Saturday, June 23, 2007

Logbook: Paris III - Air Show

Parisiii1Thursday morning Jennifer and I went out for one last cafe au lait and croissant before checking her out of the hotel and heading to the airport. The Metro/RER ride to CDG was a no-brainer given our now vast experience, and we had little trouble finding our way to the check-in counter then getting her squared away. Could it be that we would be Franced no more? No way! We decided to pass the time until her boarding by getting one last French sandwich together so we went to the closest deli counter and, after waiting in line then being told we had to sit at a table, placed our order. The sandwiches that arrived a few minutes later didn’t look exactly like what we ordered, but they were close enough that we figured it was our mistake and started eating them. A few minutes after that, more sandwiches arrived that looked exactly like what we ordered but, since we’d already started the ones we had, they were immediately whisked away. We got Franced! How perfect is that? You can imagine how much we laughed! After we’d eaten, it was time to send her through security and on to her gate, so we said our au revoirs and parted ways, officially ending our time together on The Voyage.

By the time I had taken the RER/Metro back to my hotel, it was pretty late in the afternoon so I spent a little time sorting myself out and getting back into solo-explorer mode before getting dinner and hitting the rack. Early Friday I was up and out, back on the Metro/RER headed for Le Bourget to attend the famous Paris Air Show. I have always been fascinated by aircraft, and the Paris Air Show is easily the biggest and most amazing aerospace exposition in the world. Without question, I had planned my itinerary to put me in Paris in time to check it out, and I am so glad I did. Here are a few highlights of my experience:

1) The train out from the city was pretty crowded, but it was nothing compared to the mass of people who were already at the station when we arrived. Shuttle buses to the Air Show were available, but the lines to ride them were so long -- and so chaotic -- that I opted to follow a similarly large stream of people who were walking away with every indication of knowing where they were going. A good twenty minute walk later, I arrived at the main entrance gate to the Show and found a mob standing on line to get in. My determination to attend the Show overcame my normal aversion to such crowds and lines, so within about an hour I had paid my money, gotten my ticket and emerged from the entry building into the Show grounds... and a still larger mass of humanity! I have no way of estimating how many other aircraft lovers like me were on hand, but it must have been about 100,000 -- despite the overcast, rain-threatening weather!

2) The “inside” show is held in a number of very large exposition halls and is populated by companies which provide the aerospace industry with everything from materials, tools, machines, software and electronics to parts, sub-systems and services. In one aisle alone I saw specialty wrenches, landing gear, passenger seats, pilot helmets, CAD software and in-flight refueling connectors. It was amazing and I enjoyed wandering around for a couple of hours before reaching burn-out!

3) The “outside” show is held on the very large airport ramp area and is chock full of aircraft. Every kind of aircraft is on hand from the very smallest “kit” variety to the very largest jumbo jets. In between are corporate jets, military fighters, cargo aircraft, helicopters and tilt-rotors. Seriously, it is an aircraft lovers super mall! They are all so fantastic and different that I can’t really say I had a “favorite” but the sheer size of the new A380 -- a double-deck super jumbo jet that can carry up to 700 passengers -- made it a stand-out. I walked around for another couple of hours, getting up close and personal with some amazing flying machines.

4) A few times, the skies burst and it rained like hell. One time I was right next to a covered area and was able to duck inside to stay dry while watching an endless loop movie about some company’s “proven aerospace solutions” with a horde of other wet people. Another time I was not so close to cover and the nearest shelter was already packed full when I got there. I ran about 50 meters further to the nearest array of Porta-Potties and stood inside one of them looking out the door. I was soon joined by another man (French) then another (German) and still another (Italian) until there were four of us crammed inside that one little space. We were all in good spirits, making obviously funny remarks that had to be translated around before all of us could enjoy the humor. It was yet another fabulous moment on The Voyage!

5) The cross-section of people was remarkably varied. While the crowd was admittedly mostly “middle-aged male” like me, there were also large numbers of women, young people, old folks and even families. You could pretty easily make up a “story” about the small groups: There’s a group of men taking off from work; There’s a bunch of college guys; There’s a family having an outing; There’s a young couple on a date; Etc. People of all kinds from all over the world brought together by a love of aircraft. Nice.

6) The flying exhibitions! Wow! Even though the weather was marginal at best and downright nasty at times, we were given a phenomenal show. The fighter demonstrations were loud, fast and dynamic; the military specialty-cargo craft did things you wouldn’t expect given their size; the helicopters did astonishing acrobatics; the A380 made my jaw drop as it filled the sky overhead and maneuvered with agility and grace. I loved it all and didn’t mind getting soaked to the skin by the time it was over!

Parisiii2By late in the day I was wet, tired and happily “full” from my aircraft experience, so I walked back to the train station and made my way back into the city for a hot shower, an early dinner and a really good night’s sleep. I have spent most of today in iLife, editing my Report -- see “Paris Air Show” -- and posting some other web content. My two months in France is now at an end, and I am very happy with my exploration in this remarkable country. Overall, I have enjoyed it very much and I have learned a lot. I hope I have been successful in sharing my experience with you along the way. Tonight I will pack up my gear and get ready to take the EuroStar train to London in the morning. It has been almost nine months since I was last in an English speaking country, and I am almost atwitter in anticipation of once again having more or less full facility of language on The Voyage of Macgellan!

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