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The Filthy Lucre Tour
Not bouldering at Fontainebleau
3rd May 2006 - 4th May 2006
Bouldering at Fontainebleau, Eurodisney, Dinner in Paris

For those unaware, "bouldering" is the art of finding a piece of rock - not necessarily a particularly big one - and clambering up it in an ungraceful fashion. Sometimes there are prescribed routes one must take, and sometimes you just have to get to the top. The reason it gets a special name and isn't just called "climbing" is mainly because you don't ever use any ropes, as the rocks aren't high enough to cause you much damage from falling off. A particular route up a particular boulder is generally known as a bouldering "problem", and climbers give them tossy hippy names because they're just crazy, and way out there.

South of Paris is an area famed around the world for its bouldering - Fontainebleau. I seem never to be able to pronounce its name properly as it starts off with a slightly squiffy version of "fountain" and ends up with something that you expect to be the colour bleu but is actually bleau. I tend to pronounce one half of it properly and the very act of doing that makes me mispronounce the other half. So generally it's Fountainbleau or Fontainebleu. Anyway, the reason it's famous with boulderers (look it up in the dictionary, I challenge you) is because the town is surrounded by a sandy forest full of lots of oddly placed rocks averaging around two or three metres high splattered around much as if they'd fallen there specifically for boulderisation (don't look it up). I don't know how they got there, because the lady at the tourist office wanted EUR25 for the guidebook. For the same reason, we didn't really get any bouldering done. Our rock-climber sandals-in-the-house type friends Dan and Nicky told us that it was very easy indeed to find where the bouldering was to be had - they had colour coded paths through the forests demarking various levels of difficulty, and only a child could fail to find them.

We tried, we really did. We eventually found a little signpost which showed the colour codings, and then set off into the forest to find either yellow (embarassingly easy) or white (children's) boulder problems. After about two trees we lost the yellow path completely, and then eventually had to make do with following the blue one. We had no idea what difficultly level it was supposed to denote, but there were a lot more blue marks on trees than yellow ones. Eventually we came across a boulder with a blue star on it. Does that mean "climb me"? We peered at each other for a while and neither of us seemed particularly eager to give it a go, so on we wandered. Someone's helpfully covered all of the paths through the wood with about two inches of fine sand, so moving a hundred metres takes you in the region of an hour. Eventually we followed some blue daubs up to another boulder. On it was painted in blue what appeared to be a bathroom tap - perhaps this meant "climb this one, starting left a bit" or "climb the one around the corner". We elected not to climb it at all and continued. The next one had a large blue letter "Z" on it. Does this mean "move to the right a bit, climb diagonally leftwards and then come off to the right again"? As the following one had a letter "Y" on it, we deduced that it was instead some sort of sequence that we were working backwards in. Perhaps the bathroom tap was a new special French letter (of the alphabet), introduced to stop people Frenchifying English words instead of using the French ones. As we'd got up rather late, it was now somewhere around six in the evening and neither of us were any closer to swapping our loafers for climbing shoes, so we elected to call it a day after a couple of staged photos. Where did we go wrong? Well, we didn't have a guidebook. And I think at the end of the day neither of us are quite keen enough on bouldering to just leap at something and give it a go, and we were both a bit full of lunch. Oh, and there was nobody else there apart from a couple of old ladies walking a dog. I think if we'd spotted other feckless unemployed youths jumping around doing their bouldering stuff, we might have plucked up the courage to have a go at one too.

And so onto Eurodisney. I've been to both the other Disney parks, despite them not really Being My Thing, so it seemed a shame not to complete the set. After forking out EUR8 for the special Disney parking, we then had to pay EUR108 to get two people into the theme park and Disney Studios (which are next door to one another, but unconvincingly separate attractions). Having already blown two days' worth of our budget it seemed a shame not to fork out a further EUR15 for two British Rail sandwiches that had been lightly toasted a couple of days before, at the Disney New York Sandwich Somethingorother. I'm sure writing New York on something makes it more valuable, in a similar way to housing it in brushed aluminium and having a couple of LEDs on the front.

The studios and the main theme park are largely indistiguishable from one another - there are a few more plants in the theme park and the studios have a very slightly film-ish bent to them, but there's only so much you can theme a rollercoaster. Oh, and speaking of which, I went on my very first one. The Aerosmith-sponsored "Rock and Roller Coaster". I've always maintained that I quite enjoy a bit of zooming-around excitement but only really if someone's given me a steering wheel, some bits of string or a stick and told me that I'm in some way in charge of where the thing is going to go, even if in real life I'm not much. I always thought being chucked around on a roller coaster was a curious way to want to enjoy yourself. Well, it is and it isn't. The being-chucked-around part wasn't all that much fun, but I did quite enjoy being upside down and I couldn't help but marvel at the engineering work that was in the thing. For the petrolhead in me, there's also quite an enormous amount of oomph needed to fire the little carriages up some really quite considerably steep slopes at quite a pace, which is rather jolly. Afterwards, Kiki didn't want to get into a conversation about whether it was powered by compressed air or not, and seemed much more interested in how worried she was that her handbag was going to be rock-and-rollered into cyberspace on the steep bits. On the upside, I don't think I actually heard any of Aerosmith's music, which was being poked into my head through speakers in the seats.

