26
May 13

Paris and London recap

What a whirlwind two weeks. Overall I had a great time, but we did have our ups and downs, as does everyone who travels. Now for a mammoth-sized post.

The flight out

Definitely could have been better. For some reason, my flight was full of babies and toddlers. I guess parents think their kids will sleep, but no one told that to the adorable one-year old beside me. Sitting next to this cute kid was annoying for several reasons:

  • The mother’s husband and daughter were behind us so she kept turning around and jostling me. (The man in the aisle seat with the husband and daughter should have switched with the woman. I’d have gladly given him my aisle seat.)
  • We were in the very front row of coach which meant lots of leg room. However, one of the stewards put a hanging bassinet on the wall in front of us, which meant even less room than a regular seat.
  • The baby, while possibly one of the cutest I’ve seen, fussed ALL night. He slept maybe a few hours, and most of it in the morning while we had breakfast. I didn’t mind the noise too much, but he also kept patting and grabbing me, which would have been adorable during waking hours.
  • The woman chastised me for making noise. I couldn’t sleep and was watching movies. I got cold and opened the plastic bag for the blanket. The woman freaked out. “That noise will wake him!” she said. He did stir, but I was tired and grouchy and did not feel like getting chewed out. Plus the kid slept through the entire breakfast service.

The red eye just sucks, especially at the end of a work day. I thought it was smart because the fares were cheaper, I wouldn’t have to miss an extra day of work, and I could leave straight from the office since the airport is so close. But it was also dumb because I can never sleep on flights, I’m extra tired, and I feel gross having not showered for 12 hours.

A good thing about the flight was that there were lots of movies to watch for free. I saw Les Miserables, which was just okay (Amanda Seyfried was a horrible singer), and Pitch Perfect, which was awesome.

First day

My flight got in around 5 PM on Tuesday. YP was kind enough to meet me at the airport. Luckily he did because in my groggy and discombobulated state, I would not have been able to maneuver public transit to our apartment.

The place was adorable. A total artist’s grotto with its sloped ceilings and exposed beams (we were on the top floor). Plus YP kindly (again) gave me the bed while he slept on an air mattress, which at least was queen-size and high off the floor. The bed was soooo cozy and comfortable, particular on chilly Paris mornings.

I only had enough energy to walk around a little and have dinner. We chose a random restaurant, and it was one of the best meals of our trip. I had the rilletes de sardines. I had no idea what it was and was picturing whole sardines, but it was basically like tuna salad with sardines and a billion times more delicious.

For our main course, or plat (I was reminded that in French entree refers to an appetizer or first course, not the main meal), we both had the risotto with fromage, peas, and asparagus. So good.

Second day

I was awake at 4 AM. The night before I realized I had forgotten to bring my instant coffee, and was in a panicked state about what I’d do the next morning. I downloaded the flashlight app and rooted around in the kitchen cupboards. Eureka! A jar of instant coffee. A couple of cups of that and a yummy nut and seed bar, and I was a happy camper. And with five hours to kill before YP woke up, I wrote quite a bit and planned our itinerary for the day.

We spent the whole day walking, first to Jardin de Tuilleries, where we sat for a while and enjoyed the fountains and people-watching. (I kept wishing I had brought a sandwich.) We visited the Place de la Concorde and the Obelisque, then made our way down the Champs Elysees and saw the Seine and Eiffel Tower.

Last stop before home was the cemetery Pere Lachaise, which was walking distance from our place. It was pretty cool. I’ve never seem tombs like telephone booths before.

We chilled for the afternoon, then headed to the Jewish Quarter in search of good falafel. Unfortunately the place we wanted to go to was closed so we ate at another one, which was good enough. YP got some tasty Jewish pastries, including one that was like a high quality Fig Newton.

Oh yeah, the weather: it was quite chilly and YP hadn’t brought warm clothes – not even a jacket – despite my telling him about three times that according to a weather website, it was meant to be only in the 60s.

Third day

We decided to visit the Parthenon. I bought the tickets online. What do you think when you buy tickets for a museum online? Probably that you can pick them up at the museum itself. But no, not in Paris! When we got to the Parthenon, we discovered that the tickets had to be picked up at another location, which was a subway ride away.

WHAT THE FUCK IS THE POINT OF ORDERING TICKETS ONLINE IF ONLY TO PICK THEM UP SOMEWHERE ELSE?

This was the theme of Paris: this is just how things are, convenience or common sense be damned.

Anyway, YP bought us tickets and I threw away 18 Euro. Fun fun. At least the museum itself, especially the crypts, were pretty cool.

YP wanted to do a guided tour in French to practice his listening skills. I thought I’d tag along and look at stuff and just not pay attention. However, the “intro” for the tour was literally half an hour, AND we left early. I kept thinking, Are we moving yet? Can we please move? Good lord, let’s move. Even worse because I couldn’t understand a word. Eventually they did move on, but not before we left.

That night we met up with YP’s friend, who happened to be in Paris for work. She walked us around, and I was super glad to be with someone who could speak French. She showed us the Bastille (or rather where the Bastille probably once stood) and we stumbled upon what was essentially the High Line of Paris, the Promenade plantee.

10_promenadeplanteeFor dinner, she took us to a Vietnamese place, which I happened to be craving. There was a bit of a wait but not too bad. My beef pho was delicious. Unfortunately, there was nothing vegetarian on the menu. Nothing! You’d think a place with Buddhist culture would have something. So YP had what was essentially a big plate of lettuce.

This was another recurring Paris theme: almost no vegetarian.

After dinner YP’s friend walked us around some more, and we saw the Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame.

Fourth day

We had a leisurely morning and did our own thing on this day, YP shopping for a jacket and souvenirs, and me at the Musee des Artes et Metiers.

One day it didn’t rain! It was even sunny at times.

The museum was great. It was a mix of science, technology, and some arts and crafts. I liked seeing the history of science and technology, from very simple calculators, to microscopes and telescopes, clocks, weaving machines, paper making machines, printers, typewriters, and finally computers and robots. And there was also a bunch of pottery ware and food packaging, Foucault’s pendulum, an airplane, and some old-fashioned cars.

I had wanted to eat at the museum, but there was only a sit-down restaurant with very slow service. I ended up getting a shitty sandwich from a supermarket and eating outside, which was kind of nice since it was sunny.

