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Total Immersion Tourism

11 Dec

This weekend marked the first anniversary of our leaving on our great voyage and I thought I needed to write something. Not as a couple but as me, Kimble.

I don’t think my feelings post trip have really been expressed. I think Priscill and I share a common set of feelings we don’t need to share, they go without saying but I need to document something.

The Return

While we were away I started experiencing a disconnection towards the end. I don’t know whether what I had was depression, sick of traveling or just plain homesickness but I had had enough. Even the magical cities of Paris and London had lost their shine.

Getting back home was great, for about ten seconds, until we all collapsed into a jet lagged, virally infected stupor which we didn’t recover from for almost a month. Once we were better we visited friends, ate food we missed, visited places we loved and things were wonderful. For a couple of weeks. Then reality kicked in again and we started trying to piece our old life back together. Problem was we couldn’t. Pris went back to work for her old employer which gave her some sort of semblence of normality but apart from that we couldn’t have our old place back and I couldn’t have my old job back. Not that I wanted it but the reality of our world changing forever was sinking in.

I wasn’t ready for an office job yet so set off to make the game I was working on available on more devices. The problem was, I also had to look after a two year old. The two did not mix but I spent almost three months fighting the fact only to cause myself untold dispair.

Finally I gave up and decided to look for work. The problem was that work didn’t want to come to me and I, still in denial didn’t really want to go find it. Eventually I took the initiative and landed a job very quickly. Still there as of writing this.

Itchy Feet

I am not settling into the routine of normal life very well despite being back just over six months now. I dream of the USA and Portugal every day. Perhaps glorifying it in my head like the refugee who ran away from a violent country dreams of what his homeland should be like.

We have our second daughter coming in two weeks and I want to run away to South America. I need to remind myself of how straining uprooting your life is.

Lessons Learnt

It is hard to put your life together when you so disconnect yourself from it. We and especially I, made the mistake of trying to totally cut off all attachments and even relationships to an extent when we could have saved a few. That damage is irreversible. I still feel a little lost because of it. I think before we do it again we will buy a home. It will be our base to come back to, you can always rent it off when you leave.

You can’t travel forever. Eventually you’ll start to feel homesick. Only those with truly no family, friends or attachments will avoid this. I have yet to meet such a person.

Man must work. Well Kimble must anyway. I understand some can manage to never work but I was built for the fight, to create things, it gives you purpose. Even though I was working while away it always felt like my hobby not my occupation. Make sure you have something that generates an income and feels like a responsibility if you are the type that needs purpose. Traveling itself becomes purposeless after a while. You need to tell yourself “I am working to support my travel”.

The most important lesson of all though is that we learnt that to truly experience a holiday you need to drown yourself in it, you need …

Total Immersion

Paris is not just the Eiffel tower, the Moulin Rouge and some stinky cheese. It’s living in a cramped apartment, hauling shopping up three storeys of stairs, cooking haute cusine not paying 200 euros for it in a snooty restaurant. It’s the suburbs, the markets, the people yelling at you because your French sucks.

Lisbon is more than Fado and St George castle. It’s fish fresh from the markets. More ways to prepare bacalhau than there are days in the year and more hauling shopping bags up three storeys of stairs but after you’ve walked 5 km up a steep hill with them. It’s realising you can’t just go to the shopping centre for that battery you need, it’s going from shop to shop being told to try Da Silva the instrument maker up the road who then says Henrique who owns the camera shop round the corner might have some.

Total immersion is living in a city like the locals do, eating as the locals do and attempting to communicate with the locals. It is an amazing thing and it sure scrubs all the golden shine off a place like Paris but you learn to appreciate places like never before. You’ll also be the ultimate guide for anyone wanting to visit. However, all your friends who did the whirlwind tour so many Aussies and Yanks do will be steamingly jealous.

The only problem you may find is that instead of trying somewhere new you may just find yourself going back time and time again. A short holiday somewhere new just never seeming as exciting as going back and immersing yourself again. Even if it’s just for a week.


