Why do I love France?

I've been thinking about why I love France so much. It could be the food, the cheese, the wine, the peoplem the history. But really it's the lack of the anti-intellectual cultural cringe you see in Australia. Arts funding here is sprayed around with a fire hose and people living off that funding are considered the country's future, not a bunch of leftie bludgers.

The sports section of the newspapers this week have, along with the usual football, large sections on the Kasparov chess matches (Kasparov lost and is no longer the World Champion). In the Herald I'm sure this was relegated to three lines on page 24.

We haven't actually done much this week as far as touristy stuff. Mostly it's just been wandering around the city. It seems to be school and uni holidays so there's stacks of young people in all the shops and museums, which makes things interesting.

Holly's been loving the shopping and has bought quite a bit, though she's having trouble buying shoes that fit her big hooves. A word for the fashion conscious: please boycott Kookai. This company makes only two sizes of clothing (informatively labelled 1 and 2) and shoes which don't even come close to fitting. I don't understand why anyone would buy clothes from them unless they happen to fit one of their two sizes. I mean who's going to spend big money on designer clothes that only kinda fit?

I've bought a funky pair of shoes to go with my new suits, gloves and a beanie for the cold London Winter.

Last night we found a place that's as close to the value we were getting in Vietnam as possible. 80FF for 1.5 litres of beer called "cheap blonde". Not quite 50 cents a litre but getting there...

Today we're going to the Paris Museum of Modern Art. Tonight our friend Mani is popping down from the Netherlands for the weekend. We'll hopefully get out to some funky club and possibly make it to Versailles tomorrow.

Welcome to Sunny London

Well here we are in London at last. Our week in Paris was, of course, fantastic. Had lots of yummy cheese, met some excellent people and did a small amount of sightseeing.

I guess I should talk about some of that. We went to see the Catacombes. These tunnels under the city contain tens of thousands of human skeletons exhumed from graveyards in Paris for hygeine and real-estate reasons. They're now stacked in massive stacks with sometimes grim scull-ptures made out of them. Quite odd.

So here is London. It's raining. No surprise. It's not to cold, yet. It's fun!

We're staying with Rachel Prior, an Aussie friend, who has made us most welcome. Sniffing around at the housing market, it doesn't seem too bad, particularly once we start earning pounds. The job situation for me is great -- shouldn't be hard at all. For Holly it's going to be more difficult as Social Workers, not Psychologists, are more often used in her area.

So off we go. I should have a mobile phone soon, hopefully. I'll post the number when I have it.

Paris wow

We're in Paris and loving it! Holly has been raving about how much she loves the place all afternoon.

Of course, as with entry into any country, there were some hassles. We breezed through baggage claim (our bags were first off the carousel, much to the chagrin of the whinging old frogs who spent the whole flight complaining) and customs. Then Holly and Michael both ended up with problems. Holly managed to get her Visa card eaten by the ATM and Michael's flight to London was delayed enormously by rain and wind in London and Paris. There was a tornado in the UK yesterday and Charles de Gaule airport in Paris closed down.

Michael's now staying the night in Paris and will make his rendez-vous with Jean tomorrow, much to his disappointment. He wanted to get there ASAP after six months of seperation from his beloved.

We've managed to find a decent, cheap hotel in the 3e arrondissment, close to the centre of town. The prices, of course, are a bit of a shock after US$5 rooms in Vietnam and US$0.50 litres of beer. But we knew that and London is going to be worse, what with the state of the South Pacific Peseta these days...

So, having fun and soon to be in London. My French is getting a workout and is holding up surprisingly well considering it's nearly 10 years since I set foot in the country. Need more vocabulary which I've forgotten to really express myself beyond the basics.

Holly's been trawling through the shopping section of the Lonely Planet and has already marked out a bunch of shops, especially the hair accessory shop which sells over two hundred hair accessories. (sheesh!) Fortunately the Euro is doing almost as poorly as the Aussie Rupiah so shopping won't be QUITE as expensive as London, though it's a matter of degrees.

We sauntered into Paris wearing our brand new clothes we had made in Hoi An. Holly's wearing her spunky (ooh the poms will love that term!) red riding hood duffle coat, Michael in his suit pants, silk shirt and London overcoat and me in my purple shirt and cord jacket. We almost feel as stylish as the locals, except for the Vietnamese mud on our shoes...

Anyway, more soon. Net access here is much faster than Vietnam, though commesurately more expensive, so we can do more updates without too much frustration. We'll also be able to phone home for something less than US$30 for 3 minutes. We'll also be responding to emails more quickly.

J'adore Paris

Spent the day today wandering around Paris. We have a weekly ticket on the Metro and travelled to the Arc de Triomphe and then wandered down the Champs-Elysee towards one of Paris' department stores.

