Un week-end à Paris

After having travelled the past 3 weekends in a row, it was nice to finally spend a relaxing weekend in Paris. With so many excellent travel locations throughout France, it is tempting to schedule a new region for every weekend. Luckily the first weekend of the month offers free museums in Paris, so my nearly empty pocketbook was easily persuaded to stay.


We are finally having some sunshine, although it is still chilly, so outdoor activities have become number one priority. Saturday afternoon, we headed towards the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood for some free jazz concerts. I don’t think I have ever been to this neighborhood without hearing jazz musicians pounding the pavement in front of the iconic church, but this time it was for an actual organized event. Consecrated in 558 by the bishop of Paris, this small village built around an abbey of the same name was originally outside Paris city limits. The abbey and church have been renovated many, many times over the years, but the original portions give it the title of oldest church in Paris.


The Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood has been the haunt of intellectuals since the 17th century. Writers and artists made it an important place to be throughout the first half of the 20th century. You will remember that Hemingway and his friends hung out in Les Deux Magots in the main square. Subsequently, jazz is very popular in this neighborhood. They are hosting a jazz festival that runs for more than 2 weeks, offering many free concerts. It’s not the typical music of my choice, but jazz and Paris go together very well and free is always a plus!

After the jazz concert and a picnic lunch in the park, Megan and I headed towards the 16th arrondissement on the far west side of the city. Our destination: Roland Garros. Although I am not particularly a huge tennis fan, I am a fan of sports in general and I am a HUGE fan of attending sporting events, no matter what they might be. It was disappointing to realize that I wouldn’t be here for the Tour de France, but the French Open is a huge deal and I wanted to take full advantage of it! Unfortunately, tickets went on sale a while ago and have been sold out for some time. The solution to this is to purchase an evening pass that will get you into the grounds from 5:00pm on. They begin selling these passes just 24 hours in advance.


The pass is inexpensive and will get you into the outer courts to watch any matches you want. If you want to get into one of the three main courts, you can wait in line to purchase an additional ticket for these courts. Visitors are allowed to line up starting at 3:00pm. Well we, like everyone else, originally wanted to see the Centre Court where Nadal was playing his match against Fognini and later Djokovic was playing against Dimitrov. However, even after they began selling tickets for this court at 5:00, it was evident that things were moving incredibly slow and there was NO WAY we were going to wait another 2 hours in line. So instead, we jumped in the shortest line for a show court, which was the Court Suzanne Leglan.


It was a good move to purchase a show court ticket, because once inside we realized that the outer courts all had lines to go inside as well! What is it with this place and the lines? You simply wait in line to wait in line just to wait in another line. Does anyone ever actually get anywhere? The match that was in progress when we first arrived was Frenchman Richard Gasquet versus Russian Nikolay Davydenko. Although they aren’t the most famous players in tennis, it was awesome to watch a Frenchman win his match in front of the home crowd. They were going wild (well as wild as people go in a tennis match, which isn’t really that wild come to think of it). Because he won in straight sets and the match was already in progress, we didn’t get to see much, but it was entertaining nonetheless.


The stadium seemed to clear before the final match of the evening and I thought surely people were just leaving for a refreshment and restroom break. But actually, hardly anyone came back. The final match was between Serbian Jelena Jankovic and Aussie Samantha Stosur. I know that a lot of people left because it was getting late and the final match were women, but we had a blast watching them. It was an intense match, going back and forth several times. The crowd started out heavily favoring Jankovic (we are guessing because she was a fellow Euro?) but we rooted for Stosur. This choice came about primarily because we met some nice Aussies while in the line for 2 hours and enjoyed having a long chat with them. In the end, the crowd rooted heavily for Stosur to come back, but it wasn’t enough.

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The most impressive part about the French Open in person for us was the fact that the line judges have balls flying at them at 100+mph and they never even flinch! That takes some talent (and guts). Also, I was very interested in the clay courts and how they manage to keep the lines in tact. Megan commented on my obsession with the grounds crew several times!

Sunday was another beautiful day but despite the sunshine, I had to take advantage of the free museums. I decided last minute, after a night of not enough sleep, to abandon my plans of starting bright and early at the Musée d’Orsay. I knew that the line would be ridiculous and fighting the crowds was not on my agenda. I guess that will be another museum that I have to pay for. After a lazy morning, I arrived at the Musée Rodin around noon. The museum is located in the Hôtel Biron, a jewel of Parisian rocaille architecture surrounded by splendid gardens. The collection was obtained in 1916, thanks to Auguste Rodin’s donation of his works and his collections to the French State, the museum opened in 1919.


I enjoyed a quick stroll through the mansion, enjoying the architecture as much as the artwork (so very typical of me). But the crowded interior and the sunshine were beckoning me outside. The gardens were a great way to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon. In the rose garden, they even have auditory artwork to go along with the Rodin statues. This means that sounds are broadcast throughout the rose garden, many of women singing or humming. It was very calming. I could have stayed in the gardens forever but, alas, it was time for me to meet Megan at my second museum of the day.

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The Centre Pompidou is a strange looking building that stands out from all other Parisian architecture. The Centre was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and British architect Richard Rogers. It came in response to Paris’ desire for a proper contemporary art museum and new library. Finished in 1977, this building literally turned the world of architecture upside-down. Or maybe better described as inside-out, since that is what the concept of the Pompidou is. The escalators, plumbing, electrical etc. systems are used as a design piece on the outside of the building. Different colors are used for different systems, creating a decorative exterior: blue for circulating air; yellow for circulating electricity; green for circulating water; red for circulating people (escalators and elevators). Thus, the interior spaces are very open and although appear to have structural framework, most of it is just for aesthetic purposes.

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I find the Centre Pompidou incredibly strange and intriguing at the same time. I’m not usually a contemporary design person, but it is definitely a fitting place for a contemporary art museum. With over 60,000 pieces, it holds the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe. The two floors of museum space that I saw were organized into Modern Art (1905-1960) and Contemporary Art (1960-present). There were a lot of strange items, a lot of naked women pictures, and a lot of pieces by famous artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Pollack and Warhol. I have no idea what these pieces are, but here are a few of my favorites.

