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That time I spent €300 on a cab

13 Mar

I know right? And the stupid thing is, if I’d stopped to consider all my options, I’d have found a much cheaper solution. But when you’re in panic-mode because the car has a flat battery and you need to be on your way to Basel airport which is an hour+ drive away from Strasbourg… 

I honestly didn’t think the cab would need to be called. When we went to take me to the airport for my week-long work trip to Barcelona and found the battery was dead, I thanked my habit of leaving ample time for airport runs. We had a spare 20 minutes for my boyfriend to find a neighbour, get a jump start and then we’d be on our way. 

Except, there was only one neighbour at home – he was kinda busy – but he took his car out for us. There was a stupid plastic case covering the battery because, new cars that need less fiddling by amateur mechanics I guess. Thank god for second neighbour who showed up and knew where the jumper leads went. Cars not close enough. Get them closer. Please please just get those leads on the batteries already.

Not working. Unclip and re-clip the leads. A few sputters but no engine roaring to life. Is it a battery voltage difference? Either way, our car isn’t going anywhere. Panic. Time to call a cab? Am I already late?

“Find the local cab number and call them just in case we need to book” the boyfriend had said earlier. 

“Umm I can’t do that.”

“Why not?” 

“Because French.”

Time for him to call the cab for me. I wait on the street, they keep trying with the car. I check my wallet – no credit card – fuck, it’s still in my other jacket upstairs. Run and get it. Cab isn’t here yet. Is it all too late now anyway? I’m so upset, I just want to cry. Cab shows up. Driver, already harried, asks my boyfriend when I need to be at the airport by. One hour from now. Panic rises on his face, we jump in the car and are away.


“Trois cents euros” he warns me, “d’accord?” “D’accord” i say. What else can I say?

What am I even doing?? We have one hour to get to an airport more than an hour away, I’m going to miss my plane, be €300 down AND stranded in Basel. Boyfriend calls his mum who lives nearby, if I don’t make the plane, she’ll come and get me.

Meantime we’re hurtling along the highway in the cab. The driver is stressed, doesn’t speak English but tells me to relax. “ça va?” Its going to be fine. He tells me he’s going to speed, and he does speed. It’s fucking terrifying and I don’t know if I’m more mortified or grateful. The taxi meter is ticking over furiously, 10 cents per second, keeping pace with the beat of a song on the radio. It’s already at over €50. We haven’t been in the car very long.

The boyfriend is on Skype messenger telling me to breathe. I’m wondering how the fuck this can even be happening.

If we get to the airport when the driver is assuring me that we will, I’ll be at the security line at gate closing time. Now, two years of flying every month for a long distance relationship has taught me that for some airlines “gate closing” isn’t a real thing; they don’t even start boarding until their stated take off time. Other airlines enforce this pretty strictly however, and this being an airline I had flown with only once before, I had no idea what to expect.

15, 20 minutes from the airport. We still have 45 minutes until my plane takes off. I let myself have some hope. The driver is feeling good about the time too, but he’s still stressed. Asks me in french if I smoke, no, can he?? Sorry dude, I’m on the verge of having an asthma attack already!

We settle the bill early so that I can just bolt when we arrive. The meter says €275, I pay €300. I think of the La Femme en Noir dress I’ve been coveting, and how I could have bought the damn thing and a second stunning Micheline Pitt design for this much.

The driver tries to explain to me that he’ll give me a proper receipt when he stops the meter. It takes him five tries before I understand. He wants to run in with me and carry my bag to the gate. Again, has to explain it five times before I understand and tell him that no it’s fine, he doesn’t need to do that.

Fuck I need to work harder on my French. This not understanding thing sucks.

We’re at the airport! I have 30 minutes until take off! Holy shit I think I’m ok. I hug the driver as he takes my bag out of the back “merci beaucoup!” Hopefully I said “thank you very much” and not “thank you nice ass.”

I sprint (as well as I can in boots) to the entrance. The boyfriend said to go through security on the French side (the airport straddles France and Switzerland), it’s usually a shorter line. It is! Only one guy in front of me!

Boots off, jacket off, belt off, laptop out, fuck why did I bring an iPad too? Shit, almost forgot my liquids bag. No time for being pulled up for a silly mistake.

Which one is my gate?? 47, ok, this way. Run. Shit! What did I do? Gates 60-90?! No. Back into duty free. THAT exit. Fuck these dizzying shiny floors and perfume stand obstacles.

The gate! They’re boarding! Skid up behind the last people in the short line. I’ve made it!!

I’m a sweaty, puffy mess. I’m clumsily trying to dig out my passport and ticket while at the same time checking that I remembered to grab my laptop and iPad off the security conveyor belt.

