Paris, Day 5.

This was probably one of my favourite days. It was the day that we started using the Metro, and it was also the day that we returned to the Pompidou centre..

Once again, the day started the same way… Breakfast (maybe), shoppy, and then make our way to the destination of our choosing. However, this time we weren’t going to be surrounded by the calmness of a smooth river tour up the Seine. Ohhhh, no. This time, we were to use… THE METRO!

Before we entered the station, I got some money out, and took the following photo…

You know, I think “Ramasse” might have a different meaning over there…

The nearest metro station to our hotel of choosing was Ecole Militaire, which is literally just over the road from the hotel. It also translates into “Military School”, in case anyone is wondering…

So, after Jonathan negotiated the tube map and found out our destination, we had to actually get into the platform. C+J both had a ticket which they’d bought on Tuesday, which was supposed to be for all week. I had, cleverly, thrown mine out. D’oh.

this meant that I had to attend to the ticket machines, which use a complicated and fiddly “roller” system. You roll a roller to move up and down and choose your option via a faded green button. Seems easy enough. And it was! Before I knew it, I was €1.60 lighter, and in possession of a tiny little ticket with a magnetic strip on the back. Hurrah!

I inserted it in the machine. Within seconds, it came whizzing out of the other side, and a little green light pleaded for me to enter through the gate. Awesome! I’d cracked it! The gate closed behind me, and C+J attempted to insert their tickets… “Whoosh, BEEEEEEEP, red-light”. Oh, *my*. So, there I was, one side of the barriers, while C+J were the other. Frustratingly, I couldn’t even tell them what I’d put in the machine to get my ticket, mainly because I wasn’t able to remember without seeing the machine, and there was the big fence in the way. Bugger.

C+J contacted the woman behind the desk, and purchased a ticket each. Theirs were €8. something… wait, there was something up here, what’s the difference between theirs and mine? Why was mine roughly €6 cheaper?

Turns out, they’d bought a day ticket, whereas I’d bought a single journey ticket. Seems a bit of a waste, unless you’re going to make more than three journeys.

Oh, something I must mention about the metro is that it’s pretty much an open sewer. I don’t think there was one concourse or stairwell that didn’t smell of piss. Of course, this isn’t a problem with just Paris, in fact every underground train network I’ve ever been on smells of piss.

We arrive from out of the fluorescently lit rat tunnels at our destination, or at least close to it. Chris’s pigeon-like instincts picked up the scent of the Pompidou centre, and we walked in the exact direction, and within minutes we were outside its wacky 70s exo-skeleton design again.

Now surrounded by all of the classic architecture that surrounds the centre of Paris, this building is a nice little breather…

It was at this time I spied a record store. Right on the corner of the place. Now one of the reasons I was there was to pick up a song. You may remember I did this last year, with one of the reasons I went to Berlin being that I wanted to purchase a song called “Manner” by Herbert Groenemeyer.

This time, it was a song called “Marchand De Ballons” by a guy called Gilbert Becaud. I have this on record, and to be perfectly honest, I absolutely hate it. Yet, I can’t stop playing it. I own it on a very scratchy EP dating back to the 1950s, so I thought it would be nice to update my version to one released on CD. After a short flick through the CDs, there it is! I’d found it!

The Cd contained 24 songs by Monsieur Becaud, track 20 being the afore mentioned song. And it was only €5. Cor! How could I resist? Well, clearly, I didn’t.

I went in and handed over my monopoly money, and within seconds, I was in possession of it. Hurrah. Just for the record, and because I like posting photos, here’s a photo of the shop I bought the CD from…

So, after C+J demolished a “Jambon Et Fromage” toastie-type thing, we went in, but not before I almost got caught out by the street traders, who seemed desperate to draw a characature of me. I bypassed their very kind offer to do it for free, and caught up with C+J who had polished off their toasties by this point.

We stopped outside at this point for a few minutes while we had a bottle of water each. I was happy at this, as it made my bag that little tiny bit lighter.

We entered at this point, and the first thing on display is this…

Don’t ask me what it is, for I do not know, but the whole thing spins round at a cracking pace. We couldn’t work out if the chain was welded in that position or whether it was in that position thanks to the centrifugal force… I’ve probably spelled that wrong.

The entry fee wasn’t cheap here either. It was €12. Eeek. Still, the size of the place means that you could probably make a whole day of it. Unfortunately, cameras weren’t allowed in most of the exhibitions, so you’ll just have to imagine “modern art”.

There were a few stand-out bits for me. The first was this room showing a video. The video was of a camera, driving around somewhere like India (the exact location escapes me) with people in view of the camera, holding up pieces of cardboard, with the names of western “celebrities”, painted on them, but written in arabic. The room itself, instead of being laid out in a sterile form, had about 100 random small chairs, all different, scattered about the place, which you could sit on and watch the video. Once you had finished watching, you leave the room, and there are all of the cardboard signs stuck to the wall. I *liked* that one.

There was also one, which was simply an old black and white TV camera, pointing at a Buddha’s head, held up in the ground by soil, and you could view it on the monitor below the camera. It was sort-of interactive, as your feet were also in shot at this point. Oh, and the camera was knackered too, though I suspect that’s one of the “points”.

A small distance away was another odd video, of a naked woman whipping the hell out of herself. It was either one of two things… a radical statement against feminism and the futility of human existence, or a chance for me to watch titties bouncing up and down and a little bit of S+M in a public place without feeling like a perv… I think it becomes clear that I just didn’t “get” that particular exhibition.

It was worth the €12 alone, however.

We moved onto the next exhibition which was more of the modern art paintings and… stuff. Now, how can this stuff be art? Painting a canvas completely black? Splattering blue paint all over the place, then leaving it to run down the wall? My “favourite” was one that resembled my favourite white shirt after I’d placed it in a full wash cycle with a blue pen in the top pocket.

