Tuesday, 27 November 2007

The Sorbonne

Actually this post isn't going to be about the Sorbonne at all, I have no photos of it, because it is just a big building, much like every other building in Paris, taking up an entire block. I was expecting maybe a garden or two, perhaps a few different buildings, but if you didn't know that it was the Sorbonne you would walk right past it, so a bit disappointing there.

This post is really going to be about the Musee de Moyen Age which I visited on the weekend, this is the museum of the middle ages. It was a pretty cool museum, as seen in the photo to the left, I would recommend it simply for the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry set. I've seen a lot of tapestries over here, it must have been the thing to do 400 years ago, and I haven't been impressed by any of them. But these ones were awesome, the subject matter is the best so far, you can't go wrong with unicorns, and the colours are amazing, for something that old.

The unicorn, apparently, has the body of a goat, the head of a horse and the tail of a lion, which I never knew. It was just a cool looking unicorn, with this little smile on its face in each tapestry.

They also had quite a few stained glass windows that you could actually get up close to for once and see the detail in the pictures,
rather than usually when they are way above you in some church. I only realised what the picture in this window was after I downloaded it.

Below I am continuing my series of really ugly baby Jesus pictures/statues. I think this one could be the winner, I guess the fact that the arms and a bit of the head seem to be missing doesn't really help Jesus' case.

We also have Jesus on a donkey, I like the weird starbursts coming out of his head, and also the fact that the donkey is on wheels, like it's some sort of child's plaything.

After the middle ages I visited the Centre de la Mer, mer means sea, but it wasn't that impressive, there were maybe a total of 5 smallish fish tanks in the whole place. I guess it's good if you are a French speaking kid, not so much if you are an english speaking adult who has been snorkelling on the great barrier reef.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

My Favourite Tree

in the park across the road from where I live.

Of course by now it has lost all it's leaves, but it used to look awesome. I really love the fluro yellow of the leaves.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

The Strike Wrap-Up

The transportation here is finally back to normal, it only took them 9 days, but by the 10th day the trains were almost back to normal, and I can't tell you what a relief that was! My first trip to work during the strike took more than 3 hours, I managed to get that down to just over 2 by the next day, but it still involved a tram, a metro, a train and then a bus to get to work, which is a lot different to rolling out of bed, crossing the road to catch a train and then a 10 minute bus because I don't want to walk up the hill to work.

It was absolute chaos on the metros and trams as well, I couldn't, physically, force myself onto some metros so had to just wait for the next one and hope that it would be slightly less packed. The police were having to cordon off platforms because they were so full that people were in danger of being pushed off onto the tracks. The one bright light during this strike was the number 14 metro, which was the only one running totally normally throughout the whole strike, for the simple reason that it is driven by a robot.

At the moment the workers and the government are in negotiations, but I don't hold out much hope that any solution will be found, so I'm sure that the strike will start up again at some point. I just hope that I'm back in Australia by the time it does. The word on the street is that the workers are going to leave it until Christmas before striking again, as that would cause maximum pain and suffering to us poor saps who use public transport.

In case you are interested, the reason why they were striking is that the government wants to raise the retiring age from 37.5 years of work, to 40 years of work. At the moment the rest of the public servants all have to work 40 years before they can retire on a full pension, but the transport workers can retire 2.5 years early and still receive a full pension. This is a throw-back to the steam age when being a transport worker was a dangerous and arduous job. Before the last presidential election Sarkozy went in saying he wanted to reform the pension system and the people still voted for him. So this last strike is different from the one in 1995, which was over the same issue, lasted for 3 weeks and was eventually won by the workers, in that the majority of the population disagrees with the transport workers.

This transport strike did encourage lots of other people to start striking as well, for different reasons, first was the public servants. Sarkozy calls the public servants lazy and inefficient and wants to not replace retiring public servants, which the current servants don't like. We also had university students on strike because the government want to encourage the universities to look for outside funding and finally, and perhaps just as devastating as the transport workers strike, was that the cafeteria workers at my work. At the moment the cafeteria is run by a non-profit association, but the university wants to sell it off to a private company, meaning my lunches will be a lot more expensive and a lot crappier. I love my cafeteria lunches, for less than 4 euros I get an entree, a hot main meal, a dessert and some fruit. The food quality is always really high and it is just great exposure to true French food everyday, so it would be a tragedy if they ever sell it to a private company. Really, when you think about it, it should be us academics how are striking as we would be the ones forced to eat crappy lunches, but I suppose the cafeteria workers are also worried about their jobs.

