York City are magic! Magic!!

I thought I’d start off with a Lee and Herring quote, as I don’t think there’s enough of them in this blog. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if that one was my first one. Anyway, it does have some relevance, as I have spent the day in York. Needles toupé I took my camera.

Several days ago, Coatesy made a reappearance on the scene, it was a nice surprise to see him on Messenger. It was the first time I’d heard from him properly since February 12th, after a trip somewhere got abandoned at the last minute.

We got talking (unsurprisingly), and arranged a meet-up and a trip out, to York. This sounded cool. I’d never actually been to York since I was a kid. In fact, I remember getting some type of colouring in / crayon set from there the last time I was there. And Treasure Hunt was still on telly.

Er, anyway. The trip was arranged. I was to meet him at his flat on Saturday Morning at approximately 8:30AM. I awoke at 6AM. After spending the last two days awaiting a text saying that he wouldn’t be able to make it, I was surprised to find my phone void of texts. Awesome!

Anyhoo. I set off, along the moderately short walk from Mercuyvapour Towers to Coatesy’s abode. It was a lovely morning, if a little chilly. In fact, I turned back because I thought it’d be cold enough to require a jumper.

This apparel change, unfortunately made me three minutes late for the festivities, and I arrived on his doorstep at 8:33. He was ready to go, and after picking up a Wispa and a foreign bottle of Dr. Pepper (which smelled oddly of cheese) from the local shop, we headed off towards the train station.

I was surprised to see that the station at Hartlepol has been slightly revamped since my last trip on an English train six months ago. Yes, it’s all been redesigned, and it really doesn’t look right. The platform is still a pigeon and chav infested mess, however.

I am happy to report, however, is that one of the possible reasons that the station hasn’t been done up yet, is because the fares are so damn cheap. £9.60 retun to York. Bimler.

We sat on the platform, awaiting the train which would take us the first part of our journey, from Hartlepool to Thornaby. It’s a journey of approximately six metres. In fact, it hardly felt worth sitting down for it.

My memories of Thornaby station aren’t good. I simply remember a vast expanse of urine soaked tarmac and bricked flower beds which uncomfortably acted as the only decent and non-vandalised piece of seating. I’m happy to report that this is no longer the case. There is a station building, ticket office, proper seating, and even destination boards saying when the next trains are due. These weren’t there last time!

Coatesy informed me of some of the things he’s been getting up to recently, including meeting Ricky Tomlinson, and getting his autograph. Unfrotunately, he didn’t get the pleasure of meeting Duncan Norvelle who was also appearing with Ricky Tomlinson. According to Wikipedia, Duncan Norvelle now lives in Darfield, a place which I have visited, and had a very nice bag of chips at. You may also notice that I didn’t complete that post about Barnsley. Oops.

Er, anyway. Back onto the present day, and back to the trip to York. After a few minutes loitering around the Thornaby platform, the second train showed up. A big, purple, comfortable looking train, manufactured by Siemens.

We picked two of the only seats available, sat facing some odd couple. It was not possible to look forward without staring them in the eye. I think I know every detail about the train carpet, walls, seat design, yet I wouldn’t be able to pick the guy who was sat in front of me for the hour-long journey from a police lineup.

The journey passed pretty quickly, thanks to the playing of the golf game on my mobile with Coatesy, and also the reintroduction of posting stuff to my twitter account.

We arrived at the station, just before 11. The first thing I noticed was… OLD STREETLIGHTS. Oh, man. I was in my element. More on those later, as I’m sure you’ll all be gripped in hearing about those.

It was at this point I whipped out of the camera, and began to take photos…

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Yes, I was taking a photo of the streetlight. The Yorkshire wheel is just a bit of an added bonus. Speaking of which, we did go up onto the wheel. And it was great. Whilst up there, Chris rang me to see what I was up to.

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I informed him that the trip had gone ahread, and we were indeed in York.

The ride lasts only 13 minutes (according to their website), so at £6.50 it was a bit expensive, but the views, as you can imagine, are stunning. Should you ever go, we were in car number 22. Just so you know that I have breathed in that very same car… oh, and the air conditioning doesn’t work in it. It’s supposed to be lovely and cool. It was more like an oven. This is one of the reasons I look like a beetroot in the above picture. That, and the fact I may have had the saturation setting up too high on the camera….

So, it was time for a quick look at the railway museum. This place is vast, and I’m pretty sure we didn’t get to see it all during our trip round there.

