Archive for the ‘Album’ Category

I’m on a plane

Just when I thought I couldn’t have anymore adventures before my looming departure, this happened.

I flew a plane.


I later broke the law, but we’ll get to that.

So here’s the story. Around lunchtime I met up with my lovely WEP coordinator, Julienne, to sum up my time in France. Once she had left, my host mum unexpectedly told me to dress warmly and get in the car. We drove for a while, and I began to get suspicious around the point when we were driving in the woods. When we arrived at the municipal airport I really began to wonder exactly what they had planned.

Inside the airport’s tiny lobby, I surveyed my surroundings. I could see no mention of parachuting and was relieved and disappointed at the same time. I don’t really want to leave France, but I didn’t want to die here either. We walked outside and climbed into the back of an airplane the size of a small airplane. But instead of being seated next to my brother, Lucas as I expected, Michel climbed in the back with me. It wasn’t too far out of the ordinary that Lucas would get to sit next to the pilot, somehow he always managed to get the front seat of the car. However it did take me a minute to realise that it would not be the pilot flying this plane.


Lucas was a bit (ok maybe a lot) nervous to be sitting in the pilot’s seat, but it took him only a few minutes to get the basics down. Soon we were hurtling down the runway. I trusted my brother’s instincts, but I wasn’t quite sure that he did. We took-off, and within a few minutes had reached 5000 feet. It is a funny feeling, feeling safer at 5000 feet than at 10 feet.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h05m30s230

We were flying towards the Spanish border, watching all the tiny people and tiny houses and tiny etc. below us. It reminded me of my countless hours of playing sim city 4 deluxe edition but safe in knowing that the traffic jams weren’t a sign of my poor city management, I could just relax and indulge in the fact that I wasn’t them. I must have drifted off into my head, because after a few minutes we had reached the border. How did I know exactly? The majority of the Spanish-French border is a mountain range called “Les Pyrénées”. As we began to fly over the first peaks and I began to wonder if this was all just some elaborate plot to get me out of the country and leave a dead trail when the immigration come looking for an expired visa. I didn’t have much of a chance to think about that – a more pressing issue filled my mind.SANY0226

What once felt like a safe 5000ft didn’t feel that safe anymore. The peaks below us reached almost as high. I tried not to panic and consoled myself that if these were my last moments, that at least I would be spending them with family, that it would be an extraordinary exit to the afterlife, and that hopefully the snow would engulf my body, conserving my good looks so I could have an open casket funeral. Even though he was seated in the co-pilot seat, I trusted our pilot’s decision to take control from Lucas. This, I realised, was about to become serious.SANY0220

We rounded the first peak and made a sudden dive, leaving us truly in the depths of the ranges. I didn’t see how we could pull up in time to make it over the next peak but it turns out that wasn’t our goal. We banked a sharp left, almost perpendicular to the ground, and sped up. Out one window was sky, the other, ground. My head spun so I tried to focus on something. The windscreen. I focused my eyes and saw what I gathered was our escape – a gap between two more peaks. We were still some distance away, so I expected the gap to widen as we approached. It didn’t and suddenly we banked again, miraculously passing the gap. We made it.

I looked around us in our moment of security. Dug into the mountainside below us was a huge open cut mine. Curious, I asked what it was. The pilot replied that it was talc. I told him it was the same word in English. Even so, Michel, being the greatly humorous father that he is had to explain the various uses of talc for me. Suddenly the plane dropped. The land below us had sheered off into a  which has caused a change in air pressure. No biggie. We levelled out again and Lucas took the wheel. No more mountains before us, I felt safe again.SANY0222

The pilot pointed out something on top of a small peak to our left. As it came into focus, we realised what it was, a fortress. After we had passed it, he pointed us our next destination, another airfield not too far away. As he guided Lucas to the runway, I realised that he wasn’t going to land it, Lucas was. Hours of Aircrash Investigations ran through my head simultaneously. The pilot pushed some buttons and we started slowing. The ground came towards us much faster than I would have liked and soon we were metres from the tarmac. The plane nosed up suddenly and dropped gently onto the runway. We taxied and made a brief stop to change our seating.vlcsnap-2012-01-20-09h43m12s0

