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the 2023
Cruise Diary:

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Cruising, then Travelling in France.  How Does it all End?

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Bilingual Scrabble!

ince the earliest possibility of getting a temporary passport is tomorrow,
our time today was to be devoted to our visit with Monique.  And, a decision was made that Heather and I should begin our trip home tomorrow, by going to Paris, regardless of whether the embassy manages to get the passport ready.

Leaving me to relax at her home, Monique took Heather to the St-Léonard train station, where Heather bought train tickets that would get us to Paris, and to the embassy, tomorrow, in the early afternoon.  We figured that, if the passport is ready, we would ask Rachael to book us on the next available flight to Canada.  If documentation isn’t ready tomorrow, we’ll take a hotel, and stay in Paris over the weekend, and wait until whatever day it finally is ready.

Meanwhile, last night, Rachael had booked us, “standby,” on tomorrow’s 1:00 PM flight from Paris to Toronto, and I emailed electronic “proof” of that booking to Amelia at the embassy, who replied that it was an acceptable “proof of travel.”  Phew! What a relief!  Then, early this afternoon, she emailed again, saying, “Great news … the Passport Program in Canada was very efficient and they’ve authorized your Temporary passport….”

So, we will be able to pick up the document tomorrow.

But, because we won’t get to the embassy until after the flight to Canada has taken off, we’ll have to stay overnight in Paris, and hope that Rachael can get us on the Saturday flight.

The rest of the day has been pleasant and a pleasure.  Monique lives in a semi-rural area, and she has a lovely, green, back yard, that’s a favourite haunt for a wide variety of birds.  It was fun watching the various species negotiate with one another as to who gets to access the bird seed, or the bird bath!

Then Monique said, “Lets play a game of Scrabble!”  Heather continues to cough a lot, and is easily exhausted, so she had gone upstairs for a nap, when Monique got out the Scrabble board.  “It’ll be ‘bilingual’ Scrabble,” she announced.  “The board is the same for both English and French, but I have the French system of tiles.  “Q” and “J” don’t get as many points as they do in the English game, and there are more “E”s, and a few other differences.  We’ll play bilingually, each being able to play French words or English words – whatever we think will fit!”

I really enjoy Scrabble, and regularly play it online, with a number of friends.  And, I speak French well enough that I figured a bilingual game would be a fun thing to try!

And it wasTons of fun!  Playing with our dear Monique, with the birds chirping and arguing in the back garden just outside the French doors.  And... I wonder if I should mention that I won the game?

So this happy day in the heart of France comes to an end.  Tomorrow, travel resumes, and (hopefully) the beginning of our homeward journey.

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Monday, May 29, 2023

How the Story Ends…

otice the date:  May 29, nineteen days after that happy day in the heart of France, this adventure has finally come to a close.
  We are back home in Winnipeg, and this morning I went down to the “Service Canada” offices, and picked up my brand-new, permanent Canadian passport.  Heather is also considerably better from her illness that first began in Barcelona.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa
At the Limoges Train Station, May 12
...on our way home...?

Here’s a fairly quick summary of the “fun” that we had, trying to get home, and what happened after getting here:

Friday, May 12, we boarded the train to Paris, after posing for the picture, above.  Then, when the train was underway, the European “sim card” on my cellphone expired.  Connecting with the embassy, and keeping Monique updated on our journey, suddenly became much more complicated.  But we managed, using Heather’s cellphone – which we had not turned on for the twenty-eight days that we had been travelling (due to the high daily charges by our Canadian cellular provider).  We chose to swallow the $15 per day charge, for at least one day on Heather’s phone, and then get someone to show me how to re-insert my Canadian “sim card” in my phone, and, for the rest of our trip, pay the $15 per day on that device.  Ironically, the three days that we ended up remaining in Europe, cost me almost the same amount as my European “sim card” had cost me for an entire month!

We caught a cab at the train station, filling it with all the luggage of our travels, and were then driven to the embassy.  There, while the taxi waited, the excellent Amelia handed me a white booklet with the Canadian coat of arms on the cover, and inside, pages that looked for all the world like a passport, with my photo and everything.  Then, onwards to a hotel that I had booked near the Charles de Gaulle airport.

At the hotel, a front desk clerk swapped the “sim cards” in my phone, and, with my new, white, temporary passport, I began, once more, to interact with the world fairly normally.

Saturday, May 12, we checked out of the hotel, and were at the airport by 11:00 AM.  Rachael had successfully booked us on the 1:00 PM flight to Toronto – as “standby” passengers, of course.  But she warned us that the very few available seats may well be taken by off-duty pilots and other airline staff, all of whom have a higher priority than the parents of a staff member.  We got through security and made it to the gate in lots of time.  And, as more and more passengers arrived, it amazed me how many people a single aircraft can hold.

