Travel Tales

photo: cafe batter up, fish and chips

One of Oliver's many cafés; one not called a
'family restaurant.'

A Half-Speed Issue

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 17. July 2000:- On my holiday I got to Oliver in Canada by taking the Eurostar to London and a charter Airbus to Vancouver and then a tiny twin-engined mountain-hopping propeller plane to the Okanagan Valley, where a cabin at Gallagher's Lake Lodge motel was booked for me.

My watch conked out from all the time changes - which began in London right at the beginning. For this reason I don't know how long the trip in either direction took. Coming back it was one long day of the above in reverse; one whole day with two consecutive dates.

My return to Paris has been fairly recent, so this issue contains little about this city and much about other places. Many readers are frequent or seasoned travellers and may find this week's contents repetitious or boring, or both.

I am an infrequent traveller, and doing it on long-distance airplanes is something I only attempt about once every 15 years. Jet-lag is its usual aftermath, and waking up at 05:00 for no good reason is darn annoying.

On the other hand, waking up at 14:00 on Bastille Day was equally vexing; especially after I hyped myself into a frenzy and raced back to Paris to take it all in.

I did everything possible to avoid it, without success. If there is a next time, I will return by boat.

Eurostar Stars

Taking the Eurostar from Paris to London is a snap, even if its fare structure gives the odds to the house. To start, I walked three blocks from my place to the RER station and got out at Waterloo station, somewhere in south London, right after a lot of railside junkyards.

Unlike Paris, London's underground 'métro' is operated by umpteen different companies, and they do not seem to share a unified map of the system.

If you need to use it, there are thousands of uniformed people standing around doing nothing but telling everybody which way to go. They were all very polite to me.

So, after dozens of emails and a couple of Web searches, I found myself bravely riding around onphoto: okanagan lake steamer, penticton some of the antique and quaint Underground and jolty local trains to Badger's place, west of the city - helped by human advice-givers.

Paddle-wheel steamers were once common on British Columbia lakes, which are also many.

I forgot to take the little booklet with all the necessary addresses and telephone numbers, so when I got to Badger's station I called telephone information to get his number. Amazingly, a live operator not only got his number; but succeeded in inducing another operator to dial it for me.

The three of us said 'good morning' to Badger and after a bit of a chat, I offered to put in the 20 pence required for the four-way conference call. They thought this was very decent of me; while I thought it was clever to have a 20-pence piece handy.

Badger picked me up in his 'motor' and we toured several local pubs within a radius of 50 miles seeking a late lunch, without success; so we had a homemade sandwich and later he barbied a chicken under grey skies cooler than in Paris.

Despite doubts about morning traffic he drove me with elan to Gatwick airport. I say 'with elan' because he has only had a drivers' license for a year and has tophoto: food for fishes drive on the wrong side of the road as well.

Note for roundabout fans: these were invented in the UK and have become so popular that even criss-crossing back-alleys have them. Right-hand turns against on-coming traffic seem to be legal too, if a bit suicidal.

Fresh food found no eager takers by high-altitude lake's silly fish.

This car ride effectively ditched half of my carefully plotted plans to reach Gatwick by local public transport; and I got bamboozled out of them on the return trip, by taking a mystery route through the non-charted Clapham Junction - which did lead directly if lumpily to Waterloo and the cozy 300 kph Eurostar train.

Trans-Continental Air Travel

Gatwick airport is a zoo because its 'renovation' started three years ago and is projected to continue for another 11 years - until it reaches Wales, which is only twice the distance now needed to walk from somewhere to an airplane's door.

Even if a charter airplane is an Airbus 330, they are zoos too. Row 33 is over the wings by the emergency doors, so there is footroom in this row. However, it is reserved by ancient treaty for passengers to Calgary - where the aircraft chanced to land for an hour for some unknown reason.

This required the crew to replay the onboard bilingual videos advertising the charter company for the 14th time - but as boring as these were - bilingually - they were better than the inflight movie about a dog. The food was unmentionable but the service that divvied it out was friendly enough.

If any smokers are reading this, you should be aware that 'No Smoking' in Canada starts at Gatwick. I wanted to try out the smoke-detector in the toilet to make sure it wasn't a bluff, but I think the penalty for this is riding on the wing outside the door by row 33.

Eventually the big Airbus found Vancouver, quite near the Pacific Ocean. It was warmer than London or Paris outside. Inside the extra-huge airport, it was air-conditioned and seemed ready to snow.

This is also where expensive junk food started. On the way back I tried a simple ersatz 'Berliner' and it was like fluffy kleenex filled with oozy gunk. Its main feature was its cheapness.