On the plane, the overhead lockers are too full to store my suitcase near me and I get a broken seat that won’t stay upright, poor dude behind me. But whatever. I made the plane! I order a gin and tonic. What’s another €10 when I’ve just laid out €300?

Was it worth it though? Calling a cab was a hasty move, the kind I’d make in London if I was running late. I might be out of pocket £60-100 for a similar, last minute panic trip to Stansted or Heathrow.

But €300?! 

Strasbourg isn’t London. Strasbourg-to-Basel isn’t London-to-Stansted or Heathrow.

Later, after I had landed in Barcelona and taken a (much cheaper) cab to my hotel, I looked online. If I hadn’t been so panicked, I’d have done that earlier. 

I could have booked a new flight to Barcelona for midday the next day, for €45. I could have booked a €20 train from Strasbourg and then boarded a €2-4 shuttle bus to get to Basel airport.

Sure, I would have lost a night’s accommodation and missed some of the first work meetings of the week but, it still would have been much cheaper. Work’s not going to reimburse me for this, obviously.

An expensive lesson learned. I’m happy to be in Barcelona right now – and on time! But, I’m not happy about that credit card bill, or the stress I put myself, my boyfriend and the poor cab driver under to make it.

A girlfriend tried to console me over text: “Everyone’s been in those situations.” I guess ‘everyone’ now includes me.

BJJ Globetrotters Fall Camp

13 Oct

Number of days spent in Copenhagen: Seven, longer than my first visit. Sights seen: Well.. a hostel, a gym, Christiania at night (just spectating mum) and Old Carlsberg Brewery at night. Yeah, that’s about it. Holiday rating out of 10: 11! Non-BJJ people think I’m crazy, but the chance to devote an entire week to training was pretty much the perfect holiday for me. After missing out on a spot at the sold out BJJ Globetrotters Summer Camp, I jumped at the chance to sign up for Fall Camp which also sold out pretty darn quickly. It was held at CSA.DK in Copenhagen, and the gym is located in a really impressive complex – they seem to have every sport under the sun at that place…. archery, ten pin bowling, fencing, all kinds of martial arts, so much wow. My days basically went like this:

8:30 AM breakfast, pack my gear, 10 minute walk from the hostel to the gym. 10:00AM BJJ gi class, maybe do the next class as well. Sit out a session or two to rest/roll/chat with people…2:00PM Do another class, and maybe another (I stuck to about 3 or 4 classes a day). More rest/roll/chatting, eat again somewhere in there. 6:30PM Walk back to the hostel. Haggle over laundry tokens, walk to the supermarket/go out for dinner, hang out with other  Globetrotters waiting for the washing to finish.

Got a big butt, may as well own it.

Got a big butt, may as well own it.

Christian Graugart put together a jam-packed schedule of classes with a really impressive instructor lineup. Along with multiple gi and no-gi classes each day, we could jump into wrestling, judo, boxing, kickboxing and MMA. This was no hardcore training camp however – some of the 140-odd participants devoted all of their time to training, but many took half (or whole) days off to sightsee or recover from partying.

Eric Bydairk's wrestling classes were a highlight - though I still feel as worried as those dudes in the background look when it comes to takedowns.

Eric Bydairk’s wrestling classes were a highlight – though I still feel as worried as those dudes in the background look when it comes to takedowns.

It was such a thrill just to be surrounded by like-minded people all week, and there were no egos on show – the black belts who were teaching classes were also participating and socialising with us lowly white belts. Higher belts were asking ME for a roll, whaaaat?! I was given lots of advice, which I gladly took on board. 2014-09-25 15.14.33 I made some notes on the techniques that seemed to work well for me. A lot of them came from Christian and Daniel Marquez’s sessions. It was interesting to see all the different ways people were going about documenting what they were learning. Some were glued to their video cameras, others left the mat regularly to take notes or did it straight after the class. I liked David George’s advice which was not to film, but to fully participate in his classes, then film yourself doing the techniques later. 10662035_10152255278391876_6619861301384643377_o (2)Oh yeah, this guy Keenan rocked up one night too and took us through the Worm Guard/variations (of which I could do like, two). He decided to make it a gi-only seminar and devoted a good 45 minutes at the end to taking on all the camp black belts (you’ve probably seen the video) down to a few purples. With all the travelling he was doing, Keenan said working that part into his seminars meant he could at least get his own BJJ training in everyday.

Keenan Cornelius Vs Christian Graugart

Keenan Cornelius Vs Christian Graugart

Contrary to my Instagram declaration.. yes I did wash my rashie.

Contrary to my Instagram declaration.. yes I did wash my rashie.

