Monthly Archives: September 2011

Old Cheese and River Festivals

Last weekend (September 9–11) was a relatively quiet one in London.  Here are a few highlights:

We Wanted to Be the Sky

Friday

After the usual doldrums of work I met J and his coworker at their office so we could all head to one of the oldest pubs in London together.  Rebuilt in 1666 (it had burned down earlier), Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has been in London longer than America has been a nation.  Currently operated by Samuel Smith brewery (J likes this) the pub is near Chancery Lane tube stop on Fleet street.  The rooms are small and convoluted, but numerous–there is at least 3 stories and a basement. We grabbed a pint from one of their many bars and walked down into the basement, which was used in a scene in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (he was a frequent customer).  We ordered our traditional British pub food (meat pies and fish n chips) and enjoyed the atmosphere.  After finishing our meals and moving back to the ground floor to explore more of the rooms (all decorated with strange but very pub like things–fishing pictures, portraits of unknown famous people and even the parrot, stuffed, that lived there from 1896-1920).  I ended up making friends with some English, Polish and Austrian people and we chatted the rest of the night away with them outside.

Drinking fresh coconut water for the first time

Saturday

On Saturday J and I woke up and went off to explore the Mayor’s Thames River Festival.  After tubing to Westminster and walking across the bridge we strolled the riverbanks taking in the people, awesome food stalls, interesting exhibitions and little shops.  One of my favorite sights was a set up for one of those dance video games where they were trying to get the crowd to join in, the first time we walked by the only one dancing was a little old lady and she was there–loving it–the entire day. J and I both loved the food stalls–too many to choose–after splitting a coconut water (to stave off hunger) we split a box of Mexican food and some arancini balls (fried rice balls filled with cheese and goodies), but we coveted Polish sausages, Ghanaian food, indian spiced burgers and mountains of home-made fudge.

Southwark Cathedral, London's oldest gothic cathedral

Taking a detour from the main route we popped into Borough Market (a famous weekly market of food and goodness), passed by Shakespeare’s Globe and explored the inside of Southwark Cathedral.  It was beautiful, all of the gothic architecture I love from Notre Dame and Westminster Abbey (though different of course) but with the light of some more recent cathedrals.  It was pretty cool to walk around inside knowing how central it has been to England’s history. Many famous people have worshiped there and Shakespeare even lived there for a time.

We ended our walk by passing by the London Bridge (more boring than I thought it would be) and crossing over Tower (of London) Bridge (which looks like what I think London Bridge should).  It was pretty amazing all and all.  I can’t wait to explore more of that area and actually go inside the Globe and Tower of London.

Tower Bridge

Sunday

Sunday was a quiet day of reading and football. It was the 10th anniversary of September 11th and I wrote a little bit about my reaction to that here.

Next weekend: Vienna, Austria!

Vienna City Hall

 

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Processing Hate

It is hard for me to deal with hate. I have a big heart and even bigger empathy for just about everything.  I can cry at a commercial, friends once told me a joke about a hunchback and teased me for saying “awww poor thing” at the punch line (I also detest Helen Keller jokes). It is hard for me to deal with hate because it leads to violence and not only are my morals and values against that, but my academic upbringing.

In the past two days I’ve had trouble processing hate that I’ve seen around me. Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and people around the world remembered it in different ways, I’m sure not all “good.” I had to stop watching the NYC ceremony to avoid crying all day.  It feels strange to do that for children that haven’t seen their parents but participating in the reading when I did not lose anyone myself. Like I was making more out of my empathy for them than their grief.

Here in London a smaller, but just as bittersweet, ceremony took place at the small 9/11 memorial across a park from the US embassy. There were police all around the park as I am sure there were around many US embassies around the world yesterday, but in London there were also anti-US radical muslim demonstrators. Now, I have given this group as much benefit of a doubt as I can and probably more than most people. I believe in free speech, but I couldn’t help but feel anguish and disgust as they burned a US flag and said awful things through a loudspeaker during the ceremony’s moment of silence, during families’ grief.

