Showing posts from February, 2009

Je ne parle pas français

We'll always have Paris. —Casablanca Paris smells like cigarette smoke and sounds like coughing and polite conversation and impolite drivers and hurried footsteps. It is larger, denser, and grander than London, full of overblown monuments to French achievements like the Pantheon and the Arc de Triumph, but it's more like a hundred small towns than one big city. Each arrondissement has its own orientation, its own landmarks, and its proudly patroned open markets, pricy cafes, and cheap street food. The Champs Elysées, the Latin Quarter, and the old Hemingway haunts are overrun with high fashion chains and American fast food, but most of Paris has retained its independent boutiques and markets. I can't afford any of it. Everything in Paris costs what it would in a US sports stadium. I saw a slice of pizza for $9, and most sandwiches cost $7. I think this is why Parisians work so hard, are so bitter, and eat so much bread and cheese – a healthy if unsatisfying diet. One Frenc

English Cops Shows & Karaoke

I found that most people who live in Newcastle are untouched by the Norman castle there, the one that looms over the River Tyne between the rail station and the Guildhall. To them the antiquities that all the tourists take pictures of are just rock walls. They want American culture, not this half-rate British ruralism. They are charicatures of the American college student: They drink a lot and start early, and they appreciate the finer parts of cops shows (including domestically produced versions, which are in some ways more violent since nobody has guns so they just beat people senseless with sticks). I stopped in Newcastle for a day on my way back south from Edinburgh to see the castle and the squat remains of Hadrian's Wall. None of the buses were running out to the best sites in the downs, so I settled for the Roman forts in the city itself. The British built a road over Segedunum before they knew it was there and never bothered to move it. It still covers half the buildings an

Scotch Whisky & Irish Breakfast

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world. —Freya Stark Most of the people in my hostel are Aussies or Kiwis on their walkabouts who are staying and maybe working in Edinburgh for several months. They say "Cheers" and "As you do," and only a few of them can afford a plane ticket home. At a whisky store on the Royal Mile I bought a bottle of Islay scotch called Caol Ila that tasted like smoke and seawater and shared it with a New Zealander named Paulie who said it was alright but that the smoothest whisky he had ever tasted a Scotsman doled out from a flask secreted in his belt and had made himself. At an Irish bar, where someone ordered a pint of Guiness at 9:30 Sunday morning, I finally enjoyed a full English breakfast, with bacon, pork sausage, mushrooms, a potato scone, hash browns, baked beans, black pudding, tomato, eggs, and soda bread. The hostel has a kitchen that always smells like exotic cooking, and it makes

London, Leeds, Newcastle, and Edinburgh

People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home. —Dagobert D. Runes I took to travel life pretty quickly. I live out of a backpack that I leave in the hostel under clothes hung up to dry. I wash clothes in the sink. I take my iPod, camera, and passport with me everywhere and aim for one meal a day, after eating breakfast in the hostel. I wanted to start in the UK because I knew I would experience very little "culture shock." It is very similar to the US, and the two-way cultural influence is obvious. Still, I've gotten used to looking the wrong way before I cross the street. On my last night in London I went to Leicester (Lester) Square, where they had set up a reader board to tell drunks about bus services so none ended up sleeping in the gutter. On Saturday I took the train from London to Leeds to visit a friend who is going to the university there. The college is definitely the town's biggest feature, but it also has

Map of London

There's a hole in the world like a great black pit and the vermin of the world inhabit it and its morals aren't worth what a pin can spit and it goes by the name of London. —Sweeney Todd Since arriving in London, I've spent two days in the British Museum, all morning in Hyde, Green, and St James's parks looking for Buckingham Palace amid a hundred half-finished snowmen, fifteen minutes trying to grok a conceptual slab of metal at the Tate Modern, an hour in the middle of a Sri Lankan protest, an evening in the King's Arms pub, and not enough time sleeping -- all on less than $40 a day. London is surprisingly diverse. On the subway to and from the shops in Soho, the royal parks in St James's, the touristy sites on the Thames, and rooms full of antiquities at the British Museum I heard French, Spanish, and a plethora of languages out of Eastern Europe. The city has blocks of Korean, Japanese, and especially Indian restaraunts. The modest Chinatown was crowded whe