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Goin’ norf

February 19, 2012

Or been, more like it.

So it was that my customary compatriot Andrew and I boarded my car and set off for Sydney. Having done the drive west to Adelaide, we’d had a taste of the Great Australian Road Trip™ and decided that it isn’t half bad. That sort of implies that the other half is bad, and into that bad half you can add the miles of unyielding boringness of endless highways where the sights include fuck all, and more fuck all. Oh look, a shed. And a rest stop! And back to fuck all.

What was interesting, in fact, was that the part of regional Victoria that hugs the Hume has sporadic towns here and there. Upon crossing the border and skirting Albury, however, that all changed. Southern New South Wales made up the vast majority of the fuck all we encountered on the trip. This was to the point where at one stage I genuinely started to worry we would run out of petrol before we reached the next skerrick of civilisation. I never thought I’d say this, but thank god for Holbrook!

But back to where we started. It was an overly warm Tuesday when I set off for Camberwell, where Andrew was purchasing car snacks. We trundled our way up towards the highway, and soon enough we were cruising the Hume. A missed turn off, a Uey, and a correction later, we were well on our way. The tunes were cranking by the time we reached our first stop, Glenrowan.

Andrew reflects in Glenrowan.

I’ll say one thing about Glenrowan. They cling to the past as if it’s all they have. Which they do.

2002: a monumental year in Glenrowan.

Our local history appetite sated, we were soon back on the road.

Presently, we came upon a turn off for Beechworth. If there’s one thing I remember from a childhood largely spent holidaying in country Victoria, it’s that Beechworth boasts an amazing bakery. However, upon turning off the highway, we realised it was going to be a 50km round trip, and decided that no vanilla slice is really worth that sort of diversion.

The highway continued, as it tends to do, and by mid afternoon we crossed into NSW. This was where the aforementioned fuck all really began. We later found ourselves in Gundagai, where we emptied our bladders and Andrew attempted to rectify the lack of vanilla slice, to no avail. Back on the road, we pushed on with the odd stop in forgotten towns.

The closer we got to Sydney, the more erratic fellow drivers became. I don’t know whether it was the small sample size we were exposed to, but New South Wales drivers are simply terrible. By the time we turned off for Liverpool for a dinner stop, I’d had enough of unable-to-maintain-a-constant-speed idiots.

A kebab later and we were into the final straight. We arrived at our destination a bit after 8. It might have been closer to 9, but we’d stopped counting by this point. With beers provided by our host Dean, we settled in for a relax and a decent chat, and reflected on all that had been. Almost 13 hours after our departure, we had made it to Sydney.

And so, our trip to Sydney? It rained every day we were there. Balls.

At least the weather meant we had a useful prop.