Paris Week One

22 Apr

Leaving Lisbon

Easyjet, how we love and loathe you …

After a quick but scary drive with our friendly cab driver to Terminal 2 in Lisbon (only 10 Euros). We walk into the terminal to discover it’s lino and plasterboard with a few seats. Like a bus terminal for the sky. We got there with hours to spare but somehow after queueing forever we were in a rush to get through security to make it in time. Boarding started about two minutes later.

Next comes love.  “Please form two queues, priority boarding and parents with children in one and everyone else in the other”. Great! We get a seat in the second row and get a whole three seats to ourselves (Camilla didn’t have a ticket so we should have two seats).

Now comes hate. After everyone boards we sit on the tarmac for thirty minutes because no one at Easyjet can count. Then another ten minutes because somebody was running late. Anyway turns out to be an elderly chap in a wheelchair who they have to seat next to us. We just lost our seat. Damn.

Apart from Priscilla needing to go to the toilet and all twelve kilos of Camilla sleeping on my elbow the rest of the flight was pretty good. We touched down at Charles De Gaule and after getting off the plane I declared that as usual we could be anywhere. Signs in English even though the French are so proud of their language. If you took someone, drugged them, woke them up at a random airport in the world I can guarantee you they would have not a clue where they were.

Paris price shock

I look in my wallet as we’re about to leave the airport to catch a taxi into town. 45 Euros but I’d better get some money out just in case. Twenty minutes later and outside the apartment the metre reads 55 Euros. The taxi driver mumbles something about 5 Euros extra for baggage. By this stage I couldn’t give a damn about an extra couple of bucks the shock was too large. We’d been spending 60 Euros a day in Portugal and that covered food and accommodation.

We arrived at the apartment and some kid turns up. Priscilla asks him if he’s Marco who was meant to be meeting us. No, apparently he’s Vincenzo. Ok seems dodgy but he has the key.  Turns out of course there is a 40 Euro fee for weekend call outs. We think he’s actually just been sent by the agency and offered the 40 Euros if he can get it out of us. We pay him to avoid trouble. It is Sunday afternoon after all.

Sundays in Paris. There’s not much open. In fact we pound about 4 kilometres of pavements only seeing one small convenience store open. No worries, we just walked past the Trocadero and an amazing view of the Eiffel tower.  Eventually we give up and go back to the store which is just about to close up. PHEW! We did not want to starve on our first day. 17 Euros later and we have a bottle of milk, a six pack of beer, pasta and sauce.  OUCH.

Our first day ended up costing us over 200 Euros including accommodation. Something we certainly have not been used to.

The apartment

The apartment is in the 16 arrondisement, on Rue de Siam, located on the right bank of the river Seine.  The suburb is very residential and appears quite wealthy. There are boulangeries (bakeries), boucheries(butches), fruit shops and of course cafes and restaurants.  The apartment was a last minute find that turned out out to be exactly what we needed after the last two weeks in a dingy Lisbon apartment. Our Paris pad is a very spacious one bedroom apartment, with hight ceilings, central heating, kitchen, ensuite with washing machine/dryer. The furniture is very Parisian and after a long day of sightseeing it feels great to return home to cook and relax.


I have been cooking many French inspired dishes, check our earlier post for recipes. We have also been enjoying our daily baguettes, croissants and pastries.

What we did last week

We start day two by checking that the two “supermarches” near us really do open. Fill up on as much French produce as possible including at least three types of beer and wine. Suddenly we are introduced to something called variety again. Portuguese supermarkets have very little variety and even the mega supermarkets seem to have lots of different types of the same thing. I remember an aisle of beer almost 100 metres long that was mainly different serving sizes of Super Bock.

This is embarrassing but as we didn’t keep notes of what we were doing everyday we can’t actually remember exactly what we did day by day, so here is a summary.

The first couple of days we did lots of walking near where we are staying, we went to the Trocadero area, Eiffel Tower. We also did longer walk near the Louvre, Jardin de Tuileries, Grand Palais, Pont de Bir-Hakeim where a scene for the Inception movie  was filmed and many other sites around Paris.

The weather has been generally awful, cloudy and raining on and off. Apparently this seems to be the normal for Paris during this time of the year.

