Almonds are Negative, Prove me Wrong

When I inserted my blood into the post box three weeks ago a horrible feeling came over me. Is there a word like "trepidation" which means "a fear of upcoming irony"? I can't Google it, I'm on aeroplane mode.

When my blood was to eventually reach the lab it was going to be scrutinised for allergies and intolerance to over 100 foods and other organic matter. Life has been a bit shit lately pain wise. As it kind of has been for me since 2006. Sometimes the cause of pain is obvious, like riding a bike into the footpath, or... Actually, that is the only injury I've had of the many that I actually know the root cause of. For nearly two decades I've suffered more soft tissue injuries than the 2006 Western Bulldogs (possibly an exaggeration, I can't Google it) and this summer's recurrence of lower back pain felt like the tipping point. Why is it that for the healthy eating, regular walking, and hour of stretching, mobilisation exercises, core strengthening and range of motion maintenance I do on average daily leads me not nowhere, but backwards? Why is everything so inflamed?! Even my physio was at a loss, having proved that my mobility, flexibility and strength was fine but my lower spine would not quit crippling me. His only remaining theory was that a gut issue was causing inflammation in my abdomen that was then creating tightness, imbalance, and other conditions for my hips, core and legs to run into problems.

This seemed unlikely. If gut issues are social policies then my bowel movements are fucking Norway. But without any other ideas, and with the cost of the test only being twice what I'm forking out on the regular to my very expensive physical therapist, I figured I'd try it.

But awaiting the results has been torture, because I'm 38 now and I learned many years ago that there is no fairness in life and it was inevitable that this allergy test was going to come back and ruin something for me. Was I going to have an intolerance to yoghurt? Smoothies? Coffee? Weet Bix? Beer? All of the above? It seemed inevitable that all this blood test was going to achieve was to deprive me of whatever skerricks off joy still remained in my pitiful life.

I woke up to results this morning. Over 99% of the tests came back with a perfectly uniform and Scandinavian, "None Detected". The only real hit in all those lines? Almonds. Almonds allergy. Almonds intolerance. The most journalled about foodstuff in my 2,330 entries. At one stage I even considered adding a tag for the nut. And now the universe has taken it away from me.

I guess, if this is the cause of my ubiquitous inflammation problems, it makes sense that it's the most discussed food on this website. Come to think of it, it's very possible that the advice I read in Men's Health was the exact same issue that had encouraged me to do decline dumbbell rows with my legs locked onto the back extension machine too...

Well, whatever, if I can decrease my back pain, tendonapathy, tendinitis and general misery by even 20% I'll happily never eat another almond again.

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The woman with the fake tan stepped into my office, sat across from my desk and lit a cigarette.
At least, she would, sometime in the next 20 minutes. Smelling the future has advantages, but precision isn’t one of them.

I read Edward J Watts book Mortal Republic last week, a recap of the Roman Republic of the centuries BC before it was overcome by autocracy and became the Empire. A book I selected as my next read purely because I was going to fly to Rome soon and it was the first search result for "Rome" that sounded interesting.

It wasn't a bad book, but I find that any time a writer tries to cram multiple centuries into 300 pages or 10 hours it does a disservice to the narratives and personalities at play and relegates fascinating history into sounding something similar to when a new person runs through their CV at the start of a Teams' meeting.

The best thing I can say about this book is that it helped me fall asleep on the flight to Doha. And I completed it yesterday on the second leg.

And boy, if I thought cramming centuries of Roman history into my ears for ten hours straight was tough, that was before I tried doing it with my feet.

Rome, the vibe I'm getting, is that before we invented the internet everyone was either killing each other or carving things out of stone.

Quando a Roma

Trevi Fountain had crowds at 6:30 AM.

More Rome highlights. Started with a walk to Travestere, then back across the Tiber and around the back of the forum ruins. Stopped for coffee and croissant at a little bar looking up at Capitoline Hill. Took the steps up to the summit and stood in line for free entry to the museum. Inside are too many artefacts and fragments of history to truly appreciate in one visit, interspersed with views out the window of the sprawling city and the Vatican dome and phone towers in the distant hills.

Left the hill and returned to our accommodation for brief moment of shoes off, most definitely not the first tourist to reach the tactile conclusion that it really is a city of seven hills.

Took a quick walk towards Via Veneto, passed the immense American embassy and found lunch at a trattoria, a plate of lamb and potatoes as well as a margarita pizza.

Had a proper nap after lunch, then the evening was more walking. Down the Spanish Steps and towards Pont Cavour, and again along the Tiber towards Pont Sant'Angelo and back on the other side.

Statue of Angel using selfie stick.

We witnessed the hustlers switch with impressive efficiency from pushing bottles of water in the sunshine to pushing ponchos as some clouds rolled in.

Italy is... Tiny cars and giant monuments.

The rain never arrived. We had first gelato, and then cheap takeaway Ragù pasta in Piazza del Popolo on a bench taking in the ancient churches, even more ancient stolen Egyptian obelisks, and a Michael Jackson impersonator under a dusky, overcast sky.

After dinner we walked up to Borghese Gardens passing bust after crumbling marble bust dotting the paths that led to the terrazo. Romans and tourists everywhere, famous Italians forgotten and millennia of nondescript Romans, Italians, pilgrims and slaves buried at our feet among the first twinkling signs of twilight. It was easy to feel insignificant, as millions before me have likely felt as well.

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Coffee in Rome

I spent months sitting around at home on the couch wishing I could be doing something exciting like traveling and eating an authentic pizza in Naples. Tonight I'm finally living the dream of sitting in a home on a couch eating authentic pizza in Naples.

To be fair to the above comment, I did start my day in Rome drinking an espresso at the bar, before stepping foot into the pantheon, a building over two thousand years old and by far the oldest building I have ever stood in.

Ordering a coffee at the bar in Italy is pretty easy. You just order the coffee you want and stand at the bar to drink it.

Then literally six hours later I one-upped myself but standing inside an even older building in the excavated ruins of Herculaneum.

Getting a statue of yourself for your front room was in fashion in the first century.

After three consecutive 30,000 step days I feel that delicious, Napoli pizza on the couch was justified.


The Naples port and its associated ferry companies have a plethora of one star reviews. For these companies to still be in operation despite such poor customer feedback really tells you that the destinations that they sail to must be worth visiting.

