Highlights of Lyon

October 9, 2011

I travelled to Lyon from Exeter, conference hopping. On the little Flybe aircraft across the channel I sat next to another conference goer. He was leaving Exeter and returning home to France rather than continuing to another conference like I was. (When you have flown the 25 hours to get to Europe from Australia, you may as well make the most of it). He was a PhD student originally from Pakistan, who learnt French to obtain a scholarship at a French University. He knew Lyon. I dictated notes onto my iphone as he told me what to see and where to go in Lyon.

Things to see and do in Lyon:

  1. bellecoeur – beautiful heart, city square – biggest in France
  2. vieux lyon – old city, museums (free), restaurants
  3. cathedral – biggest in Lyon
  4. close to Cathedral climb up small tower and view of whole of Lyon
  5. statue of Mary near cathedral also
  6. Rhone – the bigger river, on bank: Quai Claude Bernard, walk on bank in evening (popular promenade in the evenings) Close to this is the old university (conference is in new part)
  7. near Parte Dieu there are two towers: 1. pencil tip, 2. like a half pipe, shopping centre Center Commerciale Parte Dieu – beautiful, not expensive, fountain.
  8. biggest park in Lyon, Parc Tete D’Ore, beautiful lake, underground and come up in centre of the lake.
  9. public cycling stands, 6 euros for seven days: there are machines for hiring, select how many days. if you return to any stand within half an hour there is no extra charge. there are cycling tracks.
I can now add my own reflections to the list.

Lyon is the second largest city in France. It was the centre of commerce for a region in France settled by the Roman Empire some time BC. The ruins of the largest amphitheatre I’ve ever seen are on the hill in Lyon. If you climb the stairs to the top of this hill you have a vista back across the whole city and can even see the alps in the background. This is where you can go into the cathedral (3). The old town (2) is back down the hill. It has wonderful shops to browse. I had a crepe dinner here on my last night in Lyon. The delicious crepes were cooked on a cart and we sat out of doors.

I found the city bikes (9) on the first day and I’m glad I did. Its unusual when you are in a city for a conference to have such freedom in your travel. I rode the bikes everyday and enjoyed not being reliant on transport timetables. The ride along the river from the city centre (where I was staying) to the conference venue was spectacular (6). The river is wide. There are beautiful public spaces, from fabulous children’s playgrounds to picnic areas to fountains, to grassy enclaves where people in bikinis tanned.

I didn’t go to the shopping centre he recommended (7) but the Parc Tete D’Ore (8) is wonderful. I was surprised to find in the park a free zoo. I came upon the animal cages before I realised I had entered a zoo. (wtf is that a giraffe?) I spent time wandering the gardens with friends from the conference here as well because it was within walking distance from the conference venue.

But the list did not include recommendations about finding good food. Firstly I would add that any bakery in Lyon is a great start, and there are numerous. Secondly, I highly recommend an eating institution which everyone in Lyon seemed to know about, Brasserie Georges. Luckily I have colleagues who always find fabulous restaurants in faraway cities.  The restaurant was a wonderful French experience: the ambience, the food, the service. Getting to the restaurant also turned out to be a French experience for me.

I rode a city bike from my hotel to a bike stand that I now realise was opposite Brasserie Georges, except that the road was split. Between where I parked and the restaurant was a wide motorway and nearby a large rail terminal. Not realising this I walked my half of the road without seeing it and became lost. My French is poor to non-existent but I had a little routine that I could use for emergencies. Upon realising I was lost I approached a woman at a bus stop and said in French,

Bonjour, I am Australian, I don’t speak French.

I showed her the address of where I was going but it was not until she read Brasserie Geroges that her eyes lit up. ‘Ah Brasserie Georg-geh’ she said (I’m trying to capture the accent and you need to pronounce the ‘g’ softly with an ‘h’ sound in there as well). She pointed me in the right direction and told me how to get there (in French). I followed the direction she pointed but because I didn’t understand the directions soon became lost again.

I approached another person. This time I used my routine but added ‘Brasserie Geor-geh’ to it with a little palms up, shoulder shrug. The recognition was instant. Again I was pointed in a direction and given instructions in French. Of course I walked in the direction pointed but soon became lost again. I went through this routine with four more people before finally arriving an hour late. I had walked a large three-sixty to appear upon the restaurant from exactly the opposite direction to which I had parked my bike. But I made it! My friends had saved me some of the antipasto entree (sensational) poured me a glass of wine (also sensational) and I ordered duck (sensational) and coffee icecream parfait for dessert (magnificent but it kept me up way too late that night).

