Day 22 | Basilique du Sacré-Cœur: Sex and orgasm? – Montmarte, Paris
Interesting morning. Up early to Metro to Montmartre via Chateau Rouge. Took the less beaten track, following my nose through the African quarter down back streets lined with fruit, veg and fish markets. Stop at a cafe to get my bearings (and a cheeky look at the guide-book) before the Sacre-Coeur.
At the foot of the steps a French-speaking Egyptian befriends me. He speaks no English other than a few words “beautiful girl!” but manages to show me the best views of Paris, the church and the cobbled streets behind – where beret’ed artists paint portraits of Canon’ed tourists. I’m friendly but wary of my new friend, teaching him how to high-five when he attempts to hold my hand.
Day 15, Day 16, Day 17 | And every day since – Jokulsarlon, Iceland
I must have missed the boat at least 8 times. The first – on his couch. He’s seated but stretched, arms tucked behind his head, looking at me intently. The second – at the coffee house. He’s in a navy blue blazer, grey buttoned shirt and jeans, wanting to show me something on his screen. I move in close for a second, then away, sensing his proximity. The fourth – after salsa, packing my bags. He’s absent-minded, fidgeting with my pillow whose print matches the shirt he’s wearing. Fifth – my last morning. A dollop of the breakfast that he got up 2 hours early to make, ends up on his nose. Sixth – not long after. I muster the courage to take a photo of us, which he stares at for the longest time. Seventh – the Blue Lagoon. When we smear mud on our faces, when he stands under the waterfall, when he swims close enough for my leg to bump against his knee. Eighth – at the airport, saying goodbye. He hugs me just that bit longer. I can’t see straight, so I fumble with my Chapstick. And the third – at Jökulsarlón, which you can see above. All that separated me from the boat each time was a matter of centimetres. I should have kissed him.
Big mistake. After pulling into a gas station hunting for food, I see a tour group plopping out of a bus like a can full of beans – scooped up by their guide towards a souvenir store. I see no harm in being a sheep for a while, so I follow them inside. It’s a feeding frenzy of the starved-for-woollen-goods kind. The shopkeeper looks as happy as she does terrified. I somehow trap myself between the scarves and the snowdomes which is an uneasy place to be. I force a path through the accents, German mostly, but they can’t see or hear me with too-small knits stretched over their heads. I’m pretty close to bleating, remembering why I’d avoided tourist traps in the first place. I make my escape and am immediately struck by the buildings outside. Empty houses that look as if they’re about to take flight, perhaps seeing the tour bus and knowing better… They could make a dash for it at any minute so I shoot them quick. Returning to my car I suddenly feel glad to be traveling han-solo. Those poor jumpers.
Day 16 | Baby’s in the corner – Reykjavik, Iceland
15 hours in the hire car and I’m on the set of Dirty Dancing. Swayze should appear any minute now with a G&T in hand for a bit of dutch courage. I’m over an hour late for the beginners salsa class. I survey the room after inhaling one of Bæjarins Beztu’sfinest, feeling confident I can wing it. My host, and our Master of Ceremonies (who appropriately shares the same name that Patrick made famous) puts me in the capable hands of Ólafur, the Kingpin of the Icelandic salsa world who show’s me what’s what. Forwards, backwards, side-to-side. Shake those hips. Frame! Maintain the frame! I follow his lead into a spin, then another, then again. The smile on my face hides nothing, I have no idea what I’m doing. And so on it goes, finding my footing but losing my head, until dusk at midnight.
Day 16 | The grass lava is always greener – Route 1, South Iceland
It’s not hard to see why. Somewhere between Kirkjubæjarklaustur and Mýrdalssandur on my way back to Reykjavík, I hit a dust storm. I pull off the ring road (careful to not get bogged in the volcanic sand) so I can climb the mossy lava forms. They remind me of Shrek – were he soft, blobby, and all melted like a candle. I stay here a while to watch the dust storm move into the distance as the rain clouds close in. Like Melbourne, the weather changes hourly, but there’s something magical about that fickleness here. Iceland, my Lumix sends its apologies, it does you no justice.
I wanted to. It’s a 7 hour drive to get to this point if you’re easily distracted by shiny things – something the guide-books don’t tell you. Sustained only by a chicken wrap, Lion bar, and XIII‘s more intense tracks, pinching myself wasn’t working. A dip was the only thing for it.
Day 10 | Spiderman’s night out – Whitstable, England
One minute you’re in fancy dress befriending an English Spiderman. The next (years later) you’re on his home turf – popping by while ‘in the area’, which when you’re from Australia means anywhere between Shanghai and New York.
I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not religious, not even remotely, but there’s something about churches that makes me go “Ahhh, I GET IT”. While travelling through Europe I saw the insides of more churches than I did bars, which (as a Melbournian) is a sin requiring more than a few ‘Bloody Marys’ penance. I’m yet to repent, bar tab pending.
Day 15 | Spit me out I’m daydreaming – Reykjavik, Iceland
Perspective. The further away you get, the clearer things become – like hindsight without the shoulda-woulda-coulda’s. Having had (some) benefit of both, I can say that stepping away from your own little world to run off to far away places is the very best thing you’ll ever do. The further the better. The scarier the BEST. It won’t earn you a degree, it has no place in your résumé, and you can’t put it towards a house, a picket fence or 2.5 kids. But it will fill you up, empty your bank balance and spit you out whole – punch-drunk and jet-lagged, plotting your next hit. One foot will always itch to be on the move (for me, it’s the left), and you’ll never quite fit back into the everyday like you used to. Some will call it post-holiday blues, I prefer to call it intermission. Pass the popcorn please I’m not done. Destination: NEXT!.
