I could have been a victim of the Paris terror attacks

Four hours before the France v German friendly that took place at the Stade de France on Friday the 13th of November, we were considering not attending the match at all.

We had bought three tickets to the match, but we didn’t realise at the time that they weren’t seated together. The match also started at 9pm, and with Miss P having been abnormally grumpy that day, we thought it was just too much effort.

In the end, we decided to go with Miss P strapped to my front in the baby carrier. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric, with almost a full house of excited and enthusiastic French fans madly waving their tri-colour flags. We even managed to find three seats together and thought we’d just keep them warm until the ticket holder came along to boot us out.

We were seated next to a rowdy bunch of drunken French fans, which offered us a very entertaining insight into the rarely seen French bogan. They were merrily passing around a bottle of alcoholic mystery in an unlabelled Coke bottle, and yelling words of encouragement to their countrymen on the field.

French bogans

Shortly into the first half of the match, we heard a loud explosion that came from outside the stadium. We looked at each other and our friend tried to reassure us, “I think it was just a bunger!” I replied, “It sounded a bit loud to be a bunger”. The bogans even shouted, “Yeah! They’re the real fans!!” But as we looked around the stadium, no-one else seemed concerned as they continued cheering loudly for the Blues.

Not long after, we heard another loud explosion. I could see people high up in the back row, only a quarter of the way around the stadium from us, peering over the fence to see what was going on outside. There was clearly some sort of drama going on, but we didn’t think anything more than there being some very loud fire crackers or perhaps a nearby gas explosion.

Half time rolled around and a lady with her kids came up to us and said that we were sitting in her seats. Being well after 10pm by now and not having three seats together, we decided to call it quits and go home. As we lingered on the terrace with the countless smokers, the large metal gates slid shut right in front of us. We asked the security guard where the closest exit was and he informed us that no-one was being allowed to leave.

Soon after, the second half started and crowd were fixated on the game. We heard a third explosion outside the stadium in front of us and we could see police lights, armed men, and medics gathering. While the game was playing, our friend was searching on her phone for any news items that could shed some light on what was happening nearby. It was only then that we were shocked to read about the shootings at the concert hall and the restaurant. There was only a minor mention of an explosion near the stadium.

We weren’t panicking yet, but we were slightly concerned at the lockdown and with the the end of the game looming closer, the thought of a stampede for the exits was at the front of our minds. We tried to place ourselves in a little alcove so that if there was a rush then we would be protected.

As the final siren came closer, there were a few more worried faces gathering at the exits, mostly young families who were probably in the same situation as us, and those just wanting to beat the rush home. Thankfully, about 10 minutes before the end of the match they began to open the gates and we were able to leave.

There was tension in the air as we walked to the train station. Heavily armed police and tactical response teams were everywhere, bearing large semi-automatic weapons and tear gas launchers. We even saw one young man with multiple guns pointed at him, urging him to put his hands up and lay down on the ground. We all put our hands up in the air just so that there could be no mistake to the authorities that we were ‘the good guys’.

One week later, we have been heartbroken and deeply sad at the 129 senseless deaths and 300 people injured that night. But we also feel a sense of relief that the suicide bombers outside the stadium were detected and stopped before they killed and injured potentially hundreds more. We wonder what we would have done if an explosion had happened in the stadium. Would we have stampeded toward the exit? Or would we have done the more rational thing and stayed in our seats?

We wonder whether the suicide bombers would have detonated their vests near us, and we would be just another name on the list of victims.

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View of Mt Yotei

Japan ski adventures

For any food-loving Aussie skier, the mere thought of Japan is enough to get one salivating. There is an abundance of light fluffy powder, it’s less than 11 hours away (that’s on the doorstep from our perspective!), and even the Japanese food is worth a visit alone.

I know it must seem crazy to some to take flight from a gorgeous Australian summer to seek winter cold in Niseko, but passionate skiers and boarders know that it’s worthwhile. There are pretty much guaranteed snowy conditions, fantastic off-piste skiing, and of course, the food. And compared to the predictably icy Australian snow conditions and extortionate lift ticket prices, it ends up being much better value than a week at Thredbo.

 

On the mountain at NisekoIt snowed every day, which meant that every morning was filled with the excitement and anticipation of getting on the mountain. The weather was very cold, with temperatures of around -8C in the village and -15C on the summit, but you didn’t really notice too much until you were sitting high up on a lift, a slave to the elements. All I can say is thank god for the gondolas and the hooded lifts!

My favourite ski area was the Hanazono area, where there were some fun off-piste runs through the trees. It was my first time skiing through trees so I wasn’t game enough to go hardcore through the gates and outside the resort boundary and patrolled area, and Strawberry Fields area in particular had some narrow steep drops with some nice powder stashes, as well as wider open areas through the trees.

Niseko Hirafu

Hanazono ski signThe best thing about visiting Japan (right up there with the snow!) is all the delicious food. They take such pride with the serving and presentation of their food, that you can even get tasty snacks in their convenience stores. It’s fine dining compared to the dry sausage rolls or tasteless egg sandwiches in the Australian convenience stores.

We sampled a range of Japanese food throughout our visit, including sashimi, teppanyaki, sukiyaki, soba, and lots of ramen. It was cool to see that food vans were a thing in Niseko too.

Sukiyaki

Soba noodles

Ramen with snow crab legs

Potato ramen

Potato ramen

Peace out!

Deep fried oysters

Gyoza at Little Red Mimoji

Fresh sashimi

Niseko food vanWith so many Aussies in Niseko, the bar scene is hip and happening. The most trendy bar would probably be the Fridge Door Bar, properly called Bar Gyu+ but known for it’s distinctive front door.