Later, actually the first time I saw them, part of this group walked up my street, directly below my window surrounded by police (probably to keep the peace between them and anyone who disagrees with them). At the time (before I heard about the ceremony disrupting) I tried to believe that they may be people I don’t agree with but not necessarily aggressive.  Plenty of people in the US say crazy things (such as those who blame homosexuals for hurricanes), so I wanted to believe that these people could be just like them. Unnerving, irritating but overall harmless.

Today, I read in the news that the english and muslim radical groups got into a pub fight at the other end of our street and two people were stabbed. I realize this is just a solitary crime and the police were there within moments (there’s also a police station on our street), but I couldn’t help but feel a little afraid.

All that hate that I was trying to “understand” or be somehow “tolerant” of the day before had reared its head in a very ugly way.  Now, from what I read the english group started the fight and there are no details on from which group the victims where, but hate is hate whether or not it is english or muslim.

I’m reminded of an anti-muslim protest that took place about 6 months ago in California. Mostly white and Christian demonstrators yelled very offensive and ignorant things at muslim civilians as they gathered for a hunger charity event. I was outraged as I watched the videos and confounded on how people within my own country could be so hateful and misguided in their targeting.

Then I turn back to the last 24 hours. How can I reconcile these two events? What is the balance between demonstration and public safety? (Something I’m sure London has thought a lot about lately). When is it right to limit free speech?

—–

It is difficult for me to digest hate. I always seem acutely aware of the pain such violence causes. I have been taught to be tolerant of other cultures and opinions. I have learned to try to see another’s point of view. But sometimes, I know that despite the circumstances that drove a person to act, their act is indisputably wrong. I only wish there were an easier way to prevent such hatred, no matter what group it is against.

Four Days in Paris

Sorry for making you wait over a week for this post. Note: I’m too lazy to put in symbols on French words, please don’t tell my French teacher.

Paris. The city of love. The city of lights. For us, it was the city of food and walking related injuries. From Friday August 26 to Tuesday August 30 J and I toured around Paris and ate as much food as possible.

Walking along the Seine towards Notre Dame

Friday

We took the train into Paris Friday night arriving around 10 pm.  The trip is pretty quick, about 2.5 hours, and if it weren’t so dark it is generally through nice countryside (except when you’re in a pitch black tunnel underwater). We managed to get from the train station to our hotel without getting lost. I was amazed at seeing graffiti within the metro tunnels all the way there–I’m too cowardly for that. After checking in and putting down our stuff we walked around the neighborhood near our hotel, which was near the Bastille.  We happened upon a street full of young people, clubs and bars (Perhaps Davan Street?) and walked down it taking in the youth culture here.  We found a small, quiet bar and sat outside to watch the evening’s events.  After a couple glasses of wine and the beginning of a storm we headed back to our hotel (successfully!).

Notre Dame from the back

Saturday

Saturday Morning we work up around 9:30 am and took a few hours to actually rouse ourselves (we are on vacation people!). We walked towards the Bastille and then along a canal that led to the Seine.  We were hoping to find breakfast on the way, but didn’t manage to find anything until we walked to the Ile de la Cite (where Notre Dame is). Henri IX was a cute little cafe with glass doors for walls that were all open to the sun. We walked through the “wall” to sit at a little table and were able to order breakfast in French with few issues. Afterward we walked towards Notre Dame from the garden that is behind it and went around to stand in its surprisingly fast entrance line. It’s free to enter, but pictures aren’t allowed inside (sorry! I respect rules when it comes to old art). Needless to say we both thought it was amazing. Very dark with high and narrow corridors on either side of the nave (which was mostly blocked off as private-they don’t like tourists trespassing all over the altar/choir area). Beautiful stained glass windows and chapels for different saints and purposes. We saw people had climbed above its rose window for the view when we were outside, but could not find any line, stairwell or ticket sales for getting up there!  We gave up and left, walking to the other end of the island and crossing to the other side of the Seine.

