France 2019: Around Marseille

After a few nights in Orléans and Lyon, our next stop for a few days was along the Mediterranean Sea in Marseille. Or to the Gulf of Lion if you want to get technical about it. Marseille is the oldest city in France, second largest in terms of land, and third largest in terms of population. Personally this was one of my favourite stops on our trip and I wish we could’ve spent more time just in Marseille alone. In terms of landscape I loved that it was a mix of hills and cliffs along the seaside.

By the time we found our hotel the sun had set. Our hotel was a cozy little villa not too far from the coast and just around the corner from the Old Port. I tried to take a picture of the courtyard but the lighting at night in the area wasn’t that great.

Just like we’ve done before when we arrived in a new town, we decided to go wandering out for the evening. We didn’t really stumbled on anything spectacular in the area so these pictures are just of the narrow streets in the area.

Driving to our hotel was not particularly fun. As you can see by the pictures, the streets were very narrow. At one point we missed our hotel and tried to go around a few blocks but the road was a dead end. With no room to turn around, I ended up backup up a few blocks. Fortunately I didn’t bump into anything.

Here’s a much better picture of our courtyard. Even though it was autumn and the morning air was a bit brisk, it was still relaxing to sit outside and have a warm tea and enjoy the morning.

Again, we had no plans or itinerary on what exactly to do while visiting there, so we decided to head down to the Old Port and have a look.

The Old Port is one of the main reasons Marseille was always a bustling place going back as far as 600 BC. It was a massive trade hub throughout history, but nowadays it is used as a marina and tourist area. There are a few reasons for this, but modern cargo ships being far too big to fit in the Old Port I would wager is one of biggest factors.

I could not find any info on this but it seems to have been an old church or monastery. I love when old cities attempt to keep ancient structures intact for artistic appeal.

This piece I did manage to find some info on. It’s a sculpture by Louis Botinelly entitled “Le Dresseurd’oursons” which translates to “The Cub Trainer”. The Wiki on this piece reads that Botunelly hired a bear to ensure his depiction was anatomically accurate. How one hires a bear, I don’t know. I imagine the bear took salmon or picnic baskets as payment though.

On the north side of the inlet leading into the Old Port sits Fort Saint-Jean which was built in 1660 by King Louis XIV. We wandered around the outside of the fort first and eventually went in as nowadays it’s a museum.

This model shows the fort connected by two bridges for visitors to cross. The one of the right side leads to the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations, while the bridge on the left connects to the Le Panier neighborhood.

Just a view from atop one of the bridges. When my friend took this shot I’m sure he was clenching his phone with all his might.

While there is a large museum attached directly to the fort across the one footbridge, the fort itself is also home to smaller areas that are used for exhibits. This one building house an Afghan exhibit called Kharmohra. It was dark for the most part so I didn’t take any picture inside, but if I recall correctly it showcased their culture but also the unfortunate state of their country after decades of unrest and war.

Here’s a bird photobombing a picture of Palais du Pharo in the distance.

Here’s a better picture without the bird. It sits opposite of Fort Saint-Jean on the other side of the Old Port inlet. It was built in 1858 by Napoleon III who was a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. Unfortunately we never did make it to the building so this is really the only picture I have of it.

After wandering around the fort and museum for the morning, it was time to grab a little food back near the Old Port.

The French love their food, and in doing so respect their chefs. As you can see by the empty tables all around us, the time we stopped for food was right during the majority of restaurants chef breaks. This is something we weren’t aware of prior to visiting France and definitely made us stand out as tourists. I tried to dig around on the internet if there is an actual term for this downtime but didn’t find one. From what we gathered, during this time other employees cannot cook meals for customers. They may be able to make you a cold snack if you’re lucky though. Also, during this time the other employees will not bother the chef if customers do come and therefore many restaurants are empty. It was close to the end of the chef break time, so we sat down and had some wine until we could order food.

Needless to say, the wait was worth it for the food we got.

