Friday, 2 March 2007

A little French essay - Grenoble trip recorded.

Well it’s been a long time since I blogged from an airport.

Here I am, having just enjoyed the pleasures of a ‘garfunkels’ finest breakfast.

Gatport airwick (as it’s affectionately known) was not a great place to fly from this morning, and I’m really glad that I got here so early. 50mins queue to check in with BA, then 15 min through security is not impressive, but at least I’d left myself nearly 3 hours from arrival to departure so there was still good time for food before finding the gate.

Kind of bizarre – our MD returns from Houston today, around 10ish. I *should* be in the air before he touches down, although BA haven’t been exactly impressive in terms of punctuality, so I won’t hold my breath.

Right. Breakfast (slightly icky) consumed. Last time I came over here I ended up going without lunch, so this seemed a good idea. Lets go find a gate.

OK – I’ve made it fine.

My French colleague was late meeting me, but not by too much. He has about twice as much English as I have French, so there’s lots of nodding, d’accord-ing and generally pretending we understand each other when we don’t have a clue what the other is on about. I’m the one hunting for things to try to talk about during dinner for heavens sakes. His phone going off repeatedly is a blessing as it covers the awkward silences while we stare out of the windows.

BTW it’s whazzing down here :p

And BTW the hotel is another Ibis flea pit. It’s kind of clean, not too smelly and pretty central. Liveable but not great. And there’s no internet access.

I’m going to informally request next time I visit (if I ever do again) that the hotel isn’t one of these.

After we’d set the assay up in the lab and the French people had had their chats (in French – native French that dull and slow English only speakers don’t understand – boredom noted!) we went out. Took cable care from the centre of the city up to the bastille (fortified citadel) that overlooks Grenoble. I managed 1 photo at the top before the camera batteries died. Then it started raining and down we went, to a coffee, pointless walks around the city and then dinner.

Philippe’s blue entrecoate steak was the ‘blue-est’ I’ve ever seen. The pan may have been just heated and the steak given 30s a side. I seriously doubt it was even warm when he got it. My Poulet forestiere was fine, and fortunately not affected by the French passion for all things rare. Crepe Normande was rewarding though, with a quite substantial serving of calvados poured on top and generous portion of stewed apple inside. Setting light to the calvados was visually exciting, but a waste of perfectly good ethanol, and the waiters muttering of c’est magnifique a little too optimistic. Did taste fine though.

So here I am, billy no-mates, sat in this moderately manky room, proving I’m a saddo writing up a blog entry I can’t post, with a phone that’s run out of money (I mis-spelled that and wrote monet just then – seems funny to me right now). Wonder whether French TV is any better than ‘The Rutles’ on DVD?

Disappointingly, considering the cast, the answer was ‘about the same'.

In fact both were so poor that I ended up dragging out the WiFi card and slapping it in this PC. 5 wireless networks found! 3 were locked down, 1 kept on dropping out and 1 was the hotels own that required registration and payment at the front desk downstairs before access was possible. I’d already taken my shoes and socks off, having rather wet feet from out walk round the city, and laziness won out in the end: probably a good thing really: free net access, being alone in a hotel room and a bit of alcohol in the system are a bit of an invitation for surfing the less helpful parts of the net into the small hours, and I think this was also a factor in staying un-connected.

Friday morning we’d arranged to return to the lab at 8.00am. This proved to be a little over-optimistic in the end, and with us getting mildly adrift (lost is too strong a word) in downtown Grenoble, we arrived in Domene around 8.15.

At first all was well, then I managed to slightly mess up an incubation timing (which I recovered, but very, very embarrassing!) and we went on to complete the assay without incident. We discussed the results with the lab directeur – he was quite surprised that they appeared fine, and almost disappointed, however both Isabel’s and mine were similar, in terms of numbers (my assay had developed more cleanly with tighter replicates, but then it should). So we batted stuff back and forth, them in broken English, me in Fanglais (there’s not enough real French to even call it Franglais). They had been ‘not friendly’ about this assay and the company previously, but we left eventually to a chorus of ‘merci, d’accord and au revoirs’ with plenty of hand shaking, smiles and nods.

On the way back, Philippe tried to find an hypermarche for me to buy cidre to bring home. So we spent a ‘happy’ 50 mins exploring one of the remote communes to the north of grenoble before he got back on the road we’d previously used and went to the Carrefoure hypermarche we’d passed 3 times previously in the last 24 hours. Ho hum.

Lunch was a delicious calzone, shopping (for the cidre) and then back to the airport, mission accomplished.