I was proud of myself. As you know its quite stressful being lost. I consciously calmed myself down and thanks to the friendly French people had a wonderful experience of it rather than tears.

The view from the top of the hill in Lyon

The beautiful Rhone in Lyon

My first day on the Lyon city bikes

Eating the sensational antipasto at Brasserie Georges

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On my run this afternoon I saw four black cockatoos, six kangaroo and an Eastern Rosella.

Yep, you guessed it, I’m back in Australia. And despite a little bit of jet lag I have just managed to do my usual 10k run. I think it was the Lyon City bikes and swimming laps in the pool at The University of Exeter that kept me fit whilst away for two weeks despite conferencing during the day, eating out at night and drinking a little bit more and staying up later than I normally would.

The highlights of the trip? Apart from the conferences themselves and the wonderful people with whom I had professional and happy catch-up discussions, the highlights of the trip were:

1. On safari in search of Dartmoor ponies.

2. Exploring Lyon on City Bikes and on foot.

Following is a photographic chronology of my Dartmoor safari:

Firstly it took a little while to find our way onto the moors, but we knew we were there when the trees became windswept, there were no stone fences and we could see tors on the horizon.

It was amongst the tors that I first spotted evidence of the ponies. (So I took a photo of the evidence, just in case we didn’t find any actual ponies).

We sat on the tors for a little while and became very windswept ourselves. Through binoculars we spotted ponies on a far away ridge and some more by a far away road under a tree. It was exciting. We jumped in the car and headed for the far away road. After many twists and turns we passed the very same ponies that we had seen magnified though our binoculars still standing under the tree. I lept out of the car and captured the beasts on film (the photographs I will now share with you).

Wild ponies!

(Although they didn’t look particularly wild.)

They sort of looked tubby and placid.

In Australia we have wild horses called Brumbies. They are legendary and you get the image of them running in packs, tossing their manes in the wind, bucking and such and being quite fierce if you ever come across them. You’d expect a bit of hoof stamping and nostril flaring at the minimum.  I suppose that’s what I was expecting of the Dartmoor Ponies. But on second thoughts, I should have realised that they weren’t quite the same as the wild horses in the Australian High Plains – their title “ponies” should have given me the heads up.

Oh well. We had a fun day and topped it off with cream tea in Dartmouth in the sun. (It was much warmer in Dartmouth than up on the moors).

Stay tuned for more adventure travel stories. Next up, getting lost in Lyon in search of Brasserie Georges.

If you do pump then have a massage at the oriental healing centre at Hong Kong airport 35 hours later it will hurt. Some people would say that if you do pump thirty-five hours later you will hurt. Other people might suggest that pain would be experienced at the elbows of the masseurs at HK airport regardless of what you did thirty-five hours prior. The combination is therefore a no brainer but I can vouch that it is an acute pain that takes training to endure.

My training took place at a very early age and I was coached by my father (a la Pavlov). When I was a kid my father encouraged us all to have our fillings done without pain relief. He’d make light of the drill and reward us by telling us how brave we were.

I endured the pain of the massage by breathing through it. It took quite a bit of breathing. There were times I thought I wouldn’t make it but I’m glad I did because the massage cured my headache and filled in one of the eight hours I have here at HK airport.

I filled another hour by going to Starbucks. There I met a random traveller from India who’s in the logistics business dealing with trade in and out of Russia and China. I think now I might go and find a restaurant for some dinner and some Chinese tea.

Hello blogging world. Thanks for being here.

I must admit I have a bit of travel anxiety building up. I used to think that the anxiety was caused by other people. For example, my husband would insist on the week leading up to my departure that I do extraneous jobs like sort out the children’s wardrobes and be on duty for kids sport and night club pickups all week. I had thought he was intentionally sabotaging my peace of mind. I’d get on the plane wound up after a week of total chaos and tension in the house.

This time he did ask me to sort out the wardrobes but I realised all I had to do was quietly explain that I was busy getting my conference presentations ready and that he please refrain from asking me to do non-urgent jobs for a week at least. He backed off. I’ve had space and time to focus on my work. But with a day and a half to fly out the anxiousness is here – with no one to blame!!

