|Liam wearing all his clothes after touching down to -9 in Paris.|
After a hectic 48 hours in which we finished work, sold the van, packed up our belongings and donated the contents of our flat to the local charity shop, we spent a sweaty and unusually humid night on the couch at Bruno's. At 4am we awoke to the headlights of our taxi shining through the window and bleary-eyed we waved goodbye to our home town of the last 7 months and headed to Perth airport.
The first flight was relatively short, about 6 hours, but with an arduous 12 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur before our next flight. After fuelling up on coffee at KLIA we decided to head into the city for the day. After a bumpy bus journey of almost two hours we were regretting this decision, and apart from some dazed wandering around we spent most of the time in cafes. Better than hanging around the airport, but only just. So, very tired and already a day and a half since we graced the presence of a bed or shower, we boarded our flight, homeward bound. Air Asia do a reasonable line in airline food despite being a budget airline, so we were well fed with tasty curry, but there was no TV in the back of the seat or free booze to take the edge off what is undoubtedly the worse mode of travel in terms of actually enjoying the journey. All that was left to do was sleep, and thankfully we did most of the way.
Bright-eyed and excited to be back on European soil, we stepped off the plane into the depths of a Paris winter (Pilot: "On arrival in Paris the temperature will be nine, sorry negative nine degrees") and promptly put on all the jumpers we owned. Charlotte even resorted to socks in place of gloves, but she had handily knitted me a scarf for my birthday. It didn't feel particularly useful at the time during a 40-odd degree Australian summer, but after the 50 degree temperature plunge it was most welcome. Our journey home wasn't quite over, as we were meeting up with friends to go to a beer festival in Bruges (but of course!). One airport shuttle, the Paris suburban metro, a train to Lille (which handily stopped in a different station to our connection only ten minutes later, cue running around in a panic with my 23kg backpack) and one final train to Bruges, we staggered out of the station almost 48 hours after leaving our flat in Mosman Park. But things were looking up; cheese, bread and beer were procured at bargain prices (well, standard European prices, but a bargain compared to WA) from a shop at the station, and a reasonably priced taxi spirited us to the door of our home for the next three nights; a lovely old Belgian terrace near the centre of Bruges. As if on cue for our arrival, snow was falling and by the time we had showered and brought ourselves back to life with aforementioned foodstuffs, there was a substantial covering. A wander around Bruges at dusk was like being in a fairytale but the best part of the story was yet to come; meeting up with Marina whilst wandering the streets plus the imminent arrival of my sister Emily and her fiancé Alex, and of course Mark. It was most excellent to see them all again, and they were the first in a long line of people we had missed while away. That evening we met up with the rest of our friends who had come out for the occasion; Thomas, Sian, Craig and Stiffy. We had a great evening eating out and sampling some local brews. The night was rounded off in a cute little bar seemingly in some guys back room, although the strange choice of Norah Jones on a Friday night sent Charlotte to sleep so we decided to call it a night. We conquered the jetlag pretty easily, although west to east is always easier so they say.
Our final leg home was fraught with probably the most drama and bad luck we had had in all of our travels! We had to vacate the apartment by 12, and we got to work cleaning the place up, although of course it being Belgium we had to do our bottle recycling and returning (that's not a dig at recycling by the way, I dig recycling!). The bottle bank was up the road and Mark heroically disposed of the remnants of 9 people drinking into the early hours. A returnable case of beer was also in our possession so rather than leave it for the cleaner I decided to take it upon myself to do the right thing and return it to the nearest off license. The flaw in this plan was that not many bottle shops are open on a Monday morning, so my quest for somewhere to get rid of the damn thing led me into the old town centre. By this point the taxi had arrived back at the apartment but I figured they would drive past and pick me up on the way, not taking into account the one-way streets of Bruges. Things were complicated by having only an Australian phone with me that had no credit, and so I couldn't send any texts or make or receive calls. It turned out phone boxes in Bruges didn't take coins so I was completely off the grid! After a while of hanging around the only option I had was to head to the train station myself and pray they would be there, rather than taking the taxi on a very expensive search and rescue mission around Bruges. Thankfully they were and an hour or so later we were reunited. We missed the train we had intended to catch but another one was due, and we were on our way to the airport on the last train that would get us there in time. Craig and Stiffy were nowhere to be seen, and eventually it transpired that they had been even further delayed than we had and ended up taking a taxi from Brussels to the airport to make up for lost time. They needn't have bothered, as no sooner had we gone through the point of no return at security our plane was announced to be delayed by 5 hours. So, stuck in what is arguably the world's crappiest airport, we tried to keep our spirits up and keep ourselves entertained, all the while watching countless other Ryanair flights arrive and depart. Charleroi is basically a Ryanair hub, and we speculated that one way they manage to achieve the highest rate of on-time departures of any European airline is that when there is a delay, rather than shuffling around flights so that maybe a few flights have a tolerable delay, they just leave the customers of one flight to rot. A measly 5 Euro token was eventually dispensed, which didn't even buy a portion of chips at the overpriced restaurant (probably the only time we have ever wished for the presence of a reasonably priced American fast food chain). No reason given for the delay, no actual staff anywhere to explain, just a robotic voice over the tannoy. I suppose it is the price you pay for spending pocket change on a flight, but that doesn't mean I can't moan about it! Months later we got another 5 Euro refund, so in the end the flight cost virtually nothing. 5 hours turned into 6, and eventually we boarded the flight and (finally) received an explanation of why we were delayed - the plane had been grounded in Manchester, so a standby crew and plane had to be flown out of Dublin. Thankfully it was only a short flight and in no time we were in Manchester, greeted by my parents. Bleary-eyed we reacquainted ourselves after the year away, and tried not to fall asleep in the car on the way home!