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Perhaps my favorite part of the Centre Pompidou were the views it offers from glass-enclosed spaces on the top floors. I got to feel safe and secure while getting free and yet priceless photo moments of my beloved skyline.


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A sunny Sunday in Paris would not be complete without pastries and a bottle of wine at one of the famous Parisian sites. Our location of choice is usually Quai de la Tournelle on the left bank of the Seine. Stunning views of Notre Dame and Île Saint Louis make for a lovely backdrop while passing boats create a tidal wave of river water splashing on our shoes. It never fails, we try to get passengers on every passing boat to wave, and are highly unsuccessful. Groups of French men attempt to play catch with an American football and we gawk and laugh at their impossible technique. If this place had restrooms, we might never leave…



Hemingway’s Paris

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Just before I left for Paris, a good friend of mine gave me Ernest Hemingway’s book, A Moveable Feast, written as a memoir about his time in Paris. I knew little about Hemingway or what he did in Paris, but I was excited to read it and discover all the old haunts of his Paris-past.

Hemingway moved to Paris with his first wife, Hadley, in 1921. He formally worked as a foreign correspondant for the Toronto Star, but fell under the strong influence of the expatriate “Lost Generation” of writers and artists including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, among others. Hemingway lived on and off in Paris until 1928, when he and second wife Pauline, moved to Key West.


Hemingway lived in several hotels and apartments during his years in Paris. Most were located in the left bank of Paris, around the neighborhoods of the Latin Quarter, St-Germain-des-Prés and Montparnasse. During the 1920’s these areas were prevalent with artist and writer-types. Montparnasse was THE place to be after the bohemian Montmartre area became passé.

Hemingway’s first apartment with Hadley was on rue du Cardinal-Lemoine, although he never did writing there. He rented a top-floor hotel room around the corner at 39 rue Descartes to use as an office (shown below). In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway recalls building fires, eating tangerines, and writing perfect paragraphs here. A wall plaque inaccurately mentions that Hemingway lived here between 1921 and 1925, although he only rented the “office” for a year.


Hang-outs of Hemingway and his Lost Generation pals revolved around cafés and bars in the same neighborhoods of Paris. Hemingway and his friends did a lot of drinking and conversing, I’m not sure how much work they actually got accomplished. Les Deux Magots at 6 place Saint-Germain-des-Prés was the most popular spot. Not only Hemingway sat there for hours writing, charming the ladies, fighting with critics, and hassling the tourists. Other notable patrons include Simone de Beauvoir, Pablo Picasso, Oscar Wilde and Antoine de Saint Exupéry.


Ernest and Hadley Hemingway did not have much money in the early 1920’s so he resorted to borrowing books from Sylvia Beach’s rental library at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. Originally located at 12 rue de l’Odéon during Hemingway’s time, this iconic tourist attraction is now located directly adjacent to Notre Dame Cathedral. Sylvia loaned Hemingway books without reservation, not entirely sure if he would ever return them or have the money to pay if he didn’t. Hemingway also frequented the bouquinistes along the edge of the Seine. These second-hand booksellers set up permanent shop on both sides of the river between sunrise to sunset. Hemingway was always excited to come by used books in English and generally paid very little to take these off of the vendors’ inventory.

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A muse for Hemingway was the Musée du Luxembourg and its adjacent Jardin. From A Moveable Feast, “If I walked down by different streets to the Jardin du Luxembourg in the afternoon I could walk through the gardens and then go to the Musée du Luxembourg where the great paintings were that have now mostly been transferred to the Louvre and the Jeu de Paume. I went there nearly every day for the Cézannes and to see the Manets and the Monets and the other Impressionists that I had first come to know about in the Art Institute at Chicago. I was learning something from the painting of Cézanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. Besides, it was a secret. But if the light was gone in the Luxembourg I would walk up through the gardens and stop in at the studio apartment where Gertrude Stein lived at 27 rue de Fleurus.”


Gertrude Stein served as mentor to Hemingway and, later, as godfather to his son. “It was easy to get into the habit of stopping in at 27 rue de Fleurus for warmth and the great pictures and the conversation,” he wrote. It was Ms. Stein who introduced Hemingway to the expat literary crowd. She coined the popular phrase génération perdue (lost generation) to describe Hemingway and his friends after hearing it from her car mechanic. She felt it symbolized the generation of young World War I veterans who had no respect for anything and drank themselves silly.

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By the time Hemingway moved into his last Parisian apartment, he had substantially upgraded from his former digs. 6 rue Férou is a building close to the Jardin du Luxembourg adorned with medallions, sphinxes and heavy gates. Hemingway was with his second wife Pauline by this time and had already produced a successful novel, The Sun Also Rises. It was here that he reached the summit of his success and also where his descent into alcoholism began.


“There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.”

― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Transport à Paris

I’ve been meaning to write a post on transportation in Paris for quite some time but didn’t have the motivation until now. You see, last night I had a little issue with the public transportation on my way home from the city after midnight. And last week there were a few other issues that have led me to declare public transportation in general is probably not for me. Let’s discuss the options for transportation in Paris and TRY to determine which might be best…

There are something like 5 million cars in the Paris metro area. One long rush hour commute through the city and you will see most of them. Traffic is horrendous. I remember my first trip to Paris and we got caught in rush hour traffic on the way back from Versailles. The palace is less than 30 km from central Paris and should take just over half an hour drive if traffic isn’t an issue. But we were stuck for over 2 hours. And there is nothing worse than having limited time in a city and spending a large portion of that time on the highway in traffic!

Besides the traffic issue, there are other negatives to driving in Paris. First of all, the minimum age for driving is 18 in France. Going to auto-école is an expensive and timely procedure. Unfortunately this means that a large portion of drivers in Paris are not properly licensed. The majority of cars are standard transmission, round-abouts are EVERYWHERE and parking is scarce. If you want to be guaranteed to see an accident at least once per hour, just stand at the Place Charles de Gaulle-Étoile around the Arc de Triomphe for a while. Twelve roads intersect at this enormous lane-less round-about causing madness and mayhem. There are even special car insurance rules for accidents that happen here since they are so prevalent. Last but not least, the cost of cars and the cost of gasoline are expensive compared to American standards. The average new car costs about 23,000 euros which is actually equivalent with the average American price of $30,000. However, the cars in France are much smaller, thus less bang for your buck. Good thing the gas mileage is good because gas is about 1.60 euros per liter right now. That rounds to be over $8 a gallon!