The little things

April 19, 2011

In 10 days, I will officially be moving out of Lyon and embarking on a final month of travel before heading back home. To mark the occasion, I’m going to make a list of 10 little things I’m going to miss about Lyon (with the emphasis on little). The daily minutia is often taken for granted, so I’m going to rectify this by immortalising it in a blog entry read by perhaps all of four people (at a guess). Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Julian Assange.
    It’s not really him, but the guy who manages/owns the copy shop a couple of doors down from chez moi bears an uncanny resemblance to the former most-wanted. Perpetually out the front on a smoko, he never fails to give me a bonjour when I pass to and from the tramstop to and from work. I feel kind of bad that I do all my printing at a place up the road.
  2. The French nose.
    One could make the argument that this has become my raison d’être. You all know what I’m talking about: that slightly raised piece of rhinal perfection found on the faces of essentially every young French female I pass in the street, on the metro, at the bakery, etc. It does funny things to me. Oh God, how it does funny things to me.
  3. Sunny walks along the Rhône.
    Particularly since March, when spring kicked in and made the days longer and warmer. I altered my route to include wandering along the banks with the sun hovering over Fourvière. Include in this section drinks along the Rhône for the same reason.
  4. Café at La Renaissance.
    My local café, where many an hour was spent in the sunshine, coffee on the table, nose in a book. I’ll miss being able to order one coffee without the subsequent harassment that I buy something else every 15 minutes. In fact, the whole café culture belongs in this section. I’ve bought my drink, therefore j’ai le droit to sit there for as long as I want.
  5. The alimentation next door.
    Without the ability to go on a quick booze run next door, my glass collection would never have gotten so out of control so quickly. Not to mention the owner, forever puffing on a sheesha out the back while the delicious smell of apple tobacco filled the store, and his seemingly unflappable personality.
  6. The dude at the Orange store.
    Infinitely helpful in those early quests for internet and a landline, I often marvelled at his complete inability to spell my surname. All sorts of creative attempts were made in the three or four times I went down to the branch. It became a running joke, and one of those things that puts you in a good mood for the rest of the day.
  7. Reliable public transport.
    Although there is no order of importance in this list, if I had to rank them, this would be number one. Once again, I am confounded as to how Melbourne has so utterly fucked up what seems to be a relatively simple operation by comparison. Lyon has a smaller population than Melbourne, yet the transport system could almost account for the same number of people. Frequent services, a sprawling network and next to no cancellations. The longest I’ve waited for a train has been 10 minutes, after midnight on a weekday.
  8. Cheap booze.
    Again, I’m reminded of how much tax we pay on alcohol. I can buy 24 250ml bottles of beer for €4.50, yet Foster’s cries foul when Safeway/Coles mark a slab at $28, which is below cost. Fuck me. Deal with the culture instead of the symptom.
  9. Tarte praline.
    A Lyonnais specialty, this has become my favourite baked good. Luckily, there are markets within walking distance on Saturdays and Sundays, meaning my weekends are always filled with tart-y goodness. How I will cope without these back home is a worrying mystery.
  10. The French language.
    It almost goes without saying, but it will be strange to hear English in the street again. I remember getting excited when for the first time I could understand what people were saying as I passed them in the street. Snippets of conversation are no longer whooshing over my head! I’m well aware of how quickly language skills can be lost, so the challenge will be maintaining them for as long as possible once I’m back home.

Fin.

The home straight

March 25, 2011

My sojourn in France is now well and truly coming to an end, with only four weeks left on my contract. In that age-old paradox, time feels like it’s gone so quickly, yet it seems an age ago since I first stood on that street corner in Vieux Lyon, unsure of which way to take to the hostel. The impending end of my adventure is made all the more real by the letter I sent off today, announcing my intentions to move out next month.

As is always the case when something is reaching its end, the next four weeks are going to fly by. And yet, there seems like there is so much that still has to be organised before my departure: booking post-work travel, changing my return flight, not to mention the myriad of administrative formalities (bank, social security, gas, electricity, etc, etc.) that need to be taken care of between now and the last week in April.

My time here has overwhelmingly been positive. Despite the first few trying weeks (take the good with the bad, and so on), I have enjoyed my time in France immensely. In fact, it seems like I’m only really getting settled in now and already it’s time to think about packing up. I could go on about the learning experiences, being a changed person, and all that crap, but it goes without saying. To be honest, there hasn’t been an earth-shattering revelation (not that I was expecting one). The only real major difference is that I’m now far better at French than I was when I got here. Evidemment.

And yes, I will miss the bread, the wine (the cheap booze in general), the cheese, the meat, and most of all, the lifestyle. I was out today at 1pm and you’d swear it was the weekend, given the number of people out, sitting at cafes, enjoying a long lunch, and generally putting pleasure ahead of business. I know Australians are supposed to be laid back, but there seems to be an air of, I guess, almost nonchalance here. The French are quite happy to take their time doing everything, and this has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to get used to (NOTHING happens quickly here). To the outsider, it is beyond infuriating at times, but I think I’ve grown to like it. Almost.

And so, it’s off to the supermarché to buy une baguette. Bonsoir!

Freaking neat

February 3, 2011

If there’s one thing that living alone has taught me (or rather, confirmed), it’s that I’m a neat freak. I clean my decidedly small apartment at least twice a week. Dishes are forbidden from piling up, the bath needs a frequent scrub and my floor gets a good sweeping with alarming regularity.

What doesn’t help is that the previous tenant clearly was not as diligent as I, and as a result, my bath has been left with a stain or two that no amount of scrubbing can fix. This is a source of constant aggrevation, and as I have discovered, filling the tub with water and bleach doesn’t do anything but make me stain my jumper and cause consternation (I really like that jumper).

