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Posts Tagged ‘Toulouse’

I’m on a plane

Just when I thought I couldn’t have anymore adventures before my looming departure, this happened.

I flew a plane.

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I later broke the law, but we’ll get to that.

So here’s the story. Around lunchtime I met up with my lovely WEP coordinator, Julienne, to sum up my time in France. Once she had left, my host mum unexpectedly told me to dress warmly and get in the car. We drove for a while, and I began to get suspicious around the point when we were driving in the woods. When we arrived at the municipal airport I really began to wonder exactly what they had planned.

Inside the airport’s tiny lobby, I surveyed my surroundings. I could see no mention of parachuting and was relieved and disappointed at the same time. I don’t really want to leave France, but I didn’t want to die here either. We walked outside and climbed into the back of an airplane the size of a small airplane. But instead of being seated next to my brother, Lucas as I expected, Michel climbed in the back with me. It wasn’t too far out of the ordinary that Lucas would get to sit next to the pilot, somehow he always managed to get the front seat of the car. However it did take me a minute to realise that it would not be the pilot flying this plane.

SANY0195

Lucas was a bit (ok maybe a lot) nervous to be sitting in the pilot’s seat, but it took him only a few minutes to get the basics down. Soon we were hurtling down the runway. I trusted my brother’s instincts, but I wasn’t quite sure that he did. We took-off, and within a few minutes had reached 5000 feet. It is a funny feeling, feeling safer at 5000 feet than at 10 feet.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h05m30s230

We were flying towards the Spanish border, watching all the tiny people and tiny houses and tiny etc. below us. It reminded me of my countless hours of playing sim city 4 deluxe edition but safe in knowing that the traffic jams weren’t a sign of my poor city management, I could just relax and indulge in the fact that I wasn’t them. I must have drifted off into my head, because after a few minutes we had reached the border. How did I know exactly? The majority of the Spanish-French border is a mountain range called “Les Pyrénées”. As we began to fly over the first peaks and I began to wonder if this was all just some elaborate plot to get me out of the country and leave a dead trail when the immigration come looking for an expired visa. I didn’t have much of a chance to think about that – a more pressing issue filled my mind.SANY0226

What once felt like a safe 5000ft didn’t feel that safe anymore. The peaks below us reached almost as high. I tried not to panic and consoled myself that if these were my last moments, that at least I would be spending them with family, that it would be an extraordinary exit to the afterlife, and that hopefully the snow would engulf my body, conserving my good looks so I could have an open casket funeral. Even though he was seated in the co-pilot seat, I trusted our pilot’s decision to take control from Lucas. This, I realised, was about to become serious.SANY0220

We rounded the first peak and made a sudden dive, leaving us truly in the depths of the ranges. I didn’t see how we could pull up in time to make it over the next peak but it turns out that wasn’t our goal. We banked a sharp left, almost perpendicular to the ground, and sped up. Out one window was sky, the other, ground. My head spun so I tried to focus on something. The windscreen. I focused my eyes and saw what I gathered was our escape – a gap between two more peaks. We were still some distance away, so I expected the gap to widen as we approached. It didn’t and suddenly we banked again, miraculously passing the gap. We made it.

I looked around us in our moment of security. Dug into the mountainside below us was a huge open cut mine. Curious, I asked what it was. The pilot replied that it was talc. I told him it was the same word in English. Even so, Michel, being the greatly humorous father that he is had to explain the various uses of talc for me. Suddenly the plane dropped. The land below us had sheered off into a  which has caused a change in air pressure. No biggie. We levelled out again and Lucas took the wheel. No more mountains before us, I felt safe again.SANY0222

The pilot pointed out something on top of a small peak to our left. As it came into focus, we realised what it was, a fortress. After we had passed it, he pointed us our next destination, another airfield not too far away. As he guided Lucas to the runway, I realised that he wasn’t going to land it, Lucas was. Hours of Aircrash Investigations ran through my head simultaneously. The pilot pushed some buttons and we started slowing. The ground came towards us much faster than I would have liked and soon we were metres from the tarmac. The plane nosed up suddenly and dropped gently onto the runway. We taxied and made a brief stop to change our seating.vlcsnap-2012-01-20-09h43m12s0

I had drunk a lot of water before the flight so took this golden opportunity to jog over to the grass and well you know. I looked around at this beautiful day. The sun sifting through the clouds and reflecting of the snow sprinkled slopes in the distance. The breeze drifting lazily through the long yellow grass and HOLY CRAP IS THAT A FREAKING HELLICOTER. The noise of the still running plane motor behind me had silenced it’s approach, and as it drifted not 50m in front of me I read the word GENDARMERIE in huge white letters on its side. Yes ladies and gentlemen, yours beloved, urinated in plain sight of a police chopper, showing it is possible to fulfil a bucket list item quite by accident.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h10m12s216

