Juanito’s Travoles 50-Yr-Backpucker – Dublin to Paris on a bus blogger de blog Pt16

13 December 2022

You know I should be ‘working’. But I turn 50 on Friday and I work for the government, so I’m instead I’ve got SBS world movies on and my rose gold coloured (not sure if that should be hyphenated to rose-gold-coloured – I don’t think they taught me that at school) MacBook Air in front of my shitty work laptop where I just move the mouse every so often to stay online (and answer the occasional query). I just walked up to Supabarn and bought a Three Mills bakery baguette, some turkey ham, some rocket and mixed lettuce, and made myself a sandwich with some cranberry sauce that’s been in the fridge since last Christmas (or perhaps the one before). I got regular pork ham for my son.

Back in 1995 (not literally this is not Back to the Future)

I wish I could write more about Tubbercurry, Sligo. It was the birthplace of my grandmother Bee, in 1899. We called her Bee. She was Bridget, which is also my Daughter’s middle name. After 27 years Tubbercurry is just another place, just a few memories. It’s also called Tobercurry. It’s confusing. One end of the town there’s a sign Tubbercurry and at the other end there’s Tobercurry. It could be an Irish thing. Not like one of those stupid Irish joke things. I’ve worked out they racist. More an Irish spelling thing.

On a side note, in recent years I found out I had a great, or great-great, grandfather from Guangzhou in China. No one told us when we were young. Also a racist thing. But my great-uncle Cyril did look very Chinese.

So Tubbercurry. I remember a poly-tunnel (a big plastic dome-shaped tunnel) where they grew their gherkins and tomatoes.  A pen for the pig who ate the whey that was leftover from the cheesemaking process. The homemade cheese with organically grown poly-tunnel gherkins, and little organic tomatoes on the homemade bread. Perhaps a cow. I don’t think a cow, I think they just bought in their milk. Cows are a hassle, you have to milk them everyday. At Inisglas Stuart used to get frustrated with them and kick them on occasions. Pigs are easier, they don’t care. They eat buckets of food scraps and wallow in the mud. They don’t care. They’re pigs. We took some acid at a ConFest hippy festival in Victoria in the 1990s and ended up sitting in a mud puddle like a pig. I can see the appeal.

There were also the rows of kale, spinach, onions, scallions, potatoes – you’re never far from a potato in Ireland – homemade cordials, digging, planting, harvesting. We’d go pick wild blackberries a couple of times, which formed the basis of those cordials and also homemade jams. Mostly the German organic gardeners’ son and I just shoved them in our mouths while we were out walking in the countryside, which is literally everywhere when you work on an organic farm. We had early morning starts, long days, fairly early to bed, nothing much in the way of TV, but there was a TV somewhere, I remember the kids on the farm asking about Home & Away, an Australian TV soap. It wasn’t a very exciting time. I didn’t mind because I was busy, and I liked the soil on my hands and connection with the earth. It was nice. But that was it. Nice. And kind of relaxing, uncomplicated, just honest manual labour to produce food for people to eat. Not whatever I do for the government, in my current job, which is much more abstract than pulling out a scallion, digging up a spud or picking a capsicum or eggplant in a poly-tunnel. Those are the memories I have of that time. Perhaps around 3 months of nice, relaxing, uncomplicated, life.

I’d saved a few hundred pounds during my time on the farm. I was still on the dole and getting around 40 pounds a week – or maybe a fortnight, in those days 40 pounds seemed to get a fair amount – from the government. Volkmar and Claudia paid me another 20 pounds a week for helping out.

Apart from the one trip to Dublin, I didn’t have any expenses. We had food, lodging, I just ended up buying a little bit of tobacco for entertainment once we smoked the whole tin Volkmar had shared with me, and a few stamps to write postcards and letters to family, Agatha in Dublin, and even one to Corrine in Switzerland.

I farewelled Sligo and headed to Dublin one last time. At the time it was one last time, I may make it back there again. I’m thinking 2025 could be good, a 30 year anniversary trip.

I booked a bus ticket from Dublin to Paris. It was going to take like the best part of two days and one night or something, but it was only around 25 pounds.

When I got to Dublin there was no-one to see in Dublin. Agatha had left to go back to Barcelona. I had her address there and I wrote that I may try and visit her after I went to France. It was late October I think, or perhaps even early November. The streets of Dublin were grey and drizzly like some atmospheric detective drama, which drizzly days in Dublin seem perfectly suited. There was even some thick fog hanging about the lampposts.

It was not a happy day. I didn’t have much time between arriving from Sligo and leaving on the bus. I just walked around a little to stretch my legs, and smoked a cigarette in my green Melbourne tram conductor’s coat, in the fog under a lamppost, just like and fuckin’ Irish spy. Standing under a lamppost, in the dark, the smoke drifting into the air mixing with the fog. I felt pretty tough at the time. Working on farms is a good work out. Even a skinny young man like me develops a few muscles and tone after a couple of months on a farm. Some broad shoulders and the start of a six pack. Maybe 2 cans’ worth.

