Archive for June, 2011

Three Highlights

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

I am well and truly back in Paris and have said farewell to my parents. I am now officially living independently (well, plus Tom) in France with no parental guidance, job or direction. Sounds fun! Pity it is currently raining. Actually, I’m going to go and watch the rain. Be right back.

Back. A reasonably heavy downpour just happened and instead of taking cover like most Australians would, the French people who were hanging out in the park just continued to chat and put up some umbrellas. Water doesn’t seem to melt them as much as it does to Australians.

Anyway, back on track. So I am back in Paris after three weeks away in Holland, Germany and Crete and I feel I haven’t written much lately and I probably should. The problem is, a lot happens in three weeks so I am going to choose one highlight from each country and the rest you can decipher from looking at my photos that are now all up on my Flickr site. Sounds like a plan, Stan.

Holland

Ahh, Holland. Or should I say, The Netherlands. Apparently there is a clear difference but it is a bit like the capital city of Australia – is it Canberra or is it really Sydney? No one from outside Australia really knows or cares. Having Dutch family, I have always enjoyed pretending I am ‘Dutcher’ than I am. There’s something exotic and romantic about being from European decent as opposed to being the great-great-great-great granddaughter of a convict. I believe I am a mix of both. But it still amazes me how everytime I arrive in Holland I feel an instant recognition and connection with the locals. I can see myself in their faces, their rosy cheeks, their longer limbs and larger builds. On this visit it really hit me how a large percentage of Dutch women have stronger, more ‘solid’ builds than other nationalities. French women are tiny and ‘petite’ and would be crushed to death if a Dutch person sat on them. I certainly not saying that Dutch women are fat – they are very healthy and fit despite eating a lot of pancakes and cream. However they are tall and well structured and for once I actually felt like my own body shape fit in. Kind of relieving, really!

My ultimate highlight from Holland was most likely the mudwalking but as I have already written about that I shall write about my second highlight – Bike riding to Hoorn. Dad had hired bikes from a local bike shop and as he and Mum are now expert bike riders we decided they should teach Tom and me the secrets of the dutch bike paths. The night before we set off, Dad and I looked at maps and planned a route from Medemblik (the small town where we were staying) to Hoorn (a larger town nearby) – a 50km return trip past two windmills, through lots of little towns and across many dijks. Holland is covered in cycle paths that are all linked together and numbered. All you have to do is look at a map, see what number bike paths will connect you with where ever you are going and then jump on your bike and follow the numbered signs. It’s that easy!

Bike path map
It’s a netwerk of fietsroutes

It is a wonderful system – you can get slightly lost if you go off track or miss a sign but Holland isn’t really big enough for this to be a major problem. You only have to ride for a few minutes and you are in another town – there isn’t much chance of getting lost in the woods/desert/ocean etc. We rode past some really interesting scenery and along bike paths of various descriptions. Sometimes we were on the road side with cars and trucks giving way to us, other times we rode along the top of dijks with sheep farms and fields of flowers on either side. No matter where we were riding I always felt safe and the cars on the road knew exactly how to deal with bikes. That I think is the main problem with riding in Australia – drivers in cars become nervous about bikes and accelerate to get past instead of just waiting for a safe moment to overtake. Idiots.

Bike ride

Riding along on a dijk

Another things I discovered while riding was that my Grandma wasn’t lying when she told me that the wind in Holland is always in your face, no matter what direction you are riding and how many times you try and ride in the opposite direction. You cannot escape it and it can have quite an impact on your peddling abilities. We did choose a remarkably beautiful day to go on our ride to Hoorn so the wind wasn’t a huge issue, but I did wonder how my parents managed to ride for 100km in rain and strong winds a week or so before on their cycle tour of Holland. They’re clearly insane.

Anyway, the ride was wonderful as it was such an easy and enjoyable mode of transport. I think I received severe bruising to my rear end by the end of the day but otherwise no injuries sustained. Tom punctured his tyre so we had an emergency stop at a bike repair shop. And we ate fresh gevulde koek from a bakery which was probably the ULTIMATE highlight of the day. Much better than packet versions that have spent three months on a ship to Australia.

Gevulde koek

Mmm... deliciousness filled with almond goodness

Now I am hungry and I am going to go and buy a baguette but I will return later to write about Germany and Crete. Fear not!