I had drunk a lot of water before the flight so took this golden opportunity to jog over to the grass and well you know. I looked around at this beautiful day. The sun sifting through the clouds and reflecting of the snow sprinkled slopes in the distance. The breeze drifting lazily through the long yellow grass and HOLY CRAP IS THAT A FREAKING HELLICOTER. The noise of the still running plane motor behind me had silenced it’s approach, and as it drifted not 50m in front of me I read the word GENDARMERIE in huge white letters on its side. Yes ladies and gentlemen, yours beloved, urinated in plain sight of a police chopper, showing it is possible to fulfil a bucket list item quite by accident.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h10m12s216

I hurried back to the plane having decided it would be best to get out of here as quickly as possible. In retrospect it was kind of obvious, but it still surprised me when the only empty seat was the pilots. I climbed in, adjusted my seat, attached my safety belt, and put the plane in gear. Listening to my instructions, I taxied the runway. At the end, I turned the plane around and faced destiny. I released the foot brakes and we sped of. The plane swerved left, and I pushed the pedal to adjust. I had trouble understanding my instructor. What number did he say to wait for? 50? 60? Were we still veering left? Did the cops think I was trying to make a getaway? He signalled to pull the yoke (an aeronautic steering wheel) so I did and as we separated from the tarmac, all my worries vanished.

After a few minutes we levelled out and I adjusted our heading. Occasionally we would bank, but it became easier and easier to stay level. It occurred to me that I had never driven a car but I could fly a plane. I resisted the urge to barrel-roll in delight. The pilot looked behind us for a long while then instructed me to speed up. I snatched a glance behind us. The sun was setting, and even though an early sunset would mean no time to joy-ride for me, the glance I had was enough natural beauty to make it worth it.

Enough clichéd sentimental bull, Ned. Just get to the part where you realise you have to land the plane too.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h02m15s43

Oh yeah, That. As soon as the airfield was pointed out to me, it dawned on me that like my brother, I too would have to aim this contraption at the ground in the hope my instincts would save me. I listened as intently as I could and did everything I was told to: fly over Leclerc, then line up with the runway.vlcsnap-2012-01-26-02h02m44s85

He told me to aim for ‘34’ written at the start of the runway

I overshot it.

We were too close to the ground

I pulled up sharply.

Our downward momentum keep us falling.

The tyres touched tarmac.

We rolled along the runway.

I congratulated myself.

I had just flown a plane.


We avoided the traffic jams and made it home safe.



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With our vacation over it’s time for some reminiscing. Over the past week we had our good moments and our bad. We learnt some things, too: how to party; what not to eat; the relative size of it all; and that sometimes strange things happen.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

We finished our wonderful ski spectacular in the mountains after our week of adventure. At the end of the week we  travelled to Saint Jean-de-Luz again to spend Christmas with some of Michel’s Family.


The temperature had finally risen and it had stopped raining so we went outside. I found myself reading this plaque in the village centre “Le 6 Mai 1808 Napoléon a peut-étre pissé ici” which literally means “May 6th, Napoléon may have pissed here.” Knowing my chances I was standing in someone’s piss. Napolén pisséThat on my mind I went home and blogged.

It was a special dinner that night, much like the Repas de Noël I had on my last day of lycée but much more grown-up. I learnt some more valuable lessons.

