In Germany they say that “the Japanese come to Europe to see ten cities in five days.” (Rough translation) I’ve been in Europe for two and a half months and I’ve seen some of Britain and I’ve lived in Germany, but I think I’ve only managed to see seventeen cities in the time I’ve been here. The most cities I’ve visited in any given week is three. Two weeks ago I spent a whirlwind of a week traveling through France, Belgium and the Netherlands, visiting only three major cities as I went. I stayed in Paris for three nights, Brussels for two and Amsterdam for another two.
It’s hard to hit up all the major tourist attractions in a city in just a couple of days, let alone get much of a feel for the place. My friend Lizy and I are both make-it-up-as-we-go travelers though, and this seems to be the best method for conquering a city in so short a period of time. Our Paris checklist included: walking up and down the Seine, listening to some good Parisian techno, flitting through a flea market, sampling quality macarons, tasting authentic French cuisine and throwing paper aeroplanes of the top of the Eiffel tower. We also managed to see the Louvre, the Pompidou and Sacré-Coeur, and visited with a good friend who had studied there for the semester. Major tourist tip: if you can, visit Paris with someone who knows the city and speaks better French than you. Unless you know the city and speak fluent French, of course.
Some quick photos and a few highlights:
Notre Dame was unbelievably beautiful. For this confirmed church lover, it ranks as the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever seen. It was, as expected, packed with tourists who were completely uninterested in complying with the “hushed voices only” policy posted on sign boards scattered throughout the cathedral. Still, these throngs could hardly detract from the reverent atmosphere of the place, which seemed built right into the bricks and mortar of the church.
Few things in Paris delighted me as much as the vendors booths along the Seine. Filled to bursting with vintage lithographs and wood block prints, aged tomes and vintage comic books, they provided a pleasant distraction from all the other delightful scenery lining the banks of the river.
The Louvre was an incredible thing to witness in person, at least from the outside. Inside it was a tourist-season induced frenzy, and unlike a church, it is almost impossible to enjoy a museum that is jam-packed with people, regardless of how much or how little noise they are making. I left the museum feeling disgruntled and harried, not enlightened and at ease, at least in part due to the confusing design of the museums long and unconnected halls with oddly situated stairwells, which had me turned about so that I could not find my way amidst tourist throngs to the doors in order to leave. I managed to see all the major paintings, but from quite a distance, as nothing can persuade my mildly claustrophobic self to brave thick crowds, not even the Mona Lisa. In short, if you’re thinking of visiting the Louvre in tourist season, don’t.
The entirety of Paris, from the people to the architecture is very photogenic. I’m usually not a huge fan of pictures of the Eiffel tower, but couldn’t resist snapping a few of my own- it was too beautiful a subject to pass up.
Somewhere between eating macarons and visiting the Pompidou my friend and I managed to see Sacré-Coeur. Much like the Louvre it was a tremendous disappointment. Photography was not allowed and great pains were taken to inform visitors that it wasn’t. Great pains in the form of massive cardboard signs in five different languages reading “no photography is permitted in this sanctuary” situated frequently throughout the basilica. There were overpriced prayer candles placed left and right as well, and with every step one took that wasn’t into another person one risked bumping into and knocking over another table of tapers. I was decidedly unimpressed.
Reasons a visit to the Pompidou is worthwhile: one, for the museum itself, two, to take pictures of the Parisian sunset. Lovely- like all of Paris, in fact. I’ve voiced an awful lot of complaints amidst these photographs, but all in all, my stay in Paris was wonderful. The only thing I could have asked for was a bit more time to take it all in.
Folks, I’m sorry for such a short and straightforward post, but as usual, things have gotten left to the last minute. I leave for France at five AM tomorrow morning, and I haven’t managed to write the next few posts either. That means there will be a posting delay until my return next Sunday. But all is okay! I’ll get back on top of things then, and hopefully my posts about Brussels and Amsterdam will be slightly more eloquent. Until then!