Gallic Saints

After making the notes for yesterday’s post, I went and met up with Kiwi Craig. I really wanted to go to my favourite pasta place in London – I went and had an amazing pumpkin ravioli with walnut sauce before getting my tattoo last year, and keep trying to go back. I say ‘trying’, because whenever I make it there, either that pasta’s run out, or they’re closed. Sadly the latter was again the case on this particular occasion, but being in the mood for pasta, the quest continued.

In the end we had lunch in a trattoria, before I sprang my latest quest/adventure on Craig.  You see, I went to Oz Comic Con this year dressed as Wanda from Where’s Wally/Where’s Waldo, and it was all to a purpose: I wanted the outfit in order to do a real life ‘Where’s Wally’ all around Europe, and this was the start of my mission! Craig was keen to help out, so we went to a couple of the tourist destinations in London, whereupon I’d quickly rip off my coat and he’d take photos before I froze. (It was only around 0, so it wasn’t actually that bad.) The reactions of people going past were pretty hilarious – quite a few people asked if I was Wally, and others would cast their eyes at me then laugh to themselves. It was pretty great! I did of course have a couple of “found you!”s. Imagine if I had the *full* costume on, given that just the hat and top were enough for this!

Craig then went off to meet with one of his other friends, and I went shopping. Because clearly I don’t have enough baggage to take around with me (!?!). I ended up in dire need of a break, and ended up in McDonalds after I failed to find anything reasonable close enough. So I sat down with my icecream (I don’t understand weather) and my phone, and abused the wireless. I must have been having a great hair day yesterday or something, because a *lot*, repeat *lot* of guys were coming up to me. I ended up chatting with a nice guy from Mauritius for quite some time, who as it turned out, had lived in St Petersburg. What are the odds, right?

I then went back to Tom’s (he wasn’t actually staying there that night, somewhat hilariously) and had a good chat with his housemate Kayleigh before hitting the sack.

This morning I ran a few errands – easy enough given Tom’s is 25 minutes from his door to Tottenham Court Road station – then whooshed back to the apartment in order to procure myself another ride with uber ;). The car was supposedly arriving in 15 minutes so I thought I had heaps of time – four minutes later it was there! Fastest I’ve ever packed in my life, I swear.

Getting to and on the Eurostar was fairly easy – apart from my near-swooning at the beautiful French men that I found myself speaking to – and the trip to Paris Gare du Nord was uneventful. It was only when I actually arrived that things got Laura’d.

To continue my journey to Bourg St-Maurice, I now had to change from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon. Oh god. Oh my god. I had one hour and one minute to make it, which is fairly reasonable if you know what you’re doing. I, on the other hand, did not have any *idea* what I was doing!

I disembarked and headed for where I could see an information booth. I asked the guy if he spoke English and he said no, so I broke out some “comment aller au…”. He gave me a subway map, said downstairs, and four-something. Figuring that this would mean the metro, I thought I might need cash for a ticket, so I lined up for a cash machine. That line was just *outrageously* long, but I got some euros, so result.

I next headed downstairs. The escalator was broken so it was thunk-thunk-thunk the whole way down. I found a ticket machine and it let me use English, though I had no freaking idea which ticket I was supposed to choose, so mulled over that for a while. I eventually bought one and tried to figure out where the hell to go next – there were so many different forms of public transport, numbers and colours everywhere, and I had not a clue what was going on. I was walking briskly around, looking for someone who looked like they worked there, and finally found a security guard who told me platform 44 downstairs. Downstairs I went, a little concerned that I was going to have to go upstairs at some point later on (dramatic foreshadowing?).

I found the platform and saw that, sure enough, there was a train in ten minutes. Did I mention it was now 15:18 and my train was leaving de Lyon at 15:48? No? I had no idea how far it was, so was really hoping for the best.

The train got into Gare du Nord at 15:28 and it was a freaking *struggle*. Really – it was a heaving mass of poeple. I was actually pretty appalled at the overcrowding, given it’s a developed country. Wtf, France? Some nice gentleman helped me with one of my bags (happily I’ve had at least one nice gentleman/lady at every single point so far, from Sydney Airport to trains to cabs to the various metros and trains of the world). It was honestly freaking ridiculous though.

