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Food, family, festivities and over to the Continent!

Nov 1st - 27th

semi-overcast 7 °C
View Big Trip 2009 on saresNcam's travel map.

November 2nd - 7th : Egham
This week was a relatively quiet one. I was sick with a cold and was semi-human. It was a big organisation week, the most important part being: Selling Vandal! It was sad to say goodbye to our home on wheels, but a relief to have that off our minds. We sold it for only 20pounds less than we paid for it and within 2 days of placing an ad. It didn't go to fellow travellers (not surprisingly, there are few people looking at living in a commercial van mid-winter in the UK), but to a nice Nigerian man who is selling electronics there. Questionable, but.....sold.
We spent a couple of days out and about, in Staines and around, getting Nanny a VCR and nipping to the farm shop; but most days were administrative ones; catching up on emails, sending cards, playing Scrabble with Nanny, checking out shipping to Aus, getting photos developed, relaxing, coughing and sniffling and generally getting ourselves set to head across to France in a couple of weeks.

November 8th - 15th : Egham
Sunday we went to Michael and Sheilagh's to help them out in the garden, clearing it of plants in preparation for a new fence. In return Sheilagh made an amazing lunch and we had a nice afternoon with them. We had planned to go into Sam's place that night, but I was still full of cold and coughing so unfortunately I had to give it a miss. Cam caught the train in and spent the night with him and I had a hot bath and spent the evening with Nanny.
Monday I was feeling pretty flat. Still had a cold and a barking cough and getting pretty tired of it. I spent the day starting work on a present for Christopher, and looking through old family videos and photos with Nanny. Watched some from when she was a little girl (put onto video from old reels) they were amazing! We also watched Mum and Dad's wedding, it was really strange to see them only a few years older than me, I could certainly see some resemblances! Cam came back from a day guitar shopping in London and in the evening I made Mexican for dinner.
Tuesday was calling shipping companies and then deciding on one to book and arrange collection. Then to the library for the internet to book our transport to Paris, and arranging to spend some time with Gracie and Norm.
Wednesday we had another day out in Ol' London Town. We wandered around the Tate Modern for quite a while (this was partly ruined by a phone call from the shipping company who had made a mistake with the quote as the address is outside the M25....grr...) But most of the exhibitions were good. I was particularly impressed by an installation by Miroslaw Balka, basically a massive(!) shipping container which is pitch black inside. You bump into people and each other and loose your sense of location. Eventually your eyes adjust and you can sit at the end and watch people clumsily doing the same thing. It was really good, he wanted to explore the irrational fear of what we cannot see and why we feel fearful of the dark. I like art which has a tangible sensory affect.
We then went to the Tower of London and spent some time there and at London Bridge before going to the National Theatre to see the 'Yazz Ahmed Trio' play some Jazz. After that we headed in the direction of a pub for a curry and a pint for dinner. We went to a nice liitle place called the Angel which is independent and cheap. Spent a while there chatting away before getting the tube to Sam's place, where we spent the night talking, drinking beer and playing music. We then all squeezed into bed for a squishy, though relatively comfortable sleep!
Thursday we said sad 'see you someday's' to Sam and hopped on the trains/bus to Staines. While there we got a few gifts and then got on the bus to Egham. Our boxes to be sent to Aus arrived not long after, and we spent the afternoon packing our stuff into them before climbing up into the loft and sorting through Dad's stuff (from the 50's onwards....!) to be sent too. We packed them up and had dinner before getting catch up sleep.
Friday Gracie and Norm came over for a big birthday feast a'la Sarah! I had made a special menu and we had a lovely afternoon eating, drinking wine and watching slideshows of some of our happy snaps from life on the road in Vandal. We said sad farewells (I hate all these goodbyes!). Our boxes were collected to be sent to the shipping company and our pile of goods are now looking as though they will fit into our bags!
Saturday we had another lovely foody day. We went to Mike and Sheilagh's and had a big feast! Gave them a couple of thank you presents, drank wine, chatted lots and then said sad farewells – until next time! We drove back to Egham feeling strange with the knowledge we're leaving (it's been 3 months in the UK!).
Sunday we started off by helping Nanny to clear the back garden of the mountains of leaves dropped by her next door neighbours' tree! We then packed our bags ready to leave tomorrow, did the last of our washing and bought some Indian for a thank you 'last supper' before we are off from Egham. We gave Nanny a photo montage to say thanks and then I spent a few more hours working on Chris' present.