But the stains aren’t limited to the bathroom. My kitchen floor is lino, which likewise had seen months of neglect under the ancien régime. I have actually got on my hands and knees with a scrubbing brush and taken them to task, with mixed results.

It is here I should point out that reading this, my mother would not believe that I am really her son. Admittedly, I’m not quite as zealous about cleanliness at home, the exception being my bedroom. There’s a simple logic to this: I’m only concerned with ‘my’ things. That’s right: I’m a selfish neat freak. As long as my apartment or my room is clean, I’m satisfied. But it’s a start, right?

Cutting the mustard

January 2, 2011

With the holidays upon me and having my first official guest stay at my apartment, it was high time I got out of Lyon and saw France. And so one crisp morning, Cristina and I set off for the train station to book ourselves some day trips in east France. We settled on Annecy and Dijon; Annecy for its prettiness and Dijon for the possibility to enjoy some good old-fashioned Burgundy food.

Annecy was a pleasant town with a healthy dusting of snow, adding to the whole postcard thing Annecy has going on. On the day we visited, it was bustling with a Tuesday market that didn’t seem to realise that Christmas had finished a few days ago. Cheeses, smoked meats, seafood, jewellery and fresh produce were in abundance. We were amused by an American tourist, who slowly and loudly asked the vendor, “Is this 43 euro?”, apparently unaware that numbers don’t need to be translated.

After being rejected from the first restaurant we tried for lunch (complèt), we settled on a smaller place around the corner, run by a husband and wife who nattered behind the bar. Our choice was more or less made for us: “Vous voulez le menu, oui? Oui.” But it was utterly fantastic, and the best meal I’d had in ages: a salad entree followed by roast pork that melted in the mouth with mashed potatoes and spinach. After washing it all down with vin chaud and a coffee, we wandered for a bit longer before heading to the station and heading back home.

Thursday was our day trip to Dijon, though we had planned to stay longer there than in Annecy. Dijon itself is sort of like a film set in places, with its quaint little buildings and architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries. We wandered here and there, stopping at the odd boulangerie to admire the goods within or sample the wares. Unfortunately, we missed the lunch hours of our shortlisted restaurants so we had to wait until 7.30 for dinner. This meant we were cutting it fine in terms of getting the last train back to Lyon, but we reasoned 8.48 gave us enough time to enjoy dinner and stroll back to the station.

After a glass of wine at a small bar à vin, we returned to our selected restaurant and ordered bœuf bourguignon. This was delivered to us in a small ramekin with a bed of tagliatelle and was quite simply amazing. After finishing up, it was 8.20. Time was rapidly running out, but we had noticed earlier that there were trains leaving Dijon after 8.48. But then it hit me. After consulting the timetable again we realised that there were trains leaving Dijon right up until 11pm. But none of them went all the way to Lyon. Dessert came at 8.40, and we quickly wrapped things up. A half jog back to the station got us there at 8.55. We had missed our train by seven minutes, and the next one was due to depart at 5.33am: in eight and a half hours time.

The thought process of realising you may be stuck somewhere overnight is a funny thing. All sorts of ideas flow through your head: take this train to here and see if there’s another? Try and find a bus? Hitchhike? Get a cab? As reason prevails, thoughts turn to how one is to pass the time. We had two options: find a hotel or bar hop. Given my complete lack of money by this point, we settled on the latter.

Our next problem was trying to find somewhere that was open until 5am. Dijon didn’t exactly strike us as a party town, and so this would prove difficult. However, we remembered an Irish bar we had passed earlier and so we returned to find it open until 2am. That left 3 hours to kill. In the end though, we left at 12.30 in search of a club we had seen earlier, and to our relief found it was open until 5am.

Immediately next to this club, however, another venue caught our respective eyes. Entitled “Le Clap”, we had to see what was going on. Inside, we were immediately struck by the clientele: we were the youngest patrons by at least 25 years. This was instantly confirmed by the looks we received as we quietly sat down on a couch and avoided eye contact. The music was hilariously bad Eurotrash, played at a volume that was evidently deemed acceptable by the patrons; that is, quiet enough that you could quite easily have a conversation without shouting. On the dancefloor we watched as one guy in particular stood out with his dance moves, leading the rest of the dancers in some form of line dancing. After sitting for a good 15 minutes, the bartender became suspicious, and not at all subtly dropped a drinks menu on my lap.