Despite thinking we'd got over the jetlag, the first week at home was spent recovering. Maybe a weekend of heavy drinking isn't the cure to two days in-transit and trying to shift one's body clock by eight hours. The week was a blur, but we had a lovely time catching up with our families. My parents even laid on a belated birthday dinner for me. We were very spoilt, the Parker's even treated us to a Christmas dinner!
The rest of the month was spent catching up with friends, first heading up to Dundee to see Katie and Matt. We were treated to 'Matt Chicken' and had a lovely walk followed by Haggis pizza. Scottish food at it's best! Marina came to stay in t'Fold and we showed her the sights and sounds of Wheelton and Chorley, lucky girl! We had a great night away with Mark and Thomas to go to a gig (Dead To Me) in York, and it was cool to play tourist in our own country for once. I especially enjoyed the National Railway Museum, with it's countless old British trains and a Japanese Bullet train. Quality beer was supped in the York Tap, completing a hat-trick of Taps around the country (Sheffield and London being the other two - railway stations and good beer, a winning combination. Who knew?), and we of course enjoyed walking around the walls and old city. Our Dead To Me lust not quite satiated, Mark and I headed to Manchester the next night for round two, the highlight being asked on stage to sing a refrain before the rest of the band kicked the song back in (under quite a bit of pressure after seeing a girl the night before failing badly and singing the wrong words!). A late start for the band meant a missed train and a night spent in Piccadilly station, not the best way to recuperate before Mike's big 60th birthday bash. But I managed to power on through (or should that be hobble on through due to a sprained ankle sustained the previous night!) and had a lovely day, riding an old bus up to a the Parkers Arms, Charlotte taking on the role of conductor, before heading back for a buffet tea back in the Fold. Great to catch up with Charlotte's brother Joe again too.
The end of the month and into March was spent yo-yo-ing between Sheffield and Manchester, staying with Emily and practising for my reunion gig with Sofa Crisis. The first practise was amazing, we played better than we ever had, despite not seeing each other for over a year and me not even having had the chance to pick up my drumsticks! The gig went really well, and we had a good crowd in considering it was a weeknight. Nobody booed us off so we considered it a success! As always a pleasure to playing with Nik and Jimmy, especially at the cornerstone of my Sheffield music 'career', West St Live! We enjoyed reconnecting with Sheffield, even after so long away it still feels like home! And even more good pubs have popped up so that was an added bonus alongside meeting up with our friends. Awesome to see our Sheffield-based friends Fuller, Twibs, Jimmy, Rich and Jess again. An honourable mention goes to Thomas and Sian again for treating us to a lovely dinner at their house.
In Manchester we caught up with Adam and Suze, they took us to an awesome Thai restaurant and we hung out at the new Port Street Beer House. We also stayed with Laura and John and had a fun evening of Tricksters Scramble, and a scrumptious lunch and catchup with Jess and Emma. Back home we had a night out in Brinscall (there's a first time for everything!) at Mum and Dad's sea shanty singing session in the Oak Tree pub. Enjoyed getting into the maritime spirit and even learnt the real words to Rule Britannia. Good times.
At this point (early March) the original plan was to head back to Australia on flights we had booked months previously, however a change of heart not long before we left Fremantle meant our plans were in disarray. Thankfully we had managed to get a refund on the flights which gave us some time to contemplate our next step. Where will we go? Will the Paris trip originally planned with my parents still go ahead despite no longer catching a flight out of Paris? Will we visit France and Spain, visiting relatives and snowboarding at our leisure, on the assumption that we are due a lottery win? Will our planned trip to Groezrock and Belgium still be feasible? Find out in the next instalment. Stay tuned!