My parents arrived a couple of days after we got here. Since then we have been spending time with them. Camilla was extremely happy to see grandma (nam-ma as Camilla says).  We went to Musee d’Orsay. Visited a bric-a-brac market, Le Marché aux Puces, that had some really interesting stuff.

We also spent some time exploring the centre of Paris. We visited the Notre Dame, the gardens at the back of the building were stunning, with purple tulips and various flowers.

We crossed an interesting bridge, Pont de Arts, over the Seine that was full of padlocks  “love-locks” attached to its sides. The Paris City Hall are not too keen on these and a couple of years ago they disappeared suddenly, but they seem to be back in force now.

After queuing for what seemed a long time we got into Sainte-Chapelle . It’s a 13th century church that the city has grown up around. Encased within another building. There are two chapels over two levels. The ground level one being more of a tourist shop. The one above is amazing with 15 metre stain glass windows that seem to go on forever.

Camilla’s tantrums are getting much worse, I suppose she is getting closer to two. We have so many photos of her having tantrums in the middle of footpaths around Paris. Too funny.

Week one has gone by too quickly. Luckily we have another week and a bit to go. We are looking forward to catching up with Adrian and Kaori tomorrow.

Paris Cooking

17 Apr

What does one do when they visit Paris and have the opportunity to stay for two weeks in an apartment with full kitchen? Well they cook of course (apart from trying every beer and wine they can get their hands on).

The supermarkets here have a great deal more variety than the ones in Portugal. That is apart from yoghurt and cured sausages (salsicha and chouriso), Portugal wins hands down here with hundreds of each in even the smallest of supermarkets. Still nothing like the variety in the big Australian supermarkets but a definite improvement. Most recipes will be reproducible without needing to go to specialty stores.

This post is a collection of the recipes tried and some notes. Nothing fancy and all should hopefully use ingredients available back home in Australia.

Onion Soup

One of the staples of French cuisine. We used this recipe here:

Easy French onion soup

We didn’t quite caramelise the onions properly, also having a non stick pan means you don’t get that burnt glaze that goes so well in adding flavour to dishes. The stock instructions weren’t followed either but apart from it went down really well with our second baguette of the day.

Mustard Chicken

As the recipe states, mustard is often passed over by inexperienced cooks as they believe the flavour will be too intense. It’s quite the opposite. Cooked mustard mellows fantastically. I personally have covered steak with enough hot english mustard to kill an army then BBQed it with the resulting product being fantastic.

Mustard chicken recipe

Cream of Spinach Soup

Another recipe from the same site but we have run out now so shall be looking further afield. This one was particularly yummy as Camilla can testify to.

Cream of spinach soup recipe

Coq au Vin
When many people think French they think Coq au vin. Traditionally cooked with an older rooster for many hours we opted for chicken thighs and followed this Coq au vin recipe more or less. Very delicious but as with the creamy Parisian curry we had for lunch the other day it makes you want to go to sleep within five minutes of eating.

Portuguese Inspired Cocktail

25 Mar

I traveled to Porto recently with mum for a couple of days while Priscilla stayed in Lisbon looking after Camilla. While there we had to do a Port tour. Seeing how Port is made and of course tasting some. While there I was introduced to white Port and fell in love with it.

After proudly bringing back a bottle of white Port and making Pris taste it she decided she didn’t share my passion for it. So, tonight I looked through the cupboard and put together a cocktail. Here’s how it’s made. Put it all together in a small wine glass.

  • A splash of gin, just enough to coat the glass
  • A shot of white Port
  • Top off the glass with Vinho verde – hard to get in Australia but any mild, medium (not dry or sweet) wine such as one of the New Zealanders would make a good substitute. Vinho verde is like water almost

This trio of alcohol makes a lovely golden straw coloured drink that has a spicy bitterness that is offset by the sweetness of the port.

Beer Blog: Portuguese beers

9 Mar

Those who have made it to Portugal before know that this country is not really known for its beers. In fact the two main breweries in this country (Sagres and Super Bock) both produce a lager which is hard to tell apart. Like the generic lagers of most countries not known for their beers.  Of course I shouldn’t complain. These beers are readily available for about 3.60 Euros ( ~ 5 AUD) for a six pack. One third the price of beer in Australia.