The bus left close to midnight, I got on and then we headed to some port where the bus was put on a ferry and then the ferry went over to Holyhead in the UK. We didn’t have to stay on the bus on the ferry and I got out and had a cigarette on deck as I watched Ireland drift away and the UK approach. It was a good feeling to have arrived and left Ireland by sea. It’d been around six months. Some of the best and most interesting of my life.

We got back on the bus and down through Birmingham (I don’t know if that was the place, Google maps suggests it as a route from Dublin to Paris so perhaps), sleeping a little, looking out the window a little.

We arrived in London in the morning and had to wait to swap buses. The sun was warm. We had about 2 hours to wait.

I needed to go for a pee but had no pounds to pay for the turnstile to get in.

‘I don’t have any pounds’, I said to the cleaning guy.

‘Just jump over’, he said in what may have been a Jamaican accent.

And in that way, due to the kindness of strangers, I was able to pee. I’d been on the bus around 12 hours, though Google Maps reckons you can do the trip in around 8 hours and 28 minutes, I guess you stop a few places along the way. It was at least the best part of the night and most of the morning. After the pee, and a bit of standing around at the bus stop, we set off again for France.

The bus went down to Dover, then the bus got on a train and across the Chunnel. We were on a bus on a train under the English Channel to Calais.

I’m sure we passed the Somme at some point.

In the late afternoon, we reached Paris. I was knackered. Some guy was at the train station spruiking a hotel. There were three American girls there. He convinced them to go with him to the hotel. I was super tired, and I had some notion I might as well follow the girls, so I just went. We stopped for pizza along the way.

It wasn’t cheap. The hotel, not the pizza. $100 for a night or two. A quarter of my savings. I always seem to get a bit ripped off on the first days in a new country – but nothing compared to the sapphire scam of Thailand a few months earlier. It was in Francs though so I didn’t work out that immediately. It was a decent hotel though, nice clean sheets. Actually super nice, white and crisp sheets, with nice fluffy pillows. I had a shower. It felt like I was washing away months of country soil. It was fucking amazing. I used all the little soaps and shampoos and the soft towels, then got into a nice fluffy bathrobe. I masturbated, then slept like a baby.

The next morning I woke up and watched Scooby-doo in French, masturbated, and then decided I’d head into the centre of Paris on the train. I laid in bed a few minutes – the sheets felt so good – before heading down to breakfast.

I met someone at breakfast who’d bought a cheap airfare from Dublin for around 40 pounds. About 15 pounds more than I’d spent on my bus ticket, though I would have saved 15-16 hours travel time, and perhaps gotten a cheaper place to stay. But I liked my clean crisp white sheets and fluffy white towels, and little soaps and little containers of shampoo and conditioner. And being able to watch Scooby-doo in French. It was more value for money than a rip off. Plus they had croissants and things for breaky so I could fill up for most of the day.

It was a struggle buying a train ticket. I had zero French. My French teacher in year 8 had said I was so bad at French that I should have to go back to year 7. They didn’t even teach French in year 7. I think she was just a cow and it was more of a reflection on her that I didn’t know jack shit French.

After struggling to try and find the words related to tickets – it was like pulling marshmallow shaped unicorns out of the air – the young ticket woman asked, ‘where you want to go?’ she was low-level grumpy but not overly impolite, just sounding tired of foreigners who go to France and can’t speak any French. And hell, she knew English and I knew not French, so I got to appreciate that fact.

‘The Louvre’, I said, shrugging my shoulders struggling to figure out where I should be going in Paris, but somehow everyone knows the Louvre, even uncultured guys who grew up on the Gold Coast with shitty French teachers.

She gave me a ticket which lasted a few days so I could get on and off a few times while I was in Paris. It may have been a 10-trip ticket. The dude clipped a little hole in it every time I entered the station. Apart from the long trips back and forth from the hotel, I mostly walked around though.

I went into the centre of Paris and found a cafe close to a metro station. It wasn’t near the Louvre exactly, I just got off at some random spot. It had a nice little roundabout with a few restaurants, bars and cafes about.

I had a coffee with cream. I didn’t realise I’d ordered one with cream. I asked the waiter why the coffee cost more than the price they’d written on their blackboard. I didn’t realise that the cream would cost me a few extra francs. The water was nice, it wasn’t his fault I couldn’t speak French. The coffee was nice though.