That night we met up with YP’s friend again, this time at Shakespeare & Co. We attended a reading, but it was so crowded we had to sit on the stairs, and the reading itself was boring as fuck. The author’s intros were a billion times longer than the readings themselves.

Afterward we walked around and saw St. Michel and had crepes for dinner. I had an Italian style one with cheese, olives, tomatoes, and other good veggies. It was tasty.

It was on this night that we got stopped by the subway police. YP’s French-speaking friend wasn’t with us unfortunately. I had bent my ticket, not knowing that I’d need it for these surprise checks, and the woman’s machine couldn’t read it. She kept saying, “Give me your ticket!” clearly not understanding when I kept saying, in English, “I don’t have it!” Finally I said, “Je n’ai pas mon billet,” although I did have it, it was just bent. Had to pay 30 Euro fine. It was pretty upsetting, if only because I didn’t know what was going on and actually thought I might go to jail.

I know these rules are set up to punish turnstile jumpers, but the thing was I had paid for a ticket. The only thing I did wrong was do origami with mine. I feel like in New York or San Francisco, they wouldn’t have given such a hard time to a tourist who had no bad intentions and obviously didn’t know what they were doing.

Then YP made me feel better by revealing the surprise he had been cooking up.

“We’re going to see a musical version of The Bodyguard,” he said.

“Oh cool!” I said. “In English?”

“In London.”

I flipped. I had been secretly wishing we could take an overnight trip somewhere, and I freaking LOVE London. YP said he got worried that I wouldn’t like the idea after his friend talked about how much she disliked London, not that I would be influenced by that but that maybe I wouldn’t like it as much as he had imagined, which was the exact opposite of how I felt, especially after that experience with metro police. Yay, London!

Fifth day

We visited the Jardin du Luxembourg. “Jardin” is stretching it. While it was pretty, it was mostly sandy. Anyway, after walking around we, or at least I, was starved, and we had a late lunch at a random bistro. Again, a very good meal. There was a hearty salad for YP (he was able to pick out the meat), and I had a perfect cheeseburger, fries, and a Coke.

Figuring out I was American, the waiter asked, regarding my burger, “Medium well? Well done?” I usually get my burgers medium well because American restaurants can’t seem to get the difference between medium and raw, but since I was in Paris, I asked for medium (the waiter looked surprised – hey, we’re not all culinary idiots), and it was freaking perfect.

After that we tried the Catacombs, but there was a two-hour wait, and the place was closing in less than that. We made due with a visit to the Montparnasse cemetery instead.

Another Paris theme: je voie dead people. Crypts and cemeteries galore.

Having only gotten four hours of sleep, I was super tired that night, and stayed home while YP went out with a friend. I had a random dinner: instant noodles with an egg, then a piece of bread and butter with a boiled egg. I had read somewhere that French butter is amazing, and it was. Plus the eggs we got from a “natural store” (read: organic) were so delicious and very bright yellow.

Some things Paris does better.

Sixth day

On this day we went to Sacre-Coeur, which I had missed my first visit. In fact, the only stuff I had seen before were the Champs Elysees and Place de la Concorde. Everything else so far was new.

Sacre-Coeur was extremely crowded, especially since it was a Sunday. But the dome and crypt, which you have to pay for, weren’t bad at all. Climbing the spiral staircase up up up to the dome was a little nerve-racking, but the view is worth it. In the crypt, I saw my first cephalophore, or headless saint, St Denis, I’m assuming.

Afterward we wandered around and ended up at the Museum of Montparnasse, which gives “a history of the multitude of artists who came from around the world to live and work in Montparnasse at the beginning of the twentieth century.” It was nice though a little random.

For lunch we ate at a weird vegetarian restaurant. The food took forever, but it was quite good. I had the soup of the day, which was kind of like light French onion without the cheese, and a variety of chopped up vegetables with a small piece of bread and goat cheese. There were beets, which made me happy.

It rained off and on all day, and we ended up doing dinner at home. I didn’t want another packet of instant noodles so while YP had his eggs and potatoes, I wandered in the rain looking for food. Almost everything was closed, so I settled on this “Japanese” place which was, I soon found out, run by Chinese people. I was glad to be able to communicate with the waiter, but he and the cook weren’t super friendly. I had some gyoza, which were more like dumplings, yakitori, and rice (yay rice!). At first I thought it wasn’t going to be enough food, but it was the perfect amount.

After I got home, YP showed me a Greek card game, bastra. It was fun. He totally kicked my ass. I showed him Spit, and I totally kicked his ass.

Seventh day

My first really good night’s sleep. Did some last-minute packing for London and we both had pain du chocolat for breakfast. I had bought what I thought was one chocolate croissant the day before, but when the girl heard du, I think she heard deux. Or that’s how I pronounced it. But YP appreciated the extra croissant so it worked out.

Getting to the train station in the rain was stressful – I dropped my phone! Luckily just the edge got cracked, we didn’t get lost, and were just in time for boarding.

At first we got on the wrong carriage, and ended up having to sprint all the way to the front of the train while the conductors smiled amusedly at us from the doorways.

Lunch in the snack car! A croque monsieur and mocha. The sandwich was pretty good although the mocha was watery. After I got back to my seat, I was hyper from the mocha and got a little writing done.

Then we were in London!

The location of our hotel was good – not far from Kensington Gardens – but our room was teeny tiny with one double bed. (YP had booked a “double,” thinking logically that it was two beds.)

After checking in we walked to Kensington Gardens and through Hyde Park. Now these were an actual park and garden: lush and green, although Hyde Park isn’t as nice as Central Park.

Then we had an early dinner of mediocre Indian food (which after several days of heavy French food was delicious), and returned to our room to get ready. I thought I’d be freezing in my little dress, but I was actually okay. London wasn’t as cold as Paris, and it didn’t rain.

The show was fun though pretty cheesy. I enjoyed the musical numbers, but YP agreed that the dialogue and plot left much to be desired. Rachel’s son’s lines were particularly eyeroll inducing. And twice there were technical glitches that literally stopped the show. That would never happen on Broadway, but I guess shows often work out their kinks in London.

The woman who played Rachel was very good, although they had her fake-laughing way too much.

When we left the show, we stopped in Pret for snacks. Yay, Pret!

Eighth day

We got up fairly early to ride the Eye, which was fun. While it was chilly and overcast, it didn’t rain, and it wasn’t very crowded. Last time I went on a Saturday in June and it was a mad house.

