Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Touring Europe: Comparisons and Notes

I spent three of the last four weeks in Europe--Paris and Berlin for research and London for a presentation and a spot of research. In each city, I had significant time to explore and tour. I could have used more time in London, but that will always be the case as London is my favorite city outside of North America.

I enjoyed London more perhaps because of nostalgia. I spent seven weeks there long ago as part of an educational program one summer during my college years, with courses focused on strategic studies and contemporary Europe (the former was a much better and informative class than the latter, and not because it was occasionally held in a pub). I also enjoyed London a great deal back then because I knew an Englishman who had been my co-counselor at camp, so I quickly had a circle of British friends. Perhaps it is entirely about language, as wandering around London and enjoying the sights was easier than in Paris or Berlin. Actually, the real benefit of English was that I could partake of great shows (Avenue Q, 39 steps) and also relax at night to a bit of TV. It is also hard to imagine shows as incredibly silly as these two in Paris and even in Berlin.

Yet, I don't think it is entirely about language, because I realized that my qualifier may need qualifying: London may be my favorite city, not just my favorite one outside of North America. I love San Diego, but it is hard to compare with London--the weather is different, the histories and cultural features are not easily compared either. And SD is not so much for the city--the downtown, the museums, but more the area--the beaches, La Jolla, the weather. Other than SD, I guess my favorite North American city might be Boston. And if I had to choose a week or a month in either Boston or London, well, that is an easy to choice to make. [And I do like Montreal a great deal, but I drive on its streets too much and am far too aware of its politics to say it can be my favorite city]

Some remaining observations, etc:
  • Final comparison of Metro/Subway emergency instructions: Paris with 5 languages, Berlin with 4, London and Montreal 1 each.
  • On the other hand, London's cultural destinations/tourist sites (British Museum, Tower of London) had something like eight or so languages for descriptions of various artifacts.
  • Perhaps the language thing impacted by beer enjoyment, as I liked the beer in Britain more, but that might have been because I could order what I wanted. Of course, Britain was the big turning point in my enjoyment of beer. I hated it before my trip to London so many years ago because all I knew was American mass-produced swill. This was before the micro-brew industry took off. Again, nostalgia for the past may be coloring today's perceptions.
  • I really lucked into a great conversation with the one Member of Parliament I met, as he dragged me around Westminister since a vote was about to be held. Most of the MPs I met in Europe were pretty open and interesting, but, again, perhaps because the language thing, I was more at ease as he kidded his colleagues as everyone sped-walk to the vote.
  • Flights keep being strange--no calls for doctors on this last one, but some guy needed help in the loo on the way back from the UK. I don't know if he broke it or what, but I was little alarmed by a guy who was nervous and standing half in and half outside the bathroom.
  • Biggest Surprises in the UK: the price of a Tube ride (four pounds or $6-8 for one trip on the underground within the central zone)--not a great way to deal with traffic problem; and that the Brits are far more fit than I remember.
While I had an amazingly frustrating year before my trips to Europe, but I cannot complain these days, as I have a great job. I got to spend three weeks or so in amazing cities, interviewed interesting people about an important and complex project, and learned a great deal about a great many things.

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