On Sunday, Feburary 19 I attended the Aviation Geek Fest at the Future of Flight. This was the third version of the event but I only found out about it this year. Organized by David Parker Brown from [http://www.airlinereporter.com/] along with the good folks from the Future of Flight and Boeing. Also in attendance were social media folks from Boeing, United Airlines, and Southwest.

As an avid listener to podcasts like The Airplane Geeks I have no problem being considered a geek. I’m a computer geek, a camera geek, and an airplane geek. I think the test of being a geek is whether you need to ask youself “Am I a little weird”, because most of us are, at least a little weird.

To quote Mr Billy Joel “the good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems”

Frequently the coverage of new technology tools lament how ‘the good old days’ when people relied on . Well I won’t be looking back to the ‘good old days’ when it comes to my travel plans. My recent trip to Ottawa was the first I did with my full range of technology tools. (iPhone, Laptop, MiFi)

All the reservations notifications and trip details get emailed to my Tripit account which builds a personal itinerary which I can share with friends and family. I then load that on to my iPhone so I’m not printing out all those emails anymore.

While the least new thing, there is no more arriving at the airport 2-3 hrs ahead. While you still need to check your bags, the use of web check in and e-boarding passes makes the experience much less painful. Had a minor issue with the satellite TV on the first leg of my trip. Exchanged messages with @westjet via twitter before I even finished the flight there. While Twitter is a useful tool for customer service I think the culture of Westjet really works with the idea and that’s a little cool. As an example of that culture – see this thank you from the ramp crew in Calgary.

You arrive at the destination airport and you get your checked bags. Then you pull up your hotel address in Google maps and get driving, walking or public transit directions. In the case of public transit in Ottawa OC Transpo has a mobile Web site that provide a trip planner which gives pretty detailed travel directions. Only downside was the text wasn’t really re-sized for the iPhone screensize.

One thing that is customized for the iPhone is that the Museum of Civilization has moved its audio guide onto the iPhone with a free app. You can now download and listen to a guided tour as you view the museum. It is a well done production and even if you aren’t going to be there you get a great feel of what they have. The Museum also offers free Wifi.

Back to Twitter and Google Maps for local recommendations. Local Search does and okay jobs of locating ‘coffee shops’ but for details you need to go to the ‘locals’. The key was to find a way to reach enough people to get an answer. In Victoria the #yyj hastag is in common use, the closest I could get was #ottawa for the capital. It did lead to some local grocery stores and a great coffee house. Alternatively Yelp is still a good source of local reviews but its not always clear that the list there is complete in any given category.

To help things out the Ottawa Airport has free WiFi and the first place I’ve see with USB ports to charge your electronics at the seats in the departure area. The airport is also reachable on twitter at @FlyYOW .

A bit of a knock on the local guys for Victoria Airport not providing free WiFi. I won’t book a hotel without free net access but at least now I have the MiFi and the iPhone for WiFi challenged locations. Both YYC and YOW provide open WiFi for my trip where YYJ didn’t and AIF and parking Victoria got a good chunk of my money.

Spent a week of holidays holidays touring Ottawa. I think I’ve visited there 3 times in my life, mostly as a bored teenager, and lived there briefly – almost too young to remember. So this visit as an adult was significantly different from anytime I had been there before.

But, I can make a few comparisons from the 1980’s version of Ottawa. The most obvious is the massive improvement in the national museums around the capital. The Museum of Civilization, War Museum, National Gallery, and Aviation Museum were formerly located in older buildings that were not designed for the purpose of a museum. Now all of these are in purpose built space that provide enough room to really show what these institutions have and with the interactive and information tools that you expect from a major museum.

The large spaces for vehicles at the War Museum, the open colonnade that leads to the National Gallery, and the open gallery for the six houses of the First People’s exhibit at the Museum of Civilization are all examples of what purpose built space can do over the ‘make do’ kind of spaces that existed before.

Travel Tip:
Used the Museum Passport to get to most of the attractions in Ottawa, not a bad deal if you get to at least 4 of the 9 that are part of the package. ($30/person – $75 for a family of 5)

The Museum Passport includes:

  • Canada Agriculture Museum
  • Canada Aviation Museum
  • Canada Science and Technology Museum
  • Canadian Museum of Civilization
  • Canadian Museum of Nature
  • Canadian War Museum
  • Laurier House National Historic Site of Canada
  • National Gallery of Canada
  • Royal Canadian Mint
  • National Arts Centre

The addition of the big museums are going to be a big draw but there is still the obigitory trip to parliament hill. The tours there are free and tickets are given out first come first serve starting at 9AM each day.

Travel Tip:
Visits to Parliament are best on weekends or days when the House of Commons and Senate aren’t sitting. Those parts of the building are not availble for tours while in use.

I love the unique and free, so the Bank of Canada’s Currency Museum is a winner on two counts. I really thought they did a great job with it. The vault with examples of currency from all over the world as well as just about every variation of money ever used in Canada was very interesting. They also do some good presentations on recognizing fake bills.