Afterward, we walked back across the Thames and saw Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Then Pret again, yay! I like Pret in London because it’s not too expensive, the food is good but slightly different than in America, it’s quick, and there’s free wifi. I had a delicious tuna melt and mocha.

Then we were each on our own again. YP was freezing and desperate for a jacket (no luck finding one in Paris) so he went shopping. I went to the Tate Britain, which I had missed my first time to London and which was just an 11 minute walk away.

I really freaking enjoyed myself. All museums in London are free so that was a help. The Tate is billed as “500 years of British art” and do they deliver. The rooms are set up chronologically in 30 to 100 year increments. It was really interesting to see the change from medieval portraits to religious paintings to landscapes to affinity for Greek and Roman stuff to literature portrayed to morality art to impressionism, neo-impressionism, and pointislism, to the influence of World War I, and moving quickly into modern and bat-shit crazy.

I walked all the way back to the hotel – five miles! – and had a rest in Kensington Gardens. I was surprised to find that YP was already back. Jacket procured, yay! Just in time for the end of our trip. :)

That night we met up with one of YP’s former coworkers. Feeling lazy, I almost didn’t go, but then knew I’d be bored if I didn’t. I’m glad I went. We met her at a bar for a relaxed drink. Unlike places we had been to in Paris, this place was spacious and calm. Then we had a yummy Thai dinner. Actually my beef massaman was just so-so – the beef was chewy – but the sauce was delicious, and I was happy again to have rice.

After dinner, his coworker begged off and we got another drink, this time at a gay bar. The place was more like a traditional English pub, save for all the gay men of course.

We discussed Paris versus London. I didn’t want to come right out and say that I like London better because I was glad we spent time in Paris, but I think that is the case. Here are some reasons why:

  • The food is way more diverse. There were tons of Asian options for me and vegetarian ones for YP.
  • The Underground is really nice. It’s way cleaner and seems easier to maneuver. Plus you use an Oyster card in the exact way that you use a mass transit card in San Francisco, tag on and off. No need to hold onto a tiny piece of paper that may get crinkled.
  • I don’t feel like a slob in London. People dress more casually. Everyone in Paris is a hipster.
  • Fewer people smoke in London.
  • People work more in London. Late into night we saw people getting off work. In this way London was more like the Hellmouth or m current city.

Plus Harry Potter. Hello? :)

Ninth day

After a leisurely morning, we headed back to the train station. This time we got there pretty early, and knew where our carriage was.

By the time we got back to Paris, it was almost five (London is an hour). We just chilled until it was time to leave to meet his friend, who was leaving the next day. We met at this taco place/bar. It was small and very crowded. There was nowhere to sit. A group of Americans got a punch bowl of something, and put it on this little counter in what was essentially the entry way, and stood there drinking. Oh yeah, totally fun.

Not.

Luckily YP’s friend, when she arrived, suggested going somewhere else. She had another friend with her, who was also a vegetarian, and she knew where to go. The place was pretty good, although the waitress was quite rude. She took forever to get stuff that we asked for, and after we asked for more water, violently plunked down two full bottles, splashing us.

At least the food was filling. I had a curry risotto with a variety of vegetables.

YP’s friend’s friend was Spanish and was very animated and funny. We talked about the trouble we had with our French, and she relayed her own issues when she was first learning. For instance she couldn’t get people to understand her pronunciation of deux, and so she’d order trois of everything, which made me realize why I got two pain du chocolat instead of one.

The rain held off that night, which was nice.

We got back pretty late, 11 or midnight. Slept great after not sleeping well in our cramped bed in London.

Tenth day

This was the day we got locked out of the apartment.

Aw man, was I panicked. I suggested knocking on a neighbor’s door, but instead YP climbed onto the roof to see if he could get in via a skylight. Very dangerous and no luck.

We knew Chinese people lived in the building because of their names on the mailboxes. I knocked on the door of one.

Parlez-vous Chinois?” I asked.

Non,” she said.

Parlez-vous Anglais?” YP asked.

Oui.”

That teaches me not to make assumptions. Anyway, she told us that next door was a key store.

It wasn’t open but the grate was partway up, and the very kind man tried to help us. He took a plastic sheet and tried to jimmy the door open, just the way the SB’s super opened my door back in New York when I lost my key, except that he used a Venetian blind. However, the old guy couldn’t get it open, and for a while he seemed to tell us that there was no one in Paris who could help us, that whomever could was outside of Paris.

But what I think he meant was that his friend who could help us wasn’t in town, and instead he helped us call a locksmith.

YP was generous to wait while I walked around a little. I checked out the Madeline church, which was pretty, and saw the hotel I stayed in during my first trip to Paris many years ago.

I was about to go to the Museum de L’Orangerie when YP texted that we were in. I was so glad. But it wasn’t cheap. The old guy said maybe 90 or 100 Euros, but the locksmith asked for much much more than that.

What the fuck, Paris?

We salvaged the day by going to the Catacombs. There was a long line but we were there early enough that it didn’t matter. It rained off and on, dramatically. Like it would rain very hard, and then the sun would be shining. Luckily there was a bakery nearby. I got a really yummy salami and cornichon sandwich, and then what was a called a beignet, although it was more like a gourmet donut. I had an apple one and gave YP a cherry one. They were sooooo good.

YP ended up talking to two Mexican girls behind us, and then it ended up that they spoke English really well. They were sweet and fun.

Silver lining: if we hadn’t gotten locked out, we wouldn’t have met those girls. Anyway, chatting with them made the wait go much faster, and soon we were in.

At first I thought it would be just dark tunnels, but it wasn’t. It was bones. Lots and lots of bone piled up on each other. Skulls, and what looked like arm and leg bones. It was pretty crazy.

I also kept my eye out for ghosts but didn’t see any.

Afterward the Mexican girls went off to do their own thing, and we decided to go to the D’Orsay. It’s open late on Thursdays so we thought what the hey. Besides we had just one and a half days left.

The line was pretty long, and it was raining and cold. In fact the rain seemed to turn to sleet at one point. But it was worth it.

I went to the D’Orsay during my last visit, but didn’t stay long. It was toward the end of our trip, and my friend was museumed out. I thought I had missed just one wing, but this time I realized I missed a lot. The place is huge. YP said that the Mexican girls said not to go, that the line would be too long, but he was glad he didn’t listen to them.

