I See Dead People

So for my last day in Paris, I did what any normal person would do – visit a cemetery!  Ok, maybe not everybody, but the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise is like the Hollywood of cemeteries when it comes to famous people.  Basically, the crème de la crème of French society (and some international stars added for good measure) are buried here, and there is a waiting list to even be considered for an increasingly rare plot.  But the main reason why I wanted to go to Père-Lachaise is because my musical idol Frederic Chopin is buried there.  True, his heart is actually interred in a column at a church in Warsaw, but I can still claim to have visited his grave, right?

Palais Garnier under the morning sun on my way to the Metro stop.

Palais Garnier under the morning sun on my way to the Metro stop.

I got off at the Gambetta Metro stop which is very close to the back entrance of Père-Lachaise.

A mausoleum near the back entrance of the cemetery.

A mausoleum near the back entrance of the cemetery.

Visiting cemeteries is always rather awkward, but visiting a famous cemetery is even more so.  It’s pretty evident that I’m a tourist taking photos of various graves, but you also have to be respectful of the fact that it is a functioning cemetery and there are still funeral ceremonies taking place.

Oscar Wilde's final resting place.

Oscar Wilde’s final resting place.  Note the glass barricade that had to be erected to protect the grave stone from being defiled.

XXX

Gertrude Stein’s rather plain-looking grave.

There is a section of the cemetery full of memorials dedicated to those who lost their lives during historical events such as the Paris Commune, but the ones honoring those who died during the Holocaust were some of the most moving and slightly terrifying memorials.

XXX

Memorial on the left dedicated those deported to Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen.

XXX

Auschwitz-Monowitz.

XXX

Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Site of where the Paris Commune came to a bloody end.

Site of where the Paris Commune came to a bloody end.

XXX

A tribute to the “steps of death” at the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp.

I think this sort of hit a raw nerve in me because we rarely see memorials like this in the US.  Yes, we have the Vietnam War Memorial as well as plenty of other war memorials, but they are almost entirely dedicated to the servicemen and women who gave their lives during combat.  These memorials are completely different, paying tribute to civilians who were ruthlessly slaughtered thanks to the heartless convictions of extremists.  Also, the continental US has never been under occupation by foreign powers whereas continental Europe has seen its fair share of military occupations and war zones.  It just illustrates how fortunate we American citizens have been for most of our history.

As I turned the corner to leave this rather morbid and somber corner of the cemetery, I came across an oddly familiar sight.

X

Hmm…could this be?

The last time I saw giant wreathes of flowers with ribbons was during my grandfather’s funeral back in Taiwan and as I got closer, the Chinese writing on the ribbons confirmed that a Chinese funeral rite had just been performed.

X

Chinese-style tombstones.

Just beyond was the grave of La Môme herself, Edith Piaf.

X

Edith Piaf buried in the family lot.

It's nice to see that people still leave fresh flowers at her grave.

It’s nice to see that people still leave fresh flowers at her grave.

Moliere.

Moliere.

Jim Morrison tucked away behind other graves.

Jim Morrison tucked away behind other graves.

It’s actually quite difficult to find certain graves in the cemetery because many paths are not clearly paved/marked and they may be located in the middle of a bunch of other graves.  So unless you know what the grave you’re looking for looks like, you might be spending a long time searching for it.

But this grave is unmistakable…

And this is when I flung myself at the foot of Chopin's grave...not.

And this is when I flung myself at the foot of Chopin’s grave…not.

Nearly 180 years after his death, it’s cool to see that music lovers still come to visit and pay their respects to the Franco-Polish composer.  The Polish flag is a nice touch.

A close-up of the muse guarding Chopin's grave.

A close-up of the muse guarding Chopin’s grave.

The final resting place of Abelard and Heloise, a medieval Romeo and Juliet.

The final resting place of Abelard and Heloise, a medieval Romeo and Juliet.

X

Colette was a famous French writer known for her affairs with other women.

X

Gioachino Rossini’s tomb where he was buried from 1868-1887.  His remains are now in Florence.

X

Family tomb of the Haussmanns.  Baron Haussmann is most famous for his renovation of Paris under Napoleon III.

X

Front entrance to Pere-Lachaise.

As it approached noon, I felt that I had enough of visiting dead people, so off it was to find some lunch.

A cute bistro called L'Artiste.

A cute bistro called L’Artiste.

Menu du jour.

Menu du jour.

I was tempted by the formule du midi, but I just decided to stick with a plat, namely the “beefsteack”.

Simple steak-frites, but delicious nonetheless.

Simple steak-frites, but delicious nonetheless.

With my belly satisfied, it was time to head to a much happier place – Montmartre.

Advertisements

Left Banksy

I picked up my bag at the Radisson Blu Metropolitan and navigated via Metro to the tony 1er arrondissement, home of luxury stores and fancy architecture.  The Palais Garnier is also within walking distance of the hotel.

The Palais Garnier.

The Palais Garnier.

The unassuming entrance to the Park Hyatt Place Vendome.

The unassuming entrance to the Park Hyatt Place Vendome.

The Park Hyatt is one of the most coveted properties in the Hyatt portfolio and I think a night here costs upwards of 800 euros!  Thankfully I had two free nights from the Hyatt credit card and there was availability during my stay, so I snatched those up very quickly as I was booking my trip back in February.  After checking-in and conversing with the front desk person (first in English, then gradually peppering “oui” and “non” through the conversation, and finally transitioning into full-on French) I was escorted into my room:

Such lavish digs!

Such lavish digs!

Definitely more than enough space for one person!  There was also a small box of butter cookies that I probably devoured in one sitting.  They were that addictive.  I also found amusing the two bottles of still water sitting on the wet bar counter that was replenished twice a day along with the maid service.  The French really take their water seriously.

After settling in (and watching Andy Murray delight the United Kingdom with his historic win at Wimbledon), I decided to hike over to the Rive Gauche and explore further.

The colonne Vendome erected by Napoleon to commemorate the Battle of Austerlitz.

The colonne Vendome erected by Napoleon to commemorate the Battle of Austerlitz.

XXX

Intersection of some of the most glamorous streets in Paris.

Pont 1

The Pont Neuf…which really isn’t that new.

Pnt 2

Le Pont Notre-Dame.

Pont 3

Et le Pont d’Arcole.

It was that time of day where the sunlight was coming in at the right angle to illuminate the face of Cathédrale Notre-Dame.

The lair of Quasimodo.

The lair of Quasimodo.

Even at 6 pm, the crowds were still trying to get into the cathedral.

Even at 6 pm, the crowds were still trying to get into the cathedral.

The southern rose window.

The southern rose window.

Youngsters partying it up with pounding techno music.  Silly Europeans...

Youngsters partying it up with pounding techno music. Silly Europeans…

First stop on the Rive Gauche was the Académie française, staunch defender of the French language.  Instead of using “software” and “email” they recommend “logiciel” and “courriel”.  Good luck getting the French public to say anything but “le email”.

The seat of authority on the French language.

The seat of authority on the French language.

Voltaire standing amongst some fleurs.

A devious looking Voltaire standing amongst some fleurs.

As I meandered through the jumble of streets behind the Institut de France, I came across the residences of some very famous historical persons.

The hotel where Oscar Wilde died amidst hideous wallpaper.

