Monday, February 17, 2014

Weekly Interlude 29: Fish and Chips and Crêpes, Oh My!

A view of Parliament and Big Ben
It's time I stopped pretending I "travel" around Europe and call it what it truly is: eating my way across a continent. But tell me, between schnitzel and nutella crêpes, pain au chocolat and torte, how can I resist? At least I walk a lot to counteract the lethal effects of the tasty marillen Krapfen (apricot-filled donuts).

And walk I certainly did during my week in London and Paris! Given that I had so little time in London especially, I really had to take advantage of it. I stayed with my cousin in London and left with her at 7:45 a.m. every day, catching the beginning of morning rush hour. Monday saw me walking from the Westminster Bridge to Parliament Square, up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square; then, when I realized the National Gallery didn't open until 10 o'clock, I trekked over to Mayfair, circled down to Buckingham Palace and St. James's Garden, walked up the Mall, past Trafalgar Square again, over to Fleet Street, across the Millennium Bridge to the South Bank, and finally met up with my other cousin for lunch at Borough Market. Even if you don't know exactly where all those places are located, it sounds impressive, doesn't it? Or insane; take your pick. I was even sore the next day!

St. Paul's Cathedral
My London Museum Tally reads as follows:
  • Courtauld Museum -- my aunt received her Master's from the Courtauld Institute and recommended the gallery. Let me pass on the rec to you! It's small with an incredible Impressionist collection and an exhibit on English and German landscapes. Definitely one of my favorites.
  • National Gallery -- it really is all it's cracked up to be! And even though I didn't have a ticket to the van Gogh Sunflowers exhibit, I still caught a glimpse of the painting through an open doorway!
  • National Portrait Gallery -- once I found the entrance (my unbelievably poor sense of direction never fails to amaze me), I walked through some rooms with portraits from the early 20th century, then headed upstairs to portraits from 1960 and on. Think Kate Middleton, Maggie Smith, Ian McKellen, Sir Paul McCartney, Queen Elizabeth, etc.
  • Tate Modern -- not my favorite, seeing as I'm not a huge fan of modern art, but it was interesting nonetheless. I was with my cousin, and it's free, so really, what's not to like?
  • St. Paul's Cathedral -- it's like a museum in its own right. By the time I made it after my long walk Monday morning, my feet were aching, and I couldn't will myself to climb up to the dome. But I did light a candle and visit the crypt, so all in all, a few hours well-spent!
Good thing I'd been to London before, so I didn't feel obliged to visit the British Museum again or the Churchill War Rooms. I did want to see the Imperial War Museum, but it's closed for renovations until July.

The Millennium Bridge
Tower Bridge in the distance
On my first full day in London, the same day as the Superbowl, my cousin and I toured the South Bank and eventually met up with my aunt and other cousin at a pub called the Crown & Cushion to watch a rugby match (Scotland v. Ireland). It was my first rugby match and very exciting! It's like football but more interesting (I know, I know, such a traitor) because the action continues even when somebody's tackled or the ball touches the ground. No whistles blowing every five seconds. Later that evening, my cousin and I went to Palace Theater to see The Commitments, a very fun musical (based on a movie that's based on a book) about some Irishmen who decide to create a soul band. Not heavy on plot, but songs by The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Aretha Franklin kept us dancing!

Trafalgar Square
Buckingham Palace
What struck me most about London was the sheer diversity of it: the people, the food. Every five feet, I had a new option for lunch -- soup and sandwich, Indian food, traditional pub, Mexican food. As incredible as Vienna is, there just aren't as many options (although it is a smaller city than London, to be fair). Vienna is very elegant and traditional, whereas London seems bursting with energy and youth.

Meanwhile, across the Channel lies Paris -- and my friend Kayla. I hadn't seen Kayla in EIGHT MONTHS, so you can only imagine our reunion. I have very vivid (and surprisingly accurate) memories of my last trip to Paris four years ago, when I visited my sister studying abroad, so I was able to navigate my way from Pont de Neuilly to Saint Michel to get a nutella crêpe on the evening of my arrival. There is really nothing like a nutella crêpe from Paris, especially from the Boulangerie with the blue awning on a side street off Place Saint Michel. (I couldn't find the entrance to the National Portrait Gallery, but the random crêpe place in the middle of Paris I had no problem with.)
The view from Kayla's window

The blue-awning crêpe place
Kayla and I alternated between hanging out in her room (which has the most amazing view of the Eiffel Tower) and going to key sites -- Musée d'Orsay, Orangerie, Sacré Coeur, Eiffel Tower. The man at the ticket desk at the d'Orsay informed me that with my UK passport, I could get into most museums for free! (I believe his exact words when I pulled out my passport were, "Oh, this changes everything.") The Impressionist collection on the top floor of the d'Orsay is incredible, and as a huge Impressionist fan, I fell immediately in love. France seems like the right place for Impressionist-lovers, and I spent hours ogling Monet, Cézanne, Sisley, Manet, and Pissarro. I can't yet afford good-quality art, so I settled for buying postcard reproductions of some particularly striking works, and I plan to frame them when I get back to the US.

The view from Sacré Coeur
Monet's Water Lilies at the Orangerie are breathtaking. There are four per room, each stretching along a curve of the white, oval-shaped walls. If you stand a ways back from them, you can see the water rippling and the light dancing across the lavender and cobalt surface; the branches of the willow trees rustle in a breeze you can practically feel when you look at them. The paintings are, in an understated word, fantastic.

Kayla and me at Sacré Coeur
Sacré Coeur on Montmartre offered incredible views of the city. Back when I visited my sister during her study abroad semester, I wasn't allowed in Sacré Coeur because I was wearing shorts (which were, I'd like to add in my defense, longer than some of the skirts people were wearing, and they were still allowed in!). Inside the cathedral, I was slightly less impressed than I thought I'd be. St. Paul's was much more beautiful, though it's pretty subjective, seeing as the two cathedrals are designed in completely different styles. Sacré Coeur is only about a century old and has far less gilded ornamentation than most older cathedrals. It was nice to finally see the interior, however, given how I've wondered about it for four years.

La Tour Eiffel
Sacré Coeur
Kayla and I also visited the Eiffel Tower. No, we did not go up to the top; instead, we did the Eiffel Tower the way it should be done. Aka, we bought two pastries each, plunked ourselves down on a bench, and admired the tower while eating pain au chocolat and croissants d'amande. So. Tasty. Afterwards, we were caught in a brief rainstorm and took shelter under a little awning in the Champs du Mars park before continuing on our way.

In two days, Kayla's coming to visit me in Vienna. The tables will turn, and I can look all impressive as I flaunt my German skills and navigate us effortlessly through the city (just kidding). And, most importantly, I can introduce her to the joys of Sachertorte and Apfel Strudel, Schnitzel and Krapfen. Because, really, we're only in Europe for a couple more months, and there's still so much to eat before we leave.