Living Your Dreams

Friday, June 17th, 2011

So I have had a thought. I have been feeling a little bit ‘lost’ lately – the usual stuff of not knowing what I am doing with my life/what am I supposed to do next?/What am I actually good at?/Should I bother living in Paris if I’m not learning French blah blah blah etc etc. My parents leave Europe tomorrow lunch time and head back to Perth, meaning my backbone that I still rely heavily upon (despite my ever increasing age) will be miles away once again and harder to reach. This evening I reached a conclusion that I don’t really do anything on my own and rely on other people to guide me, to which Tom responded with “No one does anything on their own.” He has a point. Most things we do are responses to something someone else has done or follow guidelines set by someone previously. Original thought isn’t possible – it is merely an extension of someone else’s ideas. So this leads to my unoriginal but potentially fun idea which is this : I propose to live your Parisian dreams.

I am frequently told how lucky I am to be living in Paris enjoying the French life and how everyone wishes they could be in my shoes. Fair enough, they’re damn fine shoes. But at the moment I am feeling that I’m not doing a good enough job in this role of “Paris Enjoyer” and that I need some guidance. That’s where you come in. I want people who are unable to be in my position to tell me what they dream of doing in Paris and I will go and do it. I’ll then write about it on here so that you can then decide whether or not the dream is worth pursuing or if it is best to just stay home. It can be anything (within reason ie. no drugs, it has to be relatively affordable and I can’t die at any point) such as drinking cheap wine straight from the bottle while sitting next to the Seine, hiring a car and driving to the closest beach, or dancing the tango at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Bring it on. Maybe you just really want to know what is currently being exhibited at the Modern Art Museum – I’ll go for you and let you know! It’s that simple. I, of course, get to choose which dreams/challenges to undertake and have complete rights to veto any stupid ideas. Bring it on.

Me in a rain jacket

Prepared for battle.

Here’s the News

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Three weeks of holiday eating = 1.5 kilogram weight gain. Not as bad as I thought but I think a lot of my muscle is turning into floppy flab so numbers are deceiving. Hopefully my 7km run this morning will get things back in shape soon.

Hint of the day = job interviews in French aren’t fun if you can’t speak French. Let’s just say my nerves got to me and my French speaking ability is no where near as good as I hoped it was. I haven’t received an official “You failed” but I’m prepared for it. Shame really… the office looked really cool with dark wood panelled floors and open work spaces. Noisy though. I couldn’t concentrate and write under such conditions.

Weather in Paris = rainy, humid, cloudy and warm.

Tomorrow = Mum and Dad arrive back in Paris for the final leg of their holiday before heading back to Perth on Friday. Will be hard to say goodbye, me thinks.

Flight Update

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Well, we’re back in Paris, I have done a load of washing and we have been to the supermarket and restocked the fridge. We’re on ‘healthy eating’ diets for the next while so we bought lots of vegetables and we’re replacing wine with sparkling water. I’d like to put a specific period of time on our new eating plan but we all know it won’t actually last long. I haven’t done the big weigh in yet and don’t plan on doing so until tomorrow morning, although discovering that I am 10 kilograms heavier thanks to Dutch poffetjes, German beer and Greek olive oil is maybe not the best self-esteem booster before going to a job interview. ANYHOO. We’ll have hot bods to go with our sexy tans before you know it.

So I promised to let you know who sat next to me on the flight from Athens to Paris. The answer: no one. It was great! But I do want to tell you about the family who were sitting in the row behind us. It was a couple in their late 30s with their 4-ish year old son. The man was German and I’m not entirely sure what the woman was but either Spanish or French. Anyway, the little boy is who caught my attention as he happily kicked the back of my chair and sang songs and talked loudly in German, French, English and Spanish. Fluently. He moved slickly between the languages, turning to his Dad and speaking German and then back to his Mum in French. Clearly every family member spoke every language as they all chopped and changed between them. It was just AMAZING. I was so jealous – I wanted to turn around and congratulate the parents and shake the boy’s hand for being so brilliant. Being that young and having so many languages is just wonderful. Sure, I think he needs to learn some manners and he was never disciplined for kicking the seat or banging the tray table, but he can travel the world and communicate easily. I’m going to have to have severe words with my parents now. This just isn’t fair.

Meanwhile, Paris is just as crazy and noisy as when we left. Apparently we went on a holiday… I’m not sure. I don’t remember.

