Chance of a Shower

I've been back from Europe for over a week now. Did I ever really go there? The thousands of photos indicate yes.

I've ridden my bike three times already, in an attempt to conserve some of the summer spirit. The first trip was to the supermarket, then on Monday I rode along the Torrens to visit the office. The sky was overcast, the water was brown and the boring, muted towers of the Adelaide skyline gave me a visceral reaction. I muttered some ungracious things about the city and did not take any photos.

Since then my body has adjusted to the dark and the cold and the damp. It was definitely a good idea to put fresh bedsheets on the bed the day we left. There is still eight weeks of winter remaining, but at least the backyard that confronted me after a week away was not just a gigantic pile of mulberry leaves, but a couple of flowers too.

Saturday was my third bike ride, a trip to the markets between downpours for delicious, strong coffee better than anything I had in Europe (except maybe one in Rome) and cheap fruit. I felt a lot better after that one. Then we rode back home.

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I Tried Being a Parisian

Today I tried being a Parisian. After being here six nights, seeing most of the tourist attractions, eating a lot of kebabs and working out how to use the self service checkouts at Monoprix I finally found myself with a couple of hours free to live in the city instead of visit it.

This meant, leaving my hotel wearing sneakers instead of hiking boots. Donning sunglasses and noise cancelling headphones. No backpack, camera, or map. I had places to go and things to do.

My first impressions, it reminded me of living in Sydney. There too, any visit to the city for work or leisure is always slowed down by tourists. Paris is a lot vaster than Sydney. And because of the language, tourists stand out much more here too. I would imagine as a Parisian that it would be easy to feel superior when there is a ubiquitous lower class of human - the tourist - in your daily life behaving clueless and obnoxious because they don't know your language or your culture.

I strode by some tourists on my way to the supermarket, and left them standing dumbly while they waited for traffic signals that I jaywalked through. I reached some gardens with a snack and a beer and music on and felt very at home putting my feet up on a second chair and relaxing under the cloudy, yet warm summer afternoon sky.

My belonging in Parisian lasted until someone sat next to me at the park and their cigarette smoke put me off. Which was not long.

This was actually my second visit to the Luxembourg Gardens today, and third gardens in general. I don't think I will ever tire of going for a walk first thing in the morning and then eating breakfast somewhere pleasant. The destination for us today was Jardin des Plantes. I was forced to eat my oats with a fork as one of the spoons has been MIA for a while.

We then indulged in more summer fruits from the street markets of Rue Mouffetard, as well as a chocolate covered eclair, that we took and enjoyed in Luxembourg under nice skies and in front of nice flowers.

Then we did visit one final museum, because we already had the reservation for Sainte-Chapelle. This place is only really worth visiting because of the stain glass windows, and yeah, they are impressive.

Each panel is a full story, most are books of the bible. I'm starting the plan now for converting my June journal entries into stain glass.

After that we ate lunch at an Israeli style creperie, enjoying a savoury crepe followed by a buttery one. This gave me some fuel for the being a Parisian that followed.

Our final evening: another visit to the bookstore, then dinner at Rosie's BBQ, and a walk along the river enjoying the sunset.

And that was that. C'est fini. Nothing left to do but go to bed so that I can then travel for 26 hours and end up in the cold.

The Eiffel Tower Sparkles At Night

We started our visit to Paris with the City of Lights walking tour, which concluded an hour before sunset.

Today was our first full day, and it was definitely filled.

Starting early, on a mostly deserted Boulevard St. Michel, we bought café crème from a takeaway store, the first hint that coffee in Paris was not going to compare to Italy.

We then ate crepes on Ile de Cité in a park that wasn't technically open.

After breakfast we needed to find a toilet, a journey that took us across the prow of Ile Saint-Lois (a 17th century planned neighbourhood), over the Seine, past the medieval architecture of Hôtel de Sens and to a small playground where a part of one of the Bastille's towers remains in a fenced off section behind an old gazebo.

No plaque, but a little bit of trash.

Between that point and our first afternoon nap in Paris we walked up the canal of Port de l'Arsenal, visited Place de la Bastille, had another average coffee among the shops of Marais, visited Place des Voges for further review of seventeenth century urban planning.

One of the first planned, public squares for recreation. Circa ~1604. Still going strong in 2023.

Then we visited one of the oldest houses in Paris (now a busy Pho place), had a kebab, and saw more of the canals.

Around dinner time we re-emerged to golden, early evening sunshine and browsed a couple of the many English second-hand Bookstores. As a book lover, these cramped spaces crammed with second hand novels, non-fiction, plays and everything else in narrow aisles and mismatched shelves stretching above my head reminded me of Portland, and were a treat just to be inside. The prices were quite high though.