So, perhaps driving isn’t the best idea. I am actually surprised that as many people drive in Paris as do considering the prevalence and low cost of public transportation. The price for a single journey ticket on the Paris metro system is 1.70 euros, about $2.20. I have not rode on a lot of metro systems but in my experience Paris is cheaper than Barcelona, Brussels, London (by a long shot), and probably many other cities. There are many ways to reduce this cost even further. Packets of 10 or 20 tickets can be purchased at a time for a discounted price. Day passes, Navigo reloadable passes with weekly, monthly, or annual options make unlimited travel a possibility for a low fixed price.



 Châtelet Les Halles Metro/RER station is the largest underground station in the world. We like to call it “Shitlay” and complain about how busy, dirty, and complicated it is.)


The Paris metro system is the second oldest underground network after London, with the first station opening during the World’s Fair of 1900 without ceremony. With 16 metro lines, there are just under 300 stations covering 34 square miles of the city center. Stations are no further than 500 meters apart and some ghost-town stations have not been in use for years. 1.5 billion people use the metro every year. Trains run about every 2-3 minutes during rush hour and 8-10 minutes on off hours, holidays, and Sundays. It is dirty, it is smelly, sometimes it is downright dangerous, but damn it is convenient.

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The way I arrive to the city every day is by RER (Réseau express régional) train. These express trains link neighboring villages and neighborhoods with central Paris. The RER network has 257 stations, 33 of those within the city. Over 365 miles of train tracks are used, with less than 50 miles of that underground (each of the 5 lines pass through the city center underground). RER and metro stops are sometimes combined, making for seamless travel between the two. RERs are usually more comfortable and quicker as they do not stop as often. (signs below light up to show you which stations the train will stop at)

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Maisons Laffitte is on the RER A line, the busiest line in the network by far. It carries up to 55,000 passengers per hour, the highest such figure in the world outside of East Asia. Even with the addition of double-decker trains in 1998 and a frequency of more than one train every two minutes, central Line A stations are critically crowded at rush hour. I generally try to avoid using the RER during peak times, which is pretty easy with my tutoring schedule anyway.


Train travel during the middle of the day (left) and rush hour (right)

An inconvenient problem with living in the suburbs is the fact that RER trains do not run as late at night. Rumor has it that they do not run from 1:00AM to 5:00AM so some folks just stay out all night and catch the first train in the morning. That is not my style, so we usually head out of the city by midnight. Last night’s journey was a bit different though as unexpectedly no trains were headed our direction when we went to leave the city. Uh oh! We hopped on a train that headed the closest to our town and vowed to figure it out from there. I experienced my first tram ride when we decided to try that route towards a stop that apparently had buses towards Maisons Laffitte. But of course the buses stop running at 11:30 so we were stranded and ultimately had to hail a taxi for the remainder. Public transportation can be convenient when it works but it is a major pain in the butt when it doesn’t.


There are many things that I miss about being home in the US, but most of all I would have to say I miss the freedom of having my own car. I’m so spoiled to be able to drive wherever I need to go without hassle. It’s an experience living in a big city and navigating public transportation daily, but I wouldn’t say that I’ll miss that part of Paris when I leave!

Chez Moi


Perhaps some of you have heard of the recent box-office hit The Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann’s sparkling interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel. I find it to be ironic that the long-awaited movie finally premiered while I’m living just outside Paris, home to author Fitzgerald for many years. With the popularity of the movie swirling around Paris, I have started to hear several rumors tying Fitzgerald to places near and dear to me. Most notably my own home. Let me expand…


Frank Jay Gould, son of American railroad tycoon Jay Gould, came to my home town of Maisons Laffitte in 1908. He searched out this fancy suburb of Paris to develop his racehorses and become involved in various equestrian activities. In a previous post, I detailed the history of Maisons Laffitte, so I will not reiterate all of that, but suffice it to say there are a lot of beautiful historic houses in the area. The house shown below right has a front porch designed by one Gustave Eiffel. Another home (left) served as an SS hospital during the German occupation and has subsequently received the term “haunted”. Gould bought a castle on the Avenue La Fontaine and built stables to house his eighteen mares. During this time and the near future, he invested heavily in Maisons Laffitte. Many houses were built to accomodate his workers. It is speculated that my host home was among those built for such a reason.

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Built in 1936, this three-story stone house is of a very similar style to many of its neighbors, leading us to believe they were all constructed at the same time and most likely by one investor (Frank Jay Gould). The main floor houses a grand salon, dining room, kitchen, and petit salon or TV room. There are 3 fireplaces on the first floor alone. Original wooden front doors make for a timely locking and unlocking procedure, but the character is evident. The intricately painted tile floors in the foyer are quite possibly my favorite part about the home. Additionally, my host mom has done a superb job of blending the original character with a modern design style. The second story is home to a fantastic master suite with fireplaces in both the bedroom and bathroom, my bedroom and private bathroom, and an additional bedroom/office with another fireplace. The third floor has three bedrooms for the children and a full bathroom. The children’s rooms are fun and funky with slanted ceilings, skylights and separate play spaces in each room. Much of the house has been renovated but a lot of character remains. Woodwork and tiling, windows and fireplaces add 1930’s Parisian details to a modern, livable home.

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Although Gould set up a permanent home here, he did not remain in Maisons Laffitte permanently. Gould moved on to more lucrative career paths such as establishing famous casinos all along the French Riviera during the 1920’s. It was during this period of jazz, cocktails and gambling that Gould came in contact with many other well-to-do Americans looking to escape Prohibition along the Côte d’Azur, namely F. Scott Fitzgerald. There is no proof to be found in my Google searches to validate this rumor, but my host dad said that Frank Jay Gould was the inspiration for Fitzgerald’s famous character Jay Gatsby. Certainly, we see the similarities in name, but do they come from similar backgrounds? Gould was heir to a vast railroad fortune and struggled in love, divorcing twice before finally settling with Florence La Caze. He was known for his extravagant lifestyle, dancing two hours a day for exercise. His wife also lived life to the fullest, gambling and chugging champagne long into the night. She is credited with bringing water-skiing to the French Riviera. If you have seen the movie or read the novel, you can compare and contrast these characteristics with that of Jay Gatsby. I will choose to believe that Fitzgerald was so in awe of Frank Jay Gould that he most certainly DID base his most famous character off of Gould!


