I could have been a victim of the Paris terror attacks

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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.

The year that was

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As 2011 nears its end, I thought it might be time to reflect on what amazing things I saw or did during the year, and what crap things occurred that I hope to have learnt from!

The biggest thing that happened in the year was moving back to Sydney from London. It was pretty tough settling back into a routine and giving up the nomad lifestyle, but now that I’ve an established a bunch of friends that enjoy catching up for socials and food tours, and am loving being back in my Balmain flat, things are getting easier. It doesn’t mean that I don’t contemplate moving back to London, which I would do in a heartbeat if a) the economy and job market were in better shape, and b) if the salaries in London weren’t so stupidly crap.

Considering that I spent most of the year in Australia, it actually wasn’t a bad year for travelling. I welcomed in the new year skiing in Italy, then made some short trips to Iceland, Poland, Turkey, Lebanon, Singapore, and New Zealand. I will be sending off the year in Japan!

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There is nothing at all to report on the relationship front. Yet more harassment from the parentals as to the whereabouts of my future husband (there was some part of me that wanted to stay abroad!), but sadly for them, there seems to be a shortage of available, nice, interesting and intelligent men in Sydney. I think that 2012 might be the year of Internet dating!

So all in all, I’d give 2011 a rating of 7 out of 10. I wish that I could have figured out what I want out of my career by now, and I wish I had a few more friends that were up for some fun days or weekends away (trying to get people to come to music festivals, diving and ski trips this year has been an impossibility) but otherwise I’m financially secure and have very few cares in the world. The issues above are very definitely First World Problems!!

How would you rate your 2011? What do you hope for 2012?

Autumn delights

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There is a definite chill in the air – winter is definitely knocking on the door here.  The disturbing thing is that the temperature has already dropped to what is a pretty bloody freezing temperature for me already, and it is only going to get worse!  It’s only October!!!  Scary.

It hasn’t helped the I have just spent a week diving in the Red Sea in gorgeous blue sky days and temperatures of around 32-35C every day.  We had some amazing conditions and saw hammerheads, oceanic white tips and even a dugong.

I also had a couple of trips to Germany during September – a trip to Berlin and then my first Oktoberfest!  I went to Berlin with my mate Rob to visit Simone.  We all volunteered together at ARCAS in Guatemala, and both Rob and I lost our respective World Cup bets with Simone (Germany trounced both England Australia…boo) so we flew to Berlin to buy her beers.

Simone was a great host and tour guide, and took us around the sites of Potsdam, Checkpoint Charlie, the East Side Gallery, the Brandenburg Gate and the Bundestag.

Oktoberfest was a fun few days of excessive volumes of beer and pork.  The beer tents were enormous, the beer was free flowing, the music was fun (albeit a bit repetitive!), although after a few days I was so blocked up from the diet of meat and potatoes and I went hunting for a Chinese restaurant where I could be guaranteed a serving of vegetables!

I’ve just started a new job with a wine company, so it’s nice to be earning money again.  I even get free wine!

Now to work out what to do and where to go for Christmas holidays!

Visiting the Queen

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Having just learnt to ride a motorcycle the weekend before last, I hired a little 125cc for the weekend to practice my skills and rode out to the pretty town of Windsor.  I dropped by Windsor Castle, where the Queen’s standard was flying high on the Round Tower to indicate that she was in!

Having missed my appointment for tea and scones with Her Majesty, I wandered around the lavish State Apartments and marveled at the beautiful paintings and tapestries adorning all the walls.  The Drawing Room even had original sketches by Leonardo da Vinci.

The ride out and back was a good experience, with a wrong turn into Windsor Great Park giving me an idea of how terrifying it is to ride in crosswinds at 50mph.

I’m looking forward to getting a bike of my own sometime next year when i return from my mammoth 30th birthday backpacking trip.  It will hopefully be a largish bike – one that will be comfortable on weekends out in the British countryside and won’t be squealing like mad at 50mph in 5th gear!

Parisian pleasures

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Summer has finally arrived in Europe, with a glorious warm weekend heralding the beginnings of summer dresses, thongs, and jugs of Pimms and lemonade.

