The Undecided Philosopher

The ideas and rants of a former philosopher and a present-day geek....Enjoy!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Paris Final Day

February 23rd, 2006
3:01pm EST

Well, my adventure has basically come to an end. I am sitting in the Delta terminal in Cincinnati waiting for my connecting flight to the Tri-cities. I have cleared customs, been stamped, searched, de-shoe'ed, and cleared for take-off. After all the fun was over once I got here, I headed for the food court and induldged in one of those truly American experiences, Panda Express Chinese food. I know that must sound a little strange, but take my word for it. There is nothing as uniquely American as Food Court fast-food style Chinese. I guessed that stopping in at Panda Express was as good as any stop for shocking my system back into American food mode. I doubt the sushi and Frau Gra will be finding its way to my plate anytime in the near future.

Well it seems that my arrival back in the states has been very much the opposite of my departure. We I left on Saturday, it was cold and snowing, our turn-over in Cincinnati wa very quick, and the flight to Paris was long and quite painful. Paris was rainy and warm when we hit the ground. Today has been much different. Paris was cold and snowy when we arrived at Charles De Gaulle. Check in was shift and the flight was very comfortable and pleasant. The plane was only about half full, so I was able to spread out over a couple of seats and actually relax. The movies were good, the food decent, and people very quiet. I arrived in Cincinnati and the weather is beautiful. It appears relatively warm without a cloud in the sky. My turn-over this time is a bit long with a 2 1/2 hour layover. All in all though, I have no complaints. This is the type of travel day that everyone dreams of. If my luggage makes it to TRI, I will be good to go.

I suppose that I should devote some time to last night's meal at the Eiffel Tower. In all honesty, though it was a very nice night, it was a bit anti-climatic. The view was nice, but we were relatively low on the tower, so it pailed compared to our visit on Monday. The mingling and champaigne was pleasant and the dinner was decent. It fell victim to comparison to the night before, which has set the standard for all meals past and present. It is my new baseline. The set up for dinner was assigned seating with everyone from North America mixed around the room to encourage the meeting of new people and general networking. My table was fun and I survived the evening without offending the potentially boring or annoying. I did manage to take a few great night shots of the tower as we entered and exited and I did meet a few new people and made a few contacts.

It appears that my night is going to continue this evening a bit longer than I expected. Michael has a school program tonight at 7:00pm EST, or as I prefer to see it 1:00am Paris time. I know that Michael is looking forward to it, so I will just have to suck it up and sleep tomorrow. It will be nice to land in my own bed tonight and wake up knowing that I will understand completely all the channels on the TV. No more Al Jazerra, no more BBC, and no more Olympics in French and German. I might even watch a few hours of SportsCenter just to see what actually happened in case the French have been lying to me all week.

Well enough of all this. I am home; I am repatriated; I am very tired. I am going to try and leave you with a pic from last night's dinner, assuming I can overcome the T-Mobile Hotspot wireless access here at the airport. Until next time...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Paris Day Three Continued...

February 22nd, 2006
9:51am EST (3:49pm Paris)

This will a short entry for the afternoon. Just finished up the business portion of the Forum and came back to the room to rest up and change

for tonight's formal dinner. I has been a very good day. Business partners and vendors were met. Deals were discussed. Ideas were hatched.

All things you would expect from this type of conference.

I want to leave you for the evening with a few photos:

Sarah, this one is for you. This entire building is the Champs Elysees headquarters for you know who...

A busy night on the Champs Elysees...

See, we did actually go to the Forum floor, I promise...

Talk to you all soon...

Paris Day Three

February 21st, 2006
11:23am EST (5:23pm Paris)

Allow me to begin by explaining that the majority of today has been spent in the actual Alcatel Forum (you know..,the official reason I came to Paris). Therefore, much of what I have to discuss is somewhat technical, which translates to boring for most of the world. The forum has been very good to this point. Alcatel has spared no expense in both the content available and the presentation of said content. The production value of the keynote address was beyond expectations, rivalling the studio quality of most live television programs. We heard from the Chairman and CEO of Alcatel as well as the Editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review. The keynote was presented in a talk show format with interviews, video clips, and field reporters from around the world. It was informative, interesting, and, frankly much better than expected. Afterwards, Guido, John, Ando, myself, and Tom Hicks went across the street to a nice little bistro for a 3 course lunch (more on food to come). Then it was back to the Forum for some booth and vendor browsing.