Fridge door bar NisekoInside it’s a cosy European feel with warm wood panelling and wooden furniture. The menus are hand illustrated, and there is a great selection of whiskies, as well as hot alcoholic drinks and my first ever absinthe (the stuff knocks your socks off).

Niseko fridge door bar menu

Ev with a drink

AbsintheSkiing and eating aside, we managed to find some time to squeeze in some karaoke. For the equivalent of around A$20 for two hours of singing and all-you-can-drink, you can be assured to hear some high quality vocal performances. Oh well, when in Rome, or Japan…

Karaoke

Hooded up in the snowDid you take off for any snow adventures this winter? Or are you looking forward to the upcoming Southern Hemisphere winter for some snow action?

Older couple making spring rolls

Taipei’s Shilin night markets

On our recent trip to Japan, we stopped over in Taipei for a night of feasting at the famous Shilin night markets. The markets first opened in 1899 and has a huge variety of delicious Taiwanese street food and snacks. During the day, the streets are empty and quiet, devoid of food carts, but come nighttime, it’s jam-packed with hungry people throughout the night.

 

A country still at war

With South Korea and its northern neighbour still technically at war, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border of these two countries is a really fascinating visit.

On one of my trips to South Korea a few years back, I joined a tour to check out the DMZ to see the stand off between the two Koreas. We were taken around on a guided tour of the Joint Security Area and the Freedom House, where delegates from the two countries have met for talks. Soldiers from the Republic of Korea (as South Korea is technically known) stand stiffly without cracking any hint of emotion. The border between the North and the South runs straight through the centre of the building.

Outside, ROK soldiers stand on guard, half exposed and half hidden while facing their northern counterparts.

These are some of my favourite photos of my South Korean trips, including the walled city of Suwon, Namsangol traditional houses, and Gyeongbokgung Palace.

When travel goes wrong

Travelling is one of my greatest passions. It may end up costing you a house deposit, or your best childbearing years, but I think it’s a worthwhile investment on so many fronts. However, bad things can happen when you’re away from your usual nine-to-five routine. And when bad things happen and you’re a long way from home, it can be a daunting and helpless experience.

We never plan for bad things to happen, and that’s why travel insurance is a good idea. It’s a major pain in the ass if your luggage is lost, your passport is stolen, or you miss a flight. It means spending hours or days waiting around, wasting precious travel time.

However, those are not the worst things that could happen while travelling. Being hospitalised with an illness or a result of an accident can ruin a trip, as well as a bank balance if you don’t have travel insurance. Especially in developing countries, it’s important to be mindful of the water you’re drinking or the food that you’re eating, lest you end up on the toilet for days at best, or at worst, hooked up on a drip in a hospital where you can’t speak the language.

A run in with the local authorities is also not advised, even if it makes a good yarn many years down the track. Being arrested and thrown in a foreign jail would make for a unique travel experience, however there are countries where you definitely want to walk the straight and narrow, unless being thrown into a violent jail where you will be treated inhumanely is your thing.

Speaking personally, my bad experiences include being pickpocketed in Costa Rica, my hotel room being burgled in Honduras (and losing, amongst other things, 4 months of travel photos on my camera), my luggage not making flights, being dumped by a then-boyfriend, having fellow backpackers shagging all around me whilst I was trying to sleep, and being ripped off by numerous taxi drivers.

However my worst travel experience was while I was travelling alone around Lebanon. I was on a day trip to Baalbek, in the Beqaa Valley, to see the beautiful World Heritage Listed Roman ruins. Public transport in Lebanon is often by minibus, and it was on one of these minibuses, as I was making my way back to Beirut, that trouble struck.

baalbek lebanon

I was the only passenger on the minibus, and the driver, Bilal, a tall man probably in his early 20s, insisted that I sit with him in the front passenger seat. After repeatedly rejecting his offers of a seat for about 5 minutes, I gave in just so that we could get our journey underway and I could make it back to Beirut and then to Jbeil, where I was staying. That was a mistake.

Bilal suddenly turned off the highway and drove off road for a few hundred metres before stopping with my passenger door hard up against a small tree. After turning off the engine, he proceeded to stroke my leg and mutter things in Arabic to me. Needless to say, I was starting to run some defence scenarios very quickly through my head, as my heart was beginning to race away in my chest. The clearest scenario that I could imagine was using my years of martial arts training and attacking him with a punch to the throat. However, the thought of then trying to get out of the car, running to the road, and then trying to flag down a car and communicate with them in English when they could probably only speak Arabic seemed a bit risky.

As Bilal continued to touch my leg, my face, my hair, and then tried to roughly shove his hand into my jacket and down my top, I decided that my best defence was just to laugh the whole thing off, repeatedly brush his hand away, and say yellah over and over again – let’s go, c’mon! Thankfully, after what seemed like an eternity but was maybe only 5 minutes in reality, he was fed up with my refusals, started up the minibus, and got back onto the road. It was only when he picked up the next passenger, an older lady, that I finally exhaled with relief, safe and unharmed.

When I finally made it back to Jbeil, I told my new local friends about the ordeal. They were horrified for me but told me that, despite being dressed modestly, it was likely they thought I was sex worker due to being of Asian descent. Great! And it explained why I was propositioned another three more times during that short 7-day trip.

There are many ways for travel to go wrong. Many things can be covered by travel insurance, but the best thing to do is to be careful, look after yourself and your possessions, and if you come home without being sexually assaulted by a dodgy Lebanese minibus driver, then you’re doing well!

This post is modified from my original post on Laugh Lots, Travel Often