After our bellies were full of wine and food, we grabbed tickets for the Hop-on Hop-off bus tour through the city. One of the first places it went by was the Marseille Cathedral, but we did not stop and go for a tour as by the looks of it there was construction work around it, most likely restoration work being done to keep it in good shape. In the pictures above, the building is actually the new cathedral, which was completed in 1896.

Parts of the old cathedral are still sitting next to the new one as you can see in these two pictures. The old cathedral was built sometime in the 12th century.

The tour bus eventually took us to a higher part of the city that gave us great views. However for whatever reason this was the only picture I took from up there.

Notre-Dame de la Garde is seen here from the bus we were on. While it did make a stop up here (the church is built on the highest point in Marseille) we did not end up getting off and exploring it unfortunately. You can also see it in the distance in one of the above pictures from where we were standing in the Old Port.

Just a couple of pictures around town while sitting on the bus. Wonderful examples of how terrible my photography skills are.

On one leg of the bus tour we traveled along the coast, which gave us a view of the Frioul archipelago. In the center of this picture you can see the old fortress and prison know as the Château d’If. If that name rings a bell it’s because it was the setting for The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

Not the best quality since this picture is zoomed in. Had we had more time in Marseille, we would’ve checked out the Château d’If as I believe there are ferries that take tourists out there to explore the site.

You may have noticed that I like to take pictures of public artwork and buildings that have elegant details. As I’m sure I have mentioned it previously, I do love that artistic nature that the towns and cities have due to being so old and exquisite.

Then you’ve got artwork like this. I know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that but a statue of a cow on stilts? Sure why not.

Or this character that is placed on a coastal wall.

Or just a giant thumb. I found these are not my taste, but that’s just me. I certainly do not mean to mock the works or their creators.

As the sun was setting, we returned to the Old Port and got dropped off near the city hall. I thought the sunset made the building look even more elegant.

Before we head back to the hotel we decided to have one last drink as the sun was setting. A picture that I think turned out pretty darn well. Marseille was great, and I do hope to make it back there someday and spend a little more time exploring the city.

France 2019: Around Lyon

It’s time for another gallery of one of our stops in France. This one is a smaller one as we did not spend too much in Lyon. Once we got rested up in Orléans after our flights, we made our way to Le Mans to check out the Le Mans Racing Museum. There will be a separate gallery for that stop as there are a lot of pictures from there (if you’re a car guy you’ll like that gallery) but that will come at a later date. We didn’t spend the night in Le Mans though, once we finished up at the museum we hit the road toward Lyon.

When we rolled into Lyon, it was already getting dark but it was not overly late. Heading into the core of the city we were greeted with this glowing sculpture of, well, a lion.

We checked into our hotel for the night and decided to do what we did in Orleans which was go for an evening walk around the core of the town. We headed down to the edge of the Rhone River and walked wherever the night would take us. It ended up taking us to a restaurant and then bars. Lots of bars.

Just a couple of pictures of a castle, or church, or hotel in the distance that caught my eye.

Just a neat little art installation we stumbled upon. Not entirely sure why it was fenced off.

And this is the last picture that ended up on my phone from that night. I know we wandered around a lot from bar to bar and gave up on the picture taking shortly thereafter. Honestly it was probably for the best, the night got hazy after the first few bars and getting lost on the way back to the hotel was an adventure on its own. Before our bar hopping began, we sat down at a restaurant to have a meal (and a drink of course). While we were eating, we saw an advertisement for a soccer game in Ligue 1 (the top French soccer league) between Lyon and Nice. We realized that the game would be held in Lyon and it would be the next night! In that moment we made the decision to not hit the road the next morning and extend our Lyon stay by one extra night just to catch the game.

To get the full experience we hopped on the tram to get to the stadium, which didn’t prove to be difficult to find as all we had to do was follow the fans. The atmosphere was filled with excitement, there was spontaneous yelling and chanting on the tram and the walk to the stadium.

The Groupama Stadium can hold about 60,000 people and is home to Olympique Lyonnais, the Lyon soccer team in Ligue 1. Construction started in 2012 and the home team played their first game in January of 2016.