I’m sure they all have deep meaning, but after watching Whipsy McWhipson for 7 minutes, I found it hard to concetrate on much else.

My favourite part, however, was from an exhibition by Czech artist Miroslav Tichý. It wasn’t so much art, but photography using home-made cameras. I found it, and the man himself, really fascinating.

On the ground floor, there was an exhibition featuring architectural designs. This was also interesting, if a little small. Some of the detail going into those things was immense, though I suppose they’d have to be, considering they were architectural models.

After we’d seen pretty much everything worth seeing (and not, in the case of the modern art paintings!) we headed off back to the hotel, just in time for me to get collared by the face painters again. This time, I just totally blanked them without even a slightest glance. They didn’t seem happy at my total ignorance. Awwww.

By this time, despite it being cloudy earlier on, the sun was blazing in the sky…

We headed back to the metro station, in completely the wrong direction, so we took the route back, and this time looked for the CD shop I’d visited earlier in the day. At least that way, we knew we were on the right track.

We arrived, and seeing as my original journey was only one way, I had to buy another ticket. If you ever use the metro, it doesn’t appear you can buy return tickets. Instead you just have to buy two tickets for your journey, one there and one back. I’m not sure if that’s common with metro systems all over the world, but it seemed to be here. The only downside of this is that you end up with tiny little tickets filling your pockets if you forget to throw them away.

We went for a very quick stop at the hotel, as we had one other place to visit this evening… Le Grande Arche. It is a structure that can be seen from all over the place, and we’d seen it earlier on in the week from the top of the Arc De Triomphe.

I bought two Metro tickets, while C+J kept hold of their day passes. Now, as this was going to be the last metro journey of the day, it means that my way of buying single tickets (4×1.60 = €6.40) actually worked out cheaper than buying a day pass. Awesome.

Anyway, we boarded the metro, and once again travelled between stations until we reached the destination of choice, We left the train and were unimpressed by the state of the station. Cracked tiles everywhere. It seems like every flat, non moving surface had been tagged. This left us expecting very little when we emerged from the station. However, our worries were totally unjustified. This thing was absolutely huge.

Just like everything else, you could get to the top of it, via the lifts, but you had to pay for the privelege. I think we’d paid enough to get up high, so we gave that a miss, instead we just stayed around the base of it, taking yet more photos.

You may notice that this year, I’ve made a bit more of an effort to get into the photos. Sometimes I just really shouldn’t have bothered.

As you can see, my sunburn wasn’t getting any better! Ah well!

It was, once again, getting late by this point, so we made our way back. Of course, we were gouing to have to eat, so the decision was to go back to the Chinese which we had such a good meal at a few nights ago.

Me and Chris settled for the chicken curry again (oh, how predictable) and Jonathan went for lemon chicken. Now, I believe this was one of the best chicken curries I’ve ever had in my life (with the exception of the beyond-sublime Blossom Garden chicken curry), yet unfortunately, Jonathan was less than pleased with the meal he was served. Such a shame.

I think we went for another desperately expensive drink after this. Or we may have just went back to the hotel. I can’t remember, and I don’t have any photographic documentation to say otherwise. I do, however, know that at 1:30AM that morning, I was sticking the camera out of the window to take some fantastic night shots…

We planned for Day 6 to be spent walking around a graveyard…

Paris, Day 2

No sooner had Day 1 ended, than Day 2 began. Now this, of course means, unfortunately that I didn’t get much sleep. This was mainly because of the afore mentioned factors in Day 1 about everything being too hot. This was something I’d obviously have to get used to.

I awoke at 7. C+J were obviously still going to be asleep, so I took a bit of a walk without them. They wouldn’t be up for hours. I think we made tentative arrangements to get up early, but not THAT early.

I donned my clothes and headed off, camcorder in hand, to the Eiffel Tower. This is the first time I’ve mentioned the camcorder in this trip. Yes, I did indeed take it with me, but thanks to my hard drive being a bit of a nuisance at the minute, I’ll not be able to work my way through the tape until I attempt to format my storage hard drive. That’s something I’ll leave for now, however.

Anyway. the time is 7:30 AM by the time I have a shit, shave and shower. I head off outside the hotel, and in the general direction of the tower. It seemed eerily quiet. I really didn’t expect it to be like this. In fact, I think I only saw a handful of people on my entire journey.

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Unbelievably, one of those people was one of those stupid sodding crap-keyring sellers. Aaaaaargh. Is there no time of the day safe from them? Clearly not.

Thankfully, he was the only one I saw, but still!

I continued my journey, and headed along the bridge across the Seine. It looked like a nice walk.

Interestingly (or rather erm… not really very interestingly), their road sweepers use a lot more water than ours. Instead of a shitty little drizzle in front of the brushes, this thing splurts out a great big gush of water across the entire pavement.

The walk continued, and I continued taking photos and filming, as you can imagine I would. This was easier said than done, as there seemed to be hoardes of joggers out in the early morning.

I continued the walk as it was still early, and went along to the impressive structure known as Hotel Invalides. Little did I know that this was the way we’d came originally, and I’d totally missed it on the way there. Mainly because all I cared about was getting to the hotel.

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I didn’t know much about the bouilding at this point, so I took a few photos, and headed back to the hotel.

I awoke Chris and Jonathan, and we headed out onto the Parisienne streets. I can’t for the life of me remember if we had breakfast on this particular morning. I think it was more likely that we picked up something from The Shoppy.

The shoppy (actually spelled Shopi) is a chain of supermarkets throughout France (by the looks of it), and the prices are perfectly acceptable. Now, we actually discovered this wonderful little supermarché on Day 1, but I didn’t mention it. In all, I think I spent something like €22 in there just on the first day.

Anyway, off we went to the shoppy, and bought what we needed, and headed off in the general direction of Le Tour Eiffel.