To be fair, my experience with Naples Port was extremely satisfactory. Signs pointed us to the correct building, the line was short, the ferry was right outside, departed on time and arrived early at Porta Ischia. However, I can understand that any hurdle in this process, particularly for those tourists transferring to the ferry on foot from Napoli Centrale via the wild Corso Umberto I, might be a little prone to stress. Allora, the woman behind the counter when I paid for the return tickets barely glanced up from Little Big Farm on her phone, but I wouldn't deduct any stars because of that.

Ischia is a beautiful island that you need far more than a day to explore because it is way too hot in the steamy Mediterranean air to get a lot done between 11 and 4. Nor is it a tranquil escape from Napoli, just an island variation. (Note: I recant this remark, it is wild there but nothing on Naples.)

What we did get done was a walk to and up Castello Aragonese d'Ischia, a stronghold in stark contrast to the Germanic and British fortresses I have visited previously. This one stands above the sea, built on volcanic rock and featuring gardens and olive groves that frame the view over azure water and the colourful, jagged towns that stretch from the beach up into the sheer, green hills.

After making it back to our flat in Naples we planned a walk across the street for pizza, followed by a short stroll before an early bedtime. The pizza happened according to plan, but what was supposed to be a quick visit to Castel dell'Ovo (pretty impressive) via Fontana del Gigante (a bit meh, although the only thing in the entire city not decorated in white and blue). We ended up walking another three-plus kilometres back, up Via Toledo before weaving and getting lost multiple times in the Quartieri Spagnoli. Words could not describe the glorious mayhem that this long stretch of humanity put on display. It was like Rundle Street during the Fringe on the busiest weekend in March, extrapolated across kilometres of 16th century avenues and alleyways. The population of Naples is only 2.2 million people, I think they were all there. It made me wish that I was young and also had two million friends.

Leaving Naples

The morning started with a hike up a multitude of stairs to Castel Sant'Elmo for a look over the now calm city that lay beneath a humid haze.

We returned back to our apartment for breakfast, before storing our bags for a few hours to explore before the ferry to Amalfi.

We visited the Complesso Monumentale di Santa Chiara, a peaceful garden and cloister surrounded with high walls. Constructed originally in the fourteenth century, a lot was recreated after bombing in World War II. The inner gardens were beautifully decorated with frescoes and tiles that somewhat sadly were the designs of the women who lived in the church and used this as an outlet to imagine the world outside the walls. First born women were often given to church's to allow their birthright to go to a younger brother.

None of the frescoes described the Spanish Quarter, especially not its alleyway of nativity figurines, and delicious food and desserts.

After lunch we collected our bags and dragged them to the port. The Naples ferry experience continued its alignment with the Naples experience in general. I arrived intentionally early to be able to buy tickets, only to be faced with a shuttered ticket office and many other confused tourists.

But eventually they rolled the windows up, tickets were purchased, everyone crammed on the ferry and we were away about on time.

It took about two hours to reach Amalfi, and it was nearly another world in contrast to Naples. Spotless streets, beautiful architecture, a calm and positive vibe from everyone (well, once the battle from dock to piazza was complete. But before I had to carry the suitcase up 80 steps).

We had dinner in front of the Duomo, then gelato. It felt like the relaxing part of the holiday had finally arrived.

The Path of the Gods

I ticked off a bucket list item this morning. Hiking Sentierio degli Die, the Path of the Gods. Before that could happen we needed to take the bus from Amalfi to Bomerano. The narrow roads and hairpins of the Amalfi Coast are not exactly designed for buses. I'm not sure they're even designed for cars. This did not deter the busdriver, who swung and finangled the long 56 seater around the bends as if simply tooting the horn to whatever melody took his whim would be all it took to keep the roads clear ahead and the cliffs a comfortable distance away from the windows.

The path of the Gods had spectacular views over the villages and landscape of Amalfi and the Mediterranean Sea and sky that blends together in a hazy blue horizon. The bus trip also features these characteristics, thus making it the bus route of the Gods.

The hike itself was stunning. Cliffs and forests and an unending stream of views all the way to Nocelle. That's the official end of the hike, but it is possible to continue down the hill to Positano, and because Positano is both renown for its beauty and also where the ferry leaves for Amalfi, it made logical sense to continue downward after a quick lemon granita.

The route down to Positano contains a lot of steps. They can be conquered, but probably at the cost of being able to enjoy yourself when the ocean brings a merciful end to the downhill slog. Particularly because Positano is itself a city of steps, and that's how I felt today. Barely able to walk, we bought a quick lunch by the beach then it was time to get out.

Positano like a poisonous flower. Beautiful, but deadly. Today in June its narrow laneways and staircases were choked by crowds. It felt like a mix of people who had saved up for years for the holiday of a lifetime, and people who dock their yachts off the Amalfi Coast for a few weeks most summers. I didn't enjoy the vibe.

The docks to get out of Positano were also crowded, and not pleasant, particularly under a hot sun in sticky air. We crammed into the ferry with the rest of the yacht-deprived and when there was finally no room to move on deck we disembarked. After an amazing hike among the clouds, it was the ferry ride of humanity back to Amalfi.

But for the opportunity to complete this hike, it was totally worth it.

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.

Amalfi to Florence

We said goodbye to Amalfi with just a short 300 metre climb to Pogerola this morning for a final breakfast in the clouds. And more steps down...

When I was planning the Europe itinerary I didn't see the day travelling from Amalfi to Florence as being a highlight. But after the first eight days of this holiday and how packed they've been, I found myself looking forward to some downtime in the form of a ferry ride to Salerno followed by a four hour train ride in business class.

I booked the business class tickets back in March because due to a promo they were actually cheaper than regular tickets. About 30 euros to go about 500km, including seat selection and a free snack box.

Unfortunately I learned before the snack box could even arrive that Italian business class seats - like Italian beds and Italian ferry toilet cubicles - are too small for me to be very comfortable. The scenery was nice though. And we arrived in Florence successfully and crossed the Arno for the first of many times. And bought yogurt for our next breakfast for not the first of many times.

Scala per il Paradiso

I shall add fourteenth century cathedral dome maintenance stairways to my list of Italian features that are a little small for me.

