Tag Archives: France

The Rise and Fall of Ricardo Q. Hamster, Esq.

Our time in Annecy flowed along like water down the majestic Thiou River. Hamster and I flew our paragliders over the Alps all day and drank all night with Marque, Gaz and the other legends, soaking in their knowledge of the sport and the surrounds. Our skills and confidence improved as we pushed our limits and tackled tough conditions with our new friends. But things could never remain calm with Hamster around. One night, while a silvery moon lit up the world, our sleep was shattered when Pierre, the owner of the hippie farm we were staying at, burst into our tipi.

“You fucked my scarecrow, you piece of shit,” he screamed, and when Hamster and I crawled out of our sleeping bags we could see that Pierre had tears rolling down his crimson cheeks. “You fucked my scarecrow so hard you broke him in two! Benoit will never be the same again!”

“You’ve only got yourself to blame,” replied Hamster, plucking straw from his underpants and dropping it at Pierre’s feet. “You’re the one who built it to look like the girl who works at the fish and chip shop down the road from my house. The one who smells like mackerel even on her days off and has the man hands. How was I supposed to resist?”

Pierre whistled and a posse of smelly hippies, their lentil-encrusted beards and fishermen pants flapping in the breeze, encircled us. Although emaciated from eating nothing but vegetables and legumes, they had a meanness in their Gallic eyes that told me they’d killed before (people, of course, not animals) and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. One of the tree-huggers was carrying a large, intricately decorated gourd that he was ready to swing at our heads, so we threw a plate of sausages at them and escaped into the night as they recoiled in horror.

“Can’t we have one holiday where you don’t root a scarecrow?” I asked Hamster.

“I would’ve stayed home if I knew that was a rule,” he replied, picking bits of straw from his teeth. “Right, I guess we’re going to have to stay with Gaz, then.”

Gaz, or Gabrielle as his mother knows him, is a pioneer of paragliding and one of the most knowledgeable pilots on the planet. What this bloke doesn’t know about flying ain’t worth knowing, and he’d taken us under his wing. Each night, in a dark corner of L’Auberge Du Boucanier, Gaz would discuss the intricacies of paragliding with us, providing a flying masterclass as the pints of Kronenbourg slid down our throats. Each day when we soared into the skies, he’d watch us with eagle eyes to make sure we’d been listening. We thanked him by knocking on his door at 4am.

Gaz’s life partner Bernard answered, wearing little more than a smile, and ushered us inside. That night, as Gaz sipped Cognac from an ornate skull-shaped glass whilst his balls dangled between the spread legs of his nightie, we were told of the true history of paragliding. Only a handful of people will ever learn of the mystical beginnings of this magical sport, and it was an honour to be entrusted with this knowledge. I promised Gaz that I wouldn’t reveal anything that happened inside his house that morning, and I’ll go to my grave with the secrets he told me, but it’s safe to say Hamster and I now understand paragliding in a way few ever will.

The next afternoon, with our hangovers fading away with our excitement, we flew further than we’d ever flown before. With a more meaningful understanding of paragliding we soared deeper into the bosom of Annecy, skirting around the edges of the pristine lake with our new friends with us every thermal of the way.

A full lap around Annecy is around 50km, and it’s hard work because there aren’t a lot of safe landing options and the terrain can be difficult to handle. I’d like to say Hammy and I made it all the way around, but bad weather approaching meant that we didn’t quite go the whole way, but we were both proud of our efforts. It was great to undertake the journey with such a top bunch of people. By the time we touched down in Doussard and got on the cans, Da Hamsta and I were more than pleased with the time we spent in the blue, blue skies of France.

Doussard is a cracker of a town, and about as traditionally French as a croissant wearing a beret. There are winding cobblestone alleys, baguette vendors on every corner, astonishing views of the Alps and pretty girls on every corner. It’s not only a top place to go paragliding, or a great place to get really drunk, but it’s an astonishing place for anybody to spend a few lazy days.

Unfortunately, later that night Hamster was severely beaten up by a throng of French people who were sick and tired of his antics, and was left brain damaged and in a vegetative state. Fortunately, his wife and children didn’t notice any difference when he got home, so happy days!

