On May 8, 2010, Elaine, Mishal, Alicia, Alaana, and I boarded that Air Transat flight headed to one of the most beautiful parts of the globe: Rome, Italy. And for the next two weeks we went on to wander the streets of Paris, France (where we met up with Wendy!) and explored the ins and outs of London, England. It was my first time in Europe, and quite honestly, it was one of the best experiences of my life to date.
By the way, for a more detailed summary of each day of our Eurotrip, visit Elaine's blog at the following links. She was proactive and detailed every single thing we did on our trip. She'll also be teaching your kids one day (shouting out congrats to Elaine as she heads off to teacher's college in September!):
For Elaine's detailed daily summaries of our days in Rome, click here.
For Elaine's detailed daily summaries of our days in Paris, click here.
For Elaine's detailed daily summaries of our days in London, click here.
So why did I fall so deeply in love with Europe? How did Paris become my favourite city in the world? Here we go, friends. The Seven Love Affairs of EUROTRIP 2010. It was an unforgettable trip, to say the least.
MY SEVEN EUROPEAN LOVE AFFAIRS
7) My Love Affair With European Food
I, quite literally, ate more in those two weeks in Europe than I usually do in a month. That's how good the food was, friends. I couldn't stop stuffing my face. Have you ever had bucattini? No? Do you know what bucattini looks like? No? Well, let me enlighten you. On Day 2 of Rome, we wandered our hostel's neighbourhood of Trastevere and decided to have lunch at a quaint little restaurant named Le Gildo Ristorante de Trastevere. And I swear on my well-loved limited edition of Doctor Zhivago that I tasted the best pasta I ever had in my life. I have no idea what was in it, goat cheese maybe? It also had bits of the BEST. BACON. EVER. EVER. EVER. I don't know what it is about Italian pasta. Or authentic Italian food, for that matter. I've never tasted anything like it. Incredible, scrumptious, mouth-watering, I could go on for hours.
Yummy pastries, pain au chocolat for breakfast in Paris every morning (except for the one morning we ate Mishal's leftover curry chicken for breakfast. What? We were homesick), mouth-watering macaroons. You name it, I ate it. I'd also like to give a special shoutout to the most amazing tiramisu I've ever encountered, served at Cafe Unisex on the Champs Elysees in Paris. I swear, that tiramisu melted in my mouth. It melted.
FUN FACT: Europeans like their coffee strong. Really strong. Like, can't-gulp-need-to-spit-it-out strong. Like, not-even-four-packs-of-sugar-can-mask-the-taste strong. But obviously I had to order an espresso while sitting at a cafe on the Champs Elysees. Just for the experience, really.
FUN FACT 2: I swear to you that Rome's Fuimicino Airport has an awesome secret. You can purchase the most delicious croissant in the world for only ONE EURO. JUST ONE! Go to the airport's mini food court, you'll find it there. Yum.
6) My Love Affair With Europeans
I've been told most of my life that Parisians are snobs. And to this I say, please. Please. We didn't meet a single rude person in France. Parisians were the nicest people we met on the trip (actually, I take that back. They tie with Romans for friendliness). And seriously, the first time we actually encountered rudeness was when we got to London, where there wasn't even a language barrier. Just a rudeness barrier, really.
Walking down the Champs Elysees in Paris well past midnight, you tend to meet some pretty interesting characters. Most are intoxicated, but interesting nonetheless. The same goes for all the people we met each day of our trip. From city to city, each person was fascinating. From the slightly tipsy Masters students we made friends with on the Paris Metro at 2:00 am one morning (one of which gave Wendy a Facebook name that turned out to be an Italian actor when we searched him later), the Political Science student in Paris who only knew about Toronto because he watched South Park, the quirky locals who warned us not to visit the Paris version of Jane and Finch (we were stubborn, went anyway, and got swarmed by attacking gypsies. Scariest experience ever), the aforementioned gypsies who attacked us (!!!), the men from Bangladesh who Mishal bartered with so we could buy our Eiffel Tower statues, our waiters and waitresses from each city who tolerated our requests to take a picture with them, the host at ROSSOPOMODORO in Rome who gave us a history lesson on Julius Caesar, our neighbour at our Paris apartment who helped us find our apartment when we thought we were in the wrong building, the artist named Emilian (from Serbia) who sold his art on Rue St. Honore near the Louvre but told us his name was Jacques because it was his alter ego (yeah, just roll with it), the amusing British business men we made friends with while we waited for autographs after our plays... I could go on and on! We met a number of characters on our trip. They made each moment exciting, to say the least! I think meeting people from different countries is large part of one's travels, and I'm glad we got to meet such a diverse group during this particular trip.