As we decided to catch the game last minute, our seats were not the best but we didn’t care as we simply wanted to see the game.

No European soccer game would be complete without hooligans of course. Here you can see the shirtless group which were ranting and raving the whole time. While the temperature was around freezing, I think that they were amply filled with beer and kept their body temperatures up by all the dancing and jumping they were doing.

Eventually we were treated to a bit of a show when the flares came out by the rowdy bunch.

A lot of flares.

So much flares that the stadium started to fill up with some heavy smoke.

We took a couple of videos during this spectacle and I thought I’d share one. This particular one did some justice to the antics of the hooligans.

The stadium became engulfed in smoke so much that after the half time delay there was about another 15 (or possibly 30) minute delay just to let the smoke clear out.

As Lyon was leading 1-0 in the half, they had a chance to nearly lock in their win with a penalty shot by Moussa Dembélé around the 25th minute. I decided to record it as I expected the stadium would erupt with cheers if he made the shot. My cellphone audio didn’t really capture the audio well enough but the crowd did go wild, even with the stadium only half full it was great to hear the celebration live.

Here’s a little bit of a zoomed in picture of the Nice goalie. You can see a bunch of debris on the pitch that the Lyon hooligans threw at the keeper. No one looked to be bothered by this so I imagine it’s a fairly common occurrence.

France prides itself on fine food, there is no doubt about that. However, I’m not a major foodie so I didn’t take much pictures of all the places we ate at. However I did take a snap of this breakfast we had to nurse a bit of a hangover as it definitely hit the spot. Not only that, but given the generous portions the price was more than reasonable at this little mom and pop restaurant.

When we hit the road I couldn’t help myself to take a picture of this unique building. Well after we came back home to Canada I did a little research as to what this building was and it turns out that it’s the Musée des Confluences. If we had a bit more time on our hands we may have made a pit stop there as well as from this site I came across shows that the interior is just as interesting as the exterior.

Our second and third nights in France carried on over the exciting feeling we had our first night in Orleans. I hope you enjoy some of the sights (and in this case sounds) of our stop there.

France 2019: Around Orléans

As a continuation of my previous post and gallery of the Aeroscopia Museum in Toulouse, I’d like to share a few pictures from the first stop my friend and I made when we visited France. While we flew directly to Paris, we did not spend any time there on this leg of the trip. The plan was to get our rental car at the airport and hit the road south to Marseille. We had some destinations along the way that we both agreed to make a stop at but overall we did not stick to a regular schedule, we just went with what we decided to do in the heat of the moment. Shortly after hitting the road, all that travel caught up to us though and we set our GPS to Orléans to spend the night.

This was the very first picture I took in France after we stopped in Orléans (well, I guess you could count my picture of the Eiffel Tower from the airplane window but I won’t). It’s nothing fancy, just the view from my room’s balcony at the Hotel Mercure overlooking the Loire River. It looks a bit depressing, but to be fair it was overcast all day with some rain and it was late November with fall starting to set in. The pictures on Google Maps during the summer look much better.

As we drove into the town, we noticed that there was a massive Gothic cathedral not too far from the hotel we were staying at. So we decided to take a stroll around the core of the city and went to visit it. The Orleans Cathedral (also known as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross of Orléans) is generally acknowledged to be well over 700 years old, though there have been many reconstructions over time due to damage during wars and structural issues. The site where it sits has been designated for a church as early as 375 BC and prior incarnations of the church existed on the same spot. When we eventually made it to Notre-Dame in Paris many days later, my first thought was that it seemed smaller than the Orléans Cathedral, though my friend disagreed. A quick wiki check on my phone showed that indeed I was correct. Notre-Dame sits at a daunting 226’ tall at the peak of the towers and an even 300’ at the spire prior to its partial destruction in the fire of 2019. But it is in fact overshadowed by the Orleans Cathedral which sits at a massive 289’ tall at the towers and a dizzying 374’ at the top of the spire.

