Sunday, 28 December 2014

Watch it before it's gone (or What exactly is a Cyr wheel?)

Vancouver Cabaret FINALLY put a video on YouTube of a Cyr wheel performance that I was VERY FORTUNATE to see on December 31, 2013 as part of their New Year's Eve Variety Show.  

Happy New Year !

p.p.s.: This is a Cyr Wheel

Friday, 26 December 2014

Cover your mouth, PLEASE

It must be cold or flu season or both, because I remember a lot of bronchial hacking going on in the plane to Montreal and the next plane to Vancouver.  Even in the train from Saint Malo to Paris I had a cougher sit right behind me.  

Usually I survive these encounters unscathed, but yesterday afternoon I found myself trying to hack stuff out of my lungs while my whole body was aching and my mind was refusing to complete even the most simple of tasks.

And then I remembered her.  The woman in the seat right next to me on the flight from Montreal to Vancouver (Not the pizza eater; he was on my other side).  During most of the flight she was at least only coughing at the LCD screen in front of her (Do they even disinfect these?).  But when we arrived in Vancouver, she got up to get her handbag out of the overhead compartments and while she had both hands up to grab her bag, she coughed right at me.  THANKS A LOT, LADY !

While it seems too much to expect North Americans to show the common courtesy exhibited by many Asians of wearing a face mask when they are sick to prevent the spread of their malaise, could you at least refrain from coughing in people's faces?  Or is even that too much to ask?

PISSED OFF, but refraining from coughing at other people.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Happy holidays

It's that holiday again:  
The holiday of music and free love. 

Oops. Nope. That was Woodstock. 

No, this is Christmas: 
The holiday of nubile bodies glistening in sun-tan lotion. 

OOOps. No. No. That was Cuba.

No, this is Christmas. Christmas !!!
The holiday of unbridled merciless consumerism and consumption with utter disregard to wars, hunger, or anyone who has less than us.

Yeah!  I got it right this time!  Christmas!

When I googled Christmas, I got a news article with the above image in SECOND SPOT !  Wonder how much they had to PAY for that? 

The German on-line News magazine Der Spiegel has an article with tips on how to STUFF YOURSELF at Christmas dinner without experiencing that unpleasant stuffed feeling.  
Decadence a la Decline of Rome is in fashion again. What should that tell us?

Feeling unpleasantly full as a result of eating too much is one problem these people do NOT have to deal with.
These are Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk refugee camp inside Syria.  Judging by their clothing, they are not only HUNGRY but also COLD.

What I want for Christmas?

Peace on Earth and maybe just a tiny bit of compassion from those who have sooooo much!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Coming home for Christmas on Day XIV (CDG - YUL - YVR)

While today actually is the day that "I'm leaving on a jet-plane", Roissy does not exert such a pull as to warrant playing the John Denver song again. 

But I couldn't help inserting a picture of Seagull again ;-).

Charles de Gaulle Airport is HUGE.  
Just walking walking through Parts A through F of Terminal 2 that are located in a ring around these roads would about 1 hour.

And this is a good fact to know.  When I'm trying to get from 2E to 2A, I find that armed military has blocked passage through terminal 2C.  Seems like some idiot traveller or terrorist left a suitcase standing around the terminal and now it has to be disposed of.

Of course, no one of the airport personnel present can advise anyone on how to get through or around this blockage. They don't even know how long it will take to dispose of the suitcase.

No walking outside the terminal either!
Here is the trick:  Walk back to 2E where the terminal building bifurcates.  Stay on the OTHER side and then walk through a tunnel to get to 2A.  When I get to the Air Canada check-in counter it is empty; apparently not many other people have figured out the way around.
Gotta love Air Canada:  Before they even let you approach the check-in counter, they want to see your passport.  Then they ask "Where did you just come from?". I say "Excuse me?"  She repeats the question.  I say "From a hotel in Paris".  "Where is your luggage?"  I point to my backpack.  On this trip I actually found that I was carrying TOO MUCH luggage. With bi-daily sink laundry 3 of the 6 undies and 2 of the 4 pairs of socks would have been amply sufficient!  I refrain from trying to explain that to the Air Canada luggage-searching lady though ;-)

When going through security, the guy at the metal-detector gate asks me to take my shoes off.  They get X-rayed.  

My shoes on the proper feet again !