The cramped conditions did not deter me though, and we reached the top of the Duomo for 360° views of a city centre that physically and spiritually embodies the Renaissance.

Brunelleschi's dome, atop the magnificent structure in the centre of Florence, is absolutely impressive and stunning no matter how irreligious you might be. Whether it's from directly below while you wait your turn to climb it, from the top of Piazzale Michelangelo during breakfast at sunrise, or when you're within the interior and feeling dwarfed by the immense fresco that covers the inside.

Pretty much every ceiling in Florence has a fresco for you to appreciate when you remember to look up. I feel like middle age parents with young renaissance children must have constantly complained that they were looking up at ceilings instead of focusing on where they were going.

The apartments and halls of Palazzo Vecchio only reinforced this view, and the strain in my neck.

Also on the schedule today was Galileo's museum, tiramisu on the Ponte Vecchio, and the Duomo Museum. Purely by its institutions you can really feel how a few centuries ago this was a place where science, architecture, and ideas merged.

A seventeenth century globe

Even the artwork showed signs of moving from religious and mythological iconography to the new understanding that Earth was part of a much wider universe.

Yes, this is a ceiling

All of this exploration probably did not justify the white lasagna I ate in Piazza del Carmine for dinner. It was possibly the only disappointing food I've had so far. The gigantic gelato for €2.5 afterwards made up for it though.


It would be a challenge to come to Florence and not leave more cultured than you arrived. Although it would be less hard if you do this outside of June and its long queues.

And I'm not just saying this because the two most common sources of protein in Italy seem to be a couple of slices of salami on a plate sized pizza, or flavoured yoghurts with 20 grams of protein per tub.

There are more pieces of art on the walls and bridges in the streets than there are in some other cities' museums.

Sculpture overload.

Florence was quiet this morning at 6 A.M. when we walked along the river and back, before breakfast at Piazza Ognissanti.

The next stop of the day was Giotti's bell tower, which you get to do for free if you pay the cost of climbing the Duomo.

The climb and view from the bell tower is not much different than the view from the cathedral, other than obviously from the bell tower you get an excellent view of the immense dome.

Through gothic window frames.

After the climb it was over to Galleria dell'Academia to join the masses in the street waiting to take their selfie with Michelangelo's David. (It was a 30 minute wait for us, thanks to our skip the line tickets).

The gallery contained many works of art and history, including a wing of musical instruments and paintings of their original users. And many, many photos of Baby Jesus. But it was clearly David that was the drawcard and the centre of attention. The sculpture is certainly a phenomenal work of art, very large and mostly intact. Also you can see the penis.

Then for lunch I paid my second visit to All’Antico Vinaio to overindulge in a different kind of white, creamy works of art with a focus on excessive smallgoods.

La Paradisa

This concluded the first half of the day. Midday naps have been a successful method for getting the most out of the long and hot summer days in Europe. Today was no exception, even with the hammering and drilling going on next to our AirBNB, or due to the six foot long short mattress. We rose around 3pm and walked back across the Arno to the Uffitzi gallery for more art. And even more art.

It is hard not to get desensitized by the amount of sculptures and Catholic imagery that makes up Florence's most prominent art galleries. Especially all the Baby Jesuses. I'm sorry Jesus, but I have the same reaction to you as I do to seeing anyone else's baby photos on Facebook over and over again. Yes it's Jesus, he was a baby yesterday as well, and won't have grown up much tomorrow either. I wish Correggio, Leonardo, Raffaello, Michelangelo and Caravaggio and the rest could have drawn more inspiration from other mythologies, or daily life instead.

Everybody in this painting is in need of a beer

Medusa, and the Botticelli's, stole the show.

That was all a lot of art, and a lot of Italy, and we needed a beer. Peroni have a 2% Radler that sells for about $3.50 a 3-pack and a cold one of those did the job. Then as a change from epic sandwiches, pizza and lasagne we tried Florence's most highly rated Indian restaurant and that food tasted molte bene as well.

Having now crammed two days of culture, and two days of food, into a single planetary revolution, I was both exhausted and full of energy. So as the sun went down I went out with my camera and tripod to experience Italy at nighttime. I felt slightly tentative walking alone with camera and tripod after dark, but European cities in summer are something else compared to Australia. Nearing 11pm on a Tuesday night and the streets were packed. It's hard not to feel safe when you're surrounded by people everywhere eating dinner and gelato.


On June 14th last year I woke up twice. Once at six A.M. to take a taxi ride to the hospital, and again around lunchtime in recovery after my wrist surgery.

I felt pretty fucking miserable for a lot of last winter. I spent my days working, watching TV, playing Reborn with one hand, and wishing I could have a different life.

On June 14th this year I also woke up twice, the first time in Florence to have some breakfast and then a morning stroll in the Boboli Gardens of Palazzo Pitti, and the second time after a brief nap on the train as we pulled into Venezia Santa Lucia.

View from the top of Boboli Gardens

The wrist that this time last year was in a cast and dragging me down was now dragging a 17 kilogram suitcase for two kilometres of Venice's cobbled, car-less streets, and up and down bridges across the canals.

I took for granted that last year's surgery would have a short and linear recovery and I was wrong about that. I'm not taking anything for granted any more. Venice is an awesome place though, and I'm glad I have my life. Today felt like a chapter end in that story, and as chapter ends go it was a satisfying "fuck you" followed by a sunset.

Disneyland Venice

I've never been to Disneyland, but I think visiting Venice is a pretty good analog. That's how the experience felt from the moment we stepped out of the train station. Ponte degli Scalzi loomed under blue sky as it spanned the sparkling, grand Grand Canal. Car-free streets were lined with colourful buildings, and concession stands stretched away in all directions. There were tourists everywhere. The excavated and stolen remains of one of the S-Tier apostles were buried nearby.

There's obviously rides to be had in Venice, the various watercraft, and there's some roller coaster thing that I think takes people to the big carpark. What I enjoyed most though is the giant maze where every dead end is part of the adventure.

I had planned to spend part of today taking a ferry to Burano, but there was far to much to see and enjoy simply strolling around the different neighbourhoods. When the sun was too hot it was a good opportunity for a nap, or a spritz and a magazine in the piazza. When the sun was low - morning and evening - it was a theme park. Golden Hour persisted for longer than felt natural. Every corner and bridge felt deserving of a moment to stop and stare. And after 27,000 steps that was a lot to take in and absorb.

Historically, Venice has survived a lot, and I hope it continues to survive through whatever the rest of this century and beyond have in store for it. I would definitely like to visit again, maybe in Autumn, and make it to Burano and see Saint Mark's without the cladding. Even if I don't, I'm grateful that I got to experience something as amazing and historic as a city on the sea.

Unfashionable in Milan

I do have doubts about some Italian customs. For example, eating a late dinner and restaurants not even opening until 7pm, and yet there being a long line of hungry diners waiting outside at 6:59.

It was very warm in Milan today. An unpleasant, humid 30° that was only slightly better endured by noting that the max temperature back in Adelaide was 14°.

We didn't schedule much for our full day here, having already had our fill of giant cathedrals, sculptures and baby Jesus over the last two weeks. Lake Como was an appealing location just a 30 minute train ride away, so the plan was to head there early, hike, do a lap of the bottom half of the lake on a boat, then go back to Milan for dinner.

Unfortunately our only day for Como was a Saturday, and one big lesson for European holidays in June is to keep Saturdays pretty cruisy because they are by far the most hectic days based on my experience in Rome, Amalfi and Como. Let's see how Paris goes... Como was quiet when we arrived at 7A.M., but after the hike the beautiful lake side was packed with people and every fast and slow ferry for the day was sold out.

I at least found a wee castle in the forest.

We took the train back to Milan early and had a nap. This was likely the best possible use of time as the heat was grande by that point. Later in the evening we did walk through downtown Milan to the massive cathedral, as well as Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II which was a mall but it also had cathedral vibes.

One last giant cathedral for the road.

Clothes are very fashionable in Milan shops and very expensive. Yet another Italian custom I'm not convinced everyone is onboard for. Due to all the forest walks and the cobbled streets I've been wearing hiking boots and hiking socks nearly every day, and my shorts haven't seen a washing machine in this hemisphere of the Earth.

After a burger for dinner (at 7:30) I went to the rooftop terrace of the hotel to drink a Milano-Torino and watch the sun set in Italy for a final time. No one on the terrace with me was eating.

With Bells On

I was checking into the hotel in Kriens tonight and for the first time this trip the hotel asked for my home address, which for a moment I'd actually forgotten. That's the sign of a good holiday I guess.

The morning was spent exploring both the Porta Nuova commercial district, the most un-Italian area of Italy I saw in the whole country, and then after the first breakfast buffet of the trip (an incredible amount of fruit, pastries, eggs and coffee) we spent the rest of the morning enjoying Sempione Park. We had a final, coffee tiramisu infusion in the shade overlooking Arco della Pace. Then, after so much planning, preparation and exploring it was time for one last exorbitant service fee, and to say Ciao to Italy.

The subsequent trip to Lucerne on the train was appropriately transitory. After a stretch of Italian countryside and industrial areas (plus Lake Como again) we went through a long tunnel. I ate the last of my breakfast pastries and we emerged into vibrant sunlight, green mountains and sparkling lakes under fluffy clouds. Half the train carriage seemed to ooh and ah. Europe has so much diversity across such small distances, it's incredible.

Last year I drove over 2,000km from Adelaide to South Queensland and other than the temperature every place essentially looked the same.

There were, however, still sunset cows at the end.


The cost of living in Switzerland is ridiculous. It's .75 Francs for a cold half litre of beer at Aldi, and another Franc if you want a fresh pretzel to go with it.

After an evening of admiring Pilatus from a distance, this morning we ascended the mountain via a series of cable cars to stunning views of Switzerland from such a high place that it actually made the rest of it look flat.

Even the short walk we did halfway up the mountain past a few fields of wildflowers, and through forest, to a view of a tiny cow shed beneath an immense rock face was one of the best hikes of my life despite it only being a kilometre each way.

After Pilatus we took a cogwheel train down to Alpnachstad and then a boat over Lake Lucerne, each mode of transport an incredible experience on its own. The only challenge was the trek back up the hill to the hotel under alternating torrential rain and blinding sunshine. The steam curled like snakes on the steep stairs. More forest, and the aforementioned beer, helped get through the experience. Then there was nothing left to do but enjoy the hours of sunset as it coloured the mountains, hills and lakes. The cost of living in Switzerland, it seems, is that you'll never want to leave. And also the impact on your knees.

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.


It was my intention to ease the transition from Switzerland to France by visiting the Alsace reason, which has historically been both French and German depending on where in time you are.

That said, the moment our train crossed the border into France the multi-lingual station and journey updates ceased and everything was purely French. It's okay. The audio system on the train was hard enough to hear the words clearly anyway.

Colmar is not a big place and it didn't take long to drag the suitcase from the station to the start of the cobbled streets of the old town. And this old town was old. We first decided to visit here because it looked like a Disney cartoon. (There are a number of towns in the Alsace region that claim to be "the inspiration" for Beauty and the Beast and this is one of them.)

Most of the buildings in the historic centre, and "little Venice" (a nickname given by someone who obviously hadn't been in normal sized Venice a week earlier) date from the middle ages and renaissance. And they're originals, as unlike a lot of the rest of Europe they weren't bombed or shelled during the 20th century. It was a very pretty place, something that was easier to appreciate after depositing our luggage in the Airbnb.
When picking a place to stay here I'd decided to book an upstairs room above a restaurant in pretty much the heart of the old town area thinking it would be easy to take some photos early or late in the day, potentially out of the window.

Our accommodation was the two open shutters on the first floor of the back building. I did not work out how to close the shutters when the sun finally set.

This was maybe not the best idea. At the time of booking I didn't appreciate just how happening European cities are basically every day of the week in summer. Rome, Naples, Amalfi, Florence, Venice and Lucerne all had a party vibe late into the evening every night of the week. Even knowing this, I wouldn't have predicted that a town as small as Colmar (population 70k according to Google) would be absolutely pumping on a random Wednesday evening. The streets were packed, and roads were closed so that musicians could set up stages or DJ booths all around the picturesque streets. The restaurants were full. Additional bars set up on trestle tables were pulling beers for five euro a cup on the streets. I figured this must be life when it snows in winter and your summer days don't literally cook you. And also when the law doesn't ban you from drinking a beer on the street.