Both inside and out, the cathedral is a beautiful example of Gothic architecture. With such a massive building made of stone and little material with noise suppression, you could hear your own footsteps echo as you wandered throughout it.

Colossal pillars and ornate stained glass windows are at every turn and can make you feel fairly small.

Even during daytime, the lighting gives an eerie atmosphere to certain corners of the cathedral. Pictured above is the Altar of the Virgin with some seriously eerie vibes.

My photo does not do this painting justice at all. This piece was absolutely massive, if I recall it was around 20’ wide and 30’ or so tall.

What massive Gothic cathedral would be complete without a massive pipe organ? The exquisite instrument that sits above was installed in 1846 by world renowned organ builder Cavaillé-Coll.

Once we finished wandering inside the cathedral, we decided to continue walking around town a bit. I recall I took this shot simply because around this time it came back to me just how much I appreciate and love European style towns. The historic style resonates with me rather than modern strip malls, office buildings and suburban houses with white picket fences. I love the quaint little shops in the heart of the town over big box stores and massive parking lots. While France is quite modern, it can still feel like Europe hundreds of years ago due to the architecture styling alone.

Perhaps this picture captures the essence a bit better. Cobblestone roads with tram tracks running along them and the massive Gothic cathedral in the distance. I have no issues with western metropolises either though, but sometimes it’s nice to get out of the urban jungle made of glass and concrete skyscrapers.

During our stroll, we stumbled upon the Joan of Arc Center. At first we thought, due to its old style, this may have been her birth place (since neither of us are really up with our French history) but it’s not. It’s a museum that houses all sorts of cultural relics and text regarding her life and times. She was in Orléans plenty of times and visited the cathedral and was housed in a place similar to this building during the Siege of Orléans, but she was actually born in a smaller village known then as Domrémy.

As I had mentioned, it was late November when we visited and in a town square not far from the cathedral, a sort of Christmas fair and market was in the process of being set up. It would have been great to see this in the midst of December, almost something out of a fairy tale given the setting. However, we had to hit the road the next morning to make sure we make all of our stops. Spending just an evening wandering around Orleans was a great first night in France and after less than a day I was already loving it there. That’s all for now, I’ve got plenty of more pictures from this trip so more galleries will follow at a later date.

France 2019 Trip: Aeroscopia

After flipping through my camera roll the other day, I decided to share the pics from a stop in France for those curious and also use the post as a writing exercise. I may also do a couple of other galleries of my trip there since we did so much sightseeing as it was my first time in the country. But that’ll be later down the line and for now I’ll do one of my favourite stops on the trip. The pictures are not really great, I’m not a photographer and only had my phone with me, but I hope you enjoy them because for me the memories are priceless.

I don’t work in the aerospace or air travel industries nor do I have my pilot’s license. I don’t even fly model planes, though I did have a little drone that I lost in the neighborhood on a windy day. Nevertheless, I’ve always had a fascination with aviation. I can’t pinpoint a single reason why this is the case, but rather there are several. The idea of seemingly defying gravity, the sheer size of the machines, the complexity of them, the scale of the industries, and that most airplanes are beautiful machines. Let’s also not forget about the amazing view at nearly 40,000’ above the ground. Truly one of the greatest accomplishments by mankind that brings the world closer by making traveling around the globe easy compared to only one hundred years ago. Naturally it became a requirement that we stop at the Airbus factory and Aeroscopia museum in Blagnac/Toulouse during our time in France.

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When you arrive and park at the museum the first thing you’ll see outside is a marvel of technology, the magnificent Concorde. Surprisingly this is one of two Concordes at the museum, there is a second one inside as well. On a side note, I won’t be going into much detail regarding each airplane on display or this post may become way too long. If you’re curious about the details I recommend you head over to Wikipedia (I’ll link each plane under the photo) to read up on them.

