A few weeks ago I did another gig for the European Commission and spent a couple of weeks in Brussels and did quick detour to Paris. This is primarily a photo post, though I must apologize for the image quality that leaves a lot to be desired – it being a “boring” time of the year to visit Europe, I didn’t bother bringing my DSLR along and all photos below are taken either with a Nokia N8 or an iPhone.
It was my first time that I flew on an A380. It was a very pleasant experience, though the inner decor that Qantas chose – various shades of grey – was boring to say the least. Apart from being new, the biggest plus was probably that it’s a noticeably quieter plane than, say, a Boeing 747. Supposedly the cabin is also pressurized to a lower altitude than is typical, so one should feel less jet-lagged. Based on just two legs on it, I don’t feel I can comment on whether it really made a big difference or not. On a negative note, the in-flight entertainment system was a bit flaky, with some ground crew idiots performing a remote system upgrade while the plane was airborne, resulting in an hour of reboots and restarts before it started working again. Btw, it runs Red Hat Linux.
Oh, and the Rolls-Royce engines contained themselves well, thankfully.
On another note, I can’t believe how many people take long-haul flights in full business gear, i.e. suit and all. I felt very positively out of place in my ultra-casual flying attire. It’s not that hard to do a clothing switch at the airport, but it makes flying so much more comfortable.
Over my free weekend in Brussels, I toured some of the main sights. Brussels had a pretty good free aviation museum, that had some old planes, newer planes, small plans and bigger planes – a fairly extensive selection.
Then there’s the Atomium, originally built for the World Fair expo of 1958. Giant spheres, 18m in diameter, that house a science museum of sorts.
One of the more positive surprises was the Cantillon Brewery that turned out to be an educational experience on the nice tour they have there. Lots of interesting beer facts that managed to lift my respect for beer, particularly lambic, a little bit. No, I still don’t particularly like beer.
The Justice Palace was a pretty intimidating place. I could imagine it being an inspiration for, say, the game Doom (which is the most recent FPS that I can remember playing..)
All parks were, in the typical Central European fashion, very geometrical. They would’ve been a lot more pleasant had it not been freezing.
Probably the #1 attraction of Brussels, the peeing dude (aka Manneken Pis) was having a wardrobe crisis and was covered in strange clothes every day. Probably for the better, I mean it was cold..
Trains. Gotta love the high-speed rail in Europe. With 1h20min to Paris (with poorly functioning WiFi on board) it was a joy. However, not all logistics was quite up to scratch. On my way back, I had a horrible time getting to the airport in Brussels, with the train system messed up and the information – particularly in English – lacking badly. Frankfurt airport, on the other hand, was a disaster both ways – almost worse than Heathrow. The more I travel in Asia, the more I prefer Asia to Europe. For example, the Singapore airport was still perfectly functioning and a pleasant place as far as airports go; yet they were completely redoing the terminals. In Europe (as well as in the US) everything tends to get run down past their useful lifetime and only then do people start thinking whether something perhaps should be done to fix them. Airports are a prime example.
In Paris, I had a sunset view of the Eiffel tower. The most entertaining part of the tower was watching the guys who sell the metallic mini-Eiffel towers near the real one. They run back and forth, spreading their mini-towers for sale and then scooping them up and sprinting away the next second when the cops approach, only to return 30 seconds later. It’s like a real-life Tom&Jerry-show. The cops obviously didn’t care enough to actually sprint after them and the security forces didn’t care at all (nor did the salespeople care about them).
When departing Brussels, I saw the most contrails I’ve ever seen at once. It reminded me of their impact on global warming, which apparently is still being debated. There is a recent Nature-article on them, suggesting contrails have a significant impact.
Upon return to Melbourne, I was greeted with what was a truly warm morning and a nice sunrise. A welcome event after being in the cold for a couple of weeks. Also, Melbourne airport was a remarkably easy place to get out of early in the morning. With nobody around, it took me under 15mins to get from the aircraft door to the taxi with the luggage and everything. The taxi part, however, sucks. Seriously, Melbourne should get a rail line to the airport, no matter what the people with vested interests against it say (who seem to be the most vocal in this issue).