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Steven's Third European Saga

Written on 12/9/2007 7:17 AM
For comments, critiques, etc, e-mail stevenhalim at gmail.com

Tuesday, 4th September 2007

23.15   Flight: Air France AF257V, Singapore SIN to Paris CDG (Boeing 777-300ER)


Air France Boeing 777-300ER

Boeing 777-300ER (Extended Range) is a new aircraft model with its first flight on 2004. So, it is quite comforting to know that I am going to fly inside this young (at maximum) 3-years old airplane. The flight is ok. I watch Spiderman 3 again (since they do not show Rataouille yet) on board and reminded once again that despite my apparent ‘success’ at the moment (for yet another International travel for presenting research work), I must not forget the needs of those that are around me, especially those that are close to me (the main actor Peter Parker neglected the needs of his girlfriend Mary Jane Waston and boasting his successes as Spiderman). After I watch the movie, I sleep for few hours despite of some nasty turbulences shaking the aircraft throughout the flight.

Lessons learnt about airplane stuffs: Next time I will book the air ticket directly from the airline. I think I now have the experience to do all the bookings myself. I will also use my frequent flyer to regain some miles so that one day I can travel for free. Finally, even though sitting near the toilet is a very good idea for a long haul flight, I think next time I should not sit at the seat next to the toilet at the tail end. It seems that it is one of the shakiest seats in the plane! I should have chosen the seat next to toilet but in the center of the airplane, its center of gravity... I bet the turbulence effect is a little bit less noticeable there.

Wednesday, 5th September 2007

06.20   Estimated arrival time at Paris CDG

Paris CDG
I actually arrive at terminal 2F. This is another photo of Paris CDG airport taken on the last day.

I choose Paris as my hub this time as previously I have used London Heathrow airport to travel to Vienna in my first European saga and Amsterdam Schiphol to travel to Geneva in my second European saga.

As soon as I landed at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, I realized that the temperature is quite low >.< (perhaps < 10 degrees Celcius?). So I immediately go to toilet to change my short sleeve to long sleeve++. Paris CDG terminal 2 is actually not that confusing even though it surely can have more English signs. There is a train station in the middle between 2C/D and 2F. When I arrive, I am in 2F, (2E roof collapsed in 2004)… That means I am actually only few steps away to the train station. But I need some time to arrive at the correct train platform due to the lack of English signs that I mentioned before.


So, basically I started in Terminal 2F (red sign: HERE), wandering around a bit to familiarize myself
with the new airport, and then finally managed to reach the train station. :)

I buy Paris one day visit pass. According to my experience, this kind of pass (you can use it to access all trains, trams, and buses in that city for one day) should help new visitor a lot since at the beginning, one does not know how the transportation system works in that particular city. This ‘free-pass-to-all’ for one day costs me 17€. In my opinion it should worth the money since the train from CDG airport to Paris city center is already 8€ and I will be exploring Paris throughout the day (at the end it turns out to be worth it, so, this is a good buy, except for... continue reading...).

At the beginning, I want to store my luggage in the airport, but the cost is 20€ and I thought it is too expensive, so I decide to search for locker in other train station like what I have researched before.

Lessons learnt about Paris CDG: Paris CDG is actually not that bad as told by some other people that have been there before. However, I agree that it should have more English signs... I will tell you one possible reason why there are NOT so many English signs in France soon. :)

07.00   Start of Paris Saga

As planned, I take the RER B Metro Line “Paris Direct” train, the only choice actually. On my way to city center, the train passes through… Stade the France… which is not in my list of planned trip before, but then I told myself “if you still have time, pass through this 1998 World Cup stadium!”


Paris outline. I think this is roughly similar with London outline?
And as with other major cities, the big airport is usually located far outside city center.

I stop at Saint Michel-Notre Dame station (2 stops AFTER Gare du Nord) to test my luck, but it turns out that there is no public locker there (and the train station officer *name hidden* impolitely answers me since I am using English >.<), so I have to retreat back 2 stations to Gare du Nord (North Station) like what I have researched before. Luckily the locker service is really there. They are quite professional and they guard the locker site quite well. It is 7€ for 1 day… but I have no choice since I cannot travel to tourist sites carrying big 20kg luggage. That important luggage becomes a liability in tourist mode.


The public locker in Gare du Nord, seems professional :)

Lessons learnt about public locker: Do the research first about the locations of public lockers, and NEVER try your luck by visiting some other unknown places hoping that those stations have public lockers! Carrying a big luggage in tourist sites is a big NO.

