Well, many days have passed since my last update. I only had a few days in London, one of which was a bit of a write-off due to travel-induced exhaustion, so I wanted to cram them as full of stuff as I could.
I definitely could have spent more time in London, though you quickly start wishing you were earning pounds rather than measly Australian dollars. One dump truck full of Australian currency will get you a pint of beer. (Contrary to what I’d heard, all the beer I drank in London was cold.)
There are heaps of great museums in London. The Imperial War Museum was by far my favourite, jam-packed with amazing relics from World War 2 (and a heap of other military engagements that England has been involved in, but I was mainly interested in the WW2 stuff). V2 rockets, tanks, weapons, uniforms, letters – all fascinating stuff to see IRL.
The Natural History Museum is pretty impressive but I was a bit natural historied-out after being to the New York Museum of the same name, so I went off to the Science Museum which I really enjoyed, although I suspect it’s really targeted at younger people.
All the other tourist stuff I did as well to some degree – Tower Bridge, Tower of London (didn’t go in due to time constraints but walked around), London Eye, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square (unfortunately under construction), Westminster, etc, etc. Stacks and stacks of stuff to see and do. I found the Tube really awesome to use and was surprised to hear that quite a few Londoners don’t like it that much.
Mad props to Nicky and Aidan for putting me up in Islington, where – when walking ‘home’ from one of my frequent excursions – I saw Harry Kewell walking around the streets with his family. I was a little too starstruck (after I finally even confirmed that it was him anyway) to do anything useful like ask for a photo, but it was still way cool.
I am currently in Paris and have been here for about 6 days – having a great time. My French is very rusty but basically everyone speaks English so it is easy to get by anyway.
Again, contrary to popular opinion, so far just about everyone I’ve spoken to anywhere has been very helpful and very tolerant of my woeful French. I remember just enough from my five years of study at school to get by and am probably slightly better equipped than the average tourist, but I sure wish I could remember more. However, not really a problem as everyone has enough English to help you out and (so far) have not been reticent about using it.
Everything here is very cool. Eating lots of croy-sants and pan-oh-chocky. Good stuff. Lots of amazing history here.
Now that the Da Vinci Code has taken over the world (and the handful of illiterates that haven’t read it can now see it on the silver screen), all these people (e.g., Americans) have now heard of this mystical place that Jesus built called ‘The Louvre’. (Actually I can’t remember if the book mentioned that Jesus built it or not, but it is the sort of thing that would have been in there.) As a result there are a lot lot lot of people around the place, but more of them seemed intent on circling the modern glass pyramids and taking photos of them instead of, say, going to check out the priceless artifacts.
The Louvre is so massive that you really need several days to explore and dig on the whole thing – unless you’re an ignorant savage like me and feel like you can safely skip massive sections of artistic history. I checked out all the Greek and Roman art which I really enjoy, more for its history though. There’s quite a lot of cool Renaissance-period Italian stuff which is great.
The Mona Lisa is, of course, there. It is neat. Small, but neat. I don’t have the artistic background to make any useful comments about it – again, I appreciate it more because of its history rather than out of any real level of understanding about the art involved.
There are a billion other things to see in Paris, most of which people will be familiar with from movies such as Team America. The Eiffel Tower is spectacular, particularly at night when it lights up and frequently starts sparkling due to thousands of lights all over it that are turned on at certain times. The Arc de Triumphe is massive (and I was surprised to see it had four legs, not just two!).
Notre Dame is probably my favourite place so far; only a few minutes walk from my hotel I’ve gone to sit in its shadow with a cuppa a few times and just reflect. I haven’t been up the towers yet to see the gargoyles but will be doing that soon. I am not, as most people would know, big on the whole religion thing, but I must confess I love cathedrals, particularly the old-school Gothic variety.
I am spending quite a bit of time soaking up the place, just walking around Le Marais, the area of central Paris in which I am staying.
The French, like the English and Japanese, still have smoking indoors in restaurants and bars. I forgot how gross it is to come out of something reeking of smoke (after three weeks of being in the US where smoking indoors is verboten pretty much everywhere), and as almost everyone in Paris smokes all the time, it happens pretty regularly. I am coping, however, as is my asthma (fortunately).
I have a few more days in Paris and then I have vague plans to head north; I will see how they solidify.