Sunday, September 7, 2014

People of Europe: Geneva Airport

I could have hugged this woman.

She was so very, very pleasant.

Here's the story.

Mark and I took an early morning flight this morning from Nice to Geneva, which is our entry/exit airport coming from and returning to Salt Lake City. (We flew direct from SLC to Paris, then on to Geneva. Great deal. It was cheaper to fly on to Geneva than from just SLC to Paris.) We did this so that we could stow our two bike boxes and a piece of luggage while we travel on to Rome and Greece. Yes, our time in Europe is not over. We are going to Rome for a few days, then on to Athens to fulfill on long-time wish of Mark's: to go on a cruise on a small ship through the Greek islands.

I had done some research about storing baggage at Geneva Airport. I knew where to go - in the rail station located adjacent to the airport. But when we arrived there, this is the scene that greeted our eyes:

First, I could hardly believe that this 10x20' area constituted the baggage storage area for Geneva's international airport. Second, I could not believe it was closed, even though the hours posted indicated that it should be open. 

The signs referred us to the "ticket office," which I assumed (correctly) was the temporary office that had been constructed across the way. I stood in line, not knowing what the hell I was doing, in hopes that help would be proffered. By that time, Mark and I had waited for our luggage at the baggage claim and had hauled them a considerable distance, first missing the storage facility, then finding it closed. This, by the way, was what we were hauling in addition to our carry-on luggage and our computer bags:

As the French would say, "C'etait pas evident," which, loosely translated, means "It wasn't easy."

So, as I say, I was extremely hopeful as I approached the desk behind which sat the woman in the lead photo who spoke fluent English with almost no accent. I'll call her Antoinette. When I told her our predicament, she basically said, "No problem. I can help you." She said to bring the bags over and put them outside the temporary office. 

I jogged over to tell Mark this, then returned. Meanwhile, Antoinette had started helping a Bob Marley look-a-like who was exchanging a bunch of foreign-looking money into Canadian dollars. While Antoinette tried to make sure she had enough money, he played with a toy that resembled a marionette.

"I'm not sure I have enough," she said. "No problem," Bob replied in English. "I'll take wha chu got."

"These are really fresh bills," Antoinette said as she counted them. "I just printed them last night with my machine." That raised my eyebrows as well as Bob's.

"Are you married?" Bob said.


"'Cuz that would be really convenient, having a wife who could print money." Chuckle. Smile. A bit of color in Antoinette's cheeks.

Finally, "Bob" had his Canadian dollars (a lot of them) and was on his way.

The clerk then turned her attention to assisting me with my dilemma. "Can you also exchange money?" I asked. "Oh, yes," was the reply. "We can do lots of things." I told here I thought we needed some Swiss Franc coins for bus or train tickets. "Oh, I can sell you those as well if you want."

By this time, I could sense that Antoinette was clearly of a sunny disposition, yet almost childlike. She wasn't a "Mrs. Sunshine" who wore a plastic smile and had a plastic persona, however. She was the real deal. A kind person. And I felt fortunate that she had been placed in my path that morning.

Another interesting character was the man - Jean-Paul - who came to lock up our luggage. He also seemed to have a happy disposition, even though - as he explained to us - he was running around trying to do ten different things because they were short-handed that morning. Jean-Paul was tall, thin, dark-haired and unshaven, probably in his mid-20's, and seemed to literally have a spring in his step. He treated us as if he'd known us for years. When we later passed him in the hallway, he recognized us and gave us a big smile and two thumbs up.

I wished I had taken a photo of Jean-Paul. I really wished I had taken a photo of Antoinette. But due to fortuitous circumstances, our paths crossed again later that day. 

Here's what happened. After storing our luggage, we had caught a shuttle to a nearby hotel where we would spend the night before heading to Rome the next morning. Mark asked if it would be possible to store our luggage there, since we will be returning in two weeks in order to fly home to Utah. "Sure, no problem," was the response. I was surprised. "How much?" I asked. "No charge." No brainer.

So, late in the afternoon, on our way back to the hotel from downtown Geneva, we went to retrieve our two bike boxes and suitcase from storage. I was hoping I'd see Antoinette so that I could take her picture, but she wasn't in sight. Another woman took us over and  unlocked the storage room (and she was also very pleasant). As we were retrieving our bags, Antoinette came into the room. 

I seized the opportunity. I explained to her that I write a travel blog and would like to take her picture because she had been so helpful to us that morning. "I'm sorry," Antoinette said, "I don't remember what I did for you. But, yes, you may take my picture I guess." The other woman helping us had turned her head in surprise when I had asked the question, and after hearing Antoinette's response, she kidded, "Oh! You're famous!" Smiles.

While I had been retrieving the luggage, Mark went off in search of some things from some of the shops. He was gone a while, so I had the opportunity to people watch. As I was standing there, another railway employee came up - I'll call him Pierre - and unlocked the storage facility. In contrast to the young man who had helped us that morning, this guy radiated sourness. He was older, had a pasty complexion and looked like he probably wore a permanent frown. 

I watched him interact with several customers, and my initial impressions were confirmed. He spoke as little as possible, as if he were under duress. The culminating interaction before Mark returned was one he had with an attractive middle-aged blonde women, whom I believe was English. She wanted to store two pieces of luggage that she had on a trolley. He acted like he'd just been asked to house a homeless Nigerian in his apartment.

It became apparent that the luggage would have to be stored somewhere else nearby. So Pierre rolled the metal door down and locked it, then proceeded to haul one bag halfway across the concourse, set it down with a huff, then return for the other one. He then repeated the process as they wound their way to the other storage facility. The woman repeatedly tried to help (remember, she had a trolley), but the man literally almost grabbed the bag out of her hand and kept repeating his process until they disappeared around a corner.

I was grateful for Antoinette and Jean-Paul, for their humanity, kindness and humor. And I was also grateful that I had not had the ill-fortune to cross Pierre's path that day.

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