One stop down, and then we were drawing into the next station, which was Gare de Lyon – but I couldn’t get off the fucking train!! There were so many people piling on and pushing me over and piling off that I couldn’t make headway. My “s’il vous plait”s and “excusez-moi”s were completely ignored. In the end I went ‘to hell with this’ and just started reversing toward the door, dragging my stuff with me, and to hell with anybody that got in my way.

Phew, so I was at de Lyon – but now where?! I was still in the subway! I chose an arbitrary direction, noting as I did so that it was 15:37. Eleven minutes to make it. Merde. I could see a sign for ‘other lines’, so opted for that and hoped for the best. Then disaster struck (again!). I couldn’t get my freaking baggage through the baggage hatch, and it was jammed halfway in and halfway out of the subway gates! A nice Frenchman in his late 30s saw me sitting there heaving and swearing volubly to myself in Russian (my brain went ‘ooh, other language spoken here’ and started producing Russian rather than French). He came on over and started heaving right along with me, talking at me in French, and me just going “aaaaaagh боже мой, je ne comprends pas!!!”. In the end it just wasn’t going, so he used his pass to go back to the other side so that he was pushing and I was pulling. No dice, so he pulled my bag out and took it through the ordinary gates. He asked if I was Russian – points for knowing what language I was ranting to myself in, right?

I knew that I could now only have 5-6 minutes to make the train, and had no idea where I was going. So I looked at him, looked pathetic, and offered him my train ticket. Yup. I pulled a full ‘maiden in distress’. He looked at my ticket, looked at the time on my ticket, looked at his watch, and his face blanched. He then grabbed my snowboard bag and told me to go with him, and we both started near-running through the station. Holy shit. What an absolute hero!!! We made it up to the platform and to my train with one minute to spare. He handed my bag over to me and all I could do was clutch my heart and say merci. I even got the ‘very much’ part wrong – I need some serious freaking revision.

Seriously though. I think my adrenalin is still going, half an hour later. Happily I don’t have to change trains after this though, as the one I’m on now takes me the whole way through to Bourg St-Maurice, where Wicklund is picking me up from the station before a night out for New Year’s Eve. Man, (head in hand), it has been a *big* year.

Tuesday Night Circus

Outside right now, the sun is setting over the French Alps, and it is absolutely beautiful.  I’m not quite sure if words really capture it: the light is orange, contrasting with the deep blue of shadows.  There are steep slopes all around, covered in coniferous trees which are themselves coated in snow.  The tops of the mountains are jagged, and it’s honestly like each of them has a personality: each mount facing the other in a wordless battle for supremacy.  It’s not bad, is what I’m saying.

I arrived in Bourg St-Maurice at 9pm last night, and Wicklund came to pick me up from the station.  We then went back to his house, where I met Si, Lewis, and Tom, and also Ros, who I apparently previously met at Selva a few years ago.  We later on met up with more people, including another guy I met at Selva val Gardena/Wolkenstein in ’12, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

After a quick pause to re-humanise, we left to make the drive up to Tignes.  I walked outside to the van we were taking up, saw the door to the rear compartment open and full of doonas/duvets, and hopped straight on in.  “Oh, aren’t you getting in the front?” asked the rather confused Wicklund.  “Are you kidding?” I replied—after all, I was now in a donnamobile!  Tom and Lewis also piled into the back, with the other three on the seat in front.  I laid down and was the snuggest person in the world, but after about fifteen minutes of the trip, decided that maybe having a seat and not being car-sick would be a better idea.  Also, it was the first time I’ve ever worn a hat with ears, and I felt like a complete tool, but an incredibly snug one.

Snug in the doona-mobile. Also, proof of the awful hat.
Snug in the doona-mobile. Also, proof of the awful hat.

We got up to the resort a short while before eleven, and headed for the stage.  It was a beautiful night for it—not too cold, with a clear sky, a bright moon, and the stars shining on the snow.  There was a big stage set up with some Cirque du Soleil performers.  Everybody else was really disappointed, actually: the previous year it had been a right mess, with 15,000 people off their faces, DJs, and just an epic party.  Apparently it was a little too out of control for the resort owners though, so they made last night’s event very much family-friendly.  After the circus finished at midnight and the fireworks ended, the whole thing was over.  There were kids in the audience!!  Even infants!!  As Wicklund said, it was cool and everything, but it was more of a Tuesday night thing than a Wednesday night thing (anyone who’s done snow seasons will understand ;)).

