Friday, March 30, 2012

paris was always worth it

Paris in bloom may be the most beautiful place in the world.  On Tuesday evening, I took a late Eurostar train from St. Pancras for a 24-hour whirlwind visit to the City of Lights.  I arrived in Paris - fittingly - as the clock struck midnight, and the magic began.  

On Wednesday morning, I awoke to the sun shining gloriously above my head with not a cloud in the sky.  My first stop - after a decadent cup of bold French coffee - was the Musee des Arts-Decoratifs to view the Louis Vuitton/Marc Jacobs retrospective.  This exhibit was pure artistry.  Both of these men confronted the challenges of their respective time periods - Louis Vuitton, industrialization, and Marc Jacobs, globalization - to create the most iconic brand of all time.  Now, more than ever, I am convinced that fashion remains one of the highest forms of art.  

After this moving experience, I decided to profite from the gorgeous weather so I took a pleasant stroll along the Seine, passing the infamous Shakespeare & Co bookstore.  I stopped briefly to peruse through the old Hemingway copies, then I headed for my favorite arrondissement - Le Marais in the fourth.  Here, I wandered through the winding stone streets, poking occasionally into the many boutiques, and eventually ended at the Place des Vosges.  On a sunny day, this square may be the most pleasant spot in all of Paris.  

After a few more hours in the sun, I went for a spot of tea at my favorite tea shop, Le Loir dans la Thiere.  With its' many references to Alice in Wonderland and its tasty loose-leaf blends, this cozy shop brought back many warm memories.  

I felt like Cinderella at the ball as I looked at my watch and realized that I now needed to make my way back to Gare du Nord to return home to London.  At first, my mind fleetingly thought about how I could possibly extend this trip for just one more day to enjoy this magical city.  I quickly returned to reality though.  The wonderful thing about Paris is that I always know that I will be back.  

There is never any ending to Paris, and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other.  We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties or ease it could be reached.  Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. 
        - Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast, 1964

Sunday, March 25, 2012

dancing with the daffodils

Emily, Alexis, and I set out early yesterday morning for a day trip to Leeds Castle, Canterbury, and Dover.  Even at the early hour of 7:00am, we already knew that it was going to be a beautiful day.  With not a cloud in the sky, we disembarked the coach at our first stop - the castle.  Rather than heading immediately for the front gates, we chose to stroll along the path through the park leading up to this historic site.
Along the way, we also spotted some breathtaking black swans.  Native to Australia, Leeds Castle is the only place outside of the continent where these gorgeous birds can be found.
We could see the castle in the distance, but, before finally arriving, we first had to make our way through a labyrinth of the likes of the Triwizard Tournament.  
Luckily, we finally made it to the center.  Although, there was no port key to greet us, we did find a lovely view of the castle grounds.
With all inhibiting obstacles out of the way, we finally approached the castle gates, stopping only once more to admire the springtime daffodils that made me recall the poem of Wordsworth.  

"A host, of golden daffodils" - William Wordworth
Although the interior of the castle was awfully impressive, we highly anticipated the opportunity to return outside to the glorious sunlight.
We returned to the coach to head to our next destination - Canterbury.  The purpose of our journey to this medieval city was to experience the historic Canterbury Cathedral.
Although this was another cathedral to add to the long list that we have seen throughout this trip, we all agreed that they never seemed to grow less spectacular.  In particular, we admired the stunning Gothic spires and vaulted ceilings.  We also awed at the beautiful sunlight that shone through the giant stained glass windows.
After exiting the cathedral, we still had some time remaining to enjoy the city of Canterbury so we strolled the sunlit streets and did some shopping.  I, predictably, bought shoes.

When we finished here at around 3:00, we jumped on the bus again to travel to our final destination: Dover.  The drive was relatively short.  As we approached the city, we stopped briefly to take our photos outside of Dover Castle, which dates back to the time of William the Conquerer.  
The real purpose of our trip to Dover, however, was to see the infamous White Cliffs that have been a site of hope for so many people arriving in the United Kingdom.
Perhaps, months from now, when we reflect on our trip to England, these cliffs will bring back fond memories to us as well.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

i amsterdam?

This weekend I took a whirlwind tour through Amsterdam, the Dutch countryside and the village of Zaanse Schans, and Bruges.  Altogether, I experienced mixed feelings of exhaustion, exhileration, fascination, and confusion.  

We arrived in Amsterdam early on Saturday morning after a bus ride that took the whole night.  Looking back, as I sat on the bus at 1:00 am, I remember thinking to myself that I was uncertain whether or not I would make it through the night.  Fortunately, I did, and I got my first glimpse of this Netherlandish city at 7:45am local time.  We began with a stroll through the city streets to catch some of the highlights, including the clock tower and the flower market.
So many bikes in Amsterdam.
The Flower Market

Emily, Claire, Myself, and Alexis in front of the Flower Market. 
Venice of the north.
We ended our walking tour at the infamous i amsterdam sign where we posed for a photo op.  I experienced some initial trouble shimmying up the sign, but I made it eventually - with a perfect dismount might I add.

We chose to spend our day visiting the major sites of Amsterdam.  Our first stop was the Rijks Museum, home of the Dutch national collection of art.
I was especially excited to view Rembrandt's famous Night Watch painting.  It was on display in all its' glory in a room to itself.
Rembrandt, Night Watch, 1642.
After completing a tour of the museum, we left our artistic mindsets behind and headed for the Heineken Experience. 
Once inside, we were led through a history of the Heineken family and their beer.  We also learned about the beer-making process that involves barley, hops, and yeast.  Then, we saw the stables where the famous Heineken horses are kept.
Of course, the Heineken Experience would not be complete without sampling some of their legendary beer.  Indeed, we found many opportunities to give it a try.

After finishing our tour of the Heineken Experience - which I would later claim to be my favourite part of the day - we wandered through the bustling streets of Amsterdam.  We stopped frequently to peer into the windows of the many cafes and "coffee shops", and we also perused through the infamous Red Light District.  I must admit that, as I walked down the street, taking in the sights, I could not help but feel uncomfortable with what I saw.  I could not imagine ever feeling normal in this environment.  As the evening approached, I decided that I had seen enough of Amsterdam for now, and I made my way to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

The following morning, I arose early for a day filled with exploring the Low Country.  We departed first for Zaanse Schans, a Dutch village just outside of Amsterdam that is famous for its' windmills. 
Here, I participated in a clog-making workshop as well as a cheese-making demonstration - both of which are traditional practices in this region.

Cheese, me no like-y.
Although slightly contrived, I very much enjoyed wandering through the streets of this quaint little village.

Returning to our coach, we then travelled across the border into Belgium to visit the miraculously-preserved medieval city of Bruges.

We spent a some time poking around the many shops filled with Christmas decorations, designer collections, and gourmet Belgian chocolates.  We also stopped for a much-needed cup of coffee at a small cafe.  While Bruges is certainly historic and unique, I definitely felt like a tourist as I trod upon its' well-travelled cobblestone roads.  As the sun set, we found ourselves caught in a sudden deluge of rain, and, with that, we decided that it was time to return home - to London.  

In the end, while my trip to Amsterdam and Bruges was certainly interesting, I am not sure how quickly I will be booking my return trip.  Ultimately, though, I am still glad that I made the journey.  You learn something new everyday, even if it is just a better understanding of what you truly love.