On Friday morning, feeling euphoric after experiencing the Tour de France “parade” but also sad to say “au revoir” to our new friends Lise and Arnold (Norway) and Jon and Fin (UK) we descend the Col du Tourmalet. What a change in weather! The day of the Tour was near perfect conditions for cycling – contrasting with today’s rain and low clouds!
Arriving at Gavarnie, high in the Pyrenees, the sun makes an appearance.
Spectacular! No other words could do justice to the “Cirque de Gavarnie”! Sculpted by enormous glaciers, the rocky cirques are a feature of the Pyrenees, listed on UNESCO World Heritage Register.
Next stop ….. quaint village of Arrens !…… Bruce has a quiet place for the night or so we thought ….. until the sirens blare loudly and fire trucks zoom out of the building next to a startled Bruce!! It appears that the “Council Depot” is also home to the local Fire Brigade!!
Markets and a running race up the mountain entertain us in the village centre on Sunday morning. So many energetic people in France!!
Le Parc Australien, in Carcassone, reminded us of home …. We did not pay the €10 each entrance fee to see the Kangaroo though! A small child saw our Aussie stickers on Bruce as we drove past & Excitedly waves.!!
Our journey through “The Back Roads of France” (title of our guide book) was definitely challenging but with lots of spectacular scenery and driving! The lead-up to this tunnel had a sign saying 2.8m clearance. Bruce needs 2.9m, so we start to reverse to a turn-around – people working in the adjacent farm say “gauche – sur bon” (they were the only words Mark picked out of the whole sentence!!) – on the left there is room” – They were right, we got through.
What!? … are we trekking way up to that small hump in that mountain summit ??… Yep, in fact we conquered quite a few castles and chateaux ….. loving our newly acquired “walking sticks” which make our explorations a touch easier & we can manage smiles at the top!
Termes historic castle, 800 years ago, was the site of the longest castle siege during the Crusade period! Simon de Montfort eventually seized the castle which was deemed impregnable, after four long months & much bloodshed. As they couldn’t get into the Castle, they simply staked out the bottom of the mountain and would let no supplies go up!! It took four months and the onset of winter to conquer the castle! … The details were too gory for us!
AIRBUS, an international company based in Toulouse was visited by Mark, Bev and Bruce today. Bookings are needed at least two days in advance for us Non-EU people – English tours are available too! Upon proving our identity with our Passports (Bruce waited in the carpark), we were taken on a bus tour for 25km!! For 1.5 hours, the guide talked about AIRBUS and we saw the planes in all stages of production.
59,000 employees around the world – with 20,000 in Toulouse alone. In addition, there are the contractors and sub-contractors. In Toulouse, there are another 20,000 non-employees working exclusively for AIRBUS (eg security guards at the gates, our tour guides, the cleaners, etc, etc, etc.) Clearly a major employer in Toulouse (and France!).
It’s range of aircraft is the most modern and comprehensive on the market and captures half or more of all aircraft orders for 100 to 525 seater planes.
The company manufactures the airplanes in sections all over Europe. They are assembled in one of three places – Toulouse, France; Hamburg, Germany; and Tianjin, China – a plant in USA is soon to start. Over 600 planes last year – 40 per month of the A320 alone!!
AIRBUS has only 250 customers – SafetyQuip Nunawading has over 400 trading customers (and a lot less staff!!). For AIRBUS, some customers are more important than others – Take the A380 for example, Singapore Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, Air France each have 12 – Emirates has 50 (with another 90 on order!!) Each one costs €350 million ($500m), can carry 525 passengers (up to 853 if they make it for a “budget” carrier) over a range of up to 15,700 km, and is powered by Rolls-Royce or Engine Alliance engines and costs €500,000 to fill up with fuel! 310,000 litres – that is 4 semi-trailers full of AVGAS (kerosene)!! They weigh up to 560 tonnes on take-off – and they still charge us by the KG for excess luggage – bit cheeky.
We toured the assembly areas (staying in the bus) for the A320, A330, A340 and new A350. There were a few of each in various stages of completion for us to ogle.
Toulouse is where the A380 is assembled – that was part two of our tour. The A380 is made in sections in France, Spain, Germany and UK – all in company-owned facilities. The sections are brought to Toulouse either inside their own transport fleet of A300-600/BELUGA planes – or via the sea/river/road for the big bits (fuselage, engines and wings). The assembly plant is 50 hectares in size – including one building that covers 10 hectares and is 46 metres high – four A380 airplanes are inside!
We would recommend a visit to AIRBUS in Toulouse – but remember to book at least two days in advance!! Click here http://www.manatour.fr/Visit-Airbus-A380-Tour