Paris & Amsterdam trip, February 2012
The university was kind enough to give us a break from the never-ending cycle of the book and the journal in February, and young Mr Williams and I decided that it would be best spent in Continental Europe. After a touch of debating where to go, and a touch of difficulty in finding available (and reasonably priced) flights, we settled on the cities of Paris and Amsterdam.
This was my second visit to France, and to its glorious capital, and after mixed feelings of the city on my first visit, I again wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Upon arrival at CDG, quick transport on the REB to Gare du Nord, and a quick transfer to another Métro line through to our hostel in Montmartré, it already felt like a more streamlined journey than my last one to the city - where slow regional trains caused frustration straight off bat. Kiel appeared sold when on arrival at our accommodation, he came face to face with the resident cat.
The city is certainly beautiful, and whilst still packed with tourists, was still manageable to a couple of foreigner-averse individuals (never mind the irony). Despite the efficiency of the Métro, we traversed mainly by foot, taking time not just to see, but to feel, to try and understand the nature of the metropolis, and the seemingly innocuous individuals who not only called it home, but importantly made it hum with activity.
Paris left a favorable impression, although I understand it to be a very different city to live in, as opposed to visit. Unlike London, where the city moves due to its nature as a workplace, Paris felt much more segmented between the business intensive La Défence, and the old style urban of the city arrondissements around the Seine.
Having studied some French history, and some French politics, it was enjoyable to be able to put the places, the buildings, and the urban environment to the stories, to impress on my understanding the variously influencing factors of geography and space, and their centrality to making sense of people and events.
Starting each day with pastries and cafe au lait, walking down to the Métro in the cold morning air, armed with naught but cameras and a sense of adventure, I found it hard to believe that we were anywhere but paradise. The ideal vacation for all people is different, but this is where I wanted to be, walking the streets of a beautiful city, taking it the sights, watching people, practicing my very rudimentary French.
We met some very interesting people at the hostel in which we stayed, and the friendliness of strangers, especially when travelling, never ceases to amaze me. I also fell in love, with french onion soup, and have since been working on perfecting my own recipe.
There were many wonderful moments, and I don’t use that term lightly. It was a beautiful time, from wandering through Musée de Louvre, to strolling through Parc Moncéau, to trying to comprehend the sheer size of the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées. Favourites included the above, along with the Ai Weiwei exhibit at the Jue de Paume, strolling casually along the Seine at sunset, along with the gastronomy on offer, and the cheap (and delightful) Bordeaux we consumed at leisure.
After a little bit of difficulty with the train to Amsterdam, we arrived at Centraal late in the evening, and eventually found our way to our accommodation, and our young friend who was there ready to meet us. Already one could feel that this was a very different city, somewhat more gritty, more alive, more debaucherous. The hostel itself was an interesting little thing, a quirky building, with a view out our window over the Oude Kerk, which graced us with a peeling of bells every quarter hour.
Having three in our party in Amsterdam changed the dynamic slightly, which allowed us to split up and head separate ways a few times to explore different sights in the city. Personally, I would always head to the churches than the science museum, and it was nice to be with friends who you know well enough to be comfortable with going separate ways for a few hours.
We hired bikes, rode through the Vondelpark, ate breakfast of baguettes, and explored the multi-faceted city which Amsterdam is, both rough and extremely pretty, both old and new, both industrial and hedonistic. Whilst at times I didn’t feel quite comfortable amongst all this hedonism (the plethora of ‘dirty’ tourists), it was refreshing to be a in such a libertarian and open city. I wish my home town would take some leaves out of the Dutch’s book.
Overall, it was a delightful trip, a time well spent, truly away from the world, without deadline or expectation. It was lovely to be able to spend it with two people dear to me.
Ai Weiwei exhibit at the Jue de Paume
Who is that cutie? - Alf in Amsterdam
Can lockstep, with same expressions and shoes - Kiel & Alf in Amsterdam
Happy after coffee - Alf & Kiel in Amsterdam
Paris - February 18th - 24th 2012, Amsterdam 25th - 28th 2012
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