Inga’s Travelogue: Pardon my French

Let’s talk about Paris. It wasn’t our first stop on our latest overseas adventure; we’d already spent a couple of nights in Kings Cross, imbibing the…er, atmosphere. But given my habit of never finishing any travel series I begin to write, I’m going to start with Paris because it presented the most fodder.

We took the Eurostar from London to Paris, bright and early one Monday morning. This pointy tube thing hammers through the countryside at 300km/hr, then disappears into a tunnel under the goddamn sea, would you believe. In an amazingly short period of time you emerge from the earth into some grassy meadows, and just like that you’re in France. Human engineering is astonishing.

If you’re coming into Paris by rail, do not expect your first glimpses of the City of Love to live up to even your most meagre expectations. Unless you were expecting it to look a Woolworth’s carpark in Footscray, you’re going to be disappointed. The housing estates leading into the station could’ve been transplanted from any middle-class suburb in Australia. The Gare du Nord station resembles a relic from a World’s Fair that should’ve been demolished before I was born. It’s a grimy iron dome, crawling with Romanian beggars, and assault rifle-wielding military dicks who will glare at you when you open your suitcase to fish out a cardigan. Once you leave the station, you’ll be wheedled by yet more beggars, and a couple of shady blokes asking if you speak English and whether you need a ride. The military men will continue to give you stink-eye, and the garbage on the street will get caught up in your suitcase wheels.

Look, I’m an independent Gen Y woman and have no issues doing most things on my own – but it’s places like Paris that guarantee that I will never be one of those women who travels overseas alone. EVER. I’ve never been so happy to get into a taxi with an angry man who speaks no English.

Our hotel was on a quiet side street, maybe a ten minute stroll from the Eiffel Tower. Our room had a view over the courtyard, a shower that I’d possibly choose over twenty minutes with Josh Holloway, and someone in the block of flats opposite who had an amusing time shooting a laser pointer at us for about half an hour one evening.

Each of those taps corresponds to a jet of water from the wall. Granted, one of them shoots you right in the face if you're 5'6", but it's worth it.

Each of those taps corresponds to a jet of water from the wall. Granted, one of them shoots you right in the face if you’re 5’6″, but it’s worth it.

Hotel courtyard and caretaker that doesn't give a shit when you say 'bonjour'.

Hotel courtyard and caretaker that doesn’t give a shit when you say ‘bonjour’.

 

Once you’ve escaped the ghastly train station, Paris is a fairy tale. It’s the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. It’s difficult to look at the Eiffel Tower without unconsciously sighing in awe – not just at its size (this thing is so much bigger than I ever expected), but at the surreal feeling of beholding a structure this iconic, of witnessing an image that’s so deeply ingrained in our global consciousness that it’s instantly recognisable the world over. It was unexpectedly humbling, and I’m not ashamed to admit that Nikki and I weren’t completely dry-eyed when we saw it for the first time.

Because the internet needs more pictures of the Eiffel Tower.

Because the internet needs more pictures of the Eiffel Tower.

At every corner there’s incredible architecture, amazing food, perfectly manicured people and a pervading atmosphere of deep pride and historical identity. All entrenched in a very thick concrete slab of snobbery.

My goodness, these people are ice cold. No smiles, no cheery bonjour!, no friendly corrections to my tortured beginner’s French. Interacting with anyone was a completely miserable experience. I feel for them; in Melbourne I’ve lost count of the number of times my mood has been lifted by a friendly cashier, a funny waiter, or someone that bursts out laughing with me when we both do the awkward “footpath side shuffle”. I feel like that stuff would never happen in staid, cosmopolitan Paris.

I tried to learn a little French in the weeks before we left, because the conventional wisdom from outsiders is that the French appreciate it if you make a token effort to communicate in their superior tongue. The conventional wisdom is dead wrong. They probably appreciate it more if you can pronounce au revoir without sounding like you’re gargling molasses, but generally they’ll stare dully over your shoulder and talk to you in English anyway. It’s really not an uplifting experience.

Despite this, the evening Nikki and I spent sitting on the banks of the Seine, “sharing” a bottle of French wine (yeah ok, I drank it all) and watching La Tour Eiffel blink to life as the sun went down will always have a special place in my heart (and liver, possibly – French rosé is lethal, y’all). We secured ourselves a comfortable spot away from the crowds on the riverbank opposite the Tower, and blissfully soaked up the magic of a Paris evening until a floating restaurant moored right in front of us.

