成程 (Naru Hodo) - IC in Japan^H^H Cote d'Azur^H^H USA

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Playing Golf...

...is pretty much all I can do at the moment. The last two days the weather was pretty bad (for local standards) and with rain and wet roads I did't feel like touring around a lot.

The Golfbag I borrowed from AGOS (the "social assistance office" of INRIA :P) is a bit old but the clubs are good (for a bloody beginner like me) and it was accompanied by a artificial "putting green". Which I can use to play in my room and was fun for exactly 7 minutes... ;-).

I also bought a golf glove, apparently an essential tool for every golfer :P. Looking around in the sports store, this is also about the only affordable item ;-). It is only for the left hand (although my right hand hurts), tight and made of artificial leather. Lets' see wether it improves my skills :P.

Today the weather tried to make up for the last two days, so I finally could try "my clubs" and the glove on the driving range. A part of it has a roof, but I am not crazy enough about golf to play during rain :D.

I got a bucket full of small yellow range balls went on my small square of artificial green and played them. The yellow signs are 50m, 100m and 150m. My hitrate improved to maybe 90%. However this tells you nothing about the poor quality of the hits :-(. Both in terms of distance and direction. Some of the balls just rolled down the hill.
But it was fun and I discovered, that there is no strength/speed needed to get the balls far. As soon as I slowed my swings down, to maybe half my initial speed, everything felt a lot more natural and the balls still flew to the same distance :D. The bucket was empty too quickly :D.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sunday ride to the mountains

One of the nice things about France is, that some shops are open on Sunday morning. Which is especially useful after the holiday we had yesterday. After a pretty crowded visit at the local supermarket I grabbed my hiking boots and went for a ride towards the mountains.

At a place called "Gourdon" (I think. My map is not very precise) things already looked very rocky.

But 758 meters is not the best the local mountains can do and my Q wanted to ride a bit more anyway after standing around for almost a week and being degraded to a mule for shopping...
Right beside Gourdon is "Gorges du Loup". According to my tiny French dictionary it can be translated as "Canyon of the Loup" (where Loup is the name of a small stream).

As you cannot see the canyon on the picture above, I went closer and indeed found the incredibly beautiful entrance to the canyon. Not only for the looks, but also very nice for riding a bike :D.

The way went on, curve after curve, and the Q was in her element. When we finally decided to stop, we were at a place called "Gréolières les-neiges", apparently a of ski-ressourt and the end of my map :P.

After finding a nice place for the Q I went hiking. As before in Riva del Garda I made a picture of the local map to prevent getting lost :P.

After a while I stopped to sit on some stone, enjoy the view and have my lunch: A piece of bread and some dried sausage ;-).

The air was pretty clear and you could see very far. Everything felt a bit unrealistic as the human mind is not used to seeing that far. Unfortunately it is impossible to catch this with pictures. You need to experience yourself. As a poor substitute I created a Panorama (Clicking the following picture. You need Quicktime installed).
It was created from 26 images, 6 Megapixels each. The processing requirements nearly killed my poor notebook (36480 x 2880 pixels before conversion to QTVR :-P).

I took the same route back home. This time downwards...

Half way home needed gasoline. The tank of my Q definitely is too small. Unfortunately the situation on Sundays in France is even worse than the situation on Sundays in Italy:
Most stations I passed were closed and had no automated solution.

After riding very carefully for quite a while (to consume as few of the remaining gasoline as possible) I finally I found a very modern, automated gas station :-). It even had a multi lingual display with German as option :-). Just to tell me, in German, that I only accepts French credit cards! :-( No cash, no German bank cards, no German credit cards :-(.

However, French people are way nicer than French gasoline machines. Some other customer of that station understood my situation and gave me gasoline with his card in exchange for cash :-D. So I didn't have to spend the night in some canyon in the French countryside, only millimetres away from gasoline...
And I am finally convinced that getting a French credit card was a very good idea. I hope it arrives soon :-P.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Golf first try...

My back hurts.

And my ego.

Playing golf is really hard and I start to have huge respect from all the old people playing golf. It's not only about hitting the ball (which is difficult enough) but also hitting it in the right way...

At 12:00 I met with Gisela, the person organizing the discount for INRIA members. She was waiting for me with a black Mercedes SLK to drive the two of us 300 meters to the golf course. I swallowed hard and thought whether it was a good idea to actually do this... I am way too young and way to poor to play golf.

At the golf course I relaxed a bit. There were actually young people, "normal" people and people with ordinary, dirty cars with bumps like it is custom in France... :D.