Now, for all of you going there to see the Flying Scotsman, well, you’ll be a bit disappointed. It’s in bits.

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Of course, if you LIKE to see old steam engines in bits, then I’m sure you’ll be happy with the sight.

So, after another quick look round, we headed out of the museum and down the road towards York Mister. It was one of the reasons I wanted to go to York. Last time I was there, I wasn’t old enough to appreciate it, but I still remember shots of it burning down on the news.

Before we went there, we stopped off for some food. I opted for a pair of sausage rolls, whilst Mr. Coates disappeared up the road for a Subway. We walked along to a shady little square situated at the end of The Shambles to consume our food products.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a market. Now, these things normally mean one of two things… records and lots of cheap fruit. You’ll have to work out for yourself which one of those I’m more interested in. I didn’t really come to buy records, and even though I found a stall that sold records, I couldn’t really buy any. It was still early in the day, and although I was sorely tempted to buy one, I held off the temptation. After all, lugging records around on a day out really isn’t something worth doing.

Next stop was York Minster. This place is immense in every sense of the world. One thing I found really interesting was a “busker”, for want of a better word, sat outside, playing something called an autoharp.

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I see that the guy is called Paul Jennison (or at least that’s the names on the CDs he is selling) but unfortunately, Mr. Jennison doesn’t have much of a web prescense, unless I’m just searching for the wrong things.

Onto the Minster itself, then. As I said before, this is one of those places that is just immense.

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Remember my rant about Notre Dame being handed over to the gawking tourists, with camera flashes going off every six seconds? Well, I am happy to report that this place has got it right… You have to “buy” the ability to take photos. This means that your average Little Miss Snapalot will think twice about leaving her camera with full flash on, because you have to pay for the privelege! An awesome idea.

The full price for everything (that includes, photo rights, entrance to the tower, entrance to the lower levels) costs something like £9. Now, because there was a private wedding going on (seriously, a wedding in York Minster? How much money do these people have?), we got a discount, so the cost was £7.50. Unfortunately, we were unable to gatecrash the wedding, but I’m sure that Husband and Wife will have a happy three months together before it all ends up getting shat up the wall. Not that I’m cynical about marriage, or anything.

Our first stop was the tower. We thought it was probably best to get the excersise out of the way first of all. There’s a narrow 275-step climb up to the top of the tower. It’s the first time I’ve ever visited a church and had a health and safety warning, and been asked to declare that I didn’t have a list of diseases longer than my arm…

This now ranks third in the “most steps I’ve climbed in one go”. The top three looks as follows…

1. April 14th 2007 – Scott Monument, Edinburgh… 287 steps
2. July 17th 2008 – Arc De Triomphe, Paris… 284 steps
3. September 27th 2008 – York Minster… 275 steps

The walkway for the Minster is almost as thin as the Scott Monument, but not quite. You do also get the chance half way up for a nice view…

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This was, however, only 108 steps into the journey. There was still a hundred and a bit to go. No mater how much I liked the view right there, it could only get better the more we got up. And if I’d have just stood there taking photos on a very narrow gangway, I’d have held everyone up.

Another very narrow corridor and set of stairs later, we arrived at the roof, and I’m sure you’ll agree that the views were absolutely stunning…

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I mean, have YOU ever seen a CCTV camera that size before? I couldn’t BELIEVE it.

After eight minutes on the roof, we were ushered back down by a woman who seemed eager to get everyone down as quickly as possible. It became quite clear why. By the time we’d got downstairs, the queue was pretty much round the block. Talk about good timing, we only had to wait a few minutes, whereas the people in the queue… well, they’re probably stil there now…

We took a further look around the Minster, including taking in all of the sights of the underground section. This was a particularly interesting section, as you get to see all of the medieval / Roman stuff. It was amazing how it was preserved.

After that, we took one last walk around the minster itself before leaving it and heading towards the arrays if shops. At this point, I was gasping for a drink. The climb up and down those narrow stairs certainly took its toll on my body’s fluid reserves, and before I knew it, I was in a little paper shop buying a nice bottle of Ribena. This is one particular drink I have started to like again, despite not drinking it for approximately 10 years.

At this point, we decided to have a look at the boat trips. There’s a nice boat trip which takes you all they way up the river Ouse to the Tate + Lyle factory, and all the way back round again. When we got there, it was quite clear that the nice weather had influenced the entire population of Yorkshire to come out and have exactly the same idea as us – the queue was about half a mile long. It became apparent that we weren’t going to get on the next boat trip, and we wouldn’t have time to get on the one after that, so we just headed back to the station in order to get the next train. Unfortunately, Coatesy had to attend his place of Employment on the night.