Also in the studios was an Opel-sponsored cars-skidding-around show. It wasn't called that - it was called something so breathtakingly crap I couldn't actually spoof it. "Moteur Action Stunt Show Spectacular!" I think. I've been to a few cars-skidding-around shows, but this one was definitely the best one. They had a splendid big film set of a village behind it, and a huge big screen on which you got to see the main presenter (yes, presenter) introducing the cast (yes, cast) and the other two presenters (yes, two more) introducing and training the various members of the audience who volunteered to take part (no, not driving). The fact that it seemed to have to be presented in a mixture of French and English meant that the presenters all had to talk twice as fast as a normal human being in order to keep up, which made things even more thrilling. Having arrived half an hour early as instructed, we then had another half hour or so of geeing-up the audience before any cars actually turned up on stage. The premise was that they were pretending to be shooting stunts for a film, and there were various car chases with a goodie in a red car and some baddies in six black cars and two black motorbikes. Actually, once it got going it was all quite well done. The whole thing was very well coordinated and the car-chase aspect of it was quite fun. The audence participation was pretty rubbish but no doubt necessary (they basically all just had to run away screaming in one "scene"), and they gave away some interesting tricks as to how things were being done as the show went along. What they didn't give away was how the six Opel Corsas chasing the good guy (in something that looked a bit like a small 1980s concept car) were all rear-wheel drive and sounded like motorbikes... I tried to take a picture of the underside of one after the show but failed. They all had blacked-out windows, and I imagine when the chap said "these are all prototype cars" during his "don't try this at home" speech, he wasn't kidding. I doubt they'd ever seen an Opel Corsa. The motorbikes which featured in the show also appeared to have some sort of cutout switch to ensure that wheelies didn't overcook, as you could hear the engines stop and start as they wheelied across the stage. All that said, though, it was mighty impressive driving. Obviously I told Kiki afterwards that this sort of thing really wasn't all that hard, and it was just politeness that stopped me getting out of the Waitrose car park that way.

The main theme park is all much the same thing - it's well done, rather cheesy but juuuust not cheesy enough to feel hatred towards it. It was certainly busy - the big rides had queues of up to an hour, and queuing space for far more. Disney are masters at the art of queueing - every ride has a twisting, turning lead up to it so you can't actually see how many people are in front of you, and you get to look at a different photo, or animation, or robot for that particular ten minutes of your queueing experience. They place you nice soothing music, and you can rather see they've done this before.

Once you've finished your little train-tour of how special effects are made, featuring Jeremy Irons (only on a TV, I hasten to add), perhaps you'd like to get lost in the Alice of Wonderland Maze. I wondered for a while what Lewis Carroll would have made of all this, but that was soon superceded by wondering what Mark Twain might have thought of it, and particularly what he might have thought about having the Authentic Paddle Steamer Ride named after him.

An enormous amount of the whole park is about stuffing your face with food. Apart from the aforementioned sandwich and an ice cream, we didn't really eat, but I'm not joking when I say that about half of the attractions in there are restaurants of varying sorts. If you do ever eat in there, I'd recommend the Blue Lagoon Restaurant. It looks rather romantic, and the Pirates of the Caribbean Authentic Floating Log Ride Thing goes straight through the middle of it. I've no idea what the food's like, but I'd imagine the whole place has pretty similar "better than adequate" nosh.

I failed to collect £10 from Marcroft in return for a picture of either myself or Kiki being given a piggyback by a popular Disney character. I did look out for any opportunities, but they never came up - there weren't any characters wandering around shaking hands with everyone, and there didn't appear to be plastic effigies of them anywhere either.

I am due an apology to an ant. A number of ants had made our car home as it was parked outside our flat in Stoke Newington, and before I could stop her Kiki coaxed two of them out of the door in the Eurodisney car park. Language barrier aside, I think they'll have a really tough time coping with weather and if they're reading I do wish them the best. Perhaps it'll turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Back in 2000 or so, I visited a restaurant in Paris with Emmett and Marcroft, at Emmett's recommendation. We had a splendid meal and a great evening, and it's been in my mind as one of my favourite dinners. As we were at Versailles, I think Kiki was mighty impressed with my dropping "I know a little place in Paris we could pop into for dinner tomorrow", though perhaps let down slightly when I had to phone Emmett in Bahrain to find out what it was called. On the way back from Eurodisney, we did indeed stop off at what I now know is called Brasserie Flo (7 Cour des Petites-Ecuries, Entrance from 63, Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis) and had a jolly nice dinner. The atmosphere of the place is very convivial and it's a little off the beaten track - you really feel like you're eating dinner somewhere that the French go. I'm not sure the meal came up to quite the standards of the one I recalled with Marcroft and Emmett, but I'd also not drunk several pints of beer beforehand owing to having the car with us and, well, Disneyland not being really that sort of a place.

Miles travelled: 2505
Books read: C:2, K:2
Bottles of wine remaining: 7
Countries visited: 2

Next: Zürich. This one's a bit dull, I'm afraid
Previous: Hexham, Into France, and the Palace of Versailles

Diary Photos

Not bouldering at Fontainebleau

Pretending to climb up stuff

Hiking through Eurodisney

Mark Twain

Paris Sunset

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