Déjà vu for last night. Billy nomates, nice modern departure lounge with a tiny news agents (90% mags in French – fair dos) ‘sports’ shop local specialities shop and a well stocked sandwich bar. There’s an unsecured wireless network here, but it won’t let me connect to the net L. So here I am. Arrived around 2.40pm, flight leaves 5.55pm. Probably. Check in hasn’t started yet either. And this laptop is down to 19% remaining power (3 years old, and it sinks FAST).

And to cap it all, the departure lounge is full of noisy, boisterous and intrusive English school children (many of whom are injured) that are returning from a ski trip.

There’s just a chance I can check in now. Well, it’s something to do.


Right, bags checked in. Now my seat in the hall has been acquired, so a little nibble is in order – tarte au citron and some water – the tarte is pretty much up there with tescos finest so no complaints. However the water is cold and there’s quite a bit (half litre) and when I get called to go through security I have to leave the remaining 1/3 behind. I feel very sorry for the people left behind in the hall – the Monarch flight (due for London Gatwick at 5.00pm) hadn’t left Manchester at 4.30pm. Good old for a change) British airways had their plane for the 5.55 pm flight here at 4.50pm. The ‘turn left’ clientelle been called to queue for embarkation. If I happened to be in that category I’d probably stay put for a plane like this (short, fat jobbie) it doesn’t really appeal as I’d be sat on the plane for at least an hour before we fly. To further increase my desire to stay put, I found a seat with a handy unused power socket just round the corner, thus I can use this and recharge it at the same time unobtrusively. My seat (7A – window and at the front) is guaranteed, so I’ll see if the battery will exceed 70% charge (currently at 64%, was 19% and it’s only had about 20 min charge time) before boarding.

BA are still nicest to fly with in terms of the actual flight (good seats, better stewards, tolerable food and drink supplied. However for the ‘bargain basement’ flights the little luxury of free newspapers has disappeared. I can’t blame them, but this is one cut that I regret, as it was always nice to pick up the Times or Independent when boarding.

And talking of enjoyable experiences…. this airport has been pretty decent. I can’t remember another airport where staff have been SO nice, friendly and just enjoyable to deal with.

Here we go – 77%, time to get on (still 45 mins before departure – in case you thought I was the type to hold the plane up on a whim. My next post will either be from home, or on the plane because its delayed and I’m bored!

OK, I’m bored already.

The bad news – this is a Boeing which means badly designed folding tables and the forward seat I requested is directly on top of the left engine. If this was an Airbus then I’d have been infront of the engine and it would be much quieter. Plus the tables wouldn't be designed to hit your legs when folded out. There is quite decent legroom for one of these ‘sardine specials’ so that’s pretty good.

I’ll turn off in a mo to conserve the batteries in case I get extremely bored in flight. Right now I want to be home, snuggled up to my wife in a very married fashion.


Boredom won again.

Between putting the laptop away and before taking off I became desperately sleepy, drifting off, then jerking awake for about 45 mins, just rousing a little as we pulled off the gate, then returning to sleep while the plane waited on the runway before waking fully once take off started.

It’s about 6.00pm UK time, and I’m looking out on a lovely cloudscape of purple tinged white undulating fleece. The sky is doing that sea-blue fading through yellow to orange without once touching green as you KNOW it should by all the laws of colour addition.

While we were waiting for take off some great smells were wafted back from the galley up front. Dinner for first and club class I’m sorry to say – we got 2 sandwiches, Chicken Tikka and Tuna mayonnaise. To my considerable surprise the Tikka sandwhich was quite excellent, with real pieces of chicken, crisp crunchy salad and bread that was neither dry nor soggy. And it had reasonable flavour too.

Apparently this is a new service for BA, which is probably why the plane is less than 1/3 full. They have obviously been careful with the timings, as both journeys arrived in good time (we’re due in at 6.40pm, but have been told we’ll land around 6.25pm). Pretty fair really.

I have to confess to being tempted by the free drinks on this leg of the flight. The passenger just across the way (worked most of the flight on his laptop) enjoyed a bottle of red wine with his supper, then had a miniature of whiskey. Wine would have been great, but not when I must stay alert for a minimum 1 ½ hour/100 mile boring motorway drive. Ah well, have to call Chris when I land, see if she’ll sort dinner for me and maybe I’ll enjoy a drink then.

Seat belt signs will be on soon, 10 mins to landing announced so I’m signing off. I hope I’ll see many of you soon.

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