Le Bourget Air and Space Museum

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June 2nd 2013
Published: June 21st 2013
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The word ‘encore’ in English is defined as ‘a demand by an audience for an additional performance…’, while in French it means ‘more’, 'again’. Paris seems in demand for a billion additional performances. We decided to revisit Paris in 2013 for more Roland Garros games (I managed to secure only the women’s and men’s Finals pack for 200 Euros), while also planning to go to Chamonix (again! – referring to self, I wanted to show the magic place to Luda) and Nice, but the latter was discarded due to lack of time and funds. The preparation for the trip included buying a lot of train, bus, and plane tickets and booking accommodation in Paris (a hostel) and Chamonix (a three-star hotel, because I did not want any neighbours’ noise there). I also obtained a French Schengen visa (two months’ validity), Luda had a Finnish visa, so I thought it prudent to go via Helsinki (the Allegro train for 40 Euros – a suitable price, I think, and worth it). Also, the plane ticket from Helsinki to Paris was not too expensive. However, I'm becoming all the more convinced that one should not save money at the expense of his/her comfort, as our return bus trip would demonstrate. I did not look too much forward to returning to Paris itself, I was rather keen on visiting the region, such as Loire Castles (110 Euro per person), Rouen, Chantilly, and Amiens. I wanted to see a couple of other towns, but it all would be too expensive. As for Luda, she wanted mainly to return to Paris and enjoy its atmosphere again, but we both found ourselves affected by cold (first self, then she), which marred the whole trip. However, enjoyment was ours.

May the 31d was an endless day. We did not manage to sleep at all, I guess, by the reason of excitement or mere insomnia, and at 5 o'clock in the morning were up and at 9 arrived in Helsinki. The border formalities are a true enjoyment on this train, one not having to go anywhere. We were in rather a cheerful frame of mind, drank a cup of coffee at McDonalds near the train station; I like Helsinki immensely, I will perhaps return there again on 26-28 July for a dance party, my visa expiring right after that. In my case, seeing the world is not a matter of philosophy, it’s simply a matter of money. One might wonder why I do often return several times to the same places, but I usually see new things and experience new emotions, e.g. winter’s Chamonix differs from the summer’s Chamonix. A drawback is that a lot of interesting things remain unseen in Paris, such as the Montparnasse Tower, catacombs, the museums.

We walked to Kauppatori where I suggested going to Suomenlinna Fortress, my favourite place in Finland so far (I haven’t seen anything except Helsinki, though). Luda’s impression of Helsinki was positive, she liked very much the cycling roads. After the boat sailed, a flock of seagulls hovered above the boat’s rear in apparent hunt for snacks, or maybe simply persecuted us in pirates’ capacity.

We sat on a bench within the fortress territory where Luda fed cookies to a solitary seagull whose behaviour did not display its courage, and it would not look at us, but in other directions, as if involved in other thoughts besides the crumbs. It craftily caught on the fly the pieces of oatmeal cookies Luda threw. As our free time was limited, we soon left the peaceful island and hurried to the airport. Our airline was Norwegian; Luda was so much afraid during the whole flight (her first), especially during takeoff and when a turbulence area was being passed. I expected a free meal onboard, but it turned out such was unavailable. Just as the food was reaching us (it took the air hostesses almost the whole flight to meet the passengers’ demand), we having just decided to buy a drink and a sandwich, turbulence began, and after that the descent, and we chose to save the money.

In Orly, there was a longish way to the baggage claim and I noted three soldiers with rifles apparently because of security reasons or perhaps some act of violence happened somewhere because later we saw other armed soldiers in the metro. As we emerged from the Jules Joffrin station, in the same district and the same hostel as the previous year, I had a sort of return-home feeling because we had grown so accustomed to the area, and now perhaps even attached to it. As of present, our plans for France & Roland Garros 2014 are unclear, but I think it is better to just visit Paris again for some 4 days (if we decide), and I don’t think I will choose a different accommodation than Montclair Hostel despite the fact that our single room there was tiny, with a two-tier bunk, a sink with a mirror, a small table, and no place to put things – there was such a mess of Luda’s clothes, my clothes, laptop, books, food products, cosmetics, etc, etc. The room was not sound-proof, and much noise could be heard at times. Our breakfast was included in the price, and, funny thing, I went to bed and woke up with the sole thought of having a tasty breakfast with coffee, juice, croissants, and flakes.

Finally the day was over; as I mentioned, it felt as if it were endless. As we walked Rue Ordenet to buy a snack, I expressed my gladness at the good start of our stay. I felt I have met an old friend.

June 1

I was awakened early by Luda because she couldn’t sleep, and after breakfast I tried to rest but failed, being so excited to be back in the world’s Number “X” city (insert a figure to your liking, my figure would be “2” perhaps, subject to change without notice). I eventually decided to go to Marche aux Puces for a brief book search, but returned sooner than I expected because this time books were harder to find. I also disliked searching and thought it better to hunt for books in a specialized English shop (I’ve just finished reading French Chansons d'Amour du Moyen Age, but my overall level of understanding leaves much to be desired). Luda (as this is my blog, there is little about other persons, though Luda is very dear to me, but I wish to write for myself only; it was her vacation after months of hard work, and she desired rest mostly) suggested buying a pizza at a nearby shop, turning out quite tasty.