“It’s one of the prettiest museums I’ve been to,” he said.

Indeed it was.

We were there until about eight. Afterward we were so pooped, we just each got our own meals, pizza for him and that same Japanese restaurant for me again. This time I tried the fried rice and California rolls. Not bad but definitely more Chinese than Japanese.

Eleventh day

Last day in Paris! YP wanted to go to the Louvre, but after waiting in long lines at the Catacombs and D’Orsay, I couldn’t bear it. I had a lazy morning, then walked to the Carnavalet Museum, stopping for lunch in a random brasserie. Had the chicken tikka, which tasted like tikka masala sauce but with far more butter.

I just now realized that I meant to go to the Carnival Arts Museum, and I got the names mixed up. That explains why there was no carnival stuff at the Carnavalet. Dehr. Luckily I went to Carnavalet because the Carnival Arts Museum is only open during the holidays.

Anyway, I really liked the Carnavalet. It tells the history of Paris through art. Plus it was free. I got the audio guide for 5 Euros since all the placards were in French. I was there for a good two hours.

For our last night, we went to the Eiffel Tower. It was raining yet again and very cold, not much above 50 degrees. I was wearing a T-shirt, sweater, light jacket, and another jacket, and was still freezing. YP changed into this costume:

I was mortified at first, but after a while kind of forgot he was wearing it. French people had almost no reaction, kind of like New Yorkers. One drunk guy was like, “Monsieur, vous etes lapin!” The woman who sold us our tickets shook her head and laughed.

“You must be American,” she said.

People on the tower went nuts. These teenaged girls kept wanting to take their picture with him. When we reached the top, which was FREEZING, I went back inside because I knew the picture taking would take forever.

That night we just picked up food again, this time from a Chinese takeout place. I got way too much fried rice. The chicken “brochettes” were pretty tasty.

I was stressed out that night dealing with packing and worrying about how we’d get to the airport the next morning. Carrying three bags, even with YP’s help, was a pain in the ass. But I managed to get down to two bags by consolidating my stuff, and throwing out my duffel bag which I got for free from my old company a million years ago, as well as my towel, which was pretty old. A wedding gift. That’s how old. I was really glad to get my stuff down to my small suitcase, backpack, and a purse.

Twelfth day

Getting to the airport wasn’t too bad, but getting to our gates took forever. I hadn’t checked in so I went to wait in line. Only I waited in the wrong line (which at least wasn’t too long) and went to a machine, which I couldn’t figure out. There were two places you could put your credit card, and I kept putting it in the wrong one. Or rather I didn’t even notice there were two places.

WHY WERE THERE TWO PLACES?

A nice woman helped me and I caught up with YP, who was waiting in line to check bags. That took a long time. Then we had to wait in a very long line to get our passports checked. Then we had to get on a shuttle train that would take us to our gate, where we waited on yet another line to get us through security. At least that was quick: airport employees actually helped people load their stuff so that went really fast.

Finally, we were able to go to our gates. I had time to get a water and pain du chocolat, but I didn’t have time to eat it or to pee. As in the Air France terminal in America, they didn’t board by row or group number. Everyone just lined up. This time I knew the drill and got on line early.

While my incoming flight was full of babies, this one was full of retirees of various nationalities. My seat was much better. While it was in the back half of the plane, it was near two tiny young women.

The first half of the flight flew by. I watched Lincoln, which I enjoyed, then slept for maybe an hour. I played a video game, then watched Argo, which I liked a lot. I also watched The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which I enjoyed but couldn’t help thinking Emma Watson’s character was that stereotypical manic pixie dream girl.

The last two hours of the flight were endless. I was very tired and my legs were stiff. I wanted off that plane in the worst way. I watched The Lord of the Rings to kill time but couldn’t really get into it.

Then finally, FINALLY, we were home.

I was so glad to be in a place where I understood the language and knew how to get around. I didn’t even mind the long wait to get my passport checked. I mostly fooled around on my phone (no roaming charges!).

In a way it was good the passport line took forever because I didn’t have to wait at all for my bag. It was already set aside. I caught a cab right away and was back in my apartment around 2:30.

Home home home!

I was so tired yesterday, I didn’t really enjoy myself the way I thought I would. I was mostly out of sorts, thinking I was smelling weird things in my apartment. I did manage to buy a few piddly groceries, shower, eat some instant noodles, and catch up on Modern Family, New Girl, and The Mindy Project before passing out at, get this, five-thirty in the afternoon.

I thought maybe I’d sleep 12 or at least 10 hours. No way. I slept really solidly until 10:30, and then again until about 1:30. I tried to go back to sleep but just couldn’t. Plus I was hungry. I got up at two, made coffee, did the previous night’s dishes, and made some instant oatmeal. Sitting there in the quiet and dark, I felt peaceful and happy. That was what I was imagining as I was aching for home toward the end of our trip.

I read and started writing this blog post. I did two loads of laundry, and had a second breakfast around 5:30, more coffee and a boiled egg on toast. Around seven I went to the gym, then hit the grocery store for more substantial provisions. Showered, had “lunch” around 10:30 while catching up on Mad Men, and worked on this blog post some more.

I don’t know if I’ll leave the apartment again. I had planned on working on my writing as well as work-work, but I don’t know if I want to. I still have tomorrow.


24
May 13

Last day in Paris + surprise revealed

seine_paris_0513

The Seine at Night

Don’t worry, I’ll be blogging about my entire trip after I get back, but this morning I’m having some quiet time while YP tackles the Louvre (which I visited my first time in Paris so I’m not missing out).

It’s been a great two weeks. The last time I was away for this long (outside of six months in China in the late ’90s) was in June 2009. I went to London for a library school class. We had lectures all day, Monday through Friday, plus site visits in London and day trips to Oxford and Cambridge. After class, I’d run off and visit all the museums (which are all free in London) and try to find cheap food. Although I got homesick toward the end, I had a wonderful time.

I might have mentioned that YP had a surprise planned for this trip. I had no idea what it was, except that it would last more than one day, I’d have to dress up, and it was something we’ve done before. I assumed it was a musical or play, and it was.

YP: “We’re seeing a musical version of The Bodyguard.”
Me: “Oh cool! Will it be in English?”
YP: “It will be in London.”

What?!? I was really excited to hear that. I love London and was glad we’d be taking a break from Paris and not being able to understand or communicate with people.

As expected London was lovely. We took the Eurostar, which while rather crowded was so fast, it didn’t matter. We sat across the aisle from two British ladies and a Ukrainian-American couple who jabbered the entire way. Luckily I had brought my noise-canceling headphones; YP wasn’t so lucky.

kingscross_london_0513

King’s Cross, London

London was a bit warmer than Paris and didn’t rain at all (it has rained almost every day in Paris). And oh yeah, English! Plus we were able to find a lot more vegetarian options for YP and just a wider diversity of food. (I’ve seen more than enough brasseries to last a lifetime.)

The afternoon we arrived we took a walk through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park.

peterpan_kensingtongardens_london_0513

Peter Pan, Kensington Gardens

I noticed the “jardins” I saw in Paris were more sand than grass, while the parks in London are lush and green. I guess that’s what you get with all the rain.

After our walk, we grabbed some Indian food, which was mediocre but after nearly a week of mostly bread and cheese, was delicious. The show was also so-so. While the musical numbers were great – who can resist a Whitney Houston song? – the dialogue was really cheesy. Plus it couldn’t seem to make up its mind about its style. Was it all hip hop and urban, or gumshoe detective? But it was still totally enjoyable, even with technical glitches that literally stopped the show twice.

The next morning we got up early to go ride the London Eye. I’ve done it before but it’s always fun. After that we walked back across the Thames, passing Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, and stopped in Pret for a quick lunch.

I know it’s pretty silly to go all the way to London and eat at Pret, which is in New York. However, 1) Pret is not in the Bay Area, and I miss it, 2) it’s quick, 3) it’s not too expensive, 4) the food is good, 5) London Pret food is different, and 6) London Pret has free wifi. As far as I’m concerned, Pret rules.

That afternoon we each had our own agendas: YP went shopping while I visited the Tate Britain, which I didn’t have a chance to see during my last visit. And it was only a 10 minute walk from where we were.

The Tate Britain is billed as “500 years of British art.” And indeed it was. The rooms were set up chronologically in 30 to 50 year increments. There was no audio tour but the placards gave good explanations (in English yay!). I was there for almost four hours and really freaking enjoyed myself. Of course I had to be immature and take this photo:

melons_tatebritain_0513

This work entitled “My Melons Bring the Serfs to the Yard.” (Tate Britain)

That night we met up with one of YP’s coworkers for a drink in a nice, relaxed bar and then a delicious dinner at a cute Thai place. After dinner, his friend, who had to work the next day, begged off, while we got another drink at a gay bar, which looked more like a traditional English pub.

We talked about if we liked Paris or London better, and we both agreed it was hard to say. London was a relief because of the language and culinary diversity. But of course Paris is an amazing city. YP said he probably has more of a natural affinity for Spanish culture (he lived in Spain during a high school summer), which made me realize I have more of a natural affinity for British culture. It makes sense: I love the language. It’s what I’m all about. I studied English literature and love lots of British stuff. Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, other British shows and movies.

Plus London seems more similar to New York. We saw lots of people in suits, and people were still getting off work long into the night. Not that working more is better, but it’s familiar. It’s what I do. In Paris I guess the work days are shorter.

I also feel less like a slob in London. In Paris everyone seems to dress well. It’s a city of hipsters. In London it seems to be more of a mix. YP’s friend C who we got to hang out with quite a bit in Paris put it really well: in Paris, there’s a certain way to do things, and if you don’t do it the way everyone else is, you’re crazy. Everyone has lunch between one and two for like two hours; everyone has their pre-dinner apertif at 7 and dinner at 9 (again for two hours); everyone carries home a fucking baguette every day.

It’s funny: while I found all the baguette carrying charming the first time I was here, this time I got sick of it. Look at me, I’m French and I have my fucking baguette.

(Bracing myself for the hate comments.)

Anyway, you’ll hear lots more about my trip over the next several days. Now I suppose I should battle the French rain and all these French people speaking French and get out of the apartment.


28
Jun 09

I’m back!

And I’ve been up since about 5 this morning.  Not just up, but WIDE AWAKE.  I lasted till about 9 last night before passing out.

My trip back was fine, though of course it felt like I was traveling for hours and hours, which I guess I was.  Grabbing a taxi on Tottenham Court Road was pretty easy and cost about 12 pounds to get to Paddington.  I know that’s expensive, but I thought it’d be more like 20, and it was worth it to me not to have drag my stuff around the tube.

The express train to Heathrow was 16.50 pounds, but they didn’t even collect my ticket.  I guess it’s the honor system?  Either way the ride was very nice and fast, and if I ever go to London again, that’s what I’m taking.

I think Heathrow is the worst airport I’ve been to.  I mean, there are some in the U.S. that are pretty crummy, but at least they tend to be spread out enough so that you don’t feel like you’re trapped in a writhing sea of people.  Everywhere I went was people – there was no escape.  Still, I managed to grab a sandwich and stuff from Eat, a book for the plane, and gifts for my parents (biscuits and tea).

My flight was at 2 but the gate wasn’t posted till almost 1.  I guess the gate areas are so small that they don’t want people mobbing the area.  And once they announced the gate, we didn’t have to wait too long before boarding.  The plane took off about 45 minutes late, which in the scheme of things, isn’t too bad.

I had a window seat this time, which in some ways is good, though the poor guy next to me had to get up several times for my small bladder.  Realizing I hadn’t watched TV for two weeks, I settled in for some movies: The Young Victoria, which was pretty good; He’s Just Not that Into You, which was better than I expected (I actually cried) though I thought it was incredibly lame – here comes a spoiler – that the Ben Affleck character ended up proposing to Jennifer Aniston even after she realized how meaningless marriage really is, and that a ring on a guy’s finger doesn’t necessarily equal a good partner; and The Day the Earth Stood Still, which was just as bad as thought it’d be.  Keanu is perfect however as a robotic alien.  I got pretty antsy towards the end of the flight, watching the time tick down: 1 hour, 30 minutes till landing, 1 hour, 15; less than an hour.

Then it was more waiting.  Waiting to get off the plane.  Waiting to get through immigration, where a random airport worker with a frigging foreign accent asked me if I was sure I was a U.S. citizen – Are you, dude? Let me see your papers.  Then the big wait: for my baggage.  It took AGES.  I don’t know why I was surprised.  JFK is always like that.