Afterward we went to a couple of bars.  I was determined to stick to someone in the party so I didn’t get stranded up the hill (this time?), so went dancing with Ros in Loop Bar (where my friend Sid works, but I totally forgot about that!).  Then it was off to another venue where we completely failed to get in.  Not that it stopped Wicklund from trying for an hour or so.  We also met up with Gaz (from Selva), who I swear to you, sounds exactly like Austin Powers.  Kind of acts like him, too.

W had a bit of a moment with us all standing around: this looks like his last season, and those of us there represented so many of them.  I was from his first season in 2008, then the others covered Selva and now France, so it was 7 years of seasonnaires he’s met.  It was pretty adorable.

Poor Tom by this point was in a right state.  He spent a lot of the final hour or so holding up walls, somehow managing to be seemingly asleep while propped up against them.  As far as him walking goes, I now truly understand the definition of ‘careering’.  I helped him walk to the van, then Si drove us all back down to Bourg, he and Lewis giving a bit of a tour on the way down.

Arriving back at the house, Wicklund and Tom were verrrrry sick so went off to bed, while Lewis ate lentils and I made a 4am salad.  Nom!  Then it was off to my little bed under the eaves, and a thoroughly-deserved sleep.

Today has been an organise-y day, as I’ve been writing (obviously), booking my train to and my hostel in Brussels.  I’m heading there on the 7th—and in the interim, five days of riding 😀  Kindly cross your fingers that I don’t injure myself.  🙂

Les Arcs

Yesterday was one of the best days’ snowboarding of my life!  In fact, it gets right up there into the ‘best days’ categories, full stop.

After a thoroughly reasonable amount of sleep and some vegemite (naturally), Wicklund drove Ros and I to the funiculaire, which we took up to Les Arcs, Paridiski.  I was a bit nervous to be honest—I hadn’t been properly riding since Italy in 2012!  The one half-day I spent messing about at Perisher Australia doesn’t really count.  Also I broke my arm, so boo.  I wasn’t sure if my body would still remember what to do, or if I’d end up breaking yet more bones/gaining yet more injuries again.

Happily, Ros was also happy to have a very chilled day.  She didn’t even mind my being a pain-in-the-ass snowboarder, having to strap my bindings on at the top of every slope (she’s a skiier).  So we spent the day cruising around, mainly on the beginner runs but having a lovely time.  And lo and behold, while I’m rusty, I can still ride!  Result.  Haha though I didn’t really feel like pushing myself and taking on the steeper slopes.  Maybe today, when I’m off to La Plagne.

After a solid five or so hours’ riding/skiing, it was starting to get dark and visibility was quickly dropping.  We decided to head for Arc 1800, which just so happened to have a pool and spa.  Wicklund had mentioned it while we were on our way to the funiculaire, and happily we went back to the house to grab bikinis.  I must say, the final ride down to 1800 was deadly: I was having to stop around every 400 metres to rest my legs and sit facing uphill for a bit.  So much burn!

Nevertheless, we got there and had a snack (yes to brownies!) before trooping on over to Mille 8, the aquatic centre.  Haha we made quite a few fails tbh: it was only once through the gates that we could purchase towels from the vending machine, and we didn’t have enough coins.  We ended up combining our funds, managing to buy a towel the size of a man’s handkerchief to share.  We then didn’t have enough coins for lockers, so just hoped nobody would steal our stuff!

The pool itself was lovely, with many trips to the saunas and hammams, followed by swims and walks around the pool, and of course a significant amount of time getting massaged by the jets.  Very talented jets, I must say: they managed to undo my bikini top (quick save!).  Haha there was one guy sitting opposite one set of jets, looking creepy as hell and just waiting for our tops to fall off.  There were also people outside in the snow taking photos of us inside, which was super weird.  It was still lovely though, and we went on a little water slide!  Hahaha and one of the French lifeguards absolutely threw himself at me, which was hysterical.