The hotel where Oscar Wilde died amidst hideous wallpaper.

The residence of George Sand, aka Chopin's partner.

The residence of George Sand, aka Chopin’s partner.

Such a typical Parisian street scene.

Such a typical Parisian street scene.

Richard Wagner wrote "The Flying Dutchman" in this house.  Wonder why he was composing about a Dutchman in Paris...

Richard Wagner wrote “The Flying Dutchman” in this house. Wonder why he was composing about a Dutchman in Paris…

Eugene Delacroix's former residence has been converted into the Delacroix Museum.

Eugene Delacroix’s former residence has been converted into the Delacroix Museum.

xxx

Intersection of Rue de Seine and Rue de Buci, considered the heart of the Rive Gauche.

I liked how the Buddhist monk just strolled through my photo.

I liked how the Buddhist monk just strolled through my photo.

Peering down the restaurant-lined Cour du Commerce St. Andre.

Peering down the restaurant-lined Cour du Commerce St. Andre.

A bustling café.

A bustling café.

xxx

The long line in front of Le Comptoir du Relais St. Germain means it’s either really good or a tourist trap.  Apparently it’s the former as it is run by a famous chef by the name of Yves Camdeborde.  I didn’t have the patience to wait though (I think queuing at Wimbledon is enough for me).

By now it was 8 pm and I was starving.  Yet in a sense I was in the worst place possible to be hungry – because there seemed to be so many good restaurants in this area!  In the end, I returned to the Cour de Commerce and settled on a little restaurant called La Jacobine.

A cute little bistro.

A cute little bistro.

Le menu du jour.

Le menu du jour.

I liked how this place lets you pair different courses into a custom set.  In this case, I decided to skip the entrée and go with the plat + dessert combo.  Except there was a small problem.  I wanted to use my credit card, but the host told me that their machine was broken and that they would prefer if I used cash.  Unfortunately I only had 20 euros on me, and clearly that wasn’t going to be enough.  He was kind enough to hold my table for me while I went off searching for a BNP ATM machine.  Twenty minutes later, I returned flush with euros and ready to dig into some bistro fare.

For the plat I chose the duck confit.

For the plat I chose the duck confit which came on a bed of roasted potatoes, carrots, string beans, and zucchini.  Very hearty and very delicious.

And for dessert I chose the

And for dessert I had the house patisserie which was some sort of fruit crumble (I forget if it was apple or rhubarb or some other fruit) with a side of crème fraiche.

Again, this wasn’t the fanciest dinner, but the simplicity of the food made it really enjoyable.  Sure, you can go wait in line for Le Comptoir and shell out even more euros for a great experience, but that requires planning and patience.  It’s home-style food like this that I want to experience when travelling abroad.

Sur la Terre Battue

Sundays in France are frustrating – nothing is open!  I already knew that the French take their day of rest very seriously, but I didn’t expect even the supermarché to be fermé.  Nonetheless, it also happened to be the first Sunday of the month which means free admission to museums in Paris!  The only downside is the long lines that form outside the museums, so I limited myself to just the Musée d’Orsay and l’Orangerie.  To be honest though, I think my Wimbledon queue takes the cake…

After grabbing a couple croissants from a nearby boulangerie (god, I love how there are quality boulangeries everywhere), I hopped on the Metro to Tuileries and crossed the gardens and the Seine to reach the former railway station.  The museum didn’t open until 10 am, but by 9:30 the line had already snaked back and forth and spilled out onto the streets.

The delectable corner bakery.  Corner Bakery of Chicago - take note.

The delectable corner bakery. Corner Bakery of Chicago – take note.

Les Jardins Tuileries.

Le Jardin des Tuileries.

Le Musée d'Orsay.

Le Musée d’Orsay.

Locks on the bridge.

Locks on the bridge.

The line outside under the entrance canopy.

The line outside under the entrance canopy.  I just realized that guy in the lower left corner is wearing a Michigan shirt.  I also spotted a guy with a Blackhawks cap.

While the queue was long, it actually moved pretty quickly once the museum opened its doors.  By 10:30 I was inside.

Train station architecture.

Train station architecture.

A lion standing guard.

A lion standing guard.

Nice truss support...

Nice truss support…

As I mentioned before, the Musée d’Orsay was originally a train station that was to be demolished in the 1970s.  Thankfully some politicians had the bright idea of turning it into a museum that bridges the period between the collections housed at the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou.

The grand interior of the re-purposed train station.

The grand interior of the re-purposed train station.

A section model of the Palais Garnier.

A section model of the Palais Garnier.

I wonder where the supposed lake is underneath the concert hall...

I wonder where the supposed lake is underneath the concert hall…

There were a lot of interesting pieces of art by van Gogh, Monet, Seurat, Renoir, and others, but one exhibit I really liked featured furniture designed by Hector Guimard.  He designed the iconic entrances to the Paris Metro stations of which only two originals remain.  Such a pity that much of his work was actually destroyed and we’re left with just a shadow of his accomplishments.

A gigantic transparent clock.

A gigantic transparent clock.

Out on the roof terrace looking towards the Louvre.

Out on the roof terrace looking towards the Louvre.

As I didn’t want to deal with trying to find a restaurant that was open for lunch on a Sunday, I just ended up at the Café Campana in the museum and enjoyed a nice smoked salmon platter.

My smoked salmon platter.  Very light and refreshing.

My smoked salmon platter. Very light and refreshing.

Afterwards, it was off to the Musée de l’Orangerie just across the river.  It’s not a terribly big museum – it’s main purpose after all is to display eight of Monet’s Water Lilies – but they still had some good pieces in their basement exhibits.  Seeing Monet’s lilies under diffused light as he had intended was actually quite relaxing, especially after the hustle and bustle of the Musée d’Orsay.

With the two museums out of the way, I was faced with two possibilities: either go pick up my bag and check-in at the Park Hyatt before continuing exploring the city; or pay a visit to the hallowed ground of la terre battue, Roland Garros.  It was still early in the afternoon, so Roland Garros it was.

Paris should also be called the City of Bridges.

Paris should also be called the City of Bridges.

The obelisk at the Place de la Concorde.

The obelisk at the Place de la Concorde.

Looking down the world-famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

Looking down the world-famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

After a couple Metro transfers, I finally got off at the Porte d’Auteuil stop and started walking through the leafy neighborhood.  Without the streams of spectators normally seen when the French Open is held, it was hard to tell if I was going in the right direction.  But not to worry!  I finally came upon the unassuming entrance to the Stade Roland Garros.

Hmm...

Hmm…I was just at Wimbledon and I’ve been to Flushing Meadows.  Guess that leaves Melbourne!

One of the unassuming entrances to the Stade Roland Garros.

One of the unassuming entrances to the Stade Roland Garros.  Yes, I hopped over the metal barriers.

It was sort of odd being at a Grand Slam when the tournament is done.  The throngs of people you normally see on the TV screen are not present.  The entire site is eerily quiet and peaceful.  Perfect for me to explore the grounds.

The characteristic stairs

The characteristic stairs

Court no. 1 with the Place des Mousquetaires in the forefront.

Court no. 1 with the Place des Mousquetaires in the forefront.

One side of Court Phillippe-Chatrier, aka Court Centrale.