The Tour of Annecy

“Put your clothes on and get the fuck out of my house! And please remove my turnip strainer from your anus!”

Just another day in the home on paragliding, Annecy, France. I opened my eyes to see a very bashful, very naked Hamster hurriedly throwing his clothes into his bag. His arms and legs were heavily bruised, and he had bite marks on his abdomen. The owner of the slum we were staying in, Adrian, was waving a carving knife around violently.

“We have to leave right now,” Hamster wept. “I think I’ve made a social faux pas.”

The apartment looked worse than I remembered, which is saying something. Empty beer bottles, blood in the walls, a TV-shaped hole in one of the windows, that sort of thing. I couldn’t really blame Adrian for kicking up a stink. I had a crushing hangover and felt like Antifa had spent the night kicking my head in, but when Hamster says we should vamos, we vamos, so that’s what we did.

I thought we might have to suck dicks in exchange for accommodation but Hamster, as always, had a plan up his sleeve.

“I met a bloke last night who has a tent we can sleep in,” he slurred, and I put plans for prostitution on hold. “He was wearing pants made out of hemp and had a man bun, but how bad can his place be?”

And that’s how Hamster and I ended up sleeping in a tipi in the middle of a hippie commune.

The farm ended up being absolutely wonderful, with wide open fields far below the peaks of the Alps. Accommodation is bloody expensive in this part of the world, so camping is definitely the way to go unless you’re made of money. After settling into the tipi and struggling through a sun worshipping ceremony and 90-minute yoga session, I was keen as mustard to get up the hill and go flying, but Hamster had other things on his mind.

“I’d like to harvest some carrots and then cook a vegan casserole,” he told me, already inspired by his new surroundings. “And Pierre has an interpretive dance workshop that I’d hate to miss, so can we put a pin in the paragliding thingy for now?”

Hamster has a history turning into a hippie for no real reason, so I know the only way to snap him out of it. I slipped a few shots of rum into his kale and quinoa smoothie while he was hugging a tree, and soon he was pulling out man buns left, right and centre and munching sausages in front of horrified vegetarians, so I chucked him in the car and took him up to launch.

The conditions were even better than the day before, and our luck got even better when paragliding guru Marque and the gang rocked up. I’m telling you, the paragliding community is so warm and inclusive, and there are plenty of people willing to share their time and knowledge without expecting anything in return. There were hugs all round, then Marque took us aside with a serious expression on his face.

“I truly believe that you two have what it takes to be legendary gods of the sky,” he said honestly. “Perhaps it is the way you take to the heavens with confidence and skill. Perhaps it’s the way you can drink cheap vodka upside down without vomiting. But today you will take the next step in your training, by completing the Petit Tour du Lac.

The Petit Tour du Lac is the beginner’s circuit around the bottom half of Lake Annecy, and provides a good challenge without the complications that come with going the whole way. It’s not an easy task, but with Marque’s smooth voice wafting through our radios, Hamster and I launched towards our destinies.

I’m telling you, it was rough as guts up there, but we were soon getting great height as we climbed towards the 50 or 60 gliders above us. Once we pulled in 1800 metres of height we jumped over to the next mountain range, and I was close to filling my pants as I sunk out, got thrown around, and generally had a tough time of it. But I made it, Hamster made it, Marque made it, and the view was unreal.

We thermalled up to 2100 metres and then cut across the lake, and that big, blue bugger looks beautiful from a couple of kilometres up. We made it across easily, and soon we were riding above ancient castles and cobblestone streets, before racing along a steep ridge. The view from the top of Doussard was superb, and soon we were spiralling down into the valley, thirsty for an ice cold French beer or 18.

Of course, Marque and the gang got us roaring drunk, and when we were at the point of starting fights with pot plants, the big man took us to the side once more.

“You boys really proved yourselves up there today,” he slurred whilst holding onto the bar to prevent himself falling over. “I think it’s time for you to meet Gabrielle.”

“Sure thing,” I chirped. “Does she have big tits?”

