Monday, August 28, 2006

Wondering and dreaming the words have different meanings

This may be a long one...

I had my usual (well, unusual since I get to work so much O/T) four days of, and I decided that I have had enough of work and living in a hotel so I rented a car to go and see some of Europe. I originally looked into renting a BMW Z4, but when I realized that it was going to cost close to $2000 CDN with gas and mileage, I decided to go with the Mini Cooper, cheaper to rent, cheaper to fill up, etc. But, when I got to the car rental place, they told me that there weren't any Mini's to be had but would I like to take that nice silver/grey Chrysler Crossfire over there?


Not being a big fan of American made vehicles, I have heard that the Crossfire is mostly Mercedes (engine, design team) and that it moves really nicely. So, filled out the papers and headed out. It took a few minutes to get used to it, after driving the little Clio for so long, but I took to the 330 bhp and 310ft/lb of torque with gusto! What a sweet little ride.

Instantly, most of my plans were out the window, this was a driving trip now. I grabbed my stuff, dropped the top and headed up country towards the Alps. I took it easy for the first little while, getting used to it, but as the mountains got closer, the little devil on my shoulder kept telling me "push it".

I was heading towards Italy through the southern reaches of the French Alps, enjoying the scenery stopping for lunch at Lac du Serre-Poncon then continuing into the mountain passes and valleys leading me to the border. Along the way, there were castles, medieval towns and forts, and of course the shear amazement of the Alps.

I was gaining on the border when it popped into my head, "Dumbie! You forgot your jacket!" So, I stopped at a high mountain ski town and found a really sexy black jacket, which of course looks great when driving a convertible around the Alps.

Now the road was starting to get a little twisty and narrow and the car was starting to show it's stuff. It corners like a dream and the handling package wouldn't let the tires break no matter how hard I tried. If I hit a corner hard, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, the spoiler popping up to help with the traction and the tires grew suction cups and we stuck better to the road. (Okay, I made the second part up, but it sure felt like it!)

I finally reached the top of the pass, and a little skiing town with the border running through the middle of it. This is one of the areas that was used for certain events the 2006 Winter Olympics and you can see the bobsled run close to the highway as I passed it.

Continuing along, I thought that I would get off the motorway and follow the non-toll roads (tolls add up to a lot of money). But, just to confuse us drivers, the French signs for the toll highways are in blue, and the non-toll in green; while the Italian road signs are the other way around. I ended up on the toll road. The toll roads, although they are great to get around, you can't see much since they have a ten foot wall on either side of the road, and you drive through a whole lot of tunnels, probably 20km of tunnel overall. Very boring if you are a tourist.

The weather also turned sour, getting overcast, and the odd rain drop on the window, so I put the top up and drove along, listening to Italian radio. (I found it a bit better than French radio, they have better music) I needed to get some gas, so I stopped and had to actually sniff the fuel nozzle because I didn't know what the writing on the pump meant. I also figured that this would be a good spot for a bathroom break, and was a bit amused to find, in a fairly modern looking gas station, the old fashioned hole in the ground with two foot spots type of toilet. Good thing that I was only making a quick stop!

Back on the road, heading toward Turin (Torino) I decided that I wasn't going to stop, since I was having too much fun driving and I wanted to make it to Valle d'Aosta before it was dark. I didn't have any trouble getting there fast, I was playing with an Alfa-Romeo and a BMW for a while, at around 210-215km/h, and they were pulling away from me. I probably could have gone faster, but not knowing the car, and not wanting any jail time, I decided that slower was probably a better idea. Still, what a rush!

The main reason for wanting to get to Valle d'Aosta was to see Cervino, the Matterhorn. But, being that I really don't understand Italian at all, my map wasn't a decent scale to see detail and the road signs aren't very good, I missed the turn off to the mountain and ended up in a little town down the road from where I wanted to be. I found a road that looked promising, but all it brought me to was a small farming village very high in the mountains. It was the wrong place, but getting there was too much fun. Sport cars + winding mountain roads = happy Rick. I drove back down, and getting tired I made the decision to see if I could find the right road and find a camping site to stay at for the night.

I did find the right road, and as with the wrong road, it was a freaking blast. Lots of twist and turns to play on. I found the two camp sites, but they were busy and very noisy, so I continued on and found a gravel road in a mountain field to camp in. I parked the car and fell asleep. About 3AM I woke up rather cold (my sleeping bag isn't meant for camping, it is meant for hostel's and tropical countries), so, being curious, I looked outside at the sky to see if it was clear or not and found the most amazing sight. The sky was like black velvet and the stars looked like amazing little diamonds. I can't remember ever seeing the stars so bright. After a few minutes, I was getting colder, and tucked in with my blanket wrapped around me. 4AM I was awake again, even colder, so I laid there trying to stay warm till 6:30AM when I got up. The tent and car were covered with frost, and although the thermometer in the car said it was 3C, but I am sure that it was colder than that.