A couple of Keenan insights from his Q&A: when at home he only trains four days a week, taking off Wednesdays and weekends. And he doesn’t incorporate any vitamins/protein shakes into his diet. He also doesn’t really change much about his training schedule leading up to a competition, finding that it only adds extra pressure if he does. Oh, and (smiling at the time) he called Kit Dale irresponsible for being all anti-drilling. Being you know, Keenan Cornelius, he doesn’t need to drill anymore but says he might do 30 minutes or so of something as a warm up. On Saturday morning we could participate in a friendly in-house competition. I chose to help keep score rather than compete (hell, I was on holiday after all!). Did I wish I’d entered later though? But of course. There were maybe 12-15 women in total at camp. I got to catch up with Marie again which was fab, and experience the (literally) breathtaking pressure of purple belt Kira Ingelsrudøyen from Norway, who I am in total awe of. I also met Jodie Bear and am really looking forward to catching up with her again in the UK. You’ve probably read (and like me maybe related to) this great piece of hers on big girl BJJ problems.

I had this under control, I swear..

I had this under control, I swear..

I flew my tired (slightly hungover) self home at the end of the week with a bunch of new techniques to work on, pretty Globetrotters merch stuffed in my suitcase and lots of invitations to visit places in Europe (and the US!) that I hadn’t even thought about travelling to. I sure as hell am thinking about it now though. What a wonderful BJJ team and community you have created Christian, thank you and see you at the next camp.

"One is the loneliest number.." so us solo country kids had a group shot.

“One is the loneliest number..” so us solo country kids had a group shot.

Hello from Copenhagen!

24 Sep

A quick hej from BJJ Globetrotters Fall Camp – I’m having a blast training with approximately 140 other BJJ fanatics from all over the world.

Csa.dk taking some wonderful photos each day of camp.

Csa.dk taking some wonderful photos each day of camp.

It’s day three and I have taken the morning off to rest my aching muscles and catch up on work emails, but I’ll be back to it in a few hours – wrestling and no-gi class here I come!

Tomorrow will be an exciting day.. Mister Worm Guard himself is paying us a visit! Woohoo.

I am frequently posting pics to @GypsyGirlInGi Twitter and Insta, and #BJJGlobetrotters – check it. X

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Time In Malta – Part 2

4 Sep

“See that building there? Behind the red boat. That’s the customs office where your Nanna, Nannu and the family boarded the ship to Australia.”

I was standing at a lookout in Gardjola Gardens with my dad’s cousin Turu, gazing across The Grand Harbour to where at age seven dad had left Malta, his country of birth. He wouldn’t return for a visit until 43 years later. It’s amazing to think of how different his life could have been had the family chosen to stay on the island. Of course, I’m grateful for my sake that they didn’t!

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Staying in the fishing village of Birzebbuga where dad lived and where his extended family still reside today, I timed this trip (my third to Malta) to coincide with Festa San Pietru, aka St Peter’s Feast.

Festas are a big deal in Malta, where Roman Catholicism is the main religion. It’s considered one of the most Catholic countries in the world, and divorce was only actually legalised in Malta in 2011. In April of this year, a law was approved to legalise civil unions and allow same sex couples to adopt.

Every weekend over the Summer and well into September, you’ll find a village celebrating the feast of its’ patron saint. There are also a number of larger annual events including Notte Bianca in Valetta and the Malta Fireworks Festival.

My first tip on festas came from the cousin who picked me up from the airport – always be in a town a few days before the actual celebration weekend, to really soak in the atmosphere and attend some lead-up events.

Villages hold pre-festa concert nights, there are food trucks and market stalls and street parties. In Birzebbuga a statue of St Peter is taken on a boat ride around the bay. The local marching band clubs alternate in ‘headlining’ the evening’s entertainment, and they have a wicked rivalry going on.

My family’s loyalty is split between the green and red band clubs. These St Peter tees are totes rockin, no?

My family’s loyalty is split between the green and red band clubs. These St Peter tees are totes rockin, no?

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Festa time is (cheeky!) family time

One of the main celebration nights in Birzebbuga featured Nar tal-Art – mechanised ground fireworks set up beside the church.

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They were lit one at a time by a bunch of young guys in white t-shirts, who would jump about like they were at a rave whenever the first sparks started to shower the crowd.


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The following evening I again joined the throng for the main event – to see a big statue of St Peter emerge from the church and be paraded through the streets. Air fireworks were set off on the beach, and what sounded like cannon blasts produced tufts of white smoke over the village.

The social fabric of the Maltese islands is built around each town’s church, band club, football club, National and Labour Party clubs – and while that culture is still prominent today, there’s no doubt it’s changing thanks to everyday modern life.

