Posted August 5th 2011 at 12:48 pm by
in The unknown paths from point A to point B, Transportation

The Nightmare Between Point A and Point B

From downtown Paris to Charles De Gaulle International Airport, Terminal 2G

It looked so simple. Gare du Nord train station to Aeroport Ch. de Gaulle: a straight shot on the blue line.

The Nightmare Between Point A and Point B: Downtown Paris to Charles De Gaulle International Airport, Terminal 2G

A map explaining how to get to the airport.

I purposely booked a 13-hour layover in Paris on my way to Spain because I wanted to revisit a beautiful city that I’d seen for only one day back in the summer of 2002. But my day turned out to be average: the Luxembourg Gardens were as lovely as before; my lunch was too expensive; I bought an ashtray made out of a soda can from a street vendor.

Things really went awry when I tried to get back to the airport. Halfway there the train stopped. I was dozing when it halted, and continued to doze in the sweaty car. About 25 minutes had passed when I awoke to people jumping out of the train and onto the ground.

The Nightmare Between Point A and Point B: Downtown Paris to Charles De Gaulle International Airport, Terminal 2G

People jumping off a disabled train that was stuck between stops in the suburbs of Paris. Photo credit: Alexa Mills.

Now, I’ve been on many broken trains, but never have I actually jumped off of one. Nonetheless I jumped off this one, and then dragged my suitcase through rocks, trash, and broken glass to the nearest station, which was a ten minute walk away.

At the train station I learned that:

1.) The train probably wouldn’t be fixed in time, so I should find another way.

2.) There were no buses.

3.) I was in a suburban area through which very few taxi cabs pass.

I went to the corner where every other other stranded airport-goer stood, and watched as groups of people who had already made alliances and spoke French bargained their way into cabs. After about ten minutes I realized the impossibility of the situation, and began shouting “Motherf*cker” on the corner.

After I’d worn myself out, two gentlemen approached me and asked if I was going to the airport. One of them had called his uncle, a cab driver, and said they expected him any moment. I smiled and thanked them, and stood with them at their designated spot. They asked me where I was from (the United States) and I asked them where they were from. I had assumed they were from India. They told me they were Pakistani. One was flying home to Islamabad. The other was escorting his friend.

I had a flash of worry that they’d hate an American, but neither of them seemed anything less than cheerful — happy to have found a third person to share their cab. We said nothing about our nations. We parted at Terminal 1, where one of them would meet his plane. I paid two thirds of the fare because that’s all the money I had in my pocket. I was sad I didn’t have more. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have gotten to the airport at all.

At Terminal 1 I made a much-needed trip to a filthy bathroom, and then took note of the monster airport I had to navigate:

The Nightmare Between Point A and Point B: Downtown Paris to Charles De Gaulle International Airport, Terminal 2G

Terminal 2 looks like the Cheshire Cat.

I had to get to Terminal 2 (which, if you look closely, looks remarkably like the Cheshire Cat. It certainly acts like the Cheshire Cat.).

I got to Terminal 2, rewarded myself with an espresso, looked at my ticket, and then followed the signs to Terminal 2G. The signs led me to a bus stop. A bus stop? I’d been to many airports, and I’d never heard of taking a bus to a terminal within a terminal. It seemed impossible. I asked anyone who’d listen if this could be true. Finally, a British man who claimed to to know Charles de Gaulle ‘like the back of his hand’ told me I could walk to terminal 2G in about ten minutes, and he pointed me in the right direction.

After ten minutes I arrived at … a second bus stop to Terminal 2G. I started swearing again. The bus came every ten minutes, and at this point I was close to missing my flight. I hailed a cab. The cab said no. I hailed a second cab. He welcomed me in, even though he knew that the proper bus, the N2 Orange Line, was directly behind us.

The Nightmare Between Point A and Point B: Downtown Paris to Charles De Gaulle International Airport, Terminal 2G

This map was not available to me at the time.

He let the N2 overtake him while he explained that the fare would be 15 Euro — that’s over $20.00 to travel within the same terminal at the same airport.  About 5 minutes into the ride, I asked him how many minutes it took to drive to my terminal. The driver, who had already proved himself a cheat, went on to prove himself an idiot. He turned around to answer me, lost sight of the road, and rear-ended the free bus I should have been on. I skinned my elbow.

I can’t believe I paid him.

My boss found me in 2G almost as soon as I arrived. She bought me a water and took me to the gate, and a few hours later we were in Mondragon, Spain — paradise.

Maps make things look so logical, but most of the time nothing makes sense at all.

Post by Alexa Mills.

2 responses to “The Nightmare Between Point A and Point B”

  1. Terminal 2 really does look like the Cheshire Cat. 🙂

  2. Alpita Masurkar says:

    It’s a very well-written post! I could imagine what the journey from downtown to Terminal 2G must have been like! Reminded me my visit to Vienna when I was on a train and the train services suddenly stopped in the middle of nowhere. The announcers were speaking in German and so were the people around me. It took quite some time to figure out that the services won’t be restored for another couple of hours or so and I had to find my own way out.

    There were no direct tram lines from the place where I was stuck to where I wanted to go, no cabs and I didn’t know where exactly I was at that point in the city.

    I eventually managed to get some help from those I knew in Vienna. But I wasn’t as lucky as you. I missed a meeting that was very important to me.

    Also, Charles De Gaulle is one of the most difficult airports to navigate. I have missed several exits when the arrow indicating the direction pointed straight ahead when it actually meant that I should be going on a lower level. They use the same straight arrow to indicate that you should be going straight ahead and not go up or down.