The first question of the day was how we were going to see the sights of the city. We initially thought that most of the attractions were a distance from each other, so, after consulting a map, it was agreed that we would get a pass for one of the river cruisers. Seemed expensive, but we got a 5-day pass, which cost €16. It looked as if this was the best way to see the sights.

Indeed, it was great to see the famous landmarks from the comfort of a riverboat. It was nice to be able to break the camera out and take photos of them too.

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First stop for us was Notre Dame cathedral. I must admit, it’s a stunning piece of architecture. Unfortunately, this was the first time we realised that Paris was really quite a bit too touristy. I remember I had to stop myself from collapsing with laughter every time I heard the inane statements and frustratingly annoying drawl of the American tourists walking behind us.

Though, the worst part must have been the camera flashes. It’s almost impossible to appreciate the building and the years of immensely hard work that would have been put into it, when every time you look at something, it’s doused in a split second of bright white light. You may find it a bit hypocritical of me to say that I would like to see them banned from a place such as this, especially as I took a boat load of photos while I was in there, but it’s true. You may also notice that on my photos, I didn’t use the flash once. Wasn’t bothered how blurry they came out. I simply respected the rights of other people around me to enjoy the building as it should be.

Therefore, I can see why Durham Cathedral banned cameras, and I stand with their agreement on this policy. I also retract any previous statements where I may have stated otherwise.

After the trip around there, it was then time to get some water, and a trip through the side streets in order to find a shop that actually looked like they’d stock something to drink. Eventually, I found somewhere. It looked like a proper dive, however, and this was confirmed by the fact that the water was manufactured in Greece, and was “sparkling”, though I couldn’t tell that by looking at the label. Bah. I hate sparkling water. On a hot summer day, it’s about as refreshing as a sand and razorblade sorbet.

Next stop was The Louvre, or at least the outside of it, as time was getting on, and there was no chance of being able to see most of of it, therefore we just stayed outside. As far as I was concerned there was plenty for me to photograph anyway.

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After we’d picked up some food and stocked up on more water (this time at €2.50 a bottle… ffs), we headed off down Le Jardin des Tuileries, towards the Arc De Triomphe. Now, at first it didn’t look like a particularly long walk. We could see it in the distance.

However, this was entirely deceptive. Turns out the short walk was actually two miles. Never mind, we made it. It is MUCH bigger than what I expected. Last year, in Berlin, you may remember we went to see the Brandenburg gate, and were shocked at how small it was, well this was HUGE.

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Of course, around the Arc De Triomphe is a comedy roundabout. Honestly, you could sit and watch this thing for hours, with all of the near misses. 12 different roads merge into one roundabout, which is roughly 4 or 5 lanes wide. There are no road markings. It is literally every man for himself. Oubviously, when this structure and the surrounding buildings were constructed, there wouldn’t have been any cars on the road.

Now this gives me an opportunity to explain a little about the traffic system in France, or at least Paris… there is *no* traffic system. Firstly, let me start off with traffic signals. Now, I’m sure you all remember your Green Cross code… look left, look right, wait for the green man. Well, you can forget it. Just forget everything you know. Over there, there’s no need to wait for the green man, because wether the lights are on red or not, they still go through them. If you happen to be obeying the green man, and actually crossing at that time, wish yourself luck, run like fuck and pray that you don’t end up splattered across the front of a Renault Twingo. I swear, I lost count of how many times one of the three of us almost ended up in a body bag because we thought that the red traffic light meant “stop”.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone in Paris is a bad driver, I’m just saying that everyone in Paris is a bad driver. OK, there’s bound to be one or two exceptions to the rule, but we found it hard to find a car without some type of dent or scratch in it.

Anyway, back to the Arc De Triomphe. There was a dimly lit subway which takes you from one side of the road, and onto the main building itself. We weren’t aware that you could get to the top of it until we got there. Awesome. The cost was €9. Again, we left this for another day.

After that, we began to head back to the hotel. It wasn’t too late by this time (about 4:30) so we walked it.

At exactly 5PM, we stumbled across the tunnel where Princess Di met her fate. Oddly, on the top of the tunnel is a replica of the flame from the Statue of Liberty. The top of the tunnel itself is covered in graffiti.

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After a walk that felt like a week, we ended up back at the hotel, but not before we watched some brass band from England do their best to re-create the Austin Powers theme. Seconds later, off we went to the shoppy.

I picked up only the bare essentials in this particular trip. Water, cherry coke and more bacon Bugles. Oh, and some apples. And possibly some fruit juice too. The “pièce de résistance”, however, came in the shape of beer. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called, but it came in a blue can and was 7.9%. the price? Something like €1.40 a can. I bought 4 of them.

Off we went, back to the hotel, again, and began to flick through the various pieces of complete garbage that was on the telly. Let me tell you that the French version of Countdown (i.e. the original one) isn’t really that good.

So, after a quick change of clothes, an’t a bit-o’Brut-slappy-chop-chops, we decided to check some of the local eateries. There was a vast selection where we were located, though it seemed most of them didn’t offer a wide selection of stuff. Well, not for me anyway, the annoyingly fussy eater I am. Again, the meals were expensive, but a bit more reasonable than the drinks. After knocking down a chicken brochette, while C+J had a cod steak, we left La Terrasse behind, and began to try and find a cheap place to have a drink. We kept on walking. And walking. eventually, through pure chance, we ended up back on the Champs-Élysées. Bugger. This was not going to be a cheap night at all. Down a side street, we found a place that was reasonable, and actually looked like a bar instead of a cafe.

We entered, and was shown to a table. Wait, I thought this was a pub? No. It’s just another expensive cafe that’s made to look like a bar. Growl.

And expensive it was. €7.50 each for a “pint” of 1664. (Note that in France, 1664 and Kroenenburg are two separate lagers), and thanks to the language barrier, it turned out that Chris actually ordered 5 instead of 3, therefore the cheap drink suddenly changed into a not so cheap €37.50… awesome. The beer wasn’t even that nice either.

