Sunday, September 7, 2008

Roissy Charles De Gaulle, Crakowie!!

Well 11 days ago, I was at the same airport for the first time. No money in hand, no idea if my cards would work and with no clue on what to do during exigencies.

Today, I am here 5 hrs ahead of my flight and have checked in my baggage.. figured out the cheapest ways to have some beer and food and am indulging in a beer called the Navigator from Amsterdam, with an alcohol content of 8.4%. I am gulping down this drink (half a litre) in between mouthfuls of Casino potato chips and typing this in the passenger lounge opposite Paul’s Restaurant at Terminal 2 next to the Delta Airlines checking counter which has just a few people now at the Roissy Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, France. I have managed to survive in Europe for 11 days and also learnt to find and do things that I feel like doing to add to my experiences in life.

While reflecting happily that I find writing increasingly interesting and practice this once in a while with passion, I also realize that this passion has been infectious and has touched my wife too. She sent me her 3rd blog (read as writing) today for proof reading which I found was wonderful to read because of the richness of its content.

I digress. When I first set foot at the Roissy Charles De Gaulle (CDG) 11 days ago, I learnt that it is a large airport with a few terminals and shuttle trains to take you from one to the other. I also learnt that there were only 2 ATMs across all the three Terminals and their variants ( A to Z!). The fact that none of these ATMs would accept my China Merchant’s Bank ATM card for cash withdrawal inspite of the bank’s call centre agent in China and the Union Pay (Chinese Equivalent to Visa/Mastercard) website and call centre agent also claiming that CDG and France had a total of 20000 ATMs that would accept the cards. Well this was another big learning!!!

Breaking into sweat out of anxiety, exhaustion from walking all over all the terminals and speaking to ill informed call centre agents in China, It dawned upon me that I had 3 more options which I hadn’t thought about before! One was to use the HSBC Visa debit card or the ICICI Mastercard or the Amex card to draw cash from the ATMs. At this same opportune moment, the memory gods that sometimes fail me, came swarming to me and reminded me that the HSBC account did not have any cash balance to withdraw from, and that I had received an email from the ICICI bank stating that my card had expired, plus I needed a new ICICI card to transact and also that I did not have my Amex card’s username and password for use in the ATM. Now stranded without any options, I called my wife in China to narrate my desperate situation. While I was doing the same , it dawned on me that the only option was to check if the ICICI expired card could work. I was also aware if the risk of it being eaten up by the French ATMs or risk the same with my China cards.

I found the two ATMs and decided to experiment with both the cards. The efforts at using the China Merchant’s Bank card at both the ATMs bombed. I was lucky to get a printout stating, card invalid! I was also lucky to have got the card back in spite of this. Well, the French Bank don’t have appetites for Chinese cards!! Then the hand of god waved over me and everything changed. The ICICI card that had expired, worked and I drew 300 EUR money from the ATM after which the ATM said that I had maxed my limit. I was fast to reconcile to the fact that I need to contain my expenditure for a day at 300 EUR. I was better off now than till now and proceeded with confidence to chekin for my flight to Krakow, Poland. I had planned to go to Les Fontaines, Chantilly, France directly from Paris and return to China but realized that I could go to Krakow and meet and discuss issues/opportunities with my counterparts there as I was in Europe and was logical thing to do. I checked with my boss who reconfirmed that I was right and gave me the go ahead. So here I was in the checkin area for LOT , the Polish Airlines and decided to write about the day’s proceedings.

I treated myself to a takeaway Cappucino and settled in cozily to start typing. A good 2 hours later after repeated delay announcements of the flight due to air traffic control clearance issues , I was finally allowed to board the aircraft to Poland. It was a 50 seater small plane that looked cheaper than even Deccan airways ( I felt proud that Deccan was better than this in India!). The flight rolled on and finally took off to Krakow under the sunny weather. I landed amidst loud clapping from all passengers at KRK to realize that it was warm ( 28 degrees C)and the airport was even smaller than our very own Coimbatore airport but was much more snazzier than the Bangalore HAL Airport! I disembarked and claimed baggage and was met at the arrival lounge by Lukaciej who spoke flawless English and wore a Ray Ban sporting a thin line of hair for a beard. He welcomed me with all his assumed Polish(read European!) demeanor of deliberate superiority trying to hide the deep seated East Block insecurity of all Poles!
He went on to say that It would be easier for me to pronounce Lukaciej and Lukas as most foreigners do that rather than attempt Lukaciej. I instantly surprised him with a clear and precise rendition of the name in the same accent and intonation and literally explained to him that I speak 7 languages apart from English and these had evolved from Sanskrit like many languages even in Europe and such small things were never a deterrent for us to pronounce names clearly. This sort of unseated him from his assumed European superiority which I had challenged and cut down clearly and quickly with my Asian superior demeanor and explanation of the Sanskrit intricacies and language etc! Now we were suddenly on equal terms and I made him feel at ease by mentioning that his country was beautiful and I need information from him to understand his country. This was an instant trigger for him, he fell for it and said that he liked me instantly after that and went about explaining all the sights, cultures and traditions of the Poles in between the 20 mins ride from the Airport to the Sheraton Hotel next to the Viswa River.
Author - Pallassana Vadassery Vinod Kumar
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