November 16th : PARIS (France)
Today we were all up early (4am!) and getting ready to go to the station. Nanny kindly drove us to Hounslow and it was with a heavy heart that we said goodbye to get on the 5:40 train to Victoria Station. After arriving at the station we checked in, got some coffee and sandwiches and then boarded the bus. I slept for most of the (grey + rainy) drive to the Euro Star. It was a strange experience being on the bus, which drove into a train, which went into a tunnel, which goes under the sea. I was surprisingly not claustrophobic, and the whole thing was over in about 20mins. On the other side of the sea we were suddenly surrounded by cars on the wrong side of the road and the sounds of French! We got off the bus and hopped on the Metro to take us to the hostel. Once there we checked in and went straight out to by some obligatory brie and baguettes. We had a Kronenburg at the hostel bar and then hopped on the metro out of town to a theatre to see a band called 'The Gossip'. We strolled up, and Cam asked (in perfect Francaise, of course) for 2 tickets, but to our disappointment, it was sold out!! Disappointed, we hopped back on the metro and back to the hostel where we chatted with some Canadians before going to bed.

November 17th : Paris
We were eager to get out and about today. So, we had an early rise, hot showers and set off for a big walking day! We caught the metro to Jardin des plantes, where we walked around the Darwin Centre and grounds then poked our heads in the zoo. This zoo was famously raided for it's inhabitants during the great famine of 1871....the Parisians were desperate!! After that we made our way to the closest Bureau de Change to swap some of the cash we have from selling Vandal. Without passports on us, Cameron used his parlais skills to get us some moolah and then we were on our way to Ile-de-France to see Notre Dame. We spent quite a bit of time in here last time, so we wandered around outside, visited Fontane ST Michel and walked through the lovely lanes of the Latin Quarter, absorbing the sounds of buskers. We made our way on foot towards the hulking Pantheon where we sat for a while before awkwardly making our exit to save interrogation from a clipboard welding maniac in the square. Our next stop was the pretty Jardin du Luxembourg, where we walked for a while before realising that it was getting late and we were both starving! We stopped at a supermarket near the hostel and got a huge dinner of cheese, bread, wine, cous cous, fruits, nuts and yoghurt. Yum! After dinner we got chatting to a nice American maths student whose passion for numbers bordered on the insane. Not even he could convince me that algorithms were sexy.....or interesting in any way. We drank wine, solved the problems of the world, and translated a drunk fellow 'Orrstrayan, mate!' for him before we were invaded by the army of drunk Irishmen in town for the football qualifying finals. Thanks to them, we have nowhere to stay tomorrow. We have checked and sent some messages for Couchsurfing to no avail, we'll have to see what we can find tomorrow. Until then...the night rolled on. As the terrible DJ started playing crappy reggae we made our exit to bed.

November 18th : Paris
The €1.50 plastic 2L bottle of wine wasn't sitting too well in our tummies this morning, but we begrudgingly crawled out of bed and tried to find somewhere to sleep tonight. The football has meant all of the budget places are full, however we managed to find a place out of the city centre. It is a bit dearer, but it is all we can get, so we'll see. We stowed our gear in the luggage room and went to the cafe next door to get a coffee and try to decide what we are doing in Europe and where we should go. Yes, we waited until we got here to decide. We (not surprisingly) came to no conclusions, so instead caught the metro to the Centre George Pompidou and spent a few hours walking around there looking at contemporary art. Now that we have our EU passports, we get free entry into loads of museums/galleries/monuments, (thanks Mr Sarkozy!) and are making the most of it while we're here. After a long time there, we caught the metro to the Latin quarter where we had a delicious falafel meal and then ent back to the hostel to get our backpacks. We walked to the metro and got a few trains (full of football fans) to the new hostel. Being a French hostel, it was full of French tourists and locals in need of accomodation. It was a bit dingy, but had a great relaxed vibe to it, and we definitely felt more like we were in Frace than being in a big international hostel full of English speakers. Plus, we can see the Eiffel Tower from our window :)
We cooked dinner in the kitchen (another plus), chatted with some of the staff who had found work here (they're from the UK) and then opted for an early night. The streets outside were booming with noise from Algerian and Egyptian football fans as the match came to a close...and I drifted into a blissful sleep in sweet 'Paree'.