Holly of course bought several things. The men's section of the store was full of boring crap -- "streetware" ended up being boring Ralph Lauren and other ordinary, conservative clothes with a "label" to supposedly make them cool. I see so many people, not just in this country, wearing this sort of crap; but what is it that makes something your parents would wear cool just by having a particular label on it?

So we wandered around a bit more, feet getting sorer. Before we finally hopped on the Metro back to our hotel, we saw an interesting looking building, poked our heads in and found an amazing church with incredible ceiling and mosaics.

We're both a bit jet lagged. There's a club on tonight that looks cool and, importantly with the state of the Australian Lire, is free but we're both too tired to head out.

An interesting discovery, which you probably wouldn't find if you don't speak French, is that a whole bunch of museums and galleries in Paris are free for under-26s. This makes our stay considerably cheaper! So now we can go to the Modern Art Museum and the like because it costs us nothing.

Weather tomorrow is supposed to be cloudy but dry. We want to check out some flea markets and mabye the Centre Pomidou, though that depends if it's open as it's All Saints Day which is a public holiday in France.

Orright then. Having fun and loving Paris. More soon.

Halong Bay and off to Paris

We're back in Hanoi after 3 days going to Cat Ba Island in Halong Bay. We timed it perfectly and got beautiful sunny weather. That meant we got some swimming in. First off the boat and then at the beach. On Day 2 we did a half-day hike to the top of a jagged limestone mountain. Then we swam at the beach. No waves but water as warm as a bath. And of course they sell beer on the beach. Aaah! We had to do it, that's our Summer!

Tonight we're off to Paris. There's still lots to see here so it's a bit sad. We'll be getting some beef in for dinner since we won't be eating European beef.

Next notice from Paris.

Back in Hanoi

Well we got back to Hanoi tonight after six days travelling around the North West of Vietnam. We've seen a lot of minority hill tribe villages and had a hell of a lot of fun. We also have sore bums from five days in a 4WD and crappy roads. Great fun though!

Tomorrow is a rest day and then we go to Halong Bay and Cat Ba for three days. I'll write some more about our adventures tomorrow.

Still having fun!

Hanoi and onwards to Sapa

We've been in Hanoi the last two days. Beautiful old city, although the traffic is more hectic than Saigon!

We managed one sunny day today but I managed to spend most of the day in bed with the runs and a fever. Seems to be righting itself but I'm on bread and flat lemonade for another day at least...

Tomorrow morning we're heading off in a rented 4WD with driver and guide to Sapa in the North West. It's a six day trip and it's more off the tourist trail so we're unlikely to see another net cafe until we get back to Hanoi. We're sharing the car with two pommies we've been hanging out with.

Tonight we went and saw the Vietnamese Water Puppets. Quite an amazing show. This was one of the features of last year's Sydney Festival but at 20,000 dong (under US$2) it was quite a bit cheaper than the AUD$70 it cost in Sydney.

Anyway, more when I have more time and we get back from Sapa.


We're still in Hoi An, it's still raining but we have some fantastic clothes. We've been hanging out with a couple of poms and Irish people which has been fun. Not much else to do in the rain.

We tried our clothes out last night. They're fantastic! I've US$120 and have the following tailor made:

  • A grey Ho Chi Minh style suit with straight collar
  • A normal, boring black business suit
  • A green silk business shirt
  • A green silk tie to match
  • Two cotton business shirts
  • Two funky elephant design hippy shirts
  • A very good corduroy Winter jacket made from a picture in a fashion magazine
  • A black shirt with orange and yellow flames embroidered on it.

Gotta love this place! Holly has also had a few dresses and a great red duffle coat made. Michael's had three suits and a bunch of shirts made. Our biggest problem now is carting all this crap the rest of the way up the coast of Vietnam. We'll have to buy another bag :)

Tomorrow morning we're heading up to Hue. From the weather map it looks like it's pouring there and apparently much of the town is under water. If that's the case we probably won't stay long, missing some of the Royal Tombs and other sights, and head for Hanoi which appears to be dryer.

Still more than two weeks to go in this country and loving it!

Hue and on to Hanoi

Not much to report. We spent the day on the bus from Hoi An to Hue. It's still raining (sounding like a scratched record). Tomorrow we'll try and get onto a boat ride on the Perfume River to see the tombs, then we're on the bus at 6pm to Hanoi.

It's the big killer of a bus ride: 16 hours in one hit. It's only about 650 kms but on the goat track they call a road, that's how long it takes...

More when we have more to report.

Look here for updates

Keep watching this page for updates about where Holly, Michael and Simon are and to hear about their adventures.