After the bookstores we commenced a self-guided history tour of the nearby area, concentrated on the Latin Quarter and Île de la Cité. This took us past statues, old churches, parks and streetscapes, and highlighted the many appealing and busy restaurants between Church of Saint-Séverin and Boulevard Saint-Germain. We squeezed in to a table at La Maison de Gyros for an immense plate of chicken kebab, salad, fries and garlic sauce. More chicken in one meal than I think I ate in all of Italy.

Our tour continued after dinner, past the church into Square René Viviani to observe the oldest tree in Paris. There was a paving stone from the original Roman road somewhere around there, but I couldn't spot it before the whistles started to kick everyone out.

We crossed to the island and admired what was left of the Notre-Dame. An amazing building, and with all its scaffolding a reminder that even city staples that feel like they might last forever could one day be whittled down to a hard to find paving stone in a small garden.
Fortunately, the gargoyles withstood the flames. And we learned about the difference between gargoyles and grotesques, and added a few museums to the to do list.

After a further tour of the island, we came up to the O.G. modern Paris landmark the Pont Neuf. According to some French historians, on this bridge in the seventeenth century they invented for the first time "stopping and admiring a river in a city". And whether that's true or not, I do believe that at a time when rivers were full of mud and corpses and the many cast offs of early industry that anything that motivated city planners to take steps to clean up waterways and create walkable places to visit was a huge turning point in world history for people like me who would come to visit centuries later with my camera.

And speaking of walkable cities, we crossed Pont Neuf to the right bank, and then down to the edge of the Seine. As the sun set in front of us we walked four kilometres, never needing to cross a road once. The entire way, on both sides of the river, people sat with picnics and drinks and music. Parisians and tourists. Hustlers sold water, beer and cigarettes. Everyone was happy. A group walked behind us for a few minutes playing Titanium on their portable speaker on repeat and people sang along, which was a nice connection back to Adelaide on a Saturday night in France.

We reached the Eiffel Tower at dusk, paid a Euro for the toilet and then crossed back to a good spot in front of Trocadéro to wait for 11 PM and the light show.

During planning the Eiffel Tower didn't even earn a pin on my map of Paris, but it was worth seeing once. Not just for the spectacle, but to be a part of that huge crowd which spanned both sides of the river and all around me. Everyone was here to be in Paris. The part of my homo sapien brain that likes to conform to social norms was ecstatic. But more than that, during the sparkling that lit up the iron beams, the mood of the crowd carried the sensation that this was one of those moments in life that you look forward to, and that you don't forget. It symbolised the achievements of a species and an individual that allowed me to be born halfway across the world and to then stand here in this historic city for a few minutes. Five to be exact. Then we took the metro back to the hotel for sleep.

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Le Petit Train

I put a lot of effort into learning Italian and German for the purpose of visiting the countries those languages are named after. I did not, in 2023, have the brain power or mouth muscles required to learn basic French as well. So - excluding Bali - this is the first time I have crossed a border into a country without the ability to ask for directions, order a beer, or request the toilet in the population's native language. This felt especially risky because - of all the countries - it's the French who are apparently the least accommodating of non-French speakers.

Last night did reduce my anxiety a little bit. Nearly every band and every song played on the streets of Colmar had been a cover of an English song. The crowd sometimes sang along. Clearly the average French people understood English words, and by choosing those songs over French ones they had given me ammunition in the case of ambush to debate that English clearly wasn't an inferior language if all the songs the French like are English ones. (And I had a back up flex where I list my favourite French musicians like M83, French 79, La Fine Equipe, Moussa and VIDEOCLUB).

I did not put a lot of effort into planning my visit to Strasbourg. There was an Alltrails map that promised a thorough tour of this World Heritage district and I took it at its word. Unfortunately it was not a good trail. It was also hot, we had both slept poorly in the echoes of Fête de la Musique the night before, and we had been on our feet for nearly three week straight (with some afternoon naps for balance). And there hadn't been a single open coffee shop for kilometres. (Partly because we started our walk shortly after sunrise).

Two-thirds through we bailed on the trail and headed for the old town to at least find coffee. I felt like I had wasted $50 dragging us to Strasbourg to see a brief glimpse of Petite France that looked exactly like Colmar, plus a big EU Headquarters building and this cathedral which I did like a little bit.

We found an open café and Vanessa ordered us some coffee successfully and the caffeine helped a little bit. Infused with some optimism, I suggested we at least visit Strasbourg's most famous cathedral before we gave up on the city completely. And yeah, it really is something.

