Hamish and Jo’s adventures in France: Still no schoolwork, but a new continent!

In part two, Jo and Hamish do some legal things in Amsterdam and freak out their bank

Illustration by Siloam Yeung

By: Hamish Clinton and Jozsef Varga 

Much has changed since our last update. For starters, we have not cut our hair in several months. In fact, it seems we have embraced the nomadic ways of expert travellers by growing it out. Next thing you know, we might be bathing in streams, sleeping in caves, and eating the berries off bushes.

Since we last spoke, we have been to four new countries. Sadly, among these is Monaco. (We have nothing, we repeat, nothing against Monaco. It’s just that this means we are counting the teenie-weenie microstate — still a state! — completely surrounded by France that also happens to be a mere few minutes away from us by train.)

That is not to say we aren’t proud of the places that we have seen so far. We have been lucky enough to visit wonderful places, ranging from Milan in Italy, with its beautiful churches and ancient Roman ruins, to Tunis, capital of Tunisia, with its giant Medina bustling and overflowing with the smells and sounds of the city . . . and of course, more ancient Roman ruins, which seem to be a bit of a theme around the Mediterranean.

All in all, it’s been another month here on the sunny south coast of France, and so naturally, we’ve not done much of any schoolwork, knowing full well that it will all be coming in the next month. Rather, we have preferred to spend our time here basking in the sunshine on the beach and exploring as many different cultures and countries as possible.

We began our travels with a trip to Saint-Tropez, a town on the French Riviera which was just a train and a short boat ride away. With multimillion dollar yachts lining the marina and luxury brand-name boutiques mirroring them along the city centre, immense wealth was on full display. Nevertheless, we managed to find ways to make our trip work for budget-wary millennials.

After strolling through the streets and admiring the beauty of Saint-Tropez, we bought some bread and sandwich fixings and hiked to the top of the hill where the Saint-Tropez Citadel is located. We made our way down to a secluded beach where we stayed for hours, before bringing our sunburnt bodies back to the boat and across the bay and to the train, bringing us back to our home away from home in Menton.

The next trip we went on was a whirlwind of activities. In just a few days, we went from Menton to Nice, Tunis, Amsterdam, and back.

We were only in Tunis for about 36 hours, but we managed to do a lot in that time. Not only did we meet up with a friend of ours from our days working in Parliament over the summer, but we also did quite a bit of exploring. We experienced the Medina, a marketplace dating from the arrivals of the Arabs in the area hundreds of years ago; saw the ruins of Carthage, which date back to when Tunis (or Carthage, as it was known) was an ancient Roman city; and walked through Sidi Bou Said, a town atop a nearby hill painted in the whites and blues of a Greek island village.

On our way back to Tunis, the children in our train car would have provoked even the most indifferent North American mother’s anxiety. They were hanging out the doors of the moving train, climbing on the roof, seeing how far they could swing their legs out. At each stop, they’d run alongside the train as it departed to see how late and at what speed they could still manage to slip between the propped-open doors before the platform suddenly dropped off.

After our short journey to Tunis — and let the records show that this will not be our last time in North Africa— we made our way to Amsterdam.

Now, before diving into detail about what happened in Amsterdam, let us note how hard it was to plan this whole trip.

As we are budget travellers, always looking for the cheapest flights, we had booked our trips on websites that are less than trustworthy in the omniscient eyes of credit card companies. For the first leg of our journey, Nice to Tunis, we booked directly through an airline that we had never heard of, NouvelAir, which offers budget flights between France and Tunisia. So even though we got to the airport in Nice two hours early (as per any good traveler’s norm), we were waiting a needlessly long time for a flight we weren’t sure actually existed.

On the French side, everything was a breeze, and they even allowed us to drink our pre-purchased beers on the flight to Tunis. Once we arrived and entered the airport, we were greeted with what might affectionately be called Dante’s eighth circle of Hell, but was actually four seemingly endless lines for customs in what resembled a fluorescent-lit hangar. Also worth mentioning was the lack of cell service and Wi-Fi, leaving us with no way to contact our Airbnb host after our two-hour delay. Thankfully, after getting ripped off by a fake cab driver and a decent amount of aimless walking, we managed to navigate to where our friend was staying and contact our host via hotel Wi-Fi.

For the leg of our journey from Tunis to Amsterdam, things were just as sketchy. This time, we were flying TunisAir, an airline with a little bit more exposure, so we were more reassured that the flight actually existed. However, this time, we had to book through a third-party website, one so suspicious that the bank suspended the credit card we used for a week following the attempted purchase, while neglecting to reply to any inquiries as to why. Third-party website purchase aside, it’s likely that it’s just a red flag in general to book multiple cross-continental flights all on the same day.

In any case, apparently arriving two hours in advance at the Tunis airport was not enough time, and we were left asking other passengers if we could budge in front of them in the customs line, in order to not miss our flight that had already begun to board and was issuing last call messages.

Once we made it to Amsterdam, we met up with our new exchange friends for a weekend of [something that is now legal in Canada, so it’s fine] and culture! After eating as many [something that is now legal in Canada, so it’s fine] brownies as possible, we made our way to the Sex Museum, followed by the Cannabis Museum, where we learned all about the usefulness of hemp, the medical benefits of cannabis, and the impact of cannabis on popular culture throughout the last half-century.

We also went to the Van Gogh Museum, which was incredible. If you’re going to be there, we highly (hehe) recommend the audio guides, available for just a few euros more and in a variety of languages. The guides really allowed us to appreciate the history of the art and get an inside look into the life of Vincent Van Gogh (as well as the lives of Gauguin and Laval, who featured in an amazing side exhibition).

Getting home from Amsterdam could also have proved challenging. One of the aftereffects of the TunisAir debacle and mercy-killing of our credit card was that we were, for the longest time, unable to book our return flights from Amsterdam! We had flights to Tunis, and from Tunis to Amsterdam, but no way of returning to Nice. Thankfully, a mere two weeks before the trip, the card was reinstated and we were able to purchase easyJet flights home to Nice.

To sum things up, we are quickly realizing that not even 1500 words is enough to get the full low-down on the life of Jo and Hamish because every day we find more new things begging to be tried and places begging to be visited. There remains so much we have yet to see, and so, to address this very issue, we are about to do the impossible, something that if you know us at all, is utterly unheard of.

Soon.

Very soon.

This amazing duo…

…is going to SPLIT UP.

We will be going our separate ways in just a few days time during our reading week, and we can’t wait to tell you about all the adventures (and inevitably awkward situations, run-ins with the law, near death experiences . . . the usual) to come. For about a week of activities, Hamish is heading to the beautiful, busy, and bedazzled city of Barcelona while Jozsef takes off to the humble, homely and heatless Helsinki.

‘Til next time!