November 19th : Paris
Another positive about the hostel is the amazing big free breakfast. We had lots of hot chocolate, pureed apples, bread, cheese, cereal, juice, coffee and tea before having hot showers and feeling ready to conquer the world. We hopped on the metro to Les Invalides and then had a nice long walk along the Seine in the direction of St Michele. On the way we bought some cheap art deco prints from a friendly Parisian (they do exist!). We met a free walking tour at Fontane St Michele and spent 4.5 hours walking around the city with Chris, our bubbly Australian guide. We went to quite a few places we've already seen, but lots tha we haven't. We learnt lots of stories of the history of Paris and good places to visit. Mid way through the tour we grabbed a quiche and a coffee and then continued on. We gave her a tip as thanks and then made our way back slowly to the hostel to mke dinner. We hung out with Colin, the in-house Glaswegian, before getting a fairly early night.

November 20th : Paris
Up early this morning, we had a big breakfast and hot showers and then I decided to knuckle down for 5 hours and finish off Christopher's 21st birthday present. I have to get it sent so it gets there on time, so I spread my stuff out in the common room and went for it. Once finished, in the afternoon we went for a walk to get some ingredients to cook a mushroom risotto. We shared it and some wine with a nice girl from Malaysia (got to practise some of our Bahasa Malaysia, for the first time in a long time!). The evening we caugh the metro to Montmartre and spent a long time walking around there, through the pretty hilly streets full of restaurants and the spashy, colourful red light district. Got a late train home to bed.

November 21st : Paris
This morning we went to the post office to change the rest of our pounds before getting the metro to the Musee de Orsay. We spent a long time there, I particularly enjoyed the Art Nouveau special exhibition and got a few postcards. The psychadelifonts where great! After a while there we went to the supermarket for some picnic igredients and headed to the Touilleres Jardins by the Louvre for a park bench picnic, followed by a hot chocolate (the weather is starting to get chilly now!). We then took a nice stroll through the sparkley Christmas markets, shared a warming Gluhwein before making our way down to the Champs Elysees, where we window shopped (decided that the €37,500 ring was a bit pricey) and smirked at the fickle ridiculousness of it all. At the end of the Champs Elysees is of course the grand Arche de Triomphe and, with our EU passports, we happily took our free entry to climb to the top and see a magnificent panorama of the city at night. Surprisingly during that time, we did not see any accidents, though we definitely saw some near misses. We spent a while up there before climbing down and walking back down the other side of the Champs Elysees, hopping on the metro and making our way back to the hostel.

November 22nd : Paris
This morning we had breakfast after which I finished writing something for Christopher and Cam wrote some music. We then went for a short walk to the little cafe on the corner. IT was lovely in there, full of old swarthy Frenchmen, smoking and laughing. The friendly barman made us cafe crème while I played with the resident dog. We felt very French indeed. We pulled out our books and notes and decided on a bit of a route plan for Europe, and then commenced looking for jobs. This has proven to be a challenge. A combination of the season and the economic climate, the jobs going for backpackers are few and far between. Most people we've met had got their jobs through agencies before leaving home, so we may have a hard task. For now we will keep our ears and eyes open, but are not terribly desperate for a job. In the afternoon we caught the metro to the Eiffel Tower where we filmed a video (after numerous failed attempts in the rain!) and then got some wine and dinner ingreds.
Upon our return to the hostel we met Matthieu and Katya, 2 locals who are strapped for houses for whatever reasons, so are staying at the hostel. We had a great night with them, eating chocolate, learning how to do that with wine (the French way apparently) and generally running amok.

