I traveled to Paris amid France’s awakening from its COVID-19 Slumber
Most who know me would say I am not like the classic common man, I move to the beat of my drum, and it was drumbeat that said I needed to be in France as soon as it opens. It cost me loads of aggravation, more on that below, and it was not at the perfect time either, but it was 100% worth it!
The insanity started when Gabriel Geller showed me the webpage, in May, that said that France was going to open to American tourism without quarantine, in June, as long as they had been vaccinated. Since I was vaccinated that interested me and I called United. There were flights and they did not look booked up as this was too early for most Americans to jump on the train. I asked for the week of June 14th and it looked good. I booked it but I kept it low-key as it would not be until June 1st that France would say more about it. For the next month, the French site which would define the very protocols for entry into the country would NOT change until 1 day before entry was legal! Still, they had a small link that would go on to describe the stoplight approach and the protocol for each of the three colors, green, orange, red. Now, I do not know about you, but France and the United States do not have orange-colored stoplights! Either way, the protocol stated that if you were vaccinated from a Green country (which the United States was not part of AT THAT time, more on the below) you could show the vaccine card and enter. Even at that time, I wondered why the United States was not a green country given our rates of infection, our vaccination rates, and so on, still countries like Israel, and others were on it. Then there were the Orange countries, among which the United States was one, which stated, that if you were vaccinated you could enter as long as you had a negative test result from a PCR test taken 72 hours in advance of your flight to France.
So, once France woke up and updated their entry protocols, and made it official, I had only one week to book my tastings, orders, and so on to taste through all the wines I had not yet had the chance to taste. It was a dizzying week of effort, worked around my actual job, which is being a consulting Software Architect for my clients. Thankfully, it was all planned out, though those very plans would change again, nothing new for such a last-minute approach to France.
Truly, none of this could have happened if it were not for Ari Cohen and his buddies in France that helped me in my planning, logistics, and all the winemakers and distributors who helped me set up the wine tastings.
So, as the time approached, I used United’s partner TrustAssure to book my appointment for my PCR test – WARNING NEVER EVER use these IDIOTS! Sorry for spoiling the story! I booked a convenient time and I drove over to it. It was crazy because the address showed one street while the actual location was on another one. Once I finally found it, I was in and out within a matter of minutes. Now, the way TrustAssure works is that they interact and help you find an appointment with a reputable lab or testing center. They show you possible appointment times and locations for these labs in one convenient app. Then they pass along the time for your appointment to the location and charge you the fee. All of this sounds good enough. It is up to the lab to send you the results, not TrustAssure, as TrustAssure is just a middleman to help you find a said appointment.
Well, let me explain that my flight was Sunday morning and I took my test Thursday night. All good and legal, as that is 72 hours before my flight. Sadly, by Friday afternoon late, I had not yet received my results. By Saturday night, after Shabbat, which is late this time of year, we still had no results! NONE! This now caused me massive aggravation, and sadly my wife as well, as I was freaking out. After a couple of hours of sheer insanity and running around looking for testing that was open at 11 PM, I was ready to give in and call it a massive failure. This is the current issue with COVID-19, testing should available all the time, whether for a job need, athletes, teachers, travelers, etc. If we have drive-in burger joints open all night there should be testing facilities as well. Yes, the comparison to a burger joint is cute at best, but truly the aggravation was massive. I tried calling TrustAssure and I tried calling and going to the test facility, they were all closed, with no way to get hold of anyone my test entered the COVID-19 lab blackhole. To be fair, all of the test facilities are the same, except for a very sparing few, they administer the test, and then they send them out to a much larger testing facility. The results for PCR tests are normally 24 hours or less, nowadays, sadly mine fell into the COVID-19 test black hole of death!
Finally, my friend told me there was a test facility, 10 minutes away from SFO (San Francisco airport) that could test me last minute and get me results in less than an hour. The facility opened at 6 AM and my flight check-in time was 7:40 AM. So, I barely slept that night, I packed, got everything ready, and headed over to the testing site (CovidClinic) which is a trailer parked in the middle of nowhere, I mean that literally. It is three orange trailers parked in the middle of three acres of an empty and deserted parking lot that used to be part of a park-and-fly lot for those that parked their cars before a flight at SFO. Those companies were affected by the COVID-19 impact on the aviation/airline companies.
So, I arrived at the CovidClinic, while still trying to call TrustAssure and the test site I took my test at on Thursday and there was finally someone at TrustAssure – they said there was nothing they could do, so I said I want my money back and if this last-ditch effort of a last-minute tests fails, I will sue them for failing to abide by their promises. Thankfully, that would never be needed, I took the test, and then I took another Uber to SFO and I stood by the check-in counter waiting for my results. Within 40 minutes, the negative results arrived and I went to the counter. If I ever need a test again, I would use CovidClinic without hesitation!