Guido and I pretty much steared clear of the conference sessions, with the exception of a presentation on the use of VOIP over WLAN as case study, and we instead focused on the partner and vendor booths and new technology. Probably of most interest was the new uses of SIP technology in PDAs and cell phones, allowing you to go from cellular to free wireless and back seamlessly. We also explored some of the XML development tools available for the new Alcatel IP phones with color digital displays (Bluetooth handsets as well - very cool technology). Ok, I realize alot of the readers out there have no idea what I am talking about, but take my word for it. This is a very impressive trade show, especially considering it is sponsored by a single company.

Now, back to the discussion of food. Eveyone reading this knows that I like to eat and that I am afraid of little when it comes to trying new things. Everyone also presumably knows that Europe has some of the best, and in many cases, exotic foods in the world. It has been my great pleasure to try a little of everything throughout the week without any concern for quantity or cost. My wonderful guests from Alcatel have gone out of their way to provide for nearly every meal, at significant expense. I don't believe at any point we ate for less than 200 Euro, which shows the generosity of this wonderful company. Today for lunch I experienced a first for me in the form of my appetizer. It was a gratin potato tower with a center of seared Fra Grau (sp). This was my first fra grau and I must say that despite its strange beginnings (fattened duck liver), it has a fasntastic flavor. My main course consisted of veal medallions with spinach. Obviously, the entree was much less exotic, but equally tasty.

Now I am not going to detail every meal, but I did want to highlight a few more things. I have enjoyed a pan seared salmon with creme sauce, extremely rich pasta carbonara, and fork tender filet in bournaise sauce and peppercorns. At this point, I am not sure where we will end up for dinner tonight, but I am leaning toward searching out a nice rack of lamb. I will keep everyone informed. I doubt I will log anything more until tomorrow night, since all I have left is forum events tomorrow until dinner. Tomorrow night, I will be dining at the Jules Vern Restaurant atop the Eiffel Tower. That experience will certainly warrant a log entry. I know all this must sound so boring, but i asure you all I am trying hard to have a good time. Talk to you all very soon...Mom, please kiss Michael for me...

February 22nd, 2006
2:06am EST (8:06am Paris)

OK, I realize that I said I probably would not log back on until later tonight to chronicle my trip to the Eiffel Tower for dinner. That may have been true if we would not have had the adventure we had last night for dinner. Last night was our regional dinner involving all the customers, sales techs and regional managers from US Atlantic division. Our group was 12 strong, but our table consisted of 6 people including Guido, Julie, myself, Tom Hicks, Don (a customer and panel member from one of the PA school systems), and Dave Dwyer, General Manager of voice systems for North America. Don and Dave were both great guys and good additions to our party for the evening.

Now normally, though the meals have always been very good, they rarely warrant logging all by themselves. Lastnight was definitely different. First of all, we went to a new and very trendy restaurant called Bound. Bound is the epitemy of European cool, with dramatic lighting, cool projection art and a smoked glass and iron bar. Bound is known for its wine and its sushi/seshemi and never one to break with traditions, I jumped right in. This is where the culinary part of my adventure begins. Dave ordered a large sample platter of all kinds of rolls, sushi, and seshemi for the table to enjoy. After testing out the chop sticks and mixing up some wasabi and soy, I jumped right in and tried some snapper, salmon, tuna, and shrimp. I also tackled the california type roll. Though a complete novice in the world of sushi/seshemi, I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. The textures and flavors were phenomenal, with a firm and fresh feel from all the types of fish, despite their rare nature. In fact, the shrimp and california rolls were the only cooked/vegetarian samples on the plate. Needless to say, everything was fantastic and we worked hard as a table to ensure nothing was left unsampled, cleaning as a group the entire platter.