Alan and I spent the weekend in Paris, soaking up the sun by enjoying walks through the city, historic sights and a picnic in a park on the Seine.  We walked so far in fact that both of us were struggling through the horrific pain that our completely inappropriate walking footwear was inflicting on our feet.

On Saturday, we walked up to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower before getting the elevator all the way to the top.  The views were just magnificent!  The last time I was here in 2001, I was a poor student and could only marvel at the tower from the bottom.  From the top though, we could full appreciate how grand the Museé de Louvre was, as well as the view of the Seine snaking its way through the city.  It was quite a workout climbing all those stairs, and we thoroughly deserved that ice cream when we got back down the bottom!

The next day, we spent almost the whole day at the Louvre, admiring famous works by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, and the statues Aphrodite (or the Venus de Milo) and the Winged Victory of Samothrace.  I was thrilled to be able to view Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa again, which is my favourite painting in the world.

We walked up the Avenue de Champs Elysée to marvel at the Arc de Triomphe, before I met up with my friend Christian for a dinner date in Montmartre.

Paris is such a beautiful city, and I definitely think that this is a place I could live in.  I think that I would get morbidly obese on all the cheese and wine that abounds in this country, although apparently French women don’t get fat!

Highly skilled

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After a stressful 3 months of waiting, my Tier 1 highly skill migrant visa for the UK was finally approved!  As soon as the approval email appeared in my inbox, I ran around the house squealing with excitement, although when I told my mum her face fell with disappointment at the realisation that I would soon be back on the other side of the world.

Not trusting that the British High Commission would send my passport back in time for me to make the Chamonix ski trip that I had planned, I flew down to Canberra for all of 2 hours just to personally pick up my passport, and within 6 days of receiving my approval email, I was back in London!

It was great to be back in the social atmosphere of the Expedia office, where everyone had apparently deeply missed my boisterous laughter.  For three days I had people coming up and telling me how much they missed my smile and laugh!!  It was so nice to have people interaction after three months of working from home.

However, my stay in London was very brief, as I jetted off to France for a week of skiing.  There had just been a dump of fresh powder before I arrived, so the skiing was just fantastic.  I have also finally been converted to the joys of listening to music whilst carving up the slopes, and there was just nothing more amazing than hitting powdery black runs on the side of Mont Blanc to the beats of Lady Gaga, Basement Jaxx, Pendulum and Crystal Castles!

 

 

I am spending the Easter long weekend being a tourist in London, with trips planned to Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Palace.  This is all an attempt to save some money before I head out to Malaysia for three weeks on Tuesday, which includes spending an indulgent 9 days diving and relaxing at the very awesome Kapalai island resort!

A test of patience

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Having spent the last seven weeks in the glorious Australian summer, it’s just so easy to fall back in love with all the aspects of the country that I missed when I was in London.  Being so close to friends and family is wonderful, as well as enjoying endless weeks of sunshine, the laid back culture, the fantastic fresh food and wine, and did I mention the weather??

While I’ve been impatiently waiting for the British Consulate to check a few boxes and hopefully approve my visa, I’ve been considering the possibility of having my visa rejected yet again, and formulating an alternative plan.  Needless to say, if my visa gets rejected again, I will find it incredibly hard to justify throwing more money on top of the almost $2000 that I’ve already spent on visas.

Brainstorming an alternative plan has actually been really quite stimulating, and to be honest, it is so exciting that I’m beginning to become a little indifferent as to whether I head back to the UK or not!  I would buy a round-the-world ticket, backpack for up to 6 months in the cheaper parts of the world (Asia, Central America, South America) via London, to pack up all my stuff and ship it home.  No doubt I would then be nearing my 30th birthday, which I would love to celebrate by doing something completely crazy, or just being in a really special place like Mount Kilimanjaro or Iguazu Falls.  Then I could return to Sydney and look to kick off my business idea, return to taekwondo training and also possibly start my own class.

Now you see why I would be excited right??

Having said all that though, I really am looking forward to returning to London.  I miss the big city life, London’s melting pot of culture, the European travel, and just wanting to live out my dream of living abroad for an extended period of time.  I know that if I didn’t make it back to London then it would be something that I’d always regret.

