Grant McWilliams

Travel Trip Journals

Journals

Trip journals are trip specific blogs. That is a blog about a specific trip that I've taken. I have them ordered first item first which is backward from a typical blog because it makes it easier to read about the trip from start to finish. Granted that also makes it more difficult to read the latest news when I'm on vacation because the most recent entry (the last one) will be last. But, since most people don't actually get around to reading the Trip Journal until after I'm back I think that will be ok.

Also there's a ton of them missing, this article will explain why.

Goodbye Toulouse

Class is done.... We pack up our bags and head for the train station for Paris. We're going to Paris because Toulouse just doesn't do it for us and we're meeting a FB friend there for dinner. We were supposed to ship a box home to lighten our load but never go to it. Our bags are the most stuffed they've ever been. In addition we have a dirty clothes bag that makes me feel a bit like Santa Claus when it's thrown over my shoulder. Santa Claus delivering dirty clothes... We bought our tickets online and arrive at the train station to find out that it's an online only ticket and we can't retrieve printed ones at the station. We're told that we need to print them which isn't possible considering that we don't have a printer. After a quick search we find an internet cafe with a printer and we print our train tickets. Our tickets cost 80 Euros rount trip for first class for an overnight train. Natalya and I both last about 30 minutes on the train before we fall asleep. My next memory is of the train sitting in Bordeaux for a while before resuming. I remember nothing else. Our plan for Paris is to see the Renoir exhibit at the Grande Palais and meet up with Amber and her boyfriend for dinner. We have no reservations but I'm not worried.

Add a comment

Dinner party

Two Americans, a Moroccan, one Ukrainian, a Korean, eight Frenchmen and three Indians and a Brit enter a bar.... Sounds like the beginning to a joke. The class is having dinner together tonight. I've been riding the metro to work but got a ride home. Including my walking time it takes me about 28 minutes to get to work. Driving it took 45. Something tells me that driving isn't the solution. Dinner was in a small hole in the wall and was a great deal of fun. The French do things differently because dinner took over 4 hrs. There was a lot of mixed language conversations with half taking place in French and the other half in English. One Frenchman decided to pretend he couldn't speak French to the waitress, another accidentally broke a wine glass and then while trying to show how he did it broke another two. The waitress was not impressed but the rest of us were rolling on the floor. The food was good and the company was great. We got to see the inner workings of how other cultures live. This I'm thankful for. I'll have a video up later. We drug ourselves back into the hotel at 1am. Unfortunately the Hotel Albert was booked so Natalya moved us to the hotel Capitole during the day. The Hotel Capitole isn't as nice as Albert but still head over heals nicer than Hotel Junior. Tomorrow is the last day of class. The Parisians decide to go to a bar after dinner. I never see them again.

Add a comment

More work

Albert 1er is definitely the nicest place we've stayed. The wifi started working and best off all it's just a hop, skip and a jump from the Capitole metro station that I use to get to work. The Metro proves to be an incredibly efficient way to get around. The class is coming around with my only female student providing enough wonderful smiles to go around. All of them are quite sharp and if we can get past the communication issues I think we'll do great.


We tried a restaurant near Place Victor Hugo and the food was average but cost more than that. I wasn't impressed.

Add a comment

Hump day

Class went well but the wonderful smiles are now gone. I don't claim to possess to know enough about people to know why. I continue to struggle with not having enough equipment to actually teach a great class. A side note: they serve wine at the company cafeteria like it was punch. We returned to La Florida to eat Foie Gras since it's proven to be the best. Natalya's yes droop and her mouth rises when she has it. Most of my day is spent teaching, then most of my night is spent getting ready for class

Add a comment

Work, work work

Today I went to work.... Pretty boring eh? Actually not so much. After leaving Hotel Junior and walking to the metro station I realized that I don't have the actual company address. I tried connecting to multiple INTERNET access points to get it but failed. At some point I was out of time and just decided to find it based on memory of the email I received. I've still not heard back from them on what time the class starts. Actually I've never been gien a security badge either. What choice did I have but to just go to where I thought it was and look around? I took the metro which was awesome and only took 10 minutes to get across town. I exited the Metro station and instantly was dropped into Lebanon or so it seamed. My immediate thought was "where in the world have they put this training room?". The answer to that I didn't know....

