Saturday, March 24, 2012

Somewhere on the Franco Swiss Border: Before the Euro

Somewhere on the France-Switzerland Border 2000
At the height of the BSE Mad Cow Disease crisis in England. ©

Awakened by the wind flapping the curtains and the birds singing I could I suppose have been in my own bed.
However it was still dark and I wasn't.  For one thing I knew that for a fact, as my cat had eaten all the local birds.

Reaching over to the light, the clock said 4am.  Enough time you would have thought then to make the airport (not 15 minutes away) for a flight at 07 05am.

And so did I as I turned the light off and went back to a fitful sleep.
Same damn bird kept its attempt to entice the local females of the species for a quick dalliance, up for the best part of an hour.  Still it was a good tune once you got the hang of it in a sad sort of way.

A shower and still plenty of time and so to a cup of tea and pay the bill.

Previously organized as you would expect from a seasoned traveller, by my French colleague, the bus would arrive no later than 6 am and take me to the airport for 6.15, giving me a 45 minute browse through the endless customs before boarding my flight back to land of funeral pyres and diseased livestock.
The smoke would hang over England for 6 weeks as the French laughed at us for accepting their help and “free cows”
As a means of an insurance policy, the cash I had was not only sufficient for the bus but also for a cab; 45 francs for the bus and about 150 francs for the cab as I was advised.
This was to turn out to be not exactly accurate, on more than one count.

It had still not come light as I walked quietly and serenely to the bus stop at the entrance to the hotel.  A cursory check of the timetable confirmed that the bus was indeed due at the allotted time and would with great speed and safety deliver me to the airport.

It was at this point that the day was to take a somewhat tiring and yes taxing twist.
The time for the bus arrival came and went.  Several times I convinced myself of its imminent arrival, and during this time I had time to watch the lovelorn-bird continue his dance of love high up in the tree outside my room.

Making several mental calculations as to the latest I dared leave the hotel, it dawned on me that there was as much likelihood of this bus coming for me as Julia Roberts coming for me, so with bags in hand I ran gracefully back into the Hotel foyer and in surprisingly good French asked for the man to telephone a cab and to advise the airport of my late arrival.

The man behind the desk explained ; non probleme pour arrive dans L'Airoporte pour vous avignon a 07 05 am 
Pouring me a thick coffee the cab would be he said quatorze minute.  That in hastily converted time took my departure from the Hotel at 6.30am.

The car was indeed fast, as was the counter that counted the money I was later to be relieved of.  The time was going to be tight and in order to save this time I had begun to get out this cash.
In the dim light of the courtesy lamp it was becoming clear that the 150 ff the French liar had told me was plenty, was in fact a bit short.
Still I had 220 ff.
Passing 350ff on the meter, I thought that it would be a good plan to ask the driver, who was to his credit negotiating the perfectly spaced 2 lanes of traffic with massive capability, as though he was in a film himself, if he took Visa or American Express.

This was to be a turning point in our brief relationship.
On explaining the situation in again surprisingly good French the speed at which we were travelling appeared to diminish.
I slumped back in my seat and tried to think of a better plan than jumping out.

There was no better plan than to offer no way out to the driver who to his credit kept both hands on the wheel.
Time : 06.45 am
I could pretend to go into the terminal and come back but there was a flaw to this as I would not come back and he knew it, and anyway the police have guns so whatever happened I would have to pay if not with cash then my life.
This would not go down well with my French customer contact, who actually really wanted to kill me herself.

Leaving my bags in the car I left in full flight and was told that I could, if I went into Switzerland, go the bureau de change.
Time 06.48.
Going into Switzerland means going through the border! mmm
Time : 06.50.
The bureau was indeed open for business.  However Visa was busy moving money around the world and my requests for £100 was not going to stop them.  Even upping the request to £1000 would not get me their attention.  The counter official shrugged his shoulders and muttered that it was ok but it may take 30 minutes.  It usually did and anyway it was Friday so that was a conservative estimate. 
In Europe, Friday is slow.

All had been lost.  It took as it happened 15 minutes to get the cash.
The cab driver was asleep when I opened the door but he took his money with gratitude.
Time : 07.06

Although I am not stupid my request for the plane to come back for me was a little naive but worth a try.
I was able to change my ticket.  No it was not free and another transaction was due for about £80 but this was done in 3 minutes.
Because the ticket was not business class I was not allowed into the lounge, and no even if I was to offer payment, people in economy are not allowed, especially English people.
So  I've decided to head off into Switzerland to become a very fast taxi driver.

1 comment:

  1. What a hassle before the common currency ! The narration picking pace from "quietly and serenely" lazy to "leaving in full flight" hectic. Touches of humour. The "dig" at the neighbour (Albert Uderzo, you noticed ?). Two minutes to Switzerland and one minute back. Taxi driver ? Natural born sprinter indeed.