The next adventure: Canberra Centenary Trail

Two weeks after I returned from France, I suddenly got a job and found myself moving to Canberra. For a while I was pretty flat out just finding a place to live and adjusting to full-time work. Then I started studying part-time as well, and between work and assignments and basic things like shopping and cooking, I couldn’t seem to find much time left over to get out and explore my new home town.

Finally, I started getting a bit more used to my new job. Then I finished the last set of assignments for the semester, and suddenly I had some free time on my hands, and a perfect idea for how to spend some of it! As I’ve written before, my second year in France re-affirmed my love of hiking, and I knew that wherever I moved when I got back to Australia, I hoped to be able to go for some nice long walks on weekends or holidays. So I was quite excited to discover that there are loads of nice walks to do in and around Canberra, and looking forward to having lots of walking adventures.

20161105_122124One hike in particular caught my attention: it’s called the Canberra Centenary trail, and seems to be the ACT’s equivalent of Île de France’s GR1 (which, sadly, I never got to finish – I’ll have to go back!) in that it’s a big loop around the area, for hikers and cyclists. This time I’m relying on a handful of electronic maps on my phone instead of big blue topographical paper maps, and following signs with the Centenary Trail Logo (a black or white road on a green and blue background) instead of the red-and-white stripes of the GRs. And of course, I’m back in Australia, instead of in France. Yet still the process feels kind-of familiar – I’m definitely getting the hang of how to make hiking work for me!

The Centenary trail is 145km long, officially divided into 7 sections for hikers. I decided to follow a slightly modified break-down of the route by another hiker who’d figured out how to make it work on public transport. Her first stage went from Parliament House to Mt Majura. I ended up doing this stage over two weekends, extending it a little bit by starting from my house in Turner and stopping at several attractions along the way.

I really enjoyed combining experiencing some of the beautiful nature in and around Canberra with visiting some important sites like Parliament House and the National Portraits Gallery. I discovered some museums and galleries that I never even knew existed, like the Australian Museum of Democracy (which I loved!!!), and learned more about Australia’s history, culture and art. It was also an opportunity for me to reflect a bit more on my own identity (as a Christian, Australian, traveler, worker, student etc). I had a great time on the first section of the trail, and am very much looking forward to seeing what the rest of the trail has to offer!

Hot Chocolate at Café de la Paix

The last blog post I wrote talked about the combination of hot chocolate and hiking I’d enjoyed on a week’s break from au-pairing spent walking in the French Alps with my parents. After that, Mum and Dad continued their walk across France, and I went back to Saint Germain-en-Laye.

In my last few months in France (for 2016 at least, I’m still fairly sure I’ll be back!), I had some lovely hot chocolates. I went to Berthillon twice, it is still most definitely at the top of my Paris hot chocolate list! I went to Le Pavillon des Canaux on the Quai de la Loire – the hot chocolate wasn’t exceptional, but this Alice in Wonderland themed café was pretty cool! And I had hot chocolate in a castle when I went for a walk on the île des Impressionnistes with my parents.

But there’s one hot chocolate in particular I wanted to include on this blog before it fades into a distant memory, and that is the hot chocolate at Café de la Paix. This is a famous café right next to Opéra Garnier, whose hot chocolate had been recommended to me by a couple of friends in Paris as well as a couple of blog readers, so I was really looking forward to trying it.

Maybe I went at the wrong time, or maybe I had overly high expectations, but I ended up being fairly disappointed by Café de la Paix. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend anyone go there for hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was ok – nice and rich, but lukewarm rather than hot. I don’t remember the exact price (thankfully my parents paid!), but I’m fairly sure it was the most expensive hot chocolate I’d ever had, and, in my opinion, definitely not worth the extra money. Then the service was bad (after around 20 minutes of asking for the bill we gave up and started walking out, and only then were able to pay), and despite being in a great location (view of the opera house, plenty of opportunities for people watching), I didn’t feel particularly comfortable there.