So, we left, and set off on the journey back to the hotel. It was getting late by this point. We left the “pub” at about 11, and didn’t get back in the hotel until 11:45, though I did get a chance to see something cool – the Eiffel tower, doused in blue light, covered in sparkling lights.

By the time we got back to the hotel, my back teeth were floating. Absolutely desperate for a pee. It’s moments like this that you don’t wish you had a room on the third floor. As I pleaded for the lift to go faster, it only seemed to go slower. Luckily it reached its destination in time, and I remembered how to open the door without having to resort to brute force.

It was approaching midnight, so me and Chris headed off back to the Eiffel tower to see if we can catch the light display. Indeed we did, and I even got it on tape, as I gave Chris the camcorder while I tried to get jaunty angles of it.

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After that, we went back to the hotel and watched the tape of what I’d filmed. I then knocked back those cans I mentioned earlier and went to bed. Tomorrow was going to be a high, in more than one respect.

Paris, Day 1

Hello, and welcome to Day 1 of my Paris holiday write-up. Let me tell you that this should be well documented, as I have taken over 1,000 photos. No, seriously.

Right, where to start? Well, the beginning would be nice, I suppose. therefore, I shall whisk you back to approximately 7AM on Tuesday, 15th July 2008. I awoke from my steaming pit at that time, as we were going to pick up Jonathan and Chris at 7:30. Well, that’s what I thought anyway.

I had a quick bath, only for Daddykins to inform me that he actually wanted to set off at 7:20 and get to Chris’s by 7:30. Oh, the joy of it all. Therefore, the quick bath got even quicker. In fact, I barely had enough time to stick my balls under the tap.

I then jumped out the bath and began meticulously checking my hand written list of things I was taking, just to make sure everything I needed was there. It looked as if it was. Awesome!

We set off, and arrived at Chris and Jonathan’s house by ooooh, 7:34. So, only 4 minutes late. Not too bad.

I knock on the door, only to find that Jonathan wasn’t ready, due to the fact he’d been driving up here until 2AM in the morning, as he currently lives daaaahn saaaaf.

Off we jolly well popped, up the A19 to Newcastle Airport. It wasn’t long until the camera was broken out, though for now, I’ll not resort to showing you scary photos, or photos of streetlights, there’s plenty of time for that in the next hundred or so updates I’ll write about this trip.

After last years’ fiasco over parking, where Daddykins got charged £6 for waiting about 15 minutes in Newcastle Airport, he dropped us off on the outskirts, near the roundabout, meaning that there was a slight walk to the entrance. Perfectly acceptable, I thought, especially as we’d be doing plenty of walking over the coming days.

So, we enter the complex and arrive at the check-in desk. The lovely young lady behind the counter instructs us to the use the self check-in machines. As much as I love computers, I absolutely hate anything that has the word “self” at the beginning. They just never work. This was no exception. After following the instructions on the screen, it prints out ONE boarding card. There are three of us. The bloody self-service machine brings up an error, and then instructs us to contact the lovely young lady sat behind the Air France desk, who then checks the other two of us in. Why couldn’t she have done that in the sodding first place? Sigh.

As our bags disappeared along the conveyor belt into the unknown, I nipped off to buy a little travel guide – one of the Lonely Planet ones. £6 it cost, but did turn out to be very handy. I’d say that it was probably better than the one I bought for Berlin last year.

Chris got his money exchanged, and we headed to the departure lounge. Of course, this involves the added indignity of having to remove your belt, and in some cases, shoes too. It’s something that is necessary, yet strangely humiliating (though not as humiliating as getting frisked like I had to be last year).

Thankfully, this year we didn’t change planes, so didn’t have to do this twice in each direction.

Once again, the passports were checked, and we headed off to find the bar we went to last year… Disaster! The departure lounge had completely changed, and the bar was boarded up and closed! The large seating areas were now taken up by another bar (it was actually the same bar I was referring to, but it had moved out of its old location, and into where the seating area was).

The large amounts of open space has also been “built on”, and to access the gates, you had to go through a duty-free store. This annoyed me, slightly.

I went into WH Smiths, in order to buy something to read on the plane, Chris bought something to drink from the same shop, and Jonathan looked around somewhere else. As could be predicted, we got separated, and had to cross through this bloody duty free shop.

A heavily done up assistant approached me, looking like she’d just tripped up in the make-up aisle.

“Are you looking for anything in particular?”, she asked, Geordily.

I looked at Chris and said “Yes, his brother…”

There was a few moments silence, and she walked off looking slightly bemused. Eventually, we met up with Jonathan (the shop assistant was no help at all on that one), and proceeded to another bar which had been constructed, coincidentally in a Parisienne style fashion. Now, considering this was a duty free area, the beer was 33% more expensive than it was last year, and it tasted 33% warmer too.

At some point during this whole waiting procedure, we looked out across the runway to see an awesome looking flighter jet getting some service done to it.

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We then hovered about, watching the destination boards, waiting for our plane to come up and show a gate number. This seemed to take forever, but eventually, up it came, and we headed off in that general direction. I believe it was the same departure gate we were at for Berlin last year, but can’t really remember. It seemed to look very familiar.

The plane was tiny. It looked even smaller than the little fokker I flew in last year. I didn’t really mind, but I was a bit concerned that we’d have to land half way through so someone could get out and wind the elastic band back up.

We headed out onto the tarmac, but not before getting our passports checked AGAIN. The flight was perfectly fine. I got chatting to a nice young lady sat next to me who explained she was off to Disneyland with her neice who was in front.

We landed, and the weather was lovely. Let me just try to explain how big Charles De Gaulle airport is… HUGE. I’m surprised it doesn’t have its own national anthem.

