Beautiful Bordeaux

Bordeaux is beautiful, though I always wonder with beautiful places. You know those episodes of Star Trek where they find a paradise-like planet named “Eden” and everyone’s super happy, until it’s revealed that unhappy people are being taken out back and shot? Maybe that’s what’s going on here.

I’m actually witnessing some kind of police action right now. The first time I’ve seen police here in Bordeaux (compared that to the cops with machine-guns in London and Paris). A police car cruised past me slowly through this pedestrianised street and stopped outside McDonalds. Three cops got out and talked to a guy who was standing outside. Tense stuff. Anyway, they wrote him a ticket, presumably for not being quite magical enough this morning, and drove off.

Bicycles, dogs and pedestrians everywhere. So many dogs.

The place we’re staying in is called the Hotel Touring, a family-owned business in a building straight out of the ’40s. There are a few photos in the previous post, and I’ll post a few more today.

In fact, I’ll post again later today. Or tonight, by your standards. Sweet dreams, State Highway One.

Bedding in Bordeaux

That’s “bedding”, the noun, not the verb.

For most of yesterday morning (Saturday), Diana and I had pretty much planned on flying to Madrid. Then, over lunch, we weirdly decided to jump on a train through the Tannel (thank you) and down from Paris to Bordeaux.

My first time in a non-English-speaking country. It’s a bit claustrophobic, a bit stressful, especially when you’ve got only the vaguest instructions of which line to take on the Paris Metro to get to the other train station where the line to Bordeaux kicks off. Still, somehow we muddled through.

There was a full-on genuine street crazy on the Metro link. There are a few street crazies in Auckland, but they tend to just mutter a bit here and there. This guy gets on at one stop with a fucking fire extinguisher, sets it down and starts lecturing loudly in French, punctuating his rant with complicated gestures. At the next stop, he picks up his fire extinguisher and disembarks. Okay, we think. No more crazy. But no, he was just putting the fire extinguisher down on the floor of the subway outside the train, and hopped right back on to continue his lecture.

There’s street crazy, and then there’s French street crazy. Rue crazy.

Navigating the public transport in Bordeaux at 10.30pm to get to the hotel I’d booked was a whole other mission. Took a tram to a place to catch a bus that gives no indication of where it is, etc. Managed with the help of a Korean couple.

Well, I say tram. When I hear “tram”, I think of antiques crunching their way around Christchurch. Christchurch, by the way, has more people living in it than Bordeaux. Bordeaux’s not big, but apparently the mayor here woke up one morning and said, “Fuck it. We’re going to make Bordeaux fucking b’dass.” Here’s Lonely Planet on it:

The mayor, ex-Prime Minister Alain Juppé, roused Bordeaux, pedestrianising its boulevards, restoring its neoclassical architecture, and implementing a high-tech public-transport system. His efforts paid off: in mid-2007 half of the entire city was Unesco-listed, making it the largest urban World Heritage Site.

“Hey, where’s the World Heritage Site around here?” Mogo doesn’t socialise.

So, smaller in population than Christchurch, and when I hear “tram” I think “antique”, basically. So getting on a goddam space elevator was a bit of a surprise. I was told before coming to Europe that I’d want to spit on Auckland’s public transport-system when I returned, but that’s not quite accurate. I’m no longer entirely convinced that Auckland even has a public-transport system.

The space elevators trams cover most of the city, and they’re 1.40 Euro no matter how far you go. And they go fast. And they’re clean and they’re frequent.

Anyway, that’s where we are now. Gonna grab some breakfast, find a backpackers to stay at, and look into this “Bordeaux wine tour” thingee.

Keep it foolish.

Biking in Britain

London is pretty incredible.

We’ve been getting around with a great automated bike hire/exchange set-up in the central city. You stick in your debit card, unlock a bike, take it and just lock it into another stall somewhere else when you’re done. You get charged a few pounds depending on how long you used it, or no charge for under 30 minutes.