For the majority who are smarter than me and realise that today is the Winter Solstice (in Adelaide) and therefore the Summer Solstice (in France) you would know that this means it was Fête de la Musique today. An annual, French celebration of amateur music in public places.

Arsonic playing for a huge crowd in front of the 550 year old Koïfhus.

DJ and dancing in front of one of the churches.

Because we won't have a kitchen or even a fridge for the week in Paris, our first stop in Colmar was the supermarket (which wasn't centuries old) so we could take advantage of the full kitchen in the apartment. Here we learned some other harsh truths about France. They do not sell many high-protein yogurts and puddings here. Most of the display fridges were dedicated to cheeses. This is not a whimsy, sadly. Even the regular yogurt selection was quite limited. We were able to find some ravioli and tomato sauce and - after eating only one serving in Italy over the course of two weeks - the first meal I ate in France was pasta.

After dinner we walked around listening to bands and admiring architecture. A few thunderclouds passed overhead, along with a random sprinklings of rain and an occasional flash of lightning. The sun did seem to be setting quite late which was pretty typical for the trip so far, and we had travelled ~150 kilometres north-west that afternoon, but I hadn't twigged it was the solstice yet.

10 P.M.

Vanessa went to try and sleep after being absolutely smashed by pollen that morning. I continued to listen to the bands until the sun eventually did disappear, not before colourful lights were beamed upon the big church across the square from the apartment. I went to bed around 10:30pm, the music stopped around 11pm and the giant church lantern dimmed its lights at midnight. It was extremely warm, and extremely humid. They did not have air conditioning in the fifteenth century.

All of this on top of a walk through the forest to Lucerne that morning, and breakfast (including high protein milk drink) by the lake before lunch and non-Aldi Swiss beer at the Rathaus Brauerei, and the aforementioned train ride. It was definitely a very long day...

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.

Paris Day 0

I have been in Paris less than eight hours. Ten percent of that was spent in the queue for a metro ticket.

My first impression is that scaffolding is on everything. (Not everything, but it felt that way by the time we'd walked past the Louvre and through Place de la Concorde.) And also that the French haven't worked out that smoking isn't cool yet.

The only thing not scaffolded is the sun.

After the initial check in - air conditioning! - we walked past the Luxembourg Gardens in search of food and on turning left onto Rue Soufflot the Paris Pantheon came into view. Huge! Seemingly floating in the near distance at the end of the boulevard. This was Hausman, not an accident, but it's one thing to know about it and another to experience it.

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.

The Full Formule

A lot of restaurants and cafes in Paris advertise a "Formule" which is basically a combo meal that costs a lot less than buying all the things individually. It's very hard to not know this because over the kilometres you will walk in Paris you will pass many, many cafes and restaurants, and because while doing that you will also feel very hungry.

Today we decided to skip the yoghurt and oats and get a formule for breakfast. We walked along the boulevards from the hotel to Saint-Médard, which is a nice, old church in front of a nice, old public square with a fountain. But stretching up the hill from that part is a narrow, cobbled street lined with market shops and markets as well. Sunday is, apparently, more of a local's day than a tourists day but in the same article which I read that, it also said that this was because the markets opened only in the morning and there is definitely an advantage to being a tourist that is capable of being up before 9 A.M.

We selected Le Mouffetard for breakfast based on the breakfast formule on the chalkboard outside, and the fact that it had a lot of locals eating there, but also a table away from the locals. (The locals liked sitting in direct sunlight and smoking).

For the full formule at 12 Euro each we received coffee, a croissant, slices of baguette, fresh juice, an omelette, and a little cup of fruit salad. (The extra 2 Euro is for the omelette). Everything was delicious. By the time we finished eating, the street in front of us was ready for markets. We bought a strawberry crumble to eat later from a very nice looking bakery, then walked back to the hotel the long way to visit Arènes de Lutèce - an old Roman amphitheatre that was rediscovered in the 19th century. It's now part of a public park and used for a lot of people to play Bocce.

More like Arènes de Boccè

We continued our walk, grabbed another coffee and sat in another park where a further echo of Rome stood in the garden. Either that or I have been in Europe so long that all statues are starting to look the same…

Then we had a nap, which wasn't easy after the coffees, but we'd tried to plan the day like this because we had a booking at the Louvre for 2 P.M. and the day was going to get very hot.

Luckily, the streets of Paris are not in a grid and run on all sorts of diagonals - again thanks to old mate Hausman. This is actually super handy on hot days because at nearly any time you can kind of weave your way across the districts and find a shady side of the street. That worked for us until we reached the river. There is no shade on Pont du Carrousel, nor much to compensate once you reach the right bank and try to find the entrance. All the hustlers from the Eiffel Tower were here this afternoon, clearing the plastic tower replicas and selling bottles of water for 1 Euro which was very tempting even though we'd left the hotel only fifteen minutes earlier.

We got inside and through security and picked up the Nintendo DS guides to help us through. Even though we had the reservation, no one even asked for it, although we did use the "with reservation" line to get in.

The Louvre. I have a lot of thoughts about this place. They could take every single artefact and piece of art out this building and it would still be worth a visit. Being a former palace, the rooms, walls, ceilings, everything (in the old part) is incredibly large, intricate, and detailed.

Another ceiling.

That said, it is way too big to see everything. Even trying to see the highlights is a challenge. Part of the reason we got the guides was for directions, but at times they did not know where we are, and once they were guiding you somewhere I could not determine how to cancel the navigation so the map was focused on taking us somewhere we no longer wanted to go. It did not help that I made a list of things to see based on an article that may have been written by ChatGPT, because the rooms and locations listed for these pieces did not exist at all.

We started by trying to visit the ancient Egyptian collection - being exhausted of Christian art. Unfortunately we got lost, saw some cool Middle East and Greek art and pieces, and then ran into more of old baby Jesus.

Eventually we made it to Egypt (with the heat and the walking it felt like it literally). And then we tried to find a toilet, one which was closed and another that didn't exist. It used up about 30 minutes of our visit. After that, and a crazy amount of rooms filled with antique furniture, we found the Salon and the most famous paintings and were able to slow down a bit and take some of that in. I hadn't actually realised so much of the Napoleon collection was here, and they are such mammoth pieces of propaganda and artwork, and very cool. At least the DS guide was now adding some value.