My family taught me how to drink wine:SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Then later, how to boogie:SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

And they also taught me that sauce which looks like créme anglais (English Cream) and placed with the desserts could just as easily be vinaigrette.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

I took this panoramic, originally about 15000×7300 pixels – 5.29×2.58m at full resolution – which took 3 hours to stitch. It wouldn’t open on my laptop although I now realise why not.SANY0144 Stitch (10000x4885) (1280x672)

Before coming to Gourette, my family had promised me we would have a traditional mountain raclet – a huge half wheel of cheese placed on a hot rock causing the cheese to melt onto your plate over types of meat and potatoes. A dish traditionally from the alps.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAThis wasn’t quite what we expected.

Later that day there was a midday sunsetSANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

and a PARACHOOTING FRENCH SANTA! Because being Santa just isn’t cool enough for the kids anymore…SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

I skyped everyone, 2011-12-24 11154 skype with the family, christmas dinner  (640x375)and after we left. Our descent down the mountains was beautiful and because we had arrived during the night and a snow storm, it was completely new to me. – click for better quality…



That evening yet another Santavlcsnap-2011-12-29-00h56m37s96

Around midnight we drove across the bay into Église St Jean Baptiste, made famous by the marriage of Louis XIV (Roi soleil – sun king) and the Infanta of Spain. After the wedding, the king ordered the door way to be bricked up so that no-one would ever be married via that that door again. Inside the hallowed walls we listened to the story of Christmas. If you haven’t heard it before, it’s quite a kicker…


Sunday the 25th:
We were treated by some more of Michel’s family for lunch. We arrived at 14:00 and didn’t leave the table until 17:00IMG_0151 (640x480)

Needless to say it was de la bonne bouffe (good grub) and they made me feel like one of the family.

I sampled this particular cheese. I didn’t really want to, but it’s difficult to say no the relentless insistence of your French hosts up to 4 times your age. Honestly, I was grateful to sample something new and that I have that opportunity. But I was mostly grateful of the fact that the cheese platter had some other VERY powerful cheeses. In particular that one Roquefort which was somehow able to overpower the taste of used urinal cakes the innocently named Mont d’or  (Golden Summit) left me with.vlcsnap-2011-12-29-01h02m51s67

Even though the world had already finished celebrating, we made it home on time for Christmas. IMG_0172 Stitch (3264x2476) (640x480)vlcsnap-2011-12-29-01h21m21s130

Love you all. Hope everything was well over this special time of year.

I tried a new style of blog this week – picture blog – mainly because I had alot of photos, and because I assumed it wouldn’t take as long. It did take as long, but it’s nice not to hear me ranting for once right?
Let me know what you think. [no-one sees your email in comments, it’s aim is to stop spammers]

Also, how did you spend your Christmas?



Finding inspiration can be difficult. I have to try every trick I can. SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

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Well it was inevitable. Christmas has come in all it’s commercial glory. Decorations hung in the streets and at school. I had my last day of school for the year today. Most of my class came for the one hour of class we had in the morning, but thanks to vacation plans and for a general dislike for learning establishments, my lycée was a little empty.

IMG_0002 [LD]I live with my host family in Saint-foy-d’aigrefuielle, about 15 minutes from my High-school in Saint-Orens, a suburb to the very south of Toulouse. I’m saying this to show that I rarely get to travel into the city centre, and that is where today’s story comes from. I was feeling a little out of touch with my city. So after my 1 hour of class I decided to rekindle the romance and head back to my grand beloved. Like I said, my school is on the very outskirt of the city proper, and as a result we are the final destination for 4 bus routes, so I can usually catch a bus every 5 minutes. Of course like I have plainly stated before, this is the French system and seems to hate me so it’s a matter of chance if I can actually get back on time. Today was no different and the bus I was meant to wait 5 minutes for never came. But all was not lost. I had lovely company from 3 jeune filles from my English class who waited with me the 40 minutes until my next bus.

Eventually,  my bus came and left and we headed north. I was preparing myself for the Christmas Spirit with some music I found, while I patiently tried tried to calculate exactly how much time I would be spending in the bus so that I could work out how much time I could spend in Toulouse. It didn’t look good. If it took me 40 minutes from school to Francois Verdier station, I would only have only about 20 minutes in the city (Taking for granted the bus would actually return). I thought about how my city – like a siren – pulled me in with it’s promises of beauty, while making me traverse unnecessarily long bus routes.

