Musings from Europe

  • Air conditioning in Europe is generally set warmer than it is here. Most of the time that’s a good thing. On the other hand, many buildings (including two of the three hotels we stayed in) don’t bother to have it at all.
  • Similarly, summer rain is sudden and heavy. Apparently this is an “anywhere besides California” thing, though.”
  • Unexpected interesting episode: we went to hear an organ concert in the Notre Dame de Paris cathedral. It was hot and stifling and everyone was falling asleep, and the space was actually too big (the notes ended up a little slurry). But it was impressive, and Bach’s famous Toccatta et Fugue sounded great.
  • After watching several episodes over the course of the trip (in French), I am now fully convinced that Dennis Ren is, in fact, Batman.
  • My mom and brother speak French, and my dad and I picked up a little. I can’t do the French “R” though, and my practice attempts grated greatly on my brother.
  • Despite that, many of the people we interacted with would default back to English for us. In France (Paris and Arles) it was done with a smile; Geneva was more dismissive.
  • French almost-cognates are interesting. Some examples: “rive” (riverbank, not river), “demander” (ask, not demand), “hôtel” (both hall and hotel).
  • Going from Paris to Arles on Bastille Day was a lucky coincidence (except for our taxi detour that had to take the long way to the train station). We got to see President Sarkozy at the start (before the start?) of the parade in Paris, along with military jets, then fireworks at night in Arles over the Rhone River.
  • I miss the De Anza fireworks from ten years ago.
  • Our tour of the Camargue was shared with a French family with two small kids, and a couple from Denmark. Our driver only spoke French. So often there’d be three languages spoken in the car, and I learned that egret is “silk-eagle” in Danish.
  • Geneva has ridiculously expensive restaurants. Grocery stores are reasonable, other stores a bit overpriced, but the restaurants were a lot, only partly mitigated by tax/tip being included. The hotel cost, though, is balanced by their transit card—tourists in a Geneva hotel get to ride the public transit for free.
  • Actually, in general Geneva’s just not a place for vacationers to visit. There’s not exactly a lot to do, it wasn’t really as welcoming as Paris or Arles, and like I said, it’s expensive.
  • My mom pointed out that since the Rhone River starts at Lake Geneva and empties into the Camargue, and pretty much parallels the bus/train lines between Arles, Avignon, Lyon, and Geneva, we basically travelled along the entire length of the river for the latter part of our trip.
  • We took the TGV twice, adding another “fastest” to my repertoire (along with the Shinkansen in Japan), and recalling my childhood obsession with trains.
  • It’s not a vacation for me if I’m not doing things and having experiences. I can’t just go to museums all day, or walk all over the city. Experiences from this trip: delicious breakfasts in the Hotel Nicolo in Paris, being in a sports bar for the World Cup finals, “croque monsieurs” as a fallback food, French MTV (mostly playing the same pop hits every day, many of them in English), metro and bus transfers, hearing that organ concert, street musicians (including an accordianist in the metro), the market at Arles, swimming at the Pont du Gard, using my knowledge of French fruit names to buy crushed ice drinks, seeing siege engines fire, stumbling upon an outdoor concert, taking a ferry, and hiking along the Rhone.
  • Things specifically worth doing in Paris: the Eiffel Tower, the Bastille Day parade if you’re there on July 14.
  • Things specifically worth doing in Arles (or nearby): a guided tour of the Camargue, Les Baux if you’re into castles / siege weapons.
  • Things specifically worth doing in Geneva: the Red Cross museum, the History of Science museum if you’re into that (it’s short), and hiking along the Rhone if you’re interested in that. But again, don’t just go to Geneva to visit.
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