By now, I can safely assume that others are settled back into the routine workflow of classes and whatnot, but as for me, I find myself still having to come to terms with the fact that Spring Break is officially over. Maybe I just need a couple more days (or the end of this post) to find some closure. My Spring Break adventures were set in the charming cities of London and Paris, one a city I’ve always had a desire to visit and the other a city I’ve been in love with since childhood.
My accomplice, we’ll just call her J-Boog, and I arrived in London at the witching hour of 3:00 AM on Saturday at our hostel in the South Kensington area, after an extensive journey into the city center from Stansted Airport. Honestly, this was my first hostel experience, so I did not really know what to expect, but it was definitely interesting to say the least. After clearing up a booking mishap with the exceptionally accommodating administration of the hostel, J-Boog and I were able to settle in a room with our fellow classmate, who was also visiting London with her option studio.
On our first day, we grabbed a late lunch of jackets (essentially a baked potato filled with “toppings”) and burgers at The Hour Glass and visited the Victoria and Albert Museum. Though London is generally a bit on the pricier end of places to visit, one of the best aspects of the city for a broke college student are the free museums (and the quality of these free museums). The Victoria and Albert museum not only had a bunch of artifacts from Medieval and Renaissance eras and varying regions of the Middle East and Asia, but also had collections of architectural models, drawings, and material explorations (exhibits looking at techniques used with different materials). That night looking for a place with good music to dance to, with a bit of advice from the chillest Australian guy who worked at the front desk of our hostel, we stumbled upon the area of Camden Town. At night (or at least that night) Camden Town is a hyperactive Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night of a college town (or wherever masses of college students are gathered) all combined in one, set in an abandoned-looking amusement park, if that makes any sense. Even though, we never found a dance spot with music to our liking, we did find an awesome place (the name escaping me at the moment) to eat some good doner wraps for a cheap price.
Curious as to what Camden Town looks like during the day, we decided to spend the second day of our London adventures in the daytime version of Camden Town. Truth be told, daytime Camden Town is just as amusing as nighttime Camden Town. During the day, Camden Town is basically a large-scale open market, with not only permanent shops set up in the buildings that look like they’ve come straight out of a comic book but also open air stalls that are set up in each available empty lot. After several hours of street photography and haggling with the street vendors, we all headed to Trafalgar Square to try and catch the last bit of the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Sadly, once we got to Trafalgar, they were already cleaning up the remnants of the planned festivities; however, the people around us had only started their celebration. After a quick stop at a Caffé Nero for some mochas, cappuccinos, and a delicious slice of chocolate chip cheesecake, we walked the area and snapped pictures of the London Eye, the Palace of Westminster, the Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and (many) of London’s infamous red phone booths. To end our night, we followed the locals and ended up grabbing a pint at a nearby pub, celebrating the end of the St. Patty’s festivities.
On the third and final day in London, we decided to visit the Borough Markets in Southwark for breakfast, sampling wild boar ravioli, spinach and cheese empanadas, and mini coconut pancakes. After we had our fill, we walked along the south bank of the Thames River under ominous rain clouds, visiting the More London development and the Tower Bridge. Before heading to the Tate Modern, we got caught under the rain and decided to have a cup of coffee in the café of London’s City Hall. Once the rain passed (for the moment), we made it to the Tate Modern, with an hour to spare before the museum’s closing. Never walked through a museum so quickly but well worth it, especially the installation and sculptural exhibits on the top floor. Exiting the museum, we were met again with the cold, relentless rain, as we walked across the Millennium Bridge to find some means of transportation back to our hostel.
The next morning, J-Boog and I parted ways with out fellow classmate and headed for Paris, where we stayed with my crazy hospitable aunt (SHOUT OUT TO MY AUNT, even though I know she won’t read this…). Although, we had arrived in the early evening, the travel fatigue hit us hard and we both knocked out early.