Meanwhile we arrive and I get off my bus where I assumed I was close enough to the capitol, lured my the promise of Christmas Cheer. I knew exactly what I wanted:  I wanted decorations, I wanted Lights, I wanted Music and snow and fake Santas and choirs singing carols in the streets. And I was willing to risk a missed bus to find it.

IMG_0043 Stitch [LD]

I took my chances and ventured into that concrete jungle. Walking pass churches and the homeless I arrived at my goal, Capitol Square. I always end up here. Thy had put a lot of effort in – that was obvious – but I never saw any references to anything Christmassy. No Santas, Jesus, reindeer or the like. Nothing but a lot of stores and a lot of money changing hands. All this commercialism using Christmas as a selling point. I realise that as I grow up, that this is what Christmas will become to me. We all have to lose that childhood innocence eventually, right? We become thee people who don’t mind paying overinflated prices on unwanted Christmas Gifts, but giving a dollar to the homeless is just a little too much. It’s a much repeated story, but it still pisses me off.

IMG_0068 Stitch [LD]

Lost in trying to find my Christmas Wonderland, I realised that once again I had missed my bus but I promised myself that it would pay-off. 20 minutes later, scanning my bus ticket, I had still found nothing. I arrived at school later than I had expected, and so was sure that I had missed the Repas de Noël – A special Christmas lunch the school puts on near Christmas. I hadn’t missed it, but I had missed the queue and didn’t have to wait. It was yum.IMG_0087 [LD]

From my table I had a view of the entire cafeteria and felt a little better. I could see our German correspondent, Lukas, at a table with his host-brother and friends. Despite it being his last day, they all looked remarkably happy. This was the Christmas spirit I had been looking for and I didn’t even need to go looking for it. It had been here all along. I smiled to myself. Christmas is sooooooo cliché.

IMG_1052 Edit [LD]

Joyeuses Fêtes

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So you’ve heard about my ice-skating. My pride told me that it needed to take sick-leave to recuperate. So I decided “Why not go too?” (In reality things went a little differently, maybe because my emotions are not sentient, but who cares?)

If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people
Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Monk

So on Saturday the 29th of October, we set out once again to the wild, wild country know as Basque Country (pronounced like, “Bask in my glory”). I was conned into watching the lord of the rings on DVD and I got the feeling that the scenery outside the car became a little jealous of the awesome cinematography. It tried it’s best to compensate and gave me this awesome shot of the Pyrenees

That Night I decided I would go for a walk and do some thinking. I got lost and fell down a hill. My thoughts, don’t go walking late at night in the hills in a city you hardly know.

But my luck didn’t stop there! The annual Basque pepper festival was the next day. The drive out didn’t take very long, in fact we spent twice as long looking for a car-park than it took to get there. But after driving the entire stretch of road it was just impossible to find a car park. And we voyaged onward to city of Biarritz located 15km NE of Sainte-Jean-de-Luz. It was an absolutely stunning place. However, my camera – who had been out late last night – had absolutely no energy and had to wait in the car. We ate lunch at a restaurant on the waterfront and made our way back home feeling relaxed and at peace.


So relaxed, in fact, that we only left the house again the next afternoon. Eventually we just couldn’t put it off any longer. Deep in the heart of St. Jean, we did our shopping, only to be disturbed by singing in the street. I was confused and went out to look. Just one man, wearing old clothes and thick stubble, singing opera on the streets.


It was late in the afternoon and Michel wanted to take us to one of his favourite places. We were at the cliffs which held the city over the sea. It was a walk through the scrub and I couldn’t tell when we had arrived, but he insisted it was here. Eventually we found it buried beneath decades of vegetation and disrepair. He explained to us that  during the second World War, German Nazis had used this battlement and others all along the coast for surveying the Atlantic. When he was little, he and his friends used to travel between the bunkers using a series of underground tunnels, but today they have collapsed.
I can’t speak for the men who were posted here during the German occupation, but I found it difficult to imagine any kind of War going on.