South side of Court Phillippe-Chatrier, aka Court Centrale.

Unfortunately Court Philippe-Chatrier was locked up, so I couldn't get into the stands.

Unfortunately Court Philippe-Chatrier was locked up, so I couldn’t get into the stands.

Looking down Allée Marcel Bernard towards Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

Looking down Allée Marcel Bernard towards Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

Court Suzanne-Lenglen was actually open, and I soon discovered that some people were playing doubles on the court!  How cool is that – you just bring a couple rackets and voila – you too can play on a Grand Slam stage.  After watching for a couple minutes, I noticed that the hallways beneath the stands were open, so I started wandering through them until I stumbled upon a little lounge that I imagine serves as the players lounge when play is in session.  I would have expected for it to be empty…except it was packed today with people!  As I entered the lounge and turned towards the TV screens, I suddenly realized that today was the Wimbledon men’s singles final, so it seemed particularly apropos for tennis fans to gather here (with their Perrier waters in hand) to watch Andy Murray become the first British winner of Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.

Court Suzanne-Lenglen.  One day I'll come back to see the pros play.

Court Suzanne-Lenglen. One day I’ll come back to see the pros play.

My two loves in one illustration!

My two loves in one illustration!

I really like the orange and green color palette of the Roland Garros branding.

I really like the orange and green color palette of the Roland Garros branding.

Composition of la terre battue.

Composition of la terre battue.

I of course made a stop by the gift shop and got a nice clay-colored shirt – on sale too!  I really wanted to get a towel as well, but alas, I had absolutely no more room in my suitcase to stuff one more item.  Besides, I feel that I should get towels only when I’ve actually seen match play on the courts, effectively validating that I’ve been there during the tournament.

And so with Roland Garros goodies in hand, I headed back to the hotel to grab my stuff and prepare for my most opulent and luxurious digs for the next two nights – the Park Hyatt Place Vendome.

Gâteau au Château

When I was planning my time in Paris, I was waffling on whether to make the trek out to Versailles or not.  It sounded like an all-day affair, and with so much to do in Paris proper, I wasn’t sure if it was worth my time.  Good thing I ignored that thought because Versailles was definitely a memorable stop.

What I love about Paris is that there is always a boulangerie around the corner from wherever you are.  And I love my carbs.  Particularly les pâtisseries.  So it seems fitting that just up the block from the hotel – with a commanding view of the Palais de Chaillot and the Tour Eiffel beyond – is an outstanding bakery called Carette.  Research revealed that even the chef to le président recommended this place, so of course I had to stop by.

A Parisian morning.

A Parisian morning.

Delectable Carette.

Delectable Carette.

The outside seating was quite crowded, and as I didn’t want to dally for too long, I just sat inside where I had tea with some pastries.

Thé avec les patisseries.

Thé avec les patisseries.

After scarfing down this 10 euro breakfast (yikes!), it was a short Métro ride to the Bir-Hakeim stop to transfer to the RER train.

Sur le train.

Sur le train.

The RER primarily services les banlieues (aka suburbs) of Paris and therefore the seating is more like Caltrain/Metra than typical subways.  After about 30 minutes we arrived at the Versailles-Château Rive Gauche stop and a 5-minute walk later was greeted by this guy:

Louis XIV sur son cheval.

Louis XIV sur son cheval.

I had bought my tickets beforehand, but even the line for prepaid tickets snaked back and forth across the entrance courtyard.

Les files devant le château.

Les files devant le château.

It appears that the Old Continent is not immune to the phenomenon of white boys wearing pink/salmon shorts.

It appears that the Old Continent is not immune to the phenomenon of white boys wearing pink/salmon shorts.

The gilded gates.

The gilded gates.

A statue on the inner gate.

A statue on the inner gate.

After passing through a security check (the real culprit of the long lines), you cross the inner courtyard and enter the Royal Chapel.

La chapelle royale.

La chapelle royale.

Un modèle!  I love models.

Un modèle! I love models.

A hallway in the north wing.

A hallway in the north wing.

Versailles truly is an orgy for the eyes.  Each room is full of intricate details that sometimes borders on the ridiculous.

Heroic statue no. 1.

Heroic statue no. 1.

And heroic statue no. 2.

And heroic statue no. 2.

Look at all the gold leaf on the ceiling of the Salon de Diane.

Look at all the gold leaf on the ceiling of the Salon de Diane.

The famous bust of Louis XIV.

The famous bust of Louis XIV.

My god this estate is huge.

My god this estate is huge.

Louis' official bed in the Salon de Mercure.  People would gather in front to watch him rising and eat breakfast.

Louis’ official bed in the Salon de Mercure. People would gather in front to watch him rising and eat breakfast.

Such ornateness everywhere.

Such ornateness everywhere.

Le Salon de la Guerre...

Le Salon de la Guerre…

...i.e. the War Room en anglais.

…i.e. the War Room en anglais.

And now the world-famous Galerie des Glaces!

And now the world-famous Galerie des Glaces!

Imagine having THAT as your backyard.

Imagine having THAT as your backyard.

Some sort of large tassel dangling from the roof of the King's Bedroom.

Some sort of large tassel dangling from the roof of the King’s Bedroom.

The queen's bedchamber.

The queen’s bedchamber.

A grand chandelier in the Chambre de la Reine.

A grand chandelier in the Chambre de la Reine.

A chest that once held Marie-Antoinette's jewels.  I like the shade of blue on that vase though.

A chest that once held Marie-Antoinette’s jewels. I like the shade of blue on that vase though.

A preserved dining set-up in the queen's antechamber.

A preserved dining set-up in the queen’s antechamber.

Yes, those velvet cushions are for people to sit on and observe the royalty eating their meals.

Yes, those velvet cushions are for people to sit on and observe the royalty eating their meals.

Done with the living chambers, I wandered through the remaining hallways that presented various works of art.

La Galerie des Batailles housed paintings that depicted various battles that the French gloriously won.

La Galerie des Batailles housed paintings that depicted various battles that the French gloriously won.

A hallway housed a bunch of statues of famous artists and thinkers.  Here is Laplace (transforms, anyone?)

A hallway housed a bunch of statues of famous artists and thinkers. Here is Laplace (transforms, anyone?)

The painter Delacroix.

The painter Delacroix.

Baroque composer Rameau.

Baroque composer Rameau.

And finally Descartes.  Je pense, donc je suis!

And finally Descartes. Je pense, donc je suis!

View from the Cour de Marbre.

View from the Cour de Marbre.

With the main building done, off to les jardins!

Prerequisite selfie.

Prerequisite selfie.

The intricate lawn patterns of the Orangerie, so named because exotic oranges were planted here.

The intricate lawn patterns of the Orangerie, so named because exotic oranges were planted here.

Such finely manicured shrubbery.

Such finely manicured shrubbery.

An empty Bassin de Latone behind me.

An empty Bassin de Latone behind me.

Looking down the vast Tapis Vert.

Looking down the vast Tapis Vert.

Which ends at the Bassin d'Apollon.

Which ends at the Bassin d’Apollon.

I had lunch at one of the restaurants near the Apollo Fountain, and much like establishments in amusement parks, the food was overpriced and mediocre.  Plus, the waiter was quite rude, but I attribute that mainly to the fact that he was way too overworked.

My banal croque-monsieur.