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St Mary’s Parish Church, Ghaxaq Malta.

I saw few young people taking part in the church procession and marching bands for example, and I’m told that these days musicians from neighbouring towns will often help make up the numbers for village feasts.

I DID do more in Malta than mingle with extended family, eat pastizzi and drink Kinnie and Cisk at the Festa – I also mingled with extended family, ate pastizzi and drank Kinnie and Cisk at some gorgeous swimming spots!

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Jumping off the rocks near the Blue Grotto, Wied Zurrieq Malta.

Each day was above 30 degrees celsius so there was a lot of swimming to be done. Oh, and you MUST bring/buy a snorkel kit. If you happen to scuba dive, it’s heaven.

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St Peter’s Pool, Marsaxlokk Malta. I didn’t want to leave this place – but eventually I had to because, there are no public loos – take note! 😉

I had a fantastic time sightseeing with some cousins from Australia, and one of them commented that he could see me moving from London to live and work in Malta for awhile.

Could I? The apartments are HUGE – that would be a nice change from the shoebox flats of London… EU wages are lower but living is more affordable (30 Euro cent pastizzi!). Two BJJ clubs in the whole country I could probably handle, but Maltese life reminds me a lot of ‘Island time’ for those who have ever been to places like Fiji.

My perception to date is that it’s sooo relaxed – village shops close for a few hours at lunchtime while everyone goes for a nap or hits the beach. I went to the post office at 1pm on a weekday to find they were shutting….for the REST of the day! And Malta’s bus network (its key mode of public transport) is a tad infuriating if you need to route-hop. Never be in a hurry.

Outside my holiday mindset, Malta might not be the right fit, considering how much I (usually) love the hustle and bustle of London.

I felt right at home though standing on the street by a Birzebbuga stop sign at 7am with a phone to my ear, waving like a lunatic at a live web cam atop someone’s balcony. My excited dad watched and chuckled, and waved back from Australia.

Time In Malta (take me back!)

22 Aug

Arriving at Gatwick Airport to see rain bucketing down made me want to get right back on a plane to Malta! I had such an amazing week connecting with family in the village where my dad spent his early childhood.. more on that in another post though.

If you think the BJJ scene is small in your city – try having just two (maybe three) clubs … in your entire country. That’s the reality in Malta.

With the total population coming in at under half a million, it’s not surprising that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is still very much in its’ infancy.

Image: maltabulb.com

Image: maltabulb.com

As Brown Belt Keith Darmanin told BJJ Eastern Europe – he had to incorporate MMA/striking into his classes originally, just to keep people motivated.

Keith’s academy BJJ Team Malta (established 2010) was the first on the island, and it’s the only club focused solely on BJJ.

There is also a Checkmat team, Fight Legion and Keith tells me the scene consists of just a few other MMA clubs, one of which is doing some gi training.

Naturally in a market of this size students are going to regularly gym-hop to maximize their opportunities to train, which makes it interesting come competition time! Keith says local grappling comps like this one see fighters sort of representing multiple clubs.

He has students travelling to the big tournaments in Europe and coming home with medals, including his first purple belt – a female by the name of Michelle Zarb who was also the first Maltese woman to ever get promoted in BJJ (Keith being the first ever Maltese, under Master Rogerio Olegario).

I could not have received a warmer welcome when I visited. Carry-on luggage restrictions meant I could only fit no gi gear, but the guys on the mat were all very accommodating and put up with me slip-sliding around! Being the middle of Summer it was so muggy, I’m impressed they keep up the gi training at this time of year with just the standard gym fan to get the air moving.

Language-wise, pretty much everyone in Malta speaks english and whether for my benefit or not – Keith taught in english that night so that made things easy.

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Kudos to Keith for pioneering BJJ in Malta – I will see you all again on my next visit soon!

Meet Marie

1 Aug

I came away from my long weekend in Strasbourg with another girl-crush – I have these frequently in BJJ. There are so many awesome women in this sport helping to enrich the experience for the rest of us, regardless of our rank or motivation to train.

In this case, the incredibly warm welcome I received from Marie-Laure Kocher has stayed with me, and made me realise how much of a difference a gesture as simple as a smile can make when directed at a club newcomer – even more so when that newcomer doesn’t speak the local language!

So here’s a little more on the lovely Marie.

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I first discovered BJJ as I studied in La Rochelle, a city on the west coast of France. One day during a judo class, I sparred with a guy who rolled in all directions like a cat (Guillaume Baudoin who is now a BJJ black belt and instructor at Spirit JJB). He just arrived in the city and wanted to open a BJJ academy. I was a bit bored with judo at that time (I practised for around 12 years) so I took benefit of this opportunity to discover a new martial art.

