In late 2022, I returned home from Paris after living with and nannying for a French family for about half a year. But before I started my new job in Paris, I was invited on a three-week Interrail (backpacking) trip with five strangers. This is an ode to the beautiful friendships and the tragically hilarious memories that were made on that trip, plus the other unforgettable ones during my time in Europe.
A wonderfully enthusiastic 6-foot-something Englishwoman who kindly offered me to accompany her along with four of her friends on a summer Interrailing trip through eastern Europe. She secured me my initial au pair job with the ‘De Varax’ family, of whom she had been the au pair from 2019-20. Characterised by her massive smile, ambitious (yet sometimes unrealistic) escapades and a send-her-friends-mad love for walking, Jess is an adventurous girl with a big heart. I will not forget her (several) deliveries of chocolate mousse and sweet handwritten messages of encouragement on cereal box cardboard when I was having a rough time. Nor will I forget the time she was rummaging through her trail mix and yoghurt at a café in Florence before nonchalantly declaring to the group, “What an authentic raisin!”.
The funniest girl from Ballyclare that you will meet; Emily was the Irish counterpart of our diverse interrailing group. We share a mutual love for shitty rap battles, a post-work chardonnay and spending disgustingly large sums of money when travelling (when in Massa). Despite this, I would say that we share more mutual dislikes, some of which include: the incorrect use of grammar, the mobile application ‘tricount’ and walking more than one kilometre (fine, 300m) when there is public transport available (sorry Jess). My first memory with Emily was sitting on a pebble beach in Nice, where she unapologetically flashed her hoo-ha to everyone in a 30-meter radius while simultaneously making me pee myself from laughing. I loved being greeted with her signature ‘ça va?’ and cheek kisses each time we met; a testament to her dedication to the French culture and a subtle display of distaste for people who were embarrassingly English.
The Dutch component of our group. A feisty, Dutch redhead with a better grip on English (her second language) than any of us who spoke it as our first. I can still hear her aggressively shouting Dutch into her phone with the occasional accented ‘fuck!’. Our three nights of spooning alongside Emily and Vanessa through the freezing West Italian summer nights (no lie) meant we got close very quickly. Maria is a talented cyclist and academic (i.e trilingual) and will likely outperform you in either given the chance. She’s the woman to call if you need a drinking partner (however, she has also proved her ability to extend this role to a drunk putt-putt partner if that tickles your fancy). She charges her services by the bottle.
The beautiful (and only) German in our group of six. With an impeccable fashion sense and outstanding make-up artistry, Vanessa was the elected stylist on our nights out. She was so good that the only guys who weren’t intimidated enough by us to buy us tequila shots were 40-year-old Turkish men! Vanessa is like an innocent Disney princess but don’t be fooled by her charm. She is outrageously sarcastic and will humble-roast anyone who brags even a little too much. She will not spare any utilisation of the gorgeous Parisian apartment entrances, especially after midnight (iykyk). When I met Vanessa, she was in the early phases of a relationship with a French boy whom she’d met just months before. She would excitedly answer her phone after half a ring and rush to stand at the water’s edge of the Ljubljana River, affectionately chatting away while the rest of us whinged about our non-existent love lives.
My au pair confidante. Hattie was the au pair for the Varax family in 2021 and shared with me everything I needed to know about them (even if by the time she confessed I was already halfway across the world amid the worst). We frequented Rivoli’s best op shops and corner cafes, often soaking wet thanks to our ignorant refusal to carry umbrellas anywhere. Hattie introduced me to Britain’s former equivalent of One Direction – the band McFly – when we were eating undercooked homemade spaghetti and watching Just My Luck (give All About You a listen – chills, literal chills). Nearly every time we met outside Châtelet metro, she would greet me wearing her favourite green sweater, along with baggy jeans and her hair parted with two kids’ hairclips. Hattie is not too fond of big nights out, much preferring to curl up in bed with a very strong black tea and a good book; she is quite old at 23 after all.
Our friendship was built on the classic ‘au pair I met in the park’ story. Toria is a Canadian beauty from the small town of Poco and educated me on the rare (yet still too prominent) species that is Toronto Mans (basically the Canadian equivalent of a bogan). She introduced me to the incredible 4€80 panini and crepe formule from a cute store near Notre Dame and showed me her before and after boob job photos on the busiest street in Paris (lucky passerbys). The meaning of Toria is ‘Victory’ and boy did I win big to score a friend like her. Toria took care of me when I got legless on the Halloween boat cruise and let me crash at hers when I couldn’t be assed to catch the metro back to mine. She’s funny, laid-back and so effortlessly cool that it’s impossible to not want to be her friend. I also lucked out because she is a slut for Depop and was constantly offloading her overflowing wardrobe items onto me, chucking in a teabag or sachet of lube as a ‘bonus gift’.
Another one of my gorgeous Canadian friends. Lily was once called a Top Model by a gross French man in a fancy ice cream shop. I convinced the man (with my limited yet sufficiently accented French) that she was actually famous and that I was her International Agent. She invited me to multiple musical outings, one of which was opera in a giant medieval cathedral which was breathtaking. Lily had multiple underwhelming catch-ups (you could hardly call them dates) with the French boys from the Bumble scene, which meant that every time we met was an opportunity to hear an incredibly cringey story about how some Parisian guy had been way too forward with her and ended up butt hurt when she rejected getting freaky with him in a public park. Good food was always on the cards with Lily and we paid the price for it, one time dropping 80ish euros on dinner at La Buvette (a must-visit when in Paris). Before I left France, Lily wrote me the most beautiful letter detailing all the memories we’d shared; I cried my eyes out reading it on the line 6 metro while a concerned man watched on, who was probably too disturbed to ask if I was okay.
I met Caroline after two months into my trip and our time together was short but sweet. We worked for the same nanny agency in Paris and clicked immediately at the get-to-know-you drinks where our employer got way too drunk and started explaining the imminent demise of her four-year relationship. We were then lucky enough to share an uber with said employer and boyfriend and watch the relationship quite nearly deteriorate in front of our eyes as we drove around the Arc de Triomphe and they screamed horrible things at each other. Ah yes, Paris, the city of love. Caroline is energetic, bubbly and never turned down a post-work hot chocolate and gossip. She taught me about the Danish education system and how in Copenhagen she gets paid to study (go figure).
Although I technically met Annabelle when she came to Australia to live with my family as an exchange student in 2016, she was a massive part of my time spent in Paris. Living in the beautiful Catalonian town of Perpignan in Southern France, her family accepted me with open arms and was kind enough to show me their beautiful area of the world. We ate paella in Barcelona, went scuba diving in Roses and drank cider in Collioure. Annabelle and I blasted Beyoncé’s new album as we drove down the picturesque mountain ranges of the Pyrénées, keeping an eye on her crazy Grandma driving behind us to make sure she didn’t fly off the edge. Annabelle is the purest person with the biggest heart and she was like a home away from home for me. She offered me a shoulder to cry on when I needed it and copious amounts of Nutella and brioche when I didn’t.
I feel incredibly blessed to have been surrounded by such beautiful people in my time overseas. Adjusting to life in another country is not easy, but these people made the bad times seem better.