09.30   Below Eiffel Tower (La Tour Eiffel)

So, after storing my luggage safely in Gare du Nord, I take the RER train again straight to the most important landmark of Paris, the Eiffel Tower (or La Tour Eiffel in French). This first destination is the ‘furthest’ from Paris CDG airport. Yes, that is my plan. I visit those interesting places from the furthest first and at the same time retreating back closer to the airport as I visit other places :).


Some interesting places in Paris

I alight at station Champs de Mars – Tour Eiffel and when I go outside that underground station, I can immediately see that HUGE tower, and… wow... I am below Eiffel Tower… Thanks God I am allowed to see that gigantic man-made structure... Btw the tower looks brownish during day time, not as glamorous compared to the brightly light tower at night, which is very beautiful as seen in the movie Ratatouille (the setting of that movie is in Paris).


My initial plan is to visit Eiffel and Louvre only, but at the end I visit much more places. :)
Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe/Champs Elysees, Louvre Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral, Stade de France.

18. From Far-With Me
Below La Tour Eiffel

Eiffel is like what I saw in the movies, but this time for real. I took some photos with Jefry’s tripod plus 10 seconds timer with Victor's camera. So now I can be inside the photo and the photos are stable. I also found the location where the ending part of the movie “Rush Hour 3” was taken. I do not go up because there are long queues and I do not have time to wait. So I continue moving to the next place…

13. Beside Restaurant
Some scenes in the movie Rush Hour 3 are taken inside this restaurant (actually up above).

19. The Queue
If only there are not so many people and I have more time, I will have gone upstairs.

10.00   Passing through Arc de Triomphe

11. From Front-With Me
The famous Arc de Triomphe. Can you guess where I am standing?
Yes… in the MIDDLE of the road >.<… just to take this quick photo

10. The Other Side-Champ Elysees
And then quickly take the photo of the other side of the road (Champs Elysees).

After Eiffel, I walk to the nearest interesting site, the Arc de Triomphe, which is another icon of Paris. It seems ‘close’ in the map, but actually it is not. I take some wrong turns (still new in Paris and the road names are mostly in French which is difficult to decipher) before finally I can see that monument. Arc de Triomphe is in the center of a big circle connecting various important roads in Paris city center. From there you can see Champs Elysees (like Orchard road of Singapore) leading to Louvre museum and the other direction you can see La Grande Arche (another interesting rectangular building in Paris). I take some more pictures there. However, even though this is a beautiful monument, there is not much to appreciate as I cannot relate French heroes with myself. I am sure that monument is much more meaningful for French people :).


I think this is some kind of French World War 1 heroes...

11.00   Exploring Louvre Museum (Musee du Louvre)


Map of Louvre Museum.

I take Metro train to Palais-Royal-Musée du Louvre station. I decide not to walk as even though it looks short in the map, it is actually far... Now here comes the trouble. The Paris 1 day ticket which is supposed to work throughout this day... stuck... It does not allow me to pass the ticket gates, luckily the ticket officer press her special pass button and opened the door for me.


Louvre Pyramids

As planned, I have my lunch first before exploring this big museum. *I watch the movie Ratatouille few days after I return to Singapore and I regret that I did not try some French cuisine while I was there*. Guess what I have for lunch? Standard Burger >.< ...


Louvre museum is very crowded, especially inside Monalisa room

I already know from the museum's website in Internet that entering Louvre costs about 9€, and it is true. This museum is very big as Pras said. There are too many people, and I do not like that as I have some kind of ‘mass-phobia’ (dizzy if walking through a very large number of crowd).



Familiar images: birth of Jesus (top left), crucifixion of Jesus (top right), last supper (bottom)

The bad thing in Louvre for non French speaking tourist like me is that almost (all) stuffs displayed in the museum has NO English translation *perhaps I should have rent some English audio guide but unfortunately I do not...*! Since I do not understand the description, I cannot appreciate the pictures/objects too much. However, there are some familiar pictures like those that portray Christianity, like the picture of Pentecost, last supper, crucifixion, the birth of Jesus and the visit of Magi, etc, even without French translation.

Initially I want to "quickly browse" Louvre... However, halfway (or maybe less), my legs are already complaining and jet lag has started to attack, I am sleepy... So, after browsing through 'half' of Louvre (browsing: walking from a room to another room without stopping to appreciate the beauty of a certain picture), I decide to quit Louvre... Perhaps one day I will return to appreciate its collection in a much slower pace.

Note: There are some (okay a lot of) nudities (labeled as art). So to guard my mind and soul, I keep telling myself that these are art. God created female body. Do not think beyond that.