FUN FACT: I think the one thing that surprised me the most was that, despite the diversity in population in terms of visible minorities, some people we met in all three cities harboured surprising stereotypes about Asians that you wouldn't see in Canada. To the point where they think every Asian is a new immigrant from Hong Kong or Japan. For future reference, I will not respond to "Ni Hao" or "Le Ho Ma" because I'm 1) Not Chinese and 2) Saying hello in another language is probably the worst pick-up line or sale inducing mechanism ever. Just saying.
5) My Love Affair With European Historical Landmarks
I have to say that Ancient Rome took my breath away. Versailles in Paris practically left me speechless. Everything I learned in history class came down to this, and the history buff in me fangirled over every single historical destination (tourist trap or not). I won't continue to babble about how awesome all these sites were (you just need to visit them!), but I will give special mention to my incredible experience at the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. I visited Democracy Square by the Houses of Parliament one afternoon, and crossed the street to the Court. Although it wasn't in session, I was able to tour all three court rooms. The court was empty. No tourists were in sight, so I was allowed to sit on the very seats where the JCPC made crucial decisions. I almost passed out, actually. I was that excited. I will never forget that afternoon at the Supreme Court.
FUN FACT: Democracy Square in London houses many activists and/or students fighting for a number of causes. They also haven't showered in months. And they aren't afraid to let you know! Smelly and proud, I was quite fascinated. Please don't let the stench prevent you from entering Democracy Square. Go in and have a little chat with them. They're very pleasant and interesting people! A little extreme, but pleasant.
4) My Love Affair With European Theatre
Les Miserables will forever be my favourite play. I don't know how to describe why I love it. I just do. There's something about the story, the music, the voices, the heartbreak, the love, the triumph, that culminates into a masterpiece I thoroughly enjoy. The songs are remarkable. And the version of Les Mis that we saw in London left me speechless.
Let me note further that plays in London transformed me (us) into crazy lunatics. To the point that we blocked the entrances to the stage doors at the Adelphi Theatre and Queens' Theatre to make sure we got autographs from the stars of Les Miserables and the world premiere of Phantom of the Opera: Love Never Dies. We took pictures with the stars, made eager conversation, and hung onto their every word. Special shoutouts go to Alistair Brammer (who played Marius, star of Les Mis) and Ramin Karimloo (who played the Phantom in Phantom). Exhibit A of our embarrassing fangirl encounter with the talented Ramin Karimloo:
Barb and Mishal (eagerly): So you're from Canada! Are you ever coming back?
Ramin *signing our programs*: If I don't do Phantom's Broadway premiere, I will definitely come back to Canada.
Ramin: So where are you girls from?
Barb: We go to UofT.
Mishal: We're from Mississauga
Barb: It's near Square One. Can we take a picture with you?
I don't think that conversation did much to present our brain cells in the greatest light. But Ramin didn't seem to mind. And the entire conversation was filmed, thanks to Elaine. We had a similar experience when we cornered Alistair Brammer for an autograph. Alaana, of course, filmed that entire experience and quite expertly zoomed in on his nicely shaped muscles as he walked away. Epic. Just epic.
And so that goes down in history as my real, honest to goodness, fangirl experience.
FUN FACT: I tried to add Alistair Brammer on Facebook but he rejected my friend request. Ah well, such is life.
