Month: December 2010

Fire Alarms

Brendan and I are well trained to respond to fire alarms. I won’t speak for Brendan, but my experience started in earnest during my four years at University. I shared a building with 47 other people, and my building was directly adjacent to many others just like it. During exam time, we inevitably had people up at all hours studying and making toast….or rather burning toast. This resulted in spending many hours in the parking lot wrapped in a doona (comforter) and waiting for the fire department to arrive and declare the building safe.

Years later, Brendan and I were backpacking through Tasmania, Australia and one night our Devonport Hostel caught on fire. We evacuated, waited a few hours until the fire was contained and then slept in a room reeking of smoke. Obviously we moved on the next morning, but a few days later we saw in the news that the same hostel had caught fire again and this time, people had died.

A few nights ago in Sarlat, France we were awoken at 1am to a shrieking fire alarm. We quickly got up, dressed, grabbed our essential belongings and headed out into the street. One other hotel guest was outside in the freezing cold with us. No fire department turned up. No hotel manager. Just us…and one other guy. After about ten minutes the alarm switched off, we all looked at each other, shrugged shoulders and went back to bed.

We’ve learnt from experience that although 99% of fire alarms are nothing to worry about, every now and then, responding appropriately could save your life. This evening, after a decent sized carafe of good French ‘vin blanc’ I’m being a little introspective. I realise that I approach life the same way I approach fire alarms. If I see warning signs I respond, even if it means that 99% of the time it was for nothing. Surviving that 1% is the key.

Photo by: L.C. Nottaasen

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Paris, France

I’m currently in Paris, France. It’s cold, but at least it isn’t snowing. We’ve been enjoying beautiful blue skies and gorgeous soft winter light; just perfect for photos.

It’s been 13 years since I was last here, although I can’t honestly remember the city much from that trip. Back then I was a student on a very tight budget and the Aussie dollar was terrible. I remember eating a lot of McDonalds that trip. This time, the Aussie dollar is good and it’s croissants, crepes and plenty of good coffee.

The city is not as crowded as I remember. Perhaps the weather is keeping people away or everyone’s too broke to travel. Or maybe it’s just that I’m more used to big cities and I try to avoid the tourist traps as much as possible. Either way, it’s been really quite pleasant. After being constantly disappointed by American cities (with a few exceptions), it’s nice to re-discover a city with a long and interesting history, beautiful architecture, a great sense of fashion and fabulous food on every block.

Paris also feels very safe. We were out until nearly midnight last night (darn jetlag!) and even though it was a Sunday night, there were plenty of people in sidewalk cafes or out strolling the cobblestone streets.

The transportation here is also a far cry from American or Australian city transportation. The metro is fast, efficient and extremely extensive. Wherever we found ourselves in the city these last few days, we never seemed to be more than a few blocks from a metro station. The stations themselves are clean and the trains come through every few minutes like clockwork. I can see why the metro strikes would completely disrupt the ability of the city to function.

There is also very little parking space, so the personal vehicles are mostly very small cars (think smart cars) or scooters. They zip around very handily and fit into the tiniest spaces. It’s a world apart from the monster trucks and equivalent parking spaces we’ve been used to in California. They also have this fantastic new Vélib’ bike rental system with stations scattered all over the city. Although we like cycling I honestly couldn’t see myself weaving in and out of traffic like the locals do. You’d need nerves of steel to try it!

Tomorrow we start our three week journey through France and Italy. Although I’ve enjoyed la cite, I’m looking forward to visiting the countryside and some of France’s smaller towns.

USA: So Long and Thanks For All the Fish

Tomorrow we get on a plane and leave the USA. For the last few weeks we’ve alternated between frantically finalising our life here and reminiscing about our favourite and least-favourite experiences here. It’s a bitter-sweet feeling leaving a country that has been home for three years. We are excited about ‘going home’ to the culture we grew up in, to see family and friends and to eat all those foods we’ve been missing. But we are also sad to leave new friends and a country that has opened our eyes and broadened our horizons.

I don’t think the fact that we are leaving for good it has fully hit us yet. As with moving over here from Australia in 2007, I expect we’ll experience some level of reverse culture shock once we get home. There are a lot of differences between these cultures and I expect I’ve become rather accustomed to the US way of doing things. Returning to Australia will no doubt highlight those differences more than I can remember at the moment.

Anyway, we are returning to Australia via ‘the long way round’ (i.e. via Europe). I hope we don’t experience too many delays with the crazy snow storms or protests against Europe’s austerity programs. If we do, I guess we’ll have stories to tell. That is the joy of travelling.

I hope to update this blog with some of my travel tales along the way, but until then I’ll leave you with a photo of Zoe dog enjoying her morning walk before she left the US last week. She’s now residing in Australian quarantine until we get home.