So all-in-all it was a pretty bizarre week, but I'm certainly getting to experience all things French, and there isn't much more French than a strike which completely shuts down the country.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Uh Oh

Things don't look good for me getting to work next week, this round of train strikes are reportedly designed to wear the President down. The first strike we had a month ago I thought was pretty bad, but it only really lasted 2 days and while it was a lot more complete than this current one, it was over so soon it never hugely affected me. That strike was only a warning though and this current one has already been going for a full 3 days and is continuing tomorrow as well. At least the government and the unions have agreed to negotiations, but I don't think either side is really willing to budge so I'm not sure what good is going to come of it. Even the wonderful TGVs, the awesome fast train network throughout France, have been affected with only 150 out of 700 running today. Not good at all, looks like on Monday I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and attempt the 2 hour commute involving 4 different types of transportation. At least I'm kind of used to being squashed in like a sardine now, my personal space is certainly a lot smaller than it was in Australia, and so hopefully I will be able to survive the peak hour people-traffic.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

French Stamps

I have finally worked my way through the 40 stamps I bought in one of the first weeks I was in France, I only wanted 20 at the time, but the cashier either didn't understand me or couldn't be bothered tearing the sheet in half, this is France so the second reason is probably more likely to be the true one. Today I went and got some new stamps, but this time I used the machine they have in the post office which can dispense any stamp for letters or parcels, they are pretty cool machines. But I'm not sure I trust the stamps the machine gave me, see exhibit A to the left.

This is apparently all I need to get letters and postcards to Australia. I love the paper aeroplanes on the "stamp", is that how they are proposing to send my letters home? After buying 10 of these, I bought them all at once, I decided I'd rather have some proper stamps so spoke to the cashier this time, and recieved exhibit B below:

Now that's what I call a stamp, without a picture, it's not a stamp in my books. Lets see if the first lot of "stamps" get anything back to Australia.

Train Strikes Round II - The Trains Strike Back

We are into the second day of our second lot of French train strikes and they don't look like they are going to be ending any time soon. At least the metros in the city are kind of running and one of the main train lines is still going as well. I don't think I'm real happy about that though, at least if no trains are running then there is no way that I can get to work. I have already been at home for the last two days and I feel I should at least try to get to work tomorrow. The problem is there is a way for me to get there, since there is a different main line train running than the one I usually catch. To give you an idea of the difference in journeys, normally there is a train about every 10 minutes from a station less than a minutes walk away from where I live. I get on this train, always get a seat for the 30 minute ride and I then catch a bus for about 10 minutes to work. Tomorrows journey will involve me catching a metro into the middle of Paris, catching a main line train, which will get me three quarters of the way to work, and then catching a bus for the rest of the way. The problem is there are about 10 million people living in greater Paris and they all want to get to work, but there are less than 1/3 of the normal number of trains running, and even when they are running at full capacity they are packed to the gills. It really is going to be horrible, and will probably take me nearly 2 hours to get to work, as opposed to the hour it takes me when everything runs smoothly. I also have to hope that I can still get home again after work and that the transport workers don't just down tools early to get a longer weekend.

The english newspapers were calling this a black month for Sarkozy and I'm starting to agree with them, though really I think it is more of a black month for the people of Paris, who are completely dependent on public transport to get around.

Monday, 12 November 2007

The Local

I had a friend visit the other weekend, so it was a chance for me to be the local for once. My last guests stayed in August, which was my first month of actually living in Paris, but now I have been in the city for 3 and a half months, and I'm certainly better at finding my way around, and deciphering the intricate network of metros and RERs. You get a bit blase after living in the city, you forget what it must be like for someone who has never been to Paris before to see the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Unfortunately Paris didn't pull out it's best weather, in fact it was the worst it has been all autumn, but at least there wasn't too much rain, and we even got one really nice morning.

We did all the big things, the must dos in Paris, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur etc. and as the sun now sets really early I got to see a lot of these things in a completely different light. I'm not normally wandering around the city late at night, so I don't really know what it looks like with the lights on, but this weekend I got to experience Paris at night-time. I think it is just as pretty at night as it is during the day as well. To the left is the Eiffel Tower during its half-hourly light show, this is seen from the Trocadero, which really is the place to see the Eiffel Tower.

We then have a gargoyle at the top of Notre Dame, with the Sacre Coeur in the distance, ie the thing on the hill.

Here is Notre Dame in the evening, looking a little spooky really. There was some strange catholic ceremony going on out the front of the cathedral on the day we visited, I'm not really sure what was going on, but it involved a lot of very slow dancing/walking whilst carrying a massive picture of Jesus, plus a lot of incense burning, but a catholic ceremony wouldn't be complete without a whole stack of smelly smoke.

The next morning we went to visit the wedding cake on the hill, as you can see we did have at least a few hours of beautiful weather.