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Hot Chocolate in the Mountains

In my last post on this blog, I wrote about the first half of my week walking in the French Alps with my parents. Shortly after that, my computer died, and the limited free wifi I had access to on my phone wasn’t good enough to upload blog posts. I’m now back in Australia, and intend to go back and write about some of the highlights of my last two months in France (including a few last hot chocolates, and how I wasn’t quite able to finish the GR1 before I left). And for now I’ll pick up where I left off: Bourg D’Oisans, beginning of June:

I continued to enjoy walking in the mountains with my parents, despite fairly miserable weather at times. I liked the flowers and the animals and the rocks and the forests, and loved looking out at the snow-capped mountains all around us (when they weren’t obscured by dark grey thunderclouds). On my last day of walking, we found an open cafe (a rarity over the previous few days) at the top of the Col du Lauteret, and enjoyed a hot chocolate there.

20160603_110308Preparing to blog about that experience (before I realised that I wouldn’t be able to upload the post) was one of the first times I really started to reflect on my year. I remembered that I’d began this blog intending to write mostly about all the amazing hot chocolate I tasted – something I thought would be a regular feature of my life, like it was last time I was in France. And I realised that the blog had ended up being mostly about my experiences hiking the GR1.

Thinking about this time where I’d combined two of the things I love (hot chocolate and hiking), I realised they have different roles in my life. While I’m sure I will enjoy a good hot chocolate no matter who I’m with (or even if I’m alone), I think what made the hot chocolates so special and so much a part of my life last time I was in Paris was the joy of sharing them with a really good friend. Hiking, on the other hand, has become something I’ll prioritise whether or not there are others to come with me. I love experiencing the beauty of nature, getting some exercise, feeling a sense of accomplishment when I figure out where I’m meant to be going. It both refreshes and teaches me.

So if I had to pick one over the other, I’d most likely choose hiking over hot chocolate. But thankful that there has been (and hopefully will be!) plenty of room in my life for both – occasionally even at the same time 🙂

Walking in the alps, with my parents

My parents are in the process of walking across France (and documenting their journey here). They invited me to join them for a week in the alps. Here is a summary of the first half:

Saturday: Grenoble to Vizille

My bus arrived in Grenoble slightly after 4.30am, and Mum and Dad came to meet me and take me back to their hotel, via a wander around the old town. I decided I like Grenoble. A few hours later we set off, walking through the streets of Grenoble (passing the Olympic village), climbing a hill through a forest and then descending with beautiful views of snow-capped mountains in the distance. After arriving in Vizille we paid a quick visit to the museum of the French Revolution before dinner.

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Day 2: Vizille to Col d’Ornon
We left early, knowing it would be a long day and not wanting to be caught in the storm that was predicted for that day. The weather forecast suggested that it would be “cloudy” when we set off, but a quick look out the window revealed that the rain had already begin. When we stopped in a shelter after a few hours of walking (mostly up a steep mountain in the pouring rain) I was drenched. Thankfully the rain lessened after that, and even stopped altogether at times.  We had a lot more climbing to go. And some water (“raging torrents”) to cross, and snow drifts to navigate (or, in my case, slide down). We saw a beaver and a chamoix, and lots of pretty alpine flowers. Eventually we made it to the gite – the first I’ve stayed in, and it reminded me of some of the nicer albergues on the Camino – no washing facilities or stamp for a pilgrim’s credentiel, but they did have linen for the beds, and I was very happy with the included dinner and breakfast!

Day 3: Col d’Ornon to Bourg d’Oisans
Knowing it would be a much shorter day, we slept in and had a leisurely breakfast before starting the day’s walk. We walked along the road for a while, watching and saying hi to loads of Dutch cyclists who were going in the opposite direction (up!) Then we found a walking path, which we were able to follow for most of the way into Bourg d’Oisans. Dad gave me a lesson in puddle photography, water crossing was made much easier than the day before by a number of bridges, and the rain was light and sporadic rather than heavy and constant like the day before.

