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eternal sunburn of the witless mind

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Part II of the Paris Air Show report: before I get to the planes and the flight displays, a little about the airfield and the facilities. All the general public spectators were crammed into a small section of the flight line – the area closest to the runway – though there was more space further back. I arrived not long before the flight display was due to start, so I went straight to the flight line and spent most of the afternoon there, taking pictures.

It was a very hot day, with almost no shade, and the organizers broadcasting warnings to everyone to drink plenty of water. Could you get water? At a price. A baguette (sub) with jambon et fromage (ham & cheese), a 500ml bottle of Coke, and a 500ml bottle of water came to €12 ($15), more than double the typical street price.

Airbus A340-600The displays had an element of unreality to them: the Airbus A380-800 was parked just in front of us, the last in a row of three Airbuses taking part. First the little A318, then the incredibly long A340-600. This thing just kept on going, long past the point where other planes would have stopped. Landing it must be a hair-raising exercise in centre-of-gravity and airspeed control.

The A380-800 is shorter, but its sheer bulk makes it the first plane to have a takeoff weight in excess of a million pounds (454 tonnes). The test pilots kept its flight display relatively sedate – it’s maiden flight was only a month ago, after all – and they didn’t even raise the gear, saying it takes 30 seconds of level flight to accomplish that. (It would have been halfway to Versailles in 30 seconds.) I didn’t get a good view of any of the landings, which was a disappoinment, seeing as the landing is the most crucial part of any flight.

After an hour I was fried, after two hours I was grilled, and after three I was roasted. By 4PM I decided I needed to get out of there. On the way to the hotel, however… describing this scene is going to stretch my descriptive vocabularly somewhat.

  • A veritable cornucopia of hot, tired, sweaty people, stacked 42-deep around the bus stops, and the show is not quite over. I couldn’t even see which queue I should join, not that I had a chance of getting the bus, so I joined the hordes slogging their way back to Le Bourget station.
  • At each intersection was a large, angry gendarme, clearly unhappy about spending his Saturday directing traffic and pedestrians. Loud whistles, heated disputation, wild gesticulation, oh my.
  • Two kilometres later, I arrived at the station to find the masses wending its way inwards. As far as I could tell, tickets were optional, with a sign telling people to buy €2 tickets for central Paris, and nothing else.
  • Hot, bothered, and distracted by all the commotion, I neglected to look where I was going and fell over a tree emplantation, so my right ankle is now in a state somewhere between “twisted” and “sprained” Cue much Anglo-Saxon swearing and quizzical looks from the locals. (A week later, considering how slowly it’s healing, I call it a mild sprain.)
  • Since I’m heading north, I limp straight through the gates on to the platform, and am mildly surprised to find I made the right choice, and could get on the right train when it arrived.
  • Whew, right? Not quite. I know I’m going to Villepinte, so I get off at the Villepinte station, before I remember not to do that. It’s a 1/2 hour wait for the next train, sadly, before I can head for the right station, Parc D’Expositions. Walking was not an option, with my painful ankle swelling up.
  • A hotel that was supposed to be quite close to that station turned out to be quite far, and I had to pull into another hotel for directions first. I must have looked a fright, but I at least got them to give me some cold water too. This other hotel was really close to the station, so guess where I’m staying next time, expense be damnedm if there is a next time.
  • The hotel I chose this time was really inexpensive, but was a painful half kilometer from the station. It was OK for one night, any longer and would I have sleep-walked my way out the window. It had some semi-permanent residents, welfare cases who put on a classic “white trash” performance for my benefit – heated arguments about money at 2am.

To add insult to injury; I managed to drop my iPaq later that evening. All my contact and appointment data was wiped after the battery came out, but at least it’s all on my home PC and work PC too. I don’t need any of that in my hand until I go back to work, and it can still play MP3s etc. I even took this opportunity to try Linux on it, which is also data-destructive. (Call it a work in progress.)

A week later, and the skin on my arms is still coming off in clumps, and I’m very red in the face. In my concern to get decent photographs, I neglected to carry a hat or sunscreen, didn’t I?

The holiday is almost over, and it’s back to work on Monday, at which point I’ll find out whether my trip to Germany is still on, or not. If so, it’s not back to regular work directly, and I have to prepare to deliver product training. The most flattering part, so far, has been hearing what my department will be charging for my services. That’s per day, multiplied by three days of training plus a day for travel and a day for preparation, plus costs for travel and expenses. (But it’s still much less than trying to buy this training from an external provider.)