When I look for my shoes on the other side, I can't find them.  Then I see that someone else is putting them on.  He already had laced them up again !!!! ( I don't lace them through the uppermost holes, but he had started threading the laces through these holes). Am I the only one who would recognize his shoes and never in a lifetime by accident put on someone else's shoes?

The 7 to 8 hour flight is bearable. Air Canada actually feeds its passengers on this flight.  I manage to sleep  In retrospect I have to give the woman at Immigration & passport control a lot of credit.  While she was asking me the usual required questions about this and that and Ebola, I was fidgeting and finally interrupted her to ask her "Where is the nearest smoking lounge or do I have to go outside the airport".  Somehow in my mind her questioning was over ;-)  But she took in in good spirit and with a great smile and said with a French accent "Yes, you WILL SMOKE!" and told me where to light up.   Bon Fete et tremendous Karma a vous!

  Yes, that is SNOW.  I keep my cigarette breaks short.
While Vancouver airport has a few selected SMOKING outside the terminal building, the zones that are small in number in Montreal are the NON-SMOKING zones.  I see this roughly 70 year old gentleman (very nice old-school coat, hat, and he's smoking his cigarette with a holder) smoking RIGHT BELOW the non-smoking area sign.  But when I gesture to him whether it's OK to take his picture smoking under the sign, he decides to behave more orderly and smokes his cigarette elsewhere.  I decide that it is a bad sign if even the old bow to the countless rules of law and order.

Then it's time to go through security again for the next flight to Vancouver.
Welcome to Canada, where we don't have that many people but we treat them like cattle anyway !

... because cattle can be MILKED !  (BTW: What exactly are they selling here?)
But there are other aspects of Montreal airport that are still refreshingly European.  The Sushi restaurant offers beer but no wine. But the restaurant right next to it has wine. Pas de probleme !  The customer is indeed king ;-)

HUNGRY Airlines

What I can not comprehend:  On the 5 hour flight from Montreal to Vancouver, Air Canada does not provide ANY free food.  Sure, they're willing to give some ugly sandwich or pizza on cardboard to any hungry sucker with a credit card, but if you want to EAT, you gotta PAY!  Murphy's law strikes again as my seat neighbour orders himself a pepperoni pizza (maximum TANTALUS TORTURE for me).  But after having been pleasantly surprised after being served a free lunch with a smile on the dumping-price 1-hour flight with Germanwings from Cologne to Salzburg, I refuse to give a single penny more to Air Canada even if that means I have to go hungry.  

In Vancouver, I stare unbelievingly at the still not operational Compass transit ticket vending machines.   If Paris was acting on pressing matters as quickly as Vancouver, the Parisians would still have raw sewage running through their streets.  Ah well, I shouldn't complain, at least Vancouver has 3 SkyTrain lines now. And they even work sometimes.   

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Day XIII, Part II: Abandoning my Seagull (Saint Malo to Paris to CDG)

Play THIS SONG when you read this post and look at the pictures. That should explain the mood I'm in.   It is the day on which I have to leave this place. Again.
The evolution of man?

10:30 am. Because of the vicinity of Christmas, the supermarket is (as an exception) open today, Sunday.  I make use of that to buy a demi-bouteille de Rose (OK, 2 demi-bouteilles, but one is for the train ride ;-)

My train will leave at 12:15; My seagull sits on the railing again, looking at me with that look.

Even after I have fed it the last of myleft-over food, it doesn't leave.

I take two last pictures of the beach, and even refuse to go down there again (What's the point?; I'd just want to stay).

I take one last sad look back at Seagull, assuring it that I will be back when it has grown up a bit.

I will miss this bird !

I go down to reception, check out (my credit card miraculously works; oh right; they gave me a leniency period until Tuesday), and walk the 14 minute walk to the train station.  A note to wine drinkers:  Avoid sipping just before departure and then walking in cold weather.  I make it to les toilettes at the train station just in time!

Having my mind no longer occupied by my bladder, I finally notice what’s in my pant’s pocket.  I have taken my room key with me and no-one has noticed.  Not enough time to go back to the hotel.  Now the fact that my French cell phone from June 2013 still works pays off big time ! (Thank you Orange Mobile ;-). The hotel’s phone number is on the key and with my usual French/English Pidgin lingo, I tell them that I am chambre deux cent quinze and that I still have le cle de la chambre in my pocket.  They are quite non-aggravated by this and agree to my plan of mailing the key to them from Paris tomorrow.  