Then waiting for a cab, and finally waiting through a massive traffic jam.  As we inched along, I thought I’d die.  I was soooo thirsty and so very tired of waiting and so anxious to get home.  The driver was very nice though.

While we were driving, this crazy downpour hit us.  It was basically like a tropical storm.  Raining raining raining while in the distance we could see blue skies and the sun.

Luckily it stopped by the time I got the apartment, and then there was MB, a sight for sore eyes, coming downstairs to help me with my luggage.  :)

~ ~ ~

One thing I forgot to mention in all my London posts is Michael Jackson’s death.  Crazy, to say the least.  Apparently Thursday night, a few of my classmates came back before 10, one went to check her email, then her door burst open and she was shouting, “Michael Jackson’s dead!”  Chaos quickly ensued.

Not feeling well, I had gone to bed early that night, and I remember hearing all this noise and thinking, What the hell is that?  Then all annoyed put in my ear plugs.  I finally saw the news the next morning.

It’s such a strange feeling to know that he’s dead.  It would be like if Madonna or Prince or Cyndi Lauper were dead.  I’ll always remember being 9 years old, roller skating at the Y, where they played Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough over and over, so that till this day when I hear that song, I think of a dinky disco ball and blisters on my feet.  In the sixth grade we all wanted to be him, or at least dance like him.  One kid actually had one of those crazy leather, zippery jackets, and could moondance pretty well (skinny white kid btw).  Then the disturbing transformation began, and soon none of us wanted to be him anymore.

It’s really sad how messed up he turned out to be.  No grip on reality (ie, best friend = chimp), addiction to plastic surgery and who knows what else, probably a pedophile.  But of course not everyone who’s been abused as a kid turns their abuse on other children.  Our pity for him is no excuse.

It’s like two Michael Jacksons, the one putting veils on his kids’ heads and the the Beat It-Michael Jackson, the Thriller guy, and even sadder, that little kid singing and dancing his heart out.


26
Jun 09

London, Day 13

My last night in London!

Today’s sessions were somewhat better.  I think it helped that I had dressed more comfortably and the weather was cooler.  David Nichols spoke again, and while his presentation had elements from the one he gave us at the beginning of the course, he made it specific to academia.

His most interesting point was that while there is all this data about what users are doing, no one is using to data to improve systems.  The focus is on Web 2.0 – Twitter, Facebook, blogs – because it’s new and easy, and it’s much harder to change existing systems.

I totally agree.  Every presentation had its arbitrary Web 2.0 slide, but it was always, we know it’s out there and we should be using it but we don’t know how.  Then later someone mentioned a patient education system, and I thought, That’s what Web 2.0 should be used for.

Academics resist commenting on each other’s papers, at least publicly, so why not use blogs or Twitter to help educate patients and the average joe.  Anthony mentioned Patient Inform, in which experts basically translate heavy duty papers for the lay person, but it’s dying because these experts don’t have time to do it, even though they’re getting paid to do so.  I’m not sure how to solve that problem, but it seems Web 2.0 would be better used for educating others rather than trying to create a social network where the participants don’t want one.

At the end of the conference, there was a panel to discuss whatever topics people were interested in.  I had been wanting to hear more about technology, and so when someone asked, “Does technology really change behavior?” I perked up.  He used PowerPoint as an example, that while it helps make you more efficient, it’s still a series of slides.

Someone argued that PowerPoint has ruined writing, and that some people can only now “write in bullets,” when actually the problem is a lot of people don’t know how to write for PowerPoint, and throw up full text on a slide so you can’t get anything out of it.

Rather than technology changing behavior, I think the more provocative question is if behavior shapes technology.  Look at e-ink – it’s been developed to be easier on the human eye.  Look at the cool tech that British Library uses to let you turn the pages of rare book you’d never be able to touch in real life.  Look at the audio tour of the Tate Modern, which is actually an audio and video tour because they employ a smart phone with a touch screen, where you can see other works of art to compare to the one you’re looking at in real life, as well as “touch” different parts of the work to hear more about it.  It was really awesome.

That was sorely missing from this conference – designing tech to fit humans, rather than retraining humans to fit tech.  Then again, this wasn’t a tech or design conference.  The only thing someone was said was that the systems haven’t been designed with the  way scholars work kept in mind.

Afterwards, our class and some faculty had a farewell dinner at the Spaghetti House right on Goodge.  The food was very good.  I had the puttanesca, which I basically inhaled, and cassate, a sort of ice cream cake with layers of Italian ice cream and sorbert.

Near the end of evening, Andy sang us a funny song, and then we all got certificates and wee gifties for having completed the course.

It was all very sweet.

I left pretty early, along with a few others.  I always have a hard time saying goodbye.  I get embarrassed, but I did manage to give out all my Moo cards.

I’m basically done packing.  I’ll be up early tomorrow to throw in some last minute things, and then I’ll leave here at 10.  New York here I come!


25
Jun 09

London, Day 12

Hey whaddya know, I still have internet.  I thought it would be shut down by now.  Maybe I have it till midnight.

I’m totally coming down with a cold.  At least three of my classmates are either getting over and are in the middle of colds.  I asked the one who’s still suffering, “You came down with something?” and he said yeah, it seemed a bunch of people are sick.  I thought, Not me! and literally an hour later my throat started hurting.

The sessions today were boring as hell.  I thought the e-publishing conference would include more about books and trade publishing, but it seems to be all academic, which in small doses is fine, but for almost eight hours, is way too much.

It didn’t help that the room was too warm and I had dressed too warmly.  The temperature shot up to almost 80 today, though it’s cooler now of course.  And I was sitting next two people who didn’t think to move down into the empty seats so that we three weren’t sitting right next to each other.  As soon as a seat opened on the other end, I got up and moved.  The woman kept looking at me, and I was like, Fuck you, you didn’t think to move, I’m not going to sit up right up next to a 6 foot tall man radiating body heat in this 80 degree room.

So the cold is making me grouchy.

Afterwards I stopped at the reception for a short time, and then had dinner with one of my classmates.  We invited people, but no one showed up, and sometimes it’s easier with fewer people anyway.  We got Szechuan food, which was pretty good.  I had a sweet corn and chicken soup, very nice for my throat.