My banal croque-monsieur.

Le Grand Canal is truly stunning.  It's so large that you could easily have a sailboat run down the center.

Le Grand Canal is truly stunning. It’s so large that you could easily have a sailboat run down the center.

The trees lining the canal remind me of a Seurat painting.

The trees lining the canal remind me of a Seurat painting.

So Versailles mainly served as a place for royalty to get away from the “real world,” but even queens tire of the grandiosity of palaces like Versailles.  Sometimes they need a break from the frivolities, so what to they do?  Well, build a retreat from the retreat!  Hence the birth of the Grand Trianon, a 5-minute walk from the Grand Canal.

Le Grand Trianon, a place to get away from it all.

Le Grand Trianon, a place to get away from it all.

Le Salon des Glaces.

Le Salon des Glaces.

La chamber de l'impératrice.  Let's just have a public lounging in front of the bed, shall we?

La chamber de l’impératrice. Let’s just have a public lounging in front of the bed, shall we?

Le péristyle.

Le péristyle.

Even the Grand Trianon has to have its own grand jardin.

Even the Grand Trianon has to have its own grand jardin.

Bedroom of the Queen of Belgians.  Does that come with les moules-frites?

Bedroom of the Queen of Belgians. Does that come with les moules-frites?

The family drawing-room of Louis-Philippe.  I totally want to be a part of his family.

The family drawing-room of Louis-Philippe. I totally want to be a part of his family.

Le Salon de Malachites, so named because of the malachite furniture gifted by Tsar Alexander of Russia to Napoleon.

Le Salon de Malachites, so named because of the malachite furniture gifted by Tsar Alexander of Russia to Napoleon.

Outside the Salon des Jardins.

Outside the Salon des Jardins.

As if it weren’t frivolous enough, She-who-was-beheaded decided to build a retreat from the retreat from the retreat, naming it Le Petit Trianon.  Along the way from the Grand to Petit Trianon, you come across more diversions that only the rich could afford.

The Pavillon français where Marie-Antoinette would spend her summer evenings playing games, listening to music - you know, all the frivolous things one normally partakes in as a royal.

The Pavillon français where Marie-Antoinette would spend her summer evenings playing games, listening to music – you know, all the frivolous things one normally partakes in as a royal.

A fake waterfall through a fake stone formation.  Must be very good feng shui!

A fake waterfall through a fake stone formation. Must be very good feng shui!

A path through the woods.

A path through the woods.

The octagonal Belvédère where musicians would serenade those frolicking in the lake below.

The octagonal Belvédère where musicians would serenade those frolicking in the lake below.

Instead of heading straight to the Petit Trianon, I made a detour to the Hamlet.  Apparently, Marie-Antoinette wanted to appreciate the simple lives of peasants out in nature, and so decided to build a replica of a hamlet not far from the Petit Trianon.  It has everything from a functioning grain mill to hen houses and etc.  Except it’s incredibly sanitized as I’m sure she would shudder at actually working as a peasant and soiling her pristine “peasant” attire.  The more I wander through Versailles, the more I think French royalty was absolutely delusional.

The peaceful "Hamlet" by yet another lake.

The peaceful “Hamlet” by yet another lake.

The grain mill.

The grain mill.

Idealized peasant housing.

Idealized peasant housing.

The lake was absolutely teeming with les poissons!

The lake was absolutely teeming with les poissons!

The "humble" lodge that Marie-Antoinette probably stayed in.

The “humble” lodge that Marie-Antoinette probably stayed in.

It was probably more like a bed-and-breakfast than actual peasant living.

It was more like a bed-and-breakfast than actual peasant living.

The romantically named "Temple d'Amour."

The romantically named “Temple d’Amour.”

Cupid ready to shoot an arrow into the heart of an unsuspecting passerby.

Cupid ready to shoot an arrow into the heart of an unsuspecting passerby.

We finally arrive at the Petit Trianon, except there’s nothing petit about.  It’s still rather majestic and palatial.

Le Petit Trianon.

Le Petit Trianon.

Sweeping staircase.

Sweeping staircase.

I wonder if that's a harpsichord or an early piano.

I wonder if that’s a harpsichord or an early piano.

So with Marie-Antoinette’s fantasy land tour completed, it was time for the 15-minute hike back to the front of the grounds for the grand finale – the fountain show at the Bassin de Neptune.

Fountain no. 1.

Fountain no. 1.

Fountain no. 2, i.e. le Bassin du Dragon.

Fountain no. 2, i.e. le Bassin du Dragon.

Et finalement, le grand spectacle - le Bassin du Neptune.

Et finalement, le grand spectacle – le Bassin du Neptune.

After the show ended, the stampede to the RER station began.  I had thought my carnet of tickets would work, but after multiple attempts I had to muscle my way to a ticket machine to purchase a separate RER ticket.  I was so tired that I passed out on the train even with the lack of A/C and woke up shortly before the Bir-Hakeim stop.

Now Bir-Hakeim is located right at the foot of the Tour Eiffel, so I figured it would be convenient to visit the tower.  I had tried to pre-book tickets beforehand, but the website said everything was sold out.  Since it was already past 6 when I got back from Versailles, I decided to try my luck and prepared myself to walk the stairs up to the second platform.

Eiffel's masterpiece!

Eiffel’s masterpiece!

For those who know me, it shouldn’t be surprising that I sort of have an obsession with the Eiffel Tower.  Not because of its romantic connotation and etc. but because it is one of the world’s purest expression of structural form.  Gustav Eiffel built upon his knowledge of tall bridge pylons to derive the shape of his eponymous tower.  In fact, the primary design consideration was wind resistance and the tower’s shape is such that there is equilibrium at any point along the height of the tower when the wind blows.  For those who are mathematically inclined, I highly suggest searching for the paper that actually prescribes a mathematical equation to the tower’s profile.

Under La Dame de Fer.

Under La Dame de Fer.

The ticket office at the base of the east pylon.

The ticket office at the base of the east pylon.

Le Champ de Mars rolls out in front of the Tour Eiffel.

Le Champ de Mars rolls out in front of the Tour Eiffel.

The arches that frame the four pylons at the base are actually purely architectural.  They have no structural function.  Eiffel only put them there to give the public the impression that the tower was structurally sound.

The arches that frame the four pylons at the base are actually purely architectural. They have no structural function. Eiffel only put them there to give the public the impression that the tower was structurally sound.

The north pylon had the most people in line because it was the closest to the Metro station, so I checked out the line at the east pylon which wasn’t too bad.  Even though the screen said that the top was closed due to crowd control, the box office said it was still accessible, so I plunked down 15 euros and headed for the inclined elevators.

Up up up we go!

Up up up we go!

Look at all the gusset connections!

Look at all the gusset connections!

After a rather confusing transfer at the second platform, I ended up nearly 300 meters up in the air with all the splendor of Paris spreading out beneath me.

Les Invalides and part of the Champ de Mars.

Les Invalides and part of the Champ de Mars.

Looking west down the Seine.

Looking west down the Seine.

The Trocadéro with La Défense in the background.

The Trocadéro with La Défense in the background.

L'Arc de Triomphe at the center.

L’Arc de Triomphe at the center.

Le Grand Palais and the 8e arrondissement.

