Chapter Three: Paris when it sprinkles.

Lessons learned:

– A wild American tourist appeared and he was polite. Who’d a thunk it?… They do exist!
– When in Paris, don’t run for the Metro, the next one will arrive before you finish reading this sentence.
– The French use the phrase “ooh la la” 100% seriously to communicate surprise. Par exemple: *it’s raining* “ooh la la”…
– Do not pretend to know how to speak French at the outset of the conversation, the person will assume you speak fluently and continue the conversation and you will not understand and then you will have to shake your head awkwardly and then you will feel like a complete muppet.
– Sleep is not for the weak. Sleep is for the smart traveller who recognises how bloody exhausting it is to hop three countries in a week.

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There’s not much to say about Paris that hasn’t already featured in Hollywood films and every woman’s fantasy about how her fiancé will pop the question. It’s beautiful, it’s historic, the food is spectacular and when you’re with the one you love, I imagine that the molecules in the air are comprised of more pheromones than actual oxygen.

Don’t get me wrong folks, it’s incredible. Breathing Parisian air means inhaling an incomprehensibly delicious mixture of cigarette smoke, expensive perfume and garlic butter… Until you’re on the metro, at which point your olfactory senses are assaulted by the smells of pee, bad breath and BO, all emanating from the seedy looking man you’re pressed up against because there’s so many damn people in the carriage.

For me, this time at least, Paris was much less about the romance (wah) and much more about the family (Ohana etc etc.) and to be perfectly honest, it was better that way. While I’m aware that not all of us have family to visit while we’re overseas, even if that’s the case, do your research, don’t see the city like a tourist, explore like a local. Of course, see the sights, visit the Eiffel Tower, walk the Champs Élysées, but don’t overlook the way that people live in the city you’re in. Eat a light breakfast, stuff your face at lunch, have a siesta, drink too much great wine (albeit responsibly) at dinner, then get up and do it all again.

It seems to me that French also have an unshakeable sense of superiority over tourists (actually everyone really). Most clearly showcased on multiple occasions upon which I would catch someone staring at me, probably because I was speaking English and not their beloved French, and instead of looking away as most people do when the person in question catches you looking, would maintain eye contact.

I don’t know what it is with these people, but they’re hardcore.

Be wary: when travelling in Paris, understand that pickpockets exist and occur right in front of you, carry a backpack for luggage because escalators are few and far between at the lesser known Metro stops and don’t make eye contact with the violinist/accordionist who hops on the Metro to regale you with tunes that really kick you in the face with the reminder that yes, you are in Paris.

Do things that you wouldn’t do at home:

About 10 years ago, on a trip that took my family and I to New York, I got a caricature done on 42nd street. I was only 9 and the drawing was a beautiful setting of me in roller skates and pigtails tearing through Central Park. This time, mum encouraged me to sit on the Pont de l’Archevêché while Vallery, a lovely street artist stared intently to my eyes as he sketched my face. I didn’t really expect what happened next. Vallery had told us that he would give us a discount – my sitting for him would draw attention and ultimately, he’d probably end up with a few more patrons. I didn’t think anything of it, but about 15 minutes into sitting, a tour bus of Portuguese families disembarked and flocked to stand behind Vallery, watching as he detailed my eyes and my nose (he was kind and gave me a bit of a nose job, thanks Val) and my lips. This was a real life portrait and as I panicked about what people thought of my face and what Vallery was sketching, a little girl who couldn’t have been older than 7 waddled up to me and in broken English, managed the phrase, “you are beautiful” and then scurried back to her mum who smiled at me.

That’s it folks, affirmation from a 7 year old with a Dora the Explorer back pack is as good as it gets in this life.

Let the city shock you – this is a little story about an American tourist (from Texas no less) who stopped on the street to help mum and I with exchange rates.
At first, I clutched my bag a little closer and did the full up and down inspection of this random guy who just felt like helping some strangers on the Rue du Cloître Notre-Dame. Who was this guy? Full Texan drawl saying words like “would you like some help?” and “I’d be happy to translate” was something that I never expected to hear. After about 5 minutes of talking about Australian dollars and the rates of conversion we finally figured out what we needed and he simply said, “hope you enjoy the rest of your trip”.