Helmets aren’t provided, nor are they apparently a legal requirement here, which makes me a feel a bit naked on the bikes. Drivers are incredibly understanding and tolerant, but pedestrians are fucking dicks to people on bikes. Hardly a green light goes by where you don’t have to dodge people crossing – if you’re not a car, you’re not going to stop them getting to the other side.

Everything is massive and old here. It feels like there’s no such thing as a new, purely functional building. Sex-toy stores and superettes lease streetfront properties that look like they should house centuries-old banks and courthouses.

I feel sorry for people who grow up here, acclimatised to the… weight of it from birth. Puking at 3am on the wall of a building that Isaac Newton built by hand, stubbing out a smoke right on the spot where Nelson shot Hitler dead with a crossbow, etc. Like people being born on the moon and treating Earthians with an amused disdain when they make a big deal about being about to jump so high.

That’s my metaphor and I’m standing by it.

I say, “Look, honey, another English pub!” a lot. Initially because the pubs are all so overwhelmingly English that I felt compelled to comment, and now more or less because I think it’s funny that Diana doesn’t think it’s funny any more. They’re all called things like “Lord Harrowmont’s Rooster” or “The Wyvern and Echidna” or whatever. They smell of wood and beer and friendliness.

I expect we’re leaving tomorrow, through the Tannel (another joke Diana assures me is not funny) to France.

I like London. I can imagine living here, though how I’d get anything done while spending every day feeding almonds to squirrels in St James Park is a whole other mystery.

Lucid Dreaming in London

So I didn’t sleep on the plane, and more or less haven’t slept since landing at Heathrow at 5am. There was maybe an hour in the afternoon before a fire alarm went off. It’s all lent the day a surreal quality.

A few trains got us from the airport to Westminster, and we dropped our backpacks at the hotel at 7am, but couldn’t check in till 2pm. Which meant wandering around for hours. More like sleepwalking.

But! Good sleepwalking. Caught some of the usual sights – Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, etc. They were fine, but it was the little things in between that were the real highlights. Opposite Buckingham is a bunch of sculptures, one of which is a big bronze labourer with a sledgehammer standing next to a lion with life-size testicles poking out the back, entitled: “Gift from New Zealand”. Possibly more importantly, today I had a squirrel stand on my hand take a nut from me.

London highlights so far mainly about nuts.

It took me a while to work out why London feels so familiar. At first I thought it was a bit of similarity to downtown Wellington. Then I realised. There’s construction everywhere. It’s annoying as all hell, switching sides of streets, scaffolding all over things. It’s like Auckland was for most of the last year, frantically preparing for a massive international event. I wonder if Parliament will have to seize control from the City of London if the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony doesn’t go according to plan.

Ooh! Also, first random old lady scamming me today. Told me she was raising money for the ‘ospital. The ‘ospital. For Christmas. The ‘ospital, you see. I gave some change and she looked me in the eye and said, “They usually give notes.” Bless her scammy old soul.

Sleep now, I think. Also, photos tomorrow.

Hiatus in Hong Kong

It’s probably about 2am in New Zealand. Clever iPads detect their location and give you the local time, which sounds helpful, but now I can’t be bothered actually researching what time my body thinks it is. Here it’s almost 10pm.

A few twists of fate have resulted in Diana and I enjoying the use of a business-class lounge at this airport in Hong Kong. We’re here a few hours before we cruise on to London. So I’ve got a bit of time to jot down some thoughts.

So let’s see.

I haven’t traveled before, so this is all new to me. First things first. I received all kinds of advice on how to survive the hassle of 24 hours of being stuck in a plane. Sat down prepared for the worst. Somehow, no one had ever told me that international flights are magical lands where dreams come true.

