Thoughts from Paris

It would have been nice to have someone to share Paris with, but I love the freedom to just head off in a direction because it looks interesting and chase down whims. My feet didn’t appreciate it, but the blisters will go down.

Every time I visit another city or country- and I’ve visited more in the last year than the previous decade- I seek out hidden corners and interesting museums. And then I vow that I should do the same when I get back to Manchester. I’m making the vow again, let’s see if I can keep to it.

Comparing Manchester to three capitals- London, Paris and Budapest- and New York is to risk diminishing it. It doesn’t have the scale, and it certainly doesn’t have the grand boulevards, of Paris, Budapest and NYC. As the first industrial city it is one of the most important places of the last two centuries, but it’s a sort of geek history, lacking the populist narratives of bombardment, occupation, liberation and unrest. Nonetheless, it punches above its weight, and it’s home. Certainly, if someone were to fund it, I’d move to Paris or Manhattan. But that’s not going to happen so I’m staying put and seeing if a few of the better foreign ideas make it to the dirty old town.

The first thing we need to do, which may come about because of the congestion charge, is sort out public transport. Even London is doing a better job of it than we are. Budapest probably did it best- one ticket for bus, tram, RER and Metro. Oxford Road may be the busiest bus route in Europe, but only because there are so many different companies competing for business on it. Stagecoach charges twice as much as Finglands for the same service with vehicles that are only slightly better. Meanwhile, radial routes suffer. It’s not impossible to get from Withington to Chorlton, but it’s not exactly easy either. Let’s re-regulate the buses and/or subsidise the secondary routes.

Budapest and Paris were both more bike friendly than Manchester. The proliferation of Velib bike stands in Paris meant that even people British non-cyclists might label as “normal” could be seen pottering around on two wheels. Next time I visit I’m packing jeans and a backpack and braving the mad French drivers. In Manchester we’re tolerated at best. One only has to read the comments on any Manchester Evening News story about bikes to gauge the low opinion too many drivers have of us I’m sure some of the commenters have chosen to pick on cyclists because it’s no longer acceptable to be openly racist. Few of the suggestions arising from these discussions would be much practical use. The only way to make cyclists safer, for themselves and others, is to get more of them onto the streets.

I’ll do my part, promoting cycling wherever possible and just getting out there as much as possible. I’ll also see what I can find out about the cycling part of the council’s pre congestion charge plans and report on them over at Two Wheels Good.

Budapest Transport Museum

Transport Museum, originally uploaded by spinneyhead.

The transport museum charged you to get in then wouldn’t let you take photos unles you paid them. Sadly I didn’t figure this out until I was in the aerospace annex, so there are no pictures of cars, trains and bridges.

Transport Museum set.

Memento Park

Memento Park, originally uploaded by spinneyhead.

Memento Park, or Szorbopark as it was labelled on the road signs, is a rest home for Soviet statuary few miles outside Budapest. I was hoping for more, and larger, pieces but it still provided a good home for a GI and several opportunities to photograph Ike interacting with statues.

More pictures in the Memento Park set.

Stormy Monday

Rain at Ferihegy, originally uploaded by spinneyhead.

The casa Spinneyhead trip to Budapest was great fun. Up until Monday the only negative factors were Orange mobile email’s unreliability and Saturday’s hangover being aggravated by the heat to the point where I felt faint.

Then we had to come home.

We made it to Ferihegy terminal 1 early without a hitch or taxi fare, having discovered the Metro laid on connecting buses. We hung around for a while in the terminal, then checked in. So far so good.

The first disappointment was finding that airside at Ferihegy isn’t that good, but we managed to get rid of excess Forints at the expensive cafe.

It started to rain just before we boarded our plane. Not a biggy, it was the first rain during the daytime since our arrival and even if it was a bit heavy that was just preparation for our return to Manchester. We even managed to make the short bus ride and transfer to the plane during a break in the showers.

The problems started once we were aboard the plane. Two rows back was a screaming ill child who promised to be annoying throughout the flight. Then it started raining again, more heavily and with lots of lightning. The fuel trucks sat at the end of each wing immediately uncoupled and scooted away, afraid of exploding.

As the rain and lightning continued and the muzak on the intercom cycled through Robbie Williams and worse, things deteriorated. Alex began to tell a tale about flying through lightning in a commuter jet that kept getting hit. This prompted the man in the seat in front to turn around and tell us off because his wife was terrified of flying. With that cliche out of the way we tried to stay quiet, going back to reading and waiting out the storm.

We waited, but the storm had more patience. The captain came out to talk to everyone and convince us all that, should we ever get any fuel on board and take off, we’d be perfectly safe. After over two hours we were told to get off and wait in the terminal building.

Negro pastilles

At least four other planes worth of passengers were in the same situation, and Ferihegy 1 isn’t built for that many people hanging around, but couldn’t or wouldn’t open up any extra space for us. We found floor space near the air conditioning vent. Alex slept, Ruth listened to an audiobook, Damian tried to chat up a student returning for her graduation and I broke out the politically incorrect sweeties. Time dragged on, water built up on the tarmac and a spectacular light show kept turning the Eastern skyline purple.

More than once we were teased as fuel trucks appeared only to scuttle away again as the sky lit up once more. I started planning to build the world’s largest capacitor and just once be able to shoot lightning back into the sky as revenge. One plane was wheeled away because of some fault and its passengers told they would fly in the morning. A Transit van crossing the tarmac hit a patch of standing water and through up a plume that reached halfway up its windows.

Ike stows away

Finally, just before midnight, there was a long enough break, our plane was fuelled and we were shuttled out to it. The flight was uneventful, surprisingly, and there was almost no cloud over England. It was just after 2am when we finally traipsed out to the taxi rank, over four hours later than scheduled. We got into a taxi and slowly pulled away.

That should have been it, but the bad journey mojo just wouldn’t let go. It took us a little too long to realise that the taxi was really, really going slowly. By the time we’d worked out it might be a problem we were on the motorway, straining to grind along at 22 whilst HGVs went past us at 70. A grey cloud of we couldn’t tell what followed us along the slow lane.

Our driver explained that this was an intermittent problem that had been going on for a while, and he was angry about it because the vehicle was still under warranty and therefore shouldn’t break down. I didn’t try to explain warranties to him, but we all employed varying levels of forthrightness to tell him he shouldn’t be on the road with a car in that condition. Oblivious to our meaning, he asked us to write a letter of complaint to the person who sold him a vehicle which broke down even whilst it was under warranty. All the while we squealed and rattled our way along the slow lane, stopping once when he thought another cabbie had stopped to offer to do a passenger swap on the hard shoulder. Anger, and terror, mounted as he then tried to pull back onto the motorway with lorries charging toward us.

A journey that should have taken ten minutes ended up taking nearly forty and, whilst the cabbie received far less than the meter said, he still got paid more than he deserved. There’s a contact at the council to report bad or dangerous taxis. We have his number, so we shall be making the call.

Terror House, Budapest

Terror House, Budapest, originally uploaded by spinneyhead.

A museum about Hungary’s Communist years, based in the former headquarters. Not a very merry place. And Alex locked me in one of the cells, the bastard.