Sunday, September 21, 2014
A very busy two weeks in Paris and London, literally walking miles every day. We didn't plan our itinerary too much in advance, but we did have a list of things we wanted to see. Having limited time and a lengthy list made for some exhausting days. No time for souvenir shopping in either place, although I did come back with thousands of digital images, wonderful experiences, and lots to think about.
It would have been ideal to be able to visit these cities just before heading off to university, to give context to studies of history, art and music. Being there made the subjects more of an experience, versus something read about on a flat, printed page. I could imagine what it would have been like for people attending mass in Notre Dame through the centuries, or what it might have been like to mudlark on the side of the Thames for treasure when the tides went out.
Both cities are so rich with history everywhere you look. In London, just having a drink at the local pub could be mind boggling. And history layered on history.... Plaques on doors and alleyways noting Lawrence of Arabia lived here, or the Rose Theatre was erected here in 1587, or the Clink was first built on this corner in 1104. In Paris, we stayed at St-Louis-en-I'lle, just across the street from the church built in 1624 and around the corner from our apartment, was 17 quai d'Anjou, where Baudelaire used to host his hash parties. (I tried to snap some photos but the guard at what is now the Paris Institute stopped me from entering the courtyard).
Churches and palaces modified through centuries to accommodate new faiths, evolving tastes and new knowledge. Museums like the Louvre or the Victoria and Albert that seem to stretch on for miles. Cathedrals built on the sites of Roman temples built over tribal lands.
Some of the trip highlights were spent wandering through the parks. Beautiful green and blue spaces to rest and recover. Public transportation integrated into waterways, and riverbanks along the Seine and the Thames both claiming public lands along their edge. Gardens and parks on arteries further afield. Paris has about 10% dedicated to public green space, such as Luxenbourg or Jardin des Plantes. London has 35,000 acres, or almost 40% of its surface area, dedicated to green space; there must be incredible pressure to yield to new development. With the densities of these cities the parks are essential. I hope London manages to preserve their gardens and parks.
Incredible wealth on these streets, especially London, where houses in downtown Belgravia sell for 80 million pounds and Maserati are parked out front on the curb. The average house price hit $500,000 pounds during our stay, with headlines crying out against the extra stamp tax and high salaries needed to even get a toe on the property ladder. There was definitely more hustle and traffic in London. Rush hour was flooded with moms taking their uniformed kids off to school, road warriors on bikes, men and women in suits. Roads flooded with cars, doubledecker buses stalled, people doing business on their cell phones.
In contrast, Paris was much more laid back. The business people seemed to have time to take lunches in cafes, and the pace of walkers on the streets was much less frantic. We met several visitors who travel there on at least an annual basis, some mentioning more than 20 visits. Staying that frequently, you might as well invest in some real estate. Prices there have been falling in recent months but with costs per square meter ranging upwards from EUR 8,500, it still makes Toronto look affordable.
Speaking of Toronto... it is great to be home. Our 'city within a park', our comfortable bed, our garden. Feeling more connected now to these two cities across the Atlantic and to the history of European nations. Why does it make me somehow happier to know I am just a little speck in time, in this great big sea of life?
The wonder of it all.