It is awesome. I just spent 11 hours sitting in the same seat, watching everything from RED to Captain America to Community, while the closest anyone came to interrupting me was to feed me and offer me drinks. I guess it’s something like sitting at home, watching TV shows and movies, with all of the phones disconnected and a manservant bringing me things. You don’t have to know me too well to know that the only thing I’d like better than 11 hours of that is 12 hours of that. And the next leg is 13 hours.

I’ll have to sleep a bit this time, probably, out of raw biological necessity, and it sucks to waste that awesome plane time on sleep. But the theory is we’ll wake up for a 5am start in sunny London, kicking off eight weeks in Europe and a week in Thailand.

I’ve been taking advice on Europe and Thailand too, and have some fairly cartoonish notions in my head of what to expect. Mainly at the moment I picture Europe as a large, very old obstacle course in which one does nothing but dodge a never-ending stream of Gypsy pickpockets and soccer hooligans.

I’ve been writing for 20 minutes now, since I got out of the shower. Diana hasn’t surfaced yet, but while that may seem just generally unsurprising, it’s utterly forgivable here. The showers don’t so much have showerheads as a massive section of ceiling that rains hot water on you. If it wasn’t for the lure of sitting in a dark metal cylinder flying through the air and watching Alan Partridge, I probably would never have left the shower myself.

This is the future of smoking.

(Guest post by Dave Parfitt.)

Dubai Airport, Terminal Four, Gate 125.

And there it was in all its glory, the Smoker’s Lounge. If you’re like me and you smoke in the realms of a pack per day, sitting for 14 hours from Brisbane to Dubai without so much as a crumb of nicotine gum is sheer hell. After about six hours of flying the delirium sets in; you see white sugar packets as cigarettes and swallow as many as possible in order to get your fix. Little do you realize you’re about half an hour from the eventual… crash.

But free from the shackles of a non-smoking airplane you rock into the airport wishing to smoke some of your newly purchased carton of smokes, enjoy the smooth nicotine rush which will eventually resume your body’s equilibrium.

Which leads us to the top of the story, the Smoker’s Lounge. I guess this room qualified as a lounge due to the three seats that adorned the floor, however tenuous the jump from seats to lounge may be. Picture this: a 15 metre by 15 metre fully-enclosed room with absolutely no ventilation and a constant stream of smokers getting their fix twenty at a time. After one step iside you’ve just smoked a pack.

This is the future of smoking. Corralled into the back alleyways of our towns and cities, forced to feed a habit of which you have little control over after initially taking the plunge as a sixteen year-old.

It made me finally think about quitting. I then realized I still had 399 cigarettes to smoke.

Maybe some other time.

Motuihe Island

So, on Saturday, we’re going to break the New Zealand record for the most number of trees planted by volunteers in a single day. We’ll be doing it on Motuihe Island, with a massive group of 500 people all being sent over for free by The N.O., sponsored by Smirnoff. Also, many thanks to Bluebird for supplying us with snacks, the Mad Butcher for giving us discounted sausages (including vegetarian sausages) for the barbecue, and the Motuihe Trust and DoC for sharing the vision.

Good times. Meanwhile, if you want to see me singing on a bus on a N.O. mission – and don’t pretend you don’t want to – you can see it right here. Keep in mind, I had no idea how many other agents would be placed on the bus, if any, and it was a very real possibility that I’d end up singing by myself on a bus with a bunch of strangers thinking I’d gone insane.

C to the Hristchurch

It is fucking cold down here.

However, Christchurch has something going for it: Sol Square.

It’s brilliant. You walk off one of the desolate streets of this desolate wasteland of a city and into a vibrant community of very cool bars. I spent the evening at Fat Eddie’s, which (like many of the bars in the square) has a cool balcony overlooking everything, excellent service and a sweet upstairs area with couches and coffee tables. I genuinely wish there was something like it in Auckland.

I also had a few beers earlier in the evening with Dad4Justice (off of Kiwiblog and The Briefing Room). As I suspected, people who routinely disagree strongly with each other online get on perfectly well over a few beers, and I recommend it to everyone.