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Prior to arriving in Toulouse, my friend and I went online and booked a tour of the Airbus A380’s final assembly hangars and had planned to tour the museum as well. The A380 tour consisted of a video presentation and history of the A380’s development and statistical information. Next we learned about the massive supply chain required for multiple nations to work in unison to manufacture the millions of components of the behemoth and the logistical challenges to get everything put together and shipped to Toulouse for final assembly. Lastly, we went upstairs of an assembly hangar where they were working on three different A380s at once. From there we continued the tour on a bus as they drove us around an area where A380s and A330s were getting their livery slapped on. It was great to see the planes up close rather than just from a distance through a terminal window. Unfortunately, during nearly the entire tour, photographs were not allowed, which is fairly standard in many manufacturing plants.

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Built from Legos, this was sitting in the reception area and is definitely the kind of A380 even I could build. Eventually.

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Lastly our tour ended by visiting the A400M military transport vehicle that sits just outside the museum with an open cargo bay you can explore as pictured above. Why I didn’t take a picture of it from the outside is beyond me.

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After the tour we headed into the museum to wander about. The older airplane seen here is the Bleriot XI (unsure of the variant) which was developed back in 1909. It’s famous for a few things, such as being the first airplane (balloons excluded) to cross the English Channel. It also was the first airplane to be used in a war (1910 in Africa by Italy), winning races such as the Circuit de l’Est and trophies such as the Gordon Bennett Trophy. When it won the Gordon Bennett Trophy in 1910, it also ended up setting a new air speed record too.

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Another notably older French airplane pictured above is the Morane-Saulnier Type-G which was designed back in 1912. This plane also holds the title of being the first to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

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In the above picture you can see a Mignet Pou-du-Ciel Flying Flea (HM.293 variant I believe from around 1946). These little planes were designed and sold in kits to amateurs to assemble and fly on their own. Originally developed in the mid-30s, it was no surprise that they did not have a great safety reputation.

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Designed in the 30s primarily for use of the German Luftwaffe in WWII, the Messerschmitt BF 109 gave Germany dominance over the skies in the early part of the war. It remains one of the most mass produced fighter planes with nearly 34,000 assembled, though unfortunately some of the parts were produced at concentration camps using slave labour.

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The Nord 1101 Noralpha was essentially a BF 109 that was modified by the French during WWII. Though it’s based on the BF 109, its resemblance is not overly noticeable as not just the engine was modified but so was the cockpit, landing gear, and rudders.

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Shortly after WWII, the jet powered age of aviation was put in high gear. Countries began to modernize their air forces and the Soviet Union was not to be left behind. However, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 pictured above was not the Soviet’s first jet engine, but it did become one of the most successful fighter jets ever produced. While they may be somewhat dated now, North Korea still has some in their active fleet even today.

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Another airplane developed after WWII, primarily for training of French air forces with jet powered planes rather than propeller aircraft is the Fouga CM.170 Magister pictured above. Personally love the butterfly tail as opposed to a traditional rudder. They just look so badass.

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The Morane-Saulnier MS.760 Paris was a French designed and built jet powered errand boy for the French Air Force. Designed in 1954 it was put into production after Morane-Saulnier received a large order from the French government. Unfortunately sales never gained much traction in North America despite being one of the first small passenger planes with jets rather than propellers, the company eventually filed for bankruptcy in the 60s. Personally I love the look the triangular intakes mounted directly into the wings.

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Developed by Vought, the F-8 Crusader was primarily used by the USA and French militaries. Despite having impressive capabilities, the F-8 seemed to be a relatively problem prone aircraft as out of the 1,261 craft that were built, 1,106 had some sort of mishaps, though many are related to the planes high degree of operational difficulty and being an unforgiving machine. As it was designed to land and take off from aircraft carriers, the jet came with folding wings for storage on ships. The plane itself was impressive though, as there is an incident where a pilot took off from a carrier with the folding wings still folded up and even made a successful landing back on the carrier with the wings still up. Impressive indeed, but I am still not a fan of that intake mouth.