Another rumor swilling around Maisons Laffitte is that the mansion for Gatsby was based off of our fabulous Château de Maisons. I am less convinced of this due to the fact that most people believe the mansion was inspired by various Long Island mansions of the time. And perhaps the character of Jay Gatsby was a conglomeration of wealthy Long Island hosts as well, we will probably never know. But what we do know is that The Great Gatsby is an incredibly successful piece of American literature and Fitzgerald wrote it while living in France. Make what you like out of that, but I’m pretty sure the builder of MY HOUSE had something to do with it!


Au Louvre

With today’s forecast at 40’s and rain (big surprise, Paris) I decided it would be the perfect day to finally visit the Louvre. I’m refusing to pay for any other museums during my stay, instead opting to visit only the everyday free museums or museums on the first Sunday of the month when access is free. But the Louvre is something different. It is worth the entrance fee of 11 euros. It is incredibly busy on every day of the week, especially free days, so this price is a small one to pay for relative sanity. An estimated 8 million visitors a year walk through the doors of the Louvre, making it the most visited museum in the world. The trick is to arrive early or go through any other entrance than the main one at the pyramid. Well, I tried to get there early but rush hour trains can take a while. And I attempted to go in a different entrance, but it was closed. Nonetheless, I ended up waiting only 15 minutes to enter through the main doors.

The Louvre is probably the world’s most famous museum but its history is not so well known. During the middle ages this palace was used as a fortress. In 1546, Francis I renovated the building in the French Renaissance style and began acquiring many pieces of artwork from all around Europe. Most famously he purchased Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa after the painter died while living in working in Amboise, France. The Louvre became a royal residence until Louis XIV moved his court out of the city into the neighboring village of Versailles. The Sun King and his successors still used the old palace building to store their private art collections. It was not until the French Revolution that the Louvre became a museum open to the public.

The reason I was able to put off visiting the Louvre for so long is probably because I have been there once before. Two years ago, on my first trip to Paris, I spent a ridiculous 30 minutes inside this magnificent museum. Not by choice, my schedule only permitted a short visit before I was off for something new with my tour group. This was December and we didn’t actually find it all that difficult to see the “Big 3” within this time limit. I would never recommend spending only 30 minutes in the Louvre, and in high season you would most likely barely make it into the first room before turning around to leave. We were, however, able to see the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus de Milo briefly before our departure. Here’s some pictures from that trip.

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May is the brink of high season and subsequently I found myself ushered from room to room with a loud throng of photo-snapping tourists in the high traffic areas. Needless to say these high traffic areas focus around those big 3 but also famous Egyptian artifacts such as the Colossal Statue of Ramesses II and other works of art by big names such as Michelangelo. One could literally spend all day inside the Louvre, wandering through the three wings and four floors of art and artifacts. I allowed myself three hours today, a significant improvement over 30 minutes but still not even close to enough time to see everything. The Louvre holds roughly 35,000 pieces though so seeing everything is virtually impossible.


The way I structured my visit was to get the high traffic areas over with first. Even if you aren’t claustrophobic, it can be stressful to feel trapped by hundreds of people within a small room. Add to that the noise, excessive photos, lack of restrooms, shear size and confusing nature of the floor plan, and you are sure to need a drink after your visit through these areas. Since there were so many people visiting the museum today, I did not have the same viewing experience of the Mona Lisa as I did upon my first visit. Before, I was able to get rather close, take lots of pictures and meander around slowly. I also noticed that the painting directly opposite the Mona Lisa, the Wedding Feast of Cana by Veronese (shown in my 2011 pictures above), which is a masterful work of art and the largest painting in the museum, had literally zero viewers in front of it while everyone crowded around the relatively tiny Mona Lisa instead.

The Louvre holds an incredible collection of works from all over the world. I enjoyed the Egyptian rooms quite a bit, with their various sarcophagi and re-creations of ancient temples. But my favorite part of the museum were the Napoleon III apartments. These rooms were added by Napoleon III between 1852 and 1857 as part of a larger project to connect the Louvre and the Tuileries Palace. They have been kept as true to authentic as possible. Just as fantastic as Versailles, but on a smaller scale, these rooms hold a wealth of beauty and grandeur. Almost no other visitors were inside them, and excellent views over he Jardin des Tuileries are found through the windows.

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I am certainly no art teacher or scholar so I will not bore you with information about any other works of art which I clearly know nothing about and would have to research anyway. But here are a few of the most famous ones that I visited today, feel free to research on your own time and most definitely schedule at least 3-4 hours of your trip to Paris to see them for yourself!

1. Captive (The Dying Slave) – Michelangelo 2. Saint Mary Magdalene – G. Erhart

3. Psyche and Cupid – A. Canova 4. Gabrielle d’Estrees and Her Sister

5. The Card Sharper – G. de La Tour 6. The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin – J. van Eyck

7. Seated scribe 8. The Turkish Bath – J.A.D. Ingres

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Despite what many Americans may think, Normandy is about more than just the D-Day landing beaches. There is a lot of history in this area, a lot of gorgeous architecture and A LOT of beautiful scenery. Arriving on the train from Paris gave us a 2+ hour view out the windows towards the fields of bright yellow flowers or cows. The flowering plants, rapeseed, are harvested for the production of canola oil. You probably already know what happens with the cows.

Our temporary home for the weekend was made in Bayeux. This small city was founded as far back as the 1st century BC. The city saw much turmoil throughout the Viking raids of the 9th century and Hundred Years’ War, finally resolved in 1453. However, it was completely spared from destruction during World War II, a significant feat due to its proximity to the coast (7 kilometers). Germans took the town in 1940 but Bayeux was the first town in Normandy to be liberated, a mere one day after D-Day, on June 7, 1944.