Our walk along the Seine

We walked on a path right next to the river for a while, looking at the house (and tour) boats and the view. J has decided to own one such boat someday, I think he better learn to drive one first. As we continued down, somewhat in the direction of the Eiffel Tower, we passed the Louvre (on the opposite bank), the National Assembly, the Musee d’Orsay and Hotel Invalides.  We didn’t stop at any of these places, the goal of the day was to just take everything in.  From the Hotel Invalides we could see the Eiffel Tower and crossed a few roads away from the river to follow its shadow through the city streets. Luckily it was August and Paris was mostly empty since everyone was on holiday. This gave the streets a really unique and somehow cheerfully eerie feel. The Tower was further away than I expected (silly ill-estimated assumptions), but we came out of its surrounding garden right next to it. J even said, oh its right there!  We walked towards it, under it, refused to stand in lines that long and eventually walked away from the Tower back across to the other side of the river.

I was not allowed to ride the carousel under the Eiffel Tower

In an effort to speed up this discussion, we wandered around the streets of Paris with a general direction of the Arc de Triomphe.  It began to pour as soon as it was in sight (though, again, still far away) and we hid in a restaurant and at a cheese platter (stinky) with some red wine (trying to be as French as possible) until the rain stopped. Or so we thought. The closer we got to the Arc the more it rained. We rain for cover in the subway (underground pedestrian walkway for those in the US) that leads to the Arc, but decided it wasn’t worth the money to go under it. You could see it well from the other side of the traffic circle it is in. After the rain stopped for good (maybe) we walked down the Champs-Elysees (if you’re following my direction, now in the general direction of our hotel).

My effort to capture the Arc de Triomphe while dashing across a street in the rain

The Champs-Elysees was much different than I had pictured it.  Not a somewhat quiet avenue of high end designer shops and cafes that I would be too poor to walk on, but a wide traffic filled (both cars and people) boulevard with a whole range of stores and restaurants for almost every taste (though the most expensive stores are much further down and not directly on the Champs-Elysees). We started off the avenue to visit the petit and grand Palais, which are both beautiful buildings and to walk towards a strange obelisk we had seen from across the river. The obelisk ended up being one of Cleopatra’s needles (the other surviving ones are in NYC and London) which was placed in front of Alexander the Great’s tomb. It was pretty amazing that it still stood and you could make out the hieroglyphics so clearly. It was actually at the spot where Marie Antoinette and King Louis the XVI were executed.

The Obelisk and surrounding area

As you can see the obelisk/execution site is in the middle of a grand square and directly across from the National Assembly (not pictured), connected by a bridge across the Seine. We actually didn’t quite figure out what all those buildings behind the Obelisk are used for…Anyway, from there we toured a church dedicated to Saint Madeline and walked to the Opera house.  By this time it was evening, so we needed to walk through the ritzy store areas to get to our dinner reservations on the Champs-Elysees.  We ate at Fouquet which as been in that spot for probably 100 years and was very popular among movie stars and politicians in the last 50. The food was fancy and interesting (pureed celery with lime gelatin and shrimp anyone?), but perhaps not my favorite of the trip. We ended the evening with a long walk back to our hotel along the river stopping to look at statues along the way.

That's right, 4 America themed restaurants in one!

Sunday

Sunday started with walking north of our hotel to find a brunch place, Le Comptoir General, recommended to J by a coworker. The “brunch counter” (which may best describe it) was in the bottom of a private owned hotel and decorated with old school (literally) tables and chairs, an outdoor garden, loft charity library, and an “exhibit of curiosities.” Brunch was an Afro-French themed, eggs scrambled with chicken and veggies, salad, plantains, grilled pineapple, baguette with jam/Nutella, coffee (hot Nesquick for me), mango juice and creamy cheese (I’ve only seen this kind of cheese in Europe) with mango “syrup” for desert. It was a little pricey, but we were full and it was an enjoy atmosphere (plus an interesting french speaking experience).

