SAS strike in Paris

Stumbled onto this on my way out on Sunday evening (19-Jul) at about 7 pm, striking SAS workers at De Gaulle’s Terminal 1. Day 4. Definitely livened the place up. Those who are down on the French for their language skills will be happy to know that half the signs were in English. The woman working the counter –presumably a Polish ‘strike breaker’?– remained quite cool and friendly.

A quick search of English language sources found no info. Anyone know more about the strike?

Paris 071, originally uploaded by pirano.

Among EU Capitals, Berlin’s Roads the Safest, Ljubljana’s Most Dangerous

Finally, something beyond my anecdotal rants about the maniacs that are on the roads in Slovenia.

According to a study of accident rates in EU capitals released Wednesday by the European Transport Safety Council, Berlin has the safest roads in 2007, with 1.64 deaths per 100,000 residents, just ahead of –oui, c’est vrai!– Paris, with 1.70 per 100,000.

Bottoming out the list was Ljubljana, which tallied 12.98 fatalities per 100,000, edging Vilnius, Lithuania, which scored 12.09 last year.

The safest of the safest? Maltese capital Valletta, which hasn’t seen a death on the road since 2001.

In pure numbers, Athens witnessed the largest number of deaths last year with 226, just ahead of London with 222.

Overall, the number of deaths in the capitals fell from 1,881 in 2006 to 1,560 last year.

Lausanne 027, originally uploaded by pirano.

30 Second Cheap hotel Advisor – Paris

Hotel De La Paix
19, rue du Gros Caillou – 75007 Paris

I liked this place! Located on a pleasant and quiet street in an otherwise fairly lively neighborhood –a couple minute walk from the Parc du Champs de Mars, and perhaps 10 to the Eiffel Tower– it’s about as off-the-beaten-path as you can find in Paris.

Rooms are cozy, free wifi throughout, and an extremely pleasant owner and staff. There are plenty of bars/cafes in the vicinity that won’t break the bank, along with a few wines shops that will. Nearest metro is Ecole Militaire, and you can order a shuttle to De Gaulle Airport at the front desk (17 EUR, about 40 mins).

The hotel’s website is here; for Paris I generally book through

I think I’ll definitely return.

Hotel De la Paix – Paris, originally uploaded by pirano.

Sleepers, drunks and Prince: LJ – Paris via rail.

If you’ve never been on a sleeper train, this is what they look like, or more specifically, what the 23:42 D 296 from Ljubljana to Munich looks like:

2007-02-14-sleeper1.jpg   2007-02-14-sleeper2.jpg

This one’s a Croatian Rail sleeper, quite new, relatively comfortable, very clean. Much nicer than some I’ve been on.

But if your plan is to get a decent night’s sleep during your 6 hour and 35 minute trip to Munich, it’s probably not worth the surcharge. Just as I finally dozed off, I was brutally awakened by an Austrian policeman pounding on my door as we crossed the border about an hour after departure. The scene was repeated less than an hour later, this time awakened by a passenger who boarded in Villach and took the bunk below mine.  Coffee wake-up was at 5:45, a big enough boost to greet the early morning chill in Munich at 6:17. In all, not particularly restful, despite the bleached sheets.

The 6:40 (EC 266) from Munich to Strasbourg was a pleasant, dreamy ride, much of it through flatlands and rolling hills, largely covered in early morning murkiness. The sun rose just beyond Augsburg, revealing even more misty rural fields without any signs of recent snow. Whiled the time away talking music with a student from Stuttgart as I recharged the battery on his MP3. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to Purple Rain before 8 am. Also began reading Orhan Pamuk’s novel Snow, where he writes, It snows only once in our dreams. I realized that I miss snow, and was hoping for a dream. Instead, I got a loud drunk who boarded in Baden Baden who continued the incessant theme of nap interruptus.

strasbourg_station.jpgSpent about 40 minutes in Strasbourg –like many stations, under heavy renovation– just long enough to get thoroughly pissed off at the woman in Ljubljana who sold me my ticket. She didn’t add the reservation on the reservation obligatoire ticket for the 1604 to Paris Est, which meant forking over 52 euros for another ticket. (Anyone have any good experiences with getting refunds from Slovenia Rail?)

It began to rain as the train pulled out of Strasbourg, and the steady rain gently scratching at the windows didn’t end until we pulled into Gare de L’Est a few minutes after 4. Climbing out the metro at the Bastille stop and onto the busy Rue St. Antoine was invigorating enough to forget about how sleepy I was. The rain had stopped, the sun appeared briefly, and the sounds of a west African drum group lured me towards a delightfully frenzied café for a quick coffee, the best one I’d had in over 17 hours.

Meeting Colette in Paris.

2006-07-09-003.jpgWhen I moved to Slovenia, I promised friends that if they would ever stop foot on the continent, I’d come and meet them –wherever. Colette called my bluff, and gave me about ten days notice. So if they’ll have me — a big if– she and her friend Marianne will be my Valentine dinner dates tomorrow evening somewhere in Paris.

I didn’t fully decide to make the trip until yesterday afternoon, thus severely limiting the possibility of finding any “low budget” options, such as they exist here, and was left with these:

  • The 1296 km drive from Ljubljana can take anywhere from 12-16 hours; I haven’t had a car for nearly four years so that’s clearly out.
  • Adria’s last minute offering was a 300 euro flight, but no return was available until late Sunday, and I’m trying to cut back on short haul flights this year anyway, so that’s out too.
  • So too is a combo train-to-Venice, bus-to-Treviso, RyanAir Treviso-to-Beauvais flight, Beauvais bus-to-Paris option. I’ve done several versions of that, and it’s fairly nightmarish only to be treated like a worm by RyanAir, and won’t ever do it again. (By the way, when all is taken into consideration, RyanAir is hardly the deal it pretends to be, but more on that another time.)