Now please, dig a hole for your jaw to drop a little lower because it gets better.

A mere hour and a half ago as mum and I were running dangerously late for our flight (read: flight departure was in an hour at this point… 3 hours before departure for check in is for losers) the express train to Terminal 1 at Charles du Gaulle was equally as packed as it was for the lovely experience of being pressed up against an oily haired old man. Struggling this time with a suitcase, backpack, handbag and a print of a can can dancer we picked up for next to nothing on the banks of the Seine: it’s safe to say I was ready to just collapse into a heap.

Now girls, prepare yourselves for this next part:

As people continued to pack on to the train a lá sardine can, somebody lightly touched my shoulder and swivelling my head around as best I could, I realised that a young guy about my age with Clark Kent glasses and green eyes had gotten out of his seat and was motioning to sit down. I didn’t really believe that men that age did such things, especially with a group of about 4 guys with him but hey, I can admit when I’m wrong. He helped me lift my bag around people and just smiled as I sat down, then in a perfect British accent just said:

“Is that better?”

It was at this point that my heart fell out my butt and I’ve decided to move to London.

That’s all folks, next stop is Athens where more family awaits and I’ll finally be able to swear at people in their native language.

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Chapter 2: London calling.

You know those expectations that you have about people or places that you really admire or want to visit and then if you ever meet that person or go to that place, you’re disappointed because the real thing couldn’t possibly live up to the hype?

That’s just not applicable when it comes to London.

I don’t think I had ever been to a place that I wholeheartedly fell in love with before I visited London and god two days was just not enough. That being said though, I feel that mum and I deserve a medal for the amount of stuff we crammed into 48 hours because by the time we left, it felt like we’d been away for a fortnight.

First, the tube is possibly the greatest thing that has ever happened to a poor student who can’t afford (read: is too afraid) to drive in London. Anyone who knows me well is aware of how much I hate Sydney trains, but I can do the tube. The tube understands me and I understand it. It knows that I will get on public transport with the hope that it will take me exactly where I need to go. It knows that when I haven’t had a cup of coffee, I don’t want anyone to talk to me or near me on public transport and dammit it knows that when it’s pissing down with rain, I am more than happy to commute in a network of former sewage tunnels rather than actually face the elements.
Just remember: walk with purpose.

Next we move on to the locals.

It’s true, Londoners can be pretty rude and unresponsive, but I’d be naive to think that that didn’t happen everywhere. True, they don’t talk to you and if you ask for help they usually pretend not to hear, but considering my previous experiences in France, it doesn’t actually bother me. For the most part, the Brits resemble Australians. Just better dressed, better spoken and with their noses turned up slightly. That’s okay though, because no matter what, I will always know that it was an American who handed our lovely and enthusiastic tour guide Gavin a book on bipolar disorder with the proviso that “it could do him some good”.

Something to be said however, I seem to have been mistaken for a Canadian on more than one occasion in London… Come on guys, I’m an Aussie. Eh?

After 20 years, a reunion between mum and a friend who travelled through Africa together is a friendship that I hope to find as I get older. It’s been this long and through the marvels of Facebook, two women who have a freakish amount of things in common were reunited amidst a collection of toilet jokes and some seriously impressive sarcasm. Livvy, I’m really glad you’re part of the family now, thanks for your welcome – I can’t wait to see you and Tash and Rue very soon!

In light of our next stop, it seems appropriate to note something very important about the French:
They are disapproving of the English language everywhere they go, even when they go to England.