3) My Love Affair With European Museums
On Day 2 in Paris, I had my first emotional experience with art. There's just something about being two feet away from a real, authentic Monet that makes you catch your breath. Standing face-to-face with authentic Renoir and Van Gogh paintings quite honestly brought tears to my eyes. These works of art were so incredibly intricate, and yet so incredibly beautiful. And I don't usually cry when I see art. I will never forget that experience at Musee D'Orsay. It wasn't as big as the Louvre, but its effect on me was beyond what I expected. It was so much more than I imagined it would be.
We also spent two hours at the museum gift shop, and I purchased my beloved copies of Renoir's Bal du Moulin de la Galette and Degas' Le foyer de la danse a l'Opera , which will probably hang in my new room in Kingston in September.
FUN FACT: The Mona Lisa is pretty dinky small in real life. No joke, it looks like a dot compared to the other paintings in that particular room. It's funny how I built up such a larger-than-life image of the Mona Lisa in my head. I was therefore quite surprised when I finally saw it. Awesome experience nonetheless.
2) My Love Affair With European Shopping
Who are we kidding? We obviously went shopping. And, friends, let me just mention the shopping gem in London called Primark. Where practically everything is under FIVE POUNDS. If you want a deal, that's where you go! From the boutiques in the Jewish neighbourhood of Le Merais in Paris, Oxford Street (holler) in London, Spittafields Market/Portobello Road/etc in London, Harrods in Knightbridge, London, and the gazillion souvenir shops we visited all over Rome and Paris, we purchased items we knew we could never find at home. Shopping in Europe is a fabulous experience, and souvenir shopping was the highlight of it all. Now I have postcards of every single site we went to, because I'm a nerd like that.
FUN FACT: If you attract the attention of your airline's check-in representative, you will probably bypass security even though your luggage is a gazillion pounds overweight (because of the aforementioned shopping, obviously). And it's at this point where I will, again, thank ALAANA for saving us hundreds of dollars in excess luggage fees because, hey, she's pretty! Wink Wink. We discovered the check-in guy's name and email on her boarding pass after. HILarious. Trust me, we all breathed a sigh of relief when we got through security. So much money saved.
1) My Love Affair With European Atmosphere
I don't think this Love Affair can ever be described in words. Everything felt different in Europe. Looking back, the experience feels quite surreal. Grocery shopping in Paris, purchasing a baguette from a busy Paris bakery as dinnertime approached, wandering the streets of Rome until midnight because we were so very very lost (I don't think there was ever a moment in Rome where we weren't lost!), walking down the Champs Elysees late at night when it's all lit up, walking through the most beautiful park in Le Merais, standing in the middle of Castel Sant Angelo.... I could go on for hours. Europe has a sophisticated yet relaxed atmosphere (Paris in particular) that I can't describe. All I know is that I've fallen in love with the city and the culture. And I am seriously am entertaining the thought of living in Paris for a few months one day, just for the experience. Within the city, people take their time to truly live. They enjoy every single moment and treat each experience as a life-changing one. It's no wonder I've fallen in love with it all.
FUN FACT: Parisians like to "people-watch." It's an art, really. You sit at a cafe and you watch people walk by. I'm not kidding, it is the most entertaining experience. Elaine and I sat down at the aforementioned Cafe Unisex on the Champs Elysees one afternoon and giggled for hours, watching our waiters, the families, the couples, the fashionably dressed men and women, and all the interesting people who called Paris their home. Sitting at a cafe in Paris, reading, chatting, and munching on delicious treats is a must-have experience. It's a must, I tell you!
I will never forget my first trip to Europe. As Mishal, Elaine, Alicia, Wendy, and I start different phases of our lives in September, as some of us move away and some of us start new jobs, I think we will always remember this trip to be remarkable, unforgettable. I think witnessing the great wonders of the world firsthand is something we should all experience. So, friends, as we go through life, let's love wholeheartedly, kiss deeply, hug affectionately, and travel to all the places our hearts desire. There are so many places in the world we have yet to see. Hundreds, Thousands. The thought of what's waiting beyond the parameters of our homes and cities is thrilling. And hopefully one day, I'll have even more travel-related love affairs to share with you all. EUROTRIP 2011? Yes, please!
"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are gone, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing about."
- Benjamin Franklin