As I stated earlier, Bound is also known for its wonderful wine collection, and last night we dove in and enjoyed a very fruity and sweet red as well as a very crisp white. I stayed with the red, Mercurie from the Julliot winery (2000). When we first arrived, the evening started with some very stiff business talk and the feeling out of all the new people from both directions, but after some good chat, a few Guiness and whiskey soars, and four bottles of wine, everyone became very friendly and talkative, ending the evening as allies and friends.

The entrees were equally spendid - mine an Asian shrimp dish involving mushrooms and noodles. After some more chat, we ordered dessert. By this time, the other table decided to leave, having not been slowed by a sushi course, they were already done with dessert and drinks and ready to head back out into the city. Dessert was specifically Parisian with everyone opting for the Creme brule sampler, consisting of Vanilla, chocolate, and caramel cups. Dessert was almost beyond description, which crisp distinct flavors and a perfectly smooth and cremey consistency - truly magnificient.

If what I just described was not interesting enough, then the timeline might push you over the edge. From arrival to the final coffees and teas, were dined for nearly 6 hours, not heading out into the streets to search for taxis until after 1am. A second amazing factor was cost. As I have stated before, Alcatel has been a terrific host, providing for our every need. Last night's meal was yet another perfect example. Our party of 12 ate for just under 1100 Euros or approximately $1300 US. To help put that into perspective, our other table was drinking coke, 17 cokes to be exact over the course of the evening. Those 17 cokes were 102 Euro for the evening. Basically, last night's dinner was the most interesting and extravegant of my young life.

That is until be continued.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Paris Day Two

February 20th, 2006
1:34pm EST (7:34pm Paris)

After a long day of running all over the city of Paris, working hard to exude all the normal characteristics of a tourist, I have many thoughts to share, but very little energy to do so. The day started with breakfast here at the hotel, hosted by our friends at Alcatel. Well the day actually began with an expedition through the Congres de Paris after some shadey information given to Guido by the Conceire. Once we finally settled down to the meal, the food was excellent, a mix of European and American fair, all very good. I did notice, after Julie pointed it out, that there was a large quantity of Ketchup next to the scrambled eggs.

At breakfast, we hooked up with Ando Shin, our sales engineer from Virginia. Ando joined the party and we all headed out for the lourve via the Paris underground. Now I am not the most experienced user of public transportation, but from my experiences, Paris has a pretty decent wsubway system. The Lourve has a stopped just a few miles up the line from us, and it opens dirctly in the lobby of the museum. The Lourve is basically an enormous and very impressive facility. It's shear size and volume is awe-striking. I was overwhlemed by the history of the collection, the diverisity of the collection, and, basically, the social significance of the entire museum. Everywhere you turn in the Lourve, something catches you eye - apiece of art you studied in school, something you saw on TV, or something you read about last week. A personal thrill for me was exploring the grand gallery and standing inches from the great works of DaVinci. I will say that the ego of the French shines through as you around. The French collection contains numberous works of ego and testosterone in the form of Naploleon's great victories and his imagined benevolence to the people. Let's just say that history has a unique perspective from this side of the pond.

After enjoying the first blue skies of our trip outside the pyramid entrance, we headed down the tube and toward the Cathedral de Notre Dame. Obviously I am not a practicing Catholic, but regardless of one's beliefs, the cathedral is an amazingly reverant and beautiful place. To think that the City of Paris was so close to tearing the building down in the 19th century before a little book involving a hunchback arrived on the scene. The world is a better place knowing that such great icons of architecture and history survive the perhals of time.

We next wandered the streets looking for a good lunch spot until we stumbled upon a great little italian place off one of the numerous alleys. Ando, as he had done throughout day, picked up the tab for the meal. I have to give Ando and Alcatel serious credit for their hospitality and their willingness to take such good care of their customers, going the extra mile everywhere we turn. We finished the day by touring the Eiffel Tower and taking the painfully long elevator trip to the top. What you would expect happened - awesome views, strong winds, cools maps...blah blah blah. Not that I am ungrateful for the expereince, but it was your typical impressive tourist experience.