According to a quick play with Google Earth, Heathrow Airport is 3.3 miles from corner to corner, this is 5.5 miles.

This would explain the queue for the passport checks that we were in that must have been at least a quarter of a mile long. In fact by the time we’d reached halfway down the queue, I’d eaten an entire bag of Haribo chews. The person who I’d talked to on the plane got right to the front of the queue instanmtly because their family had a kid. By the looks of the line, it seemed quite possible that I could court, copulate and become a father by the time I got to passport control. In the sheer boredom, I began to wonder if there was anyone even slightly famous in the queue.

We collected our bags, and attempted to find some type of exit. Apparently the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was in that queue somewhere, as someone was waiting to pick them up outside the airport, waving a big white card.

Now, finding our way to the centre of Paris was going to be fun. Something that we (or rather I, as I decided which hotel to book) didn’t take into account is the distance of the airport from the hotel. A taxi may have been possible, but expensive. We decided to risk the train system. We must have spent about an hour trying to work out the tube map and roughly where we wanted to be. It would have been a good idea to actually plan that type of stuff before I’d left England, or at least consulted Google Earth for the nearest tube map. It would be something I’d kick myself later on in the day about.

We consulted the tiny (yet useful as the week went on) tube map, and got a train to one of the main stations in Paris – the name of which escapes me (Gare Du Nord, or Gare De Lyon, I think), and then get on to the metro to a station named Invalides. Unfortunately, this metro station was 0.6 miles away from the hotel, and Chris’s homing-pigeon instincts let us down for the first time EVER, and we headed off in completely the wrong direction, meaning that the journey we’d taken walking with heavy bags actually went on for 1.2 miles. Luckily, on the way there was a shop that sold water at a reasonable price, otherwise I don’t think I’d have made it. Although it was warm at the airport, the city heat just made it unbearable, especially when we didn’t know where we were going, with no end in sight. Eventually, after what felt like a month, we just happened to stumble upon the hotel. We checked in, and after taking a moment to regain composure, and to soak up the sweat, we headed up to the rooms.

The first of (thankfully not many) embarrasing moments came when I collected my key and couldn’t actually open the door – Jonathan showed me how to do it. Turns out the handle on the front of the door is just for show. you open the door by turning the key clockwise, and then pushing. Clever, but confusing when you’re dehydrated, hungry and fed up of lugging a case and a bag around a capital city. Actually, it’s not clever at all. I guess I just suck at opening other people’s doors. Maybe I’m the ani-burglar, or something

Anyway, I went into my room, Chris and Jonathan (hereafter referred to as C+J as it’s too hard to type otherwise) went in theirs. It was about 6PM at this point, and we arranged to meet an hour later to go out and see the Eiffel Tower, as it was less than a mile away from the hotel. I decided to have a proper bath seeing as my earlier one had been so rudely interrupted, and a lie down.

Two hours later I awoke. I went to C+J’s room, and knocked on the door. No answer. Were they both dead? Had they gone and left me all on my own?

At great expense, I called Jonathan on his mobile. Chris answered. I asked where they were, and they replied they were already at the Eiffel Tower. He’d knocked on my door, and there was absolutely no answer. How odd.

Anyway, they made their way back along to meet me, and all three of us had a wander up to the Eiffel Tower.

This was 15th July, the day after the Bastille Day celebrations, which meant that there were still areas cordoned off. New trees which had been planted still had bits of hardboard around them, and metal barriers littered the avenue leading up to the tower. This arrangement, however, allowed some people to make use of the obscure arrangement and make a temporary football pitch in the sand.

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It’s only until you get underneath it that you notice all of the effort that had gone into creating it. it’s really quite intimidating.

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Something also intimidating is the sheer amount of foreigners selling stupid, badly made little miniature eiffel tower keyrings and shit like that. There are hundreds of them littered around the city, all selling exactly the same tat.

Something impressive was the size of the queues. to get up the tower. Absolutely enourmous. 45 minute waiting times at least. I could think of better things to do for our first night, so we gave it a miss. Instead, we crossed the River Seine for the first time, and began to take photos of the sun going down, with the Eiffel Tower mostly in the foreground.

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After the sun set, we headed off to the bars near the hotel, as there were quite a few. It was getting on, and we didn’t fancy anything to eat, so we just got beers. Extortionate is the word that would fit in nicely here. Something like €5.50 for a 250ml glass. That’s less than half a pint. Holy cow.

One small beer later, we returned to the hotel to sum up the day, but not before we nipped into a local shop to pick up some essentials, and those essentials would be… BACON FLAVOUR BUGLES! My word, I had no idea they still made Bugles! I know they don’t over here. I think the last packet of those I had was back in March 2002 when I went down to London. I much prefer the BBQ flavour, but they don’t seem to exist anymore, even in France. Ah well.

I went to put the stuff in my room, and as I exited, Chris was in the middle of saying something…

“And then after that, we can… wait, did you come out of room 302?”

I nodded affirmatively, and audibly confirmed this with an “Aaaaaye?”

“BOLLOCKS. I thought you were in room 301. I was knocking on the wrong door earlier…”

I ate my Bugles, and went to bed. It was far too warm to sleep with the window closed, and far too noisy to sleep with the window open. Turns out that the hotel is situated alongside a military school, with nice solid walls so any traffic noise, or in fact the noise of people breathing echoes upwards. What doesn’t help either is the fact that the end of the road was actually on cobbles.

What made things even worse is that the room door was thin, and let any type of noise in. I swear, someone farted 4 doors away and I could smell it.

Eventually, I fell asleep on top of the covers, and prepared for Day 2…

Oh my word, it’s almost holiday time

Yes, it’s almost time that I shirk the responsibility of hosting a top class blog, and disappear to another part of the continent for a week. This means that I will be unable to keep you informed of such announcements as the server reboot / failure that took place on Tuesday Morning. Although I hate to keep you un-informed of realtime changes and problems to do with this site, it does mean that you will be with my irreplaceable wit and charm for a full week.