Wow.

Monday, June 13th, 2011

What a morning. I only have two minutes to write this so I will keep it short. Tom and I got up early and arrived at Heraklion airport to find a mess of people trying to work out what queue to join to check-in and drop off bags. After pushing our way through we managed to get to our gate and then our plane was delayed (not by long, but still. Makes the story more exciting.) We had checked-in to our DIRECT flight from HERAKLION to PARIS which is why I am somewhat confused as to why I am currently sitting in ATHENS airport, using their free internet to write this while we wait for our NEXT PLANE to PARIS. There are a lot of very confused French tourists wondering what is going on. I’m not all that sure either. So not such a direct flight after all.

To make matters even more interesting, on the 35 minute flight between Heraklion and Athens I sat next to a woman who kept saying, “Oh very nice!” as Tom and I took our seats. As soon as I had fastened my seat belt she told me how pleased she was that we were sitting there and that she had been getting very worried as more and more black people and gays kept boarding the plane. Imagine if she had had to sit next to one of them! What on earth was she supposed to do then?! She then asked me where I was from and the conversation turned to Greece and how there are too many illegal immigrants who kill and rape people. And then she said, “You have Aborigines in Australia, don’t you?” and I responded with a particularly enthusiastic “Yes!” to prove that this was a-okay with me. I then almost choked when she then said, “They eat people, don’t they?” Apparently she had heard stories and refused to believe me when I assured her that the indigenous population of my home country were not cannibals and that she may actually find them quite pleasant people.

I can’t wait to see who I get to sit next to on this flight. I think I shall call this a mystery flight seeing as it is so unexpected. Actually, Tom and I are getting two flights for the price of one! Gosh we’re lucky folk. Thank you, Aegean Airlines.

Crete, Glorious Crete

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

I’m feeling a bit ‘bler’ at the moment, largely due to the fact that my three-week holiday is about to come to an end. Sure, I’m going to be flying back to Paris which is hardly the end of the world, but it was nice to escape the craziness of that city for a little while. We’ve spent three weeks travelling between three quiet, calm and generally relaxing places – a fishing village in Holland, a city full of old people in Germany, and a beachside/mountainside/resort town in Crete.

Crete is always a highlight – no where in the world wows me with its landscapes as much as this island. From powerful, impressive gorges and cliffs to oceans the colour that you only thought appeared in high-definition movies. In between you come across scraggy rocks with tufts of spiky grey-green plants and then lush forests with waterfalls and bright flowers. Considering they had snow here in winter, Crete seems to be where all possible landscapes and weather conditions join.

We have to catch a plane first thing tomorrow morning so we are spending the night in Heraklion, the capital city of Crete. We’re avoiding spending too much time there as it is hectic, hot and full of tourists. I think we’re leaving at a good time though – the European tourists are starting to arrive in full swing, ready to drink cocktails and get their summer tan. Time to head back to Paris where everyone is leaving for their holidays at the beach. Plus I have a job interview on Tuesday morning so I have to get back and face reality. Let’s just say the idea of talking about how good a writer I am in French is somewhat daunting. I figure if everyone reading this crosses all of their fingers and toes then that should be enough crossed digits to get me through. Thanks.

The Greeks Are Ahead of Everyone

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

I am currently sitting in the Athens airport using free internet thanks to the wonderful Greeks. I have been to many airports in my life and most of them make you pay to access the internet. Not the Greeks. Sure, they may be bankrupt. They may only work for half of the year and spend most of that time chatting with their friends drinking ouzo, but they know how to provide their travels with useful, entertaining and necessary internet access. Thank you, Greece. I love you.

So in 30 minutes I am getting on my second plane for the day and flying to Crete. I have already spent two hours in a car driving from Koblenz to Frankfurt and then another two on a plane to Athens. When we arrive in Crete we’re getting our hire car and driving for almost three hours to Plakias where we will finally get out of moving vehicles. That will be nice.

I am very excited about getting to Crete – two years ago when Tom and I first travelled together, we spent two weeks in Crete riding around on a scooter, eating delicious Greek yoghurt and swimming in very blue water. I have been dreaming about going back since the day we left. Excitement plus. Hurry up, plane!