After a couple of hours it was time to go, and we caught the bus and funiculaire back down, at which point Wicklund picked us up and took us home again.  Legend, right?  And not only that, but he cooked us all an epic dinner (again), while I pretty much showered then wrapped myself in a doona.  It was honestly such an amazing day: and now, time to ride 😉


After my brilliant first day’s riding, things went down-hill—and not in the awesome way!  Waking up after the previous day’s efforts, I was exhausted and hurt all over.  Nevertheless, I was determined to make myself go riding.  Lewis drove me up to La Plagne, and I hopped on the lift.  La Plagne was significantly icier and grosser than Les Arcs had been, and I really was too exhausted to be taking on something which requires balance (actually, my abs are still sore from riding on the 2nd—and it’s the freaking 10th as I’m writing this!).  I caught my heel edge and fell about ten minutes in, literally on my first slope of the day, and smacked my head hard.  Lots of skiiers stopped to ask “ça va”, but after taking a minute to hold onto consciousness, I waved them onward.

I now had The Fear, the blight of snowboarders everywhere!  And it was awful.  It makes you ride so badly, making you fall over and hurt yourself more—it becomes self-perpetuating.  I had a hot chocolate and an éclair and checked that my pupils were the same size in the mirror (I’ve had a lot of head injuries), and really just wanted to go home.  But how the hell was I to get there?  The only feasible way was to traverse across to Les Arcs and catch the funiculaire (train thing) down from there, so feeling thoroughly miserable, I started it.  It was not a good time, I was pretty dizzy/shaky and scared.  Sigh.  If I’d just accepted that my body has limitations that even stubbornness can’t countervail, I wouldn’t have been in this situation!

In the end I got to Les Arcs—at least to one side of it—and asked a lifty where the free shuttle bus left from.  No dice: they didn’t run in the middle of the day!  Feeling just awful, I trundled through the town (Peisey-Vallandry) until I aspied an information office.  Surely they’d know a way down?  But alas, still nothing until at least 4pm or so: hours in the future.  I could, not, even.  I sat down glumly, looking at a map to try and figure if I could get somewhere easier.  Then I went ‘screw this’, and with a spirit of determination, went back up to the info guy.

“Is it illegal to hitch-hike in France?” I asked, to his expression of surprise.

“Illegal?  Why would it be illegal?  Actually it is very good here.”

Clearly it was hitching time, and ten minutes later I managed to get a ride with an English chap, the whole way back to Wicklund’s house.

The next morning I woke up feeling thoroughly ill, and having to clutch onto the sides of my bed, even lying down.  Dizziness level = extreme.  Hmmm, maybe I gave myself more of a head injury than I thought??  In the end I had to spend the day horizontal, so I used it to look for accommodation in Brussels.

The next day was more of the same, with me feeling better but still wobbly.  The guys went riding, but I decided that wouldn’t be a very sensible choice, so I went for a few hours’ wander through the town and spent the rest of the time horizontal again.  Woot!  Knows how to holiday?  /sarcasm.  That night I finally cooked dinner: the boys had been feeding me the entire time.  What legends, right?  Put me up, drive me around, give me food—they even made me a vegetarian option every night specially.  LEGENDS!!!

The next day would be my final opportunity to go riding before heading off to Brussels, and I was determined to do so.  It’s a rule I have: if I seriously injure myself on a trip, then I have to go riding again before I leave, so that that wasn’t the last thing that happened.  So I hitched up to Tignes for a half-day ticket (still too woozy for a full day, not to mention still aching—still!), and I hired a helmet.  Eugh.  To be honest, it was a mountain of ice, and it was *not* a good time as far as snowboarding goes.  Between my exhaustion, wooziness, and trepidation, I was riding like a punter’s girlfriend.  It was shit.  Seriously, the return from the top of the hill was red run only (Europe: green, blue, red, black—so this was only an intermediate run.  Dammit, I used to warm up on the blacks!), and I was miserable the entire time.  I took it slowly, but I was seriously doubting I’d make it.  If there had been another way down, I probably would have taken it.  Instead, I rode however many kilometres down and just resented it.  And railed internally over why I did this sport.  Eugh.  But I made it, which I guess is the point.