I’ve recognised the issue. When I have trouble concentrating I’ve given myself license to goof off for a little while.

It’s the kind of anxiety that children have leading up to their birthday parties.

I feel like I’ve already left in my head but I’m still here.

It’s an unreality.

I’m blogging to maintain a tenuous link between here and there. I’m here. My head is there.

I’m heading to Exeter and then Lyon. Its low twenties (Celcius) in Exeter and thirty-five in Lyon! I’ve set myself the challenge of bringing carry-on luggage only. The reasoning was to avoid the ten pound surcharge with Flybe.

But what’s ten pound? … my excuse for taking on the challenge. (Its something I’ve been able to focus on.)

I’m the kind of consumer who buys random items without considering how well they fit with already acquired stuff. In our first home I made the curtains and chose a floral fabric for its solitary appeal. The fabric didn’t match any of the hand-me-down furniture we had acquired from grandparents and sundry. When we sold the place we moved out and a professional decorator did it up for sale. My girlfriend who’d been in the house almost everyday for ten years said,

“Oh new curtains, they look great”.

They’d been there for the ten years. She just handn’t noticed them because they clashed.

It has therefore been quite a challenge to match tops with pants and shorts in an economical fashion. I’m hoping the silk dress I bought on sale at Sportcraft at the DFO centre will do for both climates. Oh! I don’t have any shoes to match it…

Dang.

I’ve returned to Melbourne from New Orleans with a little bit of New Orleans. The little bit of New Orleans that I have taken with me is intangible but represented by one Magnetic Ear CD.

I purchased the CD after spending my lunch hour in front of one of the outdoor stages set up for the French Quarter Festival. The Mississippi River was the backdrop. I sat in the sun and ate falafel from one of the many outlets set up under tents by local restaurants. Magnetic Ear were playing. I hadn’t heard of them before. They are a band of two saxophones, two trombones, a tuba and drums. Their sound was intoxicating. Their talent was astounding. And they could move. I’ve never seen trombone players move like these lithe musicians. I watched the crowd. People were dancing and moving. It was hard not to. The dancers ranged from baby boomers in long shorts and socks with travel belts strapped around their waists to pierced and tattooed twenty-somethings in summer dresses. It was a diverse, relaxed and gracious crowd. Everyone was accepted and music was the unifier.

I’ve been listening to their CD almost by addiction. The music brings back the sun and the feeling of adventure in another country as an independent soul. Their sounds colour my dreams as I fall asleep. I can’t get enough. I should have bought the 3 CD pack for $25 instead of going for the one for $10!

Down in New Orleans when it was a French colony, when “The French Quarter” was all there was and when French was the spoken language, a talented barman worked for a popular hotel which is still standing today. The barman became famous for inventing a new style of drink, which he made using an eggcup (“coquetier” in French) for exact measures of alcohol, mixed in a variety of ways. This style of drink became known as the “coquetier”.

Napolean sold Louisanna to the United States in the early 1800s and with the gradual anglicisation of the city of New Orleans, the coquetier became known as the cocktail.

All I can say is, thank goodness they didn’t go for the direct translation!

At Patrick O’Brians in New Orleans last Saturday night I was with a group of young researchers from Canada who I had met during the conference I was attending. Upon their recommendation I tried a cocktail known as “The Hurricane”. It was tall and red. It tasted benignly like fruit punch.

The New Orleans French Quarter Festival had been in full swing. As I learnt from the young Canadians, people had been trading strings of beads for a kiss or a show of flesh. Many of the young researchers in my group that night had multiple sets of beads. We joked about how they had obtained them. As the night wore on the photos we took of our group became interlaced with beads hanging over our faces from person to person. Beads were swapped. I started with none, possessed five strings at one point, and ended the night with one set. The girls in the group took multiple photos. I haven’t seen the images, but I’m sure they would accurately document our deterioration.

Two hurricanes later, I discovered that they contained four shots of rum each. By this time the room was spinning and I became acutely aware that the fun night I had had had come to an end. A kind professor in the group escorted me home. I was unwell. I woke the next morning unable to attend the breakfast meeting I had planned to attend. Unfortunately also that morning I was scheduled to present my research.

