My First Time (in Europe, that is)

Sitting here on the Eurostar waiting to depart the station at St. Pancras I’m thinking about how surreal this all is. Two days ago I was in my office in New York City, speaking with my friends about all the things to do in London, and now two days later I’m on an early morning train to Paris.

In a little over 2 hours I’ll be at the Eiffel Tower. And hopefully by then I’ll be face deep in a croissant too. I’m so hungry.

My first and so far only day in London was spent doing the VERY touristy things. I’m giving myself a pass because, well, I came here to do exactly that. Be a tourist. I passed Parliament, took a million pictures of Big Ben and Parliament. I took a walk over the Thames and rode the London Eye, again taking a million pictures of everything.

I think what I’m enjoying most about my trip is noticing all the small differences between life in the US and life here. It’s just like John Travolta’s character in Pulp Fiction said. “They have all the same shit we got here, but it’s just the little things.” For instance, every store prefers, and makes no bones about it, to be paid by cash or debit. They absolutely do not like credit card purchases. TV here sucks. My hotel’s channel selection is really limited. People here know a lot more languages than their own. That is such a good thing. I was surprised to see so many hotdog, hot peanuts, and waffles. Waffles??! They are sold everywhere. It’s insane. Also, in Union Sq. New York there’s a Pret A Manger (they sell wraps, salads, etc.). There’s just a few in NYC. In London, it’s like McDonald’s. There’s a Pret, or two, on every street! English people really like Americans. That’s a relief too, because I thought since George W. Bush they had good to great reasons to hate all of us.

Continuing on the differences, I feel like the fashion is different here too. It’s not as hipster, which is a very nice change, but in all the Esquire and GQ mags I’ve read over the last few years when they write about European style, they always say it’s effortless. I never really knew what that meant until I got here and saw the men and women around London. “Effortless” is a great word. They’re dressed well, but it doesn’t look at all forced. It’s like the mags say, a couple of good pieces, aided by a few pieces that make it comfortable and all their own. Scarves, hats, a cardigan over a t-shirt, under a tweed blazer, good shoes, it’s all in there. I like it.

Last night, my first night in London, I found myself in an Australian bar. I don’t know what drew me to it exactly, but as I walked the West End exploring the different restaurants, bars, stores, and nooks, this place called “The Walkabout Bar” had a live band, a big crowd and the bouncer was kicking a girl out of the place who was screaming and dropping f-bomb after f-bomb about being removed from the bar. She was, of course, an American. Ugh.

Inside the bar I met Jeff, in Irish guy, and Mel, his English girlfriend. I was given an awful tasting beer by the barman, and Jeff/Mel corrected the situation by providing me with “a proper drink”, a Foster’s. Haha, it was hilarious to me that I traveled all the way to London to have my first Foster’s, “Australian for beer.”

Right now I’m on the Eurostar going what feels like 1,000 miles an hour. I just had a delicious on-train breakfast. It’s surprising how good the coffee is here. I had a tea yesterday while around London doing my touristy stuff. Figured, what the heck, I’m here I may as well have a spot of tea. Outside my window I’m passing through the English countryside. It’s exactly what I hoped to see, marshy, green hills, all fog-covered and rolling. There a few farms and a lot of space.

I know I’m all over the place with this post, but as the thoughts come to me I’m spewing them out onto the keyboard and into this post. Was just thinking about the countryside versus the city of London and how it compares to Long Island versus New York City. London is SPRAWLING. There is a city center, kind of, and it’s where I’m staying in Covent Garden but unlike New York the buildings are all low and there doesn’t seem to be any real concentration of high rises creating a financial center like all American cities have.

So far, I really like this little trip I just decided to do on my own. I think I’m going to do this more. I’m a little annoyed with myself, though. I should have done this years ago. Oh well. I’m doing it now and I guess that’s all that matters now.

Paris is 1 hour away. Wow.

I’m actually in France now. I can’t believe this. I flat out LOVE this feeling and I want more of it. It’s a combination of feeling lucky, in awe, happy, and accomplished.

 

Paris

I just spent an afternoon in Paris. Obviously that’s not nearly enough time to say that “I’ve done Paris” but it’s enough time to know that I want to go back and spend more time there. That is for certain.

Today I went to the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame. I did all that, ate lunch at a brasserie, walked through Rue de Saint Michel and all the little side streets around Notre Dame. I didn’t waste one second. I saw where Napoleon is buried, where France’s government conducts business, AFTER I walked all the steps up the Eiffel Tower. No escalator or elevators for me, nuh-uh.

When I got off the Eurostar I’ll admit that I was nervous about not knowing any French. I saw all these signs written in French and I didn’t hear any familiar voices. I wasn’t scared, but I was nervous. After looking at the signs, though, it really helped that a) I know Spanish b) I have a good memory, and c) I’m not dumb. Turns out there is a lot you can understand about the written French language. Their words share similar roots to Spanish and a lot of English words. My memory also served me well because I was able to say things like “Where is _____?” and “Please”, “thank you”, “Excuse me”, “I am Alex”, “How do you say ____ (insert English word) in French?”. That got me through the day without issue.  Also, I’ve read enough Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast to know the food, so ordering lunch wasn’t an issue either. Yay!

The European lifestyle I’ve been exposed to over the last 40 some odd hours has been so great. I can get used to this and now know that a lot of my future expenses in life are going to be aimed at flights, hotels, and traveling through this continent. Again, I’m upset I didn’t do this sooner, but it truly is better late than never in this case. My next trip back will be in a couple of months, or less. I’m going to try Spain and Portugal next. I know more than enough Spanish to get by and I’ll probably get enough Portuguese by virtue of my Spanish to do just fine there too.

 I think the thing I liked so much about Paris, aside from everything, was that at lunch I saw an older couple at the table next to me order a carafe of white wine and escargots. It was 3pm on an overcast Sunday in the nice little neighborhood to the East of the Eiffel Tower. Nothing special, but in the US that midday snack would be out of place. I loved seeing it.

Like any other country, where there are tourists there are people trying hard to take advantage of them. Even in Mexico, or Times Square, (yes I compared Mexico to Times Sq.) I’ve never seen as many people trying to sell me the same garbage as I did at the foot of the E. Tower. It was insane how many people not only approached me trying to sell me a shitty little plastic tower, but some actually reached toward my head to REMOVE MY HEADPHONES in order to speak to me!!! I was SHOCKED by that. I couldn’t believe the audacity. There had to be 20,000 people at the foot of the tower, waiting in line, taking pictures, walking down or through, whatever. There had to be at least 300+ people all selling the same garbage. Again, I’ve never seen that before.

All in all, Paris is beautiful and I’m saying that having been there today, during an overcast, windy, 45-degree day. I can’t imagine how much nicer a time I’ll have when I go back in the summer.

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