We made our Coronas  go the distance, but at 2am the lights came up and so we headed next door to Hunky Dory, the club that promised karaoke until 5am. Inside, a French guy was butchering some French song, so we sat and watched. In the end we decided to give it a crack and went up and did Bohemian Rhapsody. Despite a warm reception initially, once the song was over, not a single person applauded. Feeling somewhat rejected, we went back to our seats. To our alarm however, the house lights came up at 2.45, and by 3am, the place was shut. This still left us with two hours to kill, and so we wandered in the direction of the train station. In front of the station were a number of bus stops, and after finding the station closed, we set up camp at one of these. And this is where the night got interesting.

Obviously bus shelters and train stations are a point of call for any city’s homeless population, and Dijon was no exception. Our first customer was a lady so horribly addicted to nicotine she shook as she walked, picking up discarded butts off the ground in the hopes there was still enough to smoke. Unfortunately, we were not in possession of a lighter, so she continued her quest for a smoke. Presently, three guys arrived, two of them carrying the third between them. Eventually, they placed him on a seat at a bus stop, where he promptly collapsed. One guy sprinted off, ostensibly in search of water or something while the other remained behind, holding him up as he yakked violently into the gutter. After this was done, he came over to enquire after some tissues, of which we had none. He stood briefly and chatted with us in French and English about why we were here and so on before returning to his colleague.

Cristina went off to stretch her legs at one point, and returned to inform me that the station was now open. We relocated to the relative warmth of the waiting area, as did the menagerie of crazies we’d encountered. One guy who smelled terrible set up shop next to us, and after a while I had to go for a walk to get away from his musk. In the hall, the cigarette lady was still wandering around, looking for the next hit, but there was also an immaculately dressed blind man walking in circles. I wandered for a bit before encountering our friend the chaperone, who was looking for somewhere to park his friend. I informed him of the waiting area and he headed straight for it.

Fifteen minutes later, the platform for our train was finally announced, so in the early morning chill we walked to the platform and boarded the train. We had survived the eight hour wait and promptly fell asleep as the train pulled out of Dijon. By this point I was so sleep deprived I was almost delirious, a fact made evident by me thinking the guy in the next carriage was actually a reflection, and I tried to work out why my bag now had straps and a different shape. But as we finally climbed the stairs to my apartment several hours later and crashed into bed at 8am, there was a sense of satisfaction to be enjoyed. Despite a night spent on the street, and a host of bizarre encounters, we had finally made it home.

Slow Glasgow-ing

December 24, 2010

At 12pm on Saturday, I locked my door, pulled out the handle on my newly-acquired, regulation-conforming carry on case and headed downstairs. It was the first day of the Christmas break and so I had booked myself a four day trip to Glasgow. My train was due to leave Lyon at 1pm and arrive in Paris at just after 3. This would give me an hour to get to Porte Maillot, where I would take a bus out to Beauvais Airport, Ryanair’s definition of an airport in Paris.

Arriving at Part-Dieu 25 minutes early, I took my place amongst the other several hundred people gawking at the departure screens, waiting for the platform to be revealed. At 12.55, it was announced that the train to Paris was 10 minutes late. Oh well, I thought, that still gives me plenty of time. Porte Maillot is a mere 25 minutes from Gare de Lyon in Paris.

I wandered around for a bit before returning to consult the screen again. This time, the departure had been revised. It was now 40 minutes late. This presented a major problem, in that I was now due to arrive in Paris at 3.45 and I had to be on the 4.20 bus to Beauvais. Cutting it fine, but still possible. Fortunately, the delay was scaled back to 25 minutes, and at 1.30 the platform was announced. I boarded the train and waited. And waited. Finally, the train pulled out of the station at 1.45. This meant I would arrive in Paris at 3.50 at the earliest. I reasoned that if I missed the bus, I had a good excuse and could simply catch the next bus.

In the end, after briefly wandering around lost, I finally found the bus departure point  at 4.30. In front of me stood an enormous queue that appeared to be at a standstill. After 10 minutes it had barely moved. I was waiting when a girl with a thick Scottish accent approached me.

“How ye along?”
“Sorry?”
“Are you alone?”
“Oh. Yes. Yes I am.”

As it happened, the buses weren’t running to the airport at all, blaming the snow. Alex, the Scottish girl, was attempting to find a fourth person for a taxi to get out to the airport. As luck would have it, I was selected to be that person. Given that there was no information offered about the buses and noone had any idea of what was happening, I hate to think what may have happened had I not been the fourth wheel.

For the next 15 minutes Alex, her friend Edie, a Chinese girl called Mun and I struggled to catch a cab, competing with various other people to find one. Finally, we headed across the road to a nearby hotel and soon had a driver willing to take us out to Beauvais. We loaded up the bags, climbed aboard, and hit out into the wet Paris streets. Passing onto the motorway, we were rather bemused by the decision not to run buses: there was not a patch of snow on the road.

This all changed about 40 minutes into the journey, when the first traces of white stuff appeared. An hour in, things were getting hairier and traffic had slowed to 60kms/h. The snow was falling steadily and had built up sizeable deposits on the windscreen, out of reach of the wipers.

The good news was that Edie’s mum worked at passport control at Prestwick Airport in Glasgow, so we were given running updates on flight delays. The flight was scheduled to leave at 7.50; already it had been pushed back to 9. Given progress was slow on the increasingly treacherous roads, this was welcome news.

The snow increased, and conditions were quickly becoming dangerous. The cab driver stuck to the wheel furrows left by the car in front as we crawled along at 30. Nostalgi FM offered some light relief as Alex and Edie slept in the back seat. As the cab driver became more confident, the acceleration increased, until the cab started sliding on the road, at which point he would back off and apologise. This continued for the next hour, destroying my nerves in the process. We passed a car that had run off into the road into a ditch; this did not exactly help to inspire confidence.

Finally, two hours and €140 later, we had arrived at Beauvais Airport. Our flight had progressively been pushed back to 9.20, then 9.40, and was now scheduled at 9.55. Edie remarked that any further delays would probably result in cancellation. The thought of spending the night stuck at the airport hung over us as we sat and ate at the airport cafe. Fortunately, no other delays eventuated and we boarded the plane, which finally took off at 10.15.

Thanks to the time difference, we arrived in Glasgow at 10.45. I was asked the usual questions by border security and walked down the hall that informed me I was now in the UK. I got to the train station just as the train pulled in, and soon we were speeding north to Glasgow.

I stepped out into the chilly air and briskly walked to the hostel, checking in at just after midnight. Upstairs, I stashed my bag and fell into bed. Despite delays, a lot of sprinting and one of the hairiest drives I’ve encountered, I had made it to Scotland.

Lyon around

November 29, 2010

I’m rather disappointed with myself for two reasons: one, that I haven’t updated the blog in quite some time, and two, that it took me this long to think of the pun in the title.

Life in Lyon has well and truly settled into a routine. This may sound boring but in fact it’s a good thing. Street names have become familiar. My bearings of the city are well-established. I can recite the tram stops to work. Lyon is feeling less like somewhere I’m spending a few months and more like a place I’m living and working in. And I’m loving myself sick over it.

As it stands, teaching is my career path of choice for now. Even as an unqualified, poorly paid assistant, it is an unbelievably rewarding experience. There is an indescribable satisfaction in watching the light bulbs switch on as you explain something to the class. Most of the time I can walk away knowing that the students have taken something from the class, whether it be a new word, phrase or something about Australia. That said, there are some days where a group of students does nothing but frustrate you. Obviously you take the good with the bad, but the good has, so far at least, far outweighed the bad.

Of course, it goes without saying that this living in France thing is good for character-building/developing experience/other clichéd personal development phrase. From facing the bureaucratic mess of French admin, to learning new phrases, to just becoming more independent generally, I will undoubtedly leave France a different person than when I arrived. I’d like to think I’ve grown more patient (I’ve more or less been forced to), as things don’t happen anywhere near as fast as back home. Case in point: I was genuinely surprised when Melbourne Uni replied to my question the day after I emailed it.

So life rolls along merrily as I make lesson plans, travel plans and (attempt) budget plans. With the first snowfall on Friday, it looks like December might be a rather chilly one. Now, if I could work a new coat into the budget…

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