Gare du Nord, Paris

May 26, 2013

We arrived in Paris at midday. We’d woken at 4am and hot-footed it through the cold, pre-dawn London streets to make the early Eurostar, and the journey had left us feeling nervy and dried out.

Paris was the city M wanted to visit more than anywhere in the world.  We stepped off the train into the great hall of Gare du Nord Station.  The high arched roof was made up of squares of black iron and opaque glass that filtered the light into a white glare.  I clutched our print-outs from Air B’n’B and Google Maps, and hoped that our giant rucksacks didn’t make us look like easy marks.

We made our way to the station map.  The print-out told me which bus I needed to catch, and as I looked for the right exit a girl appeared in front of me.  She was young, maybe fourteen or fifteen, with olive skin and dyed-brown hair pulled back in a pony tail.  She was wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a baggy hoody.  She was holding a piece of brown cardboard with a sheet of paper attached to it, upon which was printed a table with three columns with some names scribbled in the first few rows.

‘Sign the petition?’ she said in accented English.

I stared at the paper dumbly.

A large arm shot over my shoulder and grabbed at the piece of cardboard.  The girl twisted away and trotted off, grinning in a way that was both playful and corrupt, like it was a game she’d played a thousand times before.

‘Be careful,’ said the security guard.

We found the right exit and headed for our bus.


Jeremy Irons and the Counter-Stench Forcefield

April 26, 2012

16 April 2012

It took a couple of days for London to blow me away.  I was in the most touristy area imaginable, down by the Thames, around Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, but some places can penetrate the shroud of crowds and postcards and souvenir stands.

I was struck for the first time by the scale of the city’s history.  Everywhere were grand buildings bearing the symbols of past eras, statues and flourishes that would stand as works of art in their own right but were instead serving as decorations, furthering the beauty of a whole.  In Australia, we have the poorer cousins of these monuments, and even they are the exception.  In London, they are everywhere, forming high walls of ornately worked stone, covering the horizon with grand spires and domes and arches.  No less ingenious modern skyscrapers pop up between them, reminding you that you are in a modern city, but one that has stood for hundreds of years. Read the rest of this entry »

The Thirty Six-Hour Day and the Elbow Rest Wars

April 19, 2012

Where we're going, it's probably preferable to have eyes...

14 April 2012

Six months off to go travelling around Europe.  We left armed only with four years worth of savings, our backpacks and a vague plan to see the countries around the Mediterranean.  It’s the first time M and I will have backpacked together, and probably our last chance to go on a big trip.  As well as dispelling my ignorance about vast chunks of the world, I’m hoping to do lots of reading and writing, so there’ll be more frequent posts about the places I visit, as well as the books I’m reading.

The flight from Melbourne to Singapore left at midnight, and I was pleasantly surprised that I managed to sleep for most of it without popping a valium.  We had a three hour stopover, which gave us a chance to stretch our legs and disentangle our spines.  If you have to be trapped in the strange, sleepless world of an airport for a few hours, you could do a lot worse than Changi Terminal 3.  There’s hawker-style food like satay and Hainese chicken rice, as well as all the usual chain stores and twenty-four hour shopping, if you’re into that sort of thing.  We took a shower, had a coffee and walked around the butterfly house.

There are even little touchscreens in the toilet so that you can provide feedback on their cleanliness and service.  I did a tour of the restrooms, giving the cleaners a little electronic pat on the back of a “very good” rating (not “excellent” – they need something to strive for), feeling benevolent and absolved of any obligation to leave a tip. Read the rest of this entry »