After putting my stuff away, I realized that the Sun was coming up very golden on the mountain peaks, so I headed up to the Matterhorn to take some photos. And what a sight that was! I probably shot around 80 photos of the Sun shining on the mountains as the light changed it's angle. I can't explain how amazing it was to see. I will have to go to Zermatt next year to see the other side during sunrise, and maybe even stick around for a sunset.

I probably could have stood there for hours taking pictures, but I knew that I had to make it to St.Julien en Genieve (more or less Geneva, but on the French side of the border) some time that evening, and still not good with knowing distances, I started off looking for the mountain pass that would lead out of Italy. The original plan was to go into Switzerland, but I really didn't feel like dealing with the Swiss customs. So, I ended up heading towards Mont Blanc, stopping to check out some of the many castles that litter the Valle d'Aosta. Eventually I made my way to the Mont Blanc tunnel, which ended up costing me over 30 Euros to go through. As with all the tunnels here in Europe, it is an impressive bit of engineering. Eleven and half kilometers long right through a mountain. And it must be said, the French side of the mountain is nicer looking then the Italian side. Also, you can take a tram right to the top of the mountain! Next time, I will take the time to go to the top and have a look.

I was still thinking of heading over to Switzerland at this point, the temptation to try and get to Zermatt was strong. There was also the urge to play around Chamonix for a bit, maybe grab a tram ride, or find a nice cafe in the town where I could sit and enjoy the mountains for a bit. In the end, I headed north towards Geneva and my next adventure.

Looking at the map, I found a secondary road known as the Routes des Grande Alpes which looked like fun. It actually runs all the way from Monaco up to Lake Geneva. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. This was definitely sports car country, tight winding roads meant for driving hard. It was very exhilarating! I really put the car through it's paces, proving that it can do what I thought it could do and more. And passengers would have killed me. The only downfall to that little drive was the stinky little FIAT's known as the Panda. It is called the Panda because it is slow. It also has a stinky, crappy, worn out diesel that smokes like a old 737-200. I couldn't tell you how many of those that I passed along the way. I wanted to crush them all and make them into beer cans.

The road led me through some very beautiful towns, all looking like the perfect Swiss mountain village, with the brown and white chalet's with the very red geraniums growing in their pots. I even found some cows grazing near the road with their bells dinging away. I could so easily live in a place like this.

Eventually, the road wound down towards Lake Geneva, about half way across on the southern shore. One minute I was in the mountains, next, city street. Very surreal. Then came the hardest part of the trip, navigating all the towns and cities to get to Saint Julien without ending up on a motorway or in Switzerland. I wouldn't have liked that too much. I am sure that it would have been easier if I had actually had a map of the area that was finer detail than the whole country, but with a lot of determination, a dash of luck and a few lucky turns, I made it! Now I had a map of the town so I was sure that I wouldn't get lost.

Ummm, no.

I had zoomed out on the map that I got from Google, and some of the street names had disappeared. And it didn't quite look the same as it had on the computer. But, after a few wrong turns, there I was, standing in front of the white apartment building where the arrow pointed to on the map. But, I was early, so since I had been in the car all day, I thought that maybe I would go for a walk, check out the town. I turned on the iPod, locked the car and went strolling. It is a small town, not much there but being so close to Geneva, you really didn't need much. I found a nice park to sit in to wait for the time when Leanne and Alex would be home from work and spent about an hour just relaxing.

About the time that they were supposed to be home, I walked back to the car to go find them. After allotted time came and went, I started to wonder where they are. I tried to find their names on the mailboxes in the lobby, but no luck. Then I realized, I had forgotten their phone numbers, so I couldn't even call them! I did bring my cell phone, with my Vancouver number on it, just for emergencies, and as a last ditch effort, called Marc back home to get Leanne's number. Fortunately, Marc was near his computer, and was able to give them to me (thanks again buddy!), but for some reason both numbers wouldn't go through. I called him back, seeing if there was some mistake but nope, they were correct. Next step, find a payphone and try from there. Somehow though, the number suddenly went through and I was saved!

Alex answered, and tried to find me as I was telling him that I was outside the apartment. He looked but couldn't find me. Turns out, the map from Google was a little bit off and I was standing in front of the wrong building. Doh!!

After a bit of a wait, Alex and the kids, Margo and Adrian came and found me, Margo all proud of the tooth that she had lost that day, her first one. We got back to the apartment to wait for Leanne who was stuck in traffic herself. I also got to meet Rona, a young lady from Scotland who was nannying for the summer and learning some French at a local language school.

After she got home, and hellos were said, we sat around chatting, having wine and then had dinner of cheese fondu. It was very yummy even though Alex accidentally grabbed the Grappa bottle instead of the Kirsch bottle to add to the cheese. After we finished with some pear schnapps type of liqueur that had a nice kick.