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Day 4: Rest Day
Bourg d’Oisans is a very pretty town, surrounded by mountains. We ate, wandered around, shopped and slept. Except for Dad, whose ideal rest day involves cycling up a mountain (the Alpe d’Huez, famous from le Tour de France).

The pros and cons of walking with my parents
I am really enjoying this trip so far, and it’s the sort of thing I’d never be able to do on my own. I can now pretty much navigate the GR1 around Ile de France, but anything beyond that would be beyond my ability. It’s also nice to have all the accommidation organised, and a slightly lighter pack (Mum and Dad take most of the food, medical kit etc). And it’s nice to have some company on the way, to share experiences or answer questions. On the other hand, I’m needing to adjust to a new rhythm (and Mum and Dad are making adjustments for me as well) – getting ready and going takes longer for my parents than it does for me, they’re used to eating big meals instead of constantly snacking through the day, and can walk quite fast (especially on the flat).

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GR1 Stage 17: Boutigny-sur-Essonne to Lardy

For large portions of this hike, I felt like I was in Tomorrow, When the War Began – I was strolling along in fields full of flowers or woods full of trees, mosly trying to concentrate on the beauty of my surroundings (and not getting lost), yet at the same time feeling a little anxious on account of all the planes constantly flying overhead. In the end I resisted the temptation to text a friend to confirm that World War III hadn’t broken out during my absence from civilisation, and had a lovely walk. The highlight was seeing a baby deer. I also enjoyed the variety of scenery. I did get slightly lost twice, but in general feel like the markings for this section were fairly good 🙂

Quotes from my 5 year old

Of the three kids I’m an au pair to, it’s the youngest who needs the most attention, so it’s him I spend the most time with. He makes me smile, laugh, sigh and tear my hair out in frustration – often all within minutes of each other! He asks a lot of questions, which is great for my French (though can also be frustrating – je ne sais pas comment expliquer, alors parce que!). And he comes up with some of the cutest and most bizarre things ever. I really should’ve kept a record of them all year – sadly I’ve probably lost many pearls of childish wisdom as conversations have faded from my memory – but here are some of his words that have stuck with me:

  • “I really like the Eiffel tower” [pointing to the crane at the construction site across the road from our place].
  • “I know what you’re doing. You can’t hide it from me. I know that’s a magic potion” [watching me make a salad dressing].
  • [I’d just explained to him that we didn’t need to lock our bikes up in the backyard because thieves shouldn’t be able to get in through two locked doors. This one only works in French so I won’t translate it] “Mais bien sur les voleurs peuvent arriver ici. Ils volent. Pourquoi penses-tu qu’ils s’appellent voleurs!?!” [related cute English mistake by my 11 year old while taking her sister’s dinner – “I’m flying your rice!”]
  • “There are no girls in Africa” [in the context of a discussion about whether his name or mine was more popular worldwide. No idea where he got the idea that Africa was full of boys only…]
  • Him: “Can I go to Australia one day?” Me: “I hope so. Why do you want to go to Australia?” Him: “to see all the snakes of course.” [opposite response to many people I talk to here who would love to go to Australia but are afraid that if they do they’ll die because of all the dangerous animals]

 

Hot Chocolate at Le Dôme

I’m sitting across from my parents at Le Dôme, perhaps at a table once frequented by Hemingway, sipping my hot chocolate and gazing out the window at a priest, who Mum labelled “impatienDSC03556t” because he was on-and-off his phone and appeared to be slightly stressed. There’s a story here, my parents tell me, and I agree with them, and maybe one day I’ll write it – but for now I’m going to stick to the hot chocolate!

Location: 108 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75014 (metro Vavin)

Atmosphere and service: From the outside, this establishment seemed way too posh for a shabby au-pair such as myself, but Mum and Dad insisted that we were cool enough – or at least, that the money they were prepared to spend on drinks was more important than stylish clothing anyway, and they were right. We were welcomed in (it wasn’t particularly busy that Thursday afternoon), and I was so absorbed looking out the window (that looked right out onto the busy intersection, so a great location for people-watching!) that I didn’t even feel out of place.