In the first lesson we were we were a nice small group: Two older girls, two boys and the golf teacher. By coincidence the other guy was German, worked for INRIA during his Master Theses and decided to stay to do his PhD here :-P. As he playes golf since March he was pretty good, but doesn't have his clearance, yet, so it will take some time for me to learn it.

At the beginning we tried high short range shots, using a "Sandwich", a very steep club. Goal of the exercise was to hit the ball under the ball and create a short high trajectory to have the ball jump over e.g. a hole filled with sand?!
The trick, according to the golf teacher, is to "glide over the lawn" so that the club is under the ball and shots it high into the air.
In reality you hit the ground too early and make a nasty hole into the lawn. Or you hit the ball with the tip of the club and the ball rolls into the bunker, laughing at you from there ... Or most of the time you don't hit anything at all. :-(

As you don't try to shoot very far, the swing is slower and I managed to hit the ball (or the ground) almost every third try. Maybe 5 balls behaved as avertised and jumped over the bunker. From a hole bucket with small yellow balls... :-}.
As I made quite some holes into the lawn, I now understand, why you need "clearance", before you are allowed to play on the real holes, not to destroy the lawn... :-P.

After collecting our bucket of balls we tried "range shots", i.e. we tried to kick the balls, placed on a tie as far as possible. To protect the poor lawn from the beginners, this area had protection matts made of artificial lawn :-P...
This was a completely different problem. Not only because we used a different club: a "7 iron". It is actually much harder to hit the ball if you want to hit it hard. I managed to hit the ball maybe every 10th swing... My final score was 2 balls from my bucket delivered to 100m... :-}.

So first conclusion: Much to my surprise playing golf is really hard. Not only difficult as in hitting the ball. I started sweating quite quickly.
On the other hand and even more to my surprise it appears to be quite a bit of fun. Everything is pretty quiet, fresh air, a lot of nature, the people are very calm and considerate (not to hit you with balls and warn you if some balls approach you from behind). You are pretty busy trying to hit the ball and if you actually hit it, you feel great :D. So I am looking forward to my next lesson. Maybe I will hit the ball every 5th swing :D.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Food :D

As reqested from Jose, I will put some pictures of the gorgeous food online :P. The following shows our nice Cafeteria. When the weather is good (i.e. almost every day) we can have lunch outside, close to some sort fountain (it looks like a pool, but is only 20cm deep).

The first important choice is the desert. Ranging from fruit to fresh pieces of cake, including a terrific choloate cake :D (unfortunately not available today).

Followed by a varying selection of salad from a salad-bar.

Then you get one of two main dishes right from one of our friendly cooks. In case of e.g. things like steaks, the fry them right on spot :D.

Then you select the side dishes/vegetables to accompany your main dish. Today we were a little bit late, so there were only fries and zucchini left. (Fresh rice was beeing prepared, but we were too hungry to wait ... :-P)

Finally you choose a pice of cheese from a daily varying selection or the soup of the day. But I prefer cheese :D.

Here you can see the final result, that I will have the pleasure to eat. I fear I will grow really fat here :D...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Golf... :D

The density in golf courses is surprisingly high. I guess 6 courses in a radius of 5km. The closest one is right across the street. Actually it is right between my dormitory and the lab.

Here in INRIA is a suborganisation called AGOS. I have no idea what it stands for or what it exactly does, but it organizes all kinds of interesting events. Yesterday in the lunch break we had a small Champagne Testing for free :D. In the basement of our lab, where the testing took place, is not only a Gym and a room with lots of machines but also showers and a noise isolated room there some amateur rockband goes crazy in the lunch break...
There will be a golf course on the golf course across the street starting next Thursday. Again I get a substantional AGOS + poor student discount (65 EUR for 5 lessons + one hole + rental golf clubs) and will give it a try :D. The nice weather and area are just too tempting. According to "Manü", one of my coworkers, it is very hard to actually hit the ball ... :P.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

First weekend

Yesterday I went shopping for dishtowels and sheets for my bed. The lady in the tourist office (who wondered about my request for sheets, but could speak English :P) sent me to a supermarket called "Carrefour".

This thing was really huge. I passed by 73 individual cash registers until I found the entrance. And I didn't pass all the available cash registers...
After walking around in there for almost an hour I found my towels and sheets and went to cash register nr. 21 to pay. (Originally I wanted to use register nr. 23 :P but the lady siting there was shouting "Fermir!" and pointing a red light, so apparently she intended to close her lane).
All the people before me paid with credit card and the lady was quite irritated as I didn't hand her over a passport and credit card but a 50 EUR bill. Maybe getting a French VISA card (to arrive next week) wasn't a bad idea...