Not petite.

So far in Europe I'd mostly avoided buying food and coffee in direct sight of major landmarks such as this one, but one French coffee had not been enough for the second longest morning of the year (until December at least) and there was a crepe restaurant that Google reviews assured me wasn't a rip off so we checked the menu and then took up a table. At this point it was my turn to communicate with a French person. We'd used the self-checkout in the supermarket the night before in Colmar, so this was my first true test.

"Parlez-vous anglais?" I enquired.

"Yes, a little," she said with a smile.

Despite what I've written above, I had no plan to defend the English language to anyone in France, and I had even promised myself that I would not flex about my below-average ability to speak 2 other languages in order to justify my lack of French.

"Thank you," I said in English, immediately followed by: "I don't speak French. I speak Italian and German. I'm very tired."

This defensive response kind of slipped out and I felt very bad about it. We ordered crepes in English, and more coffee, and so that she didn't think I was a classless foreigner I tipped 7% on the eventual bill.

The gothic cathedral looked very impressive, but we couldn't go inside the because we hadn't brought enough clothes, so the next destination wasn't very clear. Other than the obvious needs for more water and a toilet to deal with the two coffees. Both of these human needs was provided for free by the facilities in the forecourt of the cathedral. While I waited for Vanessa afterwards I noticed the tiny train/car waiting nearby that had a map in the window of the route it would take. I was curious to see how closely it matched the Alltrails map, so I took a look and while doing this I noticed the cost was only eight euros which was cheaper than two coffees with milk and also cheaper than the fast train back to Colmar.

On a very tired whim I decided we should ride le Petit Train.

After paying, and being wedged into the front seat of a carriage, and then moving back a row so I could at least put my feet somewhere, I had a horrible instinct that the petite-arse seats in the petit train were going to blow out my lower back at the first red light. Thankfully I'd been carrying around my lumbar support in my backpack all day, so I reversed it looped it around my abdomen and I was good to go. I put on a pair of the headphones and clicked over to one of the many languages I apparently speak (English) and off we went through the streets of Strasbourg.

It was fun. Even though we didn't get a close or long look at anything, the voice tour was good and the route was well planned so that you could get a couple of glimpses at most things. It definitely deserves to be a World Heritage district. The train went past a whole bunch of cool things that weren't on the Alltrails map. You couldn't really take photos, but getting the context and history of what you were seeing really enhanced the touring experience. But above all of this, after so much planning nice to be taken for a ride.

I have been economical at times on this $15,000+ holiday. It's smart to use free resources and your feet and to do a lot of research in advance. But today's lesson is that sometimes it's better to ride le petit train.

Given today was also my last kitchen day until July, and therefore my only remaining chance for a big summer salad, I splurged on that for lunch. Just like protein yogurts, they do not have 4 Bean mix in France either. You have to buy all your legumes separately. I went with just kidney beans because I didn't think the baking tray I was going to use as a salad bowl could handle much more than one variety.

Life's a High Altitude Beach

Switzerland is totally extra.

It's extra amazing, and every time something great happens there's an additional something that collaborates to makes it even better.

Like, cable cars take you up mountain, and then there's another cable car for even more mountain. This one with 360 degree views.

Medieval watch towers you can actually climb up, and then when you come back down there's pigs and Highland cattle.

Trains take you kilometres through mountains, and there's 5G coverage the whole way.

Lovely hotels with free apples and free binoculars for the views.

Mini golf courses in the alps with amazing views in the background, and with mini horses.

Mini Viennetta on a stick! For like 50c each. Just minutes from a huge sculpture monument of a dying lion where there's a park so you can eat them in the shade.

Lakes, in between mountains, with beaches you can swim in and drink a beer at.

Beautiful sunsets that last for over an hour.

Amalfi Sunset

Tonight I was standing knee deep in the water, looking at the town of Amalfi as the sunset lit up its layers of buildings along the cliffs in shades of pink and blue. And I was thinking the only thing that could make this moment better is a beer, or a coffee, or a limoncello. Or a pizza, croissant, Delizia al Limone, high protein chocolate mousse, breakfast cereal with low sugar yogurt, or I guess an overpriced ice-cream scooped into a mutant, hollowed out lemon.

Sadly, or perhaps more aptly, happily, I had consumed all of these things today already. So I had no choice but to appreciate the vista while the European summer enveloped me and the Mediterranean Sea took from me another day's worth of toe bandaids to add to its millennia of human history and flotsam.

