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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A South African Girl in Europe 2010

Ed: “Are you absolutely sure we have everything we need, let’s go through it again. Passports, Travel insurance, tickets...”

Me: “Fuck! The fucking train tickets.”

Ed: “Good thing we haven’t left yet. Do you have your sedatives for the plane; maybe you should take one now?”

Me: “I’m fine, I’m fine. My psychic said I am going to write a book and have 3 kids one day and well... I don’t see any kids so I think we’re going to be ok. I don’t think today is a good day to die.”

I hate flying. I always have. But lately it seems to have gotten worse to the point where I usually end up with my teary mascara all over the passenger next to me’s  T-shirt. Ever since that terrible plane ride through a thunderstorm from Swakopmund to Windhoek in an aircraft put together with duck tape and flown by a 19 year old, my fear has kind of accelerated. I was willing to look past all of these anxieties because who wouldn’t when you are jet setting (even if it is in a huge metal air death taxi) to Europe!
Ed and I had been planning the trip for months... Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague and Paris.  I was pulling crazy double shifts thinking that each penny I saved would mean one more fabulous glass of French bubbly or one more day of shopping n Prague.  I had my hair done, bought a new travel bag and tied up all my projects at work. There was nothing left to do but get our asses to Europe.

As I sat on the plane about to take off there was a screen showing our positioning on the globe. This tiny non threatening aeroplane cartoon moved along a little red line probably no longer than my index finger all the way to Holland. Strange, I thought how small the distance seems but how far away it really is. It made me think about the error of parallax when it comes to perspective on our own comfortable and convenient lives.  Maybe sometimes you need to go to Oz before you can say “There’s no place like home”. 

We arrived in Amsterdam and began our 3 week battle with the apparent language barrier, trying to get a taxi to our apartment. It was very clear on the tram ride we took into the city; that we weren’t in Kansas anymore. People were riding bicycles everywhere, there were trams and trains and taxi’s filling the streets and carting people from place to place. It was at this point I think that the wheels fell off, literally. Ed’s wheely bag zanked completely which left 2 grumpy South Africans walking through Amsterdam carrying luggage trying to dodge a death-by-bicycle experience.  And then there was beer. We eventually got settled in and after many a tram journey fuck up, we found our feet... and the correct tram stop.
How amazing to be in a city where Mary Jane is legal, the red light district is a jol and every road you cross gives another amazing view of the canals. We did it all in Amsterdamage... live sex shows where 80% of the audience was Asian pensioners (very strange), Van Gogh museum (I thought I had problems), Michelin star restaurants, zol any time of day anywhere... or was it every time of day everywhere? I digress... Markets, bars and clubs. I did switch to beer the second I ordered a jack and lime and the bill came to 16 Euro’s, but that’s ok the beer was fab! Note to self... when in The Damage, remember that they only pour double shots, not a good idea to order tequila shots in happy hour.

I found myself thinking, when was the last time I let my hair down like this? 5 years ago? When was the last time I dressed up for... absolutely no reason? It felt really good to be forced out of a comfort zone I had become all too familiar with.  Waking up early to co-ordinate a cute number and getting your hair did for the day doesn’t have to always feel like a shlep, I had so much fun feeling fabulous every morning. 
Berlin you beauty, what an open minded crazy town. I think I felt most at home with the Goths and the arty party animals all around me while Ed was in absolute awe of the History (Nerd). Underground clubs with the most awesome music, that’s what I’ll miss most about ze Germans. They entertained us from start to finish starting with the most flamboyant gay landlord and his pink and red painted walls and falic art and ending with taxi ride to the train station. Berlin might just be the only place in the world where you can see people coming HOME from their razzle at 09:00 in the morning.   Gorgeous parks and architecture,  really friendly and helpful people, watching Ed trying to speak German but kind of ending up with Afrikaans funigalore, mastering The Bicycle as a mode of transportation, browsing the S&M shops... just my cuppa tea this place.

Can you imagine 4 hours on a train to Prague while a young very undisciplined boy resembling Mowgly from The Jungle Book wales and wanes from screaming to crying to hysteric laughter in the seat opposite you. This is all being done with a Berlin hangover and the realisation that the earplugs I brought to disarm Eds' snoring would be fucking amazing if they were in my ears and not in my stupid fucking bag above me. I felt a lot better when we arrived in Prague and realised the exchange rate was no longer fisting us and that the prices in Prague were close to the kind we are used to at home. This means... lots of Beer! And SHOPPING! It was a beautiful marriage; the speed walking from shop to shop was countered by endless bicep curls lifting very big and heavy beers to my sweet oh-my-god-you-should-see-the-bag-i-just-bought lips.  When in Prague try the Absinthe I thought, I’m bohemian, my liver has been good to me thus far... let’s do it....  Ya. Prague Absinthe and Jozi Absinthe are two completely different viles of poison. The bartender serving me warned that he had once finished a bottle and had to sit in a cold bath for 2 days to stop the hallucinations.

Meeting all of these interesting characters was a refreshing change from the comings and goings of my normal hang outs in Joburg. I think sometimes we see the same faces at the same places and it all gets a little bit... boring. Here was a guy who almost died for the love of the green fairy, not to mention the amazing Israeli couple we met and who invited us to come live on their Kibbutz in Israel or the Irish couple from the “Strip” club (more like brothel) in Old Town Square. I’m beginning to understand what people mean by broadening their horizons.

I heart Paris. I do, I really do... For the cheese, bread and wine alone but also for the romance, the Eiffel tower, the French onion soup, the gorgeous people, the tequila beer, the cafe’s, the Moulin Rouge, the red carpet at Louis Vuitton, the Arc de Triumph and well... what’s not to love about Paris?  Certainly being in a city like Paris, your mind does drift to matters of the heart and my heart was feeling a little heavy. My Oke was back at home and here I was soaking up all that Europe had to offer me. Seemed like I was on honeymoon with my best friend and I wish I would experience something like this with the person that I could make out with under the beautiful green trees of Paris. Sigh.

It’s amazing how gaining perspective like this can be so bittersweet sometimes. It made me realise that the error of parallax wasn’t from my view of Europe and my fantastic holiday; it was of back home and the part of me that had somehow been forgotten back there. There’s something about being in a country where no one knows your name and all the baggage that clings to you back home. It’s a little easier to have a voice when you don’t care who is listening, or to feel like a princess when you apartment has a view of the palace, or to appreciate what a work of art really is when its a little further away from you and you can see the whole picture.

As we were checking in at the airport in France to go home we heard the all too familiar sound of a South African accent.

“Hay, excuse me... I can’t work out this blady machine man, where’s the people?”

A man was standing with his wife at the check in machine, not like at home where we have people to check us into the plane and smooth everything over. In Europe you’re on your own on your ass.

Ed: “God it’s good to hear that voice.”

Carly: “I guess there really is no place like home”


  1. Sounds like such an amazing trip!

  2. It was mind blowing! I cant wait to see more and more of this fabulous planet! May need to sell a kidney to do it but hey... we only need 1 right? lol