After several hours of much needed rest, the next morning (more so early afternoon) we walked along the Champs-Élysées (stopping at Ladurée only take pictures, since the price for a macaroon was too steep for our meager budget) to the Arc De Triomphe. After spending fifteen minutes photographing the Arc and figuring out how to get to it without being run over, we got our free tickets (France also provides free or discounted admission to a lot of its museums and monuments for people under the age of 25) to ascend the Arc De Triomphe. From the crazy view at the top, we found our next destination to visit: the Eiffel Tower. Mapless, we descended the Arc de Triomphe and blindly walked in the direction of the Eiffel Tower. On our walk to the Tower, J-Boog and I had a conversation about getting around cities, like France and Rome for example, by means of locating monuments and simply walking in that general direction. This means of getting around cities you’re unfamiliar with can be frustrating for some but could also be a fun way of discovering places you wouldn’t have found if you had a direct and clear route to a destination, such as open air food markets or discount shoe and clothing stores.
By far, my favorite structure ever is the Eiffel Tower and the views from the top are the best in Paris, without a doubt. Climbing the over six hundred steps and taking the elevator to the top was worth it, even with the freezing cold temperatures at the top balcony. Following our ridiculous photo session at the top of the Eiffel Tower, we spotted our final destination for the day: the Grande Arche de la Défense. Reluctantly, we descended the Eiffel Tower and headed back to the Arc de Triomphe, which would put us right on axis with the Grande Arche.
There is something to be noted about the setup of the distance of the Grande Arche de la Défense and the Arc de Triomphe: it may look walking distance, but it really isn’t. It is far, to say the least. Do not attempt this walk if you are not in shape. On our hour and a half walk to La Défense, we passed by the Palais Des Congress building and crossed over the Seine River. As we walked down the Champs-Élysées (which then turned into a highway as we got closer to La Défense), we noticed the drastic change from traditional French residential architecture to modern skyscrapers. Finally reaching the La Défense area, we realized it was an entire development of recent (or seemingly recent) structures for the business district of Paris. Besides all the existing structures and the ones under construction, the area was sprinkled with large-scale installations and sculptures, an unexpected revelation that was more interesting than the Grande Arche itself, in my opinion.
Day two of our Paris adventures ended up being a museum day, starting with the Louvre, which honestly needs a few days to go through the entirety of its collection. That museum is honestly doing the most. The highlights of our visit included: the indoor sculpture garden, Napoléon’s apartments, the crowded concert scene to view the Mona Lisa (seriously, seeing people’s determination to get through the crowds to see this painting was more epic than the painting itself), and of course I.M. Pei’s glass triangle. After a short, brisk walk to the mid-point of the Tuileries Garden across the way from the Louvre, we decided to head to the Pompidou Center. Of all the works in the Pompidou, the Soto (Venezuelan sculptor and painter) exhibit caught my attention the most for its ability to create depth with simple materials and methods.
Our third day was a mishmash of different sites: starting with Corbusier’s Maison La Roche in the late morning; followed by a visit to the Memorial de la Deportation, the Pont des Arts (the bridge with the love locks), Notre Dame, the Jussieu Campus atrium, and Moulin Rouge, which spanned through the afternoon into the early evening.
The following day we arose early to make the long journey to Poissy, France to visit Villa Savoye, a building that has been engrained in our brains by our professors. I would say something about the building, but honestly it wouldn’t do it any justice. I’ll just say it’s definitely a building to experience apart from all the texts and drawings of it. To end our day, we trooped up to Montmarte and Sacre Coeur, which I would say is the second best vantage point in Paris of the city. When we got to the top, we were able to enjoy not only the view of the city as the late afternoon sun transformed into early evening darkness but also the various spontaneous “street” performances.
On our final day before returning to Rome, we spent the day at Versailles. The palace, as extravagant as it is, was a so-so experience, compared to the gardens (even in its bare state), which is just an obscene show of large scale landscaping. To get the full experience of the garden, we would need another several days (something we did not have) to get around the whole complex, which is stunt we were not going to attempt in half a day. So we settled to have a chilled out lunch in the cute restaurant on site, which I would say was an appropriate end to our exhausting Spring Break excursion.
As much fun as I had during Spring Break, it’s nice to be back in Rome. I guess I’ve gotten my closure…Maybe.