Le Grand Palais and the 8e arrondissement.

Rivets!  You don't see those too often these days.

Rivets! You don’t see those too often these days.

Paris's tallest structure...until Tours Hermitage are completed.

Paris’s tallest structure…until Tours Hermitage are completed.

I descended back down to the second platform for a slightly different perspective.

Le Champ de Mars with the controversial Tour Montparnasse in the back.

Le Champ de Mars with the controversial Tour Montparnasse in the back.

A fellow American tourist helping out another.

A fellow American tourist helping out another.

La Tour at twilight.

La Tour at twilight.

Une tour et un pont.

Une tour et un pont.

From the steps of the Trocadéro.

From the steps of the Trocadéro.

Selfie!

Selfie!

While I was taking photos at the Trocadéro, a Chinese couple spotted me asked if I could take their photo.  I obliged, and I figured a Chinese can help another Chinese right?  So I asked them take my photo which they agreed.  Now this is when you could tell the standards of mainland tourists were simply nonexistent.

WTF??

WTF??

WHY WOULD YOU TAKE A PHOTO OF ME BLOCKING A PART OF THE EIFFEL TOWER???  To this day, it still boggles my mind that they did not use common sense and get the WHOLE tower.

For all the travelling I did today, the most difficult part arrived – where to eat for dinner?  Before arriving in Paris I had tried to do some research on somewhat affordable and non-pretentious establishments, but there were so many that I just gave up.  Instead, I fired up Yelp on my phone and discovered a highly rated family restaurant in the Trocadéro district.

Le Scheffer is located appropriately on Rue Scheffer.

Le Scheffer is located appropriately on Rue Scheffer.

There was a good mix of locals and visitors in the restaurant, and the service was very friendly and warm.  I think it sort of helped that I spoke French as well.  The safe route would be to order a steak-frites as you would expect at these neighborhood bistros, but the specials of the day intrigued me and I ended up getting the espadon.  Except I didn’t know what was an espadon.  My phone was almost dead at this point, so I couldn’t look up what it was.  Rather than worrying about what it was, I just decided to go with the flow and be surprised.

Today's special was an espadon (swordfish) in a pepper sauce with a side of rice.

Today’s special was an espadon (swordfish) in a pepper sauce with a side of rice.

There was absolutely nothing fancy about this dish, but I think its simplicity is what made it so delicious.  The fish wasn’t too dry and the pepper sauce was quite flavorful.  The rice had also been seasoned with some butter and other spices, so it wasn’t your typical white rice or rice pilaf.  After polishing off everything, I decided to indulge in a dessert.

Dessert was a Mont Blanc, which is a chestnut-cream meringue topped with some crème fraiche and paired with some cinnamon wafers.

Dessert was a Mont Blanc, which is a chestnut-cream meringue topped with some crème fraiche and paired with some delicate gavottes.

The Mont Blanc had an interesting consistency – somewhere between a jelly and a cream – and the crème fraiche offered a tart counterbalance to the sweetness of the chestnut base.  And the gavottes were basically paper-thin crepes.  Delicieux!

And so the day ended.  From royal stomping grounds to a towering steel lattice and finally the comforts of a neighborhood bistro, I had covered a lot of ground today and only looked forward to what else Paris would offer.

Les Oeuvres au Louvre

Ah, the Louvre.  It can either be a most enlightening experience as one soaks in all the marvelous pieces of art or a miserable one with the throngs of people clamoring for a spot in front of La Joconde (aka the Mona Lisa).  But as luck would have it, my arrival in Paris coincided with the Louvre’s Friday night extended hours, so instead of closing at 5 pm, it is open until 9:45 pm.  Even though it’s open later, the Interwebs informed me that it’s actually less crowded during these hours vs. during the day as people are off for dinner and partaking in nocturnal activities.  And better yet, youth under the age of 26 (I wasn’t turning 26 until August) get free admission!  Win!

Emerging from the Carrousel du Louvre that is connected to the Metro stop, one immediately spots La Pyramide Inversée.

La Pyramide Inversée supposedly pointing down towards the grave of Mary Magdalene.

La Pyramide Inversée supposedly pointing down towards the grave of Mary Magdalene…if you believe in those tales.

As much as the Louvre is famous for its interior contents, its exterior is also worthy of admiration, especially the juxtaposition between the classical French style and the modern contributions by I.M. Pei.

Even at the main entrance, art is boldly on display.

Even at the main entrance, art is boldly on display.

Nifty spiral staircase.

Nifty spiral staircase.

Trying to be artsy in this photo - the Pyramide and Pavillon Richelieu lining up.

Trying to be artsy in this photo – the Pyramide and Pavillon Richelieu lining up.

A grand passageway in the Denon wing.

La Salle des Caryatides in the Sully wing.

I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.

The hand of the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

The hand of the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

Let's just call her NIke, m'kay?

Let’s just call her Nike, m’kay?

The gold-leafed rotunda of Salle 5 in the Sully Wing.

The gold-leafed rotunda of Salle 5 in the Sully Wing.

Artwork on the roof.

Artwork on the roof.

A headless frieze from the Parthenon.

A headless frieze from the Parthenon.

A naughty centaur harassing a woman.

A naughty centaur harassing a woman.

The Venus de Milo.

The Venus de Milo.

Seriously, were all dudes in ancient Greece this ripped?

Seriously, were all dudes in ancient Greece this ripped?

At least Athena is clothed.

At least Athena is clothed.

A more stately representation of Athena.

A more stately representation of Athena.

A mosaic from the Roman era.

A mosaic from the Roman era.

The ornate ceiling work contrasts with the simple marble Roman statues in the hall.

The ornate ceiling work contrasts with the simple marble Roman statues in the hall.

It's hard to judge the scale, but this column base is gigantic.  And remember this all had to be carved and chiseled, not cast-in-place like concrete!

It’s hard to judge the scale, but this column base is gigantic. And remember this all had to be carved and chiseled, not cast-in-place like concrete!

La Pyramide shimmering in the evening light.

La Pyramide shimmering in the evening light.

The Sully wing.

The Sully wing.

How fitting that the hall displaying the royal treasures of the French kings is perhaps the most ornate as if it belongs at Versailles.

How fitting that the hall displaying the royal treasures of the French kings is perhaps the most ornate as if it belongs at Versailles.

Royal crowns and sword.

Royal crowns and sword.

Now begins the tour of paintings.  First up: The Madonna (not THAT Madonna) and Child in Majesty Surrounded by Angels.

Now begins the tour of paintings. First up: The Madonna (not THAT Madonna) and Child in Majesty Surrounded by Angels.

Neat ceiling ornamentation.

Neat ceiling ornamentation.

La Grande Galerie. Très grande bien sûr.

La Grande Galerie. Très grande bien sûr.

St. Sebastian by Mantegna.  No, he is not the patron saint of acupuncture.

St. Sebastian by Mantegna. No, he is not the patron saint of acupuncture.

The Virgin and Child with St. Anne by da Vinci.

The Virgin and Child with St. Anne by da Vinci.

Are those really wobbly columns in the background?  Makes me think I'm tipsy.

Are those really wobbly columns in the background? Makes me think I’m tipsy.

The guy in this portrait looks eerily like Michael Cera.

The guy in this portrait looks eerily like Michael Cera.