I hurried back to the plane having decided it would be best to get out of here as quickly as possible. In retrospect it was kind of obvious, but it still surprised me when the only empty seat was the pilots. I climbed in, adjusted my seat, attached my safety belt, and put the plane in gear. Listening to my instructions, I taxied the runway. At the end, I turned the plane around and faced destiny. I released the foot brakes and we sped of. The plane swerved left, and I pushed the pedal to adjust. I had trouble understanding my instructor. What number did he say to wait for? 50? 60? Were we still veering left? Did the cops think I was trying to make a getaway? He signalled to pull the yoke (an aeronautic steering wheel) so I did and as we separated from the tarmac, all my worries vanished.

After a few minutes we levelled out and I adjusted our heading. Occasionally we would bank, but it became easier and easier to stay level. It occurred to me that I had never driven a car but I could fly a plane. I resisted the urge to barrel-roll in delight. The pilot looked behind us for a long while then instructed me to speed up. I snatched a glance behind us. The sun was setting, and even though an early sunset would mean no time to joy-ride for me, the glance I had was enough natural beauty to make it worth it.

Enough clichéd sentimental bull, Ned. Just get to the part where you realise you have to land the plane too.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h02m15s43

Oh yeah, That. As soon as the airfield was pointed out to me, it dawned on me that like my brother, I too would have to aim this contraption at the ground in the hope my instincts would save me. I listened as intently as I could and did everything I was told to: fly over Leclerc, then line up with the runway.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h02m44s85

He told me to aim for ‘34’ written at the start of the runway

I overshot it.

We were too close to the ground

I pulled up sharply.

Our downward momentum keep us falling.

The tyres touched tarmac.

We rolled along the runway.

I congratulated myself.

I had just flown a plane.

 

We avoided the traffic jams and made it home safe.

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Well it was inevitable. Christmas has come in all it’s commercial glory. Decorations hung in the streets and at school. I had my last day of school for the year today. Most of my class came for the one hour of class we had in the morning, but thanks to vacation plans and for a general dislike for learning establishments, my lycée was a little empty.

IMG_0002 [LD]I live with my host family in Saint-foy-d’aigrefuielle, about 15 minutes from my High-school in Saint-Orens, a suburb to the very south of Toulouse. I’m saying this to show that I rarely get to travel into the city centre, and that is where today’s story comes from. I was feeling a little out of touch with my city. So after my 1 hour of class I decided to rekindle the romance and head back to my grand beloved. Like I said, my school is on the very outskirt of the city proper, and as a result we are the final destination for 4 bus routes, so I can usually catch a bus every 5 minutes. Of course like I have plainly stated before, this is the French system and seems to hate me so it’s a matter of chance if I can actually get back on time. Today was no different and the bus I was meant to wait 5 minutes for never came. But all was not lost. I had lovely company from 3 jeune filles from my English class who waited with me the 40 minutes until my next bus.

Eventually,  my bus came and left and we headed north. I was preparing myself for the Christmas Spirit with some music I found, while I patiently tried tried to calculate exactly how much time I would be spending in the bus so that I could work out how much time I could spend in Toulouse. It didn’t look good. If it took me 40 minutes from school to Francois Verdier station, I would only have only about 20 minutes in the city (Taking for granted the bus would actually return). I thought about how my city – like a siren – pulled me in with it’s promises of beauty, while making me traverse unnecessarily long bus routes.

Meanwhile we arrive and I get off my bus where I assumed I was close enough to the capitol, lured my the promise of Christmas Cheer. I knew exactly what I wanted:  I wanted decorations, I wanted Lights, I wanted Music and snow and fake Santas and choirs singing carols in the streets. And I was willing to risk a missed bus to find it.

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I took my chances and ventured into that concrete jungle. Walking pass churches and the homeless I arrived at my goal, Capitol Square. I always end up here. Thy had put a lot of effort in – that was obvious – but I never saw any references to anything Christmassy. No Santas, Jesus, reindeer or the like. Nothing but a lot of stores and a lot of money changing hands. All this commercialism using Christmas as a selling point. I realise that as I grow up, that this is what Christmas will become to me. We all have to lose that childhood innocence eventually, right? We become thee people who don’t mind paying overinflated prices on unwanted Christmas Gifts, but giving a dollar to the homeless is just a little too much. It’s a much repeated story, but it still pisses me off.