Cost: €6.50

The Hot Chocolate: Very nice, I think the best I’ve had all year! We received the cups first, then the waitor came over with two silver jugs of thick, rich chocolate, and poured them into our cups. I appreciated that it was nice and hot, making it easy to linger over the drink. Dad suggested that because it was so hot it would be better if it was served in thicker mugs, to avoid burning your lips.

Hot Chocolate at Shakespeare & Co

Shakespeare and Company is one of my favourite places in Paris. At first I tried to act unimpressed with it, seeing it as a tourist trap and telling myself I preferred some of the other, less populated bookshops in the area…but then I discovered the joy of sitting with a book in the reading room for an hour or several, reading the quotes scattered around the shop, skimming the interesting and/or intellectual sounding titles. When I discovered that Shakespeare & Co had recently opened a cafe next to the bookshop, I knew at once that I wanted to check it out, but thought I’d wait for a special occasion. Today, that occasion arrived – my parents, owners of a second-hand bookshop in Australia that had been likened [by one of my friends] to Shakespeare & Co, were visiting, and more than happy to take me.

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Location: 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 (Metro St Michel)

Cost: 4.50

Atmosphere and service: There were books inside, which I liked. Though they were for sale, rather than to flip through at your leisure while drinking your coffee/hot chocolate. The staff seemed friendly enough, though were fairly busy when we went. There wasn’t enough space inside, so we sat at one of the wooden picnic tables outside – a bit cold, but good view of Notre Dame! No wifi.

The hot chocolate: OK. Mum said it was good, but I wasn’t particularly impressed. I think I am pretty hard to please in this area now!

Other comments: While I love the idea of combining books and hot chocolate, I think in this case I’d probably keep them separate – if I just wanted a break, I could just go to the reading room next door and linger as long as I wanted for free. If I wanted a hot chocolate, I’d probably prefer to walk the fairly short distance to the nearby Ile St Louis where there are several amazing options.

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Hot Chocolate at CoZette

One of my main projects for this year of au-pairing near Paris was to taste as many amazing hot chocolates as possible, and blog about them. Recently (ok, not all that recently) that project has kind-of fallen by the wayside. I’ve had a few hot chocolates, mostly in St Germain, but none of them seemed sufficiently special to warrant a blog post. Au-pairing, and other aspects of life here, have generally seemed too hard to write about (or at least, too hard to write about for a public forum, my diaries are well-loved!), so I’ve my blog has become a collection of photos and short descriptions of walks along the GR1, and not all that much else. But today I had a hot chocolate with a friend, and I’d like to write about that.

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As we made our way toward it, Kim was telling me about the spelling of the café near her place she wanted to check out, explaining that it was like “cozy” rather than “cause”. “Cozy” turned out to be a pretty accurate word to describe the place – I liked it as soon as I spotted the books near the entrance, and was further impressed by what I saw inside – couches, origami flowers, a bike…lots of colour, quirky touches, and people all over the place looking like they were enjoying themselves (and/or hard at work).

We ordered two hot chocolates, then chose a sofa near the counter to sit and chat and wait until the drinks were delivered…then continue sitting, chatting, and sipping hot chocolate…then continue sitting and chatting. After being told to leave another café almost immediately after finishing our drinks a few days earlier, I really appreciated feeling welcome to linger – and feel much more inclined to come back to Cozette!

Ok, the hot chocolate itself wasn’t particularly great (though I did appreciate getting a decent-sized mug of it for less than four euros), but it was a great hot chocolate experience. Because the staff were friendly, the sofa was comfy and my friend Kim was great company. And because it reminds me of this dream I have – to sit with someone over a hot chocolate (or some other warm beverage…or cold beverage if the weather calls for it), and share stories, and talk, and listen, and learn and grow together. This is something I love, I’m so glad I got to experience it today and hope that I do so a bit more frequently over the weeks, months and years ahead!