Sacre Coeur

Afterwards we took a long walk through the streets of north(ish) Paris towards Sacre Coeur, we didn’t really check the map much and just relied on our instincts.  As the weekend progressed it was proven that mine were better than J’s (most of the time). It was interesting to see a less tourist-oriented and perhaps more dirty part of town.  This all ended of course as soon as we neared Sacre Coeur where the narrow street around it were vibrating with throngs of tourists and people selling cheap souvenirs to them (also, perhaps pickpocketers). We climbed through a park towards Sacre Coeur which sits on a hill, we were a bit tired by the time we got to the top.  It was worth it though. Once inside (short line, also free) the cathedral is much more open and light than Notre Dame and very beautiful.  I still prefer Notre Dame for its intricate gothic style architecture, but it was great to roam Sacre Coeur as well, I’d recommend it. We figured out (after scouring the inside of the cathedral we saw a sign outside the exit) that we could visit the crypt and climb to the dome by going around the building.  We paid to see both (overall worth it) and went into the crypt first.  The Crypt was not like most I’ve been in (musty, chlaustrophobic, creepy) but it was pretty cool (open, dark, filled with statues and treasures instead of dead people). There were pictures of the Dome’s interior freizes showing Christ’s judgment, carrying of the cross and crucifixion which was pretty cool because you couldn’t see them with your naked eye inside.  Then we walked up 300 narrow, spiral stone steps (some were outside over roofs of lower parts of the church) to get to the dome. Not recommended for those that are not average weight and somewhat able to move themselves for long periods of time. But when we got there we saw this:

One view from Sacre Coeur's dome

from 360 degrees (not at once, we did have to walk around the dome silly). It is the best view in Paris (besides from the top of an ugly modern office building that people wish wasn’t built, not pictured). After we got our fill of the view (I did not want to live that view/fresh air for the narrow stairs at all!) and wound around to the ground we took our time in the Cathedral’s gardens before setting back towards what we came to think of city center–the Champs-Elysees and Opera House. We looked for a traditional bistriot to eat in, but alas, it was Sunday and most everything was closed. We did stop at Laduree a famous (and old–late 1800s) pastry shop and restaurant with killer macaroons.  We hoped for dinner but were 1.5 hours early so settled for the best macaroons in the world. I would recommend the Venezuelan chocolate, violet-black currant, and rose (I would not shut up about this rose and I just found out they have a store in London! Yum!).  Somewhere between the Opera House, Champs-Elysees and Eiffel Tower I notice that my left hip started to hurt (I think I strained a hip flexor) that’s what I get for walking near 15 km and climbing 600 stairs a day. (Yes, it seems like we get everywhere really fast, but we were easily averaging over 15 km/9 miles a day). After ending up at the Eiffel Tower still without a real meal we wandered the southern part of its grounds (near the military school) and watched what seemed to be spontaneous Michael Jackson dancers for a while (4 year old kid dancing super well=adorable!). By walked through the streets near the tower we found a restaurant where J got his steak-frites and I got a pizza.  We walked American tourists that were more annoying than us and the French customers’ reactions to them before walking (or limping) back home. *Also my camera died despite being fully charged before we left right about here, so the rest of the pictures are from our first few days.*

Me on a bridge in front of the Eiffel Tower, of course

Monday

Today was J’s birthday! Hooray! He also had a work-related meeting in the city (boo), but we had a too expensive lunch (too late for breakfast) at the Cafe de la Paix (23 euro turkey club, yea that’s $33) before he met a coworker and went off to work.  I’ll give you the more interesting story of the afternoon which was my exploration of the Louvre (note: if you having been wearing bad shoes for 3 days of extreme walking and strained your hip climbing stairs, you should probably wait until you heal. I on the other hand am extreme, or stubborn. My mother would say stubborn.) [Insert picture of Louvre that I couldn’t take here]

