Tag Archives: Travel

Paris stinks!

Well yes and no. Possibly. Are we going for decisiveness today? Yes. No. Oh, I can’t make my mind up. Sorry. Ouch. Actually Paris does. Stink that is. Like an overflowing urinal. Despite gangs of green overalled workers hosing benches and various little corners down from the early hours to midday. On the corner of every street it catches you. Out of the apartment, down the road, and eeuuw! Take a trip through the Metro, turn a corner and biff! Right in the nostrils. Often multiple times in one station. And the stench is definitely human, not dog or any other animal. That ammoniac reek is quite male and very particular. London is positively aseptic by comparison.

Regardless of the smell, what did I think of Paris overall? Superb, merveilleux, astounding, and amazing innit, like; a tribute to the minds of great men, and packed with more historical content per cubic centimetre than a New York Reuben Sandwich is with Pastrami and Sauerkraut. More full of good and great little eateries than anywhere I’ve ever been, and we have traveled extensively throughout Europe, Africa, and North America. All of these bars and eateries vying to be at least as good as the best in the street.

Tiny little bars, cafe’s, brasseries, and bistro’s in a semi chaotic mess around every street corner and through every working marketplace. Great little Boulangeries, “Don’t forget the Nutella Crepes”, says Mrs S over my shoulder. Heavy sigh. Yes dear.

I know we can’t give you the sounds and smells, but here is a tiny sample of our resized holiday snaps, cut down to a meg and a half each to allow reasonably quick page loading. I can’t put them all up as we took something in the region of a thousand or so. And that’s just the ones we didn’t delete on the spot because a blurred someone got in the way of the shot, or the lens strap blew over the lens or the hundred other reasons a picture isn’t worth keeping.

A Parisian architectural incongruityI mean, take this one. Snapped from the top of one of those ‘hop on hop off’ tour buses. One of the old pre Haussman city gates. From the early 19th century when the city was simply a maze of alleys and noisome little streets, the remnants of which can be found off St Germain and the Marais, and a whole heap of other bits like Montmartre and Pigalle we didn’t spend much time around.

Notre Dame detail Oi Henri teas upWhen you’re not on one of those touristy tick box whistle stop ‘tours’ of Paris, you can take your time and discover some of the details and surprises that make it such a great place for an extended stay. This one I call “Oi! Henri! Come down, yer Teas ready.” It’s a life size bronze on the top of Notre Dame, Paris, and you can only really see it properly from a fifteen foot gap between buildings to the rear of the cathedral. Anywhere else and it’s practically invisible.

The Louvre at duskFor another example of the main tourist sites; this view of the Louvre at dusk. We never went in because, well, who wants to be caught in herds of untamed Japanese and Korean tour parties with their interminable cameras flashing all the time. Staring at priceless artworks from the back of the crowd with all that flickering isn’t much fun. You miss out on the detail from twenty feet away, and detail is what makes these things great works of art. Honestly, it’s enough to set off an Epileptic. Myself I rarely use flash unless I have to. You tend to capture more of the ambient mood of a shot in natural light. Besides, flash is no good over more than ten or twelve feet anyway and tends to flatten the image if you don’t get it right. It’s like those people who try to take pictures of an eclipse with the flash still on. No. It doesn’t work very well does it? My advice; try turning the flash off and see what your camera can really do.

Les Invalides the tomb of Marshal FochOn the topic of natural light; here’s the tomb of Marshal Foch in Les Invalides. That fabulous blue glow in the picture is natural. Using flash kills this lustrous Spielberg blue effect stone dead. Which gets annoying when someone sees what you’re up to and then uses their flash repeatedly over your shoulder, or in the case of tiny giggling Chinese and Japanese girls, sneaking in front of you, even when you’re right up to the barrier, and sticking the back of their head in front of your lens. I had to wait fifteen minutes for two garrulous tour parties to disappear before snapping that particular image.