La Belle Jardinière by Raphael.

La Belle Jardinière by Raphael.

The Marriage at Cana by Veronese.

The Marriage at Cana by Veronese.

Guess what all these people are crowding around to see...

Guess what all these people are crowding around to see…

La Joconde!

La Joconde!

It's funny to think that such a small painting has captivated the minds of millions (and perhaps billions) of visitors.

It’s funny to think that such a small painting has captivated the minds of millions (and perhaps billions) of visitors.

The obligatory selfie with Mona.

The obligatory selfie with Mona.

More ceiling art.

More ceiling art.

Fighting battles in the nude is probably not the most secure way of fighting.

Fighting battles in the nude is probably not the most secure way of fighting.

Sacre de l’Empereur Napoléon by Jacques-Louis David.

Sacre de l’Empereur Napoléon by Jacques-Louis David.

Napoléon crowning his own wife Josephine.

Napoléon crowning his own wife Josephine.

This looks like Cupid is being a douche and absconding after sleeping with a young maiden.

This looks like Cupid is being a douche and absconding after sleeping with a young maiden.

La Grande Odalisque by Ingres.

La Grande Odalisque by Ingres.

The Raft of the Medusa by Gericault.

The Raft of the Medusa by Gericault.

Dying Slave by Michelangelo.

Dying Slave by Michelangelo.

I think this is a sculpture of Hermes.

I think this is a sculpture of Hermes.

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss by Canova.

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Canova.

A medallion marking the Méridien de Paris which runs through the museum.

A medallion marking the Méridien de Paris which runs through the museum.

Now we leave behind Europe and enter Egypt.  A Sphinx replica.

Now we leave behind Europe and enter Egypt. A Sphinx replica.

Ancient temple columns

Ancient temple columns

Mummy sarcophagi.  Mummies just creep me out.

Mummy sarcophagi. Mummies just creep me out.

A seated king.

A seated king.

A fragmented bust of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten casting an eerie shadow.

A fragmented bust of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten casting an eerie shadow.

From Egypt we head east to Mesopotamia.  These giant Winged Human-Headed Bulls stand guard at the doorway.

From Egypt we head east to Mesopotamia. These giant Winged Human-Headed Bulls stand guard at the doorway.

It's impressive that they're all carved one single piece of stone.

It’s impressive that they’re all carved one single piece of stone.

The famous Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest examples of codified law.

The famous Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest examples of codified law.

We emerge from the Middle East into this grand courtyard, the Cour Marly.

We emerge from the Middle East into this grand courtyard, the Cour Marly.

I don't know what the purpose of this painting is, but it's certainly titillating.

I don’t know what the purpose of this painting is, but it’s certainly titillating.

More of the Cour Marly with its glass roof.

More of the Cour Marly with its glass roof.

Stone horses appear ready to leap off of their perches.

Stone horses appear ready to leap off of their perches.

At this point, it was nearly 9 pm and I was drained.  The collection at the Louvre is truly huge and I wish I had a couple more hours to wander about, but my feet were rebelling against me.  So I ascended through La Pyramide and had a look around the Rive Droit.

Tension ties providing stability for the glass panels of La Pyramide.

Tension ties providing stability for the glass panels of La Pyramide.

A masterpiece by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei.

A masterpiece by Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei.

Just before the sun sets...

Just before the sun sets…

L'Aile Richelieu.

L’Aile Richelieu.

Rue de Rivoli, one of the most prestigious addresses in the world

Rue de Rivoli, one of the most prestigious addresses in the world

Le Conseil d'état.

Le Conseil d’état.

Corner bistro.

Corner bistro.

The famous Métropolitain entrance by Guimard.  Pity he didn't make more of them.

The famous Métropolitain entrance by Guimard. Pity he didn’t make more of them.

I skedaddled my way back to Gare du Nord to collect my luggage and proceeded to head towards Le Trocadéro.

Even at 9:30 pm, Gare du Nord is still a busy place.

Even at 9:30 pm, Gare du Nord is still a busy place.

Several stops later, I exited the Trocadéro stop and arrived at the Radisson Blu Le Métropolitain where I was informed that my room had been upgraded.

Even this upgraded room was quite tiny.

Even this upgraded room was quite tiny.

But at least I was gifted some madeleines and chocolats.

But at least I was gifted some madeleines and chocolats.

I was not prepared for how huge the bathroom was though!

I was not prepared for how huge the bathroom was though!

My room was at the top floor and you could open the doors out onto this narrow ledge.  So I stepped outside, turned to my left, and saw this:

View from ma chambre!!!!!!

View from ma chambre!!!!!!

Quelle spectacle!

From Cheese to Fromage at 300 km/hr

After a fitful night of sleep, I woke up with my voice completely in the gutter.  Even after copious amounts of hot tea, my voice still refused to return (as my friend Scott aptly commented, my body declared independence on British soil – hurrah ‘Murica!) so I reluctantly had to cancel a lunch date with a high school friend of mine who I had not seen since…well, high school.  She had just arrived back in London the night before and as I was to take the Eurostar from St. Pancras International, we were going to get lunch there.  But with my voice not cooperating, I figured it would be a one-way conversation and sadly had to take a rain check for the next time we’re in the same city.

Great hotel - highly recommend it if you have the points for a free night!

Great hotel – highly recommend it if you have the points for a free night!

My Eurostar train wasn’t until 2:30 pm, but I still got to St. Pancras early as I wanted to drop off my bag at the bag storage facility while I checked out the British Library next door.

The former Midlands Grand Hotel that fronts St. Pancras railway station.  Now converted to the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

The former Midlands Grand Hotel that fronts St. Pancras railway station. Now converted to the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel.

Entrance to the British Library.

Entrance to the British Library.

The library itself isn’t really geared towards tourists (a Chinese man actually asked me – in Chinese! – where certain things were in the library), but they have a small exhibit of original manuscripts spanning centuries.  From Shakespeare’s folios to the original manuscripts by Beethoven and Schubert to Beatles song lyrics and letters written by British royalty, as well as religious texts in Hindi and Arabic, it was actually a really impressive collection.  But the crown jewel is the Magna Carta, the precursor to all modern democratic constitutions.  Tucked away in its own display room, it’s quite amazing to look at the document that inspired our Constitution more than 500 years later.

After that quick visit, I had a sandwich for lunch and drooled endlessly over the pastries at this shop:

Peyton & Byrne, a most delectable pastry shop.

Peyton & Byrne, a most delectable pastry shop.

They had all the standard English treats such as treacles and etc, but I ended up just getting a classic scone with jam and clotted cream to go.  As I hadn’t had any time for a proper afternoon tea (or a cheaper cream tea), I figured this was my last chance to indulge in the English tradition.

Inside St. Pancras International.

Inside St. Pancras International.

Now I have taken high-speed rail in Taiwan many times, but I was still excited to ride Eurostar for the first time.  I think the novelty of not only travelling through one of the world’s engineering marvels, the Channel Tunnel, but also taking HSR between two different countries really intrigued me.  Essentially, it’s like flying internationally but replacing the plane with a train. You still have to scan your boarding pass to get past the gates, go through security, and then clear immigration as the UK is not a part of the Schengen zone.  So theoretically speaking, the areas post-immigration are European Union land, right?

