15 October 2006
not so down and out in paris and london
just returned from a proper (i.e., longer than a couple of days) vacation in paris, where i had never been and london, where i had visited but did not remember that well. yes, that's yours truly standing on a postcard-worthy little street in monmartre.
both cities are remarkable and not just a little overwhelming.
my first reaction paris, as well as i can recall it (not counting the reaction at the airport, which is really, really, underwhelming) was that i needed larger eyes. because, no matter how much i stretched, how high i raised my eyebrows, my eyes would never be large enough to take in all of the intricate detail of paris. geograhically small, it looks like every square inch of the place was designed with the sole aim of making the hearts of those not fortunate enough to live there flutter with joy and envy.
this sounds like a cliche. it is a cliche. the whole city is a beautiful, romantic, artistic, gastronomic cliche and every year, double the population of canada descends on the city to see what all the fuss is about.
and what is the fuss about? here's a few things that struck me.
1. the gothic spledour of the city's architecture, in particular its churches. i took so many shots of church facades, fountains and the like that i can barely remember which ones correspond to which location.
2. the omnipresence of cafes and cafe culture. every street is littered with them, spilling out onto the sidewalk, offering the opportunity to relax for a few minutes (or a few hours) and watch the effortlessly elegant (and painfully thin) multitudes wander by.
3. best bread in the world, bar none.
4. the world's most famous painting (you know, that one from the da vinci code) is pretty damn cool in person. i really wanted to see madonna of the rocks, which is still my favourite of his, but THE painting is just eerie when you see it in person.
london is awe-inspiring in a different way. everything about the city is on a massive scale and runs at a frenetic pace, at least until you get well outside the city core. i kept getting possessed with the insane urge to start running, because it seemed to be the only way to keep up. this can become exhausting, but also exilihirating. unlike paris, which is still largely in tact, large sections of london, are very modern, many of the older buildings having been destroyed in the blitz. some of the modern touches are eyesores, but some of them are fascinating (such as the building known in local parlance as "the gherkin" for reasons that are obvious once you see it).
some of the things i'll remember from london...
1. the whole thing about how bad london food is has been greatly exaggerated. pub food is fine, but london also has great food from the former colonies, particularly indian. i would like to call particular attention to preem's bengali restaurant on brick lane (corner of hanbury).
2. related to the above, discovering brick lane (centre of the city's bengali community) and the impressive whitechapel art gallery, was a surprise. these aren't places that are on a lot of tourist guides, so the only others travelers you're likely to run into are going to be either a) lost or b) jack the ripper afficionandoes.
3. the museums and galleries in the city overall take a back seat to no one. they are awesome and, best of all, they are free.
so nine days, three time changes, many walks, a lot of flight time and an assload of photos later, i am ready to sleep and sleep and sleep... i feel like i need a vacation.