Which makes me wonder about the nature of photographers. We were wandering out of St Germain across the Pont Neuf the following day after a visit to the Luxembourg Gardens. There’s a little triangular park on the western end of Ile Del la Cite which is a pleasant place to spend a lazy hour or two. Down below, a couple being driven upriver in one of those stylish Italian Riva speedboats were waving at someone or something. I couldn’t see anyone waving back. Down on the banks of the park were five or six guys with cameras who suddenly began running after the boat, tripping and gamboling over each other like circus monkeys on cocaine. They managed to stay upright for long enough to point their cameras at the waving couple before going into a little celebratory dance, high fiving each other, capering up and down like medieval lunatics. Mrs S and I watched this odd mini spectacle for a moment before shrugging to ourselves in a Gallic manner. No idea who the couple on the boat were, but the camera toting clowns seemed to be very excited about it. As far as taking pictures is concerned I try to emulate the careful people who take a few moments picking a good vantage place and let the zoom take the strain. The Sniper rather than the Snapper. Some might say you lose the spontaneity of a shot that way, but it depends what you’re looking for I suppose. Any old road up, that’s neither here nor there. I don’t make my living that way.

Notre dame we have ignitionBack on topic; here’s another one of the more interesting bits of Notre Dame at night. I particularly like this shot because there’s more than a little of the 3-2-1 we have liftoff to it. Those elegant flying buttresses, the high narrow windows. Who’d have thought the denizens of late medieval Paris were trying to build starships out of stone?

Sainte Chappelle a ceilingWhat else? Well, there was Sainte Chapelle, one time royal chapel at the back of the Palais De Justice. Incredible detail, towering painted ceilings, which one architectural critic thinks is not correct and a ‘crime’ against architecture in the case of Chartres Cathedral, but that’s one of those ‘judging late medieval art and architecture by 21st century standards’ things, and not something I want to get into in the comparative brevity of a blog post. Suffice it to say, the archaeology tells us the stonework was originally painted, so any critique of restoration work should take that into account.

Like I say, I took over a thousand decent pictures while I was enjoying la vie Parisienne, improved my French, patched up my relationship, discovered how to navigate the French emergency healthcare system and Parisian Metro. Had a lot of good, clean, old fashioned fun, ate and drank well, ending up back home in BC thoroughly culturally enriched. Despite the odd stroppy waiter, broken limb and greedy taxi driver, it was a great trip. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But maybe, just maybe, I’d take a side trip to Amsterdam and Berlin first.

Just another little adventure

Well wasn’t that fun young Bill? Well, sort of. If you’re the kind of person who’s into into applied masochism. You know the sort of thing, whips, barbed wire underpants, nipple clamps and strange, constraining lingerie. Which I’m not incidentally. Sorry chums, but I’m a fairly straight and staid old cove. Such things have never really appealed. Colour me boring.

Holiday snapThe past weekend and a bit has seen broken limbs, interminably long periods hanging around hospitals, fretting over flights and whether they’d actually let my wife on board. Drug reactions (the vomiting was quite spectacular), and the occasional (But rare) nice meal after yet another day straphanging down the noisome Parisian Metro. As for holiday snaps, I never thought we’d end up bringing home copies of X-Rays, both before and after.

Big Kudos to Air Canada staff under difficult circumstances, our French Landlord, French Nurses and Doctors who put up with our still slightly strangulated French, our travel insurance company, the Paramedics of the Sapeurs-Pompiers, and a purple uniformed young lady at Heathrow who got us down to our flight in one of those buzzy little electric truck thingies.

Asshole of the month award is a tie between French SNCF platform staff and Stanley Tucci lookalike waiters in tourist trap bistro’s. Seriously, see a waiter with a shaven head at any Parisian restaurant or even a Starbucks, no matter how hungry or thirsty you are, walk on. The drinking / dining experience will not be a good one. For better food and service, go to one of the less well tourist trafficked areas and you will not be sorry, and neither will your wallet. A few steps extra, turn a corner and it’ll all be there. Good food, discreet service (None of that silly “How is your meal” demands when in mid mouthful.) The rule of thumb being; when in Paris, go where the locals go and ignore the graffiti. The choice is almost staggering. As for SNCF, be on your guard, because these people aren’t. ‘Nuff said.

So now we’re safely back in our little British Columbian domicile. Trying to sleep off the jet lag and clean up an inexplicably leaky toilet (It wasn’t like this when we left), and in my case failing to sleep. Which is why this post is getting written at four in the morning Pacific Standard time, or midday in the UK. It’s lunchtime in Paris, and I’m bloody famished.

All things said and done we’ve had an awesome (but expensive) time. The experiences from which we will take with us on future journeys.