It is quite evident that the economy of Bayeux depends on tourism to the nearby WWII sites. English is spoken adequately and widely. Tours depart from everywhere headed towards the coast. New hotels, grocery stores, and car-rental agencies are popping up throughout town. And yet there is still a peaceful historic feel to the city center. Crowning the center is a fantastic Norman-Romanesque and Gothic cathedral, Notre-Dame de Bayeux. Consecrated in 1077 in the presence of William the Conquerer, Duke of Normandy and King of England, the church was the original home to the famous Bayeux Tapestry. Structurally the church is Romanesque, but the spires and facade were later appended with Gothic features. A brief walk through the cathedral’s crypt, just under the altar, shows where cathedral relics were once housed.

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Although Normandy makes for a doable day trip from Paris (I would not recommend this strategy), it is much better served for at least a weekend or more if you have the time. Beach resorts dot the northern coast and offer respite for busy Parisians in the summer. Dairy farms and apple orchards line narrow country roads. Normandy produces a wide range of dairy products including some of the best cheeses in France. Their various apple products, such as calvados (apple brandy) and fermented cider, can be a splendid accompaniment as well. There is, however, one historic attraction that stands alone, above all others in Normandy (literally and figuratively): Mont St. Michel.


This small rocky island is located about a kilometer from the northern coast. It has served as a fortress since ancient times and since the 8th century has been the seat of the monastery dedicated to Saint Michael. Before the construction of the monastery, the island was called Mont Tombe. The island and monastery have long been a popular pilgrimage sight for Catholics. In fact, even in the middle ages, a thriving economy was present on the mountain with shops and restaurants catering to visitors. Nowadays, it is still considered the third most important pilgrimage site in Christendom, after Israel and Vatican City.










I’m not sure how many of the current visitors could be considered pilgrims, but there sure are lots to choose from. It is estimated that over 3 million people visit the island every year. That is a pretty lofty number to walk through the tiny passageways and backyards of all 47 current inhabitants. Original pilgrims had to brave the rapidly-changing tides in order to make it onto the island. The tides vary roughly 14 meters between high and low. In 1878, a causeway was built to allow pilgrims to come and go regardless of tide, drastically increasing the amount of visitors. However, this caused much of the bay to silt up and as a result, Mont St. Michel is no longer an island. Conspicuous construction equipment makes for an eyesore as you approach the island, but it is all part of an ambitious project to restore the island to its original form. Traffic across the causeway was closed last year. Now, the only access is by shuttles from the mainland. A proper bridge that will allow water to flow underneath is being constructed and the causeway will subsequently be demolished. I might have to re-visit Mont St. Michel once this project is completed. Seeing a mountainous island in the middle of sand is much less impressive than in the middle of water.

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Inside the fortress walls of Mont St. Michel, you will find an abundance of every tacky tourist shop ever known to man. We found this to be distracting to the overall serenity of the monastery and location, but it’s understandable that where a buck is to be made, it will be made. Following advice from our van driver from Bayeux, we took an alternative route up the island and avoided much of the tourist commotion. Either way you go, there are a lot of steps and elevation changes. Quite surprisingly, we saw an abundance of strollers, which don’t seem to be very practical on Mont St. Michel.


Upon leaving Mont St. Michel on our return to Bayeux and subsequently Paris, the van driver, François, took a short detour to show us fields of sheep grazing with the mountain in the background. These fields flood 4 times a year with sea water and leave the ground saturated with salt and other minerals. Consequently, the sheep have a distinct flavor and are served at local restaurants as agneau de pré-salé (salt meadow lamb). Another local specialty to Mont St. Michel are the omelettes, which used to make for a quick meal so that pilgrims could beat the tides back to mainland. Restaurant La Mère Poulard is the original home to these famous omelettes, but every restaurant will serve their own version.


With all there is to see and do in Normandy, one weekend is certainly not enough time. But if you only have one weekend, do not let that stop you from visiting my favorite part of France so far…besides Paris bien sûr!

A Walk on the Beach


The weekend trip that I have been looking forward to the most since I arrived in France is Normandy. Located along the northern coast of France, this area is a wealth of history. Known most famously to Americans as the location of the D-Day landings, it has a rich history that goes back long before 1944. The area has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Vikings raided the area in the 9th century. William the Conquerer was once the Duke of Normandy before heading to England. But American tourists usually do not bother with any of that history, we are much more interested in what happened on June 6, 1944.


When I told some of my American friends in Paris that I wanted to do a weekend in Normandy, a group of like-minded travelers started to form immediately. Six of us total headed to Bayeux on Saturday morning. This small town is a perfect base location for all your Normandy travels. It is located only 7 kilometers from the English Channel and therefore incredibly close to all the landing beaches. And yet, it is remarkably in tact as it was not touched during the war. Everything is within walking distance and a variety of tours heading towards the landing beaches and other Normandy attractions depart from Bayeux daily.


Some of my friends opted for an independent bike ride through the countryside and famous landing beaches of Normandy. I decided on a guided tour to appease my nerdy history-loving side. My French (and yet incredibly fantastic English speaker) guide Jonathan, was a wealth of knowledge on everything World War II. Originally from Caen, located only 30 km from Bayeux, he grew up with first-hand knowledge of the D-Day landings all around him. His paternal grandfather was taken prisoner by the Nazis and transported to Germany where he was forced to work in a factory. Being a Catholic, he was kept relatively safe in his enslavement, but some of the others were discovered to be Jews and murdered. The grandfather survived the war and in turn instilled a love of history and WWII to his grandson. When he passed last year at the age of 92, he gave Jonathan his German identification card to show on his tours.

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We first headed to Pointe du Hoc, part of the Atlantic Wall, where Germans located a series of underground living quarters, pillbox structures and heavy artillery. The sight has been left in excellent shape with many original fortifications still in place. There are a series of bomb craters all around the area making for an interesting spectacle. Views over the English Channel are spectacular here, with a sharp cliffy drop off into the sea. A monument has been erected by the French to honor the U.S. Army Rangers that scaled this 100 foot cliff to seize the German artillery that could have fired upon the troops landing on Omaha and Utah beaches.

