I was recently back in France for a few days visiting one of the factories that we work with in Saint Etienne. It had been awhile since I had last been to the factory, so when the trip was proposed in late December of last year I was sort of looking forward to going again.
Then trepidation set in...
I've been to France five times in my life. Of those five times, I've gotten ill from a stomach thing on four of those trips, including my last trip to Paris nearly a year and a half ago when I lost nearly 14 pounds from a stomach thing that knocked me on my ass for nearly a day and a half. I don't know if it's the rich food or if I pick up a virus or what. But I was bound and determined to not get sick on this particular trip.
My boss and one of my colleagues are seasoned travelers, going to exotic places on Earth that I wouldn't even begin to think I would go to. When we were in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, they were telling me about a drug they take before they go on long trips - Dukoral. It's an oral vaccine where you take one dose about a month before you go, then take another dose a week before you leave. "You can pretty much eat or drink anything," my colleague Ian told me. "It makes your stomach iron-clad."
I had to go to my doctor for a physical after I got back from Las Vegas and I asked him about Dukoral. "Dukoral," he asked me back quizzically. "I don't think I've ever heard of that."
He looked it up in his computer and he found it. "Nope, never heard of this before," he told me. "But this is something Passport Health could probably get for you."
Now, I'd never heard of Passport Health. It turns out that it's the largest privately owned provider of travel medicines and vaccines in the U.S. There are over 250 Passport Health clinics in the country - and there is one that, unbeknownst to me until then, is a three minute drive from my home.
My doctor referred me to Passport Health and I called them up for a consultation. On the phone with the health professional at Passport Health I was informed that Dukoral was only available in Canada. That made sense - my boss and my colleague are both Canadian citizens. She told me that they could prescribe another drug that would offset any stomach problems that may arise on my trip to France. But I had to go in for a consultation.
The consultation lasted all of - maybe - 15 minutes. Most of the consultations she did centered upon health problems that a traveler could encounter on their trip. But she figured out when we talked earlier via phone and in the office that I was overly familiar with France and any health pitfalls that I may encounter. $60 bucks later for the consultation fee, she called in a prescription to my pharmacist.
I don't think I had been home from the consultation any more than three minutes when the phone rang. It was my pharmacist who asked me where I was going. When I told him France, he laughed and said, "Man, the stuff they prescribed for you is for like going to the French Congo!" He told me that he didn't have the stuff in stock, but it would take him a couple days to get it in. I told him that was fine, I wasn't going for a couple three weeks anyhow.
Then he dropped the bomb on me. "The other reason I wanted to call was to let you know that this drug has sort of a high co-pay," he said sort of matter-of-fact. How much, I asked. "$193 bucks," he replied. I sort of gulped, then remembered laying on the floor of the small bathroom in Paris a couple summers ago with my body discharging disgusting fluids. Suddenly, $193 bucks sounded like a bargain.
The drug they prescribed for me was Rifaximin - or better known as its brand name of Xifaxan (zy-FAX-an). Now, if you watched any amount of television in the U.S. over the past few months, you've no doubt seen the commercial featuring a cute little animated character made out of human intestines (wait a minute, on second thought maybe it's not that cute) that is holding its butt as it tries to find a public bathroom where the lines aren't at least 50 people deep. (The Xifaxan commercial caused a minor eruption on Twitter after it was shown during the 3rd Quarter of the Super Bowl held last month. Given the cost of a 30 second ad for the Super Bowl, it was no wonder that I had to cough up a $193 co-pay for the drug.)
The bottom line - so to speak - I didn't get sick on this trip.
The automobile part of this trip consisted of a drive into Chicago to fly out of O'Hare to Paris. If you remember this particular post from last year, this is where I vowed to never fly United Airlines out of the Quad City International Airport to connect to overseas flights ever again. That post caught the eye of a United marketing person who tried to mollify my feelings toward the airline and caused United to follow the Road Tips Twitter feed. It turns out that it's much easier to drive in rather than have long layovers to and from overseas destinations at O'Hare. And for what I spend on gas and parking charges, it's cheaper, too.