The BJJ scene in Strasbourg is beginning to grow. There is the Gracie Barra academy (around 60 members) which was the first in town. Christian Sardella has done a lot to develop BJJ in the area. Now there are two sister academies in the south of the city. Recently a Brazilian black belt has opened BJJ classes in a kickboxing/MMA gym.

I don’t know that much about the BJJ scene in France. There are academies in the biggest cities, but it’s not as developed as in countries like the UK, Germany or even Switzerland. Actually martial arts are not that popular in France. I would like to discover more academies in France over the next few years, and visit Florence Couzin’s academy (one of the first, if not the first, female BJJ black belt in Europe, she also won the worlds as a black belt).

My biggest challenge in training BJJ was first stepping on the mat being the only woman in the class, then returning and continuing to train. It is sometimes hard to be the only girl on the mat (still the case today). By the way I wrote an article about that on my blog which represents my experience as a beginner.

The best of my travels late last year (which included Australia) was definitely the BJJ people I met along the way. Each of them made the visit unique. I wrote articles about every academy we (my boyfriend and I) trained at. I experienced BJJ in a different way.

If you’re coming to Strasbourg, you must of course explore the city center. It’s really nice to walk around or to bicycle around the middle age streets, buildings and the riverside. Historic places to see: the Cathedral, la Petite France, and the “Neustadt” quarter. There are some interesting museums for people who like history. Also go to the European quarter (with the UE Parliament and the European Court Human Rights) and the Orangerie park.

Petite France Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office

Petite France
Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office

Strasbourg and all Alsace is famous for its cuisine and wine. People should try for example a real Tarte flambée, a choucroute or a Baeckeoffe, munster cheese. To drink: riesling, gewurtzraminner and, of course, a beer with Picon 😉

Strasbourg is really nice in the summer. When it’s sunny, locals like to be outside and have a drink. There are many nice bars around the city center. During the summertime there are also a few growing music festivals in Strasbourg or close to the city.

Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.

Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.

In December, it is all decorated with Christmas lights (and a huge Christmas tree). There is a big Christmas market in the city where you can find local food, warm wine and handcraft.

Christmas Market at the Cathedral Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.

Christmas Market at the Cathedral
Photo: Courtesy of the Strasbourg Tourism Office.

I can’t wait to catch up with Marie again in the future at BJJ Globetrotter events. Be sure to pay her club a visit if you ever find yourself in Strasbourg.

Wine, Cheese, (Beer!) And BJJ

9 Jun

Partially bailing on a girls weekend in France for BJJ? I thankfully have some very understanding friends. While they don’t ‘get’ the sport, they certainly do get that it’s special enough to have me gushing like a teenager after attending a class on our first night in town.

I honestly didn’t know much about Strasbourg before this trip, other than it being near Germany, and one of the seats of the European parliament. But thanks mostly to super cheap EasyJet flights, I found myself in the main city of the Alsace region in eastern France, asking for directions to Gracie Barra 67 (thank God for Google translate).

I was reminded yet again just how awesome – and small the BJJ universe is, when I met the only other girl in the gi and no gi class, Marie-Laure. It turned out she had recently been travelling on my ‘home’ side of the world, AND rolling with some of my favourite AGIG  ladies! You should read her most excellent blog.

Marie quickly took me under her wing, partnering me and translating instructors Geoffrey Kintz and Christian Sardella.

This particular night’s classes were less focussed on techniques and more on rolling rounds, giving me the opportunity to be paired up with (and squashed by) pretty much everyone on the mat. Later, Marie was great in letting me work through some specific techniques with her.

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After class, in true BJJ Globetrotter spirit (a team/movement I only recently heard about, ashamedly) Marie not only offered me a ride back to my hotel, but also a walking tour of Strasbourg the following day.

Taking in and learning about the sights from a local’s perspective.. what could be better, seriously?

How about hanging with her BJJ teammates at a cool little beer festival right next to a stunning gothic cathedral? Yup, I got to do that too, and nervously say “une bière s’il vous plait” – baby steps, you know.

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Meantime back with my girlfriends, copius amounts of cheese was gleefully eaten along with way too many croissants and pastries. I also inhaled my fair share of the local specialty – flammekueche. Did I mention the Alsace wine? There was plenty of that too, naturally.

We also wandered around the Petit France quarter, took a boat tour and caught the train to the pretty town of Colmar.

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I’d love to head back to Strasbourg at the end of the year to experience the Christmas Markets. After such a warm welcome however, I could easily return to this city just for more BJJ.