There will be a short break and a word from our sponsors..

…Which I don’t have. Mrs S took a tumble and has broken her arm. Posting will grow more limited for a short while, during which travel must be accomplished with yet more scrap metal to set off airport security devices.

Watch this space. Or don’t. As the mood takes you.

We are celebrating her release from hospital tonight with a nice meal and a couple of glasses of wine before we hit the road tomorrow.

There is nothing worth quite so much doing……

………..as simply messing around in boats. Truly. You see so much more from the rivers that still form trade arteries. Details on bridges, views of strange architecture and places, people and oddities that engage a mind more fully than any bus tour.

Recommendation: BatoBus day tours. Sixteen of the best Euros you will ever spend, and a reminder that when it comes to real Fcuk off monuments, I don’t think anyone does it better than the French. Even the most crazed dictator with a coterie of truly terrified style advisers simply lacks the flair of the Frogs for commissioning and placing poems of gilded rock and bronze around the landscape. Style. Bags of it. Even the beggars have a certain je ne sais quoi.

This is rapidly becoming my favourite city in the whole world. Although my feet are telling me not to try walking so much of it at once. Letting my pauvre pieds have the day off tomorrow, when I shall be attempting to improve my French by launching into Marc Lemonier’s epic treatise; ‘Dictionaire de Gros Mots‘. A tome worthy of minute study for the really serious student. I mean I did the stuff for the citizenship test, but you can never really claim mastery of language until you can freely bandy insults around, and understand when they are friendly banter, and when they are fightin’ words.

By way of an aside; I hear Ed Millipede has slunk off to Ibiza to lick his wounds. The moment I heard the news, the thought crept into my head; what if Millipede got all tranced up to dance naked on a nightclub table. I’m reliably informed that such events do happen in certain Ibiza clubs. And nobody noticed? Evil snigger (Simultaneously in English and French).

Jour de la Liberation

Well blesse mon cœur. Nous sommes arrivée a Paris mes vieux. And it’s Liberation day (At least in Guernsey and Jersey) but not in Paris until 25th August. No matter. We’re here. A little light headed on the whole experience. Suitcases are down, windows are open and Mrs S is doing a little girly dance of joy. Which gladdens my heart. If being happy extended your life, I’d be almost immortal right now.

Any old courses sur route. We got out of Dodge as the post UK election parties were winding down, and when I’ve sobered up a little, will be musing over the election results financial ramifications.

Or not. For another day perhaps.

Interesting stuff about Paris

As I’ve written before, Mrs S and I are going to Paris shortly for a well deserved jollyday where I will be avidly studying the art of Francophone sarcasm and irony as practiced and perfected by French service staff. C’est n’est pas votre dejeuner monsiuer, c’est la merde de ma tante. Et services vous droit pour ne pas apprendre le francais vous rosbif ignorant. So there.

On the topic of things Parisian I’ve recently come across this guy, Tom Scott, an entertaining fellow with his own channel on YouTube. As I will be spending some time in Paris this year, I thought I’d watch and post the following videos, which, quite frankly make a refreshing change from the touristy Rick Steves and Lonely Planet stuff relied upon by so many of our Southern cousins.

On ‘Paris Syndrome

But since I’m not Japanese or Chinese and have spent time (working) in Paris before, I’m not in the ‘at risk’ category.

Or Privacy In France: A Lot Of French People Might Be About To Sue Me

This may end up being a distinct possibility. If they can find me after I’ve gone home………

And ‘Point Zero’ outside Notre Dame.

Which isn’t that far from our apartment. Way cheaper than many hotels and with a little discrimination and early booking can land you in quite the little gem of a place. I may drop by one quiet Sunday morning when most other tourists are still tucked up in their little beddy-byes.

I’ll be posting my own misadventures and observations as time and Interweb connections allow.

Londinium

Well, here we are in jolly old Londinium, the first time I’ve spent non-working days in the crapital for decades. Seriously. Our booked accommodation fell over. We’d booked through AirBnB online, and found ourselves booked into some serious low rent digs. Not quite a slum, but by our Canadian standards, seriously dodgy. I’m amazed AirBnB let it be listed. We fled and found a budget hotel south of Marylebone. The experience has cost me three hundred bucks, but I’m not unhappy. There are times when you’ve just got to chalk it up to experience and move on.

