During our recent trip to Paris, we had occasion to spend three nights at a hotel near Charles de Gaulle Airport. It was an interesting experience.
The hotel, the Innside by Melia, was pleasant enough, but not one I would recommend. The staff were friendly and helpful, but the hotel was not as well-located as it made out. The television and air conditioning did not work in the first room they put us into, and we had to change rooms. The service for multi-nights was deficient. Most important, there were problems with my credit card which were the fault of the hotel and their booking agent, booking.com, which may cost me unnecessary international telephone charges.
When I connected to the WiFi in our first room, I found an email from the hotel to the effect that my credit card had bounced and I had two hours to correct the situation. I knew that this was a mistake. When I had booked the hotel the previous week, CIBC had sent me a text asking that I confirm (Y) or not (N) a booking charge they had received from booking.com for prepayment of the room. I confirmed the payment and received another text telling me to go ahead with the transaction. I emailed booking.com on the Thursday to explain the situation and ensure that the room was confirmed. The following Monday, I checked in without a problem and, an hour later, received the nasty email from the hotel.
I texted CIBC. I then tried to call Canada to correct the situation. I called the number on the back of my credit card for calls from outside Canada and the United States. That number did not work. At first, I couldn’t get beyond the French telephone system. Then I got a message to the effect that, outside the USA, this call would cost $2.00 per minute, did I want to continue? I continued to hold, got my credit card balance, the date of my last payment, the minimum payment due at the end of July, etc., etc., but no person to deal with my problem nor to confirm that my call to CIBC would be “collect.” I ultimately hung up in utter frustration. I then noticed that there was a text on my smart phone from CIBC giving me yet another number to call.
By this time, the defects with our tv and air conditioning had become apparent. The staff person who moved us to another room then explained that my credit card was indeed okay, and that “there had been a miscommunication between booking.com and the hotel.” Gee, thanks. It would have been nice to have received an email from the hotel to that effect an hour earlier.
To escape the near-heart-attack anger I had experienced over the telephone, I decided to do a little recce. The staff said that the shuttle to CDG was just out the door, turn right and walk about five minutes to the CDGVAL, a train which links the three terminals and the parking lots at the airport. I followed the instructions, then the signs. After what seemed to be a very long time, I found the CDGVAL train which took me to Terminal 3 Roissypole.
Terminal 3 was spacious and roomy, cool and comfortable, totally upbeat. I found a bank of RER kiosks to purchase RER tickets and passes, with the help of a friendly, English-speaking team attached to an information desk. They provided me with all the information I needed.
Opposite the entrance to the RER was a good-sized Marks & Spencer. When I canvassed their stock, I realized that we could buy all that we needed for supper and breakfast, and we need not spend a single extra cent at our hotel. The problem was how to get the groceries (and the wine) back to the hotel. There was a bus shuttle that served some hotels at the airport, but not ours. I would have to walk back or take a taxi. The RER Information team told me where to find taxis.
Outside a nearby door, I met a group of Algerian-French taxi drivers sitting on a bench, their cars in a queue waiting for passengers. They had time to kill. I asked their stories, and they told me where they came from, how long they had been in France, and how they came to be there. We talked about Uber and how it was a threat to their business. I told them that I was from Canada, had once hitch-hiked across North Africa, and that I was the first anglophone to teach senior level English at the Normal School in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. One driver gave me three euros for the thirty ten-centime pieces that weighed down my wallet. Another told me about when he had once been to Canada. We had the most delightful time. Before I knew it, thirty minutes had passed and it was time to move on. I went back to M&S, bought my groceries and returned to get a cab. The “supervisor” of the taxi drivers agreed to drive me to our hotel for 14 euros. I felt that I had made a friend.
The next day, we walked to the CDGVAL shuttle station. Early in the morning, we discovered that the distance was not as far as it had seemed the night before. We then took the CDGVAL train shuttle to Terminal 1 to find the gate we would need for our return flight. For the heck of it, we also took the CDGVAL to Terminal 2 to see where most Air Canada flights depart. The train is very efficient, comfortable and frequent, but we realized that it would be difficult if we were loaded down with luggage. We decided that we would need a taxi to pick us up at our hotel and take us to Terminal 1. That’s ultimately what we did. The short drive from the hotel pickup to Terminal 1 on the last morning cost 20 euros.
I add the prices because there are now standardized rates imposed on taxis taking people to downtown Paris from Charles de Gaulle airport: 50 euros to the right bank, 55 euros to the left bank. Clearly, the taxis doing short runs at the airport are charging a premium.