Written by brian t

June 26, 2005 at 1:41 pm

a flight of fancy

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Well, that was fun. I’m getting much better at finding my way around places, compared to a decade ago. I got up early and left home at 04:15 or so, thinking the bus to the airport would arrive at 04:30 at advertised. It arrived at 04:20, about a minute after I arrived at the bus stop, and was surprisingly full for that time of the morning. Some check-ins at the airport were mobbed at 05:00, with people queueing around the terminal for cheap holiday flights, though my check-in was no problem.

The flight boarded on time, but left about half-an-hour late, and the excuse was a new one on me: “we have a wide departure window”. Meaning… what exactly? That the tower gave you a wide time window, in which case you gave no excuse for leaving late in that window… or that the airline decided they could afford to be slack at that time of the morning… which is also no excuse. At least they served a nice little continental breakfast, different each way, which was even more welcome on the way home.

This was my first visit to Charles de Gaulle airport, north of Paris, and quite an experience it was too. Let me see… if you’ve seen U2’s “Beautiful Day” video you have a general idea of what Terminal 2 looks like, but not the scale of the place. It contains six medium-sized terminals under one huge roof, A-F, an overall size roughly equivalent to Heathrow Terminal 1, 2 and 3 combined or Chicago O’Hare International. Terminal 1 is a separate huge building of its own.

I landed at Terminal 2F, and after a bus ride to the Terminal proper I had to take one of the walkways to the central area of the Terminal, where the RER station was. One of those walkways collapsed just over a year ago, killing six people, and that area is still cordoned off.

This is the point at which I ran head-first into Paris’, well … interesting transport system:

  1. Try to catch the advertised bus from the airport to the Air Show? The information desk said to go to the bus stop at the RER station, which was what I remembered. No show – no bus turned up in 3/4 of an hour, no signs anywhere, no hint of a schedule.
  2. OK, back to Plan A: the train. Should be simple… until you try to buy a ticket:
    • Ticket office? Not for the RER (suburban railway), only machines. Machines that don’t take notes, only coins and cards.
    • The machines are running OS/2 Warp – old – and in French only. (I later found a machine in a remote suburb of Paris that did have an English mode, but putting some of those at an International Airport would make too much sense, of course.)
    • That’s manageable, because I have enough French vocabularly to get by.
    • The thing was: of about eight machines in the station, only two were working. The hedgehogged ones had “fixed by July” signs on them, and the working ones had huge queues behind them.
    • I resigned myself to joining the back of the queue at one machine… the screen of which was stuck with an inscrutable message… then it rebooted. The rest of the queue started swearing, in a multitude of languages, then wandered off to the other queue leaving me in front.
    • Great: after an extended self-test the machine was running again, and I could see how to buy a single to Le Bourget. No notes accepted, no coins in my wallet, so a card it had to be. I tried three different cards, and each was refused; carte non acceptee. This process was interrupted by concerned queries from those behind me: “is it working? taking the card? what card is that?”
    • No luck, I thought, and turned to walk away, but someone stopped me in time: it had worked, it just hadn’t told me clearly.
  3. The train was there, and I made it on board just before it left. At Le Bourget station the shuttle buses were filling up, but I was on one in ten minutes, and at the airfield in ten more. Whew.

a wide shot of a wide bodyI’ll write about the Paris Air Show proper next, but here’s a teaser: the star of the show, the Airbus A380-800 a.k.a. the flying ocean liner.

Written by brian t

June 21, 2005 at 1:35 pm

we’ll probably have Paris

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No, not Paris Hilton, who’s apparently gotten engaged to a guy named… Paris. No, I’m referring to the Paris Air Show, which I only found the dates for today. It falls right in the middle of my fortnight off, so I was on to Air France like a shot and found a very acceptable return fare to Charles de Gaulle airport.

The show looks to be great, with possibly the first public appearance of the Airbus A380, now the largest plane in the world, plus many static exhibits and flight displays. Then there’s the trip itself: my flight out is early morning on Saturday 19th, and my return flight just over 24 hours later. I thought about crashing out at the airport overnight, but that was a silly idea when I could book a room at the airport Formule 1 for €26 ($30 / £16).

Just one more week until I have the fortnight off… can’t hardly wait.

Written by brian t

June 3, 2005 at 8:21 pm

Posted in france, travel

mono price

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On my day off today I wandered around Nice for a bit, jumped on a SNCF train to Cannes and wandered around there for a bit longer. Then it was back to Nice for another wander. And that’s it. OK, I did stop in at a Monoprix supermarket for some local junk food, for that evening and also to take back to Dublin. The discovery of the day was some local kettle fries, freshly cooked with tomato and olive seasoning. Yum.