Which is where we are now, sightseeing, breakfasting at Marks & Spencers because the budget hotel breakfast is so tightly budgeted that Church mice would consider it meagre fare. I’d really rather forgotten the horror of instant coffee. Or flavoured shite, as it is more popularly known. Coffee it ain’t.

Reacclimatising to the rain and humidity of soggy old England. Moving right along to Francophone fleshpots on Saturday.

Recommendation 1: Thames Clipper. Big fast river catamarans that ply the big T from Waterloo to the millennium carbuncle. Get a river rover ticket and use it instead of the Tube or buses. Worth the money.
Recommendation 2: The Beehive, Crawford place, Westminster. Beer choice a little limited, but we’ve adopted it as a ‘local’ for the next 36 hours. A busy, cheerful little place with shelter outside for those whose drug choice includes nicotine. Not a bad menu either.
Recommendation 3: Royal Naval Hospital site where we lucked onto, of all things, a musical masterclass in the Chapel. Missed the famous painted hall as we were so busy enjoying the performances that the closing time of 0five o’clock drifted on by without a murmur.

Apparently some of the locals were indulging in a form of Democracy. I think they chose the muppets with the blue rosette, but what do I care, I’m just a tourist nowadays.

Okay. That’s it for now.

TTFN

Choices, choices

On my way to the UK shortly, going through the usual last minute fussing with securing valuable documentation and making sure that if anything untoward happens to our cosy little apartment while we’re away, nothing critical will be lost. Packing, checking tickets, booking the taxi to the airport. Ensuring our hosts know when we’re arriving. Off we’re going, into the noisy bustle of jolly old Londinium where the population are faced with a life critical choice.

No, not the forthcoming General Election, which seems to be a straight race between which pro-EU muppet gets in. Not whether to vote for the Tory or Labour Muppet, the Limp Dem, Green or SNP muppet, or the party whose muppetdom is actually in doubt, a.k.a. Big Nige and the Purple Gang, who are currently riding low in the polls, so they’re clearly not worth voting for don’cha know peasants. Don’t let those nasty Tories / Labour / Limp Dems in by voting your conscience. Although if you vote for the traditional rosette, of course they will. Don’t waste those votes, give them to the lamestream parties (Meh). I reckon the result is a given; as usual the British electorate will choose; in the words of Hillaire Belloc to “always keep ahold of nurse / For fear of finding something worse.”

No, I’m talking about the really important stuff, the critical life or death choice that the UK now faces. The burning question of the day. The one crucial decision that will shape the nation for decades to come. What’s going to be the name of the new royal baby? Here are the odds.

Hope this helps.

Update: Well, that’s that then. Bill and Kate have gone for a generational motif on the babies name. Charlotte, (3-1 Grandfather Charles) Elizabeth (6-1 Great Grandma), Diana (8-1 Grandmother). Or in the words of her Great Grandfather; “What about bloody Phillipa then?”

I really must fly

Another year, another transatlantic flight. This time we’re going to ride in bigger comfier seats, which, when you realise that the airlines bean counters are having aircraft refitted to cram ever more steaming humanity on board, is no bad thing. Fly economyFrankly, I’ve done the whole air cattle truck experience, and while it’s okay if you’re five feet five and under a hundred and thirty pounds, if you’re like me, over six feet with broad shoulders, well, the muscle cramps after ten hours in an alloy tube are really unpleasant.

So we end up paying more (Half as much again – yikes!) for the extra legroom and seat width. Which pays off as you don’t suffer from post flight muscle cramps for the next forty eight hours as well as the jet lag. Which really pisses me off. Economy seats are like paying to be put in Skeffington’s Gyves. Thoroughly unpleasant. Unless you’re one who gets their jollies that way. If you have to travel, the choice is increasingly boiling down to get yourself surgically reduced or prepare to suffer. Me, I’ll take the comfy chairs.