As we descended from the tower, the rain began again, this time with a seriously cold wind. I honestly do not know how it could be so cold and not snow. We made our way back to the train and headed for the final line that runs back to the hotel. It was at this point that I went my own separate way. While everyone headed for the warmth and comfort of the hotel, Ando and I got back on a train heading the opposite direction. I had not had enough time to hit the gift shop at the Lourve and I had a promise to keep. A certain person out there hopefully reading this asked for something artistic and possibly green from the Lourve. Well true to my word, I headed back and picked something up. If you are reading this, and you know who you are, I got it. Talk to you all soon...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Paris Day One

Trip to Paris - February 19th, 2006
12:20am EST

This is the first of what I hope to be several entries in my blog detailing my trip to Paris. For those of you who are not aware, I have had the good fortune of being invited by my friends at Alcatel to attend their yearly Forum and users conference in France along with Guido Ontaneda, my boss, his lovely wife Julie, John Meyer, one of our consultants, and his lovely wife Debbie. Our invitation, like so many other things in life, is part vendor bribe, part reward for being such a good and lucrative customer, and part apology for all the issues, trials, and tribulations of the last couple of years. KVAT has been a flagship retail customer for Alcatel, and as such, we have tried, tested, broken, repaired, and beta'ed parts of what seems to be everyone of their product lines.That being said, they are a good company, despite their flaws, and I am looking forward to the conference and the bribery that comes along with it.

This first entry comes to you from the plane as we soar at a relaxing cruising altitude of 37000 feet somewhere above Limerick, Ireland and the Celtic Sea. More specifically , we are currently at Latitude 51:00N Longitude 15:48W. How can I be so precise might you ask? Have I stormed the cockpit and decided to fly this leg of the journey myself? Do we have an overeager and chatty captain who has gone intercom happy? Well, fortunately, it is none of these answers. Instead, I am being bombarded by my friends at Delta with up to the second trip statistics, travel maps, flight tragectories, and land to air speeds, I suppose all in an effort to keep me well informed in the event I jump from the plane, or get to take my turn at the wheel. Now, I do not want to seem ungrateful for the benefit of up-to-date information. I actually found the info kind of cool and reassuring when we first got on the plane 6 HOURS AGO. But now, and for the last six hours, every LCD display overhead in the cabin has been glaring this information to me and the other passengers. I feel as if I am in an extended pause between scenes in a very boring version of the next Indiana Jones movie (reference back if you will, to the visual of the plane flying between dots on the world map - Delta, I am pretty sure, completely ripped that idea off - the Paris dot keeps getting slowly closer).

Well I should be retiring my laptop soon to prepare for my complimentary fruit and juice course, which is of course designed to trick my body into thinking that it is breakfast time and time to start a fresh on the day. Unfortunately my body is way too smart for that and it is fighting hard to hold on to the thought that it is 2:00 am in the morning and i should be running for the nearest bed once my knees are freed from the chair in front of me. Once we land and I have a few moments of clear-headed thought, I will let you all know who wins that war. If I were a betting man, I would put my money on the bed. More to come.

February 19th, 2006
8:00am EST (2:00PM Paris)

Well after a couple of hours of well deserved rest in my strange, but quaint hotel bed, I am back at the keyboard chronicling my trip. Needless to say, we arrived safely at the airport, passed quickly through customs, and gathered our bags. After a quick 20 minute drive, we arrived here at the Hotel Le Meridien Etoile, just a short walk from the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees ( French spelling is no better than my English). I was fortunate enough to have a very quick check in by a lovely and somewhat exotic woman at the desk (beauty and the French accent are a very dangerous combination), and then I headed to my room to quickly unpack and get some sleep.

