The end of our trip is quickly approaching, and in such a bittersweet way! It is, for the both of us, a summer of transition. For me, the last real school summer vacation that I will have.
On that note, I have decided to make this post less about the specific city I’m in (Paris) and more about the collection of cities I have visited. This is not to say, of course, that Paris isn’t worth talking about. In fact, I can write an entire blog just on the 5 days we have spent here. But—there have been many a blog written about Paris (and many books as well) that I imagine are both more informative and more eloquent than the words I can deliver, and probably do the city a lot more justice.
We have been to 12 cities in 4 different countries over the course of this month, and if I have learned anything from this trip at all, it is that there is a lot to love about each country, and a lot that makes me anxious to return home.
Let’s stay optimistic, though.
I wrote about Belgium and my general distaste for the odors I encountered there. However, there are many things I discovered there that I will sorely miss when I step foot in the Land of the Brave. These include, but are not limited to:
Use-it maps: These maps belied the sense of humor nobody believes Belgians to have. Everything from “Best place to make out” to “Things to piss off a local” entertained us for the entirety of our trip in this little country. We were warned about killer cyclists, and guided to each landmark with a story. The map of Brugge was, by far, our favorite map of the whole trip.
Honor system trains: The Belgians decided that the proper way to arrange their metro system was to make it into an “honor” system. You really should validate your ticket before getting on the train, or you’ll feel really bad about it later. Never, in the course of our stay in Belgium, were our tickets ever checked by a patrolman. Oh, and the trains were impeccable. Despite having no profit from ticket sales. Obviously, these guys aren’t from New York…the city where it’s impossible to cheat the system, yet the MTA is still broke.
Gaufres Ligeoise, Leonidas chocolate, and fries: This one is self explanatory. Who wouldn’t miss delicious, sugar coated confections and fries that are famous for their double dipping (fried in mystery meat fat not once, but twice!)? [Mom, I know that there are two punctuation marks in that sentence. Find it in your heart to forgive me. I wanted to make a point. Yes, perhaps there is a more grammatically correct way of doing it.]
Speculoos cookies: These are small, gingerbread cookies that are served with coffee. I don’t usually like gingerbread, but I quickly became addicted to these. It’s obvious that the rest of Europe caught on because just two days ago in Paris, I found Speculoos-flavored ice cream!
Perhaps you get the same feeling from Germans as I do: eery calmness. Germans are serious and hardworking, so much so that Germany recently was caught telling the EU that, if Greeks want to remain in the Union, they have to start working on the German work ethic—not the Greek one. These determined people are the inventors of some of my favorite things from this trip:
Fast, timely trains: I didn’t think it was an issue in New York when the subway was a few minutes late. I also didn’t mind too much when the busses in Pittsburgh would stray off their schedule by 30 minutes or so. That is, until now. In Germany, they don’t know the word “stray”—but they do know the word “schedule” very, very well. As soon as I got into France, I began to really appreciate this German mentality. Seriously, France, take a hint.
German bread: We were told by a few German kids that Americans usually hate German bread. It’s too hard and contains too many seeds for us, apparently. Let me tell you something about this bread—it’s not bread. It’s a collection of different seeds loosely held together by butter. Oh, and it’s even more delicious than it sounds. We ate this, in loaves, every day that we spent in Germany.
Rittersport Karamellnuss Chocolate: This is sold in the States, luckily. Basically, it’s a milk- chocolate bar wrapped around a caramel-hazelnut center. Also, it’s the cheapest chocolate in the chocolate aisle (which, in Germany, is very well stocked) and thus, my favorite.
Brezln: Germans don’t eat soft pretzels like we do. They like them cold, and served with a side of beer. I like mine hot, no beer, thanks. Nevertheless, the brezln in Germany made for a tasty, inexpensive midday snack, and for that I appreciate it tremendously. Finding something inexpensive in Europe to soothe our hungry stomach was, in fact, one of our biggest challenges (next to getting somewhere in France).
Airwaves gum: I told someone I had met on the trip that he should try the “best gum in the world”. I wasn’t kidding. Seconds later, he described is as aggressive. That’s exactly the essence of Airwaves. It’s a blend of mint and eucalyptus that doesn’t freshen your bad breath—it destroys it.
Coming to France after going to Germany is a big mistake. Really, people should do it the other way around. That way, you’ll be so relieved to go from a dysfunctional country to a functional one that you won’t notice the uglier architecture. On that note, the architecture in France is second to none. Besides that, there are even a few things I’ve managed to come to love during my time here:
Milk-chocolate caramels and chocolate crepes: again, self explanatory. I’ve loved French crepes since the dawn of time (more like since I was 8) and milk-chocolate caramels here come in 1 kg bags for just over 1 euro. There’s really not much else to say.
Real onion soup: Throughout Germany, every restaurant tried to convince us that adding parsley to and removing the bread and cheese from onion soup was OK. It’s not. French people make onion soup the way onion soup should be made—unhealthy, filled with nothing but bread, cheese, and loads upon loads of oniony goodness. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. God knows France has very few unbroken things to spare.
French language: There are many languages that I don’t know in this world, and only two that I do. French falls in between those categories. For this reason, I’m fascinated by it. On one hand, I have no desire to understand just in which cases the imparfait (imperfect tense) should be applied. On the other hand, I’m deeply grateful to the French for not combining their words like the Germans did. Also, there’s something totally charming about a little kid mumbling around in French that just doesn’t translate to German.
Lunch breaks: The French work like the Germans laugh. They don’t. Lunch breaks come after a maximum of 3 hours in the office/store, and last for approximately 2.5. Often, between the hours of 12 and 1:30, the entire city shuts down for some much needed rest. Like their cigarette breaks, the French treat lunch hour (and a half) as a time for socializing with the rest of their hardworking friends. I love this approach to life—why work hard for that new plasma TV when you can just relax, sip a coffee, and chat with a friend? The French don’t believe in plasma TVs, which is why they remain happy while their economy slides down, down, down…
No killer cyclists: There are many bikers in France—but there are no killer cyclists. We’ve been conditioned, like Pavlov’s dog, to frantically run in the opposite direction of a seemingly innocent bike bell ring. In fact, it has gotten to the point where both of us experience racing hearts and sweaty palms if we hear anything remotely resembling the ring. Thank you, France, for telling your cyclists that the appropriate place to speed down the asphalt is, well, on the asphalt. Not the sidewalk.
This list is just the icing on the cake of the many many things we have experienced and loved during our time abroad. Our journey through Europe has helped us learn about the different ways in which people are brought up and live their lives, and more importantly, it has taught us to really appreciate everything that we are offered in our own home country.
And so, the end of the post, and thus the blog, has come—just as bittersweet as the end of our journey.
Hope you enjoyed living vicariously, and hope to see you soon!