Enlightenment

I have visited the British museum twice before today. I first visited in January 2003 concentrating on the Ancient Egypt collection back then as I was on a very short visit to London. I came back with Rav last Sunday but we did not stay very long and again, we concentrated on the ancient civilizations collections: Egypt, Greece and Asyria.

That is a very limited experience of such a great museum so today, I went to checkout the museum one more time wanting to see some of the other collections. And since the entrance is free, I don’t see why I would not come again and again!

Anyway. To my delight, I found out there was a very nice exposition named Enlightenment that picked up my interest.

As I wrote yesterday, an historical period I am very interested in is the period of the French revolution. And a movement that in a way led to the French revolution is the philosophy of Enlightenment (Les lumieres in French) that took up during the XVIIIth century.

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The exposition is really good. Organized around the library and personal collections of George III and some scientists of the period, it provides a good overview of all the topics that started to be examined at that period: Biology, Geology, Archeology, Antiquities, Science, History and Origins of Art, Ancient Languages study, Mysteries, Spirituality…Some great scientific tools of the period like globes and astrolabs are presented. There is also a copy of the Rosetta Stone that not only one can touch but also examine for a long time without being pushed around by other people trying to get a picture of it as it is the case for the original located somewhere else in the museum. I am sure most of these people don’t even look at it and could not tell you in which order the languages are written on the stone! It is quite nice to be able to feel the cavities of the text of such important document.

Everything is well documented and very educative. I finally stayed a lot of time in the room as everywhere I was looking, I could see one more item or presentation of interest.

Since I was at the museum, I could not pass on another visit of the Egyptian collection. It always brings back very good memories and at the same time, I can put many pieces in context so it is a lot of fun. I really liked the part on the book of the dead with some great papyrus including one depicting the last judgment (I bought a similar one in Cairo for those that did not follow ūüėČ ).

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Since Rav and one of his good friend work close by the museum, we went to lunch. He took me to a dive Korean restaurant that cannot be found if one does not know about it beforehand as it is not advertised outside. I even wonder if it has a proper license! We entered a Korean grocery store, chose between two main dishes, payed and walked all the way to the back down a staircase. We ended up in a room with some tables and chairs surrounded by shelves full of tapes and a stack of VCRs surely used to produce these tapes! We were served promptly. Food was very good! A unique experience ;).
We met again later after they were finished with work. We tried some bars around the same area and ended up at a Taco bar/club with excellent tacos, coronas and cool music. It was a lot of fun. Thanks guys.
Another good day in gloomy rainy London ;).

On other news. Today is the 3rd day since my backpack went missing. I could not get through the system in England but Ledi managed to get someone in the USA. They don’t have any idea of where it could be. Hopefully, it is partying with the 20 000 other bags stranded at Heathrow!

Magna Carta

One of my plan while coming to England this time was to go checkout Stonehenge that is considered a major wonder. So, with some help from Rav, yesterday, I booked a round trip train ticket to the city of Salisbury (South-West of England) for today.

From Rav’s place in Southall to Salisbury train station, it took around 3 1/2 hours taking the bus from his place to the tube station, tube to Waterloo station and train from Waterloo to Salisbury. 7 hours spent traveling might look a lot to many people but I guess it does not anymore to me. It is only half the time it took me to go from Adana to Antalya or Selcuk to Goreme by bus in Turkey! And since the train is way more comfortable, it ended up feeling like I spent the day on the couch at home reading a good book except that in place of the TV, I had a great landscape scrolling in front of me :).

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Anyway, I arrived in Salisbury a bit after noon and bought a round-trip ticket to Stonehenge. It is an interesting place and I liked to listen to the free audio-guide that is providing a lot of information about what the historians and archeologs know of the place. It is difficult to get a good grasp of the place though since in my opinion, one cannot get close enough to the circle and stones. Also, some roads have been built very close by making the place less impressive than it could be. Fortunately, the British government has started a program to cover one of the road and remove the other in order to return the site to its former state: lost in the middle of the plain. Actually, to be perfect, it would need to be surrounded by a forest. In this case, Stonehenge would really look surreal.

As you can have guessed by now, I was not that impressed. A bit disappointed actually. I think the hype killed it but it is still worth a look though :).

I took the bus back to Salisbury and since it was only 3PM, I thought I would walk around the city and maybe look for the cathedral Rav had advised me to checkout. I really liked walking around the city. It is very charming. Exactly the architectural style I associate with an old British college town. I could definitely live in downtown Salisbury :).

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I finally found the cathedral at around 5PM and decided to take a look. It has a very interesting architecture. Walking inside while the service was on added to the spirituality of the place.

Eventually, I stumbled on something I was not expecting. In the very nice library, I had the opportunity to checkout a copy of the Magna Carta (Great Chapter). I did not remember much about it from school but the very nice lady that was guarding it provided me with a booklet full of information. It was really interesting to read the translation and learn more about its influence on other countries’ constitution including the American constitution.

It actually brought back fond memories of when younger, I was studying the preparation of the Estates-General in 1989 (Event that led to the French revolution, my second favorite historical subject after ancient civilizations). At this occasion, the citizens of France had drafted a list of demands to the king that are very interesting since they show the concerns of the time. While not as broad, the Magna Carta still gives a good feel for the concerns of the barons in early XIIth century in England.

Anyway, I digress. Enough to say it was a good surprise and this made my day :).

All in all, a very good day-trip. And I even have some pictures to share thanks to Rav that lent me his camera.

