September ad-French-ure

Jenny and I spent almost the whole of September abroad, visiting France, Belgium and Hong Kong. It was one of the best and most memorable holidays that we’ve ever been on, so I figure it might be interesting to document it here on cyberseraphic – to help me reflect on it and collect my thoughts, and also to share with you some of the photos that we took.

I’m more of a words than a pictures kind of person so I’m not going to apologise that what follows is going to be very verbose. As a concession though, I’m breaking it down into several posts mainly to stop it from being of epic length, and so that you can jump straight to your favourite parts later on :-)

Here’s my plan for the remainder of the posts. The links will be added as I finish each one, and I promise that subsequent posts will have a lot more pictures and (maybe) fewer words!


General impressions

A wall inside Mont St Michel

It's seriously hard to grok "old" without being able to see this kind of stuff first hand

I grew up in Australia, so besides a few vague memories of my early childhood and the cultural differences that sometimes gives me a niggle of a doubt, Australia’s all I really ever knew. With that said, I’d like to argue that going overseas to one of the “old world” countries is a must. It opens up ones eyes to the sheer weight of history that Australians seem to be ignorant of. Maybe it’s the almost complete domination and assimilation of the indigenous Australians, or the fact that Aborigines’ rich inner life isn’t (able to be) expressed in the physical world due to the harsh climate. Regardless, I think it’s fair to say that it’s impossible to truly appreciate humanity’s deep history while remaining on this continent.

It manifests itself not only in the sheer age of the cities and buildings in them, but also in the little things like: the markings on the road that show trucks how far apart they need to be in order to maintain a safe distance (if you can’t see 2 symbols between you and next truck you’re too close), which also reflects a very strong road culture – more on this in one of the later posts; how much more advanced they seem to be on issues of resources and waste management – their DVD sleeves are thinner, their bottles use thinner plastic, they use more cardboard than plastic, and every place is utterly dedicated to recycling; etc.

That’s not to say that I believe France is uniformly superior to Australia. It did occur to me that the weight of history bearing down on them does cause them to “think” slowly and sluggishly, and groupthink prevails in a lot of high level issues. Being unencumbered by history may be one of Australia’s assets when it comes to innovation. I’ll stop here, since I’m sure my little “taste” of France has hardly made me an expert in cross-cultural differences. But that’s how I felt while I was there.

France is a beautiful country. The French take great pride in the way that their country looks, and every street, building, and even the roundabouts are always decked out with fresh flowers. I’ve also never seen so much sky in my life. It felt so very huge – it’s the most beautiful sky, and the fluffiest looking clouds I recall ever seeing. I’ve done a lot of travelling outside of the capital cities in Australia, but I’ve never felt like I did in France.

Clouds in the French sky

This picture, taken through the windscreen, doesn't really do it justice. The sky is so blue, the clouds so white and fluffy...

We had awesome weather the whole time. It’s autumn there, but the temperature hovered mainly around 18 – 20 degrees Celsius, with intermittent bouts of rain that miraculously only seemed to occur during the night when we were asleep, or while we were in between stops on our itinerary. Somebody up there loves us!

The “mobiroom
Before we get into that, an interesting observation about our arrival in Europe: we came into Europe via London Heathrow* and transferred to another flight to Paris. The odd thing is that because of the EU arrangement, this means that we never had to clear customs, and came straight off the plane at Charles de Galle and straight out the door! We were a little taken aback by that.

The "mobiroom"

The "mobiroom" and us

Jenny’s parents, Jozef and Suzie, picked us up from CDG in their campervan, which I’ve become accustomed to calling it the “mobiroom” because that’s what they call it over there (note: you can’t just say “mobi-room” – you have to roll the ‘r’: mobirrrrroom). Jozef got into a wee disagreement with the airport lady about letting him stop in the bus zone, but as we were to discover through the course of our trip, the French were very relaxed and forgiving of our traffic indiscretions – we constantly managed to get away with behaviour (e.g. stopping in the middle of a roundabout trying to figure out which exit to take) that in Australia would have earned us many beeps, angry words, and rude gestures.

We decided not to stick around in Paris. We arrived on a Sunday when the shops are generally closed anyway, plus not long after we left there was apparently a bomb threat at the Eiffel Tower. We’d already seen and enjoyed a little bit of Paris life on our Honeymoon anyway, and were keen to explore a bit more of the French life away from the big city.

Next stop, Giverny…

* Sorry we didn’t get to stay long enough to catch up with you poms! (A big hello to Kenny, Vija & Nick, Yong & family… who’ve I missed? Sorry if that’s you! Julian and Lingsi, you don’t count ‘coz you weren’t in the country yet.)