Unusually for me, I’m already packed to Mrs S’s satisfaction. Which is a surprise, not least of all to me. Hold the phone. She thinks I’ve packed properly? There’s a first. Also this trip I have brand new luggage, a decent suitcase instead of the falling to bits piece of crap I inherited from somewhere, new Targus bag for all my retro but still serviceable electronics. A brace of Nokia 6310i’s for local calls to dodge the horrendous overseas roaming charges our regular Canadian cell phone companies impose. I’ve also set up a secondary non google webmail address, onto which all my email will be forwarded. Which means Google won’t get all shirty and lock me out when I try to access my email from La Belle France instead of BC. Like my last transatlantic trip. Or the last one. Or the one before that. It’s not as though my passwords are something easy to crack like name123, date of birth variants, or heaven forfend; ‘password’. I like obscure, multi character and case sensitive which only means something to me. It seems to have worked so far. So far so…..bugger. Or not.

In the meantime, I must fly. Comfortably. Until someone invents a viable means of teleportation or Worm Hole travel.

Any old road up, while I’m passing through the UK I’ll be keeping a weather eye on the election; I may be scathing, I may be sardonic. Watch this space, and for your edification a little Tom Scott video of 7 illegal things to do in a UK election.

TTFN

My fellow pedestrians……

My fellow Pedestrians, thank you for sharing your time with me tonight.

The subjects I want to discuss with you, peace and footwear, are both timely and important. Timely, because I’ve reached a decision which offers a new hope. And important because there’s a very big decision that you must make for yourselves. This subject involves the most basic duty that any pedestrian or road user must share.

Tonight, I want to explain to you what this debate is all about and why I’m convinced that the measures submitted are necessary, responsible, and deserving of your support. And I want to offer hope for the future.

But first, let me say what the debate is not about. It is not about rights of way. I know that in the last few years you’ve been bombarded with calls for more restrictions and traffic signals. The trouble with all these measures is that they tell us little about the kind of options pedestrians and road users need or the benefits and security and freedom that a mutual effort will buy for us.

What seems to have been lost in all this debate is the simple truth of how sticking to rigid principles is not the best way forward. It isn’t done by deciding to simply say that those on foot take precedence before all others. Those loud voices that are occasionally heard charging that Government should solve problems by throwing money at them are nothing more than noise based on ignorance. We start by considering what must be done to maintain safety for all against possible threats to personal security. Then a strategy for strengthening safe passage for all must be agreed upon. And, finally, our on foot strategies must be evaluated to see what is necessary to protect against all the threats we pedestrians can and do face in our daily round. The cost of achieving these ends is minimal, and may be attained by engaging brains, not the public purse.

The road safety policy of British Columbia is based on a simple premise: No-one should start fights. We should never be an aggressor nor victim. We must maintain our attention spans in order to deter and defend against being run over or punched in the mouth – therefore to save unnecessary burdens on our health services and dentists bills.

Since the dawn of the road, we’ve sought to reduce the risk of collision by paying attention and by keeping to the sidewalk. “Attention” means simply this: making sure anyone who thinks they can just barge thoughtlessly about concludes that the risks to them outweigh any potential gain. Once they understand that, they’ll get home uninjured. We maintain the right of way through our strengths; entitlement, rudeness and distraction only invite a smack round the ear or free flying lesson off the sea wall. By engaging good manners and not dithering when crossing the road we make life simpler for others, reducing personal friction and preventing conflict. This strategy of safety has not changed. It still works. But what it takes to maintain our safety has changed. It took one kind of attitude to prevent getting flattened when we had far more space than any other province; it takes another kind now that the drivers, for example, have more distractions. Now, this is not to say that car users are planning to run us down. Nor do I believe accidents are inevitable – quite the contrary. But what must be recognized is that our safety is based on being prepared to meet all challenges.

There was a time when we depended on crossings and certain right of way conventions, because, with the society of that day, any conflict would have arisen by jaywalking. Well, this is a different world, and our reactions must be based on recognition and awareness of the distractions possessed by other road users in this unclear age. We can’t afford to believe that we can fixate on our cellphones without looking where we are going, or that others will automatically give way because you, and only you, believe that you have the right of way. There are daily road casualties because of the mistaken belief that pedestrians, no matter what they are doing, or how slowly they want to move are immune from being knocked over. We must do what we can to avoid being turned into bloody smears. But if distracted by that funny Lolcats post, or who has been saying what to whom on twitter we become ill-prepared to cross the road. Had we been better prepared, our bodies might have been better protected.

