Cockpit Chronicles: Too much adventure (Part II)

We left off in the last episode looking at an extra two nights in Paris after a mechanical issue caused our flight back to Boston to cancel.

This was because our 7:10 p.m. required departure time had arrived and the mechanics still hadn’t found the problem. So now there was no way to get to Boston without exceeding our 14 hour maximum time on duty.

We couldn’t believe the situation. A five-day Paris trip? I’ve always envied the British Airways and Virgin crews that layover for days in the Caribbean. We’d finally get a chance to experience Paris after a full night’s sleep.

Later that evening, the mechanics narrowed down our problem to a faulty total air temperature probe. This probe supplies the temperature information for the FMS (Flight Management System – The airplane’s ‘computer.’) which calculates our Mach number and how high we can fly, among many other things. They’d have to fly a new temperature probe in from Chicago the next morning.

I was sure we’d have to wait a few hours for a bus to pick us up at the airplane after we finally ran out of duty time. Amazingly, though, the bus was right at the nose of the airplane when we were ready.

On the ride to the hotel, we ran through our options for the next day. It came down to two choices. We could either go to the Nuits de Feu, which is a fireworks contest in Chantilly, or we could spend the day in Versailles with the Fat Tire Bike Tour.

Nine of us elected to do the bike tour. Since one of our flight attendants actually lives in Paris, he preferred to go home, obviously. The other two flight attendants were happy to do their own thing,

I called Fat Tire as we drove to the hotel. They were fully booked up for the Versailles tour, but since we had so many in the crew, they thought they’d go ahead and put on an extra guide for us–a private tour at no extra charge.

A large group of us went to the Latin quarter for a bite to eat after getting to the hotel at nearly 9 p.m. We didn’t want to stay out late, since we were meeting up at 8:30 a.m. the next day for our eight hour ‘tour de France.’ But we managed to stop for a Crepe Nutella before hitting the sack. The perfect end to a long day.

I was impressed that everyone who said they wanted to go the night before, actually showed up the next morning. So the nine of us jumped on the metro to the Dupleix stop near the Fat Tire headquarters. They decided not to split the tour into two groups, so there would be just over 20 of us.

I almost prefer it that way, since it’s fun to meet the other people on the tour, and the large group can actually be more fun. Our guide for the day was a really sweet and enthusiastic girl named Eliza, but since she looked so much like Indy Car racer Danica Patrick, she will from here on be referred to as Danica.

The €60 price included the RER train ride and a ticket to tour the palace at Versailles.

After picking out our bikes at Fat Tire, we pedaled over to the station. This was the most challenging part, since the train’s doors would only be open for a matter of seconds.

We’d have to get our bikes on board and stow them near the doors as quickly as possible. To facilitate this, Danica turned our handlebars 90 degrees which made it easier to stack the bikes four at a time on the train.

The RER train took us to Versailles in less than 20 minutes. We stopped at the farmer’s market where we shopped for nearly an hour, loading up with enough bread, meats, cheeses, fruit and wine to hold a grand picnic lunch on the grounds of the Versailles Gardens.

The Palace of Versailles was established to house the Royal Family just outside Paris. The idea was that it would lend an air of mystery to the Royals. “What were they doing out there?” the Parisians would wonder.

After years of taxation–an 80% tax rate, with 3/4 of that going straight to Versailles, the people of France rose up mounted a successful revolution.

Only one word could come to mind when riding around the gardens, past the guest house and Marie Antoinette’s villa. Opulence.

We parked ourselves at the end of the cross-shaped lake looking back at the palace at the other end of the pond.

We broke out the food on the thick grass and had a good laugh about the troublesome trip from Boston three days earlier. One of the flight attendants, Elaine, couldn’t decide if having to scrape off the vomit from her shoe was worth getting a five-day layover.

We met up with two girls from Houston who were touring Europe, a nice couple from New Jersey and we even toasted the 21st birthday of one of the riders.

I managed to shoot a short video of the relaxed and enjoyable ride so far.

It’s just about impossible to walk the entire gardens in a day, but with a bike it was simple and fun to get around. Versailles was one of the largest Palaces in the world.

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We could have stayed at that spot all day, watching the airplanes fly over to land at a local small airport, eating the world’s freshest strawberries and raspberries, but we needed to bike back to the palace for our grand tour inside.

Many people walk these gardens, but there’s just no way to really see it all unless you take a bike. The beach cruisers that Fat Tire uses were rather comfortable to ride all day. That is until someone loses a chain.

The scale at which this palace was constructed is hard to imagine. Marble columns everywhere, a hand-dug lake, and a Palace that takes over an hour just to tour the half of the home open to the public.

Inside, they give you a headset, and you simply put in the number of the room you’re in and it describes what you’re seeing. The furniture in the Palace is mostly removed to help the flow of traffic through each room. There were times where I’d call it heavy traffic indeed.

The “Hall of mirrors” was fantastic. Mirrors were incredibly rare in those days, so they would use polished silver to make these mirrors. In fact, I ran across some graffiti on one of the silver panes. If you look close, you’ll see it was scratched into the mirror in 1842.

The room everyone wants to see is, of course, the bedroom of Marie Antoinette. I stopped there for a moment to send a text message to everyone I knew via twitter “Spending father’s day in Marie Antoinette’s bedroom!”

After returning our bikes in Paris, we jumped on the Metro for the trip back to our hotel. There was talk of getting together for dinner again that night, but we were all so tired, we decided to skip food in favor of some extra sleep. I was still plenty full from the hour-long picnic.

The next morning we joked about the possibility of another cancellation. We were unanimous in all wanting to get home at this point. My nine-days in a row of flying had already turned into 11 days, and I really needed to get home to give my wife a break from the kids and a bit of respite.

It might sound like 11 days in a row at work is a marathon, and I certainly thought it was, but I realize that my wife Linda has her hands full with the kids every day without a break while I’m gone. I honestly don’t know how she does it.

The marathon wasn’t quite over, though. I would only have one day off before heading out for another three-day trip to–you guessed it–Paris again. But I’m not complaining, I swear! My family on the other hand…well, let’s just say it was time to bring something home on the next trip.

I’ll leave you with a gallery of other photos from our Versailles trip. Thanks for coming along!


Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on every one of Kent’s trips as a co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 out of Boston.