I was almost desperate to get hold of a foreign beer before I tried the “special” beers from Super Bock. One which roughly translates as Artisan’s recipe and the other simply named Gourmet. Both are similar and until I tried them side by side I thought they were identical.

Artesanal – This one has slightly burnt notes and a definite blackcurrant taste to it. Along with that sweet yeasty flavour you get in Belgian beers. Without most of the complexity though.

Gourmet – This is the one that tastes most like a belgian beer, reminding me somewhat of Leffe Blonde. Not quite as sweet as the Artesanal and definitely easier to quaff.

The interesting thing about these beers is that the base flavour seems to be the same. I’m pretty sure they are brewed with the same yeast and hops but differ only in the malts used. From my own experiments in brewing you do tend to end up with a very similar product.

For another 30 cents a bottle I think these are both worth drinking over the normal product but as a top end product they both fall into the Crown Lager category. Full of puff but no steam.

Last days in Louisiana

11 Jan

The weather in Southern USA has been fantastic. Since Texas the weather has been in the low 20’s C, which I must say is is great for winter anywhere in the world.

After Sulphur we headed over to Lafayette. We had planned on spending lots of time in New Orleans but had to stay outside the city longer than we anticipated as there was a big football game for which all the hotels in New Orleans were booked or ridiculously expensive.

This is what we did while in Lafayette:

Day 1: We drove for about two hours before arriving in Lafayette. As usual we checked for recommendations on where to eat.  We ended up at Old Tyme Grocery near the university. We split a shrimp po-boy with a side of real potato fries. After dousing the chips in creole spice mix I felt quite sick so we went back to the hotel and chilled out for the rest of the day.

Day 2: We visited a working Acadian village with genuine 1800s houses. Not much going on but I guess it’s off season.

Went to another local diner called  Boiling point for lunch. Pris ate popcorn shrimp and it seemed they were out of everything I ordered except for a ham and cheese po boy. Tastes remarkably like a ham and cheese sandwich.

Day 3: Visited the Tabasco Factory. The best bit of the tour was being told they bottled something like 700,000 Tabasco bottles a day. Ok kidding, it was the twenty free miniature Tabasco bottles in about six different flavours. Five of them not available in Australia. The gift shop was great. They had habanero ice cream and Tabasco cola. I would have bought some of the cola and tried it with some Jack Daniels but it seemed to be about the only thing they weren’t selling.

There’s one thing that sucks about a six month holiday and that is that you can’t buy souvenirs. Not unless they are really worth shipping home. There was so much cool kitsch here like devils horns lids for your Tabasco sauce bottle.

The next day we left for NOLA, that’s New Orleans Louisiana for those who aren’t local, at the crack of 11am. We seem to be moving slower and slower the further we get into this trip. I’m calling it holiday lag. Others might call it laziness.

On the road to NOLA a rock hit the windscreen and left a pretty big crack. Luckily we were returning it that day as a few days of driving and the windscreen would have broken right through.  We checked in at our hotel which was really strange. It was like a motel but in a five story building with all the windows facing inwards. Maybe just in case your neighbours wanted to say “hi” as you walked past.

We took the car back to the airport to drop it off. The attendant there handed us a receipt saying $332, which was weird considering we had had it for over a month. We didn’t ask any questions and had our fingers crossed they don’t charge the other $1400. We then catch the cheapest transport back to New Orleans. The E2 Exptress to downtown. It cost $2 dollars each. Probably one of the cheapest airport to downtown rides on the planet. It took forever, though, 40 minutes. We were so exhausted that we had a quick roam around the French Quarter and got some take-away Chinese for dinner.

Camilla was a pest at night and refused to go to sleep. I went out to get a drink from the vending machine and  when I came back I found Camilla nappiless and playing with what I thought was Priscilla’s chocolate which she had found earlier. When I smelt it though! It was Poo! She was playing with her own poo!

