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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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!

Highly skilled

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!

Canals and snow

We thought that we’d go all out on our first European holiday – well, as much as a couple of Aussies can in expensive Italy and France – and booked a Venetian Christmas followed by a skiing extravaganza in the beautiful resort of Tignes in France.

It started off ominously when my skis and Ben’s snowboard didn’t make it to Venice. We actually thought it worked rather out well, since it meant we had less to haul through the cobblestone streets of Venice trying to find our B&B accommodation. Our B&B was in a great central location only about 10-15 minutes stroll from the Rialto bridge, and we spent the many hours exploring the little alleyways of the city and admiring the cute buildings and bridges.

The food in Venice is great, although on the expensive side. The pizzas we had were gloriously thin and crispy, and I was particularly fond of the local spaghettini alla vongole.

Other than eating and walking, we also spent some time in the local attractions, including the beautiful mosaics in the Basilica di San Marco and the massive Palazzo Ducale, featuring numerous notable works of art by Titian and Tintoretto.

We departed from Venice in our little Chevrolet Matiz, which only just managed to squeeze in our massive suitcase, Ben’s snowboard and my skis. We set off for the French Alps and made good time on the fantastic Italian motorway system to the Italian snow gateway of Aosta.  The next morning we drove to Tignes via Courmayeur, and a few wrong turns that left us just outside of Geneva rather than anywhere near our destination. We eventually made it to Tignes that night, but not before fraying tempers by the both of us threatened to camp us on the side of the road for the night.

The skiing in the Espace Killy combined resorts of Tignes and Val d’Isere was phenomenal. The snow fell on 3 of the 6 days that we were there, but broke long enough for us to hit the slopes hard under perfect blue skies. The skiable area is just massive here, and the combination of the numerous trains and gondolas meant that we could quite easily and effectively ski the whole resort. The resort held a huge dance party to bring in 2008, but unfortunately we were both so knackered from a day’s skiing that we were in bed by 9:30pm!

On our way back to Venice to catch our flight, we stayed overnight in Milan to check out the shopping. Alas, my non-millionaire income doesn’t support the millionaire-style shopping here, but I did enjoy a browse through the Prada store in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade – just because I was in Milan!