July in Sydney means the dead of winter. It also happens to be the time when the French Food Festival is held in the city to celebrate French National Day ( known as Bastille Day in Australia ) and a lot of restaurants feature a French specialty dish for a month. Anne and I attended the festival one weekend and I dragged Mr T along to a large hotel’s buffet that advertised France’s most famous dishes. We were disappointed in both occasions. The Festival was crowded and pricey ( $5 for one canele, yes, one!!) while the buffet’s offering was quite limited and of some dubious quality.
So I decided to create my own French Food Festival at home last weekend and invited the family over. As usual, we had to have a theme, and I could not think of anything more fitting that French Alps cuisine, loosely inspired by apres-ski sessions during our past skiing holidays. I decked out the house in rustic “chalet” mode with vintage table clothes, plaided throws, sheep skin cushions, pine cones and board games for the kids. A patio heater substituted for an open fire while a few snowflakes window stickers hinted at the elusive snow. The mountains and the view over the Mont Blanc may have been missing, but the cold of a Sydney winter could certainly be felt. Ugg boots and shawls were handed around, along with welcome drinks!
I am standing in line at the reservation centre in Duisburg Central Railway Station, Germany. What is supposed to be a simple change of train with plenty of time for breakfast is turning into an exercise in frustration.
It all started earlier in the morning, shortly after boarding our Munich bound train in Amsterdam. Our tickets were checked and I was told that our Eurail passes were no good as I neglected to validate them before using them. I sheepishly admitted my mistake asking the attendant to validate them on the spot for me ( the passes were all paid for after all ) and was told in a very stern voice that it would cost 50 euros per person. Maybe it was the sight of my jaw dropping or the dread of entering an argument with Mr T, but she ended up telling me to go to the ticket window at the next station and validate our passes there to avoid further fines.
So, here we are in Duisburg. Behind the customer service counter, are 2 staff for a queue of a dozen travellers including me. Our connection for Munich is in 50 minutes and I calculate that it is doable as long they don’t spend more than 5min per person. Of course, that’s counting without the lady who decided to organise a multi-ticket trip and wants advice, some guy who wants a refund, or the young girl who just missed her connection and wants to know when the next train for wherever is…We all grow nervous in the queue, worried that we’ll miss our respective trains. It is Good Friday, our Deutchbahn officers on duty act as if they drew the short straw being here on a public holiday and subject the rest of us to the worst display of inefficiency: double checking of tickets and passport details, slow handwriting, refilling of ink pads, paper shuffling….Thanks to the really nice guy ahead of me letting me have his spot, we make our train with 5 min to spare. The remaining of the journey is much more pleasant, made so by the smiling train attendant handing out Easter chocolates every hour.
“Beside Paris, where else are we going in Europe?” That was Anne asking. While I would have happily stayed in Paris with my folks for 3 weeks, it would have been a shame to travel all this way and not see more of Europe. So after a few brainstorming sessions, some destinations scratched of the list ( London due to Brexit concerns, Italy and Spain because we already sailed there, Poland is too far…) we settled on cities that met the following criteria: they had to be new to all of us, easily accessible by train, enjoy an interesting food scene, and have at least one place of interest for each of us ( being an multigenerational family that means pubs for Mr T, museum for me and fashion shops for Anne ). That’s how Amsterdam in Holland and Munich in Germany made the cut for our one week European escapade.
Amsterdam for 3 days? Here’s what went down.
June in Sydney means 2 things. Winter and the VIVID festival.
Now in its 11th year, VIVID was started as a Smart Light festival, a Music festival and a Talk-Fest all at once apparently to boost winter visitors numbers to the city. It appears to have worked, as every year, we are battling increasingly big crowds around Circular Quay to interact with light structures of all sorts of shapes and sizes. The program changes every year be it for VIVID Light, but also VIVID Live ( the music fest ) and VIVID Ideas ( the talk fest ) and I like how there is something for everyone. In the past the kids and I attended a talk show with film maker Oliver Stone, Symphonic Dance Anthems concert, and I even dragged my parents for a stroll in the bitter cold for one last look at Sydney before their flight home to France!
Mr T is not keen on wandering in the city, nor is he into modern art however he loves having a drink and trying new things, so coercing him to come along for a VIVID night out is easy, as long as it includes a pub crawl and a staycation. Which is just what we did last week.
Once I was French.
Actually I still am, but having spent more than half my life either in Australia or floating on the seven seas, I feel that I have absorbed so many traits from other cultures that my Frenchness is rather a technicality these days. Yes, I speak fluent French, I have a french passport, I can vote, travel freely to and from France, cook french dinners with my eyes closed, and I never miss the opportunity to attend the Sydney French Film festival every year.
But, transport me back to Paris, with Australian husband and kids in tow, and suddenly what I remember fondly as a young Parisian I now see thru tourists eyes, and foreigner’s at that!
It is 6 years since we were last in Paris, for a short visit over Christmas when we were still cruising. This time, we plan to stay for 3 weeks and attend my father’s 80th birthday, with a large family gathering planned. Because we’re here just in time for spring and Easter, I expect the weather to be mild enough so that we can wander around town, enjoy some sightseeing and even explore some of Europe. I may have organised rail travels and accomodation for a week’s excursion in Holland and Germany, but we’re pretty much winging it while in Paris, allowing for late breakfasts, long lunches spent sitting at the family table or impromptu rendez-vous with friends.