As soon as I’m in my train seat, I fall asleep again and don’t wake until Rennes, where the train stops for a few minutes. 
Every minute takes me further away from Saint Malo and I’m already thinking how I could find my way back there again.  Where’s a will, there’s a way, they say.  Yesterday I already thought about the most prudent ways to improve my almost non-existing French.  There must be some French classes available in Vancouver.  Maybe if I spoke French I would uncover the unpleasant sides of Saint Malo and I would not like it anymore?  Let’s not kid ourselves, it is much more likely that I would just REFUSE to EVER LEAVE AGAIN if I spoke the language !

 My train ends at Gare Montparnasse and I take the Metro to Gare de Chatelet - Les Halles. 

Believe it or not, this is the LARGEST Underground station in the world. 750,000 people pass through here every workday (!!) and there are some shady characters visible on the security monitors.  
For example, WHAT is this guy DOING?

I'm fortunate to get there 3 minutes before an express train (Look for RER B) leaves for Charles de Gaulle Airport. 
Note: I had read somewhere that one needs a 6 zone metro ticket for this trip.  By accident, I bought six 1-zone tickets.  I warily swipe one ticket to get to the trains, hope for the best during the journey, and experience a moment of panic at CDG airport, because here one actually has to swipe one's ticket to get OUT of the system (everywhere else one only has to swipe to get INTO the system).   For a moment I imagine that the gates won't let me out unless I swipe a 6-zone ticket, but when I insert one 1-zone ticket (it might have been the same one that I swiped to get in), the gates open and release me from the system.  So take it from the cheap horse's mouth:  1 or 2 SINGLE Metro tickets got me from central Paris to CDG!
Hotel Ghetto in Roissy
I go for dinner at Campanile Restaurant, a place in the HOTEL GHETTO of Roissy close to CDG.  I ward off the person seating me with the usual "Je ne parles pas de Francais", and he just smiles at me a gorgeous smile and asks "Mais pourquoi Non?". 

Not the first time I hear that reply.  The funny thing is: I'm starting to agree with them;  BUT WHY NOT ?  

Their sometimes odd English would only be part for learning the language ;-) 

I order a burger.  Live and Learn ;-)  I had ordered my burger with Basmati rice.  The Basmati tastes divine.  So does the Burger; maybe because it's cooked medium rare (yes, you read that correctly, but rest assured, the French are very particular about their beef. In the supermarket a sign will tell you where exactly the cow lived that you're going to eat). The patty does not rest upon even a single minuscule piece of pickle, tomato, lettuce,  relish, mayonnaise, or ANYTHING that you'd expect under or over a burger patty, but IT DOES have a piece of STINKY CHEESE on top.  And the whole combo goes down rather well, but that probably is also due to the demi-litre of Rose that accompanies it ;-)  Then I discover it has another piece of STINKY CHEESE below it.  

No humans were harmed in the cutting of this cheese (not my pic)
It's a CHEESEBURGER, but unlike any cheeseburger I've ever seen or eaten !  
But it's GOOOOOD!  
Unfortunately I can smell the cheese when I break wind the next morning ;-(

The demi-litre is having its effect and I stumble back to my hotel to find my room and my bed. 

 Bon nuit, tout le monde !

Day XIII, Part I: Against a dark background

That is the title of one of my favourite books written by Iain. M. Banks.  If you've read it and if you've visited Mont Saint Michel, which is actually only about 50 kms from where I am right now, you may agree that Banks must have visited that mountain and drawn some inspiration from it for the story.

Just looking at the 'monastery' on the book cover should give it away ;-)

But it's also still dark when I head down to the beach after breakfast at about 7:45 am.  It is pitch dark but the lanterns on the sea-wall cast some light onto beach and surf.

It looks like I'm descending the lunar lander of Apollo 11 !  A small step for Chris ....

The German has landed ....

Then it seems to turn into Stanislaw Lem's Solaris:  
Are there 2 of me taking pictures of each other or are these just 2 shadows from 2 different light sources?

All of a sudden I hear a sound like the one emitted by hundreds of little duck or chicken babies.  Where is it coming from?  Then I see them. They are much much smaller than seagulls.  They are hugging the surf.  The flock moves like a liquid whenever they are too close or to far from the surf line or when I approach to close.  I have no idea what they are and they won't be here once it is light enough to see them clearly.   
 Something to investigate next time I'm here ;-)
liquid bird flock

But enough of this darkness stuff.  