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Lost in trying to find my Christmas Wonderland, I realised that once again I had missed my bus but I promised myself that it would pay-off. 20 minutes later, scanning my bus ticket, I had still found nothing. I arrived at school later than I had expected, and so was sure that I had missed the Repas de Noël – A special Christmas lunch the school puts on near Christmas. I hadn’t missed it, but I had missed the queue and didn’t have to wait. It was yum.IMG_0087 [LD]

From my table I had a view of the entire cafeteria and felt a little better. I could see our German correspondent, Lukas, at a table with his host-brother and friends. Despite it being his last day, they all looked remarkably happy. This was the Christmas spirit I had been looking for and I didn’t even need to go looking for it. It had been here all along. I smiled to myself. Christmas is sooooooo cliché.

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Joyeuses Fêtes

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The Magic Airbus

I would like to take a moment to dedicate this story to my dear grand-father who recently told me he actually likes my stories. To that, I have to say “Thanks, but it’s your fault.” It turns out that Talent (and stunningly potent good-looking Irish genes) are genetic. But this dedication is your’s, mainly because thanks to you I became interested enough in something that millions of people use a month. Interested enough to convince my family to take me to the Airbus Assembly Factory Tour in Toulouse,which is we have today’s story. I would also like to note the extreme absence of photos – apparently, someone tipped them off about a potential espionage attempt. Unfortunately, no-one knew about my autistic-like ability to remember imagery of Assembly factories to their precise details and recreate them in 3-Dimensionally. I was joking, of course. Actually I’ve never bothered to find out…(ramblings continue in this fashion until the next paragraph)

Ok, so it was a rainy day, but good as any for a tour. The drive took us past Blagnac Airport to the very edges of lesser Toulouse. We ditched the car and sprinted for the doors of the conveniently named Airbus Tours entry, shaped like the fuselage of an Airbus A380.

IMG_0979After confusing the desk-girl for a flight attendant — and asking for a 4th miniature bottle of wine that will hopefully finally lull me in to a state of apathy that will drown out the hollow screams of the teething infant with an ear-infection three rows back. [Only joking – As if anything designed for use on an aeroplane is actually designed to lull anyone into a state of anything (i.e. sleep)] — we moved through the gift shop and bunched together with an overly excited group of university students also waiting for the tour to begin.

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The first room, wasn’t too interesting. It was a (functioning) replica of the control room used for the first moon landing A380 test flight. By functioning, I mean recorded to sync with the video of the test pilots, by which I mean that when the recording of the test pilots showed the plane bank left the Tom-tom style GPS replica showed a left bank. VeryHighTech

Afterwards there was another mad dash through the rain to the tour bus, built specifically to insure that the adorable little old lady in our care had to take plenty of time getting up the stairs. We being gentlemen, waited until everyone else was on the bus. Waited in the gift shop.
The bus took us through a few security points and then immediately to the closest wharehouse. In front of a row of elevators we received a lecture about where all the parts of the Airbus come from. All of which I have burnt into my memory:

  • Spain   Fore fuselage, rear-fuselage,
  • UK      – Wings
  • France  – Centre fuselage, 
  • Germany – Paintwork, 
  • Mystery Engines (purchased from a third-party – usually RR or IKEA – but installed by Airbus

After an eternity of Pidgin-English the guide finished and the elevator banks opened, flooding us the glorious sound of silence (and just the right amount of elevator jazz). We ascended 4 floors to a much better vantage point (this one actually had a window) and gazed our eyes upon what you might imagine Santa’s workshop to look like. Tiny people in colourful outfits happily going about their work building toys in preparation for Christmas. That is if you’re like me and wrote to Santa every year begging and pleading for the largest available commercial aircraft. No? Well it takes all kinds to make the world, doesn’t it.


The guide invited us to take a step back and look up which revealedd to us previously invisible TV screens (invisible? only possibility: Santa Magic). Which showed a short documentary on how the different parts of the Airbus are  brought together from over Europe. Sounds simple? Think about it, and things start to fall apart:

