Catedral de Santa María
Originally uploaded by Pierre Phaneuf.
The SNCF proved to be slightly silly when booking us with a ticket from Hendaye to Irún: the two are six minutes apart. Not only that, but their recommended schedule was for us to get off at Hendaye and wait 45 minutes for the train to Irún. Turns out that we could just stay in the train and not wait, since it was really going all the way there. Of course, we had a longer wait in Irún, but that's okay, as we could walk around a bit and have some coffee. I had a Bayonne ham sandwich in Bayonne.
The RENFE train seemed to be the top of the class model, with comfy reclining seats, plenty of legroom, headphone jacks with ten channels, and a television at the front of every car. They also gave us free earphones, nicer than some airlines I flew with! The train looked capable of high speeds, but since the way to Pamplona is pretty hilly, it seemed to be only going at "normal" speeds, very smoothly, though. I saw Spanish cows, as well as herds of very fluffy sheep. They have a cool coin-ops model train set at the Pamplona train station.
After some fair amount of walking around, we checked in a our hostel, which is pretty weird. It's run from a bar-restaurant, where you sign in, and then you go across the street to an apartment building. They have a few big apartments, where they set up each of the rooms as bedrooms, with locking doors, so you have a key for the entrance to the building, the apartment and your room. There are shared bathrooms, but that's standard fare for hostels, and the place is quite nice, even including a small television, unusually luxurious. No wifi around to steal, but hey, I'm not complaining.
There's was a Pizza Hut at the corner, and I managed to convince azrhey to go there for dinner (easy, since she was rather tired and hungry!). I hadn't had Pizza Hut since, uh, I don't even remember! Suitably greasy. Back to the hotel, we found Eurosport was covering the curling world championship.
Woke up late, and met with apenwarr. Although I probably wore his ears off, it was good to talk with him. While we both feel that NITI wasn't such an exception to the rule (it's possible to make a place that's nice to work at, at least for a few years, the exceptional thing is making it last), seems like he's currently working at an exceptional place.
We discussed banking systems, and how at some levels, they are based on having trust, and at others, they were based on lacking trust. For example, VCs investing money in a company, they are basically out there to screw the entrepreneur out of his equity, and the entrepreneur is out to get as much money for as few shares as possible. Whereas in the highest levels of lending, there are so few lenders and customers that the banker is literally a broker of trust as much as of money. Depositors give him money, trusting that he'll have it when you ask him for it, and he gives borrowers money that he trust he will pay back, so he is basically transferring this trust around. At those levels, a banker who would screw someone with fine prints would lose his business, so it's actually in his best interest not to screw people, which is interesting, but I think isn't scalable. I told my story of how banks in France seem to want to keep contact and an almost personal relationship with their customers (for example, when my account manager got replaced, his replacement wanted me to take an appointment with him, for no actual reason at all, just to meet me), traditionally in order to provide a personalized service (you wouldn't give your money to someone you don't know, right?), but nowadays, this has deteriorated to be just one more occasion to try and sell things the customer does not need. Not unexpectedly, apenwarr expressed how he think it'd be cool if we could come up with a scalable system based on trust, instead of having just one or the other.
He didn't seem too impressed at the third way for a programmer to make themselves irreplaceable that the French invented: you can't be fired, so they can't replace you! Thankfully, you can't be hired either, so I suppose the equilibrium is thus preserved, and all is fine. Unless you're out of a job, that is. Or trying to do something. azrhey pointed out that it's a classic mystery: pretty much everyone agrees that France ought to collapse any time soon, but they've also been saying it for the last hundred years or so. Nobody knows why they don't implode in a huge mess. One possibility is that they're continuously both imploding and exploding at the same time.
The next day, azrhey and I decided to go around town a bit. Unfortunately, it was raining. We checked out a few things around, such as the city's fortifications, but being outside was just conducive to having a generally bad time, so we gave up on that. So we ended up taking refuge in a pub, building up courage, and then going back to the hotel, to take it easy the rest of the day. Because, you see, there's a tricky last bit.
P.S.: Oh, yeah, had KFC too, in the name of not having decent fast food in France and being home-sick. I went by myself, so ordering involved some pointing. My Spanish isn't so good, but is apparently funny. I did not have to mimick a chicken.
The return train was at 5:30. In the morning. And with all the rain, there were floods, which, we learned at our arrival at the train station, had blocked the railroad. So no train after all. There was a mini-van chartered to take the few people supposed to be taking it to Irún, which was driven by a Spanish madman. Or so azrhey tells me, since I fell asleep before we had even left town...
So, in summary, neither the bulls or the crazy Spaniards killed me.