Sunday, January 10, 2016

Aux Champs Elysee

Visiting Paris reminded me of Joe Dassin's song "Aux Champs Elysee". The main pet peeves for me here too was the cigarette smoking which bothered me so much. Everybody smokes everywhere. Restaurants where smoking is not allowed inside, allow people to smoke outside and all the smoke liberally enters inside so you feel you are sitting besides smokers not in a non-smoking area. The iconic Eiffel tower appears anywhere in the city you look. We saw it from our hotel window at La Defense area. The next tallest building you could see from anywhere was the Sacre Coeur cathedral which is built on top of the Montmatre butte, see the picture to the left. The Notre Dame cathedral is the oldest building in Paris and has lot of history in it. The building was destroyed and vandalized during the French revolution, but was restored afterwards and is still suffering major cracks until today. I visited the Louvre museum. It is so huge, and needs at least three days to see everything, but I managed to see the most important things in it, like the Mona Lisa and Napoleon III furniture.
Transportation within Paris is easy and convenient using the Metro system. If you need to go outside Paris, for example to visit the Versaille palace, then you need to take the RER train. Chateaux Versailles was splendid, and full of treasures that tells the story of the kings of France before the revolution, but then Napoleon made himself emperor and royalty returned to France. In the Concorde square I saw the obelisk that Mohammad Ali of Egypt gave as a gift to France's king in 1829. Moving it from Egypt to France was an engineering feat by itself. You can see the obelisk in the picture to the right. What a magnificent scene.
Walking on the Champs Elysee was fun of course, and eating hot chestnuts in the freezing night was nice (called marron chaud, i.e hot chestnuts). Nothing is left of the Bastille castle except some stones. Two famous gardens we saw were the Jardins de Tuileries, and Jardins de Luxembourg. We went to Cherbourg in Normandi also. It was cold, windy and rainy so it was hard walking outdoors, but we saw the Tapestries of Bayeaux that tell the story of how William (Guillaume) the Conqueror became the king of England in 1090 or so. We also saw the structure that Napoleon built near the shore to ward off the British ships from attacking the Normandi shores.
The picture to the left shows a rustic country scene in Cherbourg, Normandi. The area is famous for dairy products and many variants of cheese and butter. As I said it was damp and cold so the trip to Normandi was marred by the weather elements, although it was a great place to visit. Restaurants in France in general are modest and not that great, which might explain why most French people are skinny.

Lo London!

We arrived London on Xmas day 12/26/2015 and as expected it was wet and cold but not freezing cold, just mild cold. The main thing that bothered me in London (and the same with all European cities) was the cigarette smoking. People smoke at the entrance of buildings so that you certainly passively smoke with them each time you pass by a door. Apart from that, I really enjoyed London, especially the double-deck buses and the friendly people. I can say I saw all the major attractions, namely Big Ben (shown in the picture), Trafalgar square, Picadilly circus, Westminster London Eye, St. Paul's church, Tower of London, Buckingham palace, Hyde Park, Harrods, and the British museum. We climbed St. Paul's cathedral all the way to the top of the dome and saw all of London city from above, see the picture to the left.
The main modern building in London is the Shard building, which was built by a Qatari millionaire. Visiting Harrods was an exquisite experience. A ring sells for 1.2 M pounds, and a bracelet that goes with it sells for 10 M pounds! The London tower is another great attraction. The ancient wall of London lies near it and was built by the Romans around 100 A.D. The bridge opens at certain times to let ships pass under it which is a magnificent scene as you can see in the picture to the right.
The food in London is modest at best unless you eat at an Italian restaurant. Picadilly square is vibrant and live at night, especially we were there during new year eve. It is a circus, thus the name Picadilly circus. We spent three full days in London and stayed in Islington which was central to all the major attractions, and lied next to Angel station which allowed us to use public transportation to go anywhere in the city. Unfortunately there were floods in Wales and Scotland at that time so our trip was limited to London.