Day two, New Orleans: How do you do New Orleans in a day? I have the answer. Don’t participate in the night life. I know New Orleans is a lot more than the bars of Bourbon St but it didn’t seem that big. Of course we didn’t do it in any depth but here’s what we did:

  • Up early – walk through the French Quarter as it’s still recovering from the night before. Wet streets and tired workers hosing vomit from the pavement.
  • Beignets at the famous Cafe du Monde and a photo at the cathedral. Apart from the fire engine roaring past it felt like Paris
  • Rush through the French Market as they are setting up. Thousands of genuine crocodile heads, what you’d do with them is beyond me
  • Tram to Canal street, up Canal street and onto the St Charles line. That’s it, all three New Orleans tram lines. Not as extensive as Melbourne but at least useful unlike Sydney’s tram to nowhere or San Fran’s steep trolley for people that are too lazy to walk around the hill
  • A nice ride through the garden district and we get off at Lafayette No 1 cemetery. We’d been warned about New Orleans cemeteries but this one was safe. Lots of tourists around. It’s like a tiny little slice of Père Lachaise, Paris right here in the suburbs of New Orleans
  • Dinner at a diner not famous for its service but famous for its real Cajun home style cooking. Red beans and rice, greens, Jumbalaya and crawfish etoufee. Nothing to look at but the flavours were amazing.

I think we captured a good deal of the essence of New Orleans and while like any great city you could spend weeks stuck in its bowels, 24 hours is a challenge and for a couple with a young kid I think we did this one well.

Our unbroken roadtrip officially ends in New Orleans. From Los Angeles to New Orleans we drove almost 6000 kilometres.  It’s almost like driving from Sydney to Perth and back? Even though we had a lot of time to complete this leg of the trip, it was tiring.  I have a feeling we are suffering from Traveller’s fatigue. Everything from Texas until now is just a blur!

Anyway, tomorrow we leave for Miami. Early flight at 8am.

Quick Stop in Houston

6 Jan

We couldn’t find much in the way of attractions in Houston so decided to stay a couple of nights. With a four hour drive from San Antonio the first day was always going to be a write off.

What made the day an even bigger write off was that we just can’t help ourselves when it comes to outlet shopping. San Marcos is halfway between Austin and San Antonio and it has something like 250 outlets all in one spot, making it one of the biggest outlet shopping centres in the US. So we head there and didn’t leave until almost 5pm. A couple of items later (disappointing I know) we still have a four hour drive ahead of us.

Exhausted we pull into our hotel in Houston at nine pm after stopping at a roadside diner for dinner. I had chicken fried steak, which is well… steak schnitzel KFC style. Houston is one of the funniest cities I have ever been to. All along the freeway are dotted random high rise buildings (some of them really tall, 40+ stories) with no real need to be there. Most of them have low rise car parks occupying more floor space than the high rises sprawled between them. This my friends really is the city of cars.

Camilla is starting to become an issue. She’s starting to adjust to our routine which means that she sleeps only in the car and not in her stroller or in the hotel room and will not go to sleep until we do at night time. It’s hard to get some time to ourselves. I personally can’t wait until we slow down, more time for me to work and less craziness for Camilla.

Day 2 in Houston. We came here for one reason – the Space Centre. After another drive across the sprawl that is Houston we arrive. Looking at the car park that can fit close to ten thousand cars and the couple of hundred actually in it I breath a sigh of relief that it is off peak. After a five minute queue we’re on a tram ride through the real live space center. The place, we hear, was intentionally designed like a university campus to spur on the innovation required to get a man on the moon. I personally wondered why you’d want to make it look like Macquarie University. The only innovation that place has inspired is how to build a tunnel to get the hell out of it.

Anyway they heard us like sheep from building to building. At one point Priscilla asked if we were going to the furnace. Apart from the lack of SS units it felt like we were off to an uncertain future. To top the tour off they dropped us off next to a couple of rockets and said someone else would be there to pick us up.

Once we jumped on another tram as it drove past (a feat which is not easy carrying a thirteen kilo toddler) we got back to the commercial section of the space centre (which is the tourist attraction not the working part). Well it seems like everything here costs extra. It pretty much sucked with a part cutaway of a space shuttle and some space junk. You’re better off going to the Powerhouse museum in Sydney. It’s all about the Johnson Space Centre tour I mentioned previously.

More BBQ, a good night’s sleep and another big drive to New Orleans the next day.