I struggled to the conference venue and held it together to deliver my paper. The audience were none-the-wiser. However, I had been excited to have been programmed on with someone who’s work I had read and wanted dearly to meet. Unfortunately, with my stomach churning, I was unable to stick around. I stayed for the duration of the session (mine and four other papers) and received thoughtful and helpful feedback from the session’s discussant before quietly venturing back to the security of my hotel room. There I slept for four hours before the hurricanes released their grip.

As luck would have it, through sheer good fortune and general worldly randomness, I bumped into this researcher the following night. We happened to be dining at the same restaurant and were re-introduced by a mutual acquaintance. She smiled broadly and I said,”You look familiar!”

We placed each other after a moment or two as having presented in the same session. It was then that I admitted I had been “under the weather” on that day. Surprisingly she said, “Oh, me too!”

That day I had been on a walking tour of the French Quarter where I learnt the story about the “coquetier”. It was fresh on my mind and our topic of dangerous drinking prompted me to retell the story. Together with her colleagues with whom she was dining, we enjoyed the absurdity of putting on a little black eggcup dress. After that we discussed our research pursuits. She asked to read my conference paper and I am pleased that she will be sending me an article she is working on. I have a lot of respect for the kind of work she does and am very pleased to have made her acquaintance.

Pat O’Brians, famous for Hurricanes.

A taste of The French Quarter Festival – swing dancing in the street.

Recently I was concerned with my responsibility for the cultural education of my children, only to discover that my children were equally capable of educating me. The use of the word ‘peeps’ in the title is another example of their influence. I was first introduced to the expression “peeps” or “peep-gang” as a modern alternative to the word ‘people’ through the lyrics of ‘Sammy The Salmon’, a song that we enjoy on long car rides, thanks to the technology of the ipod including it’s little connect-y cable that plugs into the supplied sound system of my people mover, my peep-gang mover, that allows my children to hook their own ipods up for the rest of the family’s enjoyment (or not).

The other part of the title, ‘New Orleans’, refers to the location of the conference that I will be attending in about a weeks time.

For the first time I’ll be heading off to the annual U.S. conference without my peep-gang from Melbourne.

Usually before even leaving Melbourne for an overseas conference, someone in the peep-gang takes care of restaurant bookings. I usually receive an email detailing the venues for dinner each night. Because of my peeps, I have fine dined in restaurants in Chicago, New York, Amsterdam and Helsinki. The other thing that someone in my peep-gang usually does is invite me to cocktail parties hosted by publishing houses and social events organised by academic faculties. Once I was even invited to a private party in Chicago in a roof-top condo, where I was educated on tequila varieties and listened to the host play harmonica in front of an open fire while it snowed outside. With my peeps, I’ve tasted some night life – blues clubs in Chicago, jazz clubs on Bleaker Street in New York, live music at the concert hall in Amsterdam and at a street festival in Helsinki.

But this time there will be no one to set up dinners before we go, and no one I can rely on for the impromptu things.

Its a little bit daunting, but also a little bit of an adventure.

I have put some measures in place for meeting new people. On the first night I will attend a dinner for international collaboration amongst a selection of participating universities and with the same group I have two breakfast engagements as well. I have signed up for a Mentor Luncheon with people interested in similar things to me. In addition, there are two receptions that I am eligible to attend and I have booked in for a walking tour of New Orleans’ French Quarter. This leaves still a couple of nights unaccounted for. My main aim in all of these opportunities for networking is to find some new peeps with whom I can experience some live music in New Orleans!

I have also bought a little travel pocket book about New Orleans that I intend to read some time during the 19 hours of travel. Any suggestions of must do and see things in New Orleans would also be greatly appreciated 🙂

(Of course, this is in addition to trying to do a good job presenting my paper and going to the sessions of interest to me. Work is the focus, yes sir!).

Stand By Me

March 12, 2011

March 11th 2011 (yesterday) was my first post for a year! My eldest daughter has had anorexia. She is stable now. She passed her final year at high school with flying colours and has begun an arts course at university. She still has not fully recovered but is in recovery. Its been a tough road but together we’re getting through it. I’ve learnt that to survive your child’s mental illness its best to forget your dreams, your guilt, and love the child before you, illness and all. I’ve also seen how much my four daughters care for each other. Family therapy has been a large factor in her recovery.