I remembered on Google maps a roundabout so I walked until I found one. I also remembered that the street was named after an American General. The roundabout listed an Avenue General Eisenhower so that was good enough for me. A ten minute walk later and I still can't find the company. I asked a security guard and he pointed down the street, said about 3 chapters worth of stuff in French (none of which I followed) and drew a square in the sky followed quickly by the company name. I figured he meant there was a sign so I took off walking. Another 10 minutes later I had reached my destination and without security clearance proceeded to the visitor lobby at which point I was met by the folks that had hired me.


The classroom had no computers, no white board and only a small weak projector. Those of you who've been in my classes know I last about 10 minutes without my teaching aids. Apparently they were thinking that it was going to be 40 hrs of Power point presentations? We russeled up markers for the giant tablet on easel and started burning LiveCDs for the employees laptops. This whole thing was crazy but I'm good at rolling with the punches. The biggest hurdle was to enunciate in such a way that a native

French speaker could understand me. This is difficult for someone who can't get native English speakers to understand me. By noon we had the students on Linux, I had markers and a pad and we had access to the Internet.

During which time Natalya checked out of the old hotel and into Albert 1er. The wifi didn't work so she used their computer to let me know she had arrived safely. We went to eat at a new restaurant on Place St. George which is a very pretty small quiet square not far from the Capitole. The Foie Gras was decent on a spiced toast and the duck was really good. The star of the meal however was this mount of potatoes topped with caramelized shallots that were to be honest phenomenal. This is jump up and down and shout Hallelujah good. I'm going to experiment with that when I get back home.

Add a comment

Carcasonne

I knew I wasn't going to get a lot of site seeing in but I wanted to do two things while here - go to Carcasonne and see some prehistoric caves. Carcasonneis a small village about 40 minutes from Toulouse by train. It's also the home to the largest castle in all of Europe (maybe the world). It cost us55 Euros (roughly $80) by train which I thought was bit steep. On arriving we talked to the tourist information and they gave us a map. We were doing just fineuntil we were approached by this little old blond haired French lady who spoke a mile a minute and was all too enthusiastic to show us her town. She didn't speak a lick of English and was doing her best to help us get to the castle but she couldn't see well enough to read our map and we couldn't hear well enough to get what she was saying. She'd rattle off stories about the history followed by a quick "Do you understand?" at which point a drop of drool wouldfall from our lips and the blank look on our faces would resume. Between Natalya and I we were able to discern that she was 71 years old, had livedin Carcasonne her whole life and has a daughter in Washington but we don't know which one. Oh and the daughter watches kids. She then got out her keys and insisted on us getting in her car at which point my red flag started flapping and we declined. I'm sure she was just fine but up until this point this was going to be a great story to tell and I thought it best to keep it that way. Last think I want is a newspaper headline announcing the finding of a couple of American tourists in a canal somewhere. The one thing she did tell us though is to traverse the esplanade and take the small rue to the left. This we did which was a great tip because it led us across a foot bridge in plain view of the castle. Maybe she did have good intentions.

Carcasonne itself is a fantasy castle built by the Cathars a long time ago. The Cathars were a group of people that thought Christianity shouldreturn to a simpler time. That and they believed in reincarnation - don't ask how that works...The Catholics declared the Cathars patrons of the Devil or something and decided to exterminate them and eventually succeeded. By the 1600s the castle had fallen into disrepair and the French border had moved south lessening the need for such a bastion. Later the village moved out of it and settled in the valley below. Now it's been restored and the village inside the walls is filled with restaurants and shops. It's actually quite nice and not crazy like Mount st. Michael. The sheer size of it is impressive. The Moors (Muslims) holed up in it when resisting against French troops which is a great story in the area. It's interesting to hear about the Muslims as being the good guys and the Christians as the aggressors. Quite the change of characters.

We ate at the only open restaurant in the town (It was Sunday) and decided to try the other local specialty - Cassoulet. Cassoulet is a heavy white bean, sausage and duck parts dish cooked in a clay pot. I think it would grow on you but is definitely not something one would call fine food. Natalya was not impressed.

Add a comment

Arrival...

For our first dinner out we went to the Capitole square which has restaurants along one side. After perusing the menus (le carte) of each we decided to eat at Le Florida which had Foie Gras and Magret du Canard. The Foie Gras was excellent and the Canard OK. I'm afraid we've been spoiled by Duck Breast at Le Square Cafe in Paris. We returned to the Junior hotel and Natalya went straight to bed. I had to get ready for class and stayed up late to work on curriculum.


