I look at myself as a traveller, rather than a tourist. This is not because I consider myself superior to the tourist hordes (though obviously, I do and am), and not because I go out of my way to seek out the authentic local experience (though I do try and avoid the nearest fast food chain, Irish pub or venue serving “English” food). No, I make the distinction because the tourist generally chooses their destination with the object of seeking after pleasure – whereas my destinations are chosen for me by “the man” and my object is business-related.
After more than a year with work taking me little further afield than the horrors of Woking, the last month I have been racking up the air miles (or I would have been, if I travelled by airlines which offered such “incentives”). Milan, Paris and Berlin have all be graced with my suited presence.
As a result of all this travel, I have discovered that Stansted Airport is entirely useless. It is very close to Fish Towers, but has flights to no useful destinations unless your business involves sun, sea, alcohol abuse and gland games – sadly (or, if I’m honest, happily), mine does not (yet). This means several hours of travel, before I see the airport let alone a plane, as I trek to Heathrow or Gatwick (neither of which are sited with the best interests of the denizen of South Cambs).
I have also been reminded about how vile flying truly is. The poor flyer has to pay to be treated like a bovine with a grudge against the state who is possessed of a sufficient knowledge of chemistry combined with and weakly anchored enough moral compass to do something violent about it. After you have cleared this feeble pretence at security, you put on your hiking boots and munch on your Kendal mint cake as you walk to a neighbouring county (or state) to find your gate before being locked into a cramped metal box with lousy air for a couple of hours. I really feel that they should be paying us to endure this – but apparently, large numbers of people are willing to part with hard cash for this mis-treatment.
My trip to Paris was very different as I took the train, as the good Lord intended. No nasty airport terminal full of the worst that multinational chains can offer. Half-decent patisserie from Le Pain Quotidien and a very brief stroll through security carrying all the liquid I could handle. A comfy lounge with free wi-fi followed by a very short stroll onto a comparatively spacious and comfortable carriage. Even better, the train leaves from the centre of London and arrives in the centre of Paris – rather than an obscure location some miles and many minutes away. The trip will also have made my nephew dead jealous – yes, I now find myself train spotting at one remove and taking pictures of all the interesting rolling stock I see while abroad as part of my avuncular duties. For those unfortunate enough to follow my Facebook feed, the trip also clearly showed how poor I am at self-photography: the look of dread concentration on my face as I attempt to work the iPhone was really quite worrying (luckily, WordPress refuses to accept images of such poor quality, so here is a Gare du Nord train photo for my nephew instead).
As well as the travelling, I have been sampling international hotels – or at least those approved by my employer. These are perfectly adequate (if not entirely luxurious), but do suffer from a fault which seems common to almost all hotels. Given the vast body of research that suggests 16°C is the maximum temperature that is conducive to sleep, why are all hotel rooms set at a temperature more suited to a Turkish bath? I have also found that it is almost impossible to cool rooms anywhere close to a comfortable temperature for a good night’s sleep. Surely, all this excessive heating is costing the hotel business a small fortune each year – dropping the thermostat a few degrees (as a standard) could provide the first chain to implement it with a huge competitive advantage (and I’d only want a modest fee for myself for originating the idea).
My visit to Paris offered other advantages over and above the mode of transport used to achieve that romantic city. My meeting took place in a chateau (dating back to 1399, so the oldest building in which I have yet given a talk!) some way outside Paris. I stayed in Paris overnight (opposite the Gare du Nare – which was very convenient, if rather expensive) and took the Transilien train out to Mery sur Oise in the morning (these services are almost entirely run by very new, very funky new rolling stock as shown below – but both my journeys were on some really antique old examples).
Despite its enormous cost, my hotel did not include breakfast in the room rate – and I refused to pay a further €17 for hotel breakfast fare -so, I walked out of my hotel (imagining I was Jason Bourne. Something I could do again in Berlin, as my hotel was on Alexanderplatz) turned the corner and saw no sign of a slightly beaten-up mini but did see an Artisan Boulanger. So, a fine breakfast of orange juice and artisanal patisserie. The chateau, as well as offering a more interesting and attractive venue than most of my business meetings, also did a fine line in patisserie-based snacks for the delegate (and, indeed, the keynote speaker). Even the Gare du Nord on my journey home could offer something. As a result, for roughly 24 hours my diet was nearly 90% patisserie – heaven! (Obviously, not something to do everyday – but great fun when it is almost forced upon me). Sadly, on more normal trips I am forced to snatch any food I can find when there chance presents itself – Berlin was a particular low point as I only just made my flight home and so was forced to eat easyJet’s over-priced fare to avoid my blood-sugar levels falling dangerously low.
This coming week, I believe I will manage to stay on these shores – though will have to head into London at least once (and perhaps more often). Hopefully, with a little less travel this poor blog will be slightly less neglected. Interestingly, despite (or perhaps because of) the lack of recent updates, people continue coming to GofaDM in hope of enlightenment or entertainment (unfulfilled hopes, obviously). Based on the geographical stats provided by WordPress, the sun truly does not set on this blog – the map is now coloured in shades of orange from east to west and north to south (thought is still a bit patchy in Africa and no Antarctica). Still, it is good to have ambitions still to be satisfy – I don’t want to end up like Alexander the Great (though, if I am being realistic, this is probably quite a low risk).