Really, boat?

Really, boat?

In possibly the most stereotypical French display we witnessed in Paris, one of the moustachioed wait staff jumped off the boat and sauntered over to us, clutching a glass of red wine. At least, I assumed he was a waiter by his outfit – he could very well have been a well-dressed drunk stowaway. His English was as execrable as my French, so we heedlessly carried on two disparate conversations as drunk people with no shared language often do. After twenty minutes or so of profound gibberish, he swept up his wine and re-embarked his vessel, once again leaving Nikki and I to ponder the enchanting Paris evening and take selfies.

 

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I’m not sure I’d return to Paris. Its citizens are too polished, the proud grandeur juxtaposed with abject poverty is jarring, and French is bloody difficult to learn. I’ve heard that the rest of France is easier on the spirit, and the Parisians are a difficult breed to navigate even for the French, so some more exploration may be necessary at some point. Hey, if there’s wine, I’m down for anything.

Our first real, proper, dinky-di Champagne, purchased on board the train when we realised we were in France. It's 10am. And it tasted like arse.

Our first real, proper, dinky-di Champagne, purchased on board the train when we realised we were in France. It was 9am. And it tasted like arse.

Heels

Typical Parisienne cycling outfit. If I tried this I’d end up fracturing something.

This is obviously why everyone drives a Smart car in Europe.

This is obviously why everyone drives a Smart car in Europe.

Notre Dame, and the entry queue that stretches back to Australia.

Notre Dame, and the entry queue that stretches back to Australia.

We went here, too.

We went here, too.

The Bridge of Locks. Couples write their names on padlocks and fasten them to the bridge, until the weight threatens the structural integrity and the council has to take them down.

The Bridge of Locks. Couples write their names on padlocks and fasten them to the bridge, until the weight threatens the structural integrity and the council has to take them all down. Suck it, couples.

Pointy.

Pointy.

One for GOF

One for GOF

This is my exact face at a Savage Garden concert in 1998.

This was my exact face at a Savage Garden concert in 1998.

Day-tripping with the geographically challenged.

I have an inexplicable aversion to GPS navigators. I’m one of those obstinate shits that maps out a route beforehand and navigates relying only on landmarks, street signs and a vague feeling in their waters. Of course, this often means I end up axle-deep in a logging track, or facing oncoming traffic down a one-way Melbourne lane, or performing several vehicular pirouettes around a roundabout, but my pride still won’t let me invest in a voodoo box that barks demands and chastisements at me in my own damn car.

So that’s how I ended up in Leongatha today. I awoke with a pervasive urge to escape suburbia, strengthened by the dawn of a crystalline blue sky that’s exceedingly rare during a Melbourne winter (two days ago it was hailing, even snowing in some regions, and the Yarra River had burst its banks). I was aiming for Mount Worth State Forest, but overshot it by 30 kilometres to the south, landing myself in Leongatha. Like many small Aussie townships, Leongatha looks like the kind of place you’d move to when joy and fulfilment are no longer qualities you deem entirely necessary. When the magic of life deserts you, and you want nothing more than to spend your remaining years waiting for Hawaiian parma night at the RSL and playing Keno, you move to a town like Leongatha.

Ok, I’m being harsh (probably because I still have my nose in the air after two weeks gambolling through London & Paris). Fortunately, like many small Aussie towns, there’s much more under the surface. There are ghost tours  and a Daffodil Festival, and this photograph of some women with their tits out by the creek. Also I’d highly recommend a visit to the Number 9 Dream Café to sample their raspberry and white chocolate slice.  I would’ve stayed for lunch, but I was a bit pissy at having failed to spot an entire FOREST.

After coffee and a sugar boost, I backtracked up the Strzelecki Highway and dutifully followed the brown signs to Mount Worth State Forest. An hour later I found myself back on the Princes Highway, having evaded my destination yet again. I gave up and pointed my bonnet towards home, but not before I’d:

–          Spotted a lyre bird crossing the road. The lyre bird features on our ten cent piece, but they’re so elusive that most Aussies have never even seen one. Seeing a lyre bird is a bit of a big deal in some circles. By which I mean my circle. They look a bit like a miniature pea cock, and will imitate everything they hear with almost disdainful accuracy. Here’s David Attenborough chilling with one.  

