A Walkabout in Londontown

After a trip that started with a customs officer accusing me of having a fake passport and witnessing just about every shade of weather that the UK has to offer, I’d say that my first trip to London was pretty successful. Yes, as I made my way through security at Gare du Nord on Friday morning, that officer was flipping through my passport and looked me straight in the eye and told me it was a fake. I was freaking out for a moment but realized that that was ridiculous because I knew for a fact that it wasn’t fake. All I could think in the moment was “dear god just let me go through,” but I realized two seconds later that this guy was clearly a nut case as how could I be an American with a French visa and make it through so many rounds of security with a fake passport? Anyway, after that little debacle, I made it safely on to the Eurostar and under the chunnel to grand old London town.

As soon as we arrived, we jumped into a taxi and went to Jess’s parents apartment in Kensington, right next to Kensington Palace, where William and Kate live ūüôā (I was hoping for a meet-and-greet, but alas, no luck). I think traveling with friends who have parents in the final destination is really the only way to go. It was so nice to come home each night to a home cooked meal and having people around who knew all the ins and outs of London so I was a lost tourist for one moment while I was there.Friday Jess and I took a tour bus around town, which was a wonderful way to see the whole city. Yes, I know you’re thinking that’s the biggest tourist trap in the book and I fully own up to making fun of people who do them in New York, but it was really really fun and a great way to see all the sites that I had never seen before. I was very confused when we got to the Tower Bridge and I discovered that it was painted blue. I kid you not that in all the years of seeing pictures of British landmarks, I had never noticed that it was blue. Jess assured me that, much as I thought it wasn’t true, it had in fact always been blue like that. Guess you learn something never everyday!

We stopped around Trefalger Square where we happened upon an epic rendition of a Passion Play just in time for Good Friday. Nothing quite like seeing a 50 foot projection of a bloody Jesus while walking past the National Gallery for the first time. We were blessed with beautiful weather on Friday, so we took the afternoon walking around downtown London and around Buckingham Palace. (No sighting of the Queen – sorry to disappoint ;))You can tell that this city is in full on preparation mode for the Olympics that are only a few months away as there were countless construction projects going on and many signs that were announcing that countdown to the start of the games. After a few trips on the tube, which was pretty packed, its hard to imagine how packed the city is going to be when the whole world descends upon it in July, but I’ll leave that to the city organizes to sort through.One of the best places that we visited was Bouroughs Market, a wonderful food market that was not to far from the Globe theater. They had so many different fresh fruits and veggies, along with cheese, bread, oils, spices, and tons of prepared foods as well. I got a bottle of the most amazing truffle honey and ate some delicious salted fudge. I would highly recommend Bouroughs Market to any food lover. As we watched Bridget Jones later that evening, it turned out her apartment in the film is right next to the market and we had actually walked past it earlier in the day. Who would have known!¬†Our next stop was Camden Market, which is an eclectic indoor/outdoor market that has a St. Marks/Craft Fair/Flea Market type feel to it. It reminded me a lot of the Marche au Puces in Paris – hand crafted goods, alongside antiques, alongside awful Chinese import clothing. They did have the most amazing rave store where everything glowed in the dark and they had costumes that were straight out of the Jetsons. I was almost run over by some buses more than a few times as the whole concept of looking right first as opposed to left was still new to me.¬†

Sunday was our museum day. Well, it was actually Easter, so what better way to start the day than a stop in at St. Paul’s Cathedral for a mass? Most churches you have to pay to enter in London, but on Sunday, all are welcome to worship, and since this was Easter Sunday there was a huge mass going on. I don’t think I’ve really been into such a huge cathedral like that without actual services going on. As a little innocent Jew, it was¬†fascinating¬†to see. We tried to get into Westminster Abbey, but with the rain, the line and 16 pound price tag, we figured it wasn’t really worth. Something to look forward to next time!¬†

After our morning mass, we made our way across the¬†Millennium¬†Bridge to the Tate Modern, where we were whisked right in thanks to Jess’s moms patron card. We saw a Damien Hirst exhibit and a Yayoi Kusama exhibit – both amazing and highly recommended. Hirst does some very interesting things that involve rooms full of butterflies, dead cows heads and sharks suspended in¬†formaldehyde. Crazy to say the least. From the Tate, we made our way to the National Gallery, seeing some classic British, impressionist and Titan pieces. After our first day in Trefalger Square with the Passion Play going on, it was nice to walk around and see it a little less crowded.Monday morning, our last day in London, we went to the Royal Academy of Arts to see a David Hockney exhibit on its last day. Once again, thank god for Jess’s mom, who is dutiful patron of the arts and took us straight to the front of the long snaking line. I had never heard of David Hockney before but was utterly amazed by his work. He uses the most vivid and bright colors in his landscapes and has recently taken to doing almost all his artwork on his iPad. Quite cool, no?

I don’t think any visit to London would be complete without a trip to Harrods. Reminding me quite a bit of Bloomingdale’s or Macy’s, Jess and took our time¬†pa-rousing¬†the 1000 pound shoes and 2000 pound chihuahuahs. (No joke, they were selling dogs for over 2000 pounds). Needless to say, I bought a little pencil pound for 3,50 – likely the cheapest thing in the entire 5 story building.¬†

London was really a highlight of my semester. Staying with Jess’s family was wonderful. Having a home cooked meals (and seders) and an entire apartment to come back to at the end of the day can’t be beat. London reminds me a lot of New York, even more so than Paris. It’s full of people, full of activity, full of life all the time. The streets are constantly crowded, but it still felt manageable. Even with four days, I felt like I just saw the tiniest slice of what the city has to offer and I am eagerly anticipating a return trip soon!

A walkabout in Aix-en-Provence

Yesterday, we took a car ride north to spend the day in Aix-en-Provence. Having never travelled at all in the south of France, I was excited to get to see some of the other cities in this region besides Marseille. Charlotte’s mom used to live in Aix when she was a student, so she knew exactly where to go in the town and even showed us where her old school was.

The flea market: Picking out some records: 

Frame anyone?¬†We walked through a wonderful little flea market where we couldn’t help but pick up a few trinkets and then spent some lovely hours wandering up and down the streets and alleys of Aix. Similar to the old parts of Marseille, it was quintessentially French. Cobblestone streets, little cafes and brasseries on every corner and beautiful fountains that dot the entire town, as Aix is often called the city of fountains.

Street wandering: 

Fountain 1: Fountain 2: Fountain 3: 

Aix is definitely a lot more commercial than Marseille, with a lot more stores and general sense that tourism is a big to do. Most stores have signs in French and English and I heard more English on the street than my entire week in Marseille. I can only imagine what it’s like in the summer when it’s warm and all the galleries are open.

Never too far away from some bread:

More street wandering: 
One of the main drags: 

Entrance to an old cathedral:¬†As usual, the food never ceases to amaze me here. At the market in Aix, there were mounds and mounds of delicious fruits – especially oranges – and one vendor giving out samples of homemade olive oil and breads. I can’t wait to do more shopping at local markets when I get back to Paris!

Yummy fruit: 

Olives and spreads: