The trip from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, to Saint-Aignan took 26 hours. Many of those hours were spent just waiting. We waited for at least 3 hours at Chicago O'Hare airport, after checking our bags and going through security. We waited more than 5 hours at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, according to plan. We waited an hour at the Saint-Pierre-des-Corps TGV station near Tours, between trains.
Illinois was cold and cloudy when we left. We drove up I-57 from Champaign to Chicago across expansive flat fields of gray-black dirt. Pretty much all the corn has been harvested. As we drove through Iroquois County, just south of Kankakee, I remarked to Walt that it was so flat and so treeless that we could probably see all the way to the other side of the county. Only the numerous grain silos gave any variety to the flat, gray landscape.
Don't get me wrong. I love Illinois. I spent 5 fines years in Champaign. But you have to be objective.
In Chicago, we got off the expressway at South 95th Street and drove east all the way to Lake Michigan. We turned left on highway 41, which becomes Lakeshore Drive, and drove up to the Chicago Loop, past Soldier Field. The Bears were playing the Dolphins, and we could see the people packed in the stadium bleachers. The game had just started and there was very little traffic. The sun came out as we drove up the Miracle Mile, North Michigan Avenue, past the Water Tower, the Playboy building, and the Drake Hotel.
We arrived at O'Hare at about 3:00 p.m. The international terminal was not crowded, and we went through security early and quickly. We were surprised to find that there are no restaurants in the secure area of the airport. We hadn't had lunch, and we had planned to spend our waiting time enjoying some food and wine. No luck.
The Air France plane took off at 6:00, just a few minutes late. The flight was uneventful. As usual, it was cramped, crowded, and uncomfortable, though the food was surprisingly good. I slept just a little. Mostly, I read Julia Child's new book, My Life in France. Julia loved France the way I do.
At CDG airport in Paris, we walked from terminal 2E over to 2C because we know a restaurant there where the food is good and we had hours to kill. Lunch and a glass of wine seemed like the best way to celebrate our return to France and to pass the time before our TGV was scheduled to depart. Terminal 2C, which we used to pass through on our numerous trips to France and back to California, is now used by passengers traveling to and from Africa. It was crowded, bustling, and noisy.
The restaurant didn't start serving lunch until 11:30. So we spent an hour in a nearby café, watching the people walk by. We were sitting across from the American Airlines check-in area, so many of the people we saw were Americans. Some had clearly been shopping in Paris and were wearing what they considered to be the latest styles. The American Airlines greeters seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time questioning people before they let them proceed to the check-in counters and check their bags. I guess they were asking security-related questions.
A young couple with a very young baby came and occupied the table next to ours. The young mother breast-fed her baby for a few minutes. Nobody seemed to notice. I did notice, and I turned my chair so that I wouldn't seem to be staring at her.
I had trouble keeping my eyes open when we got on the train. Paris was completely fogged in. In fact, when the plane landed, we descended through what I thought was a thick layer of clouds. I told Walt I hated that part and I wanted to be able to see the ground. He pointed out that the wing of the plane, right outside our window, had disappeared, so thick were the clouds. Then suddenly we touched down. I felt the wheels touch the ground before I actually saw the ground.
About an hour into our 90-minute train ride, the fog broke and the sun came out. The flat fields of La Beauce, somewhere near Vendôme, were bright green. I've often said La Beauce is France's Illinois, but on November 6 the contrast couldn't have been more striking. Besides the green grass, there were many villages and church steeples off in the distance. It was picturesque and inviting in a way Illinois wasn't. It was beautiful.
At 4:45 we boarded the little regional express train at Tours, after spending an hour in a café in the station. The nice thing about the wait was that the café has now become a smoke-free space. The last time we waited there, the cigarette smoke was thick and unpleasant.
The end of the line for our train was Saint-Aignan. It wasn't crowded but there were quite a few young people -- students, I assume, returning home to Bléré and Montrichard and other small towns after a day of classes in Tours -- on board. They looked energetic, happy, and healthy. They smiled and laughed and chatted together.
The Cher River valley was green and neatly manicured. I saw the little cars, the narrow roads, and the little houses that I love. And gardens. The river itself. And finally in the distance, on the other side of the river and up on the hills, we saw the top branches of the tall fir tree that stands in in our yard. And then we saw the château at Saint-Aignan. Our friend David was waiting at the station to meet us and drive us home. The house looked great, and we were thrilled to be back. I went to bed at 9:00 p.m. and slept straight through for 12 hours. Whew.