I got better! And so I went with the other American students to Paris on Thursday night. It was a very cool city! Something about it seemed sleek, modern, full of neat nooks and crannies, and worth exploring. Why did I think it wouldn’t be? I don’t know. It’s kinda passe. You know, Amsterdam is the new Paris, and Prague is the new Amsterdam (and Kiev is the new Prague). It’s so 20 years ago.
That of course doesn’t make sense, because really, none of those cities are the new anything else.
The Latin Quarter in particular stands out, maybe because it’s the only area we had time to explore. And we saw the Louvre, which is overwhelming of course, but I saw a lot of cool things and promptly forgot most of them. Here’s where I pretend to be actually knowledgeable about art or some nonsense, and list a couple favorites, though:
- the Wedding Feast at Cana, by Veronese, which was in the same room as the Mona Lisa, and more interesting in my opinion. (plus it was huge- maybe that had something to do with it- and I hadn’t seen pictures of it 100 times before)
- the paintings of the four seasons by Nicolas Poussin, with the seasons depicted as Bible scenes.
- well, the Code of Hammurabi, because it’s kind of cool to be looking at the oldest system of law in recorded history.
Saw Versailles too, and wished I had more time to see the gardens, and also wished it was a time when trees had leaves. Also the Hall of Mirrors was being renovated.
Umm… the trip itself was kind of terrible. There were about 15 of us students, and we were ferried around on a bus. We had to stay together for most things. I mean, we’d get to Versailles, and they’d say “go see Versailles, and meet back here before lunch in 2 1/2 hours” and then we’d all go to the same place for lunch, etc. Ever been on a guided bus tour like that? It’s pretty much the worst. We ate at a couple mediocre restaurants (didn’t even get to try any of the famous French food, beyond a crepe here and a quiche there), and they tried to do stuff like walk through the Latin quarter with 15 people, and someone would stop in a shop, we’d all wait. What?! Please, we’re adults! It was killing me. I didn’t even get to go to Chez Berthillon! At the same time, I felt so sorry for our two young guides from the CES, so I didn’t want to make too much trouble, but I had to just leave a couple times. What’s wrong with “meet at ____ at 4:00”? Or even “Have a good day, see you at breakfast tomorrow”?
And finding people to travel with may be difficult. A lot of students here (and I’m just saying; I’m not comparing or disparaging or anything) seem to like to party more than explore. I like partying fine, too, but when I’m visiting a city like Paris, I want to get up kinda early, go see Paris all day, walk a lot through interesting neighborhoods, eat some French food, and try to get some kind of a feel for the city. Probably collapse into bed relatively early, because I will be tired. Drinking, clubbing, partying… I could do those anytime (and they’re not my favorite things in the first place!). Not so big a deal when I’m traveling.
I think a good idea is this: pick a spot and say “I’m going to _____. I’m planning on getting up relatively early, walking a lot, speaking as little English as possible, exploring as much of the city as possible, maybe going to museums or whatever sounds interesting, not necessarily staying out late and partying… who’s with me?” Everyone will probably say “Yeah! I want to go to ____ too!” and 15 people will want to go. Then I’ll have to clarify. Hopefully this will work out.
(note that I’m not saying I don’t want to go to bars or drink or whatever; just not in place of what I’m there to do)
So… in general, any Maastrichters who are reading this, anyone want to go to ____ with the above strategy? I’m thinking of starting with Benelux, Germany, France, Switzerland, and Austria (can you tell I just bought a 5-country railpass?).
In the meantime, next week is Amsterdam. Awesome city (or so I hear); don’t want to be herded around. We’ll see how it goes.
This does sound pretty awful, actually. In general, there’s almost nothing worse than going to touristy spots in a European city with a group of loud Americans…you have to put up with all those drunken photos next to Notre-Dame as the girls scream “PARIS 07!!! Friends 4Ever!” (I’m not sure how you would say “4Ever” out loud, but anyway…)
But of course, you have to do the touristy things at some point or another, and many of them are awesome (i.e., the Louvre).
But indeed, there is so much more to Paris that I’d say you’d need at least two weeks to get a good, appreciative feel for the city. If/when I go back for music school, you’ll have to come back and we’ll try to do it up right.
I’ll give you my cousin’s number if you want! She’s European–you could eat lunch with her in Amsterdam or something, and she *might* be able to give you some contacts in Maastricht (assuming most Dutch people know each other). At the very least, she might be able to take you out with Europeans, if you’re trying to meet more of them.
Wow, this was a long comment. I’ll send you a real email at some point soon.
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