The Cinque Terre you’ll never find in a travel guide

Walked up some hills, saw some views, ate gelato.

If you asked Small, Medium and Large for their version of the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre that’s probably the best you’d get.

However if you had followed them for five and a half hours of vertical hiking trails, sat at café tables in five picturesque seaside towns, and listened to their mad chatter, you would learn a lot more about the undiscovered delights of one of Italy’s most picturesque and popular tourist destinations.

I’ll give you a bit of an idea.

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French Special Forces stole my suitcase and framed British Airways  


French operatives establish positions for the suitcase-heist

As a travelling day, it didn’t start off well.

It was only two days since France’s worst-ever air disaster and passengers boarding my Marseille flight bound for Paris were all peering into the cockpit to check for signs of the pilots’ will to live.

I was determined to keep my thoughts selflessly and appropriately where they belonged – with the dead and the bereaved.

Then I stepped onto the plane and let myself down. My split-second mental health assessment of the pilots: low grade anxiety triggered by being stared at all morning by terrified passengers.

In my defence, I was sick as a dog and not thinking straight. Snot was pouring out my nose so fast that it was making it to my chin before I could unfold the next tissue.

A four day solo trip to New York to see old friends and two fantastic theatre productions had seemed like a magical opportunity for the several weeks that I had been planning it. Now it didn’t seem like such a great idea.

Ninety minutes later, safely on the tarmac in Paris but with the whole Atlantic yet to cross, I dabbed my stinging nostrils and peered out the window to see armed men in black taking up positions all around the plane.

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A year of raspberries and sunshine in Provence

The fruit and vegetable man showed me a little box of raspberries and slipped it in with my shopping.

Un petit cadeau [a little gift],” he said with a quick smile – turning back to the till to finish tallying up.

It’s nothing special for Monsieur C to give away his raspberries.

But the first time he gave me raspberries I felt like he had picked me up and plonked me down into sunlight.

Bam. You, madam, are a customer. Welcome to the neighbourhood. Continue reading

50 shades of French bureaucracy – the follow-up

One of the least beautiful places in France: a Prefecture waiting room

“Non, non, the Immigration Overlord warned, eyes widening as I began to stack up folders of paperwork in front of her.

Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap. One pile for each member of the family.

Non, non, non, non, non.”

Her palms flew up and her head shook from side to side as she took in the volume of work I was dumping on her desk.

Oh là ! What is all this? It’s for a carte de sejour renewal? But it’s too many papers!”

She prodded my impeccably collated, impossibly complicated application documents as if they were coated in anthrax.

This was not starting well. Continue reading

50 shades of French bureaucracy


It’s exactly one year since we left New Zealand on this big adventure.

Tomorrow we celebrate by heading to the local prefecture to see about extending our visitors’ visas.

Working through the bureaucracy will be an exercise in masochism.

France has seduced us with her wit, charm and good looks – and now that we’re gagging for more, the old madame is going to make us pay. Continue reading