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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The year that was

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

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

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

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!