Saturday, December 29, 2007

Rode on the steel breeze

I'm sad.

I just gave back the Mercedes, and now I am driving a Clio. That's like going from eating caviar to eating rotten pig carcass. I guess that I have been spoilt.

I did have fun with it though, got to cruise a few places. Yesterday, I went to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, to see where all the fantastic wine comes from, and to check out the ruined castle. Unfortunately, I got there at lunch time and all the caves where closed, so it looks like I will have to go back to sample some of the better wines on the planet. Still, it was a nice drive in the Rhone Valley.

After that I went over to Fontaine de Vaucluse to see the famous spring that feeds the river Sprogue. I guess someone forgot to turn it on since deep down in the hole in the mountain, there was a little puddle; not the roaring torrent of water that I have heard about. Actually, it is the wrong time of year for the torrent of water, I need to visit in the spring when the mountain run off is flowing. The river was flowing, but since the water level was so low, it was coming out a little downstream from the pool in the hole in the mountain. One bonus though, when I stopped to buy a crépe from a pretty French girl, I got to hold her hands for a minute to warm them up. =)

No, I still had to pay for the crépe.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

With friends surrounded

The past few years, Christmas has been a little bit blah. After all, my brothers and myself are all adults now, only one of us has any kids and she isn't even a year old yet. The parents have moved a ways away from most of us and the commute to see them, or have them come see us in a bit treacherous in the winter. Add in the fact that I am now in France, instead of Canada, and there really isn't much to look forward too.

This year however, has been different. Although I am in France, I had an ace up my sleeve, a way to get back that feeling of family and kids and the wonders of Christmas.

I have friends with kids who allowed me to share time with them over the holidays.

Leanne is a good Canadian girl, who met up with a super French guy named Alex, and moved to a little town on the border of Switzerland called St.Julien-en-Genévois and they have had two sweet children. Not many of us from Canada come and visit them here, so when I can, I pop in to visit. It is about 4-5 hours on the motorway, and a bit less on the TGV, so I would put it as being "in the neighbourhood".

This year, being that I am in France, and I managed to get the week off work since none of the planes are flying and the rest of the guys are going away. I rented a nice Mercedes C-Class (sweet ride!) and drove up for a few days of visiting.

During my stay, we took a trip into Annecy for some shopping, Alex Margaux and I did a quick trip into Geneva, and we ate way too much good food! Christmas Eve was quiet, except for overly tired, but hyper children who didn't want to go to bed. Poor Adrien, just as he was being tucked in, started to worry that he hadn't been good enough this past year and Santa wouldn't make a stop with things for him. It took a few minutes with Dad to assure him that we would chat with the man in red and convince him that Adrien wasn't too bad a little boy.

Come Christmas morning, Margaux was up about 5:30AM, but was told to wait until 7:30AM before she could wake Adrien. At 7:30AM precisely, not only was Adrien woken, but everyone else was too! For the next few hours, through groggy sleep filled eyes, the adults watched and laughed as the kids were allowed to open a present or two at a time. These kids got trucks, Lego, toy animals, new clothes, and other assorted things from Grandparents, Santa, Mom and Dad and me.

Soon enough, Alex's parents and sister arrived for dinner. We sat down to a fantastic meal, prepared by Leanne, of; fois gras, escargot, home made cauliflower soup, turkey with potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce and dressing, six kinds of cheese with three types of bread and finally a traditional chocolate Busche (cake) that was super rich and yummy!

After dinner, we sat and talked for a bit, then Alex's parents left to avoid driving in the dark and fog. Caroline stayed for a bit and we tried a few games of Jenga to our amusement. After Caroline left, we played with the kids for a bit, watched The Princess Bride and then we all crawled off to our beds sleepily.

All in all, it was one of the best Christmas' that I have had in recent years. Yes it wasn't my family, but in a way I feel like they are family to me. I got to laugh and play with the kids, spend time with Alex and Leanne and I even learnt a bit of French! I also think that having someone from home come and visit makes Leanne a bit happier too.

Now I am back in Aix, I still have my car for a few more days (screwed up the dates, so I have it too Saturday now) and plan on doing a bit of exploring throughout Provence. Not sure what I want to see yet, but I am sure that there is something out there to do!

Friday, December 14, 2007

French Sushi

So here is the low-down on French sushi.

First of all, it was surprisingly good. I was terrified that it would be dried up crap, but it actually tasted quite good. A couple of things weren't quite right, like the fact that it was actually a Korean restaurant, even though the menu was all Japanese names. (go figure) Next problem was the price, which I did expect but was rather surprised at. For a plate of about 13 pieces of fish (a variety of them), and 8 other assorted nigiri, and some rolls it came out to 39.50 Euros. Can we say "OUCH"!! That translates out to about $58 Canadian, for barely enough to satisfy my hunger. Good thing that I ate a bunch of pizza before I went! Finally, the worst part. Once again, cigarette smoke. I woke up this morning hacking and coughing, my clothing stinking. There were five of us there, and four of us didn't smoke. The one girl that did, was told that none of us smoked, but she lit up anyway. Add that to all the other people smoking and you have a nasty case of lung butter in the morning.