This being a Friday afternoon, the waiting lounge was packed, and after picking up a milk tea, I followed everyone else up to the platforms as boarding commenced.

The famous train shed of St. Pancras International.

The famous train shed of St. Pancras International.

And at precisely 2:31 pm, we took off for Paris.

Now that is Japanese level precision!

Now that is Japanese level precision!

I purposely chose a window seat as I like observing city/country-scapes fly past us.  The seating felt a bit tighter than what is offered on the Taiwan HSR, but it was still quite comfortable.  The boy sitting next to me seemed to be travelling alone, but I noticed that he had quite a lot of tennis paraphernalia with him.  Looks like someone also made a stop by Wimbledon…

As we passed through a series of tunnels, I figured it was time to bust out my previously purchased scone.

Afternoon tea with strawberry jam and clotted cream aboard the Eurostar.

Afternoon tea with strawberry jam and clotted cream aboard the Eurostar.

Not quite as glamorous as a traditional afternoon tea, but man, I’m still dreaming of that scone.

It was difficult to tell when we entered the Chunnel because there is no indication of the point of entry, but when we suddenly emerged from a long tunnel, it became clear that I had finally arrived on French soil.

La Belle France?  Not so much at this point.

La Belle France? Not so much at this point.

After travelling through Lille and passing by Aeroport Charles de Gaulle, we were approaching Gare du Nord when I went to the café car to purchase my carnet of Paris Metro tickets.  Basically, a booklet (carnet) of 10 tickets cost about 13 euros which is roughly half of what 10 individual tickets cost.  They really should just implement 3 and 7-day passes like the CTA does as I’m sure many tourists will find them useful.  It’s also an incredible waste of paper as I had to buy one more carnet during my time in Paris, but I guess the French like to cling on to their traditional ways.  Upon disembarkation, I went down to the consignes to store my bag in a locker, pay to use a public restroom (now that was an unexpected expense), and trotted off to find the Metro entrance with my ultimate destination being the Musée du Louvre.

In Yo’ Face, Queen Liz!

With skyscrapers and Wimbledon out of the way, it was time to indulge in the tourist traps of London.  Being that I was already on the South Bank, I figured it would be easiest to start with the Tate Modern.

The home of MI6?

Being that it is American Independence Day, I thought it would be fitting to give a shout out to our embassy on – gasp! – royalist soil.

A nifty little café under a bridge where I got my tea and pastry.

A nifty little café under a bridge where I got my tea and pastry.

The Tate Modern is actually a converted power station, so its antique and utilitarian exterior betrays the modern art being housed inside.  The former chimney now features prominently in the foreground, and the museum itself is across the river from St. Paul’s Cathedral, linked together by the infamous Millennium Bridge (more on that later).  Truthfully, I couldn’t care less about modern art, but it is free admission (as are most museums in London), so a stop by wouldn’t hurt.

The former chimney of the Tate Modern.

The former chimney of the Tate Modern.

Typical British July weather - gray and overcast!

Typical British July weather – gray and overcast!

The new addition to the Tate Modern by Herzog & de Meuron.

The new addition to the Tate Modern by Herzog & de Meuron.

A thought-provoking work by an African artist where the chess pieces are covered either in dollars or euros.  Is it suggesting that we're all just pawns of the capitalist wealthy?

A thought-provoking work by an African artist where the chess pieces are covered either in dollars or euros. Is it suggesting that we’re all just pawns of the capitalist wealthy?

View from their third-floor café.

View from their third-floor café.

I love me some Mondrian.

I love me some Mondrian.

I guess it's not hard to guess why I like Mondrian so much.

I guess it’s not hard to guess why I like Mondrian so much.

Something slightly different by Mondrian.  Monochromatic and at an angle!

Something slightly different by Mondrian. Monochromatic and at an angle!

To the artist, this is a sculpture.  To the engineer, this is just a typical HVAC duct.

To the artist, this is a sculpture. To the engineer, this is just a typical HVAC duct.

I didn’t spend too long at the Tate, so I made my way across the Millennium Bridge towards St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Now, the Millennium Bridge opened to great fanfare back in 2000 as a “masterpiece” by Foster + Partners with engineering services by Arup.  For a suspension bridge, the support piers are much shallower than what you would typically find on a suspension bridge.  But almost from the very beginning, the bridge started to vibrate back and forth – not up and down, but from side to side.  It got so bad that a couple days later, they had to shut down the bridge and start a full investigation.  Back then, it was a huge black eye for Arup because they were (and still are) such an internationally renowned engineering firm and yet they ended up with this almost disaster.  In the end, it was determined that they had ignored checking for the natural lateral frequency of the bridge rather than checking for both vertical and lateral frequencies as is typical.  They put some dampers in the bridge and now it’s fine and dandy.  They even put some spin on their project site for Millennium Bridge, saying that they worked tirelessly around the clock to come up with a solution to the problem – without ever acknowledging that the problem stemmed from their own oversight.  Haha…

No wobbly bridge today!

No wobbly bridge today!

As you can see, the cables are not very high above the deck as is typical for suspension bridges.

As you can see, the cables are not very high above the deck as is typical for suspension bridges.

Looking down river.

Looking down river.

Approaching St. Paul's Cathedral.  The international headquarters for The Salvation Army is actually the glass building on the right.

Approaching St. Paul’s Cathedral. The international headquarters for The Salvation Army is actually the glass building on the right.

St. Paul's up close.

St. Paul’s up close.

I skipped stepping inside St. Paul’s and continued walking west along Fleet Street, passing by some old court edifice and – perhaps most importantly – making a stop at the original Twinings tea shop.  My dad loves their English breakfast tea, so I figured I should get him some from the “source.”  They actually sell two versions of the breakfast tea: one for the international market which is what you would get in the supermarket, and another for the British market.  They market them separately because, as the shop attendant told me, “The British like drinking stronger tea, so we have a separate line for them”.  I sort of chuckled silently as I wanted to say, “Well, we Chinese have been drinking tea for thousands of years before you guys did”.  I did end up getting him the “British” blend, and I also sampled some other teas before buying some – wait for it – Chinese chrysanthemum tea.  Last time my mom went back to Taiwan I asked her to get some chrysanthemum tea for me, but she refused to as she found that a lot of the chrysanthemum teas in Taiwan are actually imported from China, and of course any food product from China is contaminated.  Oh well…

It's not everyday you get to see dragons!

It’s not everyday you get to see dragons!

The original Twinings tea shop.  Notice the stereotypical China-man figures at the top.

The original Twinings tea shop. Notice the stereotypical China-man figures at the top.

I feel like I should be offended by those figures, but I guess it's a part of their heritage...

I feel like I should be offended by those figures, but I guess it’s a part of their heritage…

An old court of some sort.

An old court of some sort.

This being the British capital, there were plenty of embassies around.

G'day mate!  Hope I can make it Down Under some day!

G’day mate! Hope I can make it Down Under some day!

Place de Montreal, as it would actually be written en francais.  Except I don't see the Canadian flag nearby...

Place de Montreal, as it would actually be written en francais. Except I don’t see the Canadian flag nearby…

I made a detour to Covent Gardens as it sounded like a good spot for lunch, but I regretted my decision almost immediately.  As I walked around, there just didn’t seem to be anything appetizing, and most importantly of all, it was chock full of tourists.  Yes, I am one too, but I don’t want to settle for mediocre food at exorbitant prices.  If only Borough Market was closer…

A very touristy Covent Gardens.