Written by brian t

December 12, 2002 at 8:36 pm

Posted in food, france, travel

new view

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When I stayed in London earlier this year, this was the view from my hotel bedroom:

hotel view - london

This time round, this is the view from my hotel bedroom, early in the morning:

hotel view - valbonne

say no more…

Written by brian t

December 11, 2002 at 11:11 am

Posted in france, london, travel

obnoxious, moi?

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OK, I think I should seriously consider moving to France. If the people are obnoxious to me, that can be explained by my status as an obnoxious tourist, and learning the language would go a long way towards fixing that. Better toilet paper would improve local attitudes immeasurably, too. The thing is: of the three major meals I’ve had here so far, one has been very good, and the other two were wonderful.

I’m staying in an ordinary chain hotel, albeit a French chain, so I have no reason to expect anything spectacular. Dinner last night was the “express menu”, or dish of the day, which turned out to be flame-grilled entrecôte steak and real French Fries – a classic steak frites combination, done right. Dessert was a crème brûlée – simple to do and very easy to get wrong, which didn’t happen this time either. Tonight’s Ravoli Niçoise (not Ravioli, as I tried to call it) was merely very good. That’s what I get for choosing the cheap option, but I wasn’t that hungry. Which was because of the lunch I had at the HP building down the road. I mean, how many corporate canteens cook pizza to order, with an excellent cheese board? No wine, of course – we are working, kinda.

Earlier this evening I decided to take a walk, to see if I could buy some bottled water, perhaps some local junk food. (I never cease to be amazed by the different ways in which it is possible to package empty calories, and I’m determined to sample as many different ones as I can.) The Sophia Antipolis technology park is in a hilly, wooded area to the north-west of Nice. As I’ve discovered, it’s a lot as you might imagine a similar area in the USA might be; designed for cars, not pedestrians. What few sidewalks there are appear to be there to get people to from bus stops to offices. Those are everywhere, and all technology-related. IT (of course), public research facilities, telecoms, and even a few genetic science places. There’s an agri-science one across the road from the road from the hotel, so I may be shedding genetically-modified pollen on my keyboard as I type this.

Well, after about 6km (4 miles) of up hills and down twisty lanes, no sidewalks, blinded by hundreds of car headlights, I’ve discovered that this area has offices and a few hotels, a university campus, and literally no other facilities. No gas stations, with or without grocery stores attached. No homes, bars, supermarkets, no centre. Starting at the hotel on Rue Fyodor Dostoevsky, up Rue Albert Einstein to Route Des Lucioles (Firefly Road), back down towards Route Des Colles (The Glue Route?), finally ending up back on Rue Fernand Leger towards the hotel.

Einstein you’ve heard of, Dostoevsky too, probably, but Fernand Leger was only vaguely familiar to me. Encyclopaedia Britannica cleared up the mystery; he was a French artist, surrounded by Cubists while doing his own thing, and he helped to articulate the Futurist themes that came out of the Industrial Revolution and World War I. He served in the trenches and was badly affected by a gas attack, but recovered to stick his fingers in many more pies. He made the film Le Ballet Mécanique (“The Mechanical Ballet”), which is probably where I had heard his name, having read articles about George Antheil’s innovative soundtrack for the film.

I actually found something watchable on French TV – a Champion’s League football (soccer) game between Arsenal and Valencia. It’s just ended 0-0, as I type this, so I guess I wasn’t watching it after all. It’s back to my book – Red Dragon, which I’ve borrowed to read before I see the film later. It’s already spooked me out – where the hell does Thomas Harris get these characters from? I don’t want to know, but the book is certainly gripping. More impressions later.

Written by brian t

December 10, 2002 at 10:28 pm

Posted in food, france, travel

totally dub

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No problem getting to the Valbonne area, the bus was quicker than the timetable led me to expect, and I almost missed my stop. My boss had said “take a taxi”, but my Scots heritage comes to the fore at times like these. If you count the flight and hotels, I may spend less than half what my colleagues would spend under the same circumstances.

On my two previous (short) trips to France, I didn’t watch much television, I don’t think I’ll be watching too much this time either. They dub everything into French, and I mean everything. After a little flipping, I’ve seen dubbed bits of The Simpsons, Saved By The Bell, Fresh Prince, and The Bette Midler Show. The hotel claims to have CNN, but it’s showing Bloomberg instead. In German. At least they have BBC World, which makes up for it somewhat.

Written by brian t

December 9, 2002 at 7:22 pm

Posted in france, television, travel