I'm a painful travel nerd, and that's OK
It's the oysters that bring it all together. Last time the three of us ate oysters was in the French ski town of Meribel.
We'd bought them still live from a deli on the main street, purchased a shucking knife, Googled some instructions, and brought them home to wrestle with them in the kitchen sink.
Oyster shucking - it's not as easy as it looks. We spent a good half-hour prising a dozen of them open, eventually laying them on the table to eat with our bread, our cheese, our saucisson and our champagne.
It was a feast made for French kings, a little Christmas Eve celebration for three in a chalet in the alps. The feasters were me and two of my oldest friends, Lizzie and Dunc, a couple who have a knack of never making you feel like a third wheel.
The oysters were ridiculously good, made all the more delicious by the fact we'd prised open their gnarled shells with our bare hands a few minutes ago. The cheese was local Savoie, the saucisson made with rich pork meat. The wine was champagne - it flowed long into the night.
And now here the three of us are once again, about 18 months later, eating oysters. Only this time we didn't shuck them ourselves. And out the window there are no snow-capped mountains, but white-capped waves that crash near the beach at Burleigh Heads. We could call this Christmas in July, a mid-year celebration of all that's good in the world.
We've decided to eat at the Fish House, a restaurant otherwise known to my thriftier parents as "the most expensive place to eat on the Gold Coast". We've driven down from Brisbane, retelling stories about our adventures overseas most of the way.
Even ordering the wine is a trip down memory lane. There's a bottle of chablis that Lizzie is keen on. "Remember, Duncan," she says, "that's the one we tasted at that winery in the Loire Valley."
See, it's OK to be a painful travel nerd when everyone else at the table is a painful travel nerd.
So here's what makes this lunch interesting - for a bunch of painful travel nerds, we haven't really travelled far to be here. It was an hour in the car down the Gold Coast Highway - not the same as getting the TGV from Paris.
But this is reality now. Lizzie and Dunc have finished their two-year stint in Europe and have moved back to Brisbane. I'm hanging around a little bit more often than I used to.
The trick for the three of us - and for any painful travel nerd, really - is to have as much fun at home as we did overseas. Just because we had shucked oysters and ate French food in Europe doesn't mean we can't find something to match it here.
We've got the wine, although it costs about 20 times as much as it did in the Loire Valley. We've got the views, too. Burleigh Beach stretches out into a shimmering distance before us, the Surfers Paradise skyline rising from the sea mist.
There's no saucisson or Savoie cheese, but there is an entire one-kilogram snapper that's been oven-baked with dill and lemon and is currently swimming in a delicious sea of olive oil in front of us.
There's also some smoked salmon and eel that disappears in about 30 seconds.
For six months while I travelled Europe, Lizzie and Dunc's house was kind of my home. They had a small flat in South Kensington; it was accepted (by me at least) that whenever I called through town I'd be sleeping on their living room floor. And I spent a lot of time on that living room floor.
We toured the touristy sights of London while I was in town, ate at the cool restaurants, walked the old streets. And then we all left.
There's a fear for all travellers that when you come home from an experience like that that you'll never be able to recreate the feeling of exploring a foreign country. My friends must have worried that life in Brisvegas would be dull after London town.
But home for these guys is what you make it. It's time with good friends. It's long Sunday afternoon lunches at expensive seafood restaurants.
We're at the Fish House for hours, picking the last bits of flesh off the snapper carcass, finishing the wine and ordering some more, taking in the beach view, talking about the places we've seen and things we've done and the things we still plan to do.
For now, though, this will do fine. Because we'll always have Paris. And oysters. (Mostly oysters.)
The writer paid for his own travel.
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Sydney Morning Herald