November 23rd : Paris
Feeling as though we had exactly the sort of night we had last night, we got to breakfast just in time and savoured the coffee with glee. We showered and packed our bags as we needed to move rooms today. We had originally planned to leave today and head North to Lille, but as we were distracted with shenanigans last night and didn't book anything, we are staying on here another night! This morning we got in touch with Nico and Po, who we met in Thailand, to let them know we are coming to Lille to see if they want to catch up. We ooked our train and checked accommodation. We then spent the afternoon with Katya, Matthieu and Barack. We had a feast of cheeses and bread, fruits and beer and listened to Edith Piaf, how very French! In the evening they set off and we did a load of washing before having an early night.

November 24th : Paris -> Lille
Up early this morn we got an email from Pauline to say that they'd be happy to host us in Lille so we scrapped the hostel search and happilly made our way to the train station. We got on board the Lille train, stowed our bags whilst trying not to knock out any posh looking business executives (ah, memories) and got comfy for our first Euro train ride. We arrived in Lille only an hour later, and headed to the ssupermarket for some picnic ingredients. We dumped ouur stuff in a park and had a nice picnic, despite the cold weather. We were also lucky enough to get a phone call from Jess and had a great time talking to him for a while. After that we went to get a coffee and then to meet Nico at their house. We got them some wine and chocolates on the way. We found their apartment and Nico made us some tea. It is a lovely little place in the heart of town. After a while catching up and tea drinking, he took us for a walk around Lille. It is a beautiful city, lovely Flemish architecture, with a feeling similar to Melbourne; with lots of little music venues and arty cafes, it's great. He showed us around the old part of town and all the main sites and buildings. We stopped in at his favourite Belgian beer shop and bought some recommended bottles and then headed back to the flat. Pauline soon came in from work followed by their friend Louise and we had a lovely evening chatting over wine and beer (and cheese, of course :)) before we whipped up a quick thank you curry. We chatted away until late and then we snuggled up on the futon. Lovely night!

November 25th : Lille -> Roubaix -> Lille
We woke fairly early today, changed and then headed out to catch the tram to Roubaix, the next big town. I wanted to see The Piscine, a art gallery in which the art is displayed around an old 1930's swimming pool. We got to Roubaix and walked around for a while. Went to the main square and got a coffee before going to the Piscine. The gallery was great, all the art was displayed in the old change rooms around the pool, it was really cool! Roubaix is a famous old textile town so the special exhibition was of Russian wallpapers, and they were really nice. After a couple of hours there we went to get some picnic ingredients and had a nice eat in the park. After that we caught the train back to Lille where we walked around for a while and took in more of the beautiful town. We went to the park, to the Palais de Beaux Arts and to the Art School. We grabbed some 'Biere de Noel' (Christmas Beer) and went back to the apartment to meet Nico and Po. After chatting for a bit and sharing our day's stories, we hopped in the car to go out to dinner.....in Belgium! Po drove us to the lovely city of Ypres, famous for the Flanders War Field. We walked around the town square taking in the glorious buildings, visited the big memorial arch (lots of Australian names) and the fortifications and canal around the town. After that we hopped back in the car and drove to a pub in a nearby town run by a friendly Frenchmen, where we had Croques, Frittes and beer. Lots of beer. 2 of their friends came and we had a nice night chatting away (Cam's French keeps getting better and better!). Po had to work early (5:30am!) so we set off back to France before it got too too late. Once back, we had a few more Biere de Noel, played some music and hung out until sleep overtook us.....