On other news, my backpack is still missing. I tried to call the mishandled luggage line of BA all day but I cannot get through :(. Rav’s brother that works for BA told me over 20 000 bags had been mishandled and BA was recruiting volunteers from other departments to help. Hopefully, I get some news soon.

A Bit Worried

OK, first not to worry anybody, I made it to London safely.

I arrived in Roissy early as I knew it would take longer to get through the formalities. I was right! It took about¬†2 hours to go through the check-in process. To make matters worst, the hostess requested I only keep my wallet with me and check-in my small black day pack. I was not very happy about this as I had heard this was only for USA-bound flights and did not think it would be enforced on flights to London. No liquids of any form, OK. But no carry-on!!! I don’t really like to part from my camera, my IPod and especially my notebook and the CDs with the pictures from my trip. I have travelled through all Middle-East and I had not to do that at any time.

Well, I didn’t want to get anybody anxious so I complied. Unfortunately, I would discover later it was a huge mistake!

The trip went OK. Of course, I had to go through 10 controls before I could board the plane. And of course, we got delayed at every possible occasion arriving in London 2 hours late. But that was still alright as I understand the situation and I was not in any kind of hurry except that my friend Rav was waiting for me at the airport in London.

It is when I went to get my bags that it all turned sour. I collected my two big bags but after waiting more than 30 minutes, I had to accept the truth, my small blag day pack had been mishandled and I would not see it coming out of the conveyor belt today.

So I filed a complain with BA and am waiting for them to locate it. Hopefully they do it fast because loosing the pictures of my trip would suck big time :(.

On a side note. Heathrow is a big mess with tens of flights cancelled and thousands of people stranded. The departure level parking lot looked more like a refugee camp than an airport parking lot with heavy security, people lining up under the rain in order to get in the terminal and distribution of water bottles and prepared food. I hope it gets better by Thursday or I might have to find another way back to San Francisco.

Stranded

According to my initial plan of 5 months ago, today I was flying to London to spend a week meeting some friends before flying back to San Francisco on the 17th.

Well, as often, the plan did not work out as expected. As I arrived at the airport, I was greeted by a screen showing that all the flights to London had been cancelled!

The only explanation I got for a while was that Heathrow had been closed for the day by the BAA and I had to book another flight. So I queued in the very long line leading to the BA sales counters and started waiting in order to reschedule.

After discussing with other passengers and through two interviews (yes, I am that on demand!) with journalists from BBC and Le Figaro that were gravitating around the queue with tens of others, I finally understood that the British government had closed the airport following fears of a terrorist attack.

1 hour had passed and I had only progressed 20 meters in the 100 meter long line. It was worst than the lines at the Buzz Lightyear attraction at Disneyland or at the Eiffel Tower some days before! The reason was that there were only 2 BA associates to help the hundreds of stranded passengers so it could not go any faster. For their discharge, it does not seem like they are equipped to do any better.

Some very nice Paris Airport employees were on duty to help the passengers distributing bottles of water and giving British Airways reservation line and Eurostar reservation line phone numbers. Too bad they did not have more information to provide us though. Still, most of the people were calm (and resigned?).

After seeing a guy bound to New York (that was holding every possible gold membership card of every possible airline) get transferred on another flight and a family bound to Montreal get rescheduled for Saturday morning, both after calling the BA reservation line, I thought I could also give it a try. Not having any cellphone, I tried to use one of the public phone but it turned out the phone number was not toll-free so I had to give up that option and thought it should not be that long before I get to the window. 

Strike that! 3 hours since I arrived at the airport and I had only progressed 40 meters in the now 150 meter long line (how much I had left to do is left as an exercise to the reader). To make matters worst, one of the airport employees came around telling us there would not be any flights to London today so I should better just go back home and call the reservation line from there.

Well, I thought it was not a bad idea and made my way back home. $160 poorer but safe.

From there, I managed to reschedule my flight for Saturday morning. On the bright side, I have two more days to be with my parents and enjoy Paris.

And if you wonder why I am still going to London, you can read what I think of terrorism on a piece I wrote previously about Dahab.

The Marmotte Family

My friends Sandy and Arnaud just had a baby boy named Nohan last month and since I have some free time, I thought I would get off my lethargy, jump on the TGV to Geneva, and pay a visit to the Marmotte Family.

So it is what I did yesterday afternoon. 3 1/2 hours later, I was in Geneva where Arnaud was waiting for me. The trip went well and reminded me of how much I enjoyed TGV rides: smooth and fast ;).

I was a bit worried though since I realized halfway through the trip that I had not taken my passport and I was not sure if the French ID card was enough to enter Switzerland (since it is not part of the EU). But either it is enough or the Swiss border patrol does not care since they just waved me pass as I was holding my ID card in my hand. They did not even check it out!

We later crossed the border back to France as Sandy and Arnaud live in France and again, no controls.

The evening went very well as I had a chance to meet Nohan and finally talk to Sandy I had met only twice before and very shortly. We had a great time sharing stories of our respective trips. Of course, as usual with travellers, we came to talk about different scam stories that we experienced and it made me think that it is definitely difficult to trust someone when you travel. Maybe I will write some of my stories another time but in the mean time, just know that if someone is too friendly or speaks your language very well, be very careful.

And sadly, this applies to locals as well as foreigners as even foreigners might try to scam you while you are on vacation.

This morning, I crossed the border again, twice without anybody really checking anything and am now back to Paris.

Yes, I was in Geneva and I did not visit the city or the famous lake. I should be a bit ashamed ;).