While the Royal Canadian Mint was an interesting tour, the Ottawa location only does specialty and commemorative work, if you want to see where the pennies come from you need to go to Winnipeg. The Mint was decked out in Olympic decorations to celebrate their work on the medals for the games in Vancouver.

While the big events of visiting a city and its sites can be easily listed. The real experience I got was the little things that happened at or between the ‘big’ things.

  • I saw a swordat the War Museum that matches the family sword that has been handed down to me.
  • I saw a section of the de Havilland Buffalo shot down in Syria in 1974 at the War Museum, then when I went to the Peace tower, the book of remembrance was open to that page
  • At the museum of Civilization, they had a display about Francis Rattenbury including examples of his work from Victoria – little irony there
  • Museum of Civilization had a mock up of Vancouver airport with some vintage CP Air memorabilia, recognized a photoshop-ed background as they show the airport runway that was built long after the airplanes they show on it.

Trip Photos at Flickr

They say that there is no such thing as bad publicity. That may be true but at a certain point you need to ask yourself if your promoting or parody-ing.

The recent Olympics in Vancouver brought a lot of publicity to Canada, British Columbia, and Vancouver. The Olympic ceremonies tended to feed the common stereotypes that the world had for Canada. The problem is that it was Canada that was presenting that view of itself.

That basically gives permission for others to do the same thing.

In Victoria, we recently hosted NBC’s Today Show. They flew to Victoria on the floatplane from Vancouver, went to the Empress for Tea, and then ate some fish and chips. Now I hope, as many local businesses do, that this will mean more tourists and dollars for the local economy.
Yet it just bugs the hell out of me.

The Myth: They get on the nice little floatplane and make some cute little jokes about whether a little old plane like that is safe or not

The Reality: The Twin Otter flown by Westcoast Air is a Canadian designed legendary airplane. It would have been nice if they had managed to plug the local Victoria business, Viking Air, that recently put them back in production. They secured orders from all over the world – including the US Army’s Parachute team, so they are probably a pretty good little airplane.

The Myth: Tea at the Empress, a classic taste of England here in Victoria.

The Reality: While that ‘a little bit of Britain’ got a few tourists in the 60s, 70s, and 80s we really have moved on. The Empress is still an icon on the inner harbour but the Grand Pacific, Laurel Point, and Delta’s Ocean Point hold up pretty well themselves. And High Tea may be a nice treat we have dozens of coffee houses that really represent the local culture much better.

The Myth: A spot of fish and chips. Again the ‘Bit of Britain’ view takes front and centre.

The Reality: Fish and Chips is on the menu in many spots and I was glad to see Red Fish, Blue Fish in the spotlight. But really, the massive number of choices around town for the foody crowd deserve a little better. The fact that the annual ‘Dine Around‘ event was on at the same time would have been a nice mention as well. We probably have more good Sushi places than good Fish and Chip shops. And don’t even get me started on the gastropubs, and microbrews…..

So how could they have gotten a better view of Victoria, well:

Just saying ….

A postscript to my trip
Back at home after almost 3 weeks away, I walk to my favorite Coffee House past the inner harbour in Victoria. I look at the cenotaph where the annual ceremony of remembrance will happen at the end of the week.

I think of what I would say if I got the chance to speak on Friday. I think it would go something like this:

This day is not about triumph or celebration.
We are here to honour those that serve
We morn those that gave their lives
And we express gratitude that we have not had to do either.

I think about the Canadian Flag being raised at the Vimy memorial and the 90 year old monument of 60,000 Canadian dead being restore for the next 100 years of remembrance. But it is hard to relate to large numbers, and despite standing on that ground there is nothing in my experience that lets me imagine how it really was. It is easier to think of individuals.
In going to Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth Cemetery, I saw two names that have stayed with me and I think that is who I will think of on Friday – Private Robertson and Lance Corporal Martin.
In addition to holding over 10,000 graves Tyne Cot has walls of 30,000 names of those that have no grave. The names are there because the Menin Gate Memorial wasn’t large enough to hold all the names.

They couldn’t build a memorial big enough to hold all the names, that says alot.

Tyne Cot has the grave of Private James Robertson, Victoria Cross of the Manitoba Regiment. One of the names on the wall was Lance Corporal Henry Martin.

I still remember the note below the name of Corporal Martin – placed there by a student or a family member that was written in the voice of Corporal Martin.

“I spent 14 months convalescing in Blighty only to return to Passchendaele and be blown to pieces at Poelcapelle on 27th November 1917.
I have no know grave, only my name on this panel and a plaque dedicated to me at St Georges Memorial Church, Ieper.

I did my Best

Please Remember me.”

Both Private Robertson and Corporal Martin died in November of 1917.

Touring around Paris
This morning was the start of my tour of various neighborhoods of Paris. I had completed my museums and historical trips, now I was looking to get to know the town. On the extreme west side of Paris is the ‘neauveau’ Paris area called La Defense. It has a giant arch that is on the line of the Champs Elysee so you can look through the Grand Arch to see the Arch de Triomph and the Obelisk at Place de Concorde. This has almost all of the high rise buildings in Paris. It also appears to be the ‘high-tech’ area of Paris. Coming out of the Metro I see ads for Cisco and placards announcing WiFi access everywhere.