–          Almost died in a head-on collision. A ute came plowing around a wide corner on the wrong side of the road – he was doing about 80km/hr, as was I. Luckily I’d been paying attention and not gawping at the scenery, and managed to slam on my brakes and steer onto the grassy shoulder. I often mull over the fragility of human life and the series of coincidences which brings myself and my loved ones safely home at the end of each day, so that demonstration was seriously unnecessary, Universe. Ta.

–          Realised how much of a country girl I am, despite 13 years in a capital city. I don’t know how to mend fences or shear a sheep, and I drive headlong into every single damn pot-hole like I’m playing Whack-a-Mole with my $1100 mag wheels. But I still unconsciously lift two fingers from the steering wheel in the universal ‘country salute’ if I pass someone on a rural road, and when I’m squatting in a muddy baret waving handfuls of damp grass through an electrified barbed-wire fence at a highly suspicious cow, there’s really no place I’d rather be. 

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I’m not good at taking photos of things without other things in front of them. But how fluffy is this moo-cow?!

It's either a wombat or a bear.

It’s either a wombat or a bear. Either way, the poor bugger is very much deceased.

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Interesting erosion marks in the hillside as the mountain slides down itself.

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And some more.

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For one heartbreaking moment I thought this was the forest I was looking for. Luckily it was just any old forest. HAR.

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The Block 2015.

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Country roads, take me home, to the place I CAN’T BLOODY FIND.

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That dam isn’t muddy, it’s just completely covered in azolla fern -a floating aquatic plant. If you look closely you can see where it ends and where the open water starts.

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So high up…those dots on the hillside are full-sized moo-cows.

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A creek brought to life by the excessive rain (and possibly snowmelt – I dunno, my geography is knackered).

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The view enjoyed by the farm equipment in this shed is better than anything that’s ever happened in my life. Also I still can’t take photos of things without stuff in the way.

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So, did anyone notice the dogs in that photo? 

Tormenting Inga…

Sometime last month, for some bizarre reason (possibly wine related) I volunteered to be the official taste-tester for random beverage recipes that Emmy stumbles across in her readings. It sounds like a delicious riot, except for the fact that Emmy is a sadistic witch who has taken it upon herself to pull up the most exotic, esoteric and bizarre concoctions the internet can spew forth. So now I find myself merely a pawn in her maniacal board game; the inevitable loser in a one woman version of the Hunger Games, drowning in a tide of arcane ingredients while my ‘friend’ cackles gleefully somewhere across the ocean.

For the first instalment, Emmy’s instructions are as follows:

Recipe: It’s a simple smoothie with ginger, mango, coconut and banana. Oh, and a spoonful of turmeric.

Now I don’t know where I’m getting mango from, considering it’s the dead of winter in Melbourne and the nearest mango crop right now is probably in Indonesia. Of course, this could be part of her nefarious plan to make me come over for Tough Mudder 2015… “Hey Inga, you’re already in Indonesia, you might as well pop into New England while you’re at it!” YEP, I’M ONTO YOU, WOMAN.

 
Having said that, I did manage to source some coconut, fresh from…er, Thailand. The recipe was rather vague as to what form this coconut should take, so I opted for a can of coconut water ‘with pulp’. I’m actually supposed to be hunting down local, sustainable ingredients, but frankly it’s too cold to leave the house and I’m still depressed because my holiday is over. You’d think she could at least start me off with an alcoholic beverage to ease me into this whole endeavour, but NO. Honestly, why did I sign up for this?

Enough whinging. Here’s my haul:

MasterChef or gullible twit?

MasterChef or gullible twit?

I cheated a little (ok, a lot – it’s cold outside and I’m depressed, remember?!) and bought a bottle of Emma & Tom’s Life Juice to substitute fresh fruit. The ingredients are literally carrot, apple and ginger. These guys procure fruit and veg from Aussie farmers, don’t throw garbage additives into their juices, and use square bottles to maximise storage space and cut down on packaging. That makes up for my 14,000-food-miles coconut water, right?

The ginger is organic and locally grown (from an overpriced green-grocer that caters to the Rich Paleo Wife Club), and the turmeric is from Bangladesh and is probably steeped in lead and orphan tears. Yes, it’s the same brand that’s in the link. I already had it in my cupboard though, and I’m not going to buy more because it’s cold and I’m depressed.

 
Come to think of it, that could be lead poisoning.

 
Anyway, onto the method!