And finally I just thought I would leave you with a final shot of the autumn colours, this is about 2 weeks after my last photos, and I think this is the last of the autumn leaves. They are nearly all gone now and we are really getting into winter properly.
This week we are in single digit maximum temperatures everyday, I'm going to have to go buy some more jumpers and thermals, because I have nowhere near enough. For some reason I thought Paris couldn't get much colder than Canberra, I have a feeling I'm going to be proved dramatically wrong. Apparently it was snowing in Berlin on Monday, and it is still only mid-Autumn, yikes!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

A Long Weekend in London

The other weekend I took a long weekend in London. The Eurostar really is awesome, and I think from the 14th of November it should be even better. Apparently on that date they move the English end from Waterloo to King's Cross, and hopefully give the train it's own dedicated line through England. It's meant to cut 20 minutes from the journey, and that is all on the English side, ahh English public transport and infrastructure, I could spend pages bagging it out :). Though to be fair to the English, they don't seem to have the strikes which the French do, probably because they would all just be sacked if they even thought about it.

Next week is meant to be a bad week for strikes here in Paris, and not just the transport workers, but possibly researchers and the power workers as well. The first Eurostar, on the 14th of November, is meant to arrive in Paris at 11am, and there will probably be no trains running from any of the stations to take the tourists anywhere. I suppose now it is only a 2 hour 15 minute trip back to London, so you could just hop back on the train. The English papers have said November could be a black month for Sarkoszy, and after seeing the chaos of 2 days of striking, I'm not really looking forward to next week.

But this was all in the far future when I visited London, and all I had to contend with were "Engineering Works" which knocked out 5 of the underground lines (with no replacement bus services either). My first sight-seeing stop was the Tower of London, they have set this up well for the tourists, in my opinion anyway. It is really expensive, but then everything in London is, but you get a guided tour with a beefeater, ie a Yeomen Warder, dressed up in costume. Those are well worth it, and they give you a bit of the history of the Tower. You also get to see the Crown Jewels, but unfortunately you can't take any photos of those. I wouldn't say they are particularly pretty, more a display of just how rich the English royal family is, the size of the diamonds on their crowns and sceptres is just immense! They have actors dressed up in period costume inside the tower too, and they give a bit of an insight as to what life was like back then, at least that is the idea anyway.

To the left is one of the yeoman warders (in full costume) followed by his hordes of tourists, a lot of whom were French, because of the public holiday we had I guess. These guys have to have something like 20 years military service and to be a Sergeant in the Army before they are allowed to apply, even then it involves 6 months of study and testing before they are allowed to take tours around. As part of the job they get to live in the Tower of London, they all have little houses inside the outer wall, so I suppose the perks aren't too bad.

This next photo is of one of the houses where people live, I think someone important must live here, maybe the mayor of London?, as they get their own soldier guard. Though he must have really pissed the wrong person off to get such a boring job, holding back the crazed photo-happy tourists.

There is some rumour that the Tower of London will fall if there are no longer ravens at the Tower, which supposedly means that the monarchy of England will fall. The problem is that due to the urbanisation of London, ravens are now very rare. This means that the ravens at the tower are basically prisoners themselves, their wings are clipped so they can't fly away and a few are even kept in cages, so that there will always be ravens there.

They had one display on the methods of torture used back then, but they also had this machine asking people to give their opinions as to whether torture is ever ok. Their responses make me a bit worried as to the type of tourists they are getting here.
There are almost equal numbers for "yes, to punish" and "no, never", but at least there are slightly more numbers for "no, never". I would at least have expected the "sometimes, for information" to be more popular than the "yes, to punish".

This is the White Tower, it is right in the centre of the Tower and the walls are something like 15 feet thick. This was where the kings and queens lived, when they still stayed at the Tower of London.

To go along with the Tower of London we also have the Tower Bridge

After the Tower of London I headed off to the Tate Modern, I really liked this gallery, it is all modern art, and I think they change the exhibits around fairly frequently. It is basically across the Thames from St Paul's cathedral, in an old power station. The foot bridge across the river is the Millennium Bridge, but I think everyone in London calls it the wobbly bridge, as when it was first built it apparently wobbled quite a bit, unfortunately they have since fixed that, so no wobbles for me.

They normally have exhibitions in the main entrance gallery, but at the moment there is only one piece there, called Shibboleth, which is a giant crack running the full 167m length of the entrance hall. It is supposedly 3 feet deep at some points, and I have heard some people have managed to injure themselves on it, though there are heaps of attendants around warning people to watch their step.

Finally that evening I took some shots of St Paul's cathedral and the skyline of London

The next day I decided to go to Madame Tussuad's, the wax museum, for a taste of the ultra-tacky. It is a pretty odd place to visit, as people were going completely crazy over these wax statues of famous people. They seemed to forget a bit that they weren't actually the famous person, just a copy of them. What I found surprising was how small they were, particularly the famous women, they were tiny! Short and ultra-skinny. For some reason I also expected the guys to be much bigger, that could be a combination of things, I guess these famous guys are always being photographed next to these tiny women, which makes them seem bigger by comparison. But I think the other thing is that these people are put up on a pedestal and are always in the news and getting their photo taken and everything, that you just somehow expect them to be larger-than-life, or something special, when really they are just average people.