I’m sorry to break that news to you, and I’m sure you’ll all be devastated at the news. Yeah, righto.

Let me start off by saying I still have one niggling doubt. A doubt that I can’t explain in detail, though it is something that could easily mean that one of us does not fly. I have been assured that this “slight difference of opinion” has been corrected, but I will not know until we arrive at the check-in desk at Newcastle Airport on the appropriate day.

I shall, for once, pull myself away from looking forward to my holiday, and comment on what is happening right now. Looking out from the turrets of Merucuryvapour Towers, I can inform you that the sky is leaking. A lot.

It’s been another three days off where I’ve done quite a bit, but it feel like I haven’t. Let’s start off with Wednesday. It was the only day of the week where I was able to do what I wanted – the only day where the rain wasn’t constantly bouncing off the tarmac.

On Wednesday, I’d finished at 8AM. Normally, at this point I’d go straight to bed, in the vain hope of being able to get up at a reasonable time and make some use of the day. Thankfully, this didn’t happen, and I was physically able to stay up. Chris had phoned me the previous night, and we’d made plans to meet at the flea market. This was always doomed to failure.

I rang Chris at 9AM, as we’d planned, and arranged to meet in the town centre. Unfortunately, for once, *I* didn’t get the message, and totally misunderstood this simple instruction. Mohh. After a nice walk around the flea market (well, I say nice, I spent more money on CDs than I care to mention), I went for one last look through some records. Just as I was about to flick through them, I noticed the 242 approaching. My searching stopped, and I headed off to the bus stop, stuck my paw out, and alighted afore mentioned public transport.

Just as I’d got to Raby Road, my phone goes. It was Chris.

Him: “Where are you at?”
Me: “On the bus, going home”
Him: “Shit… I’m in the town centre”

Poo. I thought he was going to ring me when he was about to set off, and not when he was in the town. Oops.

All was not lost, however, as he had stuff to do in the town anyway, and he said he’d come straight up to Mercuryvapour Towers as soon as he’d finished.

I returned home, and while I was waiting for him, I did a bit of tidying, or rather, threw the hoover around the place for a bit. Hilarity ensued as I managed to get a bit of plastic stuck in the hoover brushes, meaning that every time it went over a bump or some sort, the thing screamed. Eventually, and with the help of one of those large forks you stab turkeys with, I freed it, and my hoovering continued unceremoniously.

Chris came over just as I was finishing. We sat around out in the back garden for a bit, deciding what we would do for the rest of the day. The weather was gradually improving, and it was eventually decided that we’d have a walk up to Hart. After all, the Sainsbury’s is on the way there, and Chris had yet to see it.

Off we went, and of course, the stop off at Sainsbury’s was included. Chris bought some pop, I bought a bottle of water, two Mars Delights (at the awesome price of 18p each) and, to top it all off, a Calippo. I haven’t had one of those since I was a kid.

We got served by the loudest, most over-enthusiastic assistant I think I’ve ever heard in my life… “HELLO SIR! THAT WILL BE £1.86! THANK YOU SIR! HAVE A GOOD DAY NOW!”

I was trying to work out whether she was just being sarcastic, or whether she really was that loud.

We left, and the walk countinued westward. We walked along the old abandoned road which is becoming ever familiar to me. I was surprised by the fact that a field which had presumably been left fallow this year, had turned into a sea of poppy red…

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It wasn’t the only one, there were two fields on the way there. Eventually, we reached Hart, and although we’d enjoyed the walk, it became clear that we’d reached the problem I’d faced each time I was there… there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in Hart. Well, OK, there were pubs, but considering I’d came out without my wallet, it wasn’t something I’d be able to partake in. Not that I particularly wanted to, anyway.

Of course, I came up with the wonderful idea of taking more photos while we were there. None of them turned out particularly, awe-inspiring, especially when I asked Chris to take some of me. None of them turned out good at all. In fact, this is probably the only one that doesn’t make me wretch…

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Oh, wait. It does. Hooooorp.

After a good walk, and about half an hour of trying to get a good photo of a bee on a flower (and failing miserably), we returned home. Chris stayed for a little while longer, before he headed home. It was about 4PM at that point, and I was starting to feel tired, so I had a lie down on the sofa for a couple of hours. At roughly 6PM, the doorbell rang, it was Andy The Iridium Fan (see gallery) with DVD in hand, of the maritime festival which he’d recorded over the weekend. I didn’t attend this semi-annual event, which took place from 4th – 6th July, for you see, the weather was truly awful.

Chris came back over at about 8PM, and all three of us watched the DVD again, pointing out the goings-on in the background. and having a general good laugh at it.

Andy went, which left me and Chris to discuss the world, and marvel at the musical delight of the Sky News theme. It appears I’ve gotten Chris addicted to it too. Awesome.

Chris went, and I lapsed into a coma until the following morning.

Thursday was the day when I would start getting really prepared for this holiday. Money exchangement was about to take place, shoes would be bought, batteries would be charged, hair would be cut.

At approximately 14:28 and 32 seconds, we left the house, and went off down the town. Daddykins dropped me off at the town centre. Now, the plan was this. I’d be dropped off at the town centre, Daddykins would go somewhere, do what he had to do, then meet me a bit later on the Marina, outside of Brantano, the shoe shop. Fair enough. Seems straightforward.

So, off I toddle to the post office, debit card in hand, hoping to draw out some monopoly money Euros. I approach the lady behind desk 11. the Bureau De Change.

