Going from England to France is like crossing Aust
December 26, 2006, 6:55 pm
Filed under: england

We were flying from Stansted to Chambery, which was fortunate, because flights from most other London airports were cancelled due to fog. Of course we didn’t escape unscathed – the chaos and diversions from other airports infected Stansted and our flight was delayed by three hours.

We were shepherded into the aircraft after nearly two hours of waiting. After everyone settled on board, the captain announced that our departure slot actually wasn’t for another hour, but sometimes if planes are ready earlier other slots come open, so we might be able to take off sooner. There were sounds of dismay from passengers, who after already waiting for four hours (including the two involved in checking in), were now facing another, stuck in a confined spot going nowhere.

Luckily I’d brought a lot of reading material, and Ian had his DVD player. I can only imagine what the mothers with small children would have thought.

We were flying with Titan Airways, which is a small charter company that does UK to France runs specifically for ski package companies over winter. My theory is that the big, regular airlines get priority for flight slots, because we sat on the tarmac for the full hour before taking off.

The flight was okay, but when we arrived in Chambery the tiny airport was in chaos, given that the majority of flights were to London airports, to which flights were cancelled. Thanking our stars that we were arriving and not leaving, we found our bags and eventually found our bus, after tracking down representatives from the package provider, Crystal, who was meant to be transferring us.

We got a prime seat on the bus (I suffer from motion sickness, so this is important) and set off. We were informed we would have to transfer at Aime, which was met with more groans from passengers. After a couple of hours we arrived in Aime, which is at the base of the Alps. There we were split up into minibuses for our respective resorts. Once again we were among the first on board, which was good, because soon the minivan was overflowing with people.

Our driver spoke no English (which was fair enough) and didn’t seem to care that the bus was overloaded. Two girls tried to squeeze into the seat next to Ian, asking if we could squeeze over a bit. Thankfully before the bus driver got too much momentum a Crystal representative came up and forced some of the people to get out and go into another bus. Two groups were split up, which caused a bit of consternation.

By now I realised that contrary to the promises of making things simple and efficient, Crystal just hired a bunch of teenagers who had no idea what was going on and sent them out to deal with customers problems, of which there were many.

During one of several delays, we chatted to the young guy who was our Crystal rep. He unashamedly admitted he spoke no French and was not at all familiar with the resort we were staying at, and had only been in La Plagne for a couple of weeks since finishing his training somewhere else.

We eventually arrived in Belle Plagne, the village in La Plagne we were staying at, where the check-in staff tried to charge us, even though we’d paid for the package in advance through Crystal. Her English was worse than my French, and she didn’t or chose not to understand when I said ‘nous avons deja achete, nous avons deja paye…?’). Calling over our Crystal representative didn’t help at all of course, since he spoke not a word of French. Luckily the same drama was happening at the other check-in desk with another group who had arrived with us, and somehow Crystal and the hotel sorted it out.

After lugging our gear uphill through the car park we finally arrived at our room, which was in the highest apartments of the resort. .. great for skiing in at the end of the day. We opened the door and were confronted with a dinghy studio… with no double bed. Two twins, obstinately split, and a bunk bed. We decided to haul the mattresses off the bunks and put them between the twins, which were also kind of our living room couch.

After doing a bit of nesting, it was time to go out for dinner. We’d been up since 6am and it was now 9pm. Ian pointed out that after all of my raving about how great Europe is because it’s so easy to travel to different places, with all the delays it took us the same time to get from Cambridge to La Plagne as it did from Adelaide to Falls Creek. It was a depressing thought.

Nevertheless, we’d arrived finally, and we were going to have Ian’s first ever French meal! We went to leave our apartment and the lock wouldn’t work. We then discovered the phone line to reception written everywhere didn’t work. After a fair amount of swearing we decided Ian would stay in the room while I walked back down the slope to the reception area and got them to deal with it. It turned out the door has a particular locking mechanism involving lifting the door handle while turning the lock, which of course no one had told us about. I also complained to the guy I summoned that we’d tried to call reception. He looked at me incredulously and said ‘but 9 isn’t the reception number, it’s 5900!’ I wanted to throttle him.

Another half an hour later we got to go to dinner. Thankfully the French eat later than us, so at 9:30 the restaurants were still serving. I got a salade au chevre chaud, after my gloriously memorable meal in Montpellier, while Ian got a not-so-French calzone. After trying my salad he vowed to order proper French food for the rest of the week. The aperitif and Belgian beer calmed us and by the end of the meal we were excited and happy about being in the French Alps.


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