The museum closed and it was still scorching outside. Another thing we hadn't been able to locate in the museum was any of the supposed eight water fountains. So we were quite thirsty as well. I relented that I would give one Euro to the hustlers for a cold bottle of water - but these guys know their game well! At museum closing time they all added an extra 50c to their water prices. So I didn't buy water from them, not just out of principle but also because I didn't have the extra 50c worth of coins with me either. We heroically strove until we reached a supermarket and I bought a one litre bottle of water for 31c. We drank that, ate some potato chips, found shade on the eastern side of Bourse de commerce and refilled the bottle a few times for good measure. That was enough art and culture for a while.

Still quite sunny, we made it as far as Rue Saint-Martin before spotting another Lebanese place. That was good for dinner, which we carried to the nearest park that just happened to have a five hundred year-old gothic church tower in it (the rest of the church was destroyed during the French Revolution, the main one...).

Like all public spaces, this one too was filled with people in groups enjoying the shade and having a nice, friendly time in a great many languages. It was very pleasant - except for the toilets that were extremely disgusting.

We went out and got ice-cream and came back to the park with it to continue enjoying the summertime vibe and the aforementioned shade.

From there, with the bite in the sun finally mellowing, we walked to Parvis de l’Hôtel de Ville - another landmark on the list. This one too was blocked by scaffolding although what could be spied through the gaps was impressive.

We then crossed the bridge to Ile Saint-Louis to see what we could of the grand, original residences built there after King Henry IV's plan to turn it into the West Lakes of seventeenth century Paris. Again the banks of the river were filled with people chilling in the sun. Even a garbage collector got into some of the tunes being played under the bridge.

We did a loop of Ile Saint-Louis. The sun was finally nearing the horizon. It was another long and diverse day. We had paid for the full formule.

De Triomphe

This morning while walking back to the hotel after walking the Paris version of the high line, some guy with windows down on Pont de Sully was playing Daft Punk's Around the World unironically

Allora. Pooping on holiday poses challenges for me as I lose the rhythms of eating, caffeine and bowel movements that I have at home, and whose predictability is what inspires me to take holidays in the first place. It wasn't until my third day in Rome that I managed to pass the omelette and smoothie I'd eaten back in Adelaide, and everything else since. It took a double Roman coffee with milk to finally do the trick. "I am the Caesar of my sphincter", I proclaimed to myself as I kicked off what I thought would be a return to normal form. (The visit to the Roman Forum the day before was still embedded in my consciousness.)

I think it was the extra spicy sauce on the already spicy chicken curry takeaway that I ate on my last night in Lucerne that disrupted further Pax Romana. Or perhaps it was just the Gauls? Because I've had troubles for days in France and definitely feel like my stool is in arrears, and is approaching a debt-ceiling that I do not want to hit in public, especially in the Louvre or on the top of the Arc de Triomphe. The Caffe Latte Venti that I drank this afternoon on the Metro between Odéon and La Defense gave me great confidence that a bipartisan agreement might be reached quickly, and - other than on the 25 minute bus ride to Rueil-Malmaison - the most logical place for this accord to occur was in the toilets at Château de Malmaison. It was the former residence of Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais and her husband Napoleon Bonaparte. And where we were visiting this afternoon.

Well before this trip out of Paris, months earlier, when I first discovered Josephine and the Bonaparte family's sprawling retreat was on the Paris Museum Pass I'd wondered how Napoleon might feel if he knew I was visiting his retreat and taking pictures of his stuff. The first, obvious impression is that he wouldn't care at all. I don't like Napoleon, but I do respect him for working really hard to be an extreme example of what a single, individual human is capable of doing in a lifetime. Even though a lot of the things he did were bad, other things he did were admirable and incredible (the metric system, his strategy and tactics, his memory and ability to learn and innovate).

Napoleon was also a general of the people, and would join the soldiers and followers at the campfires before and after battles. Theoretically, if he was interested in those people maybe he would be interested in me and my life too. He was definitely an egotist, which would count in my favour as he would surely be inquiring to know exactly what kind of future-people would visit him. He also spent a lot of his days travelling, so I think we would have in common the challenges of pooping across Europe.

I did try to poo at Napoleon's house today, but just like the appropriately named Waterloo, today was not my day of victory and I only farted a few times. Oh well, I'm going to Les Invalides tomorrow so I might have to console myself by dropping a turd next to his corpse.

Editor's note 27/6: I did, and it was satisfying. I am l'Empereur of my l'Anus. Napoleon and the Tyrannosaurus Rex are now both on the same list.

Back in Paris, the Coulée verte René-Dumont - AKA the Paris High Line - was a lovely although not thrilling way to spend the morning and enjoy some cooler temperatures that had rolled in. The baguette and coffee we had for breakfast helped with this. Also, I am not even joking, the free water fountains in the park at the end give out sparkling water. I am not looking forward to returning to Adelaide...

Here are some photos from a new perspective:

I won't write about getting lost on the way to lunch before our trip out to Rueil-Malmaison. One of the drawbacks of doing so much walking is that you do need a lot of calories to restore energy and despite all the restaurants and supermarkets it can be hard to just find a burger sometimes. Luckily I eventually did, which helped a lot.

The trip to Rueil-Malmaison via La Défense also required eight total tickets for the two of us, including special ones for the way back into Paris. Probably worth it to see Napoleon's study, harp and billiard's table.

Did he seriously read all these books on a weekend getaway from Paris? Maybe he did. Maybe he just thought they looked cool. I should get a library...

There was a bit of overlap with artworks I'd already seen in the Louvre too. And - in a topic I'll reflect on more in future - while the Château was primarily focused on Bonaparte, historically a lot of other things happened there too including Napoleon III restoring it after the changes between the restoration and 1870. I can say that I sat on Bonaparte's toilet, but really there's a whole 150 years of cheeks between then and now that mean it wasn't a completely immersive experience. And it wasn't his actual toilet obviously, he would have shat in a fancy bucket and I had to make do with the public toilets in the renovated right wing.

When we finally translated the public transport protocols we arrived back in Paris to overcast skies around Trocadéro for our plans for a dinner picnic in a park with the locals. We balanced our view of the Eiffel Tower with finding a bench in the shade that wasn't covered in pigeon crap. We did have a view of the landmark, through the trees, as you could kind of see if I hadn't focused on the raspberries in this photo.