Me: “Can I have €300 please” (whilst holding up card)
Her: “Um… do you have a drivers license or passport?”
Me: [resigned to defeat at such an early stage] “Er, no… didn’t think you’d need it?”
Her: “Pop your card in the slot, I’ll see if I can withdraw cash for you”

[fx: computer bouncing across desk, smoke pouring out of the top of it, big flashing red lights, Family Fortunes ‘Ick-urrrrr’ sound effect repeating over and over]

Her: “Computer says no.” (note, approximation)
Me: “Er, but if I go and draw out the cash from a cash machine and bring it here, it’ll be OK, yes?”
Her: “Yes. Something to do with the Bank Of England”
Me: “I see… I’ll be back in a minute, then”.

I walk no less than 50 yards to the cash machine, withdraw the appropriate funds, and walk back to Desk 11…

Me: “€300 please…”, I say with a little twinge of sarcasm in my voice, though I try not to overdo it, as I know it’s not the cashiers fault.

Without hesitation, the funds are retrieved from the drawer, and I end up with a wad of notes.

I can’t help but think, “LOL, WTF”. Can someone explain to me why I can’t exchange currency when paying from my own card, without having ID, yet exchange it from cash drawn out of a cash machine with exactly the same card? The only difference is that I’m entering my PIN number onto a different sodding keypad.

Off to get my shoes, then. Brantano is a good quarter of a mile away from the town centre, so a small walk was in order. It would also give Daddykins the time to get from where he was going, to the car park outside of said shop, where he arranged to meet me. I entered the shop, and after a good old browse, I elected for two pairs of size 10’s that looked reasonably comfortable. I approached the check out to be greeted with… nothing. There was NOBODY THERE. What the hell? I was stood there for at least 10 minutes. Nobody came. I even resorted to tactics such as staring at the CCTV camera and shrugging my shoulders in the off-chance that someone was watching it, and would come out and serve me. I almost even resorted to setting off the store detector alarm in the hope of getting someone to come and serve me. Although I’m sure this idea would have worked, I decided against it, and thought I’d just stick it out and see what turned up

Eventually, an “assistant” made her way down the store, and I eventually got served. Awesome.

Now, by this time, I was positive that Daddykins would be in the car park waiting for me. I arrive out the store, and look about.

No car. You have GOT to be kidding me.

At this point, you’d be thinking that it’d be a good idea to ring him up and let him know I was waiting. this would indeed be a good idea, unfortunately, my phone was sat at home, on the landing, on charge. How handy.

At this point, I was wondering what had happened. Could it be that Daddykins didn’t hear me correctly? I clearly said “Brantano”, but was he thinking of somewhere like Staples? TK Maxx perhaps? They’re all down there too, though the other side of the marina. I must have walked the entire car park twice. No sign of him.

Every car that entered the car park got my evil eye at some point, as I attempted to read the registration plates as they went past. None of these cars matched the description I was looking for.

After approximately 20 minutes of standing around twiddling my thumbs, hoping that messages had not been misunderstood, here comes Daddykins. He flashes his lights, and I once again sigh, shrugging my shoulders. This was surely a day of me getting pissed around. I enter the car and ask where he’d been.

“Oh, I gave you an hour, so I went to the marina and got some fish and chips. They were gorgeous”. Eventually, I had to ask him to be quiet about how nice they were, as he failed to get me any chips, and I was not particuarly amused about being kept waiting for god knows how long while he stuffed his face.

After an amazing plate of curry, admittedly cooked by Daddykins, and using a jar of curry sauce that we paid 4p for. It’s the cheapest price I’d paid since I was working at Sharwoods. And it was delicious.

Thursday night saw me at the club. I wore a pair of my new shoes in by having several games of snooker. It was one of those games where I didn’t do well, I just got very lucky. Thirteen-cushions-and-in-off-the-light types of shots. I’d not played for a month, so it was surprising I’d potted anything at all.

I got a lift home from Chris’s dad at the end of the night, and I retired to bed after a couple more cans. In fact, here I am arriving home…

Oh, OK yes, I only included that image because the streetlight at the bottom of the road is off again. Someone climbed up a few nights ago and stole the photocell from the top of it. Speaking of streetlights, I explained my undying “love” for streetlights. (for want of a better expression… after all, there are some people who just take their obsession too far). He found my interest a bit weird, butalso strangely fascinating. Apparently, he’s going to take photos of streetlights outside of his house and allow me to identify them. I doubt he’ll remember, but it would be an interesting experiment either way.

Ahem, moving on swiftly. Friday came like a bolt out of the blue, or rather grey, as all it has done all day is rain. Considering this is the summer, it’s been shit so far. Today was the day I concluded my holiday purchases. Thanks to Thursday’s prick-about, I never had chance to get my hair cut, so I went on Friday instead. I always go to the same barbers, Ian Taylors on Church Street. Unfortunately, Ian Taylor died a couple of years ago, so the shop front is currently being repainted, along with the sign sayign what it is. I almost walked right past it. Not a good advertisement.

After a haircut which technically I didn’t really need, but considering I was going away on holiday, hasd anyway, I headed off to Asda, in order to stock up on some food. Now, what’s odd is that I didn’t buy any beer, or anything for the holiday, yet still managed to spend over £30 on grub for myself.

I returned home, laid on the sofa, watched Countdown, and promptly fell asleep on the sofa, eventually waking up to hear the theme from Channel 4 News as it was finishing.

That was then, this is now, It’s now just after 1AM on Saturday morning. Considering I’m at work for the next few days, this may be the lat post I make before I go away…

At this point, I would like to introduce you to my twitter account. While I am away from my computer, I can keep you informed of shit from my mobile. I bet you can’t fucking wait.

Seriously, I would like to use it to keep track of my “small” movements. It will also give me a chance to use some of the 200 mobile text messages I get allocated each month, yet never use. I will not use it while I’m out of the country, however. You’ll just have to imagine I’m having a nice time. I’m sure you’ll receive a desperately thorough write-up of what went on when I get back, however.

Paris beckons. Auf Weidersehen!