1. Steep some sliced ginger in boiling water for a little bit. I actually drank most of it and saved a little splash for the drink. Ginger tea will fix anything that’s wrong with you. Except inexplicable compulsions to volunteer for random food experiments, apparently.

Rolling in the steep.

Rolling in the steep.

2. Add coconut water to your shaker thingy (because a blender will waste precious unrenewable resources. Manpower FTW!).

Put the lime in the coconut...

Put the lime in the coconut…

3. Add juice.

Juice
4. Add maybe a quarter teaspoon of lead-drenched turmeric. I know this spoon looks big, but trust me, it’s only a teaspoon. Shake all ingredients vigorously to the tune of Meet Her at the Love Parade by Da Hool.

Turmeric
5. Et voila! Served in a wine glass with a mint garnish, because I’m a classy broad.

Kampai!
Result:
Holy contaminated spice shipment Batman, there was WAY too much turmeric in there. A tiny sprinkle would have done the trick. It tasted like I was licking the floor of a curry kitchen in a shopping centre food court. I think it needed a hint more sweetness, which is obviously why the recipe calls for mango and banana as opposed to carrot. The coconut pulp added a nice crunch, but coconut and ginger together is kinda like watching Avril Lavigne and Chad Kroeger making out – awkward and disorienting.

WUT.

WUT.

In summary, I don’t think this is something I’d make again. And I’ll definitely be buying a new batch of turmeric.

Here we go again…

Just when you thought there was a limit to how many half-finished travelogues one woman could write, in a fortnight I’ll be launching into another international caper.

Carry on old chaps, I’m off to London! And Paris, for a wee bit. Or ‘oui’ bit.

My fabulous, infamous homegirl Nikki entered one of those “Like and Share for your CHANCE TO WIN!” competitions on Facebook, and contrary to all the laws of the internetz she actually WON. Two tickets to the three day Wireless music festival, and return flights for two to London. I suspect she only chose me to come because she knows for a fact we can survive a long-haul flight without tit-punching each other…although having said that, this journey exceeds our Vegas flying time by another 9 hours, so one or both of us may end up needing a mastectomy. But frankly, one boob seems a small price to pay for a free trip across the pond.

We’re spending a couple of nights in London, then a couple of nights in Paris, and then another week in London. A couple of people have helpfully pointed out that we’re not spending enough time there, and we should expand our travel itinerary because London is the perfect base from which to explore Europe and the UK in its entirety. These people are clearly either zillionaires or idiots. Our air fares may have been free, but everything else is costing a small fortune. And that’s before we’ve taken into account the obligatory mugging by Romanian gypsies in Paris.

Neither of us have any idea what to expect or what we’re going to do. We’re not good at the usual touristy endeavours – we tend to wander aimlessly until we stumble on some excitement, then find ourselves being driven home in the tray of some guy’s ute in Rarotonga, or drinking pink liquor in a Dominican drug dealer’s penthouse suite in Las Vegas. I like to think we’re the kind of travellers who immerse ourselves in the local culture, connecting with the locals and bypassing the superficial tourist facade. This sounds much classier than “that pair of drunk bitches that talks to everything with a wang.” National Geographic should be paying us for this shit, I tell you.

I’m no vegan, but…

There’s no way to explain why I’ve stopped eating meat, eggs and dairy without sounding like a supercilious, smug, judgmental shrew.

It’s now been over eight months since I ate meat, and obviously the first question I’m asked is “why?”

I’m never sure how to explain it, so I usually opt for the ‘health’ reason – although my close friends know that ‘health’ is typically low on my list of Reasons For Doing Stuff. Likely to be higher on the list are “it’s cheaper,” “I’ve had nine tequila shots,” and “I need to impress this guy”. My reasons for giving up the delicious animal flesh are almost the same justifications I used to stop buying new clothing a couple of years ago – I don’t particularly want to feed into an exploitative industry, and it simplifies my life. Most of my life-changing decisions have been geared towards simplification – at heart I’m just a girl who wants to live in a tin shed with nothing more than a billy can, a still and an endless supply of 90’s mix tapes. Sadly I’m not in a position to do that right now, so I make do with cutting out complications. Like first-world moral angst.

