Longchamp Diary

Saturday 03:30 BST

Is it just me but whenever you set an early alarm because you have to be somewhere, you then have a sleepless night worrying you are going to miss said alarm.

This was certainly the case for me with the alarm set for 03:30 to catch my flight to Paris, it was a case of tossing and turning and waking up almost every hour.

The shower sort of wakes me up and I am out of the house by 04:00, although probably too tired to be driving.

05:25

The 06:00 flight to Paris is one of the first flights out and the call to the boarding gate goes out.

I paid extra for Easyjet’s  speedy boarding and it pays off today. The flight is almost full and, for most of the time, I am the only one in the speedy boarding area with the other 126 passengers being herded into a general waiting area – a real illustration of what cattle class travel really is.

As more people are crowded into the departure lounge I sense I am getting some dirty looks as I am in comfortable isolation. Luckily two other speedy boarders join me and they can share the visual daggers.

5:50

Still no sign of boarding the plane, due to depart in 10 mins, looks like it will be late. Then an announcement – they are a member of crew short on the flight and are waiting for a standby crew member.

06:10

Finally allowed to board – well the speedy boarders are anyway. It is good to sit down and I am happy I have my favourite front row seat so I can stretch my legs out during the flight.

After 10 minutes the standby flight attendant arrives but there was still no sign of the other passengers who were still crammed in the departure lounge.

06:30

The other passengers now begin to board and I (and the other speedy boarders) all get even more intense daggers from some very unhappy fellow passengers. I can feel some sympathy with them having been crammed into a hot stuffy lounge for almost an hour, whilst we – at least – were in relative comfort. Then again, they too, had the option of paying extra for the speedy boarding.

06:45  

Everyone on board now. Sitting in the front row has the added advantage of being able to hear conversations between the crew and it transpires that because of the delay in getting the full crew we had missed our slot.

Normally getting a new slot would not be a problem but the French air traffic controllers were working to rule and initially the first available slot would be four hours later. This was not going to be a good day.

Anyway the Easyjet control centre managed to negotiate a 7:40 departure slot, which in the circumstances was not too bad, although it meant sitting on the plane at the gate for ages.

07:20

The Captain comes on, “good news, they have bought our slot forward and we should begin push back in the next two or three minutes.”

07:35

The Captain comes back on, “you may have noticed we still have not moved, this is because of poor visibility here at Luton and they are restricting the number of aircraft on the taxi-ways at any one time”

What the remaining passengers did not hear was his chat with the Senior Cabin Crew which was, “if we are not off the stand in the next ten minutes we will not be going anywhere as we will be out of hours on the return trip.”

Was I facing another doomed attempt at a long distance race meeting?

The plane finally pushed back to muted, ironic, applause with just five minutes to spare.

09:50 CET

The plane finally touches down on French soil, only 90 minutes late in the end. I almost felt like kissing the ground when I finally got off the plane.

To be truthful I wasn’t overly upset with a 90 minute delay as I knew I was going to have to kill two hours in Paris with the early flight.

10:25

I finally get my train ticket into Paris and make my way to the RER station for the 35 minute trip to the racecourse.

Access to the platforms is sealed off.

I eventually find a sign saying the RER is closed for engineering work all weekend.

So, this is the weekend of the Arc, The Paris Motor Show and, apparently, a big fashion show and they decide to carry out engineering work on the rail link between the airport and the City. A weekend when there are tens of thousands of international visitors. I thought that was something that would only happen in the UK.

11:35

I finally arrive at Longchamp, hungry, thirsty, tired and in a foul mood.

Neil Morrice, erstwhile PA reporter, brings me back to earth as steam is still issuing from my ears – “just chill and relax, you are here now.”

Fair point.

This year there is a new media system – we have bar coded badges to give us access to the media centre and after many problems with the internet over the past three years, there is a new wireless system and we l have our own individual log-on …. most impressive.

Well not quite I couldn’t log in – eventually tracked it down to my having a pop-up blocker switched on in my browser. Apparently their login system uses a pop-up to control access.

12:30

Well I managed to file a couple of updates but keep getting logged out of the Wi-Fi network, this could be a painful afternoon.

12:50

The Wi-Fi finally dies completely, something of a problem when you are providing updates on a web site.

Surprisingly I am quite laid back by it all, I just carry on writing updates as though it is working OK. having worked in IT for many years I know shouting will not get it fixed any sooner.

13:30

My decision not to get uptight and start shouting was somewhat vindicated by watching a US correspondent failing to show such restraint and making a complete idiot of himself.

With a deadline looming he was shouting at the poor girl who was acting as an intermediary.

I was almost tempted to start a book as to which would happen first – either him thumping somebody or him having a coronary.

13:55

An anti-climax with eth US correspondent as all bets are void as he storms off back to his hotel, where there is a working Wi-Fi connection.

15:05

Finally Wi-Fi service is resumed, they have scrapped the new system and are reverting back to last year’s system.

Most have connected OK – I have not.

15:28

I am finally back on track – I still had a record of last year’s Arc meeting connectivity in my network settings and that was stopping me connect this year. All reset and happily working.

17:50

Decide to call it quits and miss the last race. It had been a fraught day so far and I still had to find my hotel the other side of Paris.