Many hours earlier the day commenced with hundreds of metres of stairs starting in Amalfi and then through Pontone and out along a ridge to the ruins of Torre della Ziro. From this belvedere we sat and ate breakfast as clouds descended down the front of the cliffs and blurred the horizon.

After breakfast we ascended higher, past lemon groves and goat farms until we reached Ravello for a coffee and treat in the main piazza. And from there we conquered even more stairs as we traversed the town to reach Villa Cimbrone and its beautiful, English gardens that look down from great height on the coast below.

The Villa's gardens are consistently reviewed as being the most beautiful vantage point on the Amalfi Coast. I do suspect these reviews are written by people who have not hiked up ancient stone steps through the forest to come to harder to reach vantage points. But bussing and driving around Amalfi are no easy jobs either. Getting into the bus down from Ravello was only possible due to considerable assertiveness and having correct change. Taxi drivers hover like mosquitos ready to help tourists out with €100 fares to get down the mountain. And those with vehicles have to face roads that crumble into the abyss on the way down, and Saturday afternoon traffic jams by the beach.

If you ever visit Amalfi I would recommend not coming in summer. And I would also recommend not being here on a Saturday.

That said, on a Saturday in summer I had an amazing day. Between afternoon nap and sunset dip we had dinner at Pizzeria Donna Stella, who cooked us delicious food and served it under a garden of lemon trees shrouded in jasmine, and they tolerated my ugly Italian. They also served me a huge, delicious shot of limoncello for only 4 euro. Only in Europe do you get a scoop of sorbet for 500% the price of a standard drink at a nice restaurant.

My calves hurt.

Future Brad, I Owe You a Beer

Future Brad, if you are reading this and you haven't had your future beer yet, go and get one now and drink it. I don't care if it's eight in the morning. Why are you reading random entries at 8am anyway? Are you retired? Sounds great! Definitely drink that beer!

I can't drink beer this weekend. I spent time around children last weekend, and for that I got sick. Despite being sick I spent a few hours on Saturday trying to disassemble the ergonomic chair I spent $800 on because it was designed for people 180-210cm. (Spoiler Alert: It was designed for people who are 180-190cm.)

This chair was advertised as a risk free online purchase because you could return within 21 days if it didn't fit. The return policy also stipulated that the chair must be fully repackaged in the box it came in for this to work. Everything was going smoothly until it came to extracting the gas-lift from the seat-base and the wheelbase. YouTube was helpful in giving me tutorials that made it look easy, followed by comments that someone needed a tractor to extract theirs. Well, highly motivated, it took me an hour, some WD40, a pot mitt and a lot of mallet work to get it free from the base. That was the first beer. Another hour getting it all back into the box so it closed again was the second beer, with a couple of peanuts or something for also compressing the gas-lift to fit in the box using a dumbbell and my shit wrists.

Vanessa got the gas-lift out of the wheel base for me so Vanessa if you're reading this, go have a Rose Cider.

If that wasn't enough, today we mowed the lawn and mulched all the leaves around the house. So that's another beer I owe me.

After the gardening I tried to finally end the weekend by having a hot shower and shaving my beard of sickness away, but on my way out of the shower the rolling door fell off and I had to fix that after drying myself as well.

So, future Brad go get a second beer.

Autumn in Canberra

After enjoying Adelaide's unseasonably warm April, we finished the month by flying into Canberra on the uplift of a high pressure cell that was trapping cold, wet air over Australia's capital. This was tolerable for the sake of spending time with family and not working for a Monday.

Saturday began with a trip to the Fyshwick Markets, some rounds of Chameleon, a walk around the ovals with the kids, then a nap. After a Parma (not Parmi, infidels) and a pint (I'll forgive that one) Steve, Jess and I enjoyed a selection of local beers bought from Plonk that morning.

I also got my revenge and beat Steve at Acquire.

Sunday was even more rainy, though we did get a decent walk in along the flank of Mount Pleasant and then back along the lake.

In the afternoon there was an attempt to play Fortnite using a PS5 controller (0 points for both) and then some nachos for dinner and two rounds of Taboo. (The squeaker really makes that game).

Monday was even colder, but at least less rainy. Vanessa and I completed an eleven kilometre loop of our nation's adolescent Arboretum, then ate lunch overlooking it. A quick loop up Black Mountain (more of a hill) managed to get our daily steps for the trip back in line with our daily average. After that and a shower there was enough time for a few rounds of sardines with the kids before our flight back, via the Virgin Lounge for a complementary visit where I drank three beers and ate four pies.

A pretty packed weekend, I regret we couldn't squeeze in the National Rock Garden.