I grew up in a region where primary industry is almost a religion. I’ve eaten many a t-bone steak that had previously been a doe-eyed calf I’d named when it slid out of its mother. I believe it’s perfectly natural and ethical for people-folk to eat animals. It’s how I was brought up, and it’s how millions of humans have been raised for thousands of years. However, when I left behind my comfortable bucolic upbringing and poked around in the greater world, I had to acknowledge that those juicy meat packages in Woolworths don’t come from a steer that’s been gently lured into the home paddock with some sweet potatoes, then shot in the head before he even knows what’s happening. Eggs don’t come from chickens that have been fed scraps every morning by a hollering four-year-old with fresh beak-welts on her tender fingers. Milk doesn’t come from patient ol’ Bessie having her teats squeezed every morning into a tin bucket. Small family-run holdings are quickly becoming extinct, and the encroaching corporate-funded alternatives are gross bastardisations of an industry that’s supposed to be inherently wholesome, transparent and connected to the earth.

The farmers I know are kind, ethical people with passion for their chosen profession. I say “chosen”, but it’s probably all they’ve ever known. These men and women live and breathe agriculture and animal husbandry. They deserve to make a damn good living, firstly because they work really bloody hard, and secondly because they’re literally putting food on the tables of everyone in the nation. Sometimes it feels like I’m betraying them, and subsequently my heritage.

On the other hand, there MUST be a better way to do things. I have no idea what that way is, so I’ve quietly extracted myself from the machine.

Not everyone cares about this stuff. I don’t think everyone should care about this stuff. There are plenty of issues to go around, and everyone cares about something. This is merely what’s important to me, and it’s what I’ve chosen to base my lifestyle on – albeit a bit later that I should have. I don’t begrudge anyone their porterhouse steaks or their bacon double-cheeseburgers. We all know that shit’s delicious. By the same token, I don’t want anyone to begrudge my choices, but it seems people can’t help but get weird and judgmental when you tell them why you’re suddenly ordering your coffee with soy milk. Suddenly my iron, protein and calcium intake is everyone’s business. I guess it’s something I’ll need to get used to.

Health-wise, I donate plasma every few weeks so I regularly have my blood work looked at – and I’m firing on all cylinders, thank you very much. By which I mean my iron levels are fine and I don’t have HIV.  I like to think that my Papua New Guinean lineage is assisting this whole transition – after all, my ancestors weren’t exactly chasing game animals the size of my Ford Fiesta across sweeping savannahs. Their red meat was limited to whatever they could gnaw off a tree kangaroo, and the odd reptile. Probably the odd human, too, but don’t mention that to my next date.

It’s a steep learning curve, but I’m having loads of fun with new ingredients and recipes I’d never have glanced at twelve months ago. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Frothed rice milk in coffee is delicious. Admittedly, rice milk doesn’t froth at all – so by ‘frothed’, I mean ‘warmed up and agitated.’ Somewhat like myself after watching Fast Five. Pedantics aside, I actually prefer it to cow’s milk now.
  • You can function perfectly well on an omniverous fast food diet, but don’t attempt it on a plant-based diet. There is no protein in vegetarian fast food. You can’t live off Nando’s vegie burger meals all week without becoming lethargic and angry.
  • That said, a good serve of oily McDonald’s fries at 4am on a Saturday morning is every bit as satisfying as a cheeseburger, and you’re less likely to find a pickle down your bra when you wake up at 2pm the next day.
  • Pizza has always been my default reward/cheer up/hangover food, so understandably I’ve been anxious about how to replace it. Then I discovered – and no, I don’t expect anyone to believe me, but – pizza doesn’t really need cheese. I know I sound like a lunatic right now, but if you throw the right toppings on there a cheese-free pizza can be a very happy thing. Of course, it helps if you have a nice pinot gris to wash it down.

 

Trust me, it was delicious. So was the pizza.

Trust me, it was delicious. So was the pizza.

 

  • Plant diet = cheapest grocery bill ever. My food budget is half what it used to be, and that’s taking into account all the pretentious gourmet fluff like free-range cacao butter, shade-grown tofu and fair trade tempeh.
  • Apparently B12 is the only vitamin that’s lacking in a plant diet. Fortunately we don’t require huge quantities of it, and even more fortunate it’s abundant in this stuff:

mightymiteCall me un-Australian, but give me Mightymite over Vegemite any day. It’s owned and manufactured by wholly Australian Three Threes, as opposed to that Kraft conglomerate. Plus it tastes better. YEAH, I SAID IT. I’ll hand back my Aussie Card now.