In late June I was sitting in a meeting at work at about noon when all of a sudden my manager turned to me and said, we think we need you to go to France. TONIGHT!!! This was a real shock as I had not been warned ahead of time and this was a very new idea. Anyways I was supposed to go with a co-worker but he had forgotten his passport in Niagara (about 2 hours each way from Waterloo) He immediately left to get his passport so I got to work getting computers, network access and booking a plane and hotel in France for that evening. By the time I had gotten everything put together I arrived home at 6:30pm to a cab waiting for me in the driveway. I ran upstairs grabbed a small carry on sized suitcase, filled it with a bunch of clothes, grabbed my camera bag and then ran out the door. I got to the airport only to find that I was on standby for the flight, but after a few minutes of tense anticipation similar to that of a lottery drawing my name was called and I was off to France. On the way there we flew from Toronto to Frankfurt and then took a short flight from Frankfurt to Lyon France where we took a bus from Lyon to Grenoble which is where I would spend the majority of my next three weeks.
The first week in Grenoble was a learning experience; I had to figure out the culture, the language and the work. I was working on things that I was only a little bit familiar with which meant there was tons of new things I needed to learn in order to properly support the people we were working with. Work was tiring and we were usually there from 9am-8pm. By the time we finished work and found a café, ate and then got back to the hotel, it was late and we were wiped. I would get phone calls and emails from Waterloo after midnight because of the 6 hour time difference which made things that much more tiring..
Enough about work let’s talk about stuff I saw, and experienced in France. The first thing I noticed about French culture is that when you go out to eat, you aren’t out to eat, you are there to socialize and meet with friends or family. No-one is in any rush to do anything and since waiters typically don’t get tips, they tend to go through the motions as opposed to actually serving you. I enjoyed the food but never knew what exactly it was that I was ordering until it came. Most of the time I was pleasantly surprised with what I had ordered but the odd time, something a little strange would come through and I would eat it but not enjoy it.
Another thing about French culture is that the croissant and Baggett stereotypes are not stereotypes at all. There was always someone walking down the street with a Baggett and everywhere we went for breakfast served fresh croissants! We worked really hard during the week and upon our first weekend in France, my Co-worker Martin and I decided to explore Grenoble. There was a big fort up on the hill called le Bastille which was accessible by cable car which ran all day until midnight. There are trails and lookouts and even a war memorial about 100m above the fort at the very top of the mountain. We took our fair share of photos overlooking Grenoble from the top of the hill and enjoyed some fresh local beer as well. We actually went up to the fort two days in a row and on the second day got the times mixed up for when the cable car stopped running and ended up showing up to ride it down only to find a locked gate. We started the long trek down the mountain and because there were so many ways down, it got a little confusing at times but eventually made it down and were able to relax with a nice litre of beer at the café. Upon waking on Sunday we quickly realized that it would have to be a lazy day, since NOTHING was open. North America has spoiled me when it comes to doing things on Sunday because usually things are open for at least a part of the day.
The second week was pretty busy with work as deadlines were approaching and things needed to get done. Although I did manage to link up with a group of Board of European Students of Technology (BEST) members from Grenoble who agreed to meet up for some drinks on Canada Day. In the 7 minutes I had to pack for the trip I came across some “made in Canada” stickers as well as some packing tape which was coloured with Canadian flags. These came in handy this night as no matter where we were the entire place was aware that it was Canada day and many were even excited to join in on the fun and cover themselves with stickers. At one of the places we went the bartender would bang something and yell “Happy Canada Day” about every 15 minutes. I had a great time and loved the great European Hospitality.
At the end of the second week we were scheduled to take a train to Paris and then fly from Paris to Toronto on Sunday morning. This gave myself and my coworker the chance to explore Paris for a day. We woke up bright and early and took the metro to the Louvre, where we enjoyed a nice breakfast observing the thunderstorm that was happening outside. We spent about 2 hours in the Louvre and upon exiting the rain had stopped. We saw Notre Dame Cathedral, The Eiffel Tower, arc de triomphe as well as the Statue of Liberty copy which resides in Paris. We had a great time wandering around Paris but eventually decided to head back to the hotel so that we could recoup for the evening. We headed back downtown after it got dark and set out to get some night photos of the Eiffel tower. We spent a lot of time doing this and I am pretty happy with the results. Spain had won the semi finals in the World Cup that night so people were everywhere celebrating the win.
Sometime that day I got an email from back home asking if I could stay for an extra week since there was still a few things to be done. My co-worker had to go home so I agreed to stay by myself for a few more days.
These next few days were still fairly busy with work but dealing with the French culture of socializing while eating (taking your time) was not very good when It came to someone sitting bored in a restaurant by themselves. I tried to rectify this by hanging out with someone I had met from Ottawa on Canada day. We socialized and hung out with her friends that evening and it was a great time when having to deal with boredom on previous evenings. Finally it was time to return to Paris for my flight home. My hotel was right beside the airport which made the morning much more convenient. I purchased my one and only souvenir at the duty free shop at the airport, a bottle of champagne that wasn’t expensive as far as champagne can go but was expensive for a single bottle of booze. Once school get’s going again, I hope to have a classy evening with my friends where we dress up make a nice meal and drink the champagne together.
Many people were Jealous about my trip to France and although being a great experience and a Free first trip to Europe, business trips are a lot of work and will take a lot out of you. I enjoyed the trip but was faced with a lot of catch up including PDEng and an assortment of things I had to take care of for the various commitments that I am involved in. I took over 1000 photos and so I hope you enjoy the few I posted here.