I've been thinking about Mali today. When I first went there, nearly ten years ago, I'd travelled quite a bit already but never to Africa. I had no idea of what to expect - no concept of how the city would look, what the villages would be like, how the desert would be. I guess I had a few clues from photo's and books, but really for me this was a trip into the unknown.
Arriving at Orly for my flight south, the news wasn't good. The flight to Bamako had been cancelled and had been combined with the flight to Abidjan, in Cote d'Ivoire. Now this is fine - at least I would still be flying - but Abidjan was to be the first stop. Now to get to Abidjan, you fly over Bamako, then keep flying south for another 90 minutes. This wasn't ideal.
As the screens showed the plane flying over the Malian capital, I thought there'd be a riot on the plane. The Malians on board (and me, to be truthful) couldn't understand why we couldn't be dropped off first. It took stern words from the captain to calm everyone down.
Eventually we arrived in Bamako.
The city was dusty, beige and smelled of smoke. Smoke is the smell that I have come to associate with Africa now - the smell of small fires burning all around, cooking food, heating homes, being used for roadside 'businesses'.
After a few days we left Bamako and headed north, through Segou and on to Djenne and Mopti. Djenne was spectacular, with the mosque made of mud that has to be rebuilt after the rainy season every year.
Mopti was just a big market, with 'poulet bicyclette' and mangoes as big as your head.
From Mopti we took an old (real old) plane north to Tomboctou - or Timbuktu, where we rode into the desert with Touareg tribesmen and ate goat killed and roasted just for us. We slept in the desert and woke to a breakfast of more goat, also especially killed for us. Being a goat in Mali is hard.
Back in Bamako one evening, we sat in a bar and chatted with a couple of locals we'd got to know. It was the time of their elections.
"I love democracy" said one of the Malian guys. "I love democracy so much that I voted three times today".
There's an African logic there that just makes sense.
We finished our drinks and headed to the nightclub, where we danced the night away to trashy europop with South African minerologists, French diplomats and Chinese traders. It was a fine old night and so bizarre in so many ways. To me, this is what travelling is all about.
Anyway, why am I thinking of this dusty old place today?
Well, a pair of Mali's finest, Amadou and Mariam were on my train to Brussels today. I was sat amongst their backing singers, who were having a fine old time. Goodness knows what they were doing in town - a bit of promo for their new album 'Welcome to Mali', I guess.
If you don't know who they are, then you should have a listen to their single Sabali - it's good stuff.
Even if it's not your kind of music, it will definitely get you thinking about sunshine and foreign parts. Both of which sound very appealing to me as the Paris winter gets colder and colder.
Pass me the phone, I need to call my agent.
My travel agent, that is.