I have just returned from vacation in the East of France. The guided tour has been described as “14 delightful days exploring bountiful vineyards, classic villages, hearty cuisine and a quietly proud culture of eastern France”. Vacations were that and more – both good and bad.
There were no “wow moments” for me during this vacation. A term veteran vacationers use when they’re impressed by something they’ve done or seen. Reviews from people who have been on this tour have mentioned seeing Mont Blanc, the highest mountain peak in Europe, as their jaw-dropping moment. Clouds the day we visited prevented this.
I enjoyed learning about the ancient Roman ruin in Provence; the medieval charity hospital, Hôtel Dieu, in Burgundy and loved the wine tours and tastings. I came away with a much better understanding of the French term “terroir” as it relates to winemaking. Essentially, terroir encompasses all of the factors that go into producing wine grapes in a vineyard, from climate to soil to altitude. Some regions are said to be more “terroir” than other regions. Similarly, two nearby vineyards may have totally different “terroirs”.
The highlight of this holiday for me were various very civil discussions I had with the 23 members of the tour group. Four issues were at the center of most of the discussion: Covid-19 masking requirements (two band members fell with Covid), gun control, escalating crime and systemic racism .
Those concerned about the imposition of mask mandates (including two doctors) felt that the rules and regulations regarding masks, not vaccination, were arbitrary and capricious and based more on politics than science. They pointed out the absurdity that people flying back to the United States from Canada had to wear masks on the plane, but those returning by car did not have to wear masks. The same goes for Covid tests. Enter the United States by car, no test required. Enter by plane, you must have a negative test taken one day before the trip.
In the face of growing calls for greater restrictions on guns, those who opposed them said the Brady bill, which mandated federal background checks for firearms purchased in the United States. States, had no discernible effect on reducing gun-related deaths. I argued that this was a useful but modest first step and that we also needed to take various additional steps.
On the issue of rising crime, I’ve been forced to disavow the idea that Democrats are anti-police because they want to “defund” them. I argued that I was not for defunding the police, but rather for reallocating some of the funds they receive to ensure they have trained mental health professionals on the streets and available to appeal when a situation arises in which someone they are trying to apprehend is having a mental health crisis.
On the issue of systemic racism, we didn’t seem to disagree on its existence, but rather on whether we should highlight the substantial progress that African Americans have made over the years or whether we should focus on the huge gap that still exists in America between how blacks and whites are treated and in the opportunity gap that still exists between races.
Logistically, my vacation was an absolute disaster. After landing in Paris, we had to take two trains to get to the starting point of our tour in Reims. Our first train was late departing so we missed the second connection. In order to avoid a 5 hour wait for the next train, we took a taxi a hundred kilometers from Reims.
It was nothing compared to the return trip which was an absolute fiasco.
Our flight from Marseille to Munich was delayed and we left 40 minutes late. When we arrived in Munich, the staff told us that if we ran, we could take the connecting flight to the United States. So we raced through the airport, up and down the escalators, through passport control, taking a shuttle to another terminal until we reached the gate where we were told ‘too late’. No pleading worked.
The Lufthansa service center was not open in the departure terminal so we backtracked to the arrival terminal and then joined a very long line of passengers (at least 200 cents) at the service center which was open. We lined up, edging along for FOUR HOURS!
Finally, it was our turn. The duty agent booked us on the same flight for the next day. He also gave us a voucher for a hotel and breakfast at the hotel (Lufthansa made the reservation), a voucher for a taxi to take us to the hotel, a voucher for a taxi to take us back to the airport, vouchers for meals, and vouchers to pay for Covid tests.
So at 9.30pm we had a bite to eat at the airport then took a 30 minute taxi ride with a driver going 120km per hour (could see the speedometer) to an IBIS hotel in Landshut City. We got to our room and went to bed.
The next morning we drove back to the airport with a more sane taxi driver. I found the Covid testing site, took the test and 30 minutes later got ‘negative’ reports printed out.
We killed time at the airport until boarding time. We waited 20 minutes after departure time for passengers arriving late on connecting flights. A courtesy not extended to the many passengers like us who missed the day before.
Then we took off. End of the story? Not enough.
Three hours into the flight, the captain announces that there is a problem with a passenger and that we may have to turn around. Ten minutes later tells us that with the help of the passengers, the problem has been solved and we will continue our journey to Newark.
From time to time I heard strange noises, shouting and some commotion coming from the back of the section in which we were sitting. Then there is a big commotion with the flight crew trying to calm a psychotically depressed passenger. He was apparently trying to hit the passenger sitting next to him among other psychotic behaviors.
The captain announces that we are making a detour to St. John, Newfoundland to pick up the passenger. We land and the police board and evacuate the passenger whose hands had been tied by the flight crew. He was taken to hospital.
Then the plane was refueled and we took off. We spent an hour in St. John. Finally arrive in Newark at 10:30 p.m., three and a half hours late. Long wait for luggage but car service was there. We arrived home at 1:00 a.m. EST on Monday June 6th. Not bad for a trip that started in Aix en Provence on Saturday June 6 at 9:30 am CET.
Vacations should be a respite from the trials and tribulations of everyday life. This one, while it had its strengths, was far too stressful. In the future, I will stick to direct flights. I realize that means I will probably never see certain places on my to-do list. So be it!
Irwin Stoolmacher is president of the Stoolmacher Consulting Group, a fundraising and strategic planning firm that works with nonprofits that serve those most in need among us.