A very touristy Covent Gardens.

Quite commercialized, to be honest.

Quite commercialized, to be honest.

As I continued westward from Covent Gardens, I started coming upon certain signs…

Oh?  蘭州拉麵?  Does that mean I can get my 刀削麵 here??!!!

Oh? 蘭州拉麵? Does that mean I can get my 刀削麵 here??!!!

This looks suspiciously Asian...

This looks suspiciously Asian…

Ah, the 牌樓 makes its appearance.

Ah, the 牌樓 makes its appearance.

Indeed, I have found my way to Chinatown.  It actually seemed decent, with several enticing restaurants and Cantonese BBQ shops.  But come on, I didn’t travel across the Atlantic Ocean to eat Chinese food…

As Chinatown abuts Soho, aka the Boystown of London, it was sort of interesting to see the dividing line between noodle shops/Asian convenience stores and S/M display windows/gay bars.  It makes for an uneasy coexistence, I think…

Nothing too crazy during the day on the streets of Soho.  Come 11 pm however...

Nothing too crazy during the day on the streets of Soho. Come 11 pm however…

I was incredibly confused by this shop.  Is it a boba shop?  A gay club?  Or both?

I was incredibly confused by this shop. Is it a boba shop? A gay club? Or boba shop by day, gay club by night?

Next stop was the commercial cesspit known as Piccadilly Circus.

Start of Piccadilly Circus.

Start of Piccadilly Circus.

Throngs of tourists everywhere.

Throngs of tourists everywhere.

This just seemed like Times Square dropped in the middle of London.  Broadway show advertisements everywhere.  Gawking tourists with cameras and etc.  I came, I saw, and I left almost immediately…

Now this was a sight to behold.

Now this was a sight to behold.

I also came across a Five Guys joint here.  It seemed ironic that there was a line out the door given that it was American Independence Day today. Still, In-n-Out rulez.

Middle Earth beckons!

Middle Earth beckons!

Trafalgar Square on the other hand looked more stately and civic.  The bronze lions surrounding the column were purportedly made from cannons that Napoleon had used.

Nelson's Column.

Nelson’s Column.

At the base of the column.

At the base of the column.

The lions courtesy of Napoleon's cannons.

The lions courtesy of Napoleon’s cannons.

I was getting close to Westminster, and I also had to head back to the hotel to pick up my bag and get over to the Hyatt, so I went down Whitehall St.

Great Scot!  The famous Scotland Yard.

Great Scot! The famous Scotland Yard.

Guarded entrance to the Horse Guards Parade.

Guarded entrance to the Horse Guards Parade.

Entrance to the Cabinet offices.  I find English doors very prim and proper.

Entrance to the Cabinet offices. I find English doors very prim and proper.

Downing Street is to Britain as ____ is to the US of A.

Downing Street is to Britain as ____ is to the US of A.

I was bummed I couldn't go inside as I find 10 Downing St so much less ostentatious than the White House.

I was bummed I couldn’t go inside as I find 10 Downing St so much less ostentatious than the White House.

More English doors.

More English doors.

This looks quite French to me.

This looks quite French to me.

The great Winston Churchill hunched over.

The great Winston Churchill hunched over.

Parliament.

Parliament.

After grabbing my bags, I took the Tube to Bond St and walked down Oxford St, which is a shopping mecca.  Couldn’t really tell the difference from Michigan Ave or Union Square.  But the Hyatt Regency was awesome.  I was being checked-in when the attendant asked me, “Do you speak Chinese?”  I was bit startled but I said yes.  She said “I do too!  Would you prefer speaking in English or Chinese?”  Now, she was Indian, so that really shocked me.  I responded, “I’m fluent in both, so either one is fine.”  We had a laugh, and she proceeded to hand me a booklet that was in both English and Chinese (Simplified, grrr) which explained the hotel amenities and facilities.  As I flipped through the booklet, I realized that Hyatt wrote this booklet specifically for Chinese customers as it basically said, “Hyatt has been in China since 1969 and we truly appreciate the hospitality of the country.  In return, we now extend our warmest hospitality to Chinese travelers around the world at our properties.”  It wasn’t until I got to my room and looked over my invoice did I notice that I had left the purpose of my visit as “business” instead of “pleasure” as I normally do.  That’s when it all started to make sense – I was mistaken for a Chinese businessperson!  No wonder they were treating me so nicely…

My lovely room.  My only gripe - no ice machine.  I had to ring up room service for a huge tub of ice as I was fast losing my voice at this point.

My lovely room. My only gripe – no ice machine. I had to ring up room service for a huge tub of ice as I was fast losing my voice at this point.

At this point, my voice was almost completely gone.  My stomach had returned to normal, but now my throat was basically shot.  I drank a huge cup of tea hoping that my voice would come back then headed out to kill some time before meeting up with my coworkers at the office.

More English doors.

More English doors.

After walking down Wigmore/Mortimer Streets (such classically English names, might I add), I realized that I was actually near the Arup offices.  So of course I had to stop by!

Oh, hello. Didn't know you were in the neighborhood...

Oh, hello. Didn’t know you were in the neighborhood…

The Arup complex actually covered many buildings clustered around Fitzroy and Howland Streets.  Can’t imagine that thousands of people work in these buildings.

Arup edifice.

Arup edifice.

I actually sort of had mixed feelings coming here.  Back in school, working at Arup was my goal as they did a variety of high-profile projects, and I did intern in Arup SF one summer.  I felt shafted during the full-time hiring process even though I was a former intern, and now I’m at SOM.  Even though I’m quite happy at SOM which is not a shabby firm, I can’t help but feel I’m not good enough for Arup.  Then again, that was before I knew how much crap Arup can sometimes produce.  Haha…

Yes, this tuba player has flames shooting out of his tuba.

Yes, this tuba player has flames shooting out of his tuba.

I got back to the SOM office, and we all headed out to Kings Cross for the happy hour event.  The actual bar was tucked away in an alley off of the main road.  The alley itself straddled over the rail lines exiting Kings Cross, so it made for an interesting situation.  People were just hanging out in the alleys with beers in hand, something you don’t quite see everyday in America.

How the Brits hang.

How the Brits hang.

It was really cool meeting not only the current SOMers but also former SOM people.  Unfortunately, a good number of them were laid off during the crisis in 2008, but I’m happy to say that all of them found work at other respectable firms.  We all had mutual friends and acquaintances, and even though I couldn’t really speak, it was still fun to hear about what the work/life balance is like in a non-American locale such as London.  I wish we had similar get-togethers here in Chicago, but come to think of it, it would be an utter disaster as lots of people have jumped to other firms (such as TT and Halvorsen) and some probably still harbor some animosity towards SOM.

People joined and left as the night went on and we had dinner in the restaurant portion.  I was actually quite tired by 10 because I was still sick, so while the others went to another bar I decided to call it quits.  It was sort of bittersweet as I realized my chances of being back in London are very slim (and almost next to none for business purposes), so it would be my only time ever seeing these people.  A pity that I couldn’t hang out more with them as they are a nice lot of people.  But you never know – I may be back!