Wednesday, February 11, 2009

GB is an island for a reason

I think I understand the view that many people hold... England is part of Europe, but it really isn't. To be safe, it isn't. Paris is the place all Americans dream to go; a land of romance, beauty, fashion, great food, great wine, the list goes on (to be sure, Paris is great, but I realize our expectations are set a tad too high in the New World). London is it's antithesis. Let me count the ways:

Westminster Abbey

1. Romance: Everyone in Paris is "en couple," for real, I made it a point to ask my new "conversation partner" actually; a beautiful French girl around my age who speaks beautiful French and speaks English with such a cute, thick accent I can't tell which language she's conversing in sometimes... but its ok, because at least she can understand my English, where as I have to have her repeat everything 3 times, once when she speaks French, again when she speaks it more sloooowly, and again in English with that cute French accent. Yea, go me. Anyway, in England I saw two, count it TWO couples kissing in 4 days. In 4 days in Paris, I saw more kissing couples than I may have (in real life and on screen) in my entire life. Also, when sweet nothings are not being passed around in French, it really takes the romance out of any situation now...

2. Beauty: While I was shocked at the amount of attractive people in London, it still comes to nothing when compared with the French. I just don't understand how they get like that. The Londoners on the other hand were not your stereotypical bad-toothed walking messes we sometimes make them out to be, although it should be said that the majority of attractive city-dwellers in London seemed to have a variety of ethnic flare to them, making me think that the beauty came from their Indian, Arab, Italian, or Asian side.

YES! Telephone Booths... here I come Ministry of Magic!


3. Fashion: I always felt overdressed in London, where as in Paris, I feel that when I have a hair out of place I will be locked up and jailed for the rest of my life because I wasn't able to conform perfectly to the immaculate fashion of those around me. This difference was felt with the same outfit in the two locales.

4. Great food: Again, the food in London wasn't as terrible as British food is made out to be, but let it be know that the food I enjoyed was not British, it was of some varying culture that just happened to be COOKED in the city of London. 

Either way, the people of London are absolutely the kindest people I have met in my life, so it makes up for everything ten times over. Oh, and speaking English again for 4 days was sooooo nice.

Changing of the Guard, marching toward the Palace

Ok, now for what I actual DID while there.... TOURIST!!! We saw everything, and I mean every monument, church, museum, street, etc. that is worth seeing. Parliament, Big Bend, the British Museum, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, Millennium Bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tate Modern, The Globe Theatre, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guard, St. James Park, Abbey Road, Herod's (far more amazing than Les Galleries Lafayette in Paris), and (most importantly) PLATFORM 9 and 3/4!!!! 

MY LIFE IS NOW FULFILLED!!!

I learned a lot of interesting facts from my hostel roommies (who happened to be from Australia, one specifically from Tazmania! Hey Tamara!) (Oh yea, that place really exists! I saw pics) For example, the weekend we were there happened to be the weekend of Waitangi, or the Kiwi's Independence Day (Kiwis are from New Zealand in case that isn't common knowledge). Now I'm not sure what Waitangi day is like in New Zealand, but in London there is a huge celebration where everyone gets drunk and dresses up as sheep or gets all muddy and takes off their shirt, or dresses up as any other number of animals, god only knows and rages around London... and that's just what they did. 

It was interesting to say the least, especially to note the stark difference between Paris and London. Oh.... the French.

(Oh.. p.s. Those red, double-decker buses really are EVERYWHERE)

I must add (thanks to Jen's comment) that the accent thing was amazing, I felt like I should have been riding a broomstick next to Harry Potter or having tea with Hugh Grant. Lovely!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Roadtrip!

This past weekend our group of 14 (eek.. I know) took a road trip around northern France. We rented two cars which could hold 7 people each... sounds perfect, right? LIES! We were driving two Toyota Corollas (of some European hatchbatch-variety)... yea.. 7 people? It worked ok, but with MUCH struggling. You've seen those little cars where like 10 clowns all come out and you wonder how in the world they all fit in there?.. Yea, that was us, but each with a bag of luggage for 3 nights, and we weren't driving in a parade, we were cruising the insane streets of Paris and out into the countryside of France for hours on end. (p.s. I now know the absolute necessity of the Parisian metro system... the amount of times my life flashed before my eyes are as numerous as the stars in the sky on a clear day in Rouen, France).

Inside Notre-Dame of Rouen

Our travel plans were this: Paris to Rouen, Rouen to Caen, Caen to the beaches of Normany and back to Caen for the night, Caen to Mont-Saint-Michel and then back to Paris. "Ooh la la" is an understatement (still, an expression I'm ecstatic to hear all over Paris. I had imagined it to be some ridiculous stereotype like that all Frenchmen wear burrets or that they all walk around with baguettes under their arms. Oh wait, that second one is true.. all Parisians literally walk around with french baguettes under their arms) Seriously though, I use the expression (of whose literally meaning or roots I am completely unclear) countless times every day, and it may be my hardest habit to break when I return to the States (although I started using it months before I left for the land of Sarkozy, Carrefour, and stylish scarves on every neck). On that note, I think it's some innate yearning of all Americans to call their own country "the
 States"... but they do not feel qualified to do so unless they have lived abroad, thus necessitating a shorted nickname for their own beloved "United States of America" which they interject into every small comparison of life at home and life √† l'√©tranger. It's true.

I'm off subject.
It was amazing to get out of the city. (I know... one should be so lucky as to be able to say how nice it is to get out of Paris) But it was... Paris is unyielding in grayscale tones in January, and somehow the north of the country is already blissfully green, with rolling hills of grass and forests separated by petites villes and farm communities. The cities of Rouen and Caen are both beautiful. Like younger siblings of an accomplished older brother, villages throughout France are tiny copies of Paris, yearning to be just like their big bro. They aren't jaded in the way Paris is, and offer a friendly exuberance in the streets that even Parisians themselves might look down upon with a roll of the eyes. Regardless, the two smaller tow
ns we visited (which in honesty aren't THAT small at all) are, like everything else in this country, beautiful. There are cute, quaint little side streets that meander and old buildings (but old in the French way, not in the American way) that are as beautiful as those of Paris. Therer are boulangeries on every corner (bakeries in France are like Starbuck's in the US) and absolutely stunningly magnificent cathedrals. In Rouen, among other things, we saw the exact spot where Jeanne d'Arc (Oh, sorry... Joan of Arc) was burnt, as well as the church built near the spot. Caen had a castle as well, no big deal... a legit Medieval castle. Ugh.. we have along way to go America. (Although in all truth, while I'm loving France, I'm adoring the US more and more each day).

D-Day Cemetery

We also saw the beaches of Normandy, Omaha and Utah, where countless American soldiers gave their lives (that sounds cheesy, but the whole thing with the museum and cemetery is pretty moving). The national memorial cemetery to honor the Americans (as well as Canadians and British) who died that day is absolutely breathtaking.. rows and rows and rows of perfectly aligned white Latin crosses. (above) 149 of those gravestones are actually Stars of David, for those brave Jews who defended our country as well. 

SHALOM! ;)


Mont-Saint-Michel from a distance

Our final stop was, perhaps, the most amazing, unreal place I have ever been. Mont-Saint-Michel, an island city/cathedral/abbey, sits just offshore of the French countryside. Words can't really do it justice.. and aside from the Chinese/Korean/Japanese (I can't differentiate Asian languages well) being thrown around by numerous tour guides leading groups of black-haired tourists, I felt like I was thrown right back into the Middle Ages. Perhaps my favorite location to date.

A courtyard inside the Abbey

Moutards, tripe, starvation for the sake of beauty, Fanta light, galettes, cross-dressing bartenders, swarms of asian tourists defiling cathedrals, peace signs that aren't peace signs... so many inside jokes. I love roadtrips!