Now would be a good time to mention that his old job involved the manufacture of many things including streetlights, and he could confirm that the Thorn Beta 79 ceased manufacture only a few months ago. Shame. It seemed odd that we were having a conversation about streetlights.

Oh, and I also think that now would be a good idea to copy and paste some links to the streetlight photos I mentioned umpteen paragraphs ago.

To start us off, here’s an example of an extremely rare Thorn Beta 9, gear-in-head…

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I think it’s probably the only one I’ve seen in my entire life, so that was a nice surprise. I originally got the name of this lantern completey wrong. Bah!

Secondly, there’s this one…

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It’s been identified as a “Thorn Grenville” floodlight. Oddly, if you google that, the only thing that comes up (apart from something about family names) is the reply to my request for identification in the StreetlightingUK group.

After heading back to the station, we nipped into WH Smiths. I was still dying of thirst, mainly because my clothing apparel consisted of black items, and considering this was one of the nicest days of the year, I was sweating buckets. I picked up a bottle of water, Coatesy picked up a paper.

We sat on the platform and watched a train undergo some emergency maintainence. Apparently, one of the doors had jammed, so I whiled away the few minutes watching them trying to fix the doors. I never found out of they managed it because our train arrived shortly after. Again, it was very similar to the one we’d got down there. Nice and comfortable.

After a short while, we were back in Thornaby. Now, it said that the 16:37 train to Carlisle (via Hartlepool) was cancelled, but the following screen said it was still running… how odd. Luckily, the ticket office was still open, so we thought it would be best to check. Coatesy volunteered to ask, and I wasn’t going to argue with that

Now, the oddest thing happened in the queue in front of us. Apparently, some old woman had just got a free ride from Northallerton to Thornaby, as nobody had came around to sell her a ticket. Fair enough, you might think. She’d just walk away with a couple of extra quid in her pocket… no.

She was demanding that she should be charged for this journey. The guy behind the counter looked about as confused as I did. Huh? She’s just got something for nothing because someone clearly wasn’t doing their job correctly, and she feels like she should be the one to cough up?

Eventually, the guy printed her a ticket out, she paid for it…

Guy: “Shall I just bin this?”
Her: “Well, it’s no use to me now, is it?”

Miserable old goat. I bet she’s the type of person that leaves your average customer service rep with a nervous tick.

However, there was still the matter of the cancelled train. Was it cancelled or not? After Ms Moneybags fucked off, it was Coatesy’s turn in the queue. The guy explained that they were testing out a new system, and the train WAS running. Hang on, surely if you’re testing out a new system, the information you give out on it should be ACCURATE? Otherwise, what’s the point of actually redoing the system?

At 16:37 and 2 seconds, the train pulled into the station, We boarded, and took the short journey from Thornaby to Hartlepool, taking in the wonderful sights such as the abandoned Cerebos factory and the various waste disposal sites. During this journey, I attempted to get Daddykins to pick me up from the station. He was cooking the tea, so he suggested I get a taxi and he’d pay for it. Awesome.

Coatesy and I went our separate ways, and I becan the mammoth task of uploading all of the photos, and eventually typing this blog.

All in all, an excellent day, and it has became apparent that if I am going to use this camera properly, I’ll need more than just a 2Gb memory card… all of the photos here!

I bet you thought I’d got lost…

You know, it’s always the same, I have a big long spell of blogging, and then I don’t do anything for two weeks. Oops. This wasn’t intended, but it seems I did the same last year, after the dizzying heights of the Berlin trip. Oh well.

Even for a British summer, the weather has been truly appaling. There hasn’t a day gone by where it’s not absolutely hoyed down at some point, or been so dull that it’s not even worth sticking your foot out of the door, never mind going around and doing stuff. Ever since I’ve came back from Paris, I have had absolutely nothing to look forward to… I tried to change this by arranging a trip to Countdown for me and Chris, but seeing as he has no holidays left, this has fallen through, leaving me once again, staring to the inky void, where the only light at the end of the tunnel is the reflection from the bottom of a beer glass. Even worse, is that it would have been my last chance to see it under its current guise.

On a lighter, and much happier note, Wayne has finally got back in touch after 18 months of being silent!! Unfortunately, he missed all of the email I’d sent to him in this time, thanks to NTL/Virgin’s policy of only keeping email on their servers for 90 days, but at least he’s still alive! Coatesy, however, is still radio-silent, and it’s looking less likely that he’ll ever get back in touch.