During 2010 I worked full time on my dissertation, taking leave to look after Kat. I published my first article in a professional journal and met some new and interesting colleagues in Helsinki. This year I have changed my tenure to part time, and already I’ve experienced less pressure and more creativity.

For one year I have not blogged, read a novel or convened our book club. Finally I’ve picked up a novel (Stieg Laarson’s first, and looking for the second. Although I have started on Dorris Lessing’s The Cleft, until I find it), reconvened book club and have conferences in the pipeline: April in New Orleans, July in Adelaide, August in Exeter, September in Lyon, December in Hobart. I’m looking forward to charging up my camera and posting on my travels. It feels good to be back 🙂

First Impressions of Amsterdam

September 12, 2009

I went to Amsterdam recently to attend a conference. The thought of traveling to a European city alone was daunting and exciting all at once. However, my initial fears of not speaking the local language were not realised. Signs everywhere were in English as well as Dutch and most people were bilingual. It was the traffic system in Amsterdam that presented the most difficulty in adjustment.

For most of my visit I was in danger of being run over by a tram or bike. Not only did they drive on the opposite side of the road to what we do in Australia, but their roads had parallel lanes for cars and bikes separated often by an extra curb. These double lanes in both directions had to be negotiated when attempting to cross safely from one footpath to another. Often I forgot the bike lane was there, intuitively expecting I’d arrived at a footpath only to find I was in immediate danger of being roller-coasted (the equivalent to being stampeded but with wheels). In American cities and Rome and Paris I adjusted quickly to the different travel direction learning to look the opposite way to what I am accustomed before crossing, but with the added bike lane and the volume of push bikes and motor bikes using it, my confusion lasted much longer. Even by the end of the week I wasn’t fully adjusted.

I would have liked to have had more free time to develop the confidence to commute by bike. A bike tour would have been a good place to begin; having someone to follow initially, and then branching out on my own to tour the city by bike and even ride to the conference venue daily.  Alas, attending the conference daily limited my time for such pleasures.

By the end of the week, however, I had mastered their public transport system, found some excellent restaurants in a variety of  restaurant districts, found a couple of shopping spots, been for a long walk around Vondell Park, a short walk into the red light district,  experienced a concert at the Concertgebouw, immersed myself in the evidence collected at the Anne Frank Huis Museum, contemplated Van Gogh’s life and work at the Van Gogh museum and attended a Dutch language and culture course put on by the conference organisers.

Most of the time I spent with my favorite colleague from Melbourne. Exploring the city together was a delight. She did not want to ride and that was another reason for not pursuing my desire to join the Dutch in their riding culture. However, on the day I walked through the park my colleague rested in our hotel. I walked alone. I decided to capture their riding culture in a photographic study. I will share some of the photos with you now. I was amazed that no one wore helmets, both on push bikes and especially on motor bikes. In Australia it is compulsory. The other difference is that the Dutch wear street gear on simple bikes and in Melbourne we tend to ride complex, geared bikes in lycra riding gear and cleated shoes. Also, our baby bike seats are protectively designed with extended backs and sides enfolding the toddler in racing-harness-style seat belts for their own safety. In Amsterdam, it seemed any box or seat would do, without seat belts!

bikekid2

bikekids1

bikesbridge

bikesbridgelamp


bikesshops

P8300136

P8300135

P8300134

bikebeer


Hampsterdam, here I come!

August 15, 2009

Next week I’m off to Amsterdam for a conference. “Can we come to Hampsterdam with you?” my children asked. I’m not sure what they expected to find there, but Hampsterdam afforded them a lot of appeal.

Usually when I travel interstate or overseas for conferences, I choose to stay in a room by myself. I’ve said “No thanks” to many offers to share because I enjoy the space. It’s a contrast to my busy home life. But when my favorite Melbourne colleague, Chiara, asked me if I’d like to share, I deviated from my habit and accepted her offer. Her easy company and fun attitude to life will add to the travel experience I’m sure.

On her insistence, we booked our accommodation months ago. The hotel we chose overlooks a canal and has historical charm. It appealed to us by contrast to Australia, where we lack a sense of having been here for thousands of years.

I have official engagements such as presenting at the conference and attending breakfasts and dinners with colleagues but I also intend to balance these commitments with absorbing the rhythms of this famous city.

Chiara and I have put up a calendar at work and we’re crossing off the dates, counting down.