Instead why don't you enjoy this picture of 3 landmarks in 1

The Louvre was amazing and the line, while long, actually went really quickly.  I managed to get in for free. Hooray my very expensive UK work visa may pay off yet (I just need 150 more Louvre trips…)! I started with going to see my favorite greek sculpture Nike of Samothrace and the Mona Lisa (though I’ve seen it before) so that I could “see” it for J. Then I left those areas because I couldn’t deal with the crowds on top of my hip for the Apartments of Napoleon III (some super fancy rooms!) and the ruins of the original Louvre Palace (did you know it was a castle complete with dungeon in the Middle Ages?). I spent most of my time in the Egyptian area (in part because I couldn’t figure my way out) looking at Sphinxes, tombs, stele and even a mummy (Belgium had some cooler ones…). I met J about 2 hours later in the Louvre’s “courtyard” and we metro’d back to our hotel stopping at a bakery nearby for some delicious birthday snacks. After looking up how much houseboats cost in the hotel and yelping a place for dinner, we walked to a nearby Chez Papa (small chain in Paris). The food is southwestern french cuisine and the menu was mostly unreadable even with J and my’s 10 semesters or so of French class combined. I finally encouraged J just to order anything and have fun in the surprise and OHMYGOSH this was my favorite meal in Paris. I don’t know if I was just starving or sick of fancy food or what, but my Duck Avergnate was phenomenal. It was basically a little pot filled with scalloped potatoes, cheese, ham and duck that had all been cooked in this delicious sauce I couldn’t place.  Even though I was stuffed I wanted seconds, I still want it, I will want it everyday until I have it again. I already looked to see if they are in London (sadly, no). I’m a little obsessed. J liked his food too, but I don’t think he was/is as crazy as I am. We walked around the neighborhood again before going back to the hotel for the evening.

A street and church in Paris

Tuesday

Our last day in Paris! It was a sad day, though I was glad to be going somewhere where I had more than 1 pair of shoes and didn’t have to wear the same sweater everyday.  We woke up early to pack and check out and set off for brunch at another coworker recommended place after locking up our luggage in the locker the hotel provided. The restaurant, Le Loire dans le Theiere, was in the neighborhood nearby the Bastille. I think we got there between their breakfast and lunch rush (it was a weekday) because they were cleaning and eating themselves when we walked in. We were soon joined by a few other tables so I did not feel so awkward disrupting their lunch. We shared bread with jam and a pear-rosemary (interesting, but not my favorite) tart. We practiced our European dining customs by lounging at the table for quite a while after we finished before heading out to explore the neighborhood.  We only had about two hours until we had to go collect our bags and catch the train, so we simply walked around parks, went into little stores and followed path along the canal to the Seine (we got to go through the lock between them too, I think that’s what its called). We made it all the way to Notre Dame and paid to go into its archaeological crypt which detailed what life was like on the Ile de la Cite before modern times. It was interesting, but not necessarily worth the money unless you’re into ruins or perfectly fluent in French (which I am not). On the way home we stocked up on meat and sweet pastries to eat as a linner or drunch before our train came.

That pretty much summarizes all our trip to Paris.  I really enjoyed it there and would like to live there for at least 6 months at some point in the future. It was pretty hard for me go back to London, it made things sink in–‘I’m actually living here for two years not just traveling’ and ‘I could use a better job’–but overall I’m happy to be here and excited to go back to Paris soon!

End of day baguettes? Throw them in the pond, the fish will eat them!

There won’t be a blog post about this past weekend (September 2-4), it was mainly college football with friends, another visit to my favorite pub (Prince Regent) and getting our dryer fixed (what do you mean you didn’t realize we couldn’t wash clothes for the last two weeks?!?).