were late), the plane was parked out on the apron and buses took us on what seemed like a rather long ride to the terminal. Of course, that ate up even more of our short layover time. Then we crossed through passport control. Fortunately, we were in the first bus and near the front of the line. Also, since our vaccination information was pre-loaded, we got through quicker. Our connected flight was on the other end, but at least in the same terminal as the arriving flight. We ran.
Although I am still not sure how Boris and I made it with 10 minutes to spare before takeoff, fortunately the gate agents were still letting passengers aboard the flight from Frankfurt to Lyon. It was a short flight to Lyon, France where our river boat, the SS Catherine, is berthed. We are meeting the transfer agent just past baggage claim. Boris’ suitcase came off with the first group. Yes, you guessed it. Mine never showed up. There is no lost luggage office or luggage officials in Lyon. If you have missing luggage, you have to fill out a form at a kiosk in baggage claim. Unfortunately, if your lodging is on a river ship it makes it a little more difficult to fill out the form. Even with one employee trying to help, I was still not able to complete the kiosk questionnaire. Boris went out to let the transfer agent know what was going on.
One of the benefits of a small airport was that they let both Boris and the agent come back inside the secured baggage claim area. Speaking French to the employee, the agent was able to assist me in completing the form. We are hopeful the bag is in Frankfurt and will come over on the afternoon flight. Our ship leaves its berth in Lyon at 6 pm.
We had a bit of a walk out to the coach park and during that time we learned that the next flight to Lyon leaves Frankfurt at 6:30 pm and arrives at 7:45. After getting us on the bus, the transfer agent let me know that she would go back and update the information to let them know that the bag would have to be sent to Macon, France. We won’t arrive in Macon until 1:30 am, so no chance I will get the bag today. Hopefully, it made it to Frankfurt.
This trip I had done something I normally don’t do. Aware of our tight layovers, I had packed an extra set of clothes in my carry-on bag. It is always a good idea, but I don’t always have room in the carry-on for it. I had also had lunch with a friend the week before I left who mentioned that she always added a nightgown to her carry-on bag to sleep in that first night. I put that in too. I won’t have everything I need, but thank goodness I packed a few extras. These weren’t our original flights, but an airline cancellation resulted in us having to change our outbound flights. We normally would have given ourself a little more time (and chosen fewer layovers). However, we were just happy to find a way to get there.
There were only 5 of us on a large bus headed from the airport to the ship. We learned later that there were only 55 passengers on the cruise for this itinerary, so our bus was actually carrying almost 10% of the ship’s passengers. Our cruise line Uniworld has been running cruises since early July with capacity ranging from 30-100 guests per sailing. The ship can accommodate 120 passengers. The waiters tell us they love it with fewer guests; they can give more personal service and it is easier to accommodate social distancing. The staff is so happy to be back at work. Not everyone received “unemployment benefits” during the closure.
Shortly after our arrival, lunch started. Uniworld offers extensive, elegant buffets for breakfast and lunch. Currently, in line with heath regulations, you are accompanied through the buffet line by an employee who serves the food onto your plate. They also get your drinks and any additional items you might want. It was open seating at lunch, but that evening we were told that whatever seat we selected that night would be our seat through the cruise. The tables are set up so that only family or friends traveling together sit together in the dining room. This is a change of the usual pattern of sharing your table with other guests during meals. It is a wonderful way to get to know your fellow passengers and we enjoy that aspect of the Uniworld cruises. I am sure the practice will come back after pandemic restrictions are lifted. We are hopeful that we will meet some other people traveling with us during the cruise excursions.
The day ended with a welcome from the captain and the hotel director, followed by a briefing by the cruise director. She stopped by and greeted me personally to let me know she knew about my bag situation. She was in communication with the transfer agent and had recommended the bag be delivered sometime the next day while we are docked in Macon from 1:30 am to 4:30 pm. Fingers crossed. It is so nice that they are taking the time to give the issue their personal attention.
We had a wonderful dinner with drinks and in spite of an afternoon nap, decided to go to bed early and try to get over our jet lag. Tomorrow our exploration of this region of France begins. Stay with me as the following posts will cover our travel in Burgundy and Provence.