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

Once more unto the beach...

FRANCE | Wednesday, 22 July 2009 | Views [751]

MANY thanks, Lufthansa, for telling me that you couldn’t find my son on your manifests because he had somehow got his tickets from United Airlines. Despite being on Lufthansa flight LH 565 from Ghana to Frankfurt and a further Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Heathrow, arriving at 8am.

Many thanks for being so helpful about his non-appearance four-and a-half hours after he was supposed to land. Ring United Airlines, instead, they suggested. Well, yes, heaven forbid you might have any details of who got on YOUR planes and YOUR flights.

And many more thanks to United Airlines, who confirmed that he had caught both flights on time and, as far as they were concerned, he got off the final flight on time at Heathrow.

So where was he? You can imagine the dire imaginings of teenage pranks gone wrong and 18-year-old Calum trying to explain how ‘that’ got into his backpack while bending over in front of a beefy Costumes & Exercise chap snapping on his plastic gloves.

Finally, the call came from London; Calum had arrived at his grandmother’s house at 12.45pm.

The flight from Ghana had NOT taken off on time; it had been many hours late.

He had therefore missed his connecting flight in Frankfurt and was mos’ def NOT on the 8am flight.

He had finally landed at Heathrow at 11am.

Yes, thanks to everyone for a most exciting morning. Your websites were shit, too.

ON A more positive note, Paris has outdone itself yet again. Yesterday was the official opening of the Paris Plages 2009 – Un ete solidaire. This is a celebration of all things summery along the expressway beneath the Right Bank of the Seine from Pont Sully in the east to around the Pont du Carousel in the west.

This road – the Voie Georges Pompidou – is a bypass which normally funnels traffic away the smaller Parisienne streets and thunders along doing much to stop Paris becoming one big traffic jam.

So what do the city bigwigs do? They close the thing down every July/August and truck in 2000 tonnes of sand and fill the voie up with artificial beaches, and bars and cafes and ice-cream kiosks and a swimming pool and sun loungers and deckchairs and water fountains.

It might sound like some bizarre City emulation of Bondi or the Costa del Anywhere and, well, it is a bit like that but along the whole 2 kilometre or so stretch there’s a definite relaxed holiday vibe – and the beach doesn’t look too odd to tell the truth.

In fact it’s great to stand on the Right Bank, lean out between the booksellers’ stalls and watch excited kids making sandcastles right next to the sloppy old Seine. It also shelps that lots of yummy mummies take the opportunity to grab a sun lounger and give the bikini an outing.

Popsi Bubblehead was so much taken with the idea of the swimming pool – built from nothing not far from us just before Pont Sully – that she took her cozzie out with her and was determined to take a dip within sight of Notre Dame.

Sadly when we arrived it was a kids’ and parents’ hour and they wouldn’t let her in, despite her various attempts to steal a small child.

The City Fathers have also set up, at various points along the way, water features which pump out a fine mist – very welcome in yesterday’s heat and, from their faces alone, amazing fun for the kids of all ages who dashed in and out of it to cool down. Or just get wet.

The price of food and drink has also been kept down – probably because the Town Hall is involved – and as such it’s a great place for an affordable beer – certainly cheaper than many of the rip-off joints nearby.

Anyway, I’ll upload a whole bunch of pics to give a better idea of it. Well, I will if it doesn't take two days to upload...

Other highlights included the little pedal-powered VeloPresse carts which trundled up and down selling newspaper and magazines, the outdoor gym, the leathery nut-brown skin of the elderly sun worshippers as they settled on the boardwalk sun loungers, the free balloon animals for kids and the large area either side of the Pont Louis Philippe where you can play boules for FREE in newly-built petanque pits.

Great fun in a great atmosphere – and full marks to the Paris Mairie for coming up with it. Where else in the world would a city close down a major traffic artery and fill it with attractions for the locals and tourists alike?

It’d be like closing the Cahill Expressway in Sydney during January, or pedestrianising Oxford Street in London for the whole of August. Gotta love the French.

AND FINALLY, a minor downside to the whole banning of smoking inside thing. This is all very well in somewhere like London but here in Paris, where eating and drinking al fresco is almost a national pastime, it has had the effect of forcing all the smokers outside. This means that on a stinking hot day, if you don’t want a faceful of Gauloise you have to sit inside.

Just a few days ago a sat at a lovely little cafe along the Rue de Rivoli, next to a couple who got through six cigarettes in the time it took them to drink one cup of coffee each. And I really don’t know the French for ‘any chance you might side downwind of me, you smelly gits?’

AND FINALLY finally, I might be out of contact for a few days because Popsi and myself are heading down to Spain to have dinner at El Bulli, supposedly the world’s best restaurant. We’re taking the overnight TGV to Girona and then hiring a car for a few days in Roses on the coast.

We are both very excited at the prospect of El Bulli and will report back with pictures on our return.

Tags: beaches, beer, el bulli, keith austin, paris, plage, popsi bubblehead, spain, summer, voie georges pompidou

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