During the past thirty years, the character of traffic has changed – changed in a way that concerns us all. For years vehicles have been improving with better brakes and safety features, but this will not help you when the Mark Twelve Supersport Supercar you step in front of is being driven by a Mark One complete moron. They won’t stop their vehicles if both of you are checking out the hot chick (or guy, or cake, let’s not be judgemental) on Whatsapp. Now rules alone can be neither our defence or guarantor of safety. We must become more aware. Ready to give way and sidestep. To look left and right, if necessary, an I know how painful some of you might find this, to make and hold eye contact.

The introduction of small traffic islands has proven a challenge to many Canadian drivers, more so than their misunderstanding of how a 4-way junction works, and my fellow pedestrians failure to give them even the slightest courtesy or recognition. Far too many still step straight onto a crosswalk without consideration, or even recognise that there is someone else sharing that road space while they are taking that oh so important cell phone call about what theirr friend said about her friend’s puppy at that critical family visit, no, not that one, the one where your uncle said something inane that everyone else was up in arms about but is soo crucial that no one can remember what it was, that’s why I’m calling – thud! Then there are the Entitled cyclists who have right of way over everyone, no really they do, because anyone who gets closer than ten feet is automatically a Fascist, to be abused and gesticulated at in as threatening a manner as they can get away with. Because they are cyclists and are superior to everyone else on the road. So there.

These thumbnail sketches can only tell a small part of the story. l wish I could show you more without compromising our most sensitive sources and pictures of off duty Policemen laughing themselves senseless. But these are not images which will add to the debate. Indeed they simply serve to cloud the issue and detract from the fact that so many road users are slow, entitled and possibly even brain dead.

Some people may ask: Would waking up and showing a little courtesy to others lessen the casualty rate and lower blood pressure across the province and even Canada, perhaps even the world itself? Well, again, can we afford to believe it wouldn’t? Simply throwing our individual weight around like a wet towel at all and sundry to demonstrate our ‘rights’ has conclusively been shown not to be the answer. For too long the will of the entitled has driven how we behave towards each other and in so doing has been used to intimidate. This state of affairs must now end.

When I arrived here in 2007, I was appalled by what I found: Pedestrians that wouldn’t look before and while crossing busy junctions, simply stepping out into the middle of busy streets without the merest glance at what was coming toward them. The inevitable result of all this was poor safety, casualties and increased Emergency Services overtime spent picking bits of spare human off the asphalt before the Bears and Raccoons got to them.

There was a real question then about how well we could meet a crisis. And it is still obvious that we have to begin a major mental readjustment to ensure lower health service bills and reduce the pain and suffering to insurers. Notwithstanding of the mental trauma caused to those who witness what mayhem is wrought by inattention.

We have to move immediately to improve the basic alertness and simple businesslike functioning of our roads and sidewalks, so they can meet – and therefore help deter – a crisis. We have to make up for lost years of entitlement by moving forward with a long-term plan to ensure our people are looking where the fuck they are going at all times.

The solution is well within our grasp. But to reach it, there is simply no alternative but to continue this year, to engage the personal resources we need to preserve our safety and guarantee our freedom.

Now, thus far tonight I’ve shared with you my thoughts on the problems of road safety we must face together. Others have appeared before you on other occasions to describe the threat posed by other road users and have proposed steps to address that threat. But since the advent of increased traffic, acting like you own the bloody road has been increasingly just that; bloody.

Over the course of my observations, I’ve become more and more deeply convinced that the human spirit must be capable of rising above dealing with other road users by threatening their existence. Feeling this way, l believe we must thoroughly examine every opportunity for reducing tensions and for introducing greater stability into the strategic calculus on all sides.

One of the most important contributions we can make is, of course, to pay fucking attention you bozo, and particularly on foot. We should engaged all the time in constant negotiations other road users to bring about a mutual improvement in safety.

After careful consultation with my advisers, I believe there is a way. Let me share with you a vision of the future which offers hope. It is that we embark on a program to counter the awesome threat of the stupid and entitled with measures that are defensive. Let us turn to the very strengths in technology that spawned our great society and that have given us the quality of life we enjoy today.

My fellow Pedestrians, tonight we’re launching an effort which holds the promise of changing the course of human history. There will be risks, and results take time. But I believe we can do it. As we cross this threshold, l ask for your prayers and your support.

Thank you, good night, and God bless you.