We may have been influenced by the giant picture of the Eiffel Tower in the Glen’s living room, but for whatever reason we spontaneously decided to spend our last unbooked week in Paris. We booked a cheap hotel near the Gare de Nord, a little ways north of the museum area on the Seine. Our first impressions: Paris is bustling, multi-cultural, dirty and stinky. The Parisians are in need of either more public bathrooms or better self-control. I worried a bit about the security of our hotel, as we had to leave our room key at the desk where it was hung within easy reach of anyone walking in to the usually-empty lobby. But perhaps the cop shop next door helped deter would-be thieves, and at any rate we had no problems in Paris or at any time on our trip. Speaking of security though, one thing that irked me continually through Europe were doors that were locked by key from the inside. A couple times we found ourselves locked inside a building and unable to find the key. Fire hazard much?? Also impenetrable steel bolted bathroom doors in Istanbul, but that’s another story.
Anyway, Paris. I got to speak French (yay!) which I did whenever I could. I’ve hardly ever spoken it outside of school or in the last ten years so it was neat to find it came pretty naturally to me. I felt a delay in understanding people sometimes, like my brain was digging up language data from a deep cache. Conversations were harder, but I could at least get by as a tourist with ease.
Our first day we checked out Notre Dame and walked all along the Seine which was closed off and lined with palm trees and beach chairs for the summer. We ate at Brasseries, had coffee in sidewalk cafes and soaked in the Paris atmosphere. The next we visited an indie game studio Brain Candy who are in the early stages of work on a game using Unity and some seriously bangin art. There isn’t much of an indie community in France so they welcomed us as delegates of sorts. Their game looks pretty promising and they certainly have their shit together. I hope we see them at GDC in San Francisco next year when they’ll have something to show off.
Colin fell unfortunately ill that night and was out of commission for a few days. I worked on my game and explored our neighborhood a little. The first time I went out on my own to buy groceries, I was hit on by two different guys within five minutes of leaving the hotel. Not romantic at all, just like “hey baby, what’s up honey… say lady how you doin?” and walking in step beside me. They went away when I ignored them but I wasn’t keen to explore Paris on my own.
We met up with our friends Natalie and Michael who are also on an extended trip across Europe. We swapped travel stories and got a few ideas from them (maybe Switzerland next time around!). We took in local culture together at the Pompidou modern art gallery. My favorite piece was a miniature city made of rawhide in the Dreamlands special exhibit. I’ve been thinking there’s no point of taking pictures of things like that because everyone else will, but in this case I can’t find a trace of it online. It was really impressive!
Speaking of taking pictures of art, Colin and I finally made it to the Louvre on our last day. We made a beeline to the Mona Lisa which was surrounded by a huge number of people all snapping pictures of it. Colin waded to the front then turned around and took a picture of the crowd instead. I still don’t understand the allure of taking photographs of a famous thing you’ve already seen a thousand times, but I had a bit of evil fun that day getting into people’s photos. We skipped most of the paintings and went for the artifacts instead; the Louvre has an impressive Egyptian collection among other things.
But if you’re geek like us and in Paris for a few days, Colin and I recommend skipping the Louvre and going to the Musee des Arts et Metiers instead. It was, as far as we could tell in the hour before it closed, a wonderland of inventions and scientific instruments from the last few hundred years. A museum of science without all the kiddie stuff.
After Paris, Colin and I had two days in London which we spent in various museums (all, excellent, and have I mentioned that British museums are free??) and at the GBBF: The Great British Beer Festival. We decided that the Canadian version (GCBF) in Victoria is better, but it was close. The Vic one has a nice outdoor venue, lots of seating and the brewers run the stalls themselves, but it’s only two days and this year Saturday sold out within 5 minutes. The London one was six days long and a much larger venue, 3x the beers from 5x the breweries, and had an incredible selection of delicious and reasonably priced food. However, the indoor venue was dull and uncomfortable and the brewers themselves weren’t there; it was set up like an enormous circular bar and many people were drinking by the pint rather than trying as many beers as they could. But we had a great time all the same and drank our fill of warm cask-pulled British beers. We got out early enough to avoid a hangover on our flight back to Canada the next day.
The flight was blissfully uneventful, 9 hours direct from London to Calgary via cheapo Air Transat (really Thomas Cook). It was nothing like the awesome Turkish Airlines flight over but at least it was faster this time. We’re visiting Alan and Meghan now in Cow Town. So, Calgary vs Paris: they both have nice river walks, they both have bars with patio seating, but Calgary it’s hard to get an espresso outside, and Paris has fewer belt buckle stores.