Christ, this is an amusing entry isn’t it? Laugh-a-bloody-minute.

To make things worse, morale at Employment Palace has hit an all time low. Once again, I can’t go into details, mainly because I’ll end up putting my fist through the monitor. This has depressed me more than anything, I think.

On another note, I’m an organ donor. Or rather, I’ve been for months, but I never bothered mentioning it before. I’m only metioning it now, because I’ve just found an old registration form I meant to send off, but never did. On the back of it, it states “Discuss your wishes with those closest to you, so they know your wishes should the time ever come… I’m sorry, I know whatthey mean, but surely that’s the worst way of putting it, ever? What do they mean by “should”? Do they suddently think I’m immortal, or something?

Ahem. On the subject of death, another reason I’ve not been updating much is the “dying” of Beastbits, my main machine… You may remember a few months ago, the 250Gb drive I had, started clicking, going all weird and just not working in general? Well, I replaced it with a 500Gb drive. And that’s on the way out too. It began with The Click of Death.

Eventually, strange things started happening The drive would disappear from Windows completely, and today, during the reboot, in the BIOS detection it wouldn’t reappear. Nasty. I decided the drive was duff. My curiousity got the better of me, and after a physical power-off, it reappeared.

Now, something was up, and I decided to back everything up to an external HDD. During ther copying process, it halted with a CRC error. Not good. Files were on the bad sectors! Oooooo!

I happened to note the name mentally of the corrupt file. Thankfully, it was just an outdated SQL dump I’ve done from my website, and wasn’t of much use anyway. The rest of the backup passed without a hitch. Everything else copied. For a bit of mirth, I decided to copy the original file I’d had a problem with. It copied first time. To me, this began to sound like something more “logical” than physical.

Soooo, I powered up “Darik’s Boot And Nuke”. I had used this in the past to “fix” the bad sectors on the earlier faulty drive I mentioned. Anyway. I started it on this drive, and it failed. It quit with an error saying that the drive may have bad sectors. Duh.

Fair enough, this wasn’t playing ball, so I grabbed the diagnostic software from the Samsung website. I wasn’t expecting miracles. Still, I ran it, and there they were, the bad sectors…

Goosed.

Fair enough, at least they were official.

I wasted at least 3 hours of my finite time on this planet allowing the disk check to finish. It prompted me to perform a disk erase. Meh. All backed up. It can’t do any harm. After all, these sectors were goosed, so another few hours later, the entire hard drive was erased, and I ran another diagnostic check Now, thanks to that photo, I had the exact location the bad blocks. Imagine my surprise as it skipped over them without a single bit of hesitation.

OK, so unbelievably, the drive was back to its normal self. All of this took place on Monday night, so I formatted the drive while I was at work on Tuesday. I returned home, and copied all of the stuff from the external backup drive onto it. And, tonight (Friday), it has gone back to the original problem of the click of death. Joy!

In a thread on Glens’ forum, I mentioned my problems, and although Crag has a very valid point, it’s still a 100% failure rate. And, I can’t even send it back either, because the only way it will detect bad sectors is obviously after the disk has been in use for a few days after an erase, which means there has to be data on it. And, seeing as I know the sort of ahem… “data” I keep on it, I’d rather not let it out of my sight!

Paris, Day 8… the journey home

So, this was it. My alarm woke me up dead-on-time. 6AM. I double-checked and triple-checked the list of items I was taking home. All of the packing was taken care of, and at precisely eight minutes past 6, I knocked on C+J’s door to make sure they were awake.

They were indeed, and the last precautions were taken care of. At 6:47, I took one last image of my hotel room, and locked the door behind me for the final time.

The phoe rang, and the shuttle was ready to pick us up. We made our final descent in the lift, and was greeted with a battered old tranny van, already packed with American tourists, and complete with a cracked windscreen that looked as if it was about to give way any second. In fact, this shot sums up the state of the windscreen.

See that blurry line? That’s the crack in the windscreen.

The driver, some random Japanese guy could only speak about three words of English, and considering he spoke these badly, this was going to be a fun journey. Firstly, he wanted to know what terminal we wanted… now this was easy. Terminal 2E, for the flight at 10:40 to Newcastle.

“Nono, look in the book”, he said in an accent which resembled something ripped directly from an episode of the now defunct play-along game show “Banzai”. He handed Jonathan a tatty timetable. the closest he could find was the flight at 10:20, from Terminal 2F.

Fair enough, clearly this driver knows what he was taking about. after all, judging by the state of the van, he must have been doing this for some time.

The seemingly disgruntled Americans departed at their appropriate terminals, while we strained our necks to make sure our bags were still on board. Now, imagine this. if your seat folds down to allow the passengers getting off to exit the vehicle, the normal thing to do would be to get out of the van, and allow the seat to be pushed forward?

Yes, that’s exactly what I thought too. I attempted to get up, this crazy driver said “Nono, you stay there”, and began to push the back of the chair forward so the Americans can get off, while I was still sat in it, now bent double. What the hell? Why couldn’t I have just vacated my seat temporarily?

So, after ignoring the advice given on the OFFICIAL ITINERARY OF OUR BLOODY HOLIDAY, we arrived at Terminal 2F. Amusingly, the driver also demanded that we give him a tip. Before I could say “Yes, here’s a tip, get your windscreen fixed”, Jonathan handed him a €5 note, and he happily went on his way, whilst we were just left in shock and awe at the most catastrophic journey in the whole history of airport shuttles.

We arrived at the airport in very good time. In fact, a bit too good, as our flight wasn’t even listed on the boards. We were left kicking our heels around Terminal 2F for a good half an hour, waiting for our flght to appear on the boards. With almost a sense of inevitibility, the flight appeared, and yes, we were indeed at the wrong terminal! Terminal 2E was our terminal, therefore we had to make our way over there. I had predicted this would happen, so I wasn’t too phased. Jonathan, however, appeared to be spitting blood at this point.

We reached the approprate gate, and waited in a mile long queue. Joy. Someone came over and checked our passports, Apparently, the queue was for US passngers flying out of the EU, and we didn’t really need to wait in the queue.

Therefore, we were shown out of the queue. “Go ahead, you can use the self check-in desk”.

We approached the machines. No less than five seconds after leaving the queue, we got stopped by some jobsworth… “Excuse me, but you cannot use these…”

I butted in at this point, and in the most patronising voice possible, I expained.

“WE ARE GOING TO ENGLAND. THAT GENTLEMAN INSPECTING THE PASSPORTS HAS TOLD US THAT WE CAN USE THE SELF CHECK-IN”.

Before that statement sank in to Jobsworth’s feeble little mind, we were approached by a friendlier member of staff who inspected our itinerary, and agreed that we could self check-in.

Jesus Christ. More sodding automated computerisation.

She showed us how to use it. Thankfully, this one was a piece of piss, thanks to the fact that the machines we used actually worked, unlike the ones back in Newcastle. Within seconds, our seats were allocated, we had our boarding passes, and our hold luggage quickly disappeared once again into the unknown. Cool.

We went to the appropriate gate. Again, there was a queue about a mile long. and again, we were told to join a shorter queue. Of course, I didn’t know this, and while Chris appeared to be wandering off, he was actually going in the right direction.

And once again, we were approached by *another* jobsworth who didn’t quite know what he was doing. I don’t even remembering acknowledging him, I just suddenly took notice of some argument going on, along with some French guy shouting “Merde” very loudly, and continued following Chris.

Once again, we were submitted to the humiliation of Customs. Well, I say humiliation, I passed through cleanly. So did Chris. Jonathan, however was not so lucky. He returned, shoes in hand, with a grimace that looked like he’d accidentally chewed on a tube of superglue. Let’s hope he didn’t get the “rubber glove” treatment.

Thankfully, that was going to be it for the searches. It was time to hit the duty free. I was impressed at the sight of a Virgin Megastore. Therefore, while C+J hit the booze shop, I went there.

And within 34 seconds, I was back outside of it. Megastore? Bollocks! It was absolutely tiny, and the choice of music on offer was laughable. Bugger. I caught up with C+J again, and continued to browse the duty free shops. There is an appalingly small selection at CDG airport. Annoyingly, there wasn’t even any type of bar to while away the hours. Instead, we just walked around the poor selection of duty free shops. Naturally, I stocked up on cola bottles. They taste so much better than the ones in the UK.

So, after walking around a bit, we eventually found a cafe type place. I wasn’t hungry, but instead settled for an Orangina, which cost me a cool €3.50. My word.

I amused myself by checking some of the error messages on the broken advertisement displays. Even these weren’t remotely interesting. all they were was the time, an IP address, and some code number. The rest of the time, I was wondering whether the airport lounge was lit by Philips QL lamps. No seriously, this is how boring waiting for a plane can get.