19:20

I managed to find my hotel at the first attempt. Only drawback is the hotel has no lift and I am on the third floor with the only access a spiral stairase – I’m glad I packed light.

Room is a typical Parisian hotel room, small and functional. It has a great view as it is opposite the Chateau De Vincennes, what a shame there is no racing at the nearby Hippodrome .

19:40

I had packed my “best” camera with assorted lenses as my intention had been to go back into Paris and take some night time photographs of what must be the best illuminated city in the world.

In the end I was so tired I barely ventured 100m from the hotel and after dinner it was a couple of hours work back in the hotel and bed.

Sunday 08:00

A crap nights sleep, room was hot but opening window meant noise from the main road outside – catch 22.

The good news being a gloriously sunny day.

A brilliant breakfast, there is nothing better than a croissant and half a fresh baked baguette with butter and jams, whilst sitting watching the world go by.

09:15

Out of the hotel early because I want to arrive at Longchamp early to ensure I get a seat in the busy press room.

10:00

Arrive at Porte Maillot where the shuttle busses to the course depart from, only to be told the first one does not depart until 10:30.

Decide to share a cab with the Reuters correspondent.

10:15

Finally arrive at Longchamp to find the media centre almost deserted and those who were there were all Brits – it was a real home from home.

And – the Wi-Fi was working a treat.

13:00

Racing finally underway, a card with seven Group One contests – what a delight.

The crowds do not really build up until late in the afternoon, so I watch the first race with the crowds in the Grandstand.

I had to laugh at this old French guy, clearly used to “normal” Longchamp days when there are no more than 50 racegoers.

He was sitting on the Grandstand steps and getting really agitated when somebody stood in his line of sight.

14:00

Like Sandown the Longchamp sprint course is in the centre of the track and it is impossible to see the race from the terracing on the stands, not least because there are hospitality tents between the stands and the track.

So decide to watch the race from the press terrace, which is high up in the grandstand but about a furlong from the finishing post. At least I was able to view the race.

Decide this will be my vantage point the remainder of the afternoon.

15:50

Well I have just had a hissy fit.

Was watching, or shall I say trying to watch,  Goldikova and Paco Boy fight out the Prix De La Foret when a member of the press corps who, despite sitting in the front row of the seating area decided to stand up at the crucial moment blocking my view – I was not impressed and made him aware. He was so arrogant he almost ended getting smacked. What’s more he wasn't even French - but Irish which is unusual as they are usually decent guys. 

16:30

Well after all the pre-race doom and gloom that we had a sub-standard Arc this year all was forgiven as Workforce won the roughest Arc in years.

A long Stewards Enquiry and somebody “in the know” retuned one of the TV’s in the media-centre to show the same feed the Stewards are watching as they take a look – what a great idea.

Every time we see a replay another incident comes to light, it was a very, very rough race.

16:40

Although there has been no official announcement and the enquiry is on-going we assume the winner is OK as the presentation is about to go ahead.

18:00

It has been a great afternoon, seven group one races (eight if you include the Arab Gold Cup)

Now to try and get back to the airport and after yesterday’s fiasco decide to go for the airport bus rather than train.

18:45

Despite all the horror stories about escaping from Longchamp I arrive at  Porte Maillot. Whilst there was I queue I managed to get on the second shuttle bus from the course.

Soon realise my plan to catch the airport bus was flawed as it seems everyone else had the same idea, with a 200m plus queue.

Decide to bite the bullet and get the train, still had time as flight was not until 21:50.

20:35

Finally arrive at the airport – tired and hungry.

Usually have a meal in the airport restaurant but will be cutting it fine.

20:55

Find a Pizza Hut and have a couple of slices of hot and spicy pizza.

Whilst eating decide to get my documentation together.

Absolute panic – I had checked in online but could not find my boarding pass.

I had it at the racecourse, ready to put into my jacket pocket – it was not there now. I must had left it on my desk at the racecourse.

21:05

Just make it to check-in before it closes and the very helpful young lady prints me off another boarding pass and does not charge me for the airport check in.

I also realised I had left the receipt for my pre-paid airport parking behind as well. So I quickly log into my laptop to get the reference number.

22:30 BST

Back on British soil.

22:45

Whenever I pre-book parking at Luton there usually ends up being a problem, only once has the automated system worked.

This was to be another failure day.

The theory is you put your parking ticket in the exit machine, it recognises your car registration number. Cross-matches it to the booking and you are away.

That is the theory. I put the ticket in and, lo and behold, it requests £70 for two days parking in the short term car park.

I press the intercom for help and it rings and it rings and nobody answers. Meanwhile a queue is building up behind me to try and get out of the car park and I am going nowhere, I just stick my hazards on and those behind back away but I get evil looks as they drive out in the adjacent lane.

Eventually after seven minutes a voice answers and within another minute I am finally on my way.

I suppose a perfect way to finish the weekend.

Despite all the difficulties it was a good weekend. The racing on Saturday was good but the racing on Sunday was absolutely top notch. It would be hard to find a better single days flat racing, anywhere.

I just hope the proposed Champions Day back here next year does nothing to diminish Arc day, it would be a terrible shame if it did.

 

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