The wifi in the room did not work at all, but the signal downstairs was strong and we would descend there once or twice a day. There was much fuss and noise in the evenings in the kitchen. I was still in no mood to rest within (though the body felt it advisable) and decided to walk the Champs Elysees and go to the Galignani bookstore; at six o’clock Luda would join me near Hotel de Ville. We wanted to rent bikes, but, despite the very low price and convenience of Velib, I did not want to have 150 Euros blocked on my card as a security for the bike (I guess 300 Euros for both!), because the unblocking at previous occasions (hotel booking) took more than a month. We were rather comfortable with funds, but I took no chances. I suggested Luda to have a guided walking tour of Cite which she agreed to at first and then completely refused.

I bought two P.G. Wodehouse novels in Galignani, 20 Euros each, hardcover, confound the prices! But I do dislike soft covers and am willing to pay, because those books would not be available in Russia, and ordering them by mail would cost the same. Actually, I’m paying 20 Euros for a day’s reading…

Then I walked in high spirits across Tuileries seeing crowds of people, proceeded to Champs Elysees with still more crowds and feelings overflowing my soul, it seemed the third time was better than the two previous ones. I walked round Charles de Gaulle Etoile but got tired and took metro to Hotel de Ville to meet Luda. Tennis matches were on display there. We bought several books in French for Luda (she’s studying the language) on Quai de Montebello and Quai Saint Michel. I found the Rubayat by Omar Khayam in English, but regrettably did not buy it. We finished the expedition by a brief visit to Jardin de Luxemburg.

June 2

Perhaps a month before the trip I decided to visit Le Bourget Air and Space Museum. I was translating a couple of chapters from a Russian book on aviation history and had to find the original names of many airplanes in the web, and eventually came across the museum. The Le Bourget Air Show was mentioned several times in the book. Only later, after returning home, I learned that the show was taking place on June 17-23 this year, and perhaps I might have visited it if I knew beforehand. However, that’s unlikely. Luda firmly refused to accompany me, and said she’d never fly anymore.

I got up early to have breakfast (remember Winnie-the-Pooh,–'It's time to have a little something’); a guy wanted to take three croissants at once but the kitchen attendant told him to take maximum two because other people also were entitled to croissants. During the first days, I ate only a single croissant, but then took two as well…

It is quite easy to reach the Air and Space Museum (metro plus bus). As I have learned from their website, the major attraction for me would be the integral visit inside four big airplanes: two Concordes, one Boeing 747 and a Dakota (military plane). I looked much forward to the experience and it proved excellent. The visit of the main halls is free, and the four airplanes cost 8 Euros.

The first hall was devoted to space equipment where I at once discerned the familiar letters USSR (СССР) on the reverse side – it was a weather balloon, if I remember it right. Also, there were various satellites and rocketry. If you think of it, man is man’s only unbeatable enemy, not fierce animals or natural hazards, and far less the Martians or extraterrestrial creatures. Space, universe, and astronomy are things I am interested in since childhood. There was only one hall, and I soon went outside to perceive two tall vehicles, one Ariane 1 – the launcher of telecommunications satellites, served from 1979 to 1986, and Ariane 5 - an expendable launch system used to deliver payloads into the orbit. After that, I proceeded to the Hall of Second World War where Douglas C-47A Dakota was exhibited (the ticket allowed entering inside it for a multimedia visit – thanks to the sound accompaniment, you feel as if you were a trooper on a military mission). The most exciting thing for me in the museum was the opportunity to see the real airplanes I read about while translating the book, and almost every name was familiar to me: Douglas, Republic P-47D Thunderbolt, etc. Generally speaking, aviation was developed by a limited number of countries, and the French were not the least successful among them.

Next to this hall was the Concorde Hall where I saw the legendary aircraft – two Concordes, F-WTSS Prototype, and F-BTSD Sierra Delta (first flight in 1969) and entered inside them. Concorde was one of only two supersonic airliners to have entered commercial service (the other was Tu-144). A sight, sticking to one’s memory! Its very shape is unique and recognizable.

The next two halls (number 7 and 8) were dedicated to French military aviation and prototypes. There I saw Dassault Mystere, Mirage, etcetera – almost all the names have appeared in the book I translated. Among the prototypes there were some rather weird contrivances. Hall 9 housed helicopters and other rotorcraft, to name a few: Breguet G11, Dragonfly 333, SNCASE C 302 3 etc. My ticket included a visit to the Super Frelon (a prototype) for a multimedia rescue mission, but I did not use the opportunity.

Another huge (in the proper sense of the word) highlight was the visit to Air France Boeing 747 - first flown commercially in 1970, it was the largest passenger aircraft for 37 years until Airbus broke the record. Its interior is dismantled, showing the structure of the aircraft. Somehow I did not encounter any cockpit accessible, but there is a corresponding section for children.

The other part of the museum narrated about the nascence and beginnings of aviation: halls of airships, models gallery, the beginnings of aviation, and the aces of 1914-18. I saw Voisin Farman I, Blériot XI, Caudron GIV, Deperdussin, etc. Those are true marvels; an exhibit looked like a real bird! There was also the Voisin brothers’ atelier where one can feel the vibe and history in the making.

The road back was a little more complicated. At first I let the bus 152 pass, then searched for the stop of bus 350 (it was more convenient, with only a change to metro) but the display board said its next arrival would be in 52 minutes… I took the less convenient bus 152.


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