November 26th : Lille -> Bruges
Feeling a little worse for wear this morning, we woke up as Po came back from work (9:30am) with a bag full of breakfast goodies. We got our bags packed and then all sat down for a lovely big French breakfast of croissants, pain chocolat, baguettes, jam, nutella, tea, juice and coffee...glorious! Po had to go to her other job so we sad fond farewells and thanks for their tremendous generosity towards 2 smelly Australians. Nico took us to see the local market and we spent a little bit of time wandering through there, taking in all the smells and sounds, it was really nice. We then hopped on the metro, said our goodbyes and see you soons to Nico and made our way to the main station to find a way to Bruges. We took a train to Roubaix, a bus to Mouscrons, a train to somewhere else and then another train from there to Bruges. It was a little convoluted but in the end only cost us about €10 each, which is much cheaper than the intercity direct fast trains. When in Bruges, we made our way through the miserable rainy weather to a bus which took us to the hostel we were staying. 'The Art Hostel' is a lovely cheap place just outside the city centre. After we checked in and dumped our bags, we were starving, so we cooked some spaghetti we had in our bag and relaxed for a bit. We spent a long time in the dining room chatting with 3 Finnish students who were really nice. We got some tips on things to see in Finland and shared their apple cake. We were both quite knackered from last night, so after a while knattering we slid into bed, having not seen much of Bruges at all yet!

November 27th : Bruges
8 Months on the road!
We got out and walking early today, intending to see as much as Bruges as possible. It was not hard to do! Being a little place, it is easy to walk around. Although the rainy cold weather made this decidedly un-pleasurable some of the time! We walked through lots of the lovely cobbled streets next to murky canals and over bridges to little cafes and waffle shops. Whilst Bruges is lovely, it is incredibly touristy. Incredibly. Due to that it has lost lots of it's medieval charm, and has replaced it with lots of lacy, waffly, frittery kitsch..! We found a nice place with no English on the menu and went inside. Got cheap coffee, soup and bread and it was peaceful and warm inside. After that we explored the sights; the market square and brug square and the belfry tower before trundling to the only brewery left within the city walls for a tour. The guide took us through the brewery and the museum, right to the top of the building, were we had a nice view over the town. After that we had a complimentary beer and stayed there chatting by the roaring fire for a while, until our bellies had us on a path to the supermarket. We got some ingredients for an awesome dinner ad went home to prepare it, as well as make plans for leaving tomorrow.
Dinner was an easy task, leaving tomorrow, however, was not! We couldn't find any hostels in Ghent available, and we hadn't received any Couchsurfing availability responses! We had dinner, some local beer and chocolate, listened to music in the dining room and mulled over our options. We decided to wait to the morning to see if there had been any cancellations here (Bruges seems to be full too, so we can't stay, but don't know where to go to....). Warm and full of food, we made our way to bed.

November 28th : Bruges
Unfortunately this morning we found the hostel was totally full, the same situation in Ghent and no couch surfing replies. SO we began a furious search for beds and found the last 2 in the city!! We rushed to get to the hostel to secure the beds and were pleased to see it was a nice friendly place, and right in the centre of Bruges. Well, we were pleased, until we got to the centre and found it to be full of tourists. And I mean FULL!! Yesterday the place seemed quite touristy, today it seemed like a theme park or a movie set, which is designed purely for people to come in and look around, taking time to purchase souvenires. It was weird, crowded and frustrating. I don't think we've turned into travelling snobs, and I am aware that we are just tourists too, but this place really has been an eye opener. The film 'In Bruges' had the famous line: “If I grew up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me. But I didn't, so it doesn't”. It is a lovely looking place, complete with canals and cobblestones, but the tourist driving horse and carts and the kant lace shops just leave a nausea one can't quite describe.
Anyway, we made our way out of the bustling centre and walked through some parks before stopping to get some takeaway pasta and then heading back to put our stuff in the room. It was bucketing down outside and I wasn't too keen to get out into the ratrace so I opted on getting upto date with THIS! Which, despite taking hours, has now finally been done! So, tonight the schedule is to go and have a nice Belgian beer or 2, get some food and a waffle (when in Rome...) and maybe see some music...if we can plow through the other tourists, that is... :D

Posted by saresNcam 10:34 Archived in France Tagged backpacking

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