From La Defense I went back to the Champs Elysee and grabbed breakfast while watching the rain that had started to fall. From Champs Elysee, I walked past the Place Elysee (the President’s Mansion) over to Madeline and Opera with some window shopping along the way. I might have considered buying something but I didn’t see a price tag under 1000 Euro. After working my way back past my hotel, I worked down to the Louvre and walked the Tuileries Gardens that stretches from the Louvre and Place de Concorde.

On to a little more shopping with a stop at WH Smith on Rue de Rivoli to pick up a few reading items for the trip home. Yes, my brain is starting to think about the 21 hour trip home that will start on Wednesday morning.

After again working my way back from the hotel to drop off my purchases, I took the train to the opposite side of town to the Montparnasse district. This has two noteable features. The Montparnasse Cemetery has the grave of the philosopher J-P Sartre and Andre Dreyfus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dreyfus_affair ). The other feature of Montparnasse is the only other high rise in Paris. The Tour Montparnasse is the 59 story high rise that is the only one outside the La Defense area.

Tomorrow I think I take a cruise on the Seine a check out a few more neighborhoods. Then it is back to the hotel to stuff my life back in a suitcase and get ready for an early trip to the airport on Wednesday.

Paris on a Sunday
A postscript to my Sunday in Paris. Warning to those that travel here – there is almost nothing open on Sunday for shops. Including grocery shops. And there is no such thing as a 7-11 in Paris. So there was a little problem getting some bottled water and such for the hotel tonight. Should have figured that out before. I was trying to remember what I did last Sunday.

Then I realized – I was in Belgium last Sunday. This traveling can really mess with your head.

Last Museum visits
Well, my 5 day museum pass ran out today so I got my last visits in. A trip to the Louvre first thing this morning. I was planning on grabbing some breakfast on the way but the line up was already starting at 8:30 so I stood in line and read my Green Guide (Le Guide Vert) with all the details. The doors opened at nine and I made my way through the ancient parts (500-600 BC) and then to the greeks and romans. They also have a part of the excavation of the original fort that stood at the Louvre. This shows the foot of the massive towers that used to stand on this site.

I then made my way to the 16th and 17th century paintings. Including seeing the dutch painter Vermeer, who was in a recent documentary I saw at home. I finished with the Renaissance tapestries and artifacts.

It was then on to the the Centre G. Pompidou which houses the Museum of Modern Art. There were several interesting exhibits but actually the best part was all the performers out front. The hit of the group appeared to be the 5 members of – what I am assuming – is a tibetan group.

Circumnavigating Paris
Started with a trip up Montmartre for the view of the city from Sacre Couer early morning. Then heading on the Metro to the Trocadero. The Chaillot Palace was built for the exhibition of 1900 (?) and is used for museums today. The French Maritime Muesum is there and that was a nice little tour.

On a side note, most of the museums are searching bags and in the case of the Maritime Museum and the Museum of Modern Art (Centre Pompidou) you have to check you packs and bags prior to entering.

Then a walk down the Gardens between the two parts of the Chaillot place that look on to the Effiel tower. Then a walk along the Champ de Mars which connects the Effiel tower (also built for an exhibition – they seem to have a lot of those here from 1870 to 1940) to the Ecole Militare. Past that and on to ‘Les Invalids’ this has the Dome Church – which is the final resting place of Napoleon and the Army Museum. Unfortunately large parts of the Army museum are closed for renovations – for 2 years.

So on to the metro to another museum in the North East of town. This is the Science and Industry museum at Villette. It is a funky place mostly designed to keep children ammused so I didn’t end up staying long. There big exhibit was ‘Star Wars’ but unless there is a working Light Sabre I can play with – I’ll pass.

Then down to the Centre Pompidou – again with the bag problem – so I will head back there tomorrow ‘sans sac’.

So in the late afternoon of Saturday it was time to think about some gifts to bring home. So shopping time. The Gallery Layfette, Champ Elysee, and the Bonne Marche (the real one not the American Chain). Didn’t end up buying anything but it was worth a look. Funniest thing I saw was the Dior Ipod Cases for the iPod, Mini, and the new Nano. That is just too funny.

Cooking Class
Today was a big day. My sister had bought me a cooking class so it was put up or shut up time for my culinary skills. Paule was our guide to the open air market just down from Place de Republique. The menu Rochfourt soufflé, Salade with baked Cheve, main course of Veal, Carrots, and Chantrel mushrooms, and an Apple Chocolate Tarte for desert.

As the one guy in the group I got the meat duty but also practiced my skills in caramelizing the Apples for the Tarte. While there were several very compleling dishes but the steps were laid out very well and all of us are expected to reproduce these when we get home. Even making a soufflé didn’t seem that scary.

My group was 6, including myself, one other Canadian – currently living in New York, a mother and daughter team from New Jersey, and a couple of longer term Americans-in-Paris – one from Berkley and the other from Minneapolis.

Finish the day with a trip to a couple of the cooking supply shops then I headed off to the Museum of Art and Science.