Somebody noticed, that I didn't show a picture of the outside of the dormitory, so here it is:

In the afternoon some dark clouds arrived and the temperatures dropped (read: 15 degrees :P). I wondered, whether it will get really cold here as well (there is only some tiny electrical heater in my room) and Germany already had snow...

But today everything was fine again. Blue sky, not even hints of clouds :D.

So I went to visit Fort Carre in Antibes. The similarity to the name of the supermarket is entirely coincidental ;-). The fort is right next to the sea so I needed to sit at the beach and just watch the water for a while, because the sea is just so incredible blue :D.

Then I entered the fort over a small drawbridge and went on a guided tour. I was told that the drawbridge was moved for a James Bond movie 30 years (?) ago for the last time (it is maybe 2 metes wide and between the top of the staircases and the door on the opposite wall).

The fort itself is an impressive structure as can be seen on this aerial picture from 1920.

And of course you have perfect view over the bay from the top plattform :-)

and the harbour.

A very clever trick of the French was to grow cacti at the wall. I am sure it made enemy soldiers think twice before attempting to climb the walls :P.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Arriving ...

Yesterday morning I finally arrived at INRIA. Before that I managed to find the place where I will stay, "Residence Oxford", and managed to communicate with the caretaker who was a bit unwilling, so early in the morning, but very able to speak English ;-).

By the way most things have really funny names around here. My dormitory is located in "Rue Henry Pointcare", the one that leads here is called "Rue Albert Einstein", ... :P.

The dormitory is a brand new building (like most around here) and my room has a small bath room with a huge mirror (around the corner so it is not visible on the picture).

The main living area with a desk and a couch. It also functions as a rather small bed (80x190), but has a second mattress with movable feet underneath so I could increase the bed size to 160x190 if I would not be too lazy to do that every evening... And there is a small balcony with nice view on the parking spaces and some dirt hills. I assume there is another dormitory planned.

Around the corner (picture tanken from the desk) is the small kitchen area.

The view outside the other side of the building (i.e. not my window) is really impressiveand you can see the mountains and the golf course next door. On the other side I can see a colourful sunrise every morning :D.

Everything is very calm and quiet and the only person I could see or hear was the gardener of the golf course on his huge mower.

Then I went to the lab where I met my first co-workers: Emmanuel, Nicolas and Nicolas. Most of the other people were on vacation, as there was some deadline the week earlier and a holiday in this week. Later I met Aicha which takes care of most of the paperwork necessary for my stay and have me my INRIA badge :D.

I spend the rest of the day to get used to the computer environment (everything is in French!) and eat a very good lunch (which took more than one hour) in the really nice cafeteria, right next door to the lab.
The food is terrific (really no comparison to the stuff they call food in the mensa back home), has an affordable price (compared the restaurants in NIce) and as I am a student and by definition poor, I get a huge discount on top of that :D.

Today I met the lab head, a quite interesting person, and got a French bank account, to get a R.I.B. (some paper with all the account numbers, confirming that I have a bank account) which is needed by the landlord of the dormitory.
According to the lady in the bank (who spoke incredible good English) I absolutely need a French VISA-card for that account. Not only for paying but also to withdraw money from ATMs and learn my account balance... As the bank has some agreement with the lab so there won't be fees (unless I withdraw more money than I own of course) so it should be ok to get...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Daytrip around Nice

Today, 1.11 was a holiday, so most shops and even cafes were closed. The only exception were the tourist places near the beach. (Read: 30 EUR a meal upwards)
So I went to Grasse (the city of perfumers, as I learned from the book "The Parfum") on my Q instead. There were soft hills like in movie, but they were covered by a way bigger city and not with colourful flowers as indicated by the movie. Also my nose was unable to sense any described fragrances. However there were many street signs indicating a lot of perfumers - which were closed due to the holiday.

As sun was too strong to got for a walk in my almost black biker armour, I went for a little bit of cruising towards the mountains and found bikers paradise. (Motorised as well as man powered bikes)
Almost no traffic, nice curvy roads running smoothly up and down the hills, perfect coating, blue sky, gorgeous views...

And of course mountains. I am really happy that I took my hiking boots to France :D. One small side road led to "Observatory de Cote d' Azur". I think this will be a nice starting place for a hiking tour.

An other very nice place to investigate on further tours is "Chateaneuf" and the area around it.

In the evening I sat at the beach watching a very colouful sunset and listening to the waves. As the beach is rather steep and made of big, round stones, there is a characteristic gargle when the water flows back between two waves. Very relaxing.

While the city lighted up around me, I learned some more French from my textbook: Apart from being able to count to 20 in French I now know that different countries have different gender and that this can be recognized by ending in an "e" which is not spoken... :-P.