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Keith Austin: When the world is your lobster Stories from a former Travel Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Train, train do not go away

FRANCE | Saturday, 7 February 2009 | Views [1170]

How many times have you heard that people, when they arrive at a new destination, want to “experience” the place like the locals do? They want to eat where the locals eat, drink where the locals drink ... it’s an obsession, and a ridiculous one.

For, and let’s be honest here, if you really want to experience life the way the locals do you’ll get a job, go to work, come home exhausted, cook a meal and fall asleep in front of the tele. The real locals are not there for three days spending their holiday money; they do not go out to restaurants or the nearest bar every night. Especially not in the areas with the more attractive attractions, where a cafe au lait or a vin chaud can set you back a pretty Euro or four.

No, they live in suburbs away from the bright lights, they live on housing commission estates away from ANY lights, they live those lives of quiet desperation.

When you travel what you really want to experience life like the tourist you so obviously are; you just want to THINK you’re doing it like a local. For instance, in Venice when the locals dip into the bars for a quick espresso and a sandwich they do it all standing up. It’s cheaper that way – the moment your  arse – any arse - hits that seat the price rockets.

But, come on, you’ve just walked around for four hours, you’ve climbed the steps up the Basilica to get that stunning view of St Mark’s Square, you’ve done the Doges’ Palace tour, you’ve seen more Madonna And Childs than any person should see in one lifetime, you’ve taken yet another fucking picture of a canal so bloody picturesque it should be on a postcard, and is.

The one thing you are NOT going to do is stand up and eat your sarny. No way.

So Popsi Bubblehead and I are living like locals in Paris, if that’s possible in the heart of the Marais, possibly the world’s biggest tourist trap. Several chums have already asked us if we have found a favourite bar and favourite restaurant yet, knowing as they do our foremost inclinations to stuff our faces and get pissed.

Let’s just say that in the first four days here we’ve SEEN our favourite local bar and we’ve looked into the window of what could well be our favourite restaurant but if we want to survive our six months here Popsi is going to have to get used to my soup a la vegetable et lapin and spag bog. And no way are we paying $2 a pop for croissants.

But I get ahead of myself, mes amis. Last time we spoke I was freezing my gondolas off in the impossibly stunning city of Venice – a place that shouldn’t, by all sane criteria, actually exist.

On our last day there it began to snow in the morning and only really let up when we dragged our cases to the station – remember, there are no cars in Venice, lots of bridges, and the streets are full of water - and boarded the overnight train to Paris.

And what a way to travel. It’s a gloriously casual and romantic method of getting from A to B – something we forget in the mostly train-free vastness of Australia. We took Rail Europe’s Artesia (SNCF) train (www.raileurope.com), which chuffed off precisely on time at 19.57 and deposited us at a snow-covered Paris-Bercy 12 hours later (where we waited one hour for a taxi!!!!).

The cabins are very comfortable, the beds soft, the linen and pillows and extra blankets provided. What there isn’t is a need to arrive two hours before take-off, no need to wait for your luggage at the end, any border/passport formalities are taken care of by the cabin attendant, the departure and destination stations are in the middle of town, as train stations tend to be, and there is a view outside the window.

There is also a restaurant car for those who haven’t stuffed themselves stupid on the last of their home-made pasta, and a bar which sells beer and wine and Kit-Kats and Pringles to those fortunate enough to find a small hole next to said pasta.

It was thus fuelled that we turned out the lights in the cabin and gazed out of the windows as the black-and-white, moon-lit  Italian countryside slide by. It was like watching an old silent movie. Punctuated, of course, by the happy burps and farts of Popsi collapsing in the corner.

Try doing that on Ryanair ...

Tags: croissants, keith austin, paris, popsi bubblehead, prices, tourism, tourists, trains, venice



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