I had asked my Algerian-French taxi driver friend what restaurant he would recommend at the airport. He suggested the buffet on the ground floor of the Ibis hotel in Terminal 3. We found the buffet only a few steps away from M&S. The meal was excellent, and the price perfectly reasonable. We ate so well at lunch that we needed nothing for dinner. The next time I want a hotel at CDG, I will book at this Ibis.
Returning to our hotel after the lovely meal at the Ibis was painless. Our hotel may have been the most distant of the “local” hotels, but with no baggage or groceries, it was a nice walk. The next day, we took an excursion to Giverny (see next post), returned to M&S that evening for more groceries, and then took another taxi back to our hotel. As the airport was busier at that hour, the taxi queue was longer and no one was keen to leave the queue for a short run. The drivers now quoted 20 euros for a run to our hotel. One who had been part of my conversation a couple of days before offered to do it for 15 and we went with him. I felt like I was a Charles de Gaulle “local.”
Recently the CIBC converted their branch at the corner of Grace and College into a new “Banking Centre.” They did away with all the tellers, leaving only an ATM, a bevy of laptop computers scattered among comfortable chairs, and a couple of “advisors” who, apparently, are to educate the locals on computer banking, resolve any issues that arise, and presumably discuss mortgages and other banking services financially helpful to the institution. For decades, this had been my local bank, always handy walking home from the West End Y, and I was devastated.
Truth be told, I only used the branch tellers to get the rolls of loonies and toonies I need for city parking. I’ve never trusted using a credit card for street parking fees. I’ve always worried that after parking the car the kiosk would reject my card or, worse still, would steal the data on the card in some potential scam.
ATMs do not dispense coins. The closest alternative full-service CIBC branch is at Dundas and Ossington. When I went there one morning at opening time, I put my remaining 50 cents into a parking kiosk for the one available parking spot in the area. Anticipating a quick in and out, I found myself in a long line up with no teller. Apparently she was in the washroom. When she finally appeared, she had to deal with a line up of at least ten customers waiting impatiently for her return. More than ten minutes later, she was still dealing with the first in line. Other bank employees aware of the situation chose to ignore it. I made some complaints which, in retrospect, I should have resisted. Soon I had no choice but to abandon my place in the line and rescue my car from any potential early morning green hornet. It was only later that I remembered that the all-pervasive security cameras would have recorded me as an irate customer. Although I am generally known as a patient person, “customer service” like this at our coddled national banks brings out the worst in me.
That very morning, a friend told me about Toronto’s new Green P Parking App. After a couple of false starts during my early experiments with the system, I now fully appreciate the wonder of this new Parking App.
This is how it works. You download the app to your smart phone, enter your email and vehicle licence number to secure your registration, and then look for a parking kiosk on the street or in a Green P parking lot which has a four-digit number prominently displayed on the white decal on the side. The first time you use the system, you will be asked for your credit card information and for a deposit of $20.00. Presumably, when that $20.00 is exhausted, you would authorize another. In the meantime, once you have found a parking spot, you enter the identification number for the nearby kiosk and indicate the vehicle you are parking (or the license number of a second vehicle), and choose the amount of time you want. The app confirms the location and time, deducts the payment, and, if you like, sends a receipt to your email address. Apparently, the paper receipts we used to place on the dashboard are obsolete. Green hornets looking for malingerers will check your licence plate digitally to confirm timely payment.
As an added feature, the app counts down the time, alerts you when time is running out, and gives the option of extending the time digitally from wherever you might be. On a recent shopping trip, I extended twice, for 75 cents each time, from the store where I was happily browsing. I eventually returned to my car secure in the knowledge that there would be no yellow ticket on my windshield. Updated receipts arrived by email.
When I went for dinner one night last week, I found a spot on College Street right beside the restaurant at precisely 6:31 p.m. I pulled out the app expecting to pay until at least 9:00 p.m. But no. The app told me that no parking fee was payable at that hour, and that I should check the signs to be sure. I checked the sign and it was true. Parking was payable 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., prohibited 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., and then presumably parking was free. Pretty slick, I’d say. The app also allows you to type in an address and find the nearest Green P site, renew monthly permits, and pay courtesy charges, although I haven’t yet tested these features.
Best of all from my perspective, I am now liberated from any further need for live contact with any branch of my bank. Maybe forever.