“No, but feel free to give them a squeeze if you want,” said a handsome man with a shock of white hair. “My name is Gabrielle. Or as my friends call me, The Eagle of Annecy.”

It’s not every day you meet perhaps the greatest paraglider pilot of all time, so I might save that story for next time!

Anarchy in Annecy

Wild horses couldn’t have dragged me away from Brazil’s welcoming bosom, but there was one thing that could lure me away – the promise of a few weeks of sublime paragliding above the Alps with Hamster. So I packed my G-string away, skolled my last bottle of Brahma, and hopped on a plane to France. Shit, this unemployment thing can be tough!

The picturesque resort village of Annecy is where paragliding was born 50 years ago, so it’s a place I’ve wanted to visit ever since I first took to the skies, with tears in my eyes and wee running down my legs. As the name suggests, paragliding was invented by a mad Parramatta Eels fan, Pierre LeCoq, who realised it was a good way to escape if his mates ever came home feom work early while he was porking their wives. These days paragliding is loved by pilots around the world, whether they cut their mates’ grass or not.

I was relaxing in the lush Jardins de l’Europe park, drinking a bottle of Kronenbourg and admiring the views, when a high-pitched scream shattered the tranquility. I thought there’d been a terrorist attack, but when I looked up I saw a group of young ladies fleeing in disgust from the clutches of a pervert. The creep was holding a large baguette in front of his crotch like an oversized penis, and was thrusting it at anyone who looked his way. Children were crying, dogs were howling; I’ll tell you what, Hamster sure knows how to make an entrance!

He smelled strongly of faeces, although it was impossible to tell whether it was human or animal. I made him rinse off in one of Annecy’s ancient canals, with the crystal clear water turning a deep shade of brown the moment he slipped in. Despite the commotion this caused, I couldn’t help noticing have magical Annecy is, with its stunning buildings and bright blue lake, nestled in amongst the imposing mountains. If it wasn’t for the thousands of Chinese tourists swarming around, it would feel like it was plucked straight from a fairy tale.

“Right, we’re here for one thing, so let’s do it,” said Hamster, as I reached for my glider and he swaggered into the nearest pub. You’ve gotta respect a bloke who’s got his priorities in order! We spent the first night knocking back delicious local beer in a 400-year-old tavern nestled in the hills above Annecy, talking shit and barely remaining upright. Our outlandish behaviour caught the attention of a gaggle of local pilots, who were at first bemused by our behaviour, but were soon won over when Hamster started farting the French national anthem.

Paragliding instructors, acro madmen, comp pilots and even a world championship runner-up. When I focused my blurry vision, I could recognise each and every one of them from videos I’d watched on YouTube. The most notable figure was Marque, one of the first men to ever fly at Annacy, who rarely speaks to ‘newbies’ but saw something in Hamster and I that caused him to open up and saturate us with his wisdom. The group of pilots sat back and listened with awe at my story of flying 51 kilometres in Manila… or maybe they were just being nice because we bought them a round of drinks. Either way, as we all slipped into drunken comas, they shared wisdom that I will never remember, and promised to take Hammy and I out flying the next day.

The next morning I woke up in the shower, covered in vomit and marinated in a thick broth of shame. I could barely move, let alone think about flying, but a few hours later that was exactly what I was preparing to do. The launch at Col De La Forclaz is 1240m above sea level and the view out over the lake is truly unforgettable. After an inspirational pep talk from Marque, Hamster and I launched in unison, and soared out over that jaw-dropping landscape. I’ve never experienced anything as amazing as those first few moments flying above Annecy.

We spent two blissful hours dancing high above the lake, climbing to 2000m before spiralling towards the pine trees far below. Only the setting sun could bring us down, and when we reluctantly landed in the peaceful village of Doussard, Marque met us with a toothy grin and ice cold beers, his way of welcoming us into ‘Club de Annecy’. After a life-changing experience such as flying over the Alps, those beers tasted like angels were pissing on my tonsils.