At 3:30 am the electricity went off so I fumbled around until I found my way to bed. The next morning the wifi didn't work (nor did the hot water) but it was already checkout time so I paid for another night. Needing electricity (who would have thought that important?) and wifi we spent the day looking for another hotel. The Hotel Sernin around the corner (also over a restaurant and facing the Church) was very nice but because of a rugby match and a marathon they decided to bump their rates by 30% which
didn't seem like a really good idea to me. We also went by Hotel des Artes which gets good reviews in Let's Go. They didn't have wifi nor could we see a room so we moved on. We landed at Albert 1er (pronounced Albert Premier) which turned out to be excellent for the same money as the Hotel Junior. However, their wifi was on the brink too. Since we had already paid we went back to Hotel Junior for the night and I prepared for work. For those who've never stayed in a French hotel
they're something else. The process for making a French hotel goes something like this. You take the standard human and draw a line around them in both laying and standing positions. Now you place both drawings next to each other and draw a square around them. This is your hotel room. The person standing is the area given to the bathroom and the person laying is the area given to you when sleeping. If the architect is particularly generous he may allow the door to the room swing inward.

My previous post was titled "And I thought I was going to France". I said this because this city is as if someone took France, Barcelona and a little of Mexico and blended it on high. The street signs are in Spanish (I think, it may be Catalan) and French. The recording on the Metro that announces the stations is in French and the second language as well. Not to mention these people can't dress themselves. Are we in France? I'm not sure.

Add a comment

I thought I was going to France until I arrived.

My neighbor Achmed (yes that really is his name) drove us to the airport where we checked in at the Air France booth. Actually we checked in online but we needed to then take our passports to the counter to get our boarding passes which just made me wonder why we checked in online. Our flight was on an Airbus A340 which I've liked in the past. In typical Airbus fashion I had excellent legroom (something about the way the seats are formed) and we had in flight entertainment on tiny little screens. The system worked well and gave us Movies, TV, travel channels and music. There were games but I didn't feel the need to explore. Even though I was tired from getting up at 4 I couldn't sleep. I do however, want to mention that the food on the plane was top notch. All airplane food up until now has been barely edible. I've gotten in the habit of just going to Burger King in the airport and taking it on with me. You know how much I detest fast food but truth be told it's a step above airplane food - a big step. The bread we go was better than we can get in the store at home and my beef braised in a balsamic sauce actually tasted good. Keep in mind we're not talking about 3 Michelin stars here so let's keep things in context. Also we got fed more food than we could eat and what blew me away completely is they were serving Champagne, white wine, red whine and variuos liqueurs free of charge! I'm used to AA charging $7 for a tiny bottle of something. They just kept on bringing the wine around and yes there was cheese in our meal as well. Afterwords they bought tea and coffee and to top it off we had dishes. The silverware wasn't metal of course but they went through the trouble of procuring metal colored plastic...

We arrived at what is possibly the worst run airport on the planet - CDG in Paris. I try to avoid CDG at all costs but when you're making a connection to another French city you don't have a lot o choice. I love France but sometimes you just have to shake your head. There's a train that connects the terminal buildings but for whatever reason we where shuttled from one section of the terminal 2 to another on a bus. I thought it was so we didn't have to go through immigration but the first thing we did on arriving the new section was exactly that. Then I thought it was to avoid having to exit the secure zone and re-enter but that was next. The security "pit" (for lack of a better word) looked a lot like a couple of rugby teams fighting over a twinky. Everyone thought they were going to miss their flight so they were waving their tickets in the air and shoving. Just about the time I've decided to forgive the Spanish for what they did to the American natives I end up in line next to them for something and my negativitiy grows. For a second I thought we were in China because I was going to have to fight to RETAIN my spot in line. They had no problem jumping from line to line in an attempt to get ahead of everyone else even to the point of walking past people who were going through the metal detectors. As you can imagine the security folks were not amused. Ironically we walked up to our gate about 1 minute after they got there and we maintained our dignity and probably avoided being made fun by bloggers.

Our flight to Toulouse (pronounced toulouza by the locals) was quick and painless. The Toulouse airport is small and welcomingly so. A quick bus ride into the city got us to where we thought we wanted to be. Hotel reservations in a city you don't know can be a liability so we walked around to a few that I had in mind and looked at them. We chose the Junior hotel because it's over a restaurant (I love those sounds of people clinking their glasses and conversing while having a meal) and it's right next to a giant church and not far from the capital.  That and it has free wifi. For France it's cheap at 80 Euros a night but after exchange rate we still get beat up pretty bad.