Eventually, after what felt like an age, we made our way downstairs to the appropriate gate for our plane. Well, I say plane, I actually meant bus.

A bus would take us from the terminal building to the location of where our plane was taking off. Now, you remember the boarding pass we printed out only a few hours before? It was useless. Absolutely useless. It got scanned in, by the desk at the gate, and a NEW boarding pass flew out of the machine. Apparently, the plane that was going to take us back… er, wasn’t. Therefore, all of the seat numbers had changed. I don’t know, and obviously will not know the reason for the change in plane.

At this point, I didn’t expect any delay, so I phoned Daddykins and let him know everything appeared to be in order.

We were then kept on the bus for what felt like a fortnight. Obviously, there was always going to be a bit of waiting to do, but personally, the less of it I did, the better. I’d been awake 5 hours by this point, and hadn’t done a single thing. It felt like such a waste. Still, we’d be gaining an hour when we landed in Blighty, so it wasn’t too bad.

The bus circled through the airport, slamming the brakes on for every single little thing that happened to cross its path, meaning that the unlucky ones who were standing up got thrown forward. Luckily, I got a seat, and wasn’t going to give it up for anyone.

We left the bus, and climbed on the plane. Now, this plane was brand new. According to the brochure stuffed in the back of the seat, it was only a few months old, and it actually smelled like it. All of the seats were leather, there were entertainment units in the back of the seats (sadly not powered on for such a small journey) and the whole thing was immensely immaculate.

Unfortunately, we were kept waiting once again, and by this time were roughly 45 minutes late. I was sure Daddykins would have been waiting in Newcastle by this point.

Now, this is where Daddykins used a bit of ingenuity (probably spelled wrong) that I didn’t expect from him. He had used the trip to Newcastle airport to kill two birds with one stone. He had an errand to run, and also had to pick me up. So, he went and did the errand, and after completing said errand, he sent me a text message.

At this point, it was likely I was still sat on the tarmac in France, with my phone switched off…

Daddykins knew that the first thing I’d do after we landed was switch my phone back on.

Anyway, after what felt like an absolute age, we were making our way around the airport whilst being sat in the plane. Eventually, we got told to prepare for take-off. And off we went. The plane left the tarmac, and I was prepared for the whole spectacle of flight.

It was the first time I’d flown on a relatively clear day, and I’d bargained with Jonathan and Chris to get the window seat. It was awesome. Words can’t describe it.

Pictures, however, can. This was my 6th flight, and the first proper one where I’d actually managed to remember to take my camera out of my hand luggage before getting on the plane.

I think overall, I took 80 photos just out of the plane window. I’m overjoyed that I was able to document it.

Coming into land was my favourite part. We flew over Whitley Bay. I was able to point out to Chris.. “Look! That’s what’s left of the Spanish City!”. Very little, by the way.

We kept getting lower and lower, until we eventually touched down at Newcastle airport. Obviously, as previously mentioned, I switched my phone on, and the text message Daddykins sent was delivered. This meant that he knew we were close. I rang him as well, just to inform him of the safe landing, and the fact we were about to collect our bags. We were to meet him on the outskirts of the airport, as he was NOT going to get stung for those extortionate charges like last year…

Within minutes, we were hurling down the A1, back towards Hartlepool. Our holiday was well and truly over, and unbelievably, there was no major disaster. All luggage was intact, and not stained.

C+J got dropped off at their abode, I returned back to Mercuryvapour towers, expecting to be slobbered to death by two dogs who hadn’t seen me for a week. Instead no, they just slobbered over Daddykins, while gesturing that they wanted to go out. Bah.

So, all in all, Paris is a very nice place. Most side streets and the metro smell of piss, the beer is extorionate, the view from the top of the EIffel tower is amazing, the french can’t drive for Toffee, the most popular car is the renault Twingo, the pigeons look even stupider, and I have been informed by Marko who occasionally leaves comments on this site that Lidl’s do own-brand cherry Jaffa cakes…

This is now the end of the 15,352 word essay. If you want to find out more, you can check out all of the pictures I took here:-

Paris Day 1
Paris Day 2
Paris Day 3
Paris Day 4
Paris Day 5
Paris Day 6
Paris Day 7
Paris Day 8

I might stick sections of the video I took on Youtube in the coming days, but as far as the blogging and photos go, that’s your lot! Normal service, about how much I hate work and dull crap like that will return shortly

Paris Day 6… Visiting The Dead

With only two full days to go, it was time to hammer the metro and get as much seen in the next 48 hours as humanely possible.

