The distance between travel tedium and makeshift masterpiece, in other words, can be closed with nothing more than an open mind, a willingness to explore. An Internet connection helps, too. Certainly, the lesson of Fiumicino helped us this summer when we found ourselves with an unexpected five-hour layover at Charles de Gaulle, in Paris. Years ago, in a similar situation at Heathrow, I’d checked my luggage and taken the train into London for lunch and a stop at my favorite bookstore, Hatchards, on Piccadilly. But this time, it was August, half of Paris was shut for les grandes vacances, and it was raining. We would stay put, but I did want to eat. So despite my wife’s mockery—“There’s no decent food at de Gaulle!”—I got on the Web and discovered that, actually, there is. Not that you’d know it from the signage at the airport, which makes scarce mention of the Brasserie Flo in Terminal 2F—owned by the same group that runs Paris’s Bofinger, Terminus Nord, and La Coupole. We walked through three terminals in Aérogare 2, stopping to check our bags en route, and finally, there it was, tucked in a corner just steps from the airport Sheraton. Two hours later, after a lunch of frisée aux lardons, steak tartare, and a good rosé, we rolled back through those terminals feeling not at all as if we’d wasted a day.
Back at Rome airport after our “lost-and-found” half-day in Fiumicino, my wife and I were happy and relaxed as we checked in for our flight and headed for the departure lounge, where passengers destined for several northeastern American cities were all mashed together. It was only after the announcement that our new flight home was slightly delayed that we discovered just how lucky we’d been.
Our fellow passengers were more than usually disgruntled. It turned out that the flight we’d “missed” had never taken off; rather, it had sat on the runway for hours only to be canceled. By the time passengers disembarked, there were only a few seats left on the morning flight to New York, and there were no rooms at the Hilton. So families that had spent the night in less convenient accommodations—and eaten hotel rations—were headed to Boston and Philadelphia instead of New York.
To my wife, of course, this was just more proof that getting to the airport early gets you nowhere.
Michael Gross is a T+L contributing editor.