Still, it does rile me that some unskilled worker from Poland can so easily enter and work in the UK, whereas I’m highly qualified and experienced and will no doubt be paying a lot more taxes to the British government and therefore contributing more to the culture and society there.  It just doesn’t make sense does it?  But then again, since when was government bureaucracy rational?

Lady of leisure

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I finished up my 6 month contract at the pharmaceutical company on Friday and am officially unemployed whilst I’m looking for my next contract.  I did manage to find a new house share in East Acton, where I’ll be moving to next week and shall be living with Christine, my good mate from uni.  I must say that it was an incredible relief to get away from my previous psycho flatmate, even though the Notting Hill location was just absolutely perfect.

Before I finished up at my old job, I was invited to attend the company’s Accountant’s Conference, which really was as boring as it sounds.  The important thing to know is that it was in Malta – do I hear some of you say junket???  Well, it was a complete junket, with a lot more play than work, lots of feasting, and we even did a tour of Mdina (the old capital of Malta) and of the nearby islands, Comino and Gozo.

Today I went out for a brief visit of the British Museum.  It must be impossible to get a good look at it in one go, so I’m hoping to get there a few times whilst I’m here to check out the whole place as thoroughly as I can.  Then I went for a stroll along the banks of the Thames, past the London Eye to the Houses of Parliament.

And until I find my next job, it’s free sights and cheap nights in with a box of goon!

An adventure in Belgian cuisine

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At long last, my dear little bro arrived in London and I promptly whisked him away to a weekend in Belgium on the Eurostar.  We have both long been fans of mussels, chips with mayonnaise, Belgian beer and Belgian chocolate, and we weren’t disappointed on our visit here.

Bruges is very touristy, and it’s no surprise why when you see the beautiful medieval architecture and cobblestoned streets.  It didn’t take us long to find a decent-looking place that served mussels, and that set the tone for the weekend – mass feasting!

We took time out to do some exercise though, and our hotel had complimentary bicycle hire for its guests.  It seems like a romantic idea – cycling through cobblestoned streets – but in actual fact, the whole ordeal is just quite painful.  All that bouncing around on bikes without any suspension or seat padding results in a very sore arse!

Diving in the Med

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My manager was kind enough to grant me a week off, so last week I winged my way to Murcia for a week in the sun and some diving off the Mediterranean coast.

I had a gorgeous week of sunshine, with barely a cloud in the sky.  Needless to say, having missed the Aussie summer and now being utterly complacent with sun protection, I got fried to a crisp on the very first day unintentionally whilst having lunch!  Then i spent the rest of the week trying to even up my tan.

I dived out of Cabo del Palos, which is predominantly a fishing port.  It goes without saying that seafood is a feature along this coast, and the produce is just so fresh and delicious! The strangest thing I tried was hueva de maruca, which are salted and preserved eggs of blue ling – a bit like fish-flavoured jerky and not bad!

The diving was quite good, even though the visibility was poor.  My dive guide and buddy, Javier, said that the 3-5m vis that we had most days was the worst that he’d ever seen! What great timing. The water was also a chilly 14C, which is damn cold by my Sydney standards! It’s definitely the coldest water I’ve dived in, and I wished that my drysuit was ready for this trip (it’s currently being made!).

I spent most evenings relaxing, reading, and watching Spanish cooking television, but let my hair down on the last couple of nights in Cabo de Palos.  The friendly folk from the dive shop Planeta Azul took me out for tapas, drinks and dancing around Cabo de Palos, Los Belones and La Manga.  The Spanish seem to have a high-protein diet here with very few vegetables in sight.  I think that, over the course of the week, I managed to eat my bodyweight in delicious jamón serrano and queso!

The guys from Planeta Azul were absolutely fantastic – really friendly and hospitable, and they organised my accommodation and showed me a great time!  I’m already planning my next trip to Spain, as I’m thinking of volunteering to teach English for a week in August through Vaughantown near Madrid, and then going back to Cabo de Palos for some warm water diving when the water temperature is a much more Ev-friendly 24-26C!