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Our next stop was Omaha Beach, the mecca of American D-Day landing beaches. Chosen for its strategic location as a 5-mile long strip of sand between rocky cliffs, Omaha was necessary to link the British landings to the east at Gold Beach and the American landings to the west at Utah Beach, creating a continuous lodgement along the Normandy coast. The 29th and 1st Infantry Divisions along with nine companies of U.S. Army Rangers were responsible for securing this location. The sight of Omaha Beach is overlooked by cliffs on either side, making attacking the area very difficult. Despite the 2,400 American casualties at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, by the end of the day more than 34,000 troops had landed on this bloodied beach and secured a significant stronghold over the area.

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Located on a 172 acre bluff overlooking Omaha Beach lies the final resting place of 9,387 American soldiers, most of which lost their lives during the D-Day landings and ensuing military operations of WWII. Thousands of marble crosses and Star of David’s create a remarkable sight upon this hallowed ground. It would be impossible to personally view each stone, but I forced myself to walk all the way through to the back in hopes of taking in the enormous size of the American sacrifice in Normandy. 1,557 names are etched into the Walls of the Missing, a semi-circular area attached to the memorial that lists those missing in action. Occasionally remains are still found and gold rosettes are placed next to the name on the wall when this occurs. Visiting family members of those soldiers with headstones or on the Wall are encouraged to take wet sand from Omaha Beach and rub it into the engraved letters creating a strong contrast against the white Italian marble.

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I was so glad that our tour visited the American Cemetery and Memorial at the close of the day. At 5:20 every evening they hold a ceremony for the lowering of the two American flags while Taps is played. It was an incredibly moving experience for me. Americans are encouraged to place their hands over their hearts while any visiting veterans or active service members are instructed to salute. Visiting veterans can also request the honor of receiving the flag once it has been lowered and folded. This ceremony was the most powerful emotional experience that I have had in France thus far. An incredible wave of patriotism rushed over me as I stood shoulder to shoulder with fellow Americans on foreign soil bloodied with the sacrifice of so many. Making it extra special was the fact that I visited this iconic place on Armed Forces Day.

La Tour Eiffel


I’m not sure how it came to pass that I was in the Paris area for 33 days before seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. You will remember that on my first day venturing into the city, it beckoned to my eyes and subsequently my feet started a path of their own accord. The Tower is always gorgeous and mystical but the difference between seeing it at day and night is like, well, the difference between day and night! Every night the Tower twinkles with a 20,000 bulb sparkling light show at the top of each hour. It’s one of the most spectacular sights in all of Paris, and probably all of Europe.


The Eiffel Tower was originally constructed as the centerpiece for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, or World’s Fair to celebrate the centennial of France’s Revolution. A design competition was held with engineer Gustave Eiffel being awarded the commission. His design was criticized by many Parisians, mainly artists who accused the tower of being useless, monstrous, and creating an ugly cloud over the city and its beautiful buildings. The Tower was only supposed to stand for 20 years and then be dismantled in 1909. Upon it’s opening in 1889, the Tower was an immediate success though. Almost 2 million visitors ascended the stairs during the Exposition Universelle.


The Eiffel Tower proved many artists wrong when it became a useful tool in World War I. Radio transmitters were fitted to the top of the Tower to thwart German communications. It was another source of military strategy in World War II. The lift cables were cut so that Nazi soldiers would have to climb the Tower on foot if they wanted to hang the Swastika during the German Occupation. The Nazis were successful for a brief moment, until a Frenchman scaled the Tower to hang the French flag. Hitler once ordered it to be demolished along with the rest of Paris but his orders were disobeyed by General Dietrich von Choltitz. Hitler himself never climbed the Eiffel Tower, leading the French to declare that he might of conquered France but he did not conquer the Eiffel Tower.


The Eiffel Tower stands at 320 meters (1,050 feet) and was the tallest man-made structure in the world from 1889 until the Chrysler Building was constructed in 1930. It is still the tallest structure in Paris and will likely always be. Made of wrought iron, the structure weighs a mighty 10,000 tons. In 1925 the con artist Victor Lustig “sold” the tower for scrap metal on two separate occasions, making a great deal of money out of the “deal.” There is a fantastic series on National Geographic called “Pricing the Priceless” which discusses what the Eiffel Tower would be “worth” in a variety of scenarios. Speculations put the cost at about $480,000,000 to re-build today. They estimate that the land under the tower is worth $350,000,000, and that the scrap value of the tower is worth $3,500,000. Additionally, the show estimates that the tower makes a profit of about $29,000,000 per year. I highly recommend watching the program, but the conclusion is the same to all involved: it is truly priceless, not to be confused with worthless (dear artists of 1889).


Every year approximately 7 million visitors ascend the Eiffel Tower. It is the most-visited paid monument in the world. The Tower received its 250 millionth visitor in 2010. I “visited” the Tower upon my first trip to Paris, so I’m glad that my hard-earned dollars assist in making this cultural icon a money-making machine. Although with the third level observatory’s upper platform at a mere 279.11 meters (915.7 feet), I decided against taking in the best view of Paris. This platform is the highest accessible to the public in the European Union, and much too high for my acrophobia. Visitors can choose to walk up the stairs to the first two viewing platforms or take the lift. From there, you can only use a lift to the top. When we got off the first lift at the second platform, I already knew I could not go any higher! I held on for dear life and snapped a few pictures but made my way back down within minutes. I keep saying that maybe I’ll try again while I’m in Paris this time around but I highly doubt it.


The Eiffel Tower is definitely the most recognized symbol of Paris and France and probably one of the most recognizable in the entire world. No matter where I am in Paris, when I catch sight of the Tower, I am always awe-struck. Initially it was thought to be an eye-sore but I believe it is quite the opposite. Despite what popular films would have you believe, you cannot see the Eiffel Tower from everywhere in the city. Though it is taller than all buildings, often times your vantage point from the street will be obstructed by the many 6-7 story buildings throughout Paris. That is why whenever I do see the Tower, I am always surprised, excited, and reminded of how lucky I am to be in Paris. I’m sure that many full-time residents of Paris become immune to the allure of La Tour Eiffel, as is typical with any amazing thing that you see every day. But I’m still in love with it, and I vow to make my way into the city many more times at night during the next 5 weeks so that I can view this spectacular icon again and again and again…


London Town

There is quite a lot to see and do in London. Like every other major city, you could visit for weeks and not see everything. With only 2 full days and a Friday evening at my disposal, I had to be realistic in my list of must-sees. My London Pass offered free entry into a long list of attractions for Saturday and Sunday, so right away I nixed anything that wasn’t included. I listed out the attractions that I wanted to see and organized my weekend by the opening/closing hours and location of each (hello Type A personality).

