things i learned

While abroad in Paris, London, the Czech Republic, and Barcelona, I learned many things about cultures different from my own. Since I returned home to Texas, my family and friends have been asking me about my time in Europe. Is it true that Parisians walk around town with an armload of hot, fresh baguettes? (Yes, especially at lunchtime.) Was British beer the most delicious we had ever tasted? (Sadly, no. Washington State’s beer reigns supreme.) How did you get through the rural areas of the Czech Republic without knowing the language? (Luckily, we managed to find a couple of English speakers.) What color was the Barcelona beach water? (Mostly blue, with a tinge of green. And very, very clear.) Well, I have compiled a top-ten list of my most surprising discoveries:

  1. Certain Parisian stereotypes are absolutely true: Men and women, as a whole, are very skinny. However, I suspect it is due mostly to their chain-smoking and alcohol-imbibing habits, not their responsible diets. With all of those appetitite suppressants, how can they possibly eat dinner?
  2. To the French, the English phrase “I see you” translates to “I understand your innermost self.”
  3. French food can get boring. Shocking, but true. Any spice, especially anything hot, is used with extreme caution or not at all.
  4. Londoners are actually very nice people. (Apparently their reputation says otherwise?) Also, they are very tall people!
  5. In the Czech Republic, it is perfectly acceptable, even encouraged, to drink beer at as early as ten in the morning. Yes, even on a Sunday. (Before mass? After mass? Good question.)
  6. In Czech, there are about ten different meanings for the word prosím, including 1) Please, 2) Here you are, 3) You’re welcome, 4) What did you say?, 5) I’ll have… The list goes on (and on).
  7. Czech food mostly consists of meat and bread dumplings, not meat and potatoes. Maybe potatoes are more of a German thing?
  8. Catalan and Spanish are not at all the same language. Seth and I shared a hostel room in Barcelona with a couple of girls from Buenos Aires, and they admitted they could not understand a thing.
  9. Squid ink does not really taste like anything. It is jet black and kind of creepy looking, but it is actually very mild on the tongue.
  10. I want to live in Barcelona. I want to live there really, really badly.
Also! As an extra treat, I have finally uploaded photos from the rest of my trip. To see pictures from the Czech Republic, click here:
To see pictures from Barcelona, click here:

london calling

Seth and I had an amazing time in London! We walked a ton, saw amazing architecture both old and new, and we ate our weight in surprisingly scrumptious pub food.

Although most of the memories are all sunshine and roses, the first hour of our trip was a partial disaster. We missed our train out of Paris! Can you believe it? Stupid us, we did not factor in enough time for security and passport checks. Luckily, our frantic, panic-stricken faces earned us tickets on the next train out only an hour and a half later, which put us in London a little after ten in the morning. (And, bonus, we did not have to pay extra!)

Once we arrived in London, we dropped off our things at the hostel and caught the tube to the Mall. We walked along the street, watching groups of tourists sprint between Saint James and Buckingham Palace. After the Changing of the Guards, we hurried away from the chaos to Westminster Abbey, the UK Supreme Court, and the Houses of Parliament. We stopped for a quick lunch before continuing on our path. We walked across a couple of bridges and meandered around the Palace of Whitehall before visiting Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. The firm I worked for in Philadelphia, Venturi Scott Brown & Associates, worked on the 1991 Sainsbury Wing addition of the project. I was so ecstatic to finally see it in person and hug the building’s postmodern columns. After my geeky architecture moment, Seth and I took the tube to Baker Street for a beer. We ultimately settled on this cute little place on a side street. The bartender recommended a couple of “warm” beers for us, “warm” meaning not super-carbonated. They were delicious. Afterwards, we walked just down the street to The Golden Hind, a fish-n-chips-only restaurant. They served cod n chips, salmon n chips, halibut n chips… Yum! When I saw my dinner, I was glad I had eaten a small lunch. The fried fish took up my whole plate and then some!

The next day, we woke up early to visit the exteriors of the Royal Opera House, the British Museum, Inigo Jones’s Saint Paul’s Church, and Christopher Wren’s Saint Paul’s Cathedral. We walked in and around several markets and enjoyed a long lunch at a pub. Neither Seth nor I could resist the generous helping of sausages and mash on the menu. Bellies full, we rested for a bit before taking the tube to the West End. We slowly weaved through the streets, stopping to look at shop windows and restaurant menus. (Yes, even though we had just eaten a huge lunch. I can look at restaurant offerings any time!)  We managed to find the Chinatown, and we made a pact to come back the next day for a dim sum lunch. (Dim sum is hard to find in Paris! I know it exists, but it just seemed to be so much more legitimate in London.) That evening, we settled in a pub for a pint of Guinness and a beef pie. Who says British food is bland? I adored the hearty meats, mashed potatoes, gravy (!!!!!), and cooked red cabbage. As much as Seth and I were looking forward to eating some of the best Indian food on the planet (you know, outside of India), we had eaten a little too much of it in Paris and had grown somewhat sick of it. Oh well.

For our last day, we went on a self-conducted architectural tour. We saw the Gherkin, the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, and City Hall. We then enjoyed a dim sum lunch and bubble tea (!) before heading to Kensington Gardens. We worked off some of the calories from our lunch by chasing squirrels and puppies. (Okay, so maybe I was the only one who did that.) Despite the clouds, we had a really wonderful day.

I was sad to leave, but my joyous memories of London will last forever. Who knows, maybe I will be back next summer for the Olympics?

Oh, and if you would like to see more photos from the trip, click here: