The utter absurdity of a 45-minute flight is seldom more apparent than when you’re standing in a line for passport control that takes approximately the same length of time to clear. Indeed, upon leaving central Edinburgh, I spent considerably more time in the airport than in the air, although that didn’t stop Ryanair attempting to peddle every type of snack and airline gizmo in the approximately 25 seconds in which we weren’t taking off or landing. Continue reading
As promised, it was raining when my plane landed in Edinburgh. The weather forecast for my stay wasn’t especially favourable – and it looked like this was going to set the tone for my trip as I rode the tram into the city centre. Then something unexpected happened; as I stepped out of the tram at York Place, the vengeful spring sunshine burst through the heavy clouds in a million golden columns of light and the afternoon breeze chased the fog away, leaving a beautiful sunny afternoon behind. Edinburgh is a stunning city even in the worst weather, but in the post-rain halo it left me speechless.
You know, I was joking when I wrote that it was my Australian curse to have the sun follow me everywhere I go, but I’m kind of starting to believe it. Continue reading
Among its many distinctions and decorations, Paris is a city of travellers. Personally, I’ve now been there something like twelve or thirteen times, which sounds impressive until you realise that a third of those have been stopovers, transits, airport hops and train-changes. I’m not a fan of rushing from station to station without a rest – especially in a place as great as Paris – so these days I tend to spend a day or two in the capital each time I go somewhere and chip away as much as I can at that massive list of things to do.
This transit-hub status also means that I very nearly always have friends in Paris. Often – but not always – these are foreigners like myself who are on their way somewhere else. Sometimes they’re people who are studying nearby. Very occasionally they’re French friends who can motivate themselves to leave home and visit the baffling spectacle that’s right on their doorstep. I never will understand the tendency of Europeans not to travel when everything is so close. Continue reading
Bordeaux – by reputation alone – is an interesting city. If the majority of French people are to be believed, it is an idyllic paradise populated by kind people, fine restaurants and – of course – the celebrated wine for which the region is known. It is also held to be unspeakably beautiful in terms of architecture and location. People continually remind travellers that the city was not always like this – as recently as ten or fifteen years ago, Bordeaux was still suffering from the hangover of its industrial past, with blackened, sooty buildings and warehouses where there are now sunny pedestrian boulevards.
The city is also located perilously close to Toulouse, making it a natural next destination for me. It sits just a little further north-west on a crescent-shaped bend in the Garonne River, which is also what gives the city its logo. To me, this blazon resembles nothing so much as a biohazard symbol, and I spent a fair amount of time wondering why the Bordelais were so inordinately proud of the local chemical warfare plant. Continue reading
Once upon a time, Toulouse was one of the many cities in France about which I knew virtually nothing. Despite my very best efforts to rub myself against every corner of this great nation, this is all too common. Particularly in the case of cities which aren’t easily accessed by train from my region. However, a last-minute invite from Julie – a colleague of my housemates – changed all that, and also took me on my very first French road trip.
Usually, I’m a planner. I like to be well-prepared and ready for whatever comes my way, and that attitude often pays off. However, I’m reliably informed that sometimes the best things in life are done à l’arrache – unplanned, haphazard. It was with this motto in mind that one Friday night after work, I squeezed myself and my hastily-packed backpack into a little red car, along with Julie, Magda, Eddy, and a fair quantity of luggage, including a huge cardboard tube filled with posters. The impetus for the trip was Julie’s return to her hometown on the banks of the Garonne, and her invitation for us to temporarily fill her car, her house and her life with our foreign noise. That was very courageous of her.