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Always love jets in camouflage livery regardless of desert or other colours. The Dassault Mirage III was in the developed in the late 50s and in production by the early 60s for use by the French air force. Besides the French, the jet was used by many countries such as Israel. It has a fairly successful history when it comes to dog fighting in wars such as the Six-Day and the Yom Kippur wars. The jet is now fairly dated but Pakistan still has a few today that are in their fleet.

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Unofficially dubbed “the missile with a man in it” The Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was a powerhouse at the time of its development in the late 50s. At one time it held both the world speed and altitude records and was the first fighter to sustain Mach 2 flight.

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SEPECAT was a joint program between the French and the British which worked together to develop the SEPECAT Jaguar pictured above. Originally this was meant to be a trainer for their air forces, the program expanded and eventually the Jaguar was upgraded to a relatively modern high-tech fighter optimized for ground attacks, supersonic speeds, and even capable of nuclear strikes. That’s a hell of a promotion. The original designs for the jet were from the 60s and it entered service in 1973 and the Indian air force still flies them today.

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No aviation museum would be complete without a helicopter, right? Well here’s one. The Aérospatiale Gazelle is a nimble little chopper primarily used transportation and reconnaissance but also capable of light attack duties. It was developed in the late 60s and in order to retain its reputation for being agile, it was the first helicopter to use a Fenestron, which is a covered tail rotor that performs better at higher speeds.

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All good museums give us a glance at the future, as they should. This aviation museum is no different and displays a Voltair/Airbus E-Fan. I’m not sure exactly which variant this is (2.0?) but it’s a modern looking little two seater that runs solely on lithium ion batteries. Sadly production of this plane was cut off, but there are plans for larger electric and hybrid models in the future.

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And now we get to the big boys inside the museum. Here you can take a peek into the cavernous insides of an old Super Guppy. With Airbus being a cooperative between multiple European countries, moving parts around the continent had always been a challenge. The Super Guppy was developed in the 60s to cost effectively move larger components such as fuselages. Surprisingly the first Super Guppy was actually based on a Boeing airframe that underwent significant modifications. Today though these have been replaced by Airbus’s Beluga XLs which are built on their own A330 frames.

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The A300B pictured here is a fairly common plane and you may have even seen a couple when traveling through a major airport. There are still over 200 being operated, though most are freight aircraft so you may not have flown on one any time recently. But the A300 model line was a major part of Airbus’s history and deserves a spot in the museum. How major? Well, in the late 60s a joint venture formed between France and West Germany to develop a large commercial aircraft that would carry 250 people and in doing so Airbus was born. So it’s fairly significant to Airbus’s history to say the least.

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Sadly I’m too young to have ever had a chance to fly on a Concorde, though even if I was old enough I doubt I could afford to do so anyways. As mentioned earlier, this machine is a true wonder of technology. Also a British and French venture before Airbus existed, the Concorde was developed primarily in the late 60s and flew commercially from the mid-70s to 2003. It flew at twice the speed of sound (around 2,180km/h) and could cruise at 60,000’, it towered over all other commercial passenger plane performance. To achieve this, the plane had to conquer all sorts of issues that were unique to it. Conventional structural and thermal solutions to traditional airplanes would simply not suffice at such high speed, nor would practical airplane performance guidelines apply to such a unique design. The most costly though was the engine configuration which was developed from military power plants and also the intake designs needed a very unique design. All of the obstacles were eventually overcome with some outside the box thinking, but that came at a significant cost to the development program. Initially the development cost was pegged at £70 million but it ended up ballooning to £1.3 billion. Talk about a bad estimate.

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These model planes were huge. I really wanted one but I’d need a separate suitcase on the trip back. Not only that, but the price tag on even small ones in the gift shop was quite steep so imagine these would cost and arm and a leg. Though to remember my trip to Aeroscopia I did end up buying a little A380 to put in my office which is pictured below.

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If you even have a bit of an aviation nerd in you I highly recommend doing a tour and a walkthrough of the museum if you ever find yourself in France. There was plenty more to see of course, but these are just the pictures that ended up on my phone and I thought I’d share them. I hope you enjoyed the brief walk through and pictures.