Let me start by now explaining that outside of my lab result blackhole issue, the rest of the international COVID-19 protocols are still not well ironed out. Yes, I understand that it was day 4 of these new protocols, what I mean overall, is that testing and COVID-19 protocols are not new to the airline industry, they have been active for a good year already! The main issue here is that every country does it differently, and so even though Hawaii, which has its stand and protocols on their own, require the same needs to enter their island as many other locals, the protocols for checking this at the counter in SFO was mayhem. Still, after lots of calls, and lots of checks, they allowed me through. Understand that this has been dumped on the shoulders of the airlines, much like all the other validating they do for passports, visas, entry cards, and so on. Who does all this? The airlines and are not compensated. So, when ticket prices go up, remember that the more idiocy and the more one-off rules they drop on entry protocols, the more airlines have to spend money to validate. Now, my flight was not direct, as France is not open directly to California unless you are talking Air France, which I have sworn to never fly again, a different set of stories for a different time. So, my connecting flight was through Newark, United also has Chicago, but at a far less convenient time. Anyway, if United had accepted me and then the Newark-based gate would have denied me who is at fault??? What if United at the Newark would have accepted my papers and then France would have denied me who is at fault? In all the above cases, the answer is United, and the fines are steep! It is for this reason that prices to places like this are higher and they will stay high as long as there are complicated and absurd one-off rules to enter these countries or locales.
So, after all of that madness, I get on the plane to Newark. At Newark, I go directly to the gate and the line is already 2/3 of the way down the concourse! Why? You guessed it, more protocol checks, people crying, screaming, complaining, and of course, people cutting lines, getting aggravated, and almost no one following the rules of wearing a mask! Classic mayhem all over again. Still, this is understandable on day 4 of these protocols. The behavior of the passengers, while horrible, I guess is also to be expected, but still depressing to see. Here too, the gate personnel were on the phone more than they were checking papers, again, new protocols equal confused gate agents. I am sure that this will all get streamlined soon, once the tests and the COVID-19 vaccination cards are digitized so that many of these headaches can be avoided.
Finally, we were on our way to Paris, once we landed it was an hour’s wait to get through border entry. The lady at border entry looked at me and asked why are you coming to France? I was not sure what to say, I came to see Paris, she only got louder and angrier. Now, until this point, no one in front of me was getting screamed at! Well, I said I was there to see my family, which all live in or around Paris, The vast majority of my family live in France. She asked me specific names and locations and then let me on through. Now, if you open a country to Americans, with your rules and protocols, and people follow those to the T, what does one gain by the subsequent questions about why you are here? I have lived in fear for the past year-plus of the COVID-19 madness. I have taken it as seriously as anyone around me. Most of my friends are either lax about it or wonder if it ever existed. So, no, I do not take what has happened lightly. But, if you allow US citizens into the country then let us in! If you want us to wear masks and to follow distance rules and so on, great, we will do that, but the added anger gains no one anything. That is my 2 cents. I asked people what was the reason for this strange attitude and the response was that France was still in its crises and that the United States had not reciprocated with opening its borders, so I felt a bit for the border agents’ frustrations with an American who wanted to come to Paris to enjoy life. Maybe, either way, I will expand on many of these points below.
So, I get through border control, and I head to my hotel. I did not have much planned for Monday and as such, I arrived at my hotel and relaxed for the day. I walked around the area of my Hotel, Porte Maillot, and I was saddened to realize that my other favorite hotel from that location was closed, because of COVID-19. This would be a strong theme throughout this trip. The title of this post will keep coming up, over and over, France was awakening for the third time, and this time, backed by vaccines, they finally had the chance to keep it awake! Still, life was very haphazard. The first week of my arrival, everyone was required to wear a mask at all times, inside and out, except when dining, even inside. It was not fun wearing a mask OUTSIDE when the temperatures were 95 degrees Fahrenheit, just not fun at all!
So, with my mask, I went to lots of shops and bought the wines I was missing or ones I never heard of, most of them would turn out to be horrible or useless, still, it is part of the process. Tuesday was much the same, high heat, lots of walking, and yes wearing a mask, carrying 12 bottles of wine in bags, just crazy.
I will skip the rest of the trip details, as they will be woven into the tastings, but to be short and to the point, the rest of my time in Paris was either tasting wines, hanging out with friends (and tasting wine), seeing my aforementioned family, and going to museums, which were now open. Any trip to Paris without seeing Monet’s Water Lilies is a wasted trip, it is that simple!
So, my observations from afar:
- Parisians will be Parisians – they dislike Americans and still very much do. Now, I am NOT talking about the staff at hotels or other such establishments. I am talking about the common person on the street. Paris will have the Olympics in 2024, yes the NEXT Summer Olympics, after Tokyo, and they are not ready for that many foreigners, just 100% NOT! The attitude towards us Americans is not going to fly. Anyone who knows me would say I am loud. I am not obnoxious and I do not make scenes, but I get excited and I raise my voice. Parisians, do not like loud people, period. The number of times I was accosted or screamed at in Paris over my time there are close to innumerable, simply stated Parisians want it both ways. They want commerce, they want foreign tourism, they want people to spend their money there, but on their terms, and well, trust me that will not end well!