The day started with Breakfast once again. Now, let me just explain about the breakfast. You’ve seen me mention it many times, but I’ve yet to explain in great detail what it consists of. And, seeing as we’re in our penultimate full day, I might as well tell you.

Just over the junction from the hotel was a lovely little eaterie called La Terrasse. You may have noticed I’d mentioned it a few days ago, when discussing Chicken Brochettes. Anyway, this was our chosen breakfast spot too. For €8.50, you get the Fench Breakfast, consisting of half a baguette, crossiant, (including jam / marmalade if required) orange juice and hot drink of your choice. It really is a perfect way to start the day, even if it is a little expensive. I’m considering taking it up as part of my daily ritual. It surpassed the breakfast we had in Berlin by some considerable margain.

Before I’d gone away, I’d been informed of a few must-see places. These mainly involved around dead people. The two places that immediately sprang to mind were Jim Morrison, and the Catacombs. But seeing as Bastille Day had been on 14th July, we thought that we might as well go and see Bastille to start the day off. After all it, was on the Metro Map, and considering we knew how to use the Metro now, there was no harm in giving it a quick try out on a lovely Sunday morning.

Tickets were purchased, thanks to the machine on the Ecole Militaire platform. Once again, we entered through the automatic gates, and awaited our train. There was rarely a wait longer than 5 minutes for every train we waited for. This was ideal.

So, after swapping trains, we reached Bastille, expecting something immense like what we’d seen the day before in Le Grande Arche. So, as we exited the Metro station, our collective thoughts were…. um, is this it?

Considering Bastille Day is so widely celebrated, we expected to find more than an admittedly large statue, and something that may, or may have not been some type of ticket office.

The ticket office isn’t featured in that picture, before you question me! In fact, after a quick Wiki, I was right about the ticket office. It was indeed a ticket office, for the Opera Bastille, and that structure you see before you in that photo is known as the July Column.

We took a walk about, considering it was a stupidly hot day. We walked past Bastille itself. Or at least I think we did. All of the historical point of interest signs were in French, and Google Maps wasn’t much help.

We ended up by the side of the river again, and I broke out the camcorder for the last time in this particualr holday, meaning that the tapes I’d bought from the Louvre were completely useless. They’re still sat in my suitcase, wrapped in their cellophane. Ah well. They’ll do for next year.

After deciding there was little to see or do here, we headed back to the hotel in order to pick up my Lonely Planet guide, and also so that I could use the “room facilities”.

I began to read the section on graveyards in my little book, knowing that Jim Morrison’s grave was somewhere in Paris, and thanks to the Metro map given in the afore mentioned guide, we pinpointed it to the exact location. Within minutes, we were back in the metro station, buying tickets to feed through the machine. I bought two, as I understood that we would need to return. C+J only bought one.

Once again, the metro trip was like one of those things where your brain switches off, waking up every few minutes to see which station you’ve stopped at. As expected, the correct station was located, and we exited the urine soaked rat-tunnels.

The Père Lachaise Cemetery was just over the road, so we negotaited the traffic, and entered through the most unstable steps I’ve ever seen.

Now, over here, graveyards are roughly the size of postage stamps. Tiny little things with 3-foot high headstones, where you can easily see from one side of the graveyard to another This wasn’t the case here. This graveyard consists pretty much entirely of huge crypts where whole families are laid to rest. I guess “burial real estate” is at a premium in this particular capital city. According to my handy little guidebook, there are roughly 1,000,000 people buried here. There are maps on the entrances and exits, but the whole place is still confusing. Everything is split into divisions and roads, of which there are about 90.

After walking about for about half an hour, with not a clue where Jim Morrison’s grave was, we consulted one of these maps. It wasn’t much help. Another half an hour later, we eventually found it! And it’s very, very small.

For someone with the status of Jim Morrison, I was expecting one of the large monuments to be his grave. Nope. In fact, this is it…

At this point, my phone rang for the first time on the entire holiday. It was Daddykins, wanting to know what time we were arriving back in Newcastle on Tuesday. It felt weird saying “Can’t talk now Dad, I’m at Jim Morrison’s grave”… In fact, walking around a graveyard with a camera felt really weird anyway.

Aother person buried in the same cemetary is Oscar Wilde. As you’d expect, however, his grave is a little more… erm… “impressive”. Covered with lipstick, with little poems left on it.