After a very needed sleep, we got up and visited for the morning. I was a bit worried about getting out of there late, and eventually did leave a lot later than I needed to, but it was all because I was enjoying the visit so much. The kids have decided that I make a good jungle gym, and Margo spent over an hour hanging off of me. I finally left Saint Julien at about 1PM, and needing to be at the car rental place at the Marseille airport by five, I aimed for the closest motorway and gave it the gas. I was on the road for about 15 minutes when the rain drops started, and of course, the roof was down.

You know, if you drive fast enough, you stay dry? At least to a point anyway.

So, the first rest area I pulled in and put the roof up. Good thing too, the rain became very heavy not far down the road and I would have been soaked.

My drive home took me through Lyon, which we had determined to be the fastest route. As it turned out, being the last week before the start of school, all the Germans where heading out to Spain for the last chance at vacation. So, from Valence to Orange, it was bumper to bumper traffic, a traffic jam that was something like 100km long. It was painful! Every vehicle with a German plate on it was packed solid with beds, tents, clothing, camp chairs, people, etc. And I had always thought that Germans knew how to drive. Not that day they didn't! Sitting in the passing lane matching the speed of the car next to them was a common occurrence. And the rain would come and then it would go, so the top stayed on for quite some time. After Orange, the road split, one way to Marseille, the other to Barcelona, and all the vehicles with German plates when to Spain and the traffic thinned out enough that we could actually do the speed limit again.

After all of this, I made it to Aix by 5:30PM, still 20 minutes from the airport and half an hour late already. I found Colin and asked if he could come and pick me up after I dropped the car off, but we needed to find a car. Gus had it, and he was cool with us grabbing it, but he was across town at his new flat. So, we got the car, and I raced to the airport, freaked out that they were gonna charge me for an extra day again, and wondering how much more I would have to pay for the 400 or so extra kilometers that I had over the allowed 900km. As it was, it was very busy at the rental place, and they didn't check the mileage, didn't check the time, they just checked for damage and the fuel tank being filled. I will have to see what the cost was when I get my credit card bill, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that it wasn't more than the original bill.

In the end, it was a fast three days, seeing some absolutely amazing country in a really awesome car and being able to see my friends topped it off perfectly.

That had to be the best paycheck that I have ever spent in three days.

(Told you this was a long post! Stand up, walk around, give your eyes a break.)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Rest your aching limbs for a little bit

This is killing me.

We haven't had a fire in almost a week, and the planes are sitting collecting dust and we are getting bored waiting to put some fires out. I am hoping with the wind changing direction back to the Mistral, we will get some warmer weather, less wet and some fires to go and put out.

Meanwhile, I have booked a car to go driving around the French and Italian country side with. I was planning on renting a BMW Z4 but after taxes, exchange, mileage, and fuel costs it would be about $2000CDN for three days.


So, I have settle for a Mini Cooper at about a 1/4 the cost. I could have gotten a little Renault or Citroen for even less, but I wanted something a little more sexy then the other two. It should still handle well, and unlike the Beemer, it has a manual transmission, which all cars should have.

The plan is to head east towards the Cote d'Azur, where I can find Cannes, Monaco, and the rest of the French Riviera; then cross the border into Italy, head towards Turin (where the Olympics where not to long ago) and then head north up to Switzerland. In Switzerland, I want to explore the Alps a bit, then head towards Geneva. After that, I will head home through the French Alps back to Marseille and Aix.

I don't have any definite hard in stone plans, but I do have a map and will be getting a Lonely Planet book for Italy! That's good enough, right?

soon there after, I will be heading up to Denmark to hang out with Meggie and Hans for their wedding celebration. I expect that it will be a bit of a wild one, if the stories that I have heard about the Danes and partying are true. And, if I have time, I will stop and see Claus for a bit, maybe grab a coffee with him.

I still don't know when I will be coming home, fire season is still going and Adam wants me here till it is done. I have a feeling that I will be here until at least the end of September then maybe a bit into October. After that, I have my three weeks planned to travel a bit of Europe, and then come home. The interesting thing that I have been told by someone at work is that I must use up the hours in my overtime bank that are more than the Union at work allows, so this means that I may be at home relaxing for a bit longer than I had originally thought. At the rate that I am gaining hours in the O/T bank, I might not be back to work until Christmas!

So, there, you are up to date with my life.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Is this not what you expected to see?

Almost done. It has been a very long stretch of work, with Colin off in Vancouver packing up his family to come over here top France. I could use a break, I am getting tired now from the extra work.

I have been thinking of renting a BMW Z4 for a few days to go and explore the country. I haven't done much recently, and I think that a nice little roadster would be a blast to travel to the Alps in. It is gonna cost a fair bit, but I haven't done much recently. Maybe Leanne will be home, and I can stay with her in Geneva for a couple of days.

Not much else to say, been so busy at work that my social life has plummeted. It will be September soon, and then I will be going to see Megan and Hans, and then some time after that, my time here will be short then I will be heading home. At least I hope I will be .

Sunday, August 06, 2006

In the pipeline, filling in time

Another crazy day at work, dayshift style.

Yesterday, we had Charlie, one of the pilots snag a bunch of stuff that wasn't really an issue, but that is the way he is. I am sure that he is scared to fly, but he is close to retirement now, and I think that he is trying to keep himself alive until then. Today, it was a tire. The tire was installed last night, after being removed a few days ago. The pilots think that it is bad, but everything that us mechanics know says that it is good. So, small fight later, and I am out there changing a tire in a big hurry because the plane has to fly. I think that I impressed the chief pilot since I did the change in about half an hour, not to shabby at all! The plane left on time, and the pilots were happy. Just another day on the line for me.

Coca-cola Blak...don't do it, it tastes like ass.

A big congratulation to Bella and her Boy, no wait, Fiance. I expect an invite soon, so that I can make planes in case I come back to France again next year. =)

And another big congratulation to Maria and Alex on birth of Charles, (or Lump v2.0 as Alex calls him). He looks like he is gonna be a big boy when he gets older!

I am going to be working a bit of extra shifts the next little while as Colin is heading back to Vancouver to finish packing, and to get his daughter and dog to bring them back here. So, not much time for exploring! I am just hoping that I won't get too burned out, there is one stretch that I am working 4 night shifts then coming back to work in about 5 hours. Adam will start the shift for me, but I am hoping for quiet days to get a bit of rest.

The weather has changed here too, no more 40C+ days, now closer to 30C in the day, and 18C at night. But the big change is the wind. The Mistral has finally shown up, and that brings fires! For those not familiar with the Mistral, it is a wind that blows from the north, at speeds up to 16km/h! Some days, it is hard to stand still on the ramp, as the wind wants to blow you over!

I don't know if I will be able to get out to do any touring the next while, being that I will be working extra, but I hope to go on at least one more tour before the end of August. I was hoping to sneak off to Wales to visit my long lost friend Kristen, but that is looking less likely until September.

As for when I am coming home, we really don't have a clue. Fires are really burning now, and I am here until they stop. Then, some time off, then I come home. I also have found out that all my overtime that I have stored up must be used before I get back to the hanger, so I might get even more time off when I get home! =)

That's about it for today, nothing else to add.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Us and Them

Another day off. Yes I do work! Honest!

Actually, worked a bit of overtime last night, and the next few weeks will be a bit crazy. I will be doing my own shifts, and then covering some of Colin's shifts while he goes back to Vancouver to move some of his stuff here and pick up his daughter and dog. So, Gus and I will be a bit extra busy keeping everything running at the base. Which is fine with me, makes the days go faster.

Had a bit of a scare the other night, I was almost robbed right in the "secure" courtyard of the hotel. This place is a bit weird, there is no one here from the staff from 8PM until 8AM everyday. So these punk-ass kids keep coming in here, and using the pool at night. Recently, they have been getting braver, and coming in the mid day at lunch when the staff closes the place for two hours and using the pool with the guests here.

There was a few guys a week or so ago, walking around the pool stealing room keys, I wonder if these guys are the same guys?

So, anyway, I was coming home late at night, around 2:30AM, feeling good that I didn't get jumped in the parking lot, when I walked into the courtyard and there were three youths sitting waiting for people to come in. I tried to hurry past them, wished them "bonjour" when they said it to me, but then they started demanding money. I just kept on going, and made it to my room with no more hassles.

The next morning, I told the staff about it, and they told me that the manager was talking with the police. I went and told them what happened, and then had a another talk with the manager after the police left. She explained that since they are under 18, the law protects them and the police cannot do anything about it. I suggested that maybe they look into security being here all night as a deterrent. I guess that there is security here, but they only come by a few times in the night. Her answers didn't make me feel much better, so I made sure that I told all the guys from work about it.

Next night, all the guys are at work late doing an inspection with me, and Adam decides to head home early cause he has to be back in the morning. When he gets home, the three punks are waiting again, and demand money from him as well! So, he calls me at work, and warns me. The rest of the guys now are looking to kick the shit out of these guys, teach them a lesson. We decide that wouldn't be a good idea unless they start something. So with a bit of a game plan, we head home, but it was late enough that they had already left.

Adam, this morning, tracks down the manager and demands that they get security here at night, or we all are leaving (that would be 5 rooms empty, at a big loss to them). We now have security here for a few weeks to try and keep the kids away.

I kind of realized that the crime in this area was bad, but I am not used to having people accost me in my home. I can now appreciate how nice we have it back home, and hope that we never get to be this bad.