“That’s an Irish name, isn’t it?”. the English bloke guiding the check-in queue at Berlin-Tegel Airport said to me this morning, adding “When was the last time you were in the UK?”. “Nine years ago”, I told him as he looked closely at my passport, adding that I was ninth generation Australian. And then he laughed, perhaps realising how it was probably a stupid comment to make,
But interestingly, I remember a similar comment – the Irish thing – being made back then by the blokes at passport control at both London City and Heathrow Airports, as we travelled to and from the Irish Republic. Coming back from Ireland, I was asked how long I’d been in the Irish republic and what I’d been doing there. At that time, there was a Northern Ireland ceasefire in place, but there was still obviously some tension between the English and the Irish. Nine years later, it surprised me such a common surname would still spark some interest and such a comment.
Oddly enough, coming through UK Customs, there were no questions asked. Well just one. And it was the same question they asked nine years ago, which contrasted the UK and the Irish officials in a very subtle way. In the Irish Republic they asked, “How long are you staying for?”, whereas in the UK, they asked, “When are you leaving?”.
I never ended up leaving the hostel last night. After seven or eight weeks (I’ve lost track) on the road, I’m starting to feel a little bit of travel fatigue. It’s not so much the physical fatigue (though I do feel a little bit of that), it’s more the mental fatigue. That said, I was a bit tired after the big walking tour yesterday, so I just stayed in, hand-washed some clothes, had a few beers, and surfed the internet.
Once again on this trip, quite by accident, I had found myself staying in a hostel with an Australian connection. Most of the staff seemed to be Australians, and so while sitting in the cafe, there was a steady stream of Midnight Oil, Choirboys, etc playing over the sound system. It was also kinda nice to have an understanding laugh from the barman when I explained why I was changing beers… “It’s because the other one takes too long and this one pours faster”. “Only an Australian would say that”, I thought to myself.
And so I read and wrote some emails, looked at Facebook and Youtube, and then read some of the reviews about the hostel I’d booked into in Paris. What I hadn’t realised when I made the booking a few weeks ago is that it was an all-male (read “gay”) hostel. And when I read the reviews, which were very critical of the hostel for both safety, security, and (most of all) cleanliness, I went looking for somewhere else for the first two nights in Paris. The place I’ve found is also a St Christopher’s Inn, and although a little out of the way, all of the reviews I’ve read have been very positive about this new hostel which opened only in January this year.
But here I am in London. And with a couple of hours to fill before I catch up with my mate Paul, I’ve popped into a groovy little bar for some lunch, and to make use of their wifi connection. And guess what? More bloody Australians.