There’s a story about this paricular gravestone. Now, the angle I was stood at when I took this photo makes it hard to tell, but the large angel on the gravestone was once complete with a full set of male genitals, which were lopped off at some point and used as a paperweight in the cemetary office.

It occured to me that both of these foreign trips we’d made have had unintentional links to Oscar Wilde… In Berlin, there was the Oscar Wilde Irish Bar, and here we were, standing outside his grave. Ironically, his grave was busier than what the bar in Berlin was.

Edith Piaf’s grave was also there, again for someone so famous, hers was almost unnoticeable. in fact, I wouldn’t have seen it if an american tourist hadn’t said “Gee, look, Maw! It’s Edith Pee-aff’s grave!” (They didn’t really say that, did they? – Ed)

Um, no.

There was one grave which wasn’t mentioned on the map, but I would have liked to see… the grave of Gilbert Becaud. You may remember I mentioned him yesterday, and even purchased one of his CDs. I knew he had died, but it wasn’t until I got home I found out that he was buried in that very cemetary. I might have even walked past it without knowing. Bah!

After walking around the cemetary for what must have been two hours, we began to head off for something to eat and drink, eventually settling for a little café a few hundred yards from the cemetary. Something I did notice about Paris, despite most of the shops being closed on Sundays, the butchers were still open. This is obviously the complete opposite of here.

Anyway, this particular café was the only one where we actually needed to speak French, as the owner didn’t speak a word of english (alledgedly). For fear of ordering something completely different than what I wanted, I just stuck to a drink, while C+J went for a sandwich of some description. We ate and drank up, and now it was my time to shine. The only French I’d managed to learn in my entire time there was how to ask for the bill…

“Le addition, sil yous plait”.

The whole bill came to €15, or something like that.

So, we headed back to the metro station, only to find that the stop we got off at was unmanned, and therefore, you needed a ticket to get back in. That was fine for me, obviously, as I’d bought two, but for C+J, who only bought one (and used it up), it was a bit of a problem. therefore, we had to get on via another nearby station. Thankfully, this didn’t alter things too much, and we quickly found the way back to the hotel.

By this time, we’d left it a bit late to visit the catacombs, as by the time we’d have got there, it would probably have been closed. Instead, we decided to stay closer to home and take a quick look around Hotel Invalides. You may remember this as the impressive structure we walked past on the first day, and also took photos of on the 2nd day.

It looked even more stunning in the sunshine. We entered the main complex, and after only a few photos of cannons, we were informed by the security guard that they were closing tonight, and to make our way to the nearest “sortie”. Fair enough, at least we knew where the place was.

It was 7PM at this point (it felt much earlier if I’m honest), so we continued to have a bit of a walk. We even retraced our steps of the first day, and our agonisingly long journey through the back streets in entirely the wrong direction. Obviously, this time it was a little more relaxed, as we weren’t carrying half-ton bags with us.

There was a camera crew in the area outside the “national assembly”. Don’t know what they were about to record / broadcast, but I’d hazard a guess at a news report of some kind…

We walked towards the Invalides metro station, where we got off on the first day, just to have a bit of a look round, and see if we can pinpoint exactly where we went wrong on the first day, and where we should have gone. We also took a walk towards some buildings that looked interesting. At this point, I don’t think the other two were that keen on going any further, but meh! I wanted photies, and photies I got.

Suddenly, as we got up close to them, they began to look very familar. It became apparent that we were at exactly the same spot where the 90-minute boat trip dropped us off at a few days before. Aaargh. It became apparent just how much of a waste of time that particular boat trip was!

Anyway, with my photo bug satisfied for the night, we began to head off for something to eat. We were going to try another one of the cafés near the hotel, only to find that we should have checked the prices and the menu… this means we had a little bit of a walk to see if we could find anywhere to eat, before eventually settling for La Terrasse again. I had the chicken brochette again, as it was really nice, C+J had a burger each.

By the time we’d finished, it was getting late, and we left La Terrasse at 10:15PM. We gave up completely on trying to find somewhere reasonable to have a cheap beer, so therefore headed back to the hotel and had a relatively early night. With only one day to go, I didn’t want to spend the whole day packing, so I forced everything in my suitcase apart from the bare essentials.

I then spent the next hour in the bath. It was glorious. But what was even better was the shower. I normally don’t like showers. I prefer long hot soaks, but this particular one had some type of healing quality on a body which must have walked the length of a marathon in the previous six days.

With the majority of my stuff packed away, I was ready for my final full day in Paris, expecially looking forward to seeing the catacombs…

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…