- Paris is still very much in a COVID-19-sleep, at least when I first arrived, and forget about other locales in France. Paris is still in a partial slumber and barely getting up. The people who live there are very awake and ready to get on with their lives. They are vaccinating as fast as possible. The issue here is the same that is happening in Hawaii and other destinations, but for very different reasons. Hawaii is being overrun, literally, by thousands of tourists. Hotels are overrun, prices are skyrocketing, and there is simply not enough staff at any of the hotels or attractions in and around Hawaii’s islands or in places like Las Vegas or other hot spots in the United States.
Remember, the United States, for now, is closed to all foreigners, so, pent-up demand from American tourists who do not want the hassles that I went through are all flying domestically. Sadly, the staff have not been expanded to meet this crushing demand and people are not happy!
Paris has the same issue for different reasons. What they have is weak demand and as such, they are not replying with a large supply of staff. Many hotels are closed, museums have shorter hours, everything feels closed and service is at its low point. These things will change as demand rises, but for now, Paris has the same outcome as other locales, but for very different reasons. Many of the people I spoke with while waiting in lines at restaurants, museums, or other places, felt the same way. I met a doctor-without-borders at the Starbucks line in CDG, on my way home, and he lamented that service was at its lowest point that he had ever seen. On an aside, he had 3 vaccinations! When you are on the front lines, you take greater care.
- The CDG airport is a total mess. They have shut down much of the airport, forcing travelers into smaller spaces, moving airlines around, driving everyone crazy. They are a private institution and they are squeezing people, airlines, and staff to save money where they can. They could care less about the experience, at this point it is squeeze as hard as possible, make everyone miserable, while praying they survive.
This is a great example of sticking it to the customer at the expense of the customer! Service is of ZERO concern all they want to do is cut costs. Talking with the United staff, off the record, they complained about the lack of staff, how much the airport has furloughed people, and the lack of amenities and services available for all the airlines, outside of Air France. Essentially, everyone has been forced into Terminal 2E.
While I was there, Paris itself went through a few changes. The first week I was in Paris, masks were required everywhere. After a week, they dropped the mask need for outside and removed the curfew, for all intent and purpose. Again, awakening. As I was leaving, I found out that the United States was now a green country and those who entered on the 2nd week I was there did not require a test in advance, that would have been nice a week earlier!!!!
- Paris, the host of the 2024 Summer Olympics, is a massive road disaster! Now, this is a self-inflicted disaster! Every single Parisian, that I spoke with said the same thing, the mayor was destroying Paris to rebuild it as a car-free zone. Her dream, her vision, is to remove cars and have everyone use public transit. Now, I love the Metro, and I used it much more this trip than before. The only time I skipped it was when I was hauling boxes of wines around, which was pretty much every day! Still, the mayor’s dream means that when I was not on the Metro, I could spend 1-plus hours, in an Uber, moving 2 miles. It felt like NYC or LA at times. In and around my hotel, a hotel I use often when I visit Paris, construction has been going on for years and it is still not complete! The same mass makeover of Porte Maillot is still underway, and while things have progressed, it has gotten far worse. A simple walk to the burger place takes 3x the time because we are forced into a serpentine walk for what should have been a very simple straight walk across some streets. Entire sections of Paris are being sliced off from walk and road traffic. This is happening all over Paris. Unless you are in the Metro or your hotel all day – you cannot miss it! This is not Paris; this is a disaster. Only time will tell if her vision becomes a reality or an even bigger financial mistake.
- This trip was surreal. I left a California COVID-19 prison and entered an even stricter COVID-19 Prison in Paris. The United States was an Orange state, requiring a test in advance. As stated, the first week I was there, masks were required outside. Within a week, the United States went green, masks were not required outside, and the California Penal Society, for all things COVID-19, went off almost all requirements cold-turkey! I then left a country almost fully existing COVID-19 mindset and entered a California I never saw before! I still get looks, in California, for not wearing a mask in stores! I still believe the world has created a new religion, the deity is the mask, and the followers are fervent!
- Overall, the trip was a massive success. I was able to see my family, enjoy some great wines, see new and old friends, and return home without much hassle, at all. I just hope the direct flights will return soon! I also help the United States will open reciprocating access to French tourists, who can prove vaccination, and a negative test in advance. Equal and shared access to our nation is obvious, IMHO, if the tourists are safe.
- While I was there the UEFA Soccer matches were being played in Paris and Police were everywhere fearing for riots but thankfully it was quiet and successful, for the most part, for France!
I will start posting the wine tastings and notes next. My many thanks to all of those that helped me on this crazy trip and I hope to see