  • Why not fly them, it’s only a short distance?
    • Well that’s a terrific Idea. In fact, Airbus designed an aeroplane (a hideous thing called the Beluga … eww) specifically for transport parts of their commercial Fleet. It is probably the largest Aeroplane in the world, and the majority of the older Airbus models, as well as a few A380 parts are transported by it.
  • So why aren’t all the A380 parts sent via plane?
  • Well the problem is that the A380 fuselage is roughly the same diameter as the Beluga. So then, why doesn’t Airbus simply build a bigger Cargo transport? Two reasons: Firstly, because for the moment, it’s just too difficult to design an aeroplane any bigger, still capable of flight. Secondly, because of the size of the fuselage needed to accommodate an A380, it would be near impossible to navigate through cities via land (I’ll explain later). The only reasonable way to transport these fuselage parts would be via the air…which would need an even larger fuselage diameter. See where I’m going?
  • Doesn’t Europe have a lot of canals and rivers. Why aren’t the A380 parts just shipped to Toulouse?
  • Well actually, most of it is shipped via the ocean. Unfortunately Toulouse is situated right between the Atlantic ocean and Mediterranean Sea, so everything (except what is delivered by beluga has had to be unloaded at a port, then loaded on a road convoy at some point. As for the Canals, they were constructed mostly too small, with bridges that are too low to accommodate the A380’s massive bust.
  • Ok, so why does Airbus have such a difficult time transporting via Land?
  • Well really, it’s the same problem as with the canals. The cities were built in the middle ages, and somehow Airbus has to navigate through streets barely wide enough for 2-lane traffic. It’s quite an amazing feat; sometimes the convoy can come within centimetres of accommodation. It is usually done at night, but no-one complains – The convoys are said to be almost silent.
  • Surely Airbus could think of a more simple, cost-effective way of transportation.
    • Probably, but at the moment transport makes up only 0.5% of the total production cost
  • Wow Ned, I can’t believe you could remember all that. How do I get to grow up to be smart (and ridiculously good-looking) like you?
  • Trying to find an answer to that question has led to many theories being created, and caused humanity countless religious conflicts trying to prove that their theory is the only correct one. I can’t give an answer to the question, but the truth is that No-one, can know, regardless of rumoured or self-declared divine knowledge.

After that brief saga, we went out to a viewing platform which enabled us to see the other parts of the assembly ground. There was a weather testing station with 6 unpainted (naturally green) A380s waiting to fly to Germany for their paint jobs, some other unimportant Airbus offices, and a large metal building with no roof. When we asked about it, she told us that was where the jet engines were tested. The building was actually just a sound proof wall for protecting the area from excess noise pollution. However, at the time and place, it was particularly cool.

Sadly that was all from Airbus. Hopefully when I post about my holidays, it will be more interesting.

Bisous.

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Say cheese!

Well, not saying much but I had a really fun night last night.

We went into toulouse for a soiree at a friend of the family. It was a double birthday, and there was lost of delicious food, cheese, wine and etc.

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Dinner

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School’s out

So I haven’t written in a while, mostly because not much has happened but also a little bit because I am notoriously lazy. But I might take this opportunity to fill in you all a little on my life here.

The Transport:
Have to say this is definitely one of the ‘NO’s here.
*sigh*

I say that because, although it is well managed and reasonably priced, it still baffles me. I get lost, wait for buses that never come, (accidentally) steal travel, catch the wrong buses and always end up being late for class. That goes without saying that is always partly my fault, and the fact that a city with only a quarter of the population of Brisbane has 4 fully functioning metro lines gets me pretty pissed.

The City:
The beautiful city of Toulouse is given a name by the people who live here: La ville rose. Literally it means, The Pink (rosy) City. It may not have been clear from my previous photos, but when they say pink city, they mean it.
When the romans originally arrived here hundreds of years ago, the only building supplies they had were wood, Riverstone and this marvellous pink clay.

The School:
Honestly, my school has everything you could want in a well funded education system:

  • 10 hours of class a day (except Wednesday when i can sleep)
  • Hot lunch
  • Capable teachers
  • copious amounts of homework
  • enough frog dissections to satisfy even the most sadistic of small boys
  • Freedom of expression in your choice of clothing
  • an actual sports education programme
  • Internal heating…oh god that’s good
  • Public transport (seriously I cant get enough of it)
  • about a million other things but i think 10 dot points is enough

The family:
If you’re related to me directly, I suggest you scroll down to the next entry, or at least get a box of Kleenex.
I really love my family. And it’s hard to say that about people you only met (not even) 2 months ago. To agree to care for someone like me, pay for my food (which is French and therefore delicious) and generally put up with me, I think is quite an achievement and I praise them for it.

The Country:
France still continues to amaze me. It’s beautiful, the people are friendly, and the cheese is not as bad as you might think (I’m legally required to tell you that by law). But in all seriousness, I really am enjoying it. I mean the blend of city and country life that is everywhere is a new experience for me, and the cultural diversity still surprises me.

The language:
And finally, we come to la langue de les francais:

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It’s pretty funny.

I’m on vacation for the next week, hopefully I’ll be able to post again.

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Normally on a Friday, I get 4 hours of the morning off and go home. Today, I did something a little more exciting.

Patricia, (My host Mum) had told me about a free bus that runs between school and the shopping centre, so I decided to have a look around. As soon as we hit the first roundabout I realised it was not heading to the shopping centre… (more…)

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Oh, Toulouse!

This Week on Saturday, my family took me to visit Toulouse.

And what can I say, it is a beautiful city. We drove to the Metro Station, located on the far North-East corner of the city, and took it the rest of the way. First of all, we went to the City Plaza (which I took a lovely 360 Panorama of) and looked through all the stores around here.

Afterwards, we walked all the way to the river Garonne. We Looked through the Eglise ND (Notre Dame) de la Daurade, and It was… (more…)

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