After ‘riding’, I went to Loop Bar to visit Sid.  Sid is a guy I met when I was living in a hostel in Northern Beaches Sydney for a couple of months.  I overheard the following conversation between him and a girl:

Her: “Where are you from?”

Sid: “Ireland.”

Her: “Oh really?  I’ve got a little Irish in me.”

Sid: “Would you like a little more?”

While she was horrified, I started laughing and went over to speak with him.  We could be friends haha!  In the end it turned out he was going to be in Tassie when I was there, so I gave him my number and said I’d show him around.  I ended up spending a day with him, his brother and their friend: I picked them up in Devonport then took them hiking at Cradle Mountain, and fed them a chocolate cake I baked.  It was pretty fun!

Anyway due to the chocolate cake, the friend wanted a recipe so had my email address.  I can’t remember why, but he popped into my head a couple of years ago, so I asked him for Sid and his bro’s facebooks, and I’ve been in touch with them again since.  So yes!  We caught up.

Of course, by now it was getting dark and there was no way back to Bourg St-Maurice.  I caught a shuttle as far as I could down, then tried to hitch.  No dice, and there really wasn’t anywhere good for cars to stop.  So still in all of my gear I tramped across an epic big dam, about as far as I could safely go (there weren’t footpaths).  I then spent another ~half hour standing in a pile of snow, my thumb out, and now pitch black.  One guy stopped, but he was going the wrong way.  I wasn’t quite sure if it was going to work, but had the feeling everything was going to be okay.  Finally, I picked up my phone and started texting Wicklund to see if he’d drive up and pick me up (around half an hour each way), when a big-ass truck pulled out of a nearby yard and started toward me.  Tell you what, I’m pretty sure my smile when they stopped lit up the night: I was pretty happy!  The guy, like my lift earlier that day, only spoke French.  So I told him I was happy and that I loved him.  Haha.  Face-palm.

That was pretty much it, really: that night it was just Wicklund and I, as Lewis, Tom and Tom’s bro were up at Les Arcs that evening.  So we chilled and ate, and then a solid night’s sleep before the next day, when I would head to my new home country.

Overwhelmed: De Panne to Dunkerque

In November last year, and following my 500km Spanish hike, it occurred to me that I should now walk the entire way around Europe. With a long weekend coming up, I decided I’d knock off the Belgian coastline, from Knokke-Heist to De Panne, in a couple of days—and in this year’s xmas downtime period, the French coastline was looking more and more tempting.

Christmas itself was spent re-visiting Copenhagen, and I flew back to Brussels on the 26th.  At that point I had two choices: watch Netflix and procrastinate against schoolwork for the week, or get walking.  I asked myself what a version of myself that I actually had some degree of respect for would do—and thus I found myself up at 4am on the 27th, scrambling to pack on time to catch the first train at 5:13am.  Which, incidentally, I missed: but I did make it to Gare du Nord in time to catch the first service to De Panne.

After a quick stopover in Ghent, I switched trains, and came to in De Panne when a passing stranger shook me awake.  It was cold, it was dark, and it was rainy: an altogether ignominious start to the day.

Just as I made the very plain French border, first light made its appearance, and things started to look up.  In a continuation of the landscape in West Flanders, there were dune reserves galore, and so my trail saw me walking on sand for a significant period of time before I finally saw the ocean itself in Bray-Dunes.  It was, as always, overwhelming: the ocean is my favourite thing in this world.

At Zuydcoote Beach, I stopped for an extremely confusing coffee.  I asked the woman what a “latte caldo” was, and ended up with…honey-flavoured warm milk?  A quick order of an espresso later, I had an actual coffee.  Coffee is life, dammit.

There were plentiful signs everywhere explaining the history of the area: this particular region used to be a launching-off point for fishing trips to Iceland, and there were markers of friendship to be found.  The villages and resorts in the coastal region were largely destroyed via war and occupation in the 20th century, and started to be rebuilt from 1954 onwards.  The closer I got to Dunkirk/Dunkerque, the more graphic the signs became, posing cheery wonderings such as, “We can only imagine how many dead remain buried and undiscovered”.  Being the somewhat imaginative person I am, this led to some fairly eesh-worthy images: wondering how many dead people I was walking over as I trekked across the dunes, or how much blood had been spilled in any given spot.  Horrendous.