Toulouse is an odd one. This area was independent up until about 1300 when it was taken over by the French. Langedoc actually means The oc language which is the group that Catalan belongs to. Catalan is what people from Barcelona speak. Provencal also belongs to that group as well...

More later.

 

Add a comment

It's official

So it's official, Natalya and I are heading across the pond for a short outing in France. It's not the Le Grande Vacance that we normally take but after a long summer sitting at home wondering how everyone else does this we're getting a break.

It would be nice to take a week off before going on holiday just to get ready because there's a great deal of things to do. I always smile when people travel around the states and hire a travel agent to plan it becuase in the states if you have a map (or not) and a car you can just drive anywhere without a lot of thought. The culture doesn't change a whole lot, people still speak English and you can always pull over and ask for directions. If you're going to a foreign country you actually have to have some sort of idea how to do this. Say for instance if you leave the house without your passports you're going to pay a lot for your round trip plane tickets to nowhere. Thankfully the airport won't let you go very far without it anymore. Not that we'd ever leave the house without passports or in the process prove that you can drive from North Seattle to the airport, back to North Seattle to pick up said passports and then back to the airport in less than 90 minutes, I'm just saying that it could happen.

It always amazes me the people who spend zero time trying to figure out the time zone change. A lot of people just get on the plane, sleep when they're tired and work it out when they get there. I know this because I see them all the time sleeping on the metro steps with their faces as plastered against their suitcases and if you can picture it - a small amount of drool coming from the corner of their mouth. It's either that or they're from Albania looking for money to help their handicapped-underprivilieged-bother-that-was-in-the-war-who-is-missing-both-arms-a-leg-one-eye-and-a-toenail and needs food or he'll die. I actually can't tell these folks apart until they wake up at which time the Albanian chases you down the street with the most innocent look on their face ( complete with left eyebrow scrunched and pleading eyes). The tourist on the other hand climbs to their feet and drags their oversized suitcase(s) to the nearest Starbuck where they pay 5x as much for coffee as they would if they went to any of the 20,000 cafes in Paris. They don't seem to mind because it's burnt just like at home.

So to avoid jetlag you get a plane from the west coast at around noon which is about perfect. It's best if that plane touches down on the east coast somewhere too but it's not 100% necessary. Make sure you get up early - say at 4-5am, eat breakfast, pack you bags or repack them. Right before you leave the house (about 10am) eat lunch. When you get on the plane don't nap. You have to stay away for about the next 4.5 hrs so watch two movies, eat what they bring then cover your eyes with something, put in some noise canceling headphones and go to sleep. Because you got up a couple of hours before your norm and you've been up for 10 hrs you'll be tired. Sleep for as long as you possibly can and when you awake they'll give you breakfast. When the plan lands you walk out the door in sync with the local time and having virtually no jetlag. This works as I've done it many times.  If you fly out at night you're screwed because there's just no way to deal with the time zone change. No matter when you sleep (or not) it will be the wrong time. Coming back is harder but I have formulas for that as well.

 

 

 

Add a comment

Riobamba

It's been nice staying at the Posada del Maple because we actually look forward to our decent breakfast. I was having problems with my debit card and an email from my bank said that it had been shut off but my other one had too so they re-enabled them both. Problem was my personal card still wasn't img_6777working so I needed to call Enfact to get them to enable it. Armed with the number I headed out to find a place I could call. A few blocks from the hostel I found an Internet cafe and phone center. Calling home is always a problem from other countries. Contrary to popular belief a 1-800 number is not free in other countries so my bank gave me a collect number to call. Unfortunately I couldn't call a collect number from Ecuador either so I used Skype. I don't know how many times Skype bailed me out but it did it again. I just called the so called collect number via Internet phonimg_6796e and got an operator. They apologized for the inconvenience and asked me about a few transactions made in Peru. Seems they couldn't get a hold of me at home for some reason. Maybe it was because I was in Peru spending my hard earned money! They supposedly turned the cards back on and off I went to an ATM to get money. Of course I still couldn't use my personal card but I did take money out of my business account. Most of the expensive part of the trip was over so I wasn't too worried but I wouldn't mind having a little backup cash and it made me nervous to be relying on one card. I did have $1000 in a seperate account that can be sent to me via Western Union as a backup but still I brought two cards for a reason.

Add a comment

Read more: Riobamba

Travel Trip Journals