The picnic - baguette with falafel and carrot with vinaigrette, cucumber and raspberries - was extremely pleasant no doubt helped by the rising tower in the background and the can of French Amber Ale.

After dinner we walked over to the Arc de Triomphe and skipped the queue with the Museum Pass to take in the panorama.

I think Arc de Triomphe is my favourite landmark in the whole city so far. The story behind its construction (more Napoleon obviously) and positioning, the sheer amount of detail in the reliefs (after so many in Europe, finally some with guns in them). And the view. It kind of makes everything you've seen feel so close, but all at the same time.

One of the reliefs features a stolen sphinx being carried through... An arc de triomphe! Très meta.

Having borne witness to the scale of the city and the length of the Champs-Élysées, the most obvious course of action would have been to take the metro back to the hotel. Instead we walked. First through the garish, American shops and restaurants on the right bank, then across at Place de la Concorde and back to the hotel from there. A total of 32,300 steps for the day and that barely squeaks in for a podium finish.

How many landmarks can you spy?

Souvenirs of Paris

I love Paris, but I'm yet to land on the right choice for a souvenir to bring home. And it's not for lack of options. First time visitors would be amazed at the opportunistic touts and the scale of locations that they try to sell plastic Eiffel Towers from Wish along with bootleg water, cigarettes and Heineken.

Last week, the day we rushed to Paris thanks to delayed trains, I lost my notebook and my most treasured pen. But I don't want to replace that with a new book with a cover featuring a painting of Napoleon, or some Parisian landmark.

What I want is something that truly captures the vibe that is this city on a summer's evening. From the crazy bustle of the subterranean metro, to the riverside picnics and the cafes filled at 9pm at night, to the calm, flat, off white landscape that is the city when viewed from up high, such as the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

I want to put in my house the feeling of a city that is simultaneously 2500 years of history, and millions of living people. I want to feel in my backyard the vibe of bringing a baguette and a beer to a park or square filled with other people doing the same, under the view of monuments or ruins or gargoyles that are ancient.

In Adelaide there are no human monuments around you that remind you that you are one of a multitude, a meaningless life lucky enough to be surrounded by delicious food, cheap drinks, company and incredible sights. There are geological reminders, sure, but there's something about the works of human hands that resonates with me, and something about such a density and intricacy of works that reinforces that feeling.

So I guess what I need to fit in my suitcase is a gigantic, old building. A Roman bath, a chateau, a triumphal arch, a temple to reason. A marble statue slash fountain with a plethora of spouts and ornately shaped stone butts.

The Jardin du Luxembourg is where we started today, looping around the boundary to see birds, fountains and flowers. We then found a crepe and coffee forumule for breakfast, and began walking towards Les Invalides. This required eating a bagel at a second stop along the way, before arriving right before opening time with the other diehards who wanted to see Napoleon's tomb first thing.

Les Invalides

The life of Napoleon Bonaparte's corpse, I would say, would be more interesting than the average human's actual life. Dead on St Helena, and initially a symbolic enemy of the Restoration, things changed again in Paris and it was recognised that - in all the complexities of life - he was worth being a tourist attraction as this was a few decades before the Eiffel Tower was raised.

So in 1840 they dug him up, released the gases, and transported him 7000km. In Paris he was marched through the Arc de Triomphe (that he commissioned when he was still alive) and put on display for 20 years. He was then laid to rest permanently in Les Invalides in 1861, a former military hospital that Napoleon's wars kept busy many years earlier.

The tombs of Napoleon, his son, and a few other family members, famous generals and marshals can be added to the long list of buildings in Paris that are over the top in their size, decoration and detail. Sculptures, reliefs and gilding define all of them, but Napoleon's tomb is the most momentous. Viewable from the top, and below via a marble staircase lined with statues and carvings, it is an enormous grave. I was joking about people lining up to see it first, but witnessing it without a crowd around was an experience, although I'm not exactly sure of what kind.

Napoleon in a box. It's about five metres tall.

Bumblebee motifs in the corner of a fresco above an arch.

The rest of the exhibitions at Les Invalides were less ornate. The big parade ground is lined with old cannon, and from there we took in the medieval and renaissance armour and weaponry. There were a lot of suits of armour. After that we visited a temporary exhibition about Charles de Gaulle who I actually didn't know much about. He too lived a very eventful life for France, and his existence is probably the reason the aeroport of Paris is not known as Napoleon Bonaparte Airport. (Or maybe it's because Napoleon Bonaparte Airport already exists in Corsica).

Triple gun. Was probably not used in actual battles.

A large movie theatre with five different screens ran through de Gaulle's life in the language of your choosing, and this was enlightening and also a great opportunity to sit down for half an hour.

After that, and at some point a Nespresso coffee at the cafe, we moved onto the Napoleonic Wars. Here there were many artefacts of the soldiers and battles from the Napoleonic era, and the centuries after leading up to the twentieth century. Having read Napoleon's biography a few years earlier, this was an excellent review of things I'd read about. There was also a cool recreation of a battle featuring lots of miniatures and well-timed lights.

Sketch of Napoleon, we are rocking essentially the same haircut today. Coincidentally! I am sure Napoleon was cable of having a haircut in Paris as he speaks French.

We left this part of the museum around 1820. The World Wars exhibit was closed, which was disappointing as well as a reprieve. I'd expected the visit to the museum to last a few hours but it was already past lunchtime and there was one remaining part I really wanted to see - the Museum of Relief Maps. Up on the top floor of the wing was a collection of wood carved, 3D maps of geographical areas of importance from the seventeenth and eighteenth century. They were originally created for planning and strategizing purposes, and created by master surveyors and master carpenters so that the dimensions were exactly right. They are huge, and basically a preview of satellite maps from 200+ years ago.

The floor also featured a wooden model of the Mont-Saint-Michel, which was not made for military purposes, but by a brother of the island at around the same time of the reliefs. This one was very cool.

Random building on the walk back while trying to find lunch.

Post-nap, we went to the Paris Pantheon with hopes of climbing up the top there for an early evening view of the city, but it was closed for an incident that was not disclosed. We then considered briefly going to the opera, but decided to stick with the original plan of another picnic. This time in the Tuileries Garden that we had skimmed past a few times but failed to spend any time in. We grabbed some takeaway and a drink each and then found a spot (a couple of spots in fact) to enjoy the evening ambience. I absolutely love how many freestanding seats that the city of Paris has littered around its big parks. You can cluster them together in groups, or take them away to your own private space.

