Friday, November 21, 2014

Travel to Grenoble

Once again I am on travel, related to work. I never get tired of this, it is one of the nice aspects of academic work that it requires meeting with other scientists, in other countries, for discussion about technical ideas, concepts, solutions. I always enjoyed this, and I also like the process of travelling itself. Even though the joy of flying has greatly been diminished in the past two decades: the endless controls and checks, the long queues, the restrictions on luggage (a few years ago it was ok to take 2 suitcases up to 32kg, now one has to pay for a lousy 23kg bag), the reduction in service (no more meals on short flights), the joke of mileage programs (only when you pay more for a particular flight segment, then the miles are actually counted...). Yes, steep decline, as in many other aspects of life.

But it is still a thrill for me, when I sit in the plan, looking out of the window and see the landscape gliding by below. Nothing seems to beat that great feeling, despite all the hurdles and hassle.

Wednesday evening I did pack, it got after midnight until I went to sleep. At 3:30am the alarm clock wakes me, I need to get ready for driving to the airport. Fortunately the Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA) is not very far, just 25 minutes from the Leeds city centre. There is thick fog, which makes me drive slower. A few other cars drive even slower, causing me to crawl along the road. But at 4:45 I am at the parking lot. Get into the bus, where I realise that I did nit print out the boarding passes. Well, this does not seem to matter, they usually can do this at the check-in too, as long as I have already checked-in. While searching for those boarding passes in the bus, I forget to put my scarf back into the bag... I realise this when I am at the check-in desk. Well, this is not a good start of the day...

When checking in with KLM, the lady looks worried about the fact that my changeover in Amsterdam is only 55 minutes. Yes, this is tight, but the KLM booking website did give me those flights, hereby placing all responsibility for me missing my connection onto KLM. Hmmm, the lady does not look convinced, she remains looking worried. MAybe she knows something that I do not yet know? The fog outside looks still quite thick...

After the security check which goes quite smoothly I have a small breakfast. Just a croissant and a latte. Boarding from gate #9 a bit delayed. In the plane the announcement that we will take off a bit later due to air traffic control issues. Here goes my connection in Amsterdam...

We are rolling onto the runway, wait for a short while - the fog still looks thick. But then, with just 15 min delay, the plane starts moving, accelerating, and taking off. Through the fog, the clouds up into the morning sky. I close my eyes and sleep. A cold/flu has been trying to catch me in the past few days, so far I have not caught it yet, but I do feel overall tired.

After about 45 min I open my eyes, it is already daylight, we are flying over a thick layer of fog, apparently near the coast of the Netherlands, as my GPS tells me. The stewardess comes by, asks if I want a sandwich. Apparently I did miss the feeding session while I was dozing off. Naturally I want one, it actually tastes quite good, some kind of soft cheese. And I get a hot tea, good for my cold. I am also taking Strepcils, as I feel my throat a bit aching.

We are landing on time in AMS. The airport is huge, it takes a while until the plane has reached its parking position. Then with a bus to the gate. Just 15 minutes left until the boarding of the next flight starts. If there is a crowd as usual at the Schengen immigration control, then I am doomed.

But there is barely anyone. The pass control just has two people ahead of me. Great! I shall remember that Thursday in November around 9am local time it is ok to transfer to another flight as Schiphol. So I move quickly through the Schengen immigration control. Then security check, again my carry-on luggage with its electronic equipment, the cables, the chargers... causes suspicion as usual. But that is dealt with quickly, and a few minutes later I am "in Schengen" (= the rest of the European Community, except Britain). Now walking to the next gate. Of course it is one of the last gates at the end of a very long walkway... takes me another 10 minutes of brisk walking to get to there. But I make it, they have just begun the boarding process.

I am again falling asleep during the next flight, until after about 45 minutes I look out of the window and see - the Alps. We are flying above the French Jura mountains with a great view into Switzerland, the area around the Lake Geneve. A gorgeous view, the close mountains and valleys in a mist. I take my camera and try to capture this view. There are unfortunately some reflections on the window, but I try my best.

The flight lands in Lyon 15 minutes earlier than schedule (was 11:05). Great, this will give me sufficient time for the continuing journey to Grenoble. But waiting for the luggate takes longer than expected. Fortunately my little suitcase is not coming last, so I am actually ready to leave the baggage claim area as one of the first from our flight. Now looking for the Thrifty car rental. There are signs only for other rental companies but not for Thrifty. I go back into the terminal, ask at the information booth. Yes, I shall take bus RP3 to the car rental place. As I go out again, bus PR3 just leaves. Ok, waiting for the next one. When that arrives, the bus still does not have any Thrifty sign. So I ask the driver. She looks up in a list and mentions "Hertz". Ok, so I have to get off at the Hertz rental. Works ok, still no sign of Thrifty anywhere. Maybe that is the reason the rental price was so cheap? Around 15 pounds per day is acceptable for car rental... In any case, I enter the building for the Hertz rental, and there I see for the first name the "Thrifty" mentioned in big letters. I get my car: a Citroen C1. Have the choice between a Fiat 500 and a Peugeot 107. Since I had the Fiat 500 already once (is a very nice car, can recommend!) I decided on the Peugeot. But then this turned out to be a Citroen. Well, does not matter, as long as in France I am driving a French car. Feels just more authentic :)

I begin driving around 11:40. Now I am driving on the French motorway. Very little traffic, due to the expensive toll. It costs 10.40 Euro to drive from Lyon to Grenoble. Beautiful sunshine, blue sky. Nice autumn trees, I wish I could stop to take a few pictures. Around 12:30 I reach the vicinity of Grenoble, as scheduled. Philippe and Christos will expect me at the train station around 12:45 and 13:00. I follow the directions which I printed from Google Map. But I should have programmed the GPS navi to tell me the directions to the station. As I am driving through city traffic, I look for an official sign which points to Le Gare Central. Nothing. So I drive way too much towards the south, when I finally decide that I need to go back north. I give Philippe a phone call at 12:48 that I am on my way. They will wait at the train station for me. Finally I make my way up to the train station vicinity. Park the car temporarily, then go to my hotel which is nearby. I leave my suitcase, as the room is not yet ready, then I park the car at the hotel parking and walk to the train station across the street. Nowhere are Philippe or Christos... I give them a phone call, nobody picks up. What happened? It is 13:00 sharp. I go back to the hotel, as for directions into the town centre where a first meeting point will be. I get a map and the advice to take a tram. The vending machine only has French instructions... no button for English. Ok, but I succeed to buy a ticket somehow. Then I take the next tram and drive into the town centre. At around 13:29 I arrive at Place Notre Dame, where the other meeting participants are waiting to give their Augmented Reality demonstration. I am there just in time, as the agreed meeting time was 13:30. Good.

For 2 hours we experience very interesting demonstrations of new Augmented Reality technology developments, walking around the centre of Grenoble through brilliant sunshine but quite cold temperatures (probably 5 deg C) and also going up a mountain (to the Bastille) with a cable car. Long walking through the town, then we join the others and drive to INRIA Grenoble, one of the famous research institutions which has made groundbreaking contributions to the world of computer vision.

The meeting lasts until 19:00. Back to the city, then having a nice French dinner with Christos. At 21:30 I finally check into the hotel officially, go up to my room, and fall asleep immediately. It has been a busy day!

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