Kenyon College

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bright Orange Magic Heat Stand

Apart from the above feature,

in short, London is better than Paris.

In long:

I spent the holiday season here in the UK, with a brief jaunt to Paris for the New Year. No going home for me, so my close friend Karl came to visit for a little while. Some of these days were spent battling the crowds circa Boxing Day on a desperate mission for boxed stuffing (it exists, though it is quite strange.)

Also accomplished:
  • Cream tea in the Georgian Tea Rooms in Topsham. It was a lovely day, with sharp sunlight in a blue sky and crisp, cold air. There was a crowd of waterfowl babbling on the river's edge, all around an old man (nicknamed the Duck Whisperer) from whose hands fell bread crumbs like gifts from above.
  • A visit to the Boston Tea Party in Barnstaple. Due to immense curiosity about other Boston Tea Parties (and having visited the BTP in Bath), we took an excursion to a place whose name was always called out as a destination on train services, but where I had never been and about which I knew nothing. It took about an hour for the train to amble through sheep-speckled countryside. Barnstaple is quite charming; a smaller version of Exeter, it is superior because it is not filled with university students. The BTP was also nice, with friendly staff and interesting artworks, and a veggie burger that was the bee's knees.
And now, the holiday:


Wet. Wet! Wet. We stayed here for two nights, and as both nights approached we were found with soaking wet feet, tromping around the glistening streets, drizzle floating around our faces. The first day we checked into our hotel, and it was quite spare. Not only that, it was icy despite the radiator going at full blast. It was impossible to be in that room without being bundled in thirty-seven blankets. Nevertheless, we both look back fondly on that poorly furnished, poorly painted room, I suspect because it was dry, and in the morning, our socks would be warm from sitting on the radiator.

Some things in London:
  • We went to a pub and had a pint. The simple pleasure of this cannot be discounted.
  • The second day, we rose, got ready, and spent the entire day traipsing about London. The word "traipsing" paints a pretty picture of our feet at the end of the day - make no mistake, they were completely dead, and completely soaked. I took Karl on a speed tour of what I knew of London, which included most of the typical tourist spots, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, and as darkness fell, and as our feet began to give their death rattles, we visited Camden Market. For food, in the morning there were huge delicious crepes, and in the evening, Thai food. It was a good day, and London showed itself well.
  • Next day, a mad rush for the Eurostar train (we had forgotten the security procedures of leaving the country) and an uncomfortable journey to:



No, that's not fair. To be honest, the cards were stacked against Paris from the start. We only had one day and night there. Our feet were already miserable from the toll the London streets took on them, and I was grumpy from travel, and it was cold. But, even so, from the beginning Paris made me uncomfortable. Unreadable street signs fading on the sides of buildings, hordes of panhandlers with long faces and rattling cups, looking to take advantage of tourists, chaotic and confusing traffic (how strange to see traffic flowing in the "normal" way again! Not as comforting as you might think. The "other" way has become reassuring.) Oddly enough, I longed for the relatively orderly and composed nature of British motorists, the familiarity of the street signs, and the feeling of being not a tourist.

However, speaking French (what little I could use confidently) was easy enough, and a moment of joy in my day was when I carried out a transaction in Starbucks entirely in French.

Of course, Paris was beautiful, but it was also cold, cramped, and nerve-wracking. The Seine was remarkable, as was the way the night sky wasn't dark at all, but a pale orange color. Our speed tour of Paris took in the Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower. All of these things were grandly lit, and the Eiffel Tower was freaking out in preparation for the New Year's celebrations.

When it came time to make the decision whether to stay at the Eiffel Tower until midnight, I considered the chill air, my wet and aching feet, and the press of people accumulating around the Tower. Curling up in the hotel bed and watching the Eiffel Tower on television seemed much preferable to continuing the state of things as they were, and so that is what we did, and it was a good New Year's spent in warmth and comfort.

But then there was the next day, when we had to spend a very long time in the Gare du Nord. The thing that saved us was the aforementioned Bright Orange Magic Heat Stand of the title of this blog. They were stationed at intervals near the train platforms, and attracted people like moths. The Gare du Nord was colder than Paddington, yet it so kindly offered these warm pillars around which people could gather sadly. We did this, and then we were able to leave.

So that is how I spent the 29th, 30th, and 31st of December, and the 1st of January. Here are some photographs (please click for the big versions) to make up for my unfavorable review of Paris. I'm sure it's glorious if you're up for it, but I really wasn't.



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