I have also sorted out Christmas a bit. I have to be on 48 hour notice in case something goes wrong, but I can run off for a bit. I talked with Leanne in Geneva today, and I am welcome at their place for the holidays. So now I just need to get a car, plane ticket or train ticket then I will be off! I was thinking that the plane will be the cheapest and easiest, train will be a bit more expensive but relaxing and the car will be pricey, but more flexible if I need to run home in a rush. I have also found a place that has a lot cheaper rentals, and I can get a BMW 3 series or equivalent Mercedes for about 400 Euros. Not a bad price for a week, compared to what I paid last time for a car for three days.

I guess I need to start worrying about Christmas presents for Leanne's kids now. =)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Smoke on the water

I am a little nervous.

You see, I have been invited out tonight for Sushi. In France.

I don't worry about food in France normally, because the French know how to cook better than most in the world, and food in restaurants is second to none.

But Sushi isn't cooked, and I am not sure how fresh it is being that I am in a place where some of the normal fish used in Sushi isn't found.

Actually, what has me worried the most is the price. After enjoying the relatively cheap Sushi in Vancouver from the past few years, I am scared to think about how pricey dinner will be tonight. Gus says that he dropped 115 Euros there one night! I guess that the expense comes from the fact that it is still a novelty here, and only those with money tend to go out of Sushi in this area. So I guess that I will be one of the posh ones tonight.

Other than that, things are going well. I have been working my butt off, but was rewarded today with a nice bottle of champagne for Christmas from one of our partners out at the airport. I think that will go well later this month...

One thing that has been bothering me a bit is the smoke. Not only the cigarettes that people are smoking everywhere (shops, cafes, restaurants, airport...well, everywhere actually), but more the smoke from chimney's from all of the older houses that use a fireplace to heat. It has been cold around here, -3C this morning and I guess that it is nice to have a roaring fire going to stay warm. But everyone else in the region has the same idea, and there is a thick haze as far as I can see from my deck from the smoke. I sure makes the lungs hurt.

Well, need to get ready for going out tonight.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mine stufz, I haz it =)


I have had a good day. Other than being awake at 4:20AM to go to work, it has been good. Today was the first day that Gus was back from vacation, he was a bit jet lagged, but looked glad to be back. That was until he saw me in the van when we were to pick him up.

You see, about a year and a half ago, I bought Gus a bottle of champagne for his birthday. He thought that it would be fun to play "The Bird and the Cage". The game is played by placing both the cork (bird) and the wire that holds the cork (cage) behind the back, and the other guy picks one hand. Whatever it is that you pick, you keep, while the other guy keeps the other half. Then, whenever someone produces his half, the other guy must have the other half with him.

I had the cage.

The nice part about the cage is that when twisted up, it fits nicely on a key chain. The cork, it is a pain to carry.

So this morning, Gus saw me and was hoping that after a year and a half I would have forgotten about our little game and he would nail me tomorrow with the "Bird".

How wrong he was.

I waited until all the guys were in the office and pulled out the "Cage", and I got to watch the best expression that I have seen in a long time. He forgot the "Bird" and I am getting a bottle of champagne. =)

The next fun bit was that a crate with all my stuff arrived today! So now I have my monitor, my Playstation, more clothing, power adaptors, chargers for batteries, books, and tools. I am a happy boy! The only thing that I need to do is get an adaptor for plugging the Playstation into the TV.

Tomorrow night I get to go to our staff dinner, which should be fun. I also found out that there is a good chance that I can run off to Geneva for at least part of Christmas. This too makes me very happy!

A good day, feeling good.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Four star daydream

Here I sit, Saturday night. This is by choice, I am tired from a very long day yesterday, followed by going out with Martin and his girlfriend Audrey to dinner and a nice little Mexican place in Aix.

We spent yesterday taking one of the planes from passenger configuration, and putting it into cargo config. It was a long day, 12 hours of physical work.

Today, Martin and I headed into Aix for brunch at one of the patio cafes, followed by some camera shopping. I think that I will be upgrading to the Nikon D300 in the spring. Martin probably won't wait that long. =) Martin also showed me a few new shops that I didn't know about and we wandered around for a bit window shopping, and checking out all the cute French girls all out in the sunshine.

This evening, we went into work so that Martin could sign out one of the planes, and I could get my passport that I had left there by accident. (don't like leaving that laying around.) When we got to work, Martin opened the door, turn on the light and was freaked out by a rat running across the floor! So we started moving furniture around until we had him cornered in the water cooler, which we took outside and dismantled it. We had it just about fully apart when we managed to chase him out into the night some place. We are hoping he doesn't come back inside!

So we have had a fairly busy week here, with an engine change on Monday and Tuesday (19 hour day on Tuesday), and then the conversion yesterday. The good part is that I will be getting a fair bit of overtime, the bad part is that my arm is in a lot of pain. I think that I strained a ligament in my elbow before I flew over here, but now with all the heavy lifting, and wrench turning, I have really inflamed it a lot. It is so sore that typing this is getting too much, and even shaking hands is painful.

I am not sure what I am going to do, maybe send off an email to my favourite physiotherapist for some advice. I am hoping that things will be slow until the new year now and I will be able to give the arm a rest.

Still not sure what is going to happen for Christmas. The boss would love to give us all time off, but with the French and their lack of ability to plan more than 2 minutes ahead of themselves, our plans need to stay up in the air. I would really love to go to see Leanne and Alex and the kids over Christmas, or fly up to Wales to see Kristen, but until I know for sure, I think I am going to be stuck here.

Now you are all a bit up to date on my life. Hope all of your shopping is done, and party plans are going well!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Day out

The Church at Saint Cannat
Originally uploaded by travelcedric.

Had a day off and a vehicle, so I thought that I would something that I really haven't been able to do over here much. I went for a drive.

I headed out around the estuary, Etang de Berre, which is right beside the Marseilles/Provence airport. I was actually looking for flamingos, since I have been told that they tend to like the shallows around the estuary, but as I expected, they aren't around this time of year.

Even so, it was a nice day for a drive, and although I have a bit of jet lag still, and a bit of a cold, I still enjoyed myself and took a few photos.

I ended up heading inland a bit, almost to Salon, but I was getting hungry so I headed back to Aix via some of the "D" roads. While driving down one of them, I came across a castle, with a zoo next door. There wasn't any good place to get a photo of the castle, so maybe next week I will take a run over there if I can get a car.

I did find a nice little medieval town called Saint Cannat, with a very pictures perfect church in the middle of it. I have been through the town before, but it is usually when it is late and we wanted to get home. This will be another place to stop and visit one day.

So, now I am killing a bit of time before I make another run to the airport to pick up Martin, one of our maintenance guys who is coming back from his home in Denmark. This will be my third trip there this weekend, twice to drop off or pick up guys, and once to work. I hope not to make this a habit!

Monday we start our engine change; this should take us a couple of days. I am working afternoons, and might be alone in the evening. That is okay though, since I tend to like working alone at night. I will just bring the iPod and enjoy myself.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Jet Lag Blues

Well, I made it. Here I am in sunny southern France, where the air is full of woodsmoke and my allergies are going crazy.

After a rather uneventful flight to Amsterdam on an Airbus A330 (Airbus seats are the most uncomfortable in the industry...just my opinion), then a bumpy uncomfortably flight to Marseilles on a Fokker 70, I landed and met with Chris who took me too my new home in Aix-en-Provence.

I have already been to work for nearly a 10 hour day, doing a large inspection on one of the planes, and will be going in again today (Saturday) for a quick Line Check on Tanker 74 with Pedro. It is looking like we will be more or less busy for the next week or so, with an engine change starting Monday, and flights continuing all over the place. It also looks like, although there is a schedule, I am going to be on call for the next ten months. That is okay though, since the more hours I get, the more cash I take home, and that all adds up to a nice bit for a down payment on a place when I get home. =)

I have also scored a really nice room at the hotel here in Aix. It was the room that my buddy Claus had when he was here two summer ago, and although I can see the pool and patio from the deck, the bedroom is around the corner so I won't have to listen to the noise. There is the highway that I can hear, but I sleep through that without a problem. Another bonus is that there is now Internet in the rooms! No more lugging the laptop down to the hotel lobby to suffer with bad wireless. This has made me happy.

I am still waiting for my bike, tools and trunk of stuff to arrive, but I don't expect that for a week or so. I have the van this weekend, and although I think today will be a slow day (with a bit of work thrown in), I am going to try and get out and see some things tomorrow.

I still don't know what I have planned for Christmas, I haven't talked to the boss yet about it. Kristen up in Wales has invited me there if I want, but I am not sure yet. I might go to Geneva to see Leanne and Alex and the kids, but Jerome, one of the guys that I work with, suggested Barcelona for Christmas. That would be cool, and if we can maybe convince Gus and Mary to come along, we could have a lot of fun!

So, I am off to a good start. Ten more months to go, and maybe if we can extend things, it might turn into 22 months. =)