Day 15 | Through the round window – Reykjavik, Iceland
It takes me some time to realise that I’m inside a clock. Big circular windows with big rotating arms should have clued me in, but all I see is The RoundWindow from Play School (my childhood favourite of the three).
Day 05 | A McCarthy family induction – Tipperary, Ireland
Kitty’s in the back seat quite happy to stay where she is. 80 years-young, my Grandaunt rolls her eyes with a smile as we pull up to the gate.”Of all the places to take you Dennii? Just wait till I tell Kathleen!”.
“T’wee won’t be-longk Kitteh’ sing-songs Cousin Liam, leaping up from the driver’s seat. Kitty waves us her blessing as Liam busies himself with the gate. The initial prognosis: Locked.
A chink in the amour (flu) has set me back on the ‘pic a day’ mantra, but I couldn’t let Iceland National Day pass without a mention. This seemed an apt celebration of the Icelandic sense of humour. I still have this napkin in my wallet, makes me smile every time I re-discover it.
If ever a DeLorean were to show up crashing and burning into my life, great Scott! – now would do the trick. It feels like a solar system ago but in reality, only 4 days since I landed in Iceland. There’s me on the plane, rocking back and forth in my seat wondering what I’d been thinking. Dad is going to KILL me.(more…)
Day 14 | Who’s been sitting in my chair? – Golden Circle, Iceland
“You’re in my seat” she spittles in a thick accent. Her husband nervously shifts from one white sneaker to the next, his Pentax swaying like a noose around his neck. Poor bastard. “Where’s your seat?” she accuses as if I’m purposefully hiding it. I look around the empty tour bus before stating the obvious.
I’m hurtling towards Bastille when my seat gives way. Not a great start to the crash course. As if by homing beacon my host senses losing one of his pack, turning at the lights to see me pointing at my seat. “It’s broken?” I pantomime. He patiently responds with a simple adjustment that corrects my one-way pogo stick. I should be right now. We’re off (again) down Richard Lenoir, past skeletal awakenings of marketplaces that separate the right side from the wrong side of the traffic isle. We reach a crossroads without me noticing, too distracted by the traffic just inches to my right. The lights turn red and a decision has to be made. Do I follow or go it alone? I choose to GO. I wave my host a wobbly adieu, upsetting my balance against the curb. I recover in time to turn a new corner – narrowly missing a fender – as the street ahead leads me, helmet-free, straight to the city’s heart. It doesn’t take me long to find it. A Zara on Rue De Rivoli? I immediately disembark.
Day 21 | Centre Pompidou: An unlikely ninja – Paris
MIND THE SHIT is front of mind as I collide head-first with the Pompidou. “Sorry I didn’t see you there?” I almost apologise, like some Jack to a beanstalk. I really should pay better attention. In an architectural sense, it’s no ninja. Pipes and tubes and all kinds of innards run the exterior of the building in a “Yes, my insides are my outsides. Yes, it’s intentional” kind of way. My sleeve knows this only too well so I immediately relate.
The courtyard – cobbled and speckled – slopes down to its doors like a gentle nudge. A conga line of tourists are already persuaded, a detractor for me at this point. My tummy grumbles in agreement, coffee is required. I circle the Pompidou twice being annoyingly indecisive, finally eeny-meeny-miny-moe’ing my way to a cured ham and cheese baguette.
“Bonjour mademoiselle (pointing, smiling) seevoo-play? (More pointing, more smiling). Si (wrong language) er, WEE! How much? (I hand over a note not yet understanding the coins). Merci-boo-koo, aurevwah!”.
Tempting tummy and fate, I settle on a spot under a tree just a wings flap from the pigeons. There are hundreds of them, possibly thousands I exaggerate to myself, numbers never being my strong point. After a thorough ground sweep, it’s safe to sit. I nod my respect to the Pompy-dude (as I’ve now named him) and take my first bite.
In honour of Sweden winning Eurovision 2012. This is a pic of me snapped by my Swedish mate – a very talented journalist, photographer and (sceptical) Swedish meatball maker. I miss our long walks, him swearing at me in English and dancing about his flat to Kate Bush at 2am.
Day 15 | Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur: Gone in 60 seconds – Reykjavik, Iceland
“What’s unique about Iceland isn’t that 80 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources, it’s that the country’s favourite restaurant is a hot dog stand”. This teaser on my Icelandair flight did the trick and was immediately popped on my ‘to eat’ list.
The line at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur (The best hot dogs in town) was long and promising but I’d be a hard sell. Being a devotee of the Polish bratwurst fare at Queen Vic Markets – whose mustard strikes a balance of making you laugh and cry at the same time – I was hungry, but skeptical. Mostly hungry.
To the left of the counter winds a long hot dog timeline, full of funny historical (mostly non hot dog related) facts since the stands inception in 1935. As this is all in Icelandic, my host had kindly interpreted the highlights for me the night before. The Bill Clinton/Lewinski indiscretion features, which could have been the making of an awkward moment as we spot a snap of Bill happily eating one of Bæjarins Beztu’s finest. Let’s hope his Icelandic is as good as his moral compass.
There’s no menu so I recite the order before – the lot, with extra onion. In hindsight, she was clearly an expert as she had ordered two for herself. My hot dog appears humble at first, not what I was expecting for all the fuss. But Bæjarins Beztu lives up to its name as I scoff this in one lot. Truth in advertising? Delicious. Absolutely the best thing I’ve ever inhaled.