- Despite my initial reluctance to spend too much time with Anglophones in France, I’ve discovered that being around them while sharing the experience of foreign exploration is really fun.
- I can successfully host guests in my home.
- Life is fragile.
- Don’t put your personal belongings on the table at a restaurant in a touristy area if you wish to continue owning them.
- I love receiving hand-written letters! (Thanks Mom 🙂 )
- I’ll wait until I speak better French before I get another manicure in Paris.
- After living here for nearly three months I finally had my first fresh baguette – and I learned that everything they say about the bread in France is true 🙂
- Few things beat having a washer/dryer in your home.
- I really enjoy writing.
- It really is a (big) small world…
- The term “on the wagon” comes from the days of hangings and beheadings in England. Prisoners about to be executed were allowed to stop at a pub on the way to their death and get drunk, while the executioners, having a job to do, had to wait outside. On the wagon.
- Although I didn’t get pooped on this time, I was told that receiving the gift of droppings from a pigeon is good luck.
- The Hard Rock Cafe in London is apparently the first of its kind.
- London is the home to some ridiculous cars. I saw my first ever bubble-gum pink, matte-finish Bentley, as well as a mirror-finish silver Mercedes, to name a few.
- Buckingham Palace is boring.
- Cabbies in London’s infamous “black cabs” are among the nicest I’ve ever had the pleasure of being driven by.
- All the best sites to see in London close early, even on weekends.
- People in costume dressed up as Henry VIII and others in his royal household make me giggle.
- Prostitutes have business cards.
- If my New England family members and friends still think that they live in the weirdest weather on earth… you haven’t been to London.
I know this post is way beyond past-due, but here it is in all of its belated glory.
When I was in college and had decided I wanted to study abroad, I was looking for an experience that was going to be really different and push me to be outside of my comfort zone. I opted to travel to South Africa. So many of my fellow students were planning trips to places like London and Australia, and in my youthful arrogance I thought I was making the wiser choice, because London (specifically), while beautiful and full of history, wasn’t so far removed from the American lifestyle as to generate the kind of eye-opening experience I was looking for. Since then, London has remained low on my list of destinations I’m burning to visit, but when the opportunity presented itself to turn a business trip into a weekend of tourism, this Perpetual Passenger couldn’t refuse.
I don’t pretend to be a travel expert, nor do I think one weekend in London is enough to really form an opinion of the place. But I can tell you that my initial reaction based on the experience I had is one that coincides rather well with the meteorological patterns of the region: it’s okay.
Before garnering angry reactions from my friends and family who have been touting London as one of the best cities to visit, I must say in London’s defense that I was forced to explore this massive city alone, on the weekend in the middle of summer. You might be thinking “Sounds great!” but what this translates to is an exhausting hike to as many sites as possible (some of which are among the most frequented attractions on the globe, seeing that London is the second-most visited city in the world… after Paris), with no co-navigator save for my iPhone amidst scores of other tourists and… teenagers on holiday. After spending numerous holidays/weekends myself in places like New York City, San Francisco, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Athens or Cape Town and now Paris, I can concretely say that I have NEVER been pushed, shoved, slapped, nudged, bumped, hit or just plain walked into more times than during my brief stay in London. And nary was a Londoner (or Brit, for that matter) the culprit.
This isn’t to say that my experience in “The City” was all bad. In fact, I was enamored with almost any attraction I took the time to explore. After a good friend of mine turned me on to a book that deals loosely with “Bloody Mary,” one of the daughters of the famous King Henry VIII, I have since devoured any and all historical fiction books I can find pertaining to the various reigning powers of early England. And so for me there was a lot to see… and feel. Here are some shots of the places I loved the most:
Westminster Abbey requires no religious affiliation to appreciate it, though I’m sure if one is of faith they would surely be awed in this place. I can say from my perspective that this abbey amazed me more than even the Parthenon in Athens… it’s so beautiful and intricate and filled with so much history. I saw the tombs of Mary I, Elizabeth I, Elizabeth of York and her husband Henry VII (the first Tudor king), among others. I saw pictures of the recent “Royal Wedding” of Prince William and Kate Middleton that had taken place weeks before in the very spots where I had stood. And as I walked around taking everything in, I was filled with a sense of reverence and respect that I have never experienced before. It was absolutely breathtaking.