14.45   Quick visit to Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral


Left: Just an interesting sight: this is the dust bin in Paris. Right: The pigeons and my shadow.

Notre Dame is not a planned visit. I just happened to see it on the map and quite happy to see that it is within "few hundreds meters" (around 15 minutes walk) from Louvre. Since I still have time by abandoning the plan to thoroughly explore Louvre, I decide to go to this famous cathedral. I take some pictures there. There are a lot of pigeons surrounding this place, I seldom see that in Singapore.


Notre Dame de Paris: outside (left) and inside (right)

There are some beggars asking for money around this Cathedral, I decline them all. I know that we must help the less fortunate, but I still cannot accept the begging practice... They should at least try some meaningful work?

15.40   Visiting Stade de France


In 1998, this stadium is the venue for FIFA world cup final when France beat Brazil 3-0 to become
world champion. This year (2007), this stadium will host the final of Rugby World Cup tournament.

As with Notre Dame, Stade de France is also not a planned visit. In the morning I saw that it is just beside the train track from Paris CDG airport to Paris city center. So, I have decided in the morning that if I still have time, I will stop there. However, there is nothing much to see as the stadium is locked during daytime. So I just take some photos from outside.

Since I do not want to carry my heavy luggage first, I go to this stadium first before going back to Gare du Nord to pick up my luggage (Stade de France is 1 stop AFTER Gare du Nord). My luggage is intact, nothing is missing. Thanks God. So, it seems that the public locker service is quite good :). So, time to go back to Paris CDG. That concludes my Paris saga... Bye-bye Paris, now is time to go to my main destination, Brussels.

And you know what, I almost do not speak English throughout the day >.<. The main reason is because English language is not so well received in Paris (French and British people are in war other hundred years ago) even though France and United Kingdom is very very near... Since I do not know French, I must minimize using English in this city to avoid unnecessary sarcasm *note: not all French are rude, but I happened to encounter some who are rude if I start with English with them*.

16.30   Back to Paris CDG Airport

Around this time, I am very thirsty and my lip is very dry... I should have brought my lip balms (I have two at home - from my previous two visits to Europe) with me. I have been to Europe two times and I always encounter that situation. Why do I forgot? Since I thought I will only be in Europe for 4 days this time, I decide not to buy another lip balm (which is not useful in Singapore) and drink more water instead.

I go back to TGV station: "Aéroport Charles de Gaulle 2-TGV" using the same train service like this morning. Finding my way back to CDG is easier than the first time I used the train system as I am now much more familiar and now my job is to 'reverse the direction'. I give some spare time in case emergency but it turns out that I have 1 hour++ extra time, so I eat Pizza dinner first. It is quite “expensive” if converted to SGD. I have my dinner first because I assume that I will not get any food in TGV train to Brussels (which is true, see below).

Until this point of time, I still have not bought any souvenir for my girlfriend, friends, parents, or relatives. I still do not manage to find something that is worth buying. Hopefully I can find some... (at the end it turns out that I do not find anything except Belgian chocolates)

So, what is my overall impression about Paris... I think there are too many people in Paris like London. I do not like that! I have mass-phobia... There are many black people in Paris now, perhaps they are immigrants... There are also a lot of police groups armed with guns around public places. I wonder why? Is the crime rate quite high here? I also observe that not many French people bring hand phone publicly and sms-ing people like what I frequently see in Singapore. I also realize that the spoken French language can be quite different from the written version.

About the transportation system, since this is my 3rd time to Europe, I feel that the Paris system is similar with London underground tube system. However, the ticketing system is quite different from Swiss (check at gate versus check inside train). Speaking about the ticket gate... The 1 day ticket is faulty AGAIN!! So, on my final ticket gate in Paris CDG... I actually... jump over the gate when nobody around he he :p. It is okay since I already pay everything legally.

18.45   TGV train AF7187H to Brussels, Belgium (Brussels Midi Station, ZYR)

I have pizza dinner in Paris CDG... again I wonder why I do not try French cuisine? Maybe because I do not dare to try new stuffs... I can actually hope that there will be food in TGV train or in the youth hostel, but that is too risky, so I better eat something first. There is another TGV train going to Brussels at around 17.49 (I already there, I arrive at 17.45), but I do not want to make rush decision, I cannot speak French to argue that I want to go to Brussels faster... so better stick with schedule, wait 45 minutes and consolidate the diary for today :), that is why you can see this long and reasonably complete diary.