SANY0043 Stitch (2)

On the last day, I did a little foreign occupation of my own. It was only a short drive – and a 4.00 Euro toll – to the Spanish side of the border and for me it felt like arriving in France for the first time. Everything was new and exciting, and I found it hard to believe that France was mere kilometres away. SANY0044

We arrived in San Sebastián and I breathed my first breath of Spanish air (actually chances are it was probably mostly French air that had blown in from over the border, but you’d never hear a Spaniard admit it.)

The city was utterly beautiful. It seems that the Spanish put their gold to good use. It was everywhere, on bridges, statues, churches. Oh yes, churches. In an area of about 200m x 200m, we found about 5. Nothing small either, each towered over the 6-story buildings which surrounded them.

We walked back to the bay which was surrounded by store fronts. I thought to myself how much I liked it here, but that it wasn’t like France. Not really even similar. It’s the subtle things that made it’s beauty stand out. The little things that separate the Spanish from the French – Architecture and People.

SANY0059 Stitch

But maybe they’re a lot more similar than they think. Here on the modern border between two nations, is a region of the same native people and language. No matter how much the Spanish here might want to believe they are different and try to separate themselves from the French, they don’t have a chance. Both regions are immensely proud of their  Basque heritage. So in today’s time of global unification and instant information, we still shy away from Other cultures. People aren’t willing to go back further through their ancestry to a time when all the people alive really were family. I feel family. I feel it more than ever now. They say that “It doesn’t matter how poor a man is; if he has family, he’s rich” and in these times of economic crisis I know I have nothing to worry about.


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Ye old whatever…

This is my first blog on the new website, so it’s a little exciting.

France is an amazing place. Don’t get me wrong I Australia to bits, but there is something here that I think Australia does not have:


Yes, Of course Australia has history,

but I sit here and struggle to think of anything other than oppression, and stories of men who spent years trekking through barren landscape with the hoping to find water, forests, something.  Instead, there was nothing.  There’s spirit in Australia, but there isn’t history.

I discovered this myself this weekend when my family took me out.  We left our house and headed away from Toulouse. it was a road I had never seen before,  and I half expected it to turn into one of those bad action movies where they put a black bag over the guys head and take him out to the middle of nowhere. Of course I was mistaken.  Unlike the Australian you don’t instantly disappear into the wilderness as soon as you drive over the first hill. Things were pretty desolate but I wasn’t worried because we were still on the GPS.  We kept on them burst through a village into the welcome sight of the AutoRoute.

We kept driving.

I pressed my face against the window and drifted off into my head.  The gentle vibrations calmed me.  The music playing, on my iPod kept me ignorance to the outside world.  Suddenly I felt my headphone wrenched out of my ear.  It was painful like an umbilical cord being ripped out of a small child. I was a new-born suddenly realizing that I didn’t like the outside world so much anymore.

“Ned, regarde (look)”

I sat up slowly, turned my head, and was instantly confused. Firstly, because everyone was so calm. Secondly, because pleasure in the middle of the town was a preteen girl’s fantasy house. A real fucking fairy-tale castle. My stomach dropped, like someone I had met a few times but hadn’t seen for too long had just died.  It wasn’t right.  It couldn’t be true.  We headed around a bend in the AutoRoute and it was gone.