No pictures today.


25
Jun 09

London, Day 11

A day behind.

Today’s my last day with internet since I’m a cheapskate and refuse to pay for a full extra week when there are only one and a half days left of my trip.

Yesterday was just a regular day of lectures.  In the morning we had Camelia Csora from Elsevier and Ruth Jones from Ingram Digital.  Both presentations were very good, but Ms. Jones’ had to be the best of the course.  She didn’t just pimp her company but talked about e-publishing in general, trends, and her opinions about what was happening now.  She was really smart and funny.

The afternoon visit to Nature Publishing bored me.  Not sure why.  I think because the room was so warm, it was after lunch, and the presentations were sort of general.  I find that when marketing people speak, it’s not as dynamic since the marketing people don’t work directly on the projects (at least in my own marketing experience).

But when the people who are directly involved in the projects speak, like the guy at ProQuest talking about the Paley Center database, then it’s interesting because they’re excited and know all the cool stuff about the project.

I’ve also found the Scottish speakers to be much livelier.  Though a few of the Brits were good, a few were basically talking comas.

We were near King’s Cross train station so I went in to find the Harry Potter replica.  There were some girls there also taking pictures, and one insisted on taking mine:

I think you can see me blushing from here.

From King’s Cross I walked to Russell Square.  I had heard there were a lot of shops around there, but there weren’t, at least not that I could find.  It was no loss because there was a pretty park with a lovely arbor:

From there I walked to Somerset House, which one of my friends had recommended.  I walked on King’s Way, which totally got me lost the last time I walked it, or rather  I got myself lost.  But this time I knew where I was on the map and made it to my destination.

It was a beautiful day.

It’s only as I’m nearing my stay that I’ve finally figured out my immediate area.  In the beginning I’d keep walking all the way down Tottenham Court Road, past my turn off so that I ended up looping around to get to Charlotte Street.  Finally yesterday I realized where to get onto Goodge Street, where all the restaurants are.

For dinner I picked up a curry chicken katsu for 4.90 with a side of Japanese pickles for 1.90.  In the morning I had an OJ for 1.50, lunch was Pret for 3.94, and then a snack of Pret yogurt and water for 3.49.  Grand total: 15.73, still under budget.

I spent the evening doing laundry, Skyping with MB, and playing with my pictures.  This morning I ironed my outfits for the rest of my stay.  Today and tomorrow we have an e-publishing conference, and I’m wearing business casual, though I’m not sure what the dress code is.  We don’t have to be there till about 10.

This morning I also Skyped with MB one last time.  He was still up at 3 in the morning.  I heard the weather is awful in New York, rainy and chilly one minute, then rainy and hot the next.  Bummer, but I’ll be so glad to be home.

All London Day 11 pictures.


23
Jun 09

Two things I forgot

From yesterday.

1) Remember that woman I wrote about who’s not a student but very involved with academic journals?  Well, she was in fine form yesterday.  While we were at ProQuest, she completely took over the question and answer portion of the presentation.

First she asked a long drawn-out question that wasn’t really a question but a comment.  The presenters  responded, then she counter-responded, back and forth, till it was basically like her own personal meeting the rest of us were forced to listen to.  Of course the ProQuest people were too polite to say anything.

Finally Anthony interrupted and said, “Does anyone else have any questions?” and of course someone did.

That woman gets on my nerves.  She has this snotty look on her face all the time and walks around like a princess.  During lunch when she went to get some fruit, she asked, at large, “What are these?” without looking at anyone but with an attitude like she expected everyone to answer.

2) While we were at the pub yesterday in Cambridge, we were sitting next to these young people, probably students, from the area.  There was an Asian woman who was really loud, and at one point she said, “Idaho? That’s not a real place, is it?”

Cambridge – isn’t that in Massachusetts?


23
Jun 09

London, Day 10

Ten days are more than enough in London. I am so ready to go home.

Today was a good day. We went out to Cambridge and heard presentations from ProQuest and the Royal Society of Chemistry. All were very good. ProQuest talked a lot about their project with the Paley Center, putting the center’s seminars, interviews, and show/movie clips online in a database, all with transcripts and subtitles, and indexed. You can even download clips, edit them, and email them.  It’s pretty neat and launched today, in fact.  I think it’s only available through universities, and maybe the NYPL.

After the talks, Anthony took us on a tour of Pembroke College Cambridge, his alma mater.  It was very pretty.

After the tour, we all went off on our own, basically splitting into two groups.  Of course in library school there are a lot of women.  Today it hit me that I’m used to hanging out with men, between MB, YP, my brother online, hell even my boss.  Of course there are all my other good friends, but I don’t see them as much.

So when I somehow ended up in the group with three men and one other woman in her mid-40s – ie, a grown-up – I felt a huge sense of relief.  I think it helped that there were just five of us as well, instead of a giant group with three or four conversations going on at once.  It was very relaxing sitting there with our drinks and chatting.

For dinner we went to Queen’s Head.  It was a very nice pub.  I got the fish and chips since I’ve been wanting to try it all this time.

It was GOOD, especially after having had a drink.  I got a nice big piece of cod, and the batter was crispy and thin.  The fries were tasty as well.  9.95 pounds.  That plus 2.75 for the wine made a total of 12.70 (they gave us lunch at ProQuest).

While hanging out at dinner was fun, I was ready to go back way before most of the others.  I’m definitely someone who needs her quiet time.  It’s tough to spend a nearly solid two weeks with the same group of people, and to be away from home.

Tomorrow is a lecture in the morning and a visit to the Nature Publishing Company in the afternoon.

All London Day 10 pictures.


22
Jun 09

London, Days 8 & 9

Now I have to two days to write about.

Day 8

Again I had a leisurely morning, getting up at 8 and fooling around on my computer till I left at 10.

The tube to the Natural History Museum was much calmer than the one to London Bridge. Once I got out, however, I was as always confused about where I was, but managed to figure it out. The next problem: hungry and not wanting to spend a lot, especially after the previous night’s expensive dinner. I was still on a grilled cheese sandwich kick so I got one with a mocha from a café nearby for less than 5 pounds. Not bad.

I meant to go to the Natural History Museum first, but ended up in the Science Museum (which explained why I kept thinking, This is a lot like the Science Museum in Boston). It’s very much for kids, but it was very good. I liked the History of Medicine exhibit, though it starts out chronologically then gets totally mixed up, and the Listening Post, in which bits of real chat room conversation are captured via light and sound. It was pretty neat.