I was at O'Hare two hours before my flight. I don't know why they tell you to be at the airport two hours before an international flight because I was literally at my gate 15 minutes after I checked in - thanks to TSA Pre-Check that I've had since last summer. I had an hour to kill before they even began to call for boarding.
After an uneventful flight to Paris, getting in around 9:40 a.m. Paris time (2:40 a.m. body time), getting through French customs in record time (less than 10 minutes), and grabbing my bag, I met up with my colleagues who made the trip to France at the coffee bar at the Sheraton Hotel in Terminal 2 at Charles De Gaulle Airport outside of Paris.
We had a noon departure from the train station at CDG aboard the TGV - the high-speed train that took us down to Lyon. A little more than two hours after we left the outskirts of Paris we pulled into Gare de Lyon Part Dieu, the main train station in France's second largest city in terms of metro population. It was a cool, misty day when we left Paris - it was a brilliant, sun-shiny day in Lyon with temperatures in the low 60's when we arrived.
I took a cab with a couple colleagues to the Hotel Carlton Lyon, a place I've stayed at before on a previous trip to France. (Click here to see that entry.) The hotel had been slightly updated - the quaint elevator was a little more automatic this time compared to some of the manual functions that you had to perform to get it to work, and the bathrooms - which had no shower curtains on my previous visit - now had half glass walls alongside the tub to keep water from splashing all over the place. It still didn't keep all the water from splashing on the floor, but it was an improvement over what it was.
Since the weather was so nice, we did a walkabout in Lyon going across the Saône River into Vieux Lyon, the old part of Lyon. We had a couple of new guys in the group on their first trip to Lyon and we talked momentarily about walking up the hill to the Cathédral Saint-Jean Baptiste. But we quickly nixed that when someone suggested going to get a beer instead.
It was a beautiful evening in Lyon with a nearly full moon rising above the French provincial-style buildings along the Saône. We had a nice meal that evening - the first of many great meals during this trip, along with possibly the worst meal I've ever had in all of my travels to France.
We spent a lot of time at two of the factories we visited, walked around the center of Lyon a couple nights, and had some good meetings before heading back to Paris on the TGV, but not before realizing that I left a nice linen sport coat in my hotel room closet at the Hotel Carlton-Lyon. I called the hotel - yes, they had it. They would send it back to me if I paid for shipping. I gave them payment information, but they never sent it. Although I really liked that sport jacket, it was probably for the best they didn't send it back. I think I paid $125 for the coat plus another $30 to a seamstress when I accidentally ripped the lining after pulling it off a metal chair in a restaurant. It probably would have cost me a "dumbshit tax" of at least $100 bucks to have it shipped from France to the U.S. That's a nice down-payment on a new one.
The trip home via United was uneventful. The plane from CDG to O'Hare was - maybe - 1/3 full. I had a lot of room to spread out during the eight-and-a-half-hour flight. I was joking with one of the flight attendants that he had an easy job this particular day. He looked around the cabin and said, "Yeah, we're not making any money on this flight. But I'll remember this day when the flights to and from Paris in June are full." Breezing through customs - the quickest ever for a flight back from Europe - grabbing my bag and taking the tram back to Terminal One at O'Hare to grab my car took all of 45 minutes. I was pretty burnt out from jet lag for the next couple of days, but I managed. Other than losing my favorite sport coat, it was a good trip all the way around.
At least I didn't get sick...
(Update - March 17: I had sent an e-mail to the Hotel Carlton on the 5th of March because I had not heard one way or the other if they had sent my sport coat via French post to the U.S. And I did not get a reply, so I figured, "All right, well, so much for ever seeing that coat again."
Last night, I got home from a trip and on my desk in my office was a notification from the United States Postal Service that they had tried to deliver a box to me, but no one was available to sign for the package. I went to the main post office in Davenport this morning and, sure enough, there was a box from France. It was my sport coat, a little wrinkled and dusty, but it wasn't anything the dry cleaners could spiff up. I checked my credit card statement on-line after I got home and I saw that the Hotel Carlton did charge me a little over $41 to send it back. I was all set to go out and buy another one, so $41 bucks is a little better than having to fork over at least $150 for a new linen sport coat. Plus, I was fully expecting to pay at least $100 for getting the coat back, so I guess a "dumbshit tax" of $41 and change isn't that bad.)