Friday night I decided to take advantage of a few free options. London is an incredibly expensive city to visit and live in but there are many ways of saving money. Visitors who are interested in parks and museums can take advantage of the fact that most in London are free. I had heard great reviews about the British Museum from multiple sources so I added it to my Friday night itinerary. And although I did not want to do any shopping, I was disappointed that I didn’t get to swing by Harrod’s on my last stop in London so I added that to Friday evening as well. Unfortunately, I did not get situated in my hotel and back in to the city until almost 18:00 (6:00 pm for those who don’t know the 24-hour clock used all throughout Europe), so I had limited time in each.


Harrod’s is the largest department store in Europe, occupying a 5 acre sight and spanning over one million square feet of retail space with over 330 departments. There is no way you would want to visit the entire store, I was there for less than an hour and was still overwhelmed by the magnitude and crowds. A quick jaunt through the furniture and toy departments was enough for me before I was off to the museum.


The British Museum is another behemoth in its class. Ranking 3rd globally in annual visitors at over 6 million, it houses approximately 8 million historical and cultural objects from all around the world. I arrived with only one hour until close, which is truly a sad excuse for a visit (although I am known for this as my first and only trip to the Louvre so far was a mere 30 minutes in length!) Luckily, a map and visitors guide gave instructions for the 10 most important pieces in the museum and I molded my tour around those few items. Arguably the most important artifact housed in the British Museum is the Rosetta Stone. Since the British Museum houses the world’s largest collection of Egyptian antiquities, at over 100,000, it comes as no surprise that the Rosetta Stone is one of them. This piece, from 196 BC, was the key to understanding ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Maybe next time I visit London, I can devote an entire afternoon to exploring the British Museum, it would definitely not be time wasted!


Saturday’s excursions included two of the most famous churches in the United Kingdom, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. St. Paul’s Cathedral has dominated the London skyline for over 300 years, making its 365 foot high dome a highly recognizable sight around the world. Inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, this architectural masterpiece by Sir Christopher Wren has housed many great British events such as the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, the Golden and Diamond Jubilees of Queen Elizabeth II and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. The pricey entry fee includes a worthwhile audio guide (luckily my London pass took care of these) and photos are not allowed, although I managed to snap a few.


I found the architecture of Westminster Abbey to be less impressive than St. Paul’s, but the history of this great cathedral is second to none. Thirty-eight coronations have taken place in Westminster Abbey, the first being William the Conquerer in 1066 and the most recent of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Made famous world-wide in 2011 with the royal wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton, it has hosted 15 other royal weddings over the years. And Princess Diana’s funeral was held there in 1997. Westminster Abbey was considered the most prestigious burial sight for Britain throughout much of history. Subsequently, a wealth of  famous tombs can be found throughout the cathedral, many monarchs and others such as Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Just as St. Paul’s, Westminster Abbey charges a high entry fee and prohibits photography. These British churches really need to get on the free French cathedral bandwagon.


Other highlights of my Saturday included two World War II sights, the Churchill War Rooms and a tour of the Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Belfast. Both include representations of what daily life was like during the war. Another exciting historical must-do in London is the Tower of London. There is so much history in the Tower that it is impossible for me to give you any abridged version that would do it justice. Just know that the original building, the White Tower, was built by William the Conquerer in the 11th century. Several expansions have taken place since them. Originally used as a fortress and residence of royalty, the reign of Tudors changed its typical use to that of a prison and execution sight for famous “traitors” such as Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn. A visit to London is not complete without touring the Tower. If you don’t mind “queueing” for an hour or so, visitors can see the Crown Jewels, but I enjoyed walking through the various towers laid out as museums, and walking the walls to get a fantastic view of the city instead.


My Sunday was reserved for two exciting tours. In the morning I visited the Globe Theater, a re-creation of Shakespeare’s famous playhouse. The brain child of American Sam Wannamaker, this re-creation was built to the precise specifications of the original theater using only hand-hewn materials. One major difference between the original and new: the addition of a sprinkler system atop its thatch roof. Had this technology been around in the 17th century, the original might have survived.


The majority of my Sunday was spent journeying to a southwest district of London, Wimbledon. It is a little far away, and the Underground ride and subsequent walk from the station will be long, but a trip to Wimbledon is most definitely worth it. I’m not even a huge Tennis fan, but I always watch Wimbledon and as a fan of sports in general, it is exciting to look behind the scenes. Our 1.5 hour tour took the group through Court One, Henman Hill, the press rooms, and Centre Court. Not only did I get to see the pristine beauty of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, but I also learned a lot during the tour and museum visit. I will be extra excited to watch this year’s tournament.

One thing I did not get to do while in London this time around was see a musical in the West End. I’m usually very organized with my travels, and London was no exception. But for some reason, I never bothered to research what the Sunday show options would be, just assuming that all shows ran on Sundays. However, only a select few have Sunday matinees and they were not any shows that I had an interest in seeing. Of course I did not realize this until late Saturday night. I guess the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

London Travel Guide


I’ve been to London once before but did not get to do much besides a West End show and trip to Stonehenge. Since Paris is a quick 2.5 train ride from London, I decided to take advantage of the proximity and spend a long weekend exploring this fabulous city. It should be noted that although the process of getting to London is not hard, the price of a trip there might be too much for you to handle. Transportation, hotels, food, and tourist attractions are all extremely pricey even by British pound standards-which make for a real shock against the American dollar. In an effort to save what little money I could, I booked a cheap (not fantastic) hotel far from the city center that included daily English breakfast. I also purchased the London Pass, a great savings for tourists who plan to see A LOT of sights, which is exactly what I was planning. I’ll discuss some of my tourist sights and experiences in a later post and for now just enlighten you to some of the fun travel experiences London provides!