Boarding began... and went on... and went on... until the gate agents called us over to say that there would be no room for us.  They proceeded to register us, “standby,” on the next afternoon’s flight to Toronto.  There was nothing for it, but to take another night at a hotel, and hope that we could get on that flight.

When we had arrived at the airport, we had checked our baggage through to Winnipeg, but we knew that it would all be returned to the terminal, since we would not be on the plane.  So, the next step was to find out where to retrieve our suitcases.  As we were leaving the boarding area, I saw a booth with a sign reading “Passenger Assistance,” staffed by two uniformed Air Canada employees.  I decided to ask them for directions, as to where our baggage might be found, explaining our situation.

“Did the gate agent suggest going to Winnipeg via Montreal rather than via Toronto?” they asked.  “No,” I replied, “Is that possible?”  “Oh yes, indeed, sir!  And the Paris-Montreal flight often has more room for ‘standby’ passengers.  Here, let me take a look!”

A computer was consulted.  And, before long, these two helpful people had moved our booking onto a Montreal flight.  Like the Toronto-bound flight, it left the next day, but it certainly had available seats.  As well, the Montreal to Winnipeg flight, with which we would then connect, also had plenty of room.  And, heck, if it turns out we wouldn’t be able to board that flight, there were some very good friends and relatives in the Montreal area that it would be fun for us to visit!

A hotel near to the airport was found online, and booked.  A cab was available to take us there.  And there followed another quiet night in a hotel.

Sunday, May 13, Mothers Day dawned, with us once more on our way back to the airport.  It was 7:00 AM.  Yet again checking our luggage through to Winnipeg, we went through Screening (with my little white temporary passport doing its job!), and Security; then we made our way to the gate where we would board the plane – if it turned out that we would be permitted to do so.  A rather nice touch was that the woman who had re-booked us to the Montreal route, was on duty at the gate, and recognized us.  She was more than helpful as the time of departure neared....

And, when the plane took off, on its way to Montreal, we were on board!

But... as the days had gone along since we were in Barcelona, Heather’s coughing and weakness seemed to be getting worse and worse.  Indeed, there had been several sleepless nights, filled with dreadful coughing.  And now, when we were high in the air over the Atlantic, she began to cough so violently, she couldn’t catch her breath.  She became red in the face, and I began to fear that she might choke or asphyxiate.  A violently coughing passenger is difficult to ignore, and a flight attendant leaped into action.  She took Heather, still coughing, to the galley at the back of the plane, gave her some hot water with lemon slices, and held her, saying, “Now, breathe in... with me... breathe out!”  To this day, Heather believes this woman saved her life.

It turned out that, some time last year, this flight attendant had fallen ill with COVID, and afterwards had entered into a two-month phase of coughing, similar to Heather’s.  So, because Heather and I had both had COVID in March, before heading out on this journey, it was easy to conclude that such coughing could be a form of “long COVID.”

The plane landed in Montreal, and in due course, we were permitted to board the plane to Winnipeg.  There wasn’t a lot of coughing on that, our last flight of the journey, but at home, the coughing continued, and, in fact, appeared to intensify.

By Tuesday, May 15, the coughing was so bad that – egged on by some good friends – I insisted that we go to the hospital.  And, in the emergency ward, Heather began coughing so extremely that nurses ran around, and brought a stretcher, and rushed her into a room that had oxygen....

And a doctor came, who, after a series of tests, pronounced that Heather was suffering from a type of pneumonia.  He sent us home with a prescription for a strong antibiotic.

The prescription was filled, the days passed, and slowly the coughing, lack of appetite, and sleeplessness began to diminish.

But then… I began to cough, in a manner similar to Heather’s.  It was particularly bad in bed, and through the night.  So, I cancelled a number of appointments and commitments, and tried to rest.

During this time, the Passport Office phoned and told me that I could come to their Winnipeg office and pick up my permanent passport...

... and, on May 23, fifteen days after the passport got lost, the European bus company sent me an email which said, in effect, “Sorry you lost something on bus N781, the 8th of May, 2023.  We have to tell you that we have not found any lost items.”  I wrote back, telling them that the lost item was a passport, and that, wherever it is, it has now been cancelled, so they can close their file.

Today, Monday, May 29 – with Heather over at a friend’s, visiting; and with it being the morning after I had very routinely led a church service, at St. Margaret’s for the feast of Pentecost – I went to Service Canada, turned in my white, temporary passport, and picked up my new, permanent one.  I think, therefore, that it is safe to say that life has finally returned to “normal”.

And so this saga is now done.  Thanks for reading.

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