I found my way to the Louvre. It had some cool stairs that kind of floated down in a spiral. They probably still have them there. I didn’t visit the Louvre last time I was in Paris, I went to the Musée d’Orsay instead.  I saw the Mona Lisa and some Egyptian stuff. Just like today there were signs pointing to the little painting by Leonardo, La Joconde in French, so you could make a v-line for it and get a photo with it. La Joconde wasn’t as impressive as the other Italian Renaissance paintings in the room. It’s just very little. And really, it’s only kind of super famous because some dudes stole it. I’m no Italian Renaissance expert, but it’s more of a nice little portrait than something you go ‘wow’ over. The Egyptian stuff was in the basement. That was pretty cool. I also saw the Venus de Milo. The armless beauty. Even before the internet I knew that was super famous. How did we figure such things out before the internet, perhaps in books, TV shows and popular culture absorption.

For lunch I found a supermarket, where I wouldn’t have to speak to anyone. I got some bread and an avocado, and an Asterix & Obelix jar of Nutella, which had a collectable glass which held the Nutella as a gift for my niece and nephew. The avocado was like $5. My money was quickly evaporating.  It was starting to dawn on me that I would never get to Barcelona with the money I had. I got some Gauloise blonde cigarettes (they were much cheaper than the avocado) from a bar and something to drink from a little shop, some orange juice and water, and then some nice nuts from a nice lady from the nut shop, and I went down to the Seine to have a little picnic. It was glorious. Being in Paris with an avocado, French nuts and a very strong cigarette.

The guy from the hotel taught me to say ‘ou se trouve‘ which, ‘where is [insert place]’. I asked some paramilitary ou se trouve le toilette when I was in some fancy looking building. They laughed and one of them pointed me in the right direction. There were paramilitaries all over the city. There had been some bombings by an Algerian group in the months earlier. I wasn’t able to find a rubbish bin as they’d sealed them all to stop people putting bombs in them. And on the way not he bus when we got to France the police got all the African looking people off the bus for interrogation. I never saw so many police and paramilitary in a city. They had serious weapons too. Proper machine guns and all. But still they laughed when I asked them in bad French how to get to the toilet.

Later in the afternoon I walked around some more. I decided while in Paris I should  catch a movie. I asked some guys who were walking along chatting to each other ou se trouve le cinéma, they interrupted their conversation and with a roll of the eyes one of them broke off and showed me the way to  the nearest cinemas. It was a bit out of the way so the guy was super nice to help me out. Actually all the French were nice to me. The cinema was some arty one and showing some English language independent film. I was the only one to laugh at any of the jokes. I think everyone else was French, and maybe the jokes weren’t that funny. But I thought they were. It was a nice film.

I spent one more night at the hotel, it was all I could afford. I visited the Eiffel Tower the next day. I asked someone ou se trouve le Eiffel Tower, and they rolled their eyes and pointed to the big pointy steel thing pointing up into the sky. In those days you could walk right under it. Nowadays it’s fenced off like some zombie enclosure. I didn’t go up the tower. It cost too much. Sitting underneath it was enough. I’d contacted the Vipassana meditation centre at Le Boise Planté and they said I could come down and help serve other doing courses the next day. I’d also written to them when I was in Ireland, so they were kind of expecting me. It was in the direction of Auxerre, about 2 hours south of Paris.

I just walked around Paris some more, I didn’t go to any more museums or anything. I just soaked up the Parisian atmosphere, the seine, the cigarettes and so forth. In the evening I went back to the hotel asking another person, ou se trouve le métro. I guess that was a bit like asking, where is the railway system?

I had just enough money to get on the bus down to the meditation centre, but that was about it. How to get back to London, to Australia? That was another story for another day. I wasn’t even sure exactly how much money I had left at the time. Working out the francs took a little bit to sink in. I think I may have had $50-60 left. Merde.

I wasn’t going to have to think about that for a month or so though while I was at the meditation centre. At that point I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay. A month in France sounded nice. A nice round number.

I worked out what bus I needed to get from Paris to Le Boise Planté, paid some more of my precious francs and then headed off. I left the rest of my Gauloise Blondes on the bus on the seat just before I got off. You couldn’t smoke at meditation centres. They didn’t even have coffee.

While waiting for a lift from the bus stop to the meditation centre I struck up a conversation with an old guy. He spoke no English and me no French. I tried a few words in German. I don’t know what he was saying but he had a good old chat. Perhaps about a cat, or village life, maybe some story about the days of nazi occupation, or perhaps something about a nice courgette he once had. The French did have very nice vegetables as I would find out during my stay at the meditation centre.

The guy from the meditation centre picked me up in a minibus after I’d been chatting for half an hour or so with the old man from the village.

It was dark. We drove to Dhamma Mahi. We didn’t talk a lot.

They found me a bed in the servers quarters. They gave me something to drink and eat and then I joined in the evening meditation and went to bed. The sheets were much more rustic than the fancy hotel ones.

I was back in the sanga, the buddhist community, my family.

I was calm. It was going to be my last adventure in Europe for a while.