Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Paris! Or, well, Palaiseau for now...

If you took the city of Rome and gave it the weather of Portland, you would have Paris. I like both, so I'm pretty happy with that. I haven't taken any pictures of Paris yet as I spent most of my time thus far in museums due to hard rain, and I think people who take pictures of paintings in museums are ridiculous. What, are they going to print them out and hang them on their wall? I spent most of my time at the Orsay Museum, which has a very large collection of Impressionism works. I like Impressionism and think that a good Monet or Sisley landscape is pretty, but after 15 galleries of the stuff it really tends to run together. That said, "The Origin of the World" by Courbet is a pretty striking painting (NSFW! Even if it is art! Don't say I didn't warn you! And it's Realism, not Impressionism!).

As I have no pictures I will leave Paris to another post. Of what I do have pictures, however, is Palaiseau, the suburb of Paris that contains Ecole Polytechnique, where I work. My commute is ridiculous, not because of the Paris train system (which is ridiculous, mind you; I have to make a transfer to go four stops on the same line!). It is ridiculous because of the walk from the train station to the school. Here is a sequence of photos of that walk, with each subsequent photo taken from the position at the top of the previous:

The most difficult part is the bottom, which is a 20-25% grade but without stairs. When it rains it's extremely slippery, especially going down it at the end of the day. It's hard to motivate myself to run when I do this every day, but I still need to keep my cardio system up there. Have to keep up with Jeannie and Jason in the high mountains! I live right next to a nice hilly forest park with a lot of nice trails for running and I'm starting to work that into the routine.

Finally, I must post one last image from my life in France, because I find this kind of thing absolutely hilarious:

That's right, EXTRA bon! None of this normal bon crap!

I'll post some pictures from Paris after I take them over the next couple weeks. Carie comes to visit on November 6th! I can't wait!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Europe at Last! And Alps!

I've been busy for the last week and a half in Europe, but felt obligated to post, if for no other reason than to share some pictures of pretty mountains.

First, I went and visited Carie in Munich. While where I used to live in Germany had terrible food, Bavarian food is actually pretty good. I ate my weight in giant pieces of fatty pork, pretzels, and beer. Also, I finally got to experience rain, for the first time in 9 months! Oh, how I've missed the rain!

Carie lives literally on the edge of this park. I kept expecting Fitzwilliam Darcy to jump out and sweep me off my feet (which would have admittedly been awkward)

After the wonderful visit with Carie, which wa s as usual not long enough, I traveled to Les Houches, a tiny town in the French Alps 5km from Chamonix. For the last week I've been at a plasma flow control conference at a secluded physics school up the hill from Les Houces, which has been an extremely good conference though I won't bore you with the details here. What you're really interested in are the awesome mountains and glaciers here, and let me tell you that they are really awesome. It pains me that I don't have my climbing gear, because I want nothing more than to run up Mont Blanc. I'll come back and climb some of these someday.

It was cloudy the first couple of days in Les Houches. This is the view from the main conference room where we're having talks (and from the room I'm sitting in right now as I'm posting this, though it's clear right now).

It cleared up the second day and has stayed clear since. It's unusually nice for October, if still very cold. The secluded setting of the conference is great.

Yesterday the conference had an excursion to Chamonix to take the cable car up to Aguille du Midi. This is a bunch of scientists milling around in the alps waiting for the cable car.

Aguille du Midi, a rock spire topping out at 3842m and on the way of the north route to Mont Blanc (4810m), was made famous in the 20's by George Mallory as he climbed the near-vertical north face (shown) while practicing for Everest. Today it is noteworthy for the extremely impressive gondola going from Chamonix up to the summit, and as the starting point for climbing Mont Blanc from the north. While the gondolas in Switzerland were impressive, this is like nothing I have ever seen. The second stretch shown here is a free-cable spanning 2km and 1500m vertical with no intermediate support. It's impressive.

At the top there were nice observation decks. This is me pictures with my new best bud, Mont Blanc (2nd peak to the right of my head). It was -15C at the top, which converts to 5F.

Another view of Mont Blanc, the tallest snow-capped peak in the center. I will be back (though probably in summer when it's not so cold).

A view of the mountains and glaciers opposite Mont Blanc. The glaciers are extremely torn up and crevassed, especially at the lower extent of their elevations.

Downtown Chamonix with the alps in the background. Mont Blanc is not visible because the foothills obscure it, but they're no slouches when it comes to foothills.

Tomorrow I leave for my two month stint in Paris. Actually, I'm just outside of Paris in what looks to be some nice pastoral French countryside. I'm looking forward to it, though I'm not looking forward to living near Paris while not knowing any French.

Also exciting is that Carie found a deal where we could get season passes at Mt. Baldy for $50. That combined with an El Nino year means our ski season this year will be much better than the last couple.