I’m afraid I’m going to get a bit philosophical right now: I’m quite sure that the most important thing I learned in London is to face your fears. Usually, they’re a lot worse in your head than they are in real life. For example, I have a crippling fear of scary things happening in front of me. Please understand: I am completely fine (sort of) with horror movies – they can’t touch me, they can’t creep up behind me and depending on how loud the TV is, usually they don’t emit pants shitting blood curdling cries that are so loud you assume the fetal position. That is not the case when it comes to The Woman in Black, touted as the West End’s scariest production. After mum purchased said tickets to pants shitting performance*, it took a good 4 hours of mental preparation and reading spoilers on Wikipedia to actually face this play. The Fortune Theatre on Russell St at Covent Garden is a small intimate theatre, capable of filling up with fog that rises from the stage. Cue Woman in Black emitting blood curdling cries and you’ve got a recipe for me to need therapy for the rest of my life.

It’s okay though, I survived, the performance was incredible and I haven’t seen The Woman in Black emerge from any dark corners…

*its an expression for all of you who think it actually happened that way.

London has been incredible.

The shopping was great, the company was even better and now, on the Eurostar to Gare du Nord, I can’t wait to come back and maybe even stick around more permanently.

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Chapter One: A bit of a bumpy start.

July 2-3, 2014

Important things learned:

1. Air hosts and hostesses go through a lot on a flight. 19 hours isn’t anyone’s idea of a fun day at work, so be nice to them, even when they’re a bit cranky.
2. If you miss your flight through no fault of your own, don’t panic, it’s just something to remember your trip by. Whining will only make you feel worse.
3. A hot shower will always be comforting – even when it’s 43 degrees outside.
4. Duty free shopping is always more important than eating breakfast.
5. McDonalds is the same everywhere you go. Except in the States.
6. MAC makeup is the same price every where you go. Except in the States.

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Flying has always been something I love. It’s fantastic – 600 people floating through the air in a steel container with the sound of babies crying because of changing air pressure and food that makes you question how hungry you really are – what’s not to love?!

All sarcasm aside (I will do my best, I promise), I do love the adventure that’s associated with cruising over clouds and seeing a city appear beneath the plane. This trip however has gotten off to a less than happy start.

Diverted to Perth about 4 hours into our flight, a P.A. announcement calling for “any doctors nurses or paramedics on board to make themselves known to the cabin crew” isn’t the way I imagined this flight to go. Drifting somewhere between Pirates of the Caribbean on my TV and sleep, air hostesses shuffling to the upstairs First Class and Business Class cabins seemed to pique the interest of the people around me and suddenly, I was interested too.

With no ambulance on the Tarmac when we landed and a 3 hour stop in Perth, the words “suspected fatality” decided to add some further speculation. (Note: this is where lesson 1 comes in – yes, air hostesses can be crabby towards the end of the flight, but even if they are, don’t be like the people behind me, don’t be rude, those people have just had to deal with someone passing away on their shift. Having to deal with people wanting drinks and snacks and warm towelettes and yes I’m aware that they’re getting paid, but it still sucks. Don’t be shit.)

Chattering about what could have happened, groaning about increased flight times and a lot of people nervous as hell about missing connecting flights (hello, yes, that was me.), seemed to make the flight go on that little lot bit longer. With a steady 3G connection on the Tarmac at Perth airport, we knew we’d miss our flight and the next 9 hours, dotted with mystery meat and uncomfortable wiggling around in my seat, just counted down to either a long night sleeping in Dubai airport à la Tom Hanks or facing another 7 hours on a plane.

Not ideal.

We were given new boarding passes for our new connecting flight – all organised by the airline – and were put up in a hotel near the airport. After 19 hours in a bra, an overnight stay that causes one night less in London is not the most horrible thing in the world. Free of charge of course. (Thanks Emirates)

A shower, some serious snacking on bulk-bought Tim Tams and a good night’s sleep later, Dubai airport is the place to be right now.

Mum and I packed on to the courtesy bus, skipping breakfast in favour of some serious shopping to do (attn: lesson 4). The most beautifully shiny and expensive duty free shopping awaited, all just there, waiting to take our money and make us wonder how we spent money before even getting to our destination (alas the Marc Jacobs sunglasses were calling to me).
Now here I sit in the universal symbol of comfort food: McDonalds, writing this post and thinking of home.

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