This only got worse as I started walking the beach at Dunkirk, where old bunkers truly started to make themselves known, and shipwrecks were strewn like carcasses themselves up and down the beach.  Underfoot was some kind of hollow, crunchy seaweed, which both looked and sounded like walking on bones.  It was all a little much, though the juxtaposition with the dark-limned ocean was sublime.

Luckily, Dunkerque fed me cheesy fries, and thing started to look up.

By this time I was some 25km in, and starting to feel it: in the preceding ~4 months, I’d done just one walk, and that was 15km at most.  My hip flexors were starting to complain about all the sand walking, and I was definitely starting to get a bit tired.  But again, cheesy fries were there to save the day—and I had a long way still to go before my accommodation for the night.

Because it wouldn’t be me if there weren’t a train-tracks photo.

Things started to get a bit more fucked at this point.  Part of the reason I’d set out from Brussels so early was the 90% chance of rain and heavy winds, and I was hoping to get the bulk of the day’s hike in before that hit.

I was not so successful.

The rain started to properly settle as I ate my fries (which were cheesy), and when I went outside, it was already windy enough that I was blown sideways.  Thus began several hours of walking into an extreme headwind, which saw me doing involuntary grapevines and drunkenly staggering up the street.  The rain was cutting, and I was pretty glad to have brought one of my snowboarding bandannas with me to protect my face.

That highway, though.  It was not designed for pedestrians.  Or cyclists.  And while I’m down with road walking, this was actually quite dangerous.  There was a path which kept swapping sides, then disappearing, then running into a goddamn hedge.  A hedge.  Whenever the path swapped sides, as there was no shoulder to the road, I’d then have to cross the six lanes to get to the other side.  #SafetyFirst.  Also, there were windfarms everywhere, with the mills going crazy—possibly a reflection of how extreme the winds in the region are.

It was starting to get dark, and I was tired, and grumpy, and driving myself on with a combination of some very angry punk and a near-constant refrain of “fuck you!” to everything that wasn’t working out for me.  It was something along the lines “Fuck you, foot!  Fuck you, weather!  Fuck you, horizontal rain!”—because naturally, all these things were doing all this to me on purpose, and my current state was in no way the fault of me or my poor decision-making skills and/or stubbornness (read: stupidity).  It reached a peak when a hedge-leading path took me into a field, from which I could see the other side of a river, and no apparent way to cross it.  Did I throw a tanty?  Yes, yes I did.  Did I have a little yell?  My word, yes.

With no other help for it, I looked at the busy overpass, climbed up a wall of fucking mud, and started to cross with the traffic.  I certainly wasn’t going another 10km out of my way to cross this river on a pedestrian bridge.

It was stupendously windy, and I was clinging to the guard-rail on the downwind side of the overpass.  At one point, a large truck went past, and the draft created saw me starting to fall over the barrier for the river below.  I’m pretty glad to have been holding on—but all I could think, in my somewhat adrenalin-fuelled state, was that “If I fall off this bridge, I am going to be so pissed (and dead)”.

Soon after crossing, an actual cycling path began, and things became a lot easier.  Granted, things were starting to get quite painful, and I was making the odd sound that would have been more at home at a sumo wrestling match than coming from the delicate flower I obviously am.  I was hitting another wave of energy, though, and so put on some Aussie hip-hop and started dancing my way down the highway: because if I’m going to do this thing, I may as well do it with swag, right?  (Right??)

I was only 300 metres from the hotel when my calves started unforgivably cramping, which was a bit of a joke.  I made it, though, walking into the lobby, seeing the clerk, and immediately announcing “I’m sorry I look so terrible!!!”.  Because I did.  I was haggard, wind-blown, soggy, and—as I later saw—had the beginnings of weird blood/bruise patches all over my legs and feet in particular.  I didn’t show that to the clerk, though.  I mean…. no.

Happily, despite it being the budgetiest accommodation I could find for the night, my room turned out to have a bath.  I poured it and jumped in, only to start uncontrollably saying “oh my god” for a good five minutes straight.  A solid room-dance, dinner, and some stretching later, it was time for bed: because the next day, I’d be heading to Calais.


De Panne to Loon-Plage via Dunkerque: 38.09km.