Depending on how you arrive to the UK you might not have this option, but I would strongly suggest taking a train through the Chunnel (tunnel under the English Channel). If you are flying from America, this is obviously not an option. But if you are starting your journey on the European continent or ending it there, you must take advantage of this! Plus, the first time I made a trip from London to Paris was by bus-ferry-bus and I can assure you that this is NOT the best route. The bus ride from London to Dover is long, the ferry is long and extremely rocky and the bus ride from Calais to Paris is unbearable. In fact, I would probably rather use any mode of transportation over the English Channel other than a ferry. I might rather swim the channel than boat it again.

I won’t get into an entire discussion about the policies and procedures of the European Union right now (partly because I do not understand them much myself) but despite being a member of the EU, the United Kingdom has opted out of the Schengen Agreement, which eliminates border checks between member nations. Therefore, you will have to go through passport control upon entering or exiting between mainland Europe and the UK. I was actually very disturbed on my first trip to Europe to learn that my passport would not get a new stamp for every nation. What?! I’m trying to fill up pages here, come on! Traveling between France, Italy, Germany, Spain, etc. is virtually like crossing over from state to state in the US.

When I entered Passport control in the Paris Gare du Nord train station, I was really excited to finally be in a location where it is acceptable to speak English and only English to folks. Unfortunately, my French is atrocious and I am not making any strides to get better but I at least usually throw out a bonjour and merci. The gentleman helping me to the correct line saw my passport and Customs card listing my hometown. He says to me “Ohio?! nooo, Go Blue!” To which I reply, no way sir but I’m guessing you are from Michigan. Indeed, originally from Ann Arbor that one. He says “How much do you hate sports?” and he was surprised when my answer was actually that I love sports and am a big Buckeyes fan. He then asked for my number as I was walking away…oh the men in France, even when they aren’t native, they just can’t help themselves! Don’t worry, I’ll write a post about their interesting behaviors some day.


Once finally aboard the train, I was so excited for this Chunnel journey that every tunnel we went through, I was looking at my watch and asking “Is this the one?!” It was like riding Splash Mountain all over again at 8 years old and (after having been lied to by my parents that there was only one big hill) asking after each hill “Is this the one?!” Except this time was in excitement while the first was pure terror. The journey through France is much longer than England so you will have to wait a while for the tunnel if coming from Paris. It was pretty obvious when we finally got close to the tunnel. There are fences on both sides of the tracks for a good while in an attempt to keep trespassers out. A sign announces the beginning of what is officially called the Euro Tunnel but when traveling in a high speed train, it is impossible to get out a camera in time for that! I looked at my watch to time our progress. I took the 20 minutes as an opportunity to move about the train towards the dining/services car so I could buy my Underground Oyster Card for London while the train was relatively calm. The train is usually not too bumpy or swaying, but obviously wind, turns, and other variables affect this. While in the tunnel, none of these are present so the ride is very smooth.

The first proposal for a tunnel under the English Channel was in 1802, which was to include oil lamps, horse-drawn carriages, and a island midway through to change horses. Over the years many more projects were proposed but the actual task was not begun until 1988 and not completed until 1994. If you are as excited and nerded out by the chunnel as me, you will appreciate these random facts from the Eurostar magazine. The deepest point below sea level that the tunnel reaches is 195 meters. The length of each tunnel is 50.45 kilometers. There are two train tunnels and a service tunnel. Knowing that it takes 20 minutes to go through, we can deduce that the average speed is somewhere around 150 km/hr while in the tunnel, about 93 mph, much slower than the average speed for the entire trip. Check out more info here. 


Another transportation system that London does right is their Underground. Called the Tube by locals, this series of underground trains and stations is the best that I have experienced. Although I do not claim to know much about metro services around the world, my limited experience allows me to proclaim London as the Cadillac of subway systems. And they ought to provide a Cadillac experience for the amount of money that they charge. A single journey ticket will cost you a staggering £4.50, almost $7! If you plan to travel by Tube throughout London for any period of time, it is beneficial to purchase the Oyster card. Not only is this for convenience sake, but also to save money. Each trip on an Oyster card is much cheaper than the equivalent paid in cash. And you simply swipe your card in front of the reader upon entry and exit from the stations.

So what is so fabulous about the London Underground? First of all, they are celebrating their 150th year in 2013 and many of the stations and trains look like they were just inaugurated yesterday. In comparison with Paris and other European cities (I haven’t experienced subways on any other continent yet) the stations and train “carriages” are extremely clean. They actually provide workers to assist with questions or problems. There is a variety of metro lines connecting all parts of London and surrounding boroughs. Available maps and clear signage make it virtually impossible to get on the wrong train. Outside of each door or hall to your train is a map with the corresponding stations clearly labeled, something that Paris is starting to implement in some high traffic stations. London does it everywhere.  Scrolling screens tell you the wait time for upcoming trains. Once on the train, there is a plethora of commentating constantly telling you what the next station is, where the train is terminating, warning you to mind the gap, and offering updates on various line and station closures throughout the network. If I didn’t understand English, I would actually be very annoyed with all the announcements.

With all my gushing about the Tube, it might be hard to imagine that I have some negative things to say. There are two sides to every coin. The closest two Underground stations to my hotel just happened to be closed for maintenance and repairs this past weekend, fabulous. They did offer replacement bus services free of charge to take you to the next nearest station, but it was still a hassle and waste of precious time. Also, Underground stations are extremely hard to find. I don’t mean that there aren’t enough, far from it. What I mean is that you literally cannot see them when you are looking for them. In Paris, large Metro signs announce various staircase openings in the middle of crowded sidewalks that lead to underground stations. This works very well to clearly label where you are to go. In London, most stations are actually partly above ground with an opening on the side of a random building. I remember my first trip to London and I walked around the same intersection for at least 15-20 minutes trying to find the closest Underground entrance before just giving up and hoofing it. It’s unnatural to look up towards sides of buildings when you are getting ready to go beneath the surface. Again, this time around, I experienced a few moments of utter loss where I could not determine where a station was located.


I’m no Frommer’s or Rick Steves, so take all of my advice with a grain of salt. Traveling to and from London can be a lot of fun especially if you take the train. Live like locals and tighten your budget by using the fabulous Underground system. You will always have delays and hiccups on your various travels but it’s fun to maneuver around them and learn in the process. If there is one concrete piece of advice that everyone who visits London must adhere to it is this: always look right when crossing the road! (Don’t worry, they painted it on the pavement of every crosswalk to remind you.)