Yesterday turned out great

My word. Considering I was claiming it was going to be a shit day, it actually went really good.

No sooner had I pressed “Send” on my previous post, Daddykins awoke, and came downstairs. Before I even had a chance to plead with him to take me somewhere, his first words uttered to me were “Get your shoes on”…

“…why? Where are we going?” I replied. It seemed a bit of an odd statement considering he’d only been awake a few minutes.

“Don’t know yet” was his reply.

I was shocked, and delighted. Me and Daddykins were going on a proper day out for the first time since at least 1997. Sure, we’d been places before, but not for a proper Father/son type thing. There had always been “complications”. OK, I’m sure it wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t got the new car, but I’ll not use that as an excuse. I’m sure my dad took me out because he loved me… yes, that must be the reason.

Needless to say, I took my camera. My dad must have had some idea where we were going, as we headed in the direction of the North Yorkshire Moors. Well, when I general, I mean DIRECTLY, even taking the necessary shortcuts Daddykins had picked up during his many years working around that area.

This narrowed it down to a few places… three, in fact. Whitby, Grosmont, or Goathland, the real-life village which is the setting for Heartbeat’s “Aidensfield”. Whitby was quickly ruled out, which is just as well, as it’s expensive, probably crowded, and there’s nowhere to park easily. I remember this from when we used to go to days out to Whitby as a child. We (being me, my mother, nanna, and any other freinds/relatives who tagged along) would get dropped off, then my dad used to disappear somwehre with the car, sometimes taking half an hour to return, after parking it in some obscure back lane for free.

So, Grosmont, or Goathland. I was indeed correct. Daddykins took one look at the parking situation in Grosmont, and thought “sod that”… I didn’t quite work out why, either the car park was full, or it was too expensive. Either way, we kept going, along the same road, through Grosmont, and onto Goathland. As we approached the centre of the village, our path was blocked by a policeman. Daddykins rolled the window down (or rather, pressed the button that brings the window down). and asked him what was going on…

“Oh, they’re just shooting a scene”, he replied. “Won’t take long… they’re averaging about 3 minutes per take”. Woooo! They were filming, there and then. I could hardly believe my luck. Daddykins got chatting to the copper.

“So, where’ve you came from?” The copper asked, to start conversation.
“Hartlepool… West View”, daddykins replied, quite correctly.
“Ohhh, West view Road?”, the copper replied.

Turns out that the guy’s grandparents lived on West View Road, near the Brus, and he used to eat in the (now demolished) Brus Cafe. What are the chances of that happening? It’s not quite as amazing as the time I stayed in a hotel on the Isle of Wight, and the owner knowing Eric Wilkie who used to drink in the Queens, and a good friend of mine and especially my dad. Even Coatesy knew him. Eric, you may remember, is whose front room I spewed up in on the Millenium night.

Er, anyway, I’ve swayed way off topic there. Back to Goathland. The take eventually finished, and we were free to go on our way, to the car park. It cost £2 to park up for the full day, which I consider entirely reasonable, though in previous visits, we parked for free on the edges of the road, but these are all now yellow-lined. Bugger. Either way, we parked up, and headed for the site of the filming…

Here’s one of the takes…

After I took this photo, I was told by some anonymous woman in a Hi-Vis jacket that I couldn’t take photos while they were recording. That, to me, doesn’t make much sense. 1) my camera is silent when taking photos, 2) I was in a public place.

I’ve always wondered how the law stands on such matters. I must admit, I was 100% compliant with her request – personally I just enjoyed watching the recording, and was happy in the knowledge that between takes, I could photograph what I wanted, most of it appearing very similar to what I could have shot during the takes – same people, same equipment, slightly different stance, maybe. It’s all a bit academic anyway, as I only took 6 photos while watching the filming. Ah well.

That was an added bonus to the day I wasn’t expecting in the first place.

We spent a big portion of the day at the train station, as they have steam trains there, and Daddykins loves them. As expected, the whole place is kept in a retro style, with old fashioned advertising placards dotted around.

The first thing we did when we got there was get some refreshments. Daddykins can’t function without his morning cup of coffee, and considering we’d went straight out, he never had chance to have it. I was surprised he’d went as long as he did without collapsing into a caffiene-deficiency related coma. Either way, we watched a total of 3 trains come in and out…

… each of them looking like that one. It’s a shame there’s only a few of these things running anymore, as they’re certainly impressive. And huge. And noisy.

During the wait between the trans approaching, we went for a walk up the side of the hill, which formed the valley that the station was in. Before you leave the station, however, was this gate…

Penalty for leaving the gate open, £2. I’m sure that this sign was added when two pounds was actually a lot of money, and actually a bit of a deterrent. Never mind though, as everyone who went through it did indeed close the gate. It wasn’t a hard walk, and the view for reaching the top was stunning

There was no mobile phone signal, however, even at the top of the big hill, which I was a little surprised about. I wasn’t planning to call anyone, it was merely an observation.

After we watched the trains, it was time to take a last walk around the village, and take in the scenery.Something which is clear with this place is that they will never need anyone to mow the lawns, as there’s sheep everywhere…

I thought it was great personally. Although this was a novelty for me, being an outsider, I could imagine that the residents would get really rather sick of their fluffy white prescense…

As this point, I went into Ye Olde Gift shoppe, and bought Daddykins a little momento of the day, as a thanks for the day out – another model car for his collection. 20 years ago, the roles would have been reversed – he’d have been the one buying ME the toy car, but he collects them. And he has a lot of them.

On the way back, I took more photos, and finally managed to get a decent shot of Roseberry Topping

And that was pretty much it. On the way home we went to the chippy, only to find that it was completely packed. Therefore, the day was completed with a trip to the Brus Chippy. The chips were very nice, if a little expensive, and a little unforgiving with the portions.

The full set of photos can be viewed here.