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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why I hate Paris and Gaudi Architecture

My travel agent has booked me on Air Transat to Paris. It’s not my favorite airline, but it’s not the worst. If the person in front of you reclines their seat, their head will literally land in your lap.

Since there is no direct flight from Vancouver to Spain, I’ve opted for an overnight in Paris, then on to Barcelona.  I’ve learned through hard experience that most European flights land late in the day or early evening and nine times out of ten there isn’t a connection until early the next morning – which means spending an uncomfortable night at the airport.  I prefer to spend a comfortable night in a nearby hotel and take a short late morning flight on to my destination.   I arrive fresh – with minimal jet lag – and ready to begin my adventures.

My travel agent felt that the overall savings in flights were worth flying to Paris rather than Frankfurt – which I preferred.  I should have insisted on Frankfurt.


I forgot how much I hate Paris.  Charles deGaulle  Airport is one of the largest and most disorganized airports I’ve had the misfortune to visit.  On top of that  Parisians are some of the rudest least helpful people on the planet. I experienced Parisian hospitality forty years ago when I last visited the city – and I’m sad to say their hospitality hasn’t improved a whit.

For example:

Shortly after deplaning and reclaiming my luggage I follow the conflicting signage to where I think I am  to catch the shuttle bus to my hotel.  I ask one of the red jacketed information people if I am in the right place.

“Oh no, monsieur.  That bus doesn’t stop here.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.  “It says right here on the information the hotel sent me that it stops here.”
“No. No.  You must walk back three hundred meters, take the elevator down three floors and take the inter-terminal train to Terminal One, then walk two kilometers over to terminal three.  That’s where the bus stops.”

Twenty-five minutes later, my shoulder aching from dragging my bags several kilometers,  I arrive in front of terminal three just as the shuttle bus arrives.  I jump on board and take a seat.  Five minutes later the shuttle bus stops right in front of the same spot I had been talking to the information lady.  She was still there.  She looks up at me and smiles.

That’s why I hate Paris.

The next morning it was back on the shuttle and off to Barcelona.  I decide brave public transportation to my hotel from the airport rather than a long expensive taxi ride.  It works out well: three stops later the airport shuttle drops me off less than a hundred yards from my hotel.  I promptly get lost and have to use my GPS to cover those last 100 meters.  

I've booked my first night at the Hotel Inglaterra, a recently renovated little hotel in the University district.  The room is on the smallish side, but bright, clean and has air-conditioning.  The desk clerk is cheerful and helpful - a big change from the French hotel the night before.


I found a great street bar around the corner from the hotel and overindulged in seafood tapas and beer for a fraction of what dinner had cost me the previous night in Paris.

At seven I meet the rest of the GAdventures group I’ll be traveling with.  It’s a large group  of seventeen – big by GAdventure standards. The first thing I notice about them is that they’re  very young or I’m very old – probably both.  The average age (discounting me) is about about  25.  The group is a mixture of mostly Canadian and Americans with the odd Australian or two.  There’s a mother travelling with her two teen-age sons – they’re from Alabama - they all have different last names.  Enough said.

Then there is Jim.  Jim is from Toronto.  Jim is the poster boy for why the rest of the country hates Toronto. Jim actually believes Toronto is the centre of the universe – and delights telling anyone who will listen the glories of Toronto.  It only takes two words to deflate him - “Rob Ford.”   

I feel for our tour guide, Carlos.  Dealing with this group is going to be a lot like herding cats. During the orientation Carlos lays out the itinerary, checks our medical forms, answers questions, and assigns rooms.  I luck out and get my own room.  Carlos privately tells me it’s because he googled me and found out I am a “famous author.”  I think the truth is none of these twenty-something kids want to room with “the geezer.”


Our first day as a group is a walking tour of Barcelona – which means seeing everything that Antoni
My buddy Tony and Me
 Gaudi designed and built.  If you haven’t heard of Antoni Gaudi, you will have by the time you’ve spent ten minutes in Barcelona.  By some accounts he designed everything ever built in Barcelona and he did it himself.  Picked every board, nail, and pipe himself.  No detail of what he built was too small for Gaudi to delegate. 

Antonia Gaudi was born in 1852 and received his degree in Architecture in 1878 – one year before he discovered his LSD.  From that moment on his work was unique. 

According to Carlos, our guide, one of the first jobs Gaudi was given was to design street lamps for a park in Barcelona.  How tough an assignment can that be?

I imagine the conversation with the city elders went something like this:

Gaudi's simple street light
“Okay, Antoni, I see you’re just out of architecture school, and we’d like to try you out – maybe something small.”
“No problem. I’m desperate.  I’ll take anything.”
“It’s really simple.  A no brainer.  We need some street lamps - something simple -a pole with a light on top.  Can you handle that?”
“No problem.”
And you can see the result.  And for some reason they went on to ask him to design more buildings.  Some that look as if they were made of bones and skulls.  You can imagine how that went over when the neighbours saw that going up.

Antoni Gaudi was a visionary – no doubt about it – he talked the city fathers in letting him build the
Park Guel
first rural gated community on a hill overlooking Barcelona now known as Park Guel.  The city took it over as a park when the developers could only sell one house.  Today they could have sold them all – probably to off shore buyers in Asia.

Gaudi’s crowning achievement is the giant La Sagrada Basilica that towers over Barcelona dwarfing nearby structures.  Construction on this gargantuan structure began in 1882.  If you’re planning on visiting it, be sure to bring a hardhat because it’s still under construction and not due to be completed until 2030 – at the earliest – depending on how the meat draw and the fifty-fifty draws go.  Rumors are that construction is taking so long due to Gaudi’s insistence  to have final decision on all aspects of construction – and you can only move the planchette on the  ouiji board so fast.

La Sagrada Basilica
“Can we use the 3 ½ inch hex head screws on the light fixture in the bathroom?”
“I   P-R-E-F-E-R  P-H-I-L-I-P-S  H-E-A-D  S-C-R-E-W -S”

It was on this walking tour we became acquainted with Toronto Jim’s idiosyncrasies.  If we stop for a donut or a beer, Jim invariably orders a meal and the rest of us have to stand outside and wait for him to finish it.  The meal is followed by a trip to the washroom with a magazine or two.  This ritual is repeated several times a day without a single word of apology for keeping the rest of the group waiting.   

Jim is also an avid photographer and is determined to photograph every Gaudi construction from every possible angle.  This wouldn’t be so bad except Jim has a suitcase full of camera lenses and various attachments that he feels he must use for every picture while the rest of us cool our heels. 
Rob Ford
I finally get him to pack up when I shout, “Hey!  Isn’t that Rob Ford over there?  I think he’s coming over to shake your hand.  Give me your camera I’ll take a picture of the two of you.”
I never saw Jim pack up his gear so fast.  I make a mental note to keep an eye out for Rob Ford lookalikes

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