My first impressions of Paris are mixed. As predicted, it is a rainy and dreary day, with little street traffic and very little activity in general. Being Sunday morning here, I can but assume that the French enjoy their weekends and hide from the rain with the fervor as their American counterparts. Basically my drive to the hotel gave me little upon which to form an opinion - lots of small, generic cars, typical industrial buildings on the outskirts of town, and a hint of the beauty of Paris as the Arch came into view in the last minutes of our drive up to the hotel bellman. I will be heading out shortly to explore a bit, and see what I can discover on the streets and in the surrounding shops before I finalize my opinions.

The hotel room is not quite what I expected, which is a failing on my part because I should have thought through this a experience a bit more before my arrival. The room can best be described as, well, of European influence. It is relatively small, but we appointed, with a small bathroom and closet. It is certainly comfortable and I have every suspiction it will be more than adequate during my stay, but it has its oddities. The TV will hold its own level of challenges. I have no American programming whatsoever, short of the world edition of CNN. Most of the programming is French with a smattering of the BBC and German broadcasts. I have several channels of Olympics coverage, but none in English, and all with a leaning away from American athletes. Possibly the most surprising find while exploring the TV dial was the presence of Al Jazeera. I fully intend to explore this opportunity and see what this new perspective brings to my interpretation of world news outlets. Unfortunately, since I speak nor read zero Arabic, I am pretty sure I will be just making stuff up while I watch the facial expressions of the people on the screen.

Well I am off to explore a bit more and see if I can dig up an ATM that will give me some Euros. Until next time America...

February 19th, 2006
4:33pm EST (10:33pm Paris)

This entry in the log brings me to the close of day 1 on my jaunt to Paris. Since last we spoke, so to speak, I have ventured out into the city proper, both alone, and with friends, and I am beginning to feel a bit more comfortable in the country. While most of my travel companions slept attempting to fight off the power of jet lag, I changed clothes and headed out into the streets surrounding the hotel in search of anything new in general, and an ATM specifically. Though I brought enough American currency to cover my needs within the confines of the airport, I needed to procure some Euros to cover the incidentals here in the city. I first wandered across the street to the Congress De Paris convention center and mall, asumming an ATM would be readily available. Though an impressive structure with world class shopping (translated from the Latin meaning "expensive"), ATM's were few and far between, at least in my initial inspection. I did however feel comfortable enough in my surrounding to head back out into the street and up the first block of the Champs Elysees. Those first few hundred feet verified my suspiction that this part of Paris was specifically geared to support businessmen and tourists. I encountered countless cafes, newspaper stands and generic boutiques. All in all, the area was clean and unexpectedly cheerful considering the rain and cool weather. Unfortunately I did not find an ATM, once again failing to explore quite enough to discover the obvious. I turned back and headed back to the hotel to meet the others in the lobby.

Guido, John and I met up to visit the Alcatel Suites in the hotel for a quick glass of wine and some chocolate goodies, while picking up our agenda for the week. Afterward, Guido, Julie, and I headed out on foot to the Arc de Triomphe for some photo ops while John and Debbie caught up on some more sleep. The Arc is the first major highlight of the trip. Based on my knowledge of French history, and my distain for Napoleon in general, I expected to be considerably underwhelmed by his little self tribute to victories won. I could not have been more wrong. The arc is both a modern marvel of architecture and artistic expression. We climbed the 280 + steps to the top and enjoyed some of the most magnificent views of a beautiful cityscape imaginable.
It is as if the entire city converges on that point just so you can enjoy its beauty and grace and soak in its history and its significance. I will post a few pictures to give you a glimpse into my experience.

We finished the evening, after gathering our remaining two companions, by wandering the streets until we came to a quaint little Bistro for dinner. After filet and dessert, I have made my way back to the room for some much needed rest and reflection. Tomorrow morning I will be exploring the Lourve and winding through the streets of the Latin Quarters in search of new inspirations for my camera and my logs. I also hope to make my way to a few cathedrals and discover some great street art if time permits. I realize that all of this sounds very generic and touristy, but so are the first few hours and indeed days of this kind of trip. As juicy bits of knowledge come to me, i will do my best to pass them along. Good night and good luck (did I mention I saw some great movies on the flight, but that is another entry)...