Posted on August 22, 2008 by rodney
Tags: tour

It is an object of repeated worry for me that the view of Europe that I experience is not true European life, or even something close. Would my time be better spent participating in real Australian life, and seeing and learning about the world through the lens of Foreign Correspondent, and late night SBS movies?

My lodgings are campsites or youth hostels, though I have received a good handful, of accomodation offerings from locals, which for various reasons I couldn’t make work. I would like to try but unreliable access to e-mail, or fiddling with public telephones, the necessity to meet a schedule, has made me reluctant so far.

At camping, if I talk to anyone, I talk mainly to Dutch people on holiday, but there are not often campers my age. So then there are the hostels with foreigners who have pretty much the same idea to me, but it has been a bore and I’m starting to dread the dorm friend process – hello, where from, where to, standard questions, leaving tomorrow, oh by the way are you on facebook? No, well I guess we can’t be friends then…

And the majority of conversations I have with the locals are related to business transactions. These are usually enjoyable and return useful goods and services, except in France where contempt for anglophones (or is it just me?) is de rigueur. I dread every time I need to ask a baker for a yummy long white loaf of bread. My ineptitude with the language is obvious, but they can sense fear, and know the meekness which belongs to my culture. Anyway, these are only genuine European experiences within the scope of doing commerce in Europe.

So unless you are exceptional or willing to fool yourself, the European experience is an unattainable ideal, so one should at least be comfortable while spending money to be fed the tacky tourist lie.

Which brings me to the hostel I’m staying at today. It has an intense holiday vibe and there seems to be some enthusiasm for the well-being of guests. At breakfast, the normal din of conversation, cutlery on china, chairs scraping, the occasional glass smashing… today was mixed with assorted piano sonatas by Beethoven, some movements from some of his symphonies, and one song by Chuck Berry. I appreciated this small effort (though they could have had all movements, and in the right order), but the best breakfast music I have enjoyed was in the Boomerang Hostel, Antwerp, where the hostess Megui every day played one Norah Jones CD, on repeat. Every day! Because she liked it. I imagine when I come back to the Boomerang Hostel and sit at the big circular table in the smokey living room, Norah will still be singing for breakfast.

So today, I will sit in this hostel on the hill and not go out, because I think I’ve seen all I need to see in Nice, and the noise is really stressful after the solitude of the mountains. Tonight I will probably go into to the hostel bar, make an effort to talk to someone I will never see again, tomorrow I head along the coast, and try to grasp the European experience.