So rail, my favorite, it is: a leisurely 16 hour and 22 minute trip to Paris Est via Munich, with a sleeper so I can doze in relative comfort for at least a few hours tonight. For the return, I chose the route from Gare de Lyon via Lausanne and Zurich; I’ve never been through Switzerland during the winter months and am hoping to catch at least a brief glimpse of a Swiss Alpine glacier before they all disappear. (I’m apparently not alone, BTW. Plenty of people are deciding to rush about in an effort to see things before they become extinct or melt away.)

Happy Valentine’s Day y’all!

Pic – Paris 9-July-06 (sorry, forgot where)

Nude Beaches and Fruit Cocktail Bombers: piran café’s Top Trips of 2005

best1.jpgA couple nights ago I got together with a few colleagues for a belated New Year celebration, and over a few bottles of wine and shots of grandma’s slivovec, we reminisced about some of the places we’d been to in the past year. Our chosen profession means we all spend quite a bit of time on the road. The notion seems romantic to some but more often than not we don’t get to see and experience these places nearly as much as we’d like. Sometimes not at all. Sometimes I spend more time getting there and leaving there than I actually spend there.

I usually do make an effort to get out and about, but haven’t kept particularly adequate notes. [That will change this year, now that I've finally begun keeping real journals.] This past year was nonetheless brimming with little mental post cards that will be filed away for some time. Some of those, in no particular order:

August: Zurich. Continued feeding my Van Gogh habit at the Kunsthaus, home to his Thatched Roofs near Auvers, one of his last paintings, and the well-known Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe. Realizing how much I’m beginning to relate to this guy –besides his religious zeal– is beginning to scare me. Nice street music in the afternoon and evenings along the Zurichsee just beyond the Bellevue tram stop.

July: Kanegra Beach, Savudrija, Croatia. My first nude beach. Just a long stone’s throw from my old place on the Slovenian coast, but it was a transcendental experience. I will never –ever– swim clothed again.

best2-donetsk.jpgFebruary: Donetsk, Ukraine. This southeastern Ukrainian city is hardly a tourist Mecca, but it was my first trip to the former Soviet states, so it’s got to make the list. The timing was good as well, just a few months after recently-elected president Viktor Yushchenko’s face started peeling off after he was fed some poisoned soup. The women there are absolutely stunning, adding more ammo to my historic crossroads theory. Surprise! February is cold there. Surprise 2! There’s lots of good, and cheap (to westerners) vodka.

August: Tallinn, Estonia. I was only here for about five hours, and those came on the tail end of two solid weeks of ass-busting work. But it was enough to really want to go back and spend some time. Medieval Europe comes alive here, seemingly a world away from other former Soviet Republics.

best3-joyce.jpgMarch: Over the course of a few late winter days, saw my first Stradivarius at the Palacio Real in Madrid and spent an afternoon following in the footsteps of James Joyce in Trieste. The violin was an absolutely gorgeous piece of work; the Joyce walk was beautifully interrupted by Julia, another absolutely gorgeous piece of work.

August: Brussels. Getting there involved sharing a cheap flight with The Village People. Once I got there, I ran into a suspected fruit cocktail bomber on my favorite tram ride ever.

September: Berlin. I visited the German capital three times in the space of a month, and it’s quickly becoming my favorite European city. Precisely why is difficult to pin down. I always feel like a minor character in a Wim Wenders film there, and it’s a good feeling to be able to blend into one of his long, deliberate pans. Most taxi drivers here don’t care much for George Bush, making drives around the city a particularly pleasant experience. I was never one for fashion photography, but the exhibit, A Gun For Hire, at the Helmut Newton Museum, helped change my mind. A little bit.

August: Helsinki. First visit to the Finnish capital, a place that appears to be home to more drunks per capita than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Despite the price, it’s mind-boggling how much Finns can drink; one recent conservative estimate puts it at about a bottle of hard booze per week per capita. I added the The Ateneum, the Finnish National Gallery, to my museum list.

July: Paris. Caught Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent at the Centre Pompidou, a phenomenal attempt to describe the soul of a vast indescribable continent. I spent nearly two hours lounging in a chair of a makeshift typical urban “African” bar –part of the exhibit, or course—next to an old-style jukebox gushing with 60 CDs worth of amazing music. [Here's a link to the same exhibit but earlier in London.]

July: First visit to Oslo. Besides being one of the most expensive cities I’ve ever been to, it was also one of the nicest. Friendly folks, lively street music and night life into the wee hours. The night I arrived coincided with U2′s show there. No, didn’t fork over a huge pile of cash for a ticket, but did enjoy the street musicians jamming U2 tunes until dawn. Visited the Munch Museet –once home to The Scream before it was stolen in August 2004. It’s next to the Toyen Park, a sprawling lush botanical garden.

June, July and August: Piran, Slovenia, home for most of last year. More specifically, concerts in the courtyard of the 700-year-old Franciscan Monastery. I attended two small ensemble classical performances and a solo classical guitar concert, all of which were so soothing, so relaxing, that I definitely felt at home.