But, overall, I’d say my experience in London can be summed up by a few quick love-hate statements:
Loved: London is known for its good (non-English) food, and I had some of the best tapas while there. Hated: You have to plan midday meals very wisely. Twice I was discouraged as my stomach started to growl and restaurant after restaurant told me they were no longer serving food until dinner. Once, this happend at 1 in the afternoon. On a Sunday. In a train station.
Loved: The historic sites of London! Hated: Trying to see the historic sites of London while feeling like herded cattle.
Loved: The tube (subway), and almost everything about it! It was clean, easy to use, everywhere, and their system for charging makes so much more sense than any I’ve used before (pay per stop, instead of a flat fee no matter how much or how little you’re traveling). Hated: The cost of the tube! Though the structure for use was great, it’s a wash when you’re paying out the nose to ride it.
Loved: The music street performers are playing to try and earn your extra change is the best I’ve ever heard! Hated: London is so expensive you won’t have any extra change.
Loved: All of the shopping! Hated: All of the shopping!
Loved: Westminster Abbey. I cannot say it enough. Hated: That you cannot take pictures of the inside. Although I completely understand why and respect it, I sincerely wish I had some photos to remember the place with. I guess I’ll just have to go back 🙂
I do actually plan to make another trip to London, and perhaps during a less busy time of year. I also didn’t get to experience much of the city’s nightlife, which I hear leaves little to be desired. I’m looking forward to returning and getting a renwed outlook on England’s capital.
Warning: This post is long and opinionated. Please stop reading now if you are short on time or open-mindedness.
Any decent education will teach you that what you thought you knew about the history of the world was probably skewed heavily by the authors of the history book you were forced to read in high school. The truth of what really happened is often a completely different picture than the one we have formed in our minds. So thanks to a few of my college professors and an on-again, off-again reading relationship with Howard Zinn, I was aware that what I knew of world history was but a fragment of a larger story. (Don’t believe me? Read the first few chapters of Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and you’ll find yourself wondering – or maybe outraged – why America, a country founded on principles of tolerance, equality and religious freedom, celebrates Columbus Day. Then read the rest of the book.)
Living in France has emphasized this for me, in several ways.
First is that I’m surprised not only at how much French citizens know about their own history (and accurately, from my cursory research done after some conversations), but how much they know about the history of the world, and more specifically, America. Maybe it was the quality of the history lessons I received that deprived me of this sense of accurate or worldly historical knowledge, but I’m leaning towards the idea that for some strange reason, other countries think it’s important to know about the whole world, and not just their own back yards. Amazing, right?
Second is that, as with the stereotypes we’ve all heard, there is far less censorship on TV in Europe than in the States. You probably think of naked women or steamy sex scenes in movies when I say that, but it’s true of violence as well. Just a few nights ago I was watching TV before bed and there was a program airing about Paris during World War II. It was the most violent thing I’ve ever seen.
I have seen violence in movies before, but there’s something to be said for knowing that the real actor didn’t die in the scene where it looked like his head was lopped off. Seeing actual footage from World War II doesn’t provide the same kind of subconscious relief that allows me to keep watching instead of crying or getting sick or leaving the room. When you see real men writhing in pain because they are on fire from an explosion, or people who drop lifelessly after being stood in front of a firing squad, or the excruciating death of a man who was hung upside down until he stroked and died, you really start to understand the horror of such an event (and why our war vets need and deserve psychological AND physical care after a war!).