Plenty of chairs to choose from in Luxembourg Gardens at opening time.

We sat in the Tuileries until close to sunset, then walked slowly back along the river admiring more sculptures and architecture and well-adjusted public drinkers. In Adelaide it was close to eight degrees.

Tuileries duckpond.

In French, souvenir literally translates to a "memory". I will be bringing back many of those.

The History of Paris

As a history enjoyer, a major challenge when planning a 2,000 kilometre trip across Central and Western Europe is deciding exactly which sites and sights are worth visiting. For instance, in the courtyard of a medieval church in Paris (now a public park with a view of Notre Dame) is a large, flat stone which used to be part of the pavings of the Roman road back in the days of Lutetia. When you are sitting in a twenty year old house in Australia that sounds really fascinating. But if you've just come from a walking tour of Palatine Hill in Rome, it's far less impressive.

Even such obscure Parisian landmarks such as the oldest house, with its exposed timber frame, are less meaningful after a visit to a town like Colmar and its cobblestone streets that are lined end to end with buildings from a century earlier.

The fact is, you can cover kilometres and plan meticulously, but you can't travel through time. The Pantheon in Rome might be over 2000 years old, but it's not possible to see it as both a pagan temple, a Catholic sanctuary, and its current, restored form. Which is annoying, because I really want to.

The Latin quarter of Paris in the nineteenth century might have been the epicentre of nightlife, culture and innovation, but nowhere in 2023 will let me experience a night there with the same vibe. And even if they do invent time travel and I become fluent in French, I'll never be able to do something about my Australian accent.

So at some point, immersing yourself in history becomes a choice between chasing the sensations of the past through proximity and crumbling marble, and just reading books on the subject in Adelaide. Or a balance in between.

Europe has plenty more to offer than history and photo opportunities, like cheap supermarket beers, great hikes and baked goods. It should be possible to enjoy it without the pressure of gaining a greater understanding of the Western civilization canon. And there are free walking tours that will cover 75% of what you can possibly memorise through books before travelling while also maintaining a 9-5 IT job.

At the same time, a non-superficial understanding of the history of a city does help with finding the right Airbnb location. In the same way that learning the basics of a language might help you get a new bottle of conditioner from the hotel room service. Travelling can be a conversation between yourself and a location. Knowing what a city has been through can break the ice.

But if you really want to intimately understand somewhere you're probably going to want to stay there a month so that you can justify the years of study you needed to do in order to get the context as it applies to the past three millenia. That's definitely the case for Paris and Rome, but I wouldn't rule out anywhere in Europe for a lack of yore.

But Europe also has an opportunity cost, with cities so diverse from each other only a short train ride apart. So what can you do with your time, really?

After another pleasant visit to Luxembourg Gardens for breakfast, we were then turned away from the Pantheon as whatever incident they were facing entered a second day.

That was sad, but the crypt under Notre Dame was open and not very busy in contrast to the huge crowd of tourists above ground posing for selfies in front of the cathedral and its scaffolding.

This museum was quite small, and I learned about the former Roman baths that were on the site, as well as the apparent former shoreline of the island. It definitely wasn't as good as time travel, but there was a cool computer simulation that helped with visualising things.

Bocce players not featured.

Next step on our quest to maximise the Paris Museum Pass was the Concierge, a former palace slash prison with an interactive iPad tour that described both.

That experience was much better than the Louvre's guide, and you certainly left with a connected feeling to the time of the terror, having spent your moment in the former cell of Marie Antoinette, who spent far more than a moment in it herself.

From there, and after another kebab in another city park, we entered Musée Carnavalet. Once again, this was an institution that was an attraction in its own right. Originally the mansion Hôtel Carnavalet was converted into a museum when Hausman was doing his thing on the streets of Paris. And once they ran out of room the Hôtel Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau next door was annexed to join the fun.

The restaurant in the courtyard of Musée Carnavalet

Musée Carnavalet in Paris is a museum about... Paris. Once again, this sounded amazing in Adelaide. Having consumed a mini-library of Paris content after booking my flights, attending a logical, physical catalogue of so much of what I'd covered was naturally enticing. And I do give this museum five stars in providing a comprehensive history of Paris. The first few rooms contain an archive of physical street and shop signs, for example, and each gives you a glimpse of a moment, a life, a transaction between two Parisians and it's awesome. But then you go downstairs and start the history lesson from the old, bark canoes and stone tools uncovered from prehistoric Parisians and realise you're going to be working your way up to modern day and your feet immediately start screaming. Because Paris is unto itself a museum of Paris and there is only so much content you can absorb in seven days. Also there were way too many exhibits of antique furniture and wallpaper. My advice for Musée Carnavalet is the same as it is for Les Invalides, the Louvre and many other Paris institutions - dedicate an entire day to it. Ideally a day inside a month that you are in Paris but otherwise not going to museums.

However, this model of the Bastille was the perfect size to go in the garden. If only I could find it on eBay.

After the museum we took a break for coffee before riding the metro north to Montmartre. Here we combined further history with even more stairs. Getting out of the metro station by foot was like climbing Giotto's Bell Tower, with a bit less claustrophobia. Then there were more stairs up to Sacré-Coeur, and even more to reach the viewpoint on the dome. It was another good sight though. The inside of the cathedral was also impressive, but I didn't take any photos there. I was sorely tempted to take at least a snap of one of the "No Cameras, No Phones" signs and the many other tourists next to it waving around iPads filming.

Looking out from Montmartre

We then took a walking tour of the Montmartre area for even more history, covering third century Christian martyrs and twentieth century famous artists. There is a lot going on in Paris. And I love it, but it's tiring. Sometimes this week it has felt like it would be better to travel somewhere with histories that no one knows for sure. I don't want to trade Paris for that. But next time, that's probably what we should do. Maybe there I would actually feel like I'm on holiday.

St Denis was killed around ~250 AD for his beliefs.

The St. Denis Gate, a fragment remaining of the medieval city's walls, gives a different view of the martyr. Passing drivers don't seem to register the historical significance of this.

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.