I had thought this would prove to be a simple and quite vacation---I was wrong.
1. Departing flight to France (connected through Amsterdam) was delayed over 5 hours. This would not have been a problem if I had not been trapped in the plan the entire time! The last thing you want when you are facing a 10 1/2 flight is to be packed in a cattle car for an additional 5 hours. Thanks KLM you miserable pieces of trash. What was the great problem which prevented us from taking off? Communications difficulty between the flight cabin and flight crew. Big F-ing deal in my opinion. If it had been a engine problem I would have not be complaining. As a little gift for confining me in a cattle car for 15 hours, KLM gave everybody a $100 travel voucher. Thanks, but no thanks.
2. After flying for what seemed like an eternity and not being able to sleep in a packed flight with little leg room, I got to the hotel and was not able to sleep. Jet lag had screwed up my whole circadian clock and I had insomnia for 4 consecutive nights. That's right, I only got around 6 hours of sleep for the first 4 nights. By the 5th day I was on the verge of complete collapse due to sheer exhaustion and the relentless pace of a guided trip through southern France (almost all of it was walking). Luckily, on the 5th night and with the help of copious amounts of alcohol, melatonin, and aspirin I finally got some much needed sleep. I do not recommend this combination to anybody, but at a certain point you have to get to sleep no matter what the risk. It was a god-send because the next step was hospitalization where they shoot you up with sedatives.
3. The next problem facing the trip was constantly poor weather in southern France. I mean cold, rainy weather with strong wind and the occasional amount of snow. The most bizarre part was that everyone I meet told me that the weather was usually nice and pleasant in southern France. As it turns out the weather had only taken a turn for the worse when I showed up! The most frustrating aspect was that it seemed to follow me across France from Toulouse, Albi, Carcassone, Avignon, and finally back to Toulouse. It was only the last two days in Toulouse when the weather moderated and I had some fun.
4. The issue of security at airports was one another problem of the trip and proved burdensome and unnecessary. Ironically, my departing flight was not too bad (after all, I have been conditioned living in LA to have low expectations). It took 2 1/12 hours to get through check in and airport security. I was not groped by TSA and did not have to go through any naked body scanners. The same was not true for my trip coming home to police state USA. I took a flight from Toulouse to Amsterdam on the way back. Went through the metal detectors and usual security. Got busted trying to bring a bottle of wine back (apparently that is prohibited), but that was not a major issue. Then I got to Amsterdam where I had to go through security again, along with a passport check. It took over 1 hour of waiting in line to get through some new passport control area. This is a bullshit security measure considering I already had my passport checked in Toulouse (and don't terrorists always have valid passports?). But it gets worse. Right before I boarded the flight to LAX from Amsterdam, I had to got through another layer of security. This time with a mandatory naked body scanner and another check of my personal belongings. I said that I did not want to go through the naked body scanner and was told "too bad, you are in the EU and have no choice.. You either miss your flight or you go through the naked body scanner." It is times like these when you hope the EU collapses very soon, instead of a prolonged and drawn out affair. I wanted to get home so I went through the machine. But I did notice that children under 13 were allowed to go through only a metal detector. No doubt this is because the machines violate child pornography laws and the airline would face lawsuits.
After flying for another 15 hours I finally got to LAX. Had to go through customs, which took over an hour. Some first generation immigrant gave me a hard time during customs when they ask you questions. They asked me how long I was going to stay in the US. I replied "for a long time I live here." The supercilious customs agent did not like the answer and we went back and forth, with him asking me the same goddamn question over and over. Next I got to wait in line for another customs check where some fat, slothful, old guy asks you what you did when you were abroad. I joked that I went there for some hot sex with lots of French women! He started laughing and I finally got through US customs. Oh and by the way do not even think about trying to sneak marijuana through US customs from Amsterdam--they have the dogs out and waiting for you.---and no I did not have anytime for that kind of thing in Amsterdam.
5. French food is terribly repetitive and boring which was a shocker to me. Generally, French cuisine is thought of very highly internationally, with unique sauces and flavors. But the truth is that during my 2 weeks in France, the best two meals were not French, but Italian and Middle Eastern. In fact some of the members of group actually went to McDonald's (much better than the slop you get in the US)
Overall, I think I would have enjoyed the trip more if the weather had been more accommodating. I am a big history buff and love medieval castles and cities and that kind of thing. But the problems of the weather and an overly rigid travel schedule made it hard to enjoy the surroundings. However, I met someone on the trip so all was not in vain.
I will be back to posting regularly on Monday. Have alot to cover including something on the dire state of Spain and its eventual economic collapse.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Black Swan Insights