Today is the date of the Winter Solstice.  

For all you without Astronomy knowledge: Just know this: 
Days on the northern hemisphere are getting longer again !!!

When my pet seagull shows up a bit later on my railing, I realize it has decided to trust me a bit more.  Instead of jumping off the railing and gliding in the wind while waiting for me to throw food into the air that it can then gracefully catch in flight, it stays seated on the railing and allows me to throw the food right into its beak.  Cute !

  After I have fed the last of yesterday's baguette to it, it keeps staring at me with that look.  I rummage around the room and find some dry bread crusts.  Seagull catches the first crust and drops it instantly.  The second bread crust suffers the same fate. Seagull takes off.  Of course: I have to end up with a connoisseur pet seagull!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Day XII, part II: A FERRY to Jersey (or Should I bring back a sweater or a cow?)

At 3:30 pm I walk towards the ferry terminal.  It's been a while since I took my last ferry !

Non, despite appearances, I have not joined any of the orders of nearby Mont Saint Michel ;-)
I walk through Intramuros, i.e. what most tourists consider Saint Malo 'proper', i.e. the accumulation of overpriced restaurants and shops within the walled old city that you'll find in every tourist trap worldwide.  And THIS is where all the people are.  I have clandestinely been deliriously happy that the beach was so empty and was always afraid to ask for the reason.  Here is the reason.  Dull people walking over dull streets and spending their dull-earned Euros in dull stores to be able to show off to their dull friends.  More power to them as long as it keeps my beach EMPTY of dull people ;-) 

Have I mentioned before that I'm an opinionated bastard?

Fortunately I leave the excess-spending-money mob quickly behind me. 

Then it's time for 3 Ooops and a very brief visit to England, the island of Jersey in particular.

The first oops happens when the clerk at the check-in counter of Condor Ferries tells me that I have paid for a seat on tomorrow’s ferry instead of today’s ferry.

He quickly changes it to today’s crossing.  

A brief note to anyone inclined to complain about the prices charged by BC Ferries in Canada:  
For a total ferry riding time of ~ 2.5 hours (1 hour 15 minutes each way), CONDOR ferries charges me 44 Euros, which is roughly CAN$ 62.  And this is the LOWEST rate for a foot passenger; I declined the offer of paying 20 Euros more to sit in the reclining seat area ;-).
Boarding the ferry

The second oops hits me when I realize that it’s already getting dark when the ferry leaves Saint Malo at 5:15 pm.  I won’t actually get to see Jersey, except maybe some lights of the harbour area.
Re-enacting the battle of Britain 
The third OOOPS occurs as soon as we are 10 minutes under way. I realize that the ship is rolling quite a bit and I come to the conclusion that I might have to deal with sea sickness before the day is over.  Watching hordes of young male English binge-drinkers trying to navigate their way through the aisles of the rolling ship does not help much.
Looks very similar to St Malo!
The one hour and 10 minutes of being slightly nauseous and the prospect of not being able to see anything when I get there actually awaken a strange thought in my head.  I don't want to take any more ferries. OOOOH. Blasphemy !
Very happy to see this sign and to get solid ground under my feet !

Time to get off the ferry. As soon as I have solid ground under my feet, I don't even mind the passport-checking line-up.   I have time for a few quick cigarettes on British soil; then it's time to check-in again for the return voyage.  Strange as it may seem, Jersey is actually in a different time zone !

When the captain predicts 'calm waters' on the way back so St. Maaahlo (British Captain speak), I feel like throwing up on his pretty boat.  But the forecast is accurate.  Maybe it was the wind that made the first journey unpleasant. Or maybe the Fish & Chips with wine that I consume at the beginning of the return voyage has fortified my stomach?  Be that as it may, when I go out to the smoking area just before we return to St. Malo, the deck is CROWDED with people leaning over garbage bins or the ship's railing. I have to watch where I step because quite a few of the unfortunate heavers didn't quite make it to their intended unloading areas ;-(

In Saint Malo it takes close to half an hour to get all the foot passengers off the ship and I'm starting to wonder what would happen if the boat was sinking.

I decide that this trip to Jersey wasn't worth my time or my money, but at least I managed to go on a FERRY trip ;-).   On my way back to the hotel, I reward myself by walking along the beach instead of the road.

bon nuit !