After finally realizing I wasn’t in the Natural History Museum, I headed over there, and was immediately overwhelemed by the zillions of kids. I kind of zipped through it, though I did go out of my way to see the animatronic dinasours, the coup de grace of which was T. Rex:

It was pretty neat despite the mob. One little kid got really scared when he turned the corner and saw what he was in for.

I also wanted to see the Blue Whale, which is touted by my Time Out book. I have to say: an utter disappointment. It’s humungous, of course, but the room is so tiny and jam packed with other mammals. It’s not like the American Museum of Natural History, where you have this enormous room and the blue whale suspended from the ceiling.

Next was the Victoria & Albert Museum. Thankfully there were no kids on the top few floors, only running around the ground floor. I loved looking at the royal collection and all the Victorian-era stuff. It was such a peaceful atmosphere, a huge relief after the madness of the Natural History Museum. My energy waned as I made my way down so that by the time I reached bottom, I’d see yet another wing and think, No more!

There’s a nice courtyard, where I sat for quite some time, eating my Balance bar and chilling.

Afterwards I walked over to Hyde Park, through Mayfair, where I found another nice courtyard to sit in, and over to Picadilly. Used the bathroom again at the Meridian, and was much less conspicuous this time around.

Over the weekend I had suddenly remembered that I regularly read a blog about food in London, duh! Su-Lin’s latest post was on Malaysia Kopi Tiam, which I realized I’ve passed a billion times since I’ve been here. I was excited to try good, reasonably priced food so I made a beeline there after all my sightseeing.

It seemed authentic what with all the Chinese-speaking people hanging around, and, unlike that damned Japanese place from yesterday, there was no minimum. I wasn’t sure what some of dishes were so I went for the menu with the pictures and picked the laksa mee with chicken, basically a mildly spicy coconut curry noodle soup with chicken on the bone and fish cakes.

It was soooo good, and at 7.50 pounds definitely the right price. Since I was well under my 25 pounds for the day, I got a lychee drink too – with real lychees – for two pounds.

My total food spend for the day: 13.49 pounds! A huge improvement from the day before.

Day 9

This was today. Lectures were really boring. This morning’s was supposed to be a discussion but it just meandered and never really focused on one topic. It was really torture, to be quite honest.

This afternoon we went to the Office of Public Sector Information, where the guy talked about government documents. Again: snoresville. I mean, the information was somewhat interesting, but he was such a dry presenter.

I felt so burnt out on sight seeing today that I did absolutely nothing. After lectures I went with one of my classmates back to our dorm, and hung out playing on the internet till we went to dinner.

Finally had Indian food: Diwana on Drummond Street, as recommended by Anthony. It was very good! We shared a chef’s sampling of appetizers for about 4 pounds, got paneer dosas for 7.05, and a mango lassi for 2.

Chefs sampling of appetizers

Chef's sampling of appetizers

The coconut chutney was so good; I’ve never had it before. And the dosa was extrememly filling and tasty.

My total food spend: 16.30.

Tomorrow we’re off to Cambridge.

All Day 8 and Day 9 pictures.


21
Jun 09

London, Day 7

Writing about Day 7 on the 8th day. I was so tired last night, I got into bed before 10 and slept till 8 this morning. Today’s agenda: Victoria and Albert and Natural History Museums.

Got a good amount of shut eye the night before, from about midnight to 8 AM. I wasn’t sure if there was cafeteria breakfast and I didn’t feel like having it, so I just stayed in my room, drank instant coffee, ate part of an Odawalla Bar and played with my pictures, some of which are up on Flickr. I’ll also put links by day in the earlier posts, and perhaps some actual pictures.

I left around 10. Getting to the subway to take me to London Bridge was absolute madness. There were zillions of people coming and going from the airport, on top of just the regular tourists and Londoners. But the actual ride was super short, about 10 minutes.

From the London Bridge station, I wandered over to Borough Market, as recommended by my brother. It was a lot of fun. There was such gorgeous food:

Plus the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever had.

It was greasy and crispy and melty with pieces of sweet red onion. Yum!

Next was the Tate Modern, which I loved. There seem to be just two free floors, but those floors go on forever. I’d think I was done, then discover two more ginourmous wings. Of course I got the audio, though I remember little, except:

• I liked the Richard Long and Robert Smithson pictures. Robert Smithson did the Spiral Jetty, which I was obssessed with when it was at the Whitney.

• Meshes in the Afternoon was a totally bizarre surrealist film, but it actually kind of made sense. I could totally see how David Lynch has been inspired by it.

• Francis Bacon died in 1992. I thought he was much older and that he was a contemporary of Max Ernst. They are actually 20 years apart. I really like Francis Bacon’s stuff though a lot of it is disturbing. Maybe because I love horror movies, and see how a lot of them are influenced by his work, like when a face changes to something horrific for a split second.

• Then there was the whole series of works on the manga character Ann Lee from Ghost in the Shell. I’ve never heard of either, but it was still fascinating – the idea of person as a commodity, of having no identity. Of course we couldn’t take picures but I managed to sneak one in:

After the Tate Modern, I needed a break so I headed over to the Cut, which Anthony said was a cool area.  It looked like a fun place to hang out, but aside from one bookstore, I just sort of walked around, then turned around and headed right back.

I wanted to walk back over to where Dali Universe was but got completely lost. Somehow I ventured off the Thames Path, and ended up in a quiet (too quiet) residential area. I saw signs for the Tower Bridge and followed those, but the signs led right onto the Tower Bridge and soon I found myself crossing back over. Dammit!

I was probably kinda museumed out anyway and just took my time walking back to my area. I passed the Tower of London, but didn’t feel like going in, and found St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Very pretty and peaceful, at least not at the main entrance.  Too bad it was too late to go inside.

Then I just meandered my way back. I was wearing my new Keds, which sort of hurt my toes by the end of the day.

For dinner I tried the Japanese place next to the first Korean place I went to. While the food was pretty good, it was overpriced. And there was a 10 pound minimum, boo! I got tamagoyaki, fried noodles with veggies and meat, and a soda for 16 pounds, almost $30! Way too much. I guess it’s not that easy to find cheap eats around here.

All Day 7 pictures.