After a long wait, Mountain Air decided to fly back over the mountains I'd just crossed, to land in Penticton in the dark. This was in a buzzy two-engined propeller airplane, with no inflight movie and no toilet and no cockpit door.

On the return leg everything was the same in reverse except the Airbus' inflight movie and Badger's chicken. However, flying from western analog time to continental digital time required the entire flight to be in daylight.

This permitted the wondrous sight of the great prairies; all insanely designed by Mondrian, mostlyphoto: food for fishermen in green. I'm not sure you can notice this from ground level - but the roads looked great for excessive speed, if you like driving fast in straight lines for whole days.

Food for young fishermen also turned out to have few takers.

Security measures varied from place to place. The x-ray machines do not seem to bother digital cameras, so don't waste time trying to shove yours through with the watch and coin trays. At one place I was asked to turn the camera on, so it helped to have batteries in it.

At one point I had to fill in a form asking if I had any agricultural products with me. I did have a chicken sandwich - provided by Badger's wife, Hella - so I checked 'yes.' But before handing in this questionnaire, I ate the sandwich. Nobody asked to see it.

Final note: if you do not care for the sounds of babies howling for nine or ten hours at a stretch, do not take any long-distance flights. Flying while deaf is the only remedy if you are forced to do it.

Free Refills

In this week's feature about exotic Canada, I have forgotten to mention 'free refills.' These are unknown in Europe, and I had forgotten they once applied to cups of coffee - in the US. My oldest son Willy spotted a mention of these on a menu, and found out they work.

In an update email, I have just been informed that he has set a record for six half-litre refills of iced tea, with one hamburger. He also set some sort of record for round-trips to various toilets afterward. As ever, there are limits to 'a good thing.'

The 'Scene' Column

There is no new 'Scene' column in this week's issue. With Bastille Day and the 15th on a Saturday, it has not been possible to add new items. The link on this week's contents page will take you back to the last 'Scene' column. If you look at it, be sure to look for final dates. Some events may be over by now.

The Weather

According to today's TV-weather forecast, Paris should have decent weather with temperatures in the 22-24 degree range for the next two days. That the forecast does not include Thursday and Friday is not a good sign - but it is not necessarily a bad sign either.

Café Metropole Club's 40th Session

The 40th weekly meeting of the 'Café Metropole Club' ended just as I was climbing off the Eurostar from London at Gare du Nord last Thursday afternoon.

I fully intended to attend the meeting, but with server-lady Linda Thalman being in place as stand-in club secretary, I decided it was wiser to continue straight to 'Go' and attempt to delag myself.

This absence of 'news' leaves no more business than to say that I hope you can attend the coming club meeting next Thursday, 20. July.

This Was Metropole One Year Ago:

Issue 4.28/29 - 12/19. July 1999 - One year ago, issues 4.28 and 4.29 were doubled, so this is a repeat of the last issue's 'One Year Ago + One Week.' The week's Café Metropole column was headlined 'Goodbye and Hello To All This.' The 'Au Bistro' column was titled 'I'd Walk a Mile for a Baguette.' This issue had no feature or features at all. But itphoto: 12am to 6am did have a 'Scene' column and it had 'The Last 'Armada du Siècle.' There were four new 'Posters of the Week.' Ric's Cartoon of the Week was captioned 'Bastille Day Every Day.' For this, I think antibiotics may be necessary.

This Was Metropole Two Years Ago:

Issue 3.29 - 20. July 1998 - The Café Metropole column hinted at trouble in paradise with the title of: 'They Shoot Tourists?' The 'Au Bistro' column was titled, 'France Has a Big Party and Shuts Down.' This issue had one feature, titled 'As Normal As Paris Gets After the Party.' There four new 'Posters of the Week' - notphoto: user maintained site always easy to find at this time of year. Ric's Cartoon of the Week had the caption of 'Ca Va, Eddie!' which could have been about anything but probably wasn't.

Metropole Paris' Nearly Solo Countdown to 31. December 2000:

This countdown is regaining importance in France as more officials are referring more often to the beginning of the 'Third Millennium' on Monday, I. January 2001. Effectively this means we are in the limbo year of nothing; having left the 20th century last December but not yet arrived in the 21st. If this idea gathers momentum, get ready for a repeat of last year's New Year's Eve, with all the trimmings.

There are only about 167 days left to go until the 3rd Millennium. For really fussy readers, this figure is correct. On account of this section being revived due to a perk up of interest, 199 days have gone since New Year's 2000.
signature, regards, ric

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