When it came time to purchase plane tickets we went through the usual process – check every city pair we can think of between the Pacific Northwest and Europe such as Portland to London, Portland to Paris, Portland to Brussels, Seattle to London, Seattle to Paris and so on. I generally check Portland, Seattle and Vancouver BC for departing flights and London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris, Milan, Frankfurt, Barcelona and many others for my destination. Skyscanner.net is a godsend for this task as you can leave the destination open or even narrow it to a country and it will show you the cheapest flights. You can even have it show you the cheapest flight in a month range. What we ended up with was Vancouver BC to Paris France for $716 round trip in the middle of peak travel season. That is the second cheapest flight to Europe that I've ever purchased. The cheapest flight from Seattle was $500 more. Unfortunately the Vancouver flight was on Airtransat which we flew last year to Amsterdam and vowed to never again fly them. It seems everyone can be bought and our price was $500.
Naturally flying out of another city isn't free. We booked Amtrak Cascades train tickets from Seattle to Vancouver BC for $20 each way and we had to pay for the Vancouver Sky Train to get us to the airport so our total savings was $445 per person – still worth the trouble.
I might want to add that my mother has never flown before and I convinced her to sit in one spot at 40,000 ft for 10 hrs the first time out. She was a trooper with the flight but took a bit longer to get used to airport security and even remarking at some point that it was amazing anyone flew.
The arrival in Vancouver has gotten slower as they now de-board the train a couple of cars at a time to stand in line for immigration. The idea that there's a border between the US and Canada is insane to begin with but to take an hour to go through immigration shows how amateur we as a country is.
After getting through security we hopped the very expensive Skytrain to Granville street where we got some Indian street food. Another skytrain later and we're at the airport. My mother accidentally left her coin purse in her pocket so the TSA insisted on patting her down and questioning her. Lesson learned.
Air-transat is a budget airline that only travels to a couple of destinations in Europe. The cost savings are apparent everywhere. They like to charge you extra for everything like choosing your seat. They show up at the gate at the last moment and don't maintain a ticket booth anywhere else. The worst part is the food stinks! We decided this time around we'd bring our own food on the plane so we brought our own sandwiches, muffins and snacks on the plane. We also chose the vegetarian option for food they provide knowing that it would have less meat substitute in it. It's hare to mess up rice and vegetables. Overall our experience was probably better than last year, or has our standards lowered? The flight seemed to take forever and nobody got any sleep as Air-transat seems baffled by the idea that you'd want to be rested when you land.
We arrived at Terminal 3 in the very odd Charles de Guale airport. CDG is the only airport I've nearly missed a departing flight even though I arrived with 3 hrs to spare. Sometimes it just doesn't make sense. On attempting to de-board the plane three of our group got out and my daughter Piper and I had to wait until everyone was off. My daughter came onto the plane with a transport chair because she has a hard time walking so they only way they'd let her leave is the same way so we had to wait for the elevator truck to come get us and this took quite some time. When we finally got hooked up with the rest of our family we were told that Piper can skip the immigration line and go straight to the front but only one person can go with her – me. This doesn't solve any problems for me as I'd just have to wait on the other side of immigration while everyone else wound themselves through a 45 minute line so I proposed that I push Piper through the long line with the rest of the family. Our assistant refused. No, he had to push her and she could skip the line and I could go with. After wasting 10 minutes of our time trying to convince him it was OK, we'd go the slow way we gave up and I went with him and Piper to skip the line. On the other side we waited 40 minutes for the rest of the family to arrive. Welcome to the not so logical French culture.
Upon exiting the terminal my oldest daughter Natalya was waiting for us, but the suburban train wasn't as the drivers were on partial strike. It took an hour to secure tickets as US credit cards don't work in their ticket machines and we didn't have enough coins to pay for $50 worth of RER train tickets.. Natalya paid for the tickets with her card and off we went – to stand in line.
Paris is built in such a way that all of the metro trains aim for the center and few go around the outside connecting the suburbs together. Natalya lived in a different suburb than CDG airport was in so the easiest way to get between them was to ride the RER to a certain station and catch a bus. We found out that it's faster if you catch the right bus going in the right direction and stopping at the right stop. Still we managed. We had one night in Paris an Natalya's before catching the highs speed train to Nimes for a week followed by another 3 weeks in Paris.
Paris has 6 train stations inside the city limits. Train tickets from Gare de Lyon were about 100 Euros each way. There's a cheap TGV called the Ouigo that stops at the Disneyland Paris station outside of town and tickets to Nimes were 40 Euros. Even paying the 10 euro RER fee it was half the price so another hour on the RER to Disneyland Paris and the Ouigo. Taking the RER A to Disneyland Station (Marne La Vallee) can be interesting as it's the busiest suburban train line in the world. This means it's absolutely packed. Here's a word of advice if you're making a return TGV trip - buy your return RER ticket before you leave. The line to purchase tickets from Disneyland back to Paris was a good 2 hrs long and the ride itself is about an hour so in short standing in line to get your ticket and taking the RER takes as long as the TGV to the opposite end of the country. You've been warned.
The French do things in such a strange manner sometimes that you wonder if they're doing it on purpose of they really have no sense of efficiency. At the Disneyland Paris station we had to circumnavigate the entire station on a walkway around the inside perimeter, then we had to go up an escalator and walk the perimeter once again until we got to the ticket agent. Once through ticketing we walked halfway around the outside of the station a third time before going back down two floors to the train platform. Not sure what the purpose of all that is but it's still easier to board a train than an airplane.
One day after taking her first plane flight my mother took her first 200 mph train ride. A short three hours later we're in the very warm city of Nimes. We think to ourselves that we're staying in Provence but in reality Nimes is in Languedoc region - the language d'oc or occitan. Occitan is a romance language like Spanish or French that 1.5 million people speak. It's similar to Catalan spoken in Barcelona and is often referred to as Provencal.