I did take a photo of Lance Armstrong. Madame Tussuad's really knows who their audience are though, you can see here there is a bike next to Lance so you can pretend that you are riding with him. They did that with a lot of their wax people, you could play golf with Tiger, or give a speech with George Bush, that sort of thing.

They have obviously also taken over a planetarium next door and so they now show a little film there, in which they tell us all that it is right to worship celebrities, that they enrich our lives and make us better people. Which I guess is the necessary attitude to ensure that Madame Tussuad's continues in business. They were very well organised though, that is one thing you miss in France, there it was almost military precision, there was only one way to walk, one way to queue, that sort of thing, so no confusion and not much pushing.

Finally I'll leave you with a photo of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, complete with terrorist-proof fence, or maybe that is an anti-Iraq war protester-proof fence, it's hard to tell them apart.

Yahoo mail, grrr!

I'm having major troubles with yahoo mail today, everytime I try to log in with my ID and password, it tells me that I am using an invalid ID and/or password. I can assure yahoo mail that I am not, and even when I try to get a new password, it can't find my ID. I'm thinking I might just switch permanently to google mail, now that I can remember my login name and password. The problem is I have emails I need to recover (not to mention all my addresses) on my yahoo account and there is no way of using POP3 to recover them, as that option is only available for paying customers, grrrr! I'm not sure what I can do, I've sent them an email, but I may just have to hope that it is some temporary bug and that it will be working tomorrow

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Time to Bring out the Winter Coat

I just checked the 5-day weather forecast for Paris, the maximum temperature on Wednesday is expected to be 5 degrees with a minimum of -3, and Monday and Tuesday both have a maximum of 9 degrees. And it is not even officially winter yet!

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Mac Problems

As some of you may be aware I have a MacBook laptop, which I really like and have been using as my work computer for almost a year now. At the moment though I'm having real problems with connecting to a network printer, at work we have a nice, new printer, that will even staple the pages for you, how fancy, but I am unable to connect to it when I want to print something. My PC desktop computer has been connected fine, I did have to ask the computer guy to help me with that, but the main reason for that was that everything was in French and I'm not familiar with PC's at the best of times. But I cannot for the life of me get my mac to print. I can add the printer fine, but then when I try to print anything there is no connection. I don't mind that there is a problem, these things can be fiddly to get all the settings right. The problem is that the Printer Utility you use to add the new printers is completely useless in any troubleshooting format. If things don't work the first time, there is nothing you can do to try and work out what the problem is. I remember I had a problem connecting the old printer to my computer, but I managed to work it out with an awesome website I found. The way the printer utility application is set up though means that I can't edit that old configuration, and thus find out what the special trick was.

The Apple website's help section is so useless it is actually funny, underneath an article titled "What to do if you can't print" are the fantastically useful suggestions such as:
  • is the printer on?
  • is it connected to the network?
  • have you printed to the correct printer?
  • is there paper in the printer?
I don't know why they don't also say "Is the computer on MORON!", because that's seems to be their attitude towards people using their help section. That is pretty much the extent of the help from the Apple websites, and I haven't found much luck elsewhere. I'll keep googling, but I think I'm going to have to make a trip to the computer guy again. I'm not sure how he is going to go with all the english menus though. If I ever work it out I'll let you know what it was, it will probably be drivers, that always seems to be the answer to any printer problem.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Autumn Leaves

I'm off to London today on the Eurostar, today is a public holiday in France, All Saint's Day, but I'm "working" today so I can take tomorrow off instead. This means that on my walk into work I actually had my camera on me for once so I could take some photos of the lovely autumn leaves around here at the moment. Sure we had the leaves changing colour in Canberra too, I think Canberra was settled by homesick English so there are an awful lot of deciduous trees around the place, but they always seemed a bit out of place in amongst the gums. Here I walk to work through an oak forest, in fact nearly all the trees are decidous, and natives, so it just seems to work. Of course it will probably be really depressing in a months time when ALL the leaves will have fallen, but at the moment it really looks good. Unfortunately you can't see the photos I took as I have neither my laptop or camera cable with me. But I promise to upload them once I get back from London.

UPDATE: here are some of the photos I took

The second photo shows the little path I walk down in the evening to get to the train station. It looks good in the daytime, but just try and imagine walking down this in the pitch black, there are no street lamps in this forest. Now that daylight savings is over the sun is setting at about 5:20pm, and I don't leave work until after 6. I really need to buy myself a little torch, that is definitely my chore for this weekend.