Within half an hour I had walked across the drawbridge and through the gatehouse of carcassonne  There I stood sandwiched between two rows of buildings and probably 30 tourists.  From my vantage point they seemed almost as tall as the walls (the buildings that is not the tourists). The slope of the ground looked unstable and they slanted worryingly. I had to remind myself that they had stood for centuries and probably a dozen wars.  We ate lunch and were walking through the village when I started to get pissed off.  Past every place we walked was filled with something sickeningly commercial. Storefronts assaulting us with the phrase “made in China”.  I imagined a knight walking out through one of the houses and becoming enraged.  Even in this sanctuary, commercialism had prevailed.  The walls had finally given way and the results were devastating.  I tried not to show my upset, as we kept walking.  Before too long we were gazing up at the strangely castle like eglise (kind of church), with its own towers and walls just as thick as the battlements.

When I pushed open the door I swear I could feel the spirits rush past me. The air was cold and dark, and there was silence. Apart from the few tourists in felt genuine.  This was warts and all history.  Martyrs, witches, crusades. . .  All that death in the name of god right where I stood. I noticed the floor was uneven and dangerous and probably not wheelchair accessible.  The walls seemed unnecessarily high.  Then there’s the windows.  To me it’s a mystery, and I hope it stays that way.  Beauty like this should not have explanation. Unnoticed by me and group of men had gathered in front of the altar.  They sang, and my body shuddered.  A wave of noise flooded the pews, splashing off the too-high walls. I was saturated from head to toe with sound. There were only five men but I could have been hearing hundreds more, the accumulation of generations of choirs. Never have I really been religious, but this was something special. I should have prayed, done something. Something symbolic. Something to outwardly express my utter surrender to the power of this place. I wanted to fall to my knees and cry.

It was time to leave and we met with our tour guide. Over another moat, through another wall, right into the heart of the castle keep. Even though the tour guide only spoke French, I have probably studied the middle ages at least three times so I had general idea about what he was saying. Occasionally, Patricia
(my host mum) would fill me in on what he was saying. I like to use the word ‘Histoire’ because it’s a bit more correct.  Literally it can mean history or also just stories.  No one alive really knows the truth anymore.  For example here’s a quick story about emperor Charlemagne:

Charlemagne decided he didn’t have enough castles.  So for five years he besieged this one. Almost everyone in the castle died. There was famine, pestilence and cabin fever so after the King died, his wife took drastic action. She took the the last pig and had its stomach  stuffed with the last of the village’s grain. And then she loaded it into a catapult and had it hurled over the war. It hit the ground and exploded everywhere. When Charlemagne saw that the village still had food to waste, he realized the siege was futile and ordered a retreat. As he was leaving, the Dame sounded the bells as a sign of piece. Charlemagne returned and gratefully accepted the cease fire.

There’s a particular part of the tour I found particularly unnerving. We were walking along the tower walls and came to another gate. For those wishing to enter it spelled disaster.  Not by the way of a “guard dog on duty” sign. This was the real deal. More appropriate would be a “attempt to enter and you will have you face melted off with boiling oil and be covered faeces while we fire at you.” I couldn’t decide which was more horrific, that someone could wish this on their worst enemy, or that knights would be willing to sacrifice their lives like this for the good of their kingdom.  Greed is a dangerous thing in the hands of anyone, but out it in the hands of a militant, and you get war.

Towards the end of the tour was this theatre:

The amplitheatre

Some parts of the castle (like this) were from Roman times.  But – like with the stores – the chairs were new and didn’t fit.

Despite my negativity, I really enjoyed my time and found it quite insightful. When I started writing this I had no intention of writing so much or from this perspective, but I guess that’s just freedom of expression.

I’ll leave you with  this thought to ponder on:
The whole point of building castles was to protect the citizens from barbarians.  But if this exchange has taught me anything, it’s that we are all the same race, on both sides of the wall.


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Chez Elle

Well, Dinner with my friend was nice. We had crepes.

The walk to her house let me get some nice photos of the village I live near. (more…)

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Normally on a Friday, I get 4 hours of the morning off and go home. Today, I did something a little more exciting.

Patricia, (My host Mum) had told me about a free bus that runs between school and the shopping centre, so I decided to have a look around. As soon as we hit the first roundabout I realised it was not heading to the shopping centre… (more…)

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