And I learned something new about the war as I watched. Part of the programming was showing the effects of the Alliance victory over the Nazis in post-WWII Europe. (Disclaimer: for any reading this who might misconstrue my next few sentences – I am not in any way saying that I support or sympathize with Nazi beliefs or actions. Don’t even act like that’s what this means.) Of course I saw some of the punishments carried out on generals and other members of the Nazi regime who were directly or indirectly involved in the brutality against their Jewish neighbors. But I also saw elderly men and women, wives, sons and daughters be mutilated, shaved and burned with swastika symbols on their foreheads. Of course I cannot say that these people were innocent of any wrong-doing because I wouldn’t know. But the point is that I simply had no idea the backlash reached that far. Did you?
At the end of the day, while I think that a book is a great source for learning about events of the past, and film can also be just as skewed – especially when edited – as the ideas presented in books, there’s something about seeing it that really made my impression of that aspect of the second World War that much more profound. I was reminded that these were not names or numbers in a history book. All of these people were real. So many of them died horrible deaths. And much of the world today is impacted by those events.
And I think about what my impression of WWII would have been if I never explored beyond what I was told or saw this program in France. And then I realize that so many people have that same, limited, two-dimensional understanding of so many historical events that have shaped our current way of living that I would have had… it’s scary. What a difference a few seconds of footage can make.
In other news… Next Stop: LONDON! Leaving tomorrow morning to spend the next 4 days there. I’m super excited and looking forward to writing about my experiences!
- Ask first. Buy later.
- Having to rely on others isn’t so bad. Although I still don’t like it.
- Beautiful flowers are available for delivery in Paris. From at least two different vendors.
- Teams winning championships while I’m not there to celebrate isn’t so bad. Although I still don’t like it.
- Men here pee outside. During the day. While sober.
- Spending 7 hours in the sun with 90 degree temps and no way to cool down will result in more than just a nice tan.
- The French equivalent to FML = VDM (for those who are acronym-deficient, please inquire within)
- A good playlist goes a long way.
- Sending snail mail is just as good as receiving it. (Which is good, because I haven’t received any – hint hint!)
- Prince is an amazing performer – and at 53 what he does on stage becomes even more impressive.
- I miss Netflix.
- Do all your grocery shopping on Saturdays, because you won’t be able to get anything you’ve run out of on Sunday.
- Foster’s beer apparently has 5.1% alcohol by volume and is sold by the pint in France. Four of these do not equal four 12oz Blue Moons in the US.
- The train ride to London is fast, though not cheap.
- I can put furniture together all by myself! And it doesn’t fall apart immediately after!
- There is something equally as good as Pinkberry in Paris. This is amazing news.
- Pigeon poop is green. And doesn’t make for good hair conditioner 😦
- I can survive without a working stove.
- It doesn’t pay to cut in line at a taxi stand.
- I don’t miss having a car. At all.
So I know I’ve got some catching up to do, but right now there’s only one topic on my mind: PRINCE.
The concert I excitedly posted about about a month ago was last night, and I’m still reeling. He truly is a performer, and probably one of the most talented alive.
He played for 3 hours, and the first hour+ was covers of some of his favorite songs. For some, this might have been less than satisfactory if they were clamoring for all of the Prince hits we know and love, but for me it was amazing. I really enjoy when artists pay tribute to one another, and he did an amazing job. He covered bands from Sly & the Family Stone to the Beatles to Wild Cherry.
And of course he played all my favorites, and left nothing to be desired. Raspberry Beret, Let’s Go Crazy, 1999, When Doves Cry and Sign O’ the Times were all amazingly energetic. Purple Rain was expectedly epic. He ended the show with my personal favorite, Kiss, and his combined dancing and singing during that one had my eyes glued to the stage.
But my absolute favorite performance of the whole night was Little Red Corvette. The spotlights were all turned off, and the only lights were the big-screens with red filters and a few red stage lights. He played a very slow rendition of the song and invited audience participation that went on for quite a few minutes. It was surreal.
This was an experience I won’t soon forget, and one I can add to my list of reasons why 2011 has been a great year so far for me. On my cab ride home from the train station last night I couldn’t help but think about how lucky and blessed I have been. I’m so grateful for all the forces that have played a part in getting me to where I am now, and all the places I’ll be going.
Lots of posts to catch up on! Try not to feel bombarded 🙂