Walking Through Mud is Quite Tricky

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Quick update: Still in Germany. Went to Limburg yesterday where I bought a red felt bag (hooray!) and some new Tom’s shoes that I had been wanting but couldn’t find in Paris or buy on the internet because the website wouldn’t accept my French address (hooray!). Have eaten good food. Today we’re driving along the Moselle river. Went on an amazing chair lift ride into the hills where there was a spectacular view of the Rhein river. The end.

Ok, now back to my adventures in Holland. There is one event in particular that I feel I need to share with everyone as it isn’t every day you get to do this. Previous visits to Holland had included discussions with my Dutch family where they described a local activity that I heard to be a glorious stroll through low-tide waters to a deserted island. Much fun is had, the sun shines and everyone has a jolly good time. And so when my third cousin (or something like that) Judit contacted me via Facebook to ask whether or not I was coming to Holland with my parents and if I was still keen to go ‘mud walking’ my immediate response was, “Yes please!” Oh, how young and naive I was when I made that decision three or so weeks ago…

Judit and her sister, boyfriend, mother and father came and picked up Mum, Tom and me and off we drove for two hours to get to the most northern point of Holland in the province of Groningen. The day before, the three of us had been busy running around el-cheapo shops buying ankle-high shoes, socks, shorts and warm jumpers to wear as it rapidly became clear that what we were about to do wasn’t quite as sun-shiny as I expected. The forecast for the day was 15 degrees with showers and as we were about to walk out into the North Sea, we were required to wear shorts in order to not get soggy pants. Crazy dutch.

We finally arrived at our destination and it started raining. We all jumped in and out of cars changing into our mud-walking togs and scoffing sandwiches before our three-hour trek. And here’s where we walked:

mud walking
Somewhere out there is the edge of the North Sea

We were accompanied by two guides who took us from the safety of a dijk to down onto the sea bed of the North Sea. In summer, during low tide, the water between the north of Holland and some islands off the coast recedes and groups of insane Dutch men/women walk towards the water. Why? I’m not sure. I suspect they think the resulting mud on the sea bed does good things to the skin on their feet because considering the wind, rain and general stupidity of the activity, I can’t think of many other good reasons to do mud walking.

I kid. It was actually ridiculously, stupidly fun. I am not one to get my feet dirty on a daily basis and I much prefer being clean, tidy and germ-free. So the act of intentionally walking into large expanses of mud was very beneficial to my mental health, I think. I was dressed for the occasion and knew what I was getting myself into (sort of) and therefore loved the fact that my shoes filled with greeny-black mud. See?

mud walking

Squidgy

We did the beginners’ walk which meant that for most of the time the mud was ankle deep at the most. On occasion you would hit a patch of soggier mud where you would sink a little further or harder mud where you were practically walking along a beach. There were two patches of mud that proved slightly trickier. We had been given the advice to take “quick, short steps” which is well and good to say when you suddenly discover your calf is engulfed in mud. It was deep. There’s probably deeper mud in the world but at that point in time I quickly thought back to the advice Bear Grylls had given about what to do in quick sand. Mum and I had been walking through the mud together to avoid potential death-by-mud and I soon realised that she had sunk slightly further than I had. She had clearly forgotten the ‘short quick steps’ advice and instead had both of her legs knee-deep in mud and had then lost balance and fallen forward slightly. Not so good. I thought I would have to leave my mother in the North Sea forever more but luckily the guides had saved stranded tourists from mud previously and gave her a large walking pole to stick into the mud and hoist herself out of it. Of course, by this stage I had been rapidly sinking further into the squidgy darkness and had to save myself while the guide took care of Mum.

So it all worked out ok in the end. No one died. No one was left to sink into the great unknown. And everyone enjoyed themselves. We were all a bit grubby by the end of it, particularly Mum who had some nice brown patches in some amusing areas on her pants. We eventually reached the North Sea and everyone cleaned their shoes in the water. It was bloody windy and I think I caught a cold as a result of it but it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments that I really enjoyed. And will never do again.

Mudwalking

I made it!

You can see more photos and movies on my Flickr site, should you be interested.

Maybe Not

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

I am going to downsize my previous post to say that I think I have been offered a second job interview. Further consideration and translation of French emails has made me realise that I may not be the ultimate winner just yet. But who wouldn’t want to give me a job when I have these fashion styles?

mud walking fashion

Lookin' good!

Something New…?

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

I’m not entirely sure, but I think I may have just been offered a job… I will keep you informed as I find out more.