We stashed our gliders and rolled into the nearest pub to smash overpriced beers and tell stories about how we’d pretty much flown across Europe that arvo. Hamster dragged the tone down by asking anyone who looked his way if they wanted to ‘pull his reserve’ – until an attractive young lass told him she’d rather fall to her doom than pull his limp noodle. After Marque and the gang passed out in the garden, we met a gap-toothed fortune teller, who told me some very interesting news.”

“Tomorrow, you will fly higher and further than ever before,” she said between hits of her crack pipe. “And your friend, he is going to be thrown out very soon.”

Within seconds, Hamster was chucked out for filling a pot plant with his piss, which filled me with confidence that I’d have a good flight in the morning. Fuck yeah, how good is Annecy!

Night at the Poo-seum


Paris has heaps of world famous sites to visit – the Champs of Ellis, the Jean-Claude Van Damme Cathedral, and the Bert Newton Tower, to name just a few. I visited all of those, of course, but I also decided to go to the shittest tourist attraction in the city – a tour of the sewers.

My adventure started off sensationally enough, as I trotted out of my one-star hotel in the 11th arrondissement (incidentally, this was right around the corner from the site of the tragic theatre terrorist attack last year) and headed towards the legendary Père Lachaise Cemetery, Best known as the final resting place of Jim Morrison, this boneyard offers so much more than that.

It’s the dead centre of town… haw haw haw!

Sitting atop a small hill, the beautifully-landscaped cemetery features endless tombs across its 44 acres, and is a peaceful retreat from the busy city. It’s fucking awesome, and it’s easy to spend an entire morning (or more) simply wandering along the rows of graves, taking in the silence and the history..

Of course, I also pretended to be a zombie, which was maybe a bit disrespectful, but ultimately quite a lot of fun.

Christian Cros will make you jump, jump!

I spent so much time among the dead that it was pushing into the arvo by the time I trotted back into the streets, with the infamous Catacombs of Paris my ultimate destination. This series of underground tunnels hold the remains of around six million people, with skeletons stacked from floor to ceiling as far as the eye can see. You’d have to be mad as a meat-axe to not want to see it.

Unfortunately, between me and the Catacombs was a pretty Parisian sheila with a body wars have probably been fought over, and I became distracted and ended up drinking cheap wine by the side of a river with her. It was sweet and beautiful and, while I might’ve missed out on seeing bones, she certainly didn’t.

Fuck I’m romantic.

Me in front of some building

I woke up the next morning with a hangover and a pair of undies that weren’t mine, determined to make it to the Catacombs. After stopping a few times to chuck up in bushes, I finally made it, only to discover that I was there on the one day of the week it’s not open (Monday, in case you’re wondering). Having traded a musty old cavern for one that certainly wasn’t must or old, I wasn’t too upset, and instead ventured to another recommended tourist attraction, the Paris Sewers Museum – or, as I think it should be called, the Paris Sewers Poo-seum.

If you see this sign, run!

I’d seen it recommended on a few websites online and thought it would make a decent replacement for the Catacombs, but it turns out everyone who recommended it is a fucking idiot. It’s a boring, pointless waste of time, and visiting it rather than the Catacombs is akin to rooting Rebel Wilson rather than Jennifer Hawkins.

The disappointment echoes across the walls

There’s not a lot to see; a few tunnels with some water trickling down them. Some old machinery. A handful of signs written in French. I was hoping for vast rivers of turds, and maybe even a display of all the weird things that have been found in the poo over the years, but there was none of that. I wandered around down there for half an hour, and then emerged into the bright Parisian sunlight, disappointed and wishing I had my five French spacebux back.

I dunno, some sort of machinery? Who gives a fuck!

Paris is a great city with so much to see, but don’t waste your time checking out other peoples’ waste. Sit in a cafe and drink a beer, have a surprisingly good feed at one of the many Quick Burger restaurants, or just while away the hours swaggering through parks and alleyways. But leave the sewers alone, they’re shit.