There is no major issue inside the TGV. We all got some finger food on board. I got free crispy potato chip + drink. The potato chips make me thirsty (salty) but yeah, I like it. Btw, this 'flight' is actually a train. This is the first multi-modal (using different types of vehicle) trip organized by one airline and called 'flights'. This TGV train is quite fast. The cars (sometimes the road are parallel with the train), but the cars disappear easily. That means this TGV is real fast (320 km/h) and non stop from Paris CDG to Brussels.

We pass through greeneries from Paris CDG to Brussels, quite different from the busyness in Paris. I am very sleepy at the moment, but I must not get sick since the workshop will start tomorrow. So far, the things that I have planned went on smoothly... but soon, it will not.

19.59   Lost in Brussels

My task is actually simple. From Brussels Midi (south) station (Rue de France 1060), I want to go straight to Generation Europe Youth Hostel (4 Rue de l'Elephant, 1080 Brussels) since I am already too tired. I take tram 81 as suggested by the hostel management via email, but first I choose the wrong end, after realizing that, I alight and board the same tram from the opposite direction. However, this time I stop at the wrong bus stop. Moreover, the road names are not 100% similar and the roads lack directional sign... I should have checked this website (http://www.stib.be) about public transport sytem in Brussels beforehand. Luckily I met one good person, even though he cannot speak English, that is willing to escort me to Rue de l’Elephant. Thanks God for him.


Train station to youth hostel should be ‘close’, but actually not that close…


I keep pointing to that guy, this one, this one, RUE DE L'ELEPHANTTTT!!

Learning new map or transportation system requires few trials... And for Brussels. I failed. My map navigation system fails this time. I am lost in this new city! I am tired and sleepy… The memory of last year when I was lost in Interlaken when trying to find the youth hostel pops out again. It seems that youth hostels are in general quite hard to find…

21.45   Arrive at Generation Europe Youth Hostel


Thanks God, I am very very happy when I see this sign... just like last year in Interlaken, Swiss :).
Youth hostels are cheap 'hostel' in Europe, quite safe, but... that's it, hard to find for the first time.

I arrive at around 21.45, about 45 minutes late from estimation. Luckily the receptionist is there. I pay 45.6 € upon arrival, go to my room, put on the bed sheets *more story about this later :p*, shower, and then quickly go to sleep, I must recover from this jet lag problem. I sleep very well, considering that I have < 4 hours sleep over the past two days plus I have walked through Paris city center for half day, it is normal...

I meet another SLS 2007 participants who happens to stay in the same youth hostel, Paul Godley.

Thursday, 6th September 2007

Today is SLS 2007 workshop day 1. In the morning, I ask God this: "What do You have in store for me in this workshop Lord? Make me glorify You in this workshop".


The workshop building: Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Campus Solbosch, Building C, Level 3, Room 122

As usual, I start the workshop by paying some registration fee (180€) and obtained the proceedings (wow, my paper is now in LNCS book). When I look at other papers, I notice that one of them cites my previous paper :) -happy, probably my first ever citation-.



Some photos inside the workshop room.

I meet some old friends (seniors) that I have met in previous conferences and make new important friends, those whose papers I have read before. Throughout the workshop, I discuss our work and related research works with them. In overall this is a fruitful workshop :)


At night, we have some kind of social dinner, nice food =).
I hear English, French, German, Italian ++ languages mixed up in this room.

Friday, 7th September 2007


Few moments before my presentation.

Today is SLS 2007 workshop day 2. I present my Viz ideas and Ro-TS for QAP results today. This is one of my BIG day in 2007 (15 July is the other big day hehe). Thanks God that the presentation goes on smoothly and I get important feedbacks from important people. Approximately 0.75 year of work (Dec 06-Sep 07) is paid off after this presentation. Hopefully my work has some useful values for other SLS researchers.


Left: Interesting sign in Brussels Park (Parc), Right: Brussels Royal Palace

At night, I travel around Brussels central park/royal palace with Paul.

Saturday, 8th September 2007

Today is the last day of SLS Workshop (day 3). The workshop session is just half day today. In overall, this is a fruitful workshop and I have many things to catch up after I return.



Some photos around Paris CDG airport terminal 2

I go back home (to Singapore) right after the workshop is over... I wish I have more time for this third European saga but unfortunately I do not have that luxury... At night, I stroll around Paris CDG airport as I have nothing else to do that night...

Saturday, 9th September 2007

After a long flight, I arrive at Singapore Changi airport at around 18.00, safe and sound :)

Thanks God for yet another (short) European trip.
Just one question...

Do you have some special plan for me in Europe Lord?


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