Oh, and afterwards I saw Owen Wilson riding around on a pushbike. He smiled at me as he rode away into traffic. Ships passing in the night and all that. Call me, Owen…



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I’ve fallen in love with a lot of places around the world, but nowhere has captured my heart quite like Carcassonne. This little village in the south-west of France has it all – centuries of history, an impressive citadel, beautiful parks and, most importantly, a proud history of rugby league. I spent a single day in this wonderful place two years ago, and the memories will stay with me forever.

I was nearing the end of my trip through western Europe, and had spent weeks on end in major cities, so when I made it to the south of France I headed straight to a peculiar little village in the glorious Aude department. The train system makes travel easy, and the trip into Carcassonne is a joy, watching hills and lakes and forests roll by. And when we pulled into the village, I knew I was in for something special, as I looked over the River Aude to see a medieval castle perched on top of a hill. It was my ultimate destination, but I had somewhere else to go first.

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Carcassonne is a centre for rugby league in France. It’s the home of AS Carcassonne XIII, who play in the Elite One Championship, and the birthplace of France’s greatest-ever player, the legendary Puig Aubert. Stade Albert Domec lies close to the centre of this serene and picturesque town, so I headed over there to soak in some sporting history.

And I saw some really nice things. Seriously, you couldn’t swing a baguette in Carcassonne without hitting something that deserves to be on a postcard.

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Rugby league has a proud and tragic past in France. Introduced to the country in the 1930s, it exploded in popularity and soon rivaled the established rugby union for a place in the hearts and minds of those in the south of France. Then the war broke out, and the bastards at the rugby union assisted the Vichy regime in return for one thing – the banning of rugby league.

Rugby league was stripped of its assets, grounds, players, and even its name – until recently it was only allowed to call itself by the generic name of XIII. After the war, it saw a brief explosion of popularity but, with no money or grounds of their own to play on, it inevitably fell away while union – funded by assets illegally obtained from league – prospered. That’s a very brief summation of what happened, but it highlights why it’s so important that a place like Carcassonne still stands as a home of rugby league.

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Stade Albert Domec is very pretty, and would be a wonderful place to watch a game of footy. It’s hosted World Cup matches, French grand finals, and even saw France defeat the all-conquering Aussies back in 1978. When I sat in the stands, with a few people jogging around the oval below me, I could close my eyes and imagine the atmosphere and emotion of those games.

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Outside the ground is a statue of French fullback Puig Aubert. ‘Pipette’ is one of the greatest figures in the history of rugby league – he led his country to the inaugural World Cup Final, captained the French to a series win against Australia in 1951, and was inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame. He was even awarded his country’s Champion of Champions title – the first time a footballer from any code had been so honoured.

Puig led Les Chanticleers through a period of unprecedented success, where the bruised and bullied the Aussies and the Poms, and marched down streets waving trophies while tens of thousands cheered them on.

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But that’s not the best bit. Puig was, well, unusual. He was known to drink a glass of red wine at half-time, refused to tackle opposition players if he felt his teammates hadn’t put in the effort to do so, smoked on the field, and would present his opponents with notes of apology after scoring against them. In short, he’s a bloody legend.

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With my taste for footy history satiated, I turned my sights to the Cité de Carcassonne, the ancient citadel that the modern town is wrapped around. It was built by the Romans way back in the third century, and remains just as impressive today. I was there mid-week and there weren’t many other people around, so as I skipped the hill and then walked in through the gates, I was able to completely lose myself within its historic walls.

I could feel the history living inside the inticately-carved archways and beautiful walls. It’s a magical place, and not just for history buffs – if you don’t fall in love with Carcassonne within minutes of arriving, you’ve got rocks in your head.

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I climbed up walls and sat atop turrets, enjoying the peace and the lovely views over Carcassonne. It’s a small place and everything is within walking distance, so I was able to trace my trail from the train station, through the cramped streets of the town centre, past the bubbling river, to the stadium, and finally up to the citadel.

As the shadows lengthened, I spent hours just sitting there and enjoying the world. It’s such a special place that is one of the most wonderful spots you’ll ever see. As the sun sank beneath the distant hills, watched in silence by me and the ghosts of the Visigoths and the Saracens and the Crusaders, it was the perfect ending to an amazing day.

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