Last week I undertook an enchanting voyage to the Andalusian cities of Malaga and Grenada (in the South of Spain). It’s one thing to be told that the area used to be ruled by the Moors, and quite another to actually see the Moorish sites and realize how similar they are in style to the ones you find in Morocco with fountains, courtyards, arches, ornate woodwork, calligraphy, geometric patterns, and tile mosaics in green, black, yellow, and blue – all the trappings of Islamic art and architecture. The highlight was of course the Alhambra in Grenada, which I heard is now the most visited tourist attraction in Spain. In Malaga, I also visited its magnificent Cathedral. Apparently, the site where it was built was first a Basillica and then a Mosque, before being converted into a Cathedral (over centuries of construction and never finished). Other highlights I saw in Malaga included the the Alcazaba, a Moorish fortress built over Roman ruins, and the Picasso Museum. Interestingly, though Picasso was born in Malaga and the museum boasts an impressive collection, the artist never actually returned to the city after he left at 19 years old.
A few weeks ago, I travelled from Morocco to the UK, via the sea and Spain. Well, by the UK, I mean Gibraltar. Lest you think this doesn’t count, it was very British indeed. As the postcard I bought there says: “British we are, British we stay.”
Upon arrival, I tried to use a pay phone, but it only took British pounds, not Euros. And then I couldn’t charge my phone because the plugs were British. At least they drive on the right side of the road. (According to my guide, they wisely made that change in 1929). On the plus side, I very much enjoyed the fish & chips and selection of British chocolates.
The journey from Africa to Europe began with a 45-minute ferry ride from Tangier in the North of Morocco to Tarifa in the South of Spain– an easy feat with an American passport. On one hand, one does see a blending of cultures on both sides of the sea: The clear Spanish influence on Tangier, and the Moroccan cafes and Arabic script I spotted upon arrival in Tarifa. But on the other hand, the borders do seem to coincide with significant differences in atmosphere. …Continue Reading
The past weekend was my last full one on this trip to Paris. The vacation ends Sunday when I’m off to Morocco to start my Arabic studies. To say my final farewell to the city, this weekend was about experiencing it in different ways: by boat, by bike, and — at the movies.
“Midnight in Paris” is a fine film indeed. Watching it in Paris is even better. The audience broke out in several “aww”s during the opening scene, which flashed pictures of the city–both the iconic monuments and your everyday, quaint boulangerie. We rush pass these all the time, but forget how lucky we are to be here. The picture that drew the biggest “aww” (and a few chuckles) was one of the very movie theater we were in!!!
Unfortunately, my feeling of elation walking out of the theater and into the city center was dampened somewhat when the first scene we came across was all too common here, but not captured in the movie: a guy, fly unzipped, taking a whizz in the corner. Nor did the movie capture any of the city’s thousands and thousands of panhandlers. And I suppose it was impossible for it to capture the smells.
But then again, how can I possibly complain? The next eve I sailed down the Seine on a disco boat cruise. And the day after that, I took a leisurely bike ride through the Bois de Boulogne and along the streets of the 15th and 16th. What can I say? Paris, je t’aime.
(On a side note, I used a Paris “velib” rental bike, the kind you see at parking stations dotted throughout the city – They even made the movie. I recommend them 🙂 See http://en.velib.paris.fr/ for more info.)
Since Monday marks a French national holiday (one of the about dozen jours feriés), much of the city has emptied out to take advantage of the opportunity to travel that a three-day weekend provides. Well, we thought about taking off on a vacation, but if you don’t book more than a couple weeks in advance this time of year, the prices to even nearby cities get jacked-up. And then it occurred to us: why leave? We’re in Paris! True, I’ve already been here a couple weeks and will be a couple weeks more. But in the daily routine of French classes, chores, and gym, I actually haven’t had as much time as I would have hoped to explore what the city and its surroundings has to offer.
So we decided on a plan for today: morning at the Chateau de Versailles.
But then there was a problem: bed bugs.
Well, bed bugs had always been an issue here, but we were in a bit of denial. And–given that we occasionally spotted mosquitos in the apartment, it was easy enough to dismiss the itchy, red welts on my body as having another source. But once you look under the mattress cover and actually see the bugs, you have no choice but to toss everything aside and deal with them.
I went to the supermarket armed with the google translation of “bed bugs” and “insecticide” (actually the same in French), but no one seemed to know what I was talking about. Sifting through the insecticide isle at the Monoprix supermarket, I quickly had to learn some new vocabulary: cockroaches, ants, flies, bees, spiders, mosquitos. Hmm… the insecticides for which of these creatures would be most likely to kill bed bugs too?
Well, we tried a combination. But with noxious gasses filling up the apartment, we needed to get out. So it was off to Versailles after all!
It wasn’t far at all on the train from where we live, and when I first arrived at the castle, I thought I was entering the gates of heaven. It helped too that I could get in free as a young (under 26) EU resident (I have a Paris student ID). But once you wait almost an hour in a line to get inside and find out that you are packed in it with other tourists like sardines, the majesty fades quite a bit. All said and done, I’d say the palace is highly overrated compared to other castles I’ve seen. The gardens are said to be magnificent, but we hardly got to see much of them. We thought they were going to close at 6:30, but they actually closed at 5:30 today.
In the end, stopping at a nice restaurant for sangria, tapas, and ice-cream, made the trip well worth it. And when we got back to Paris, we went out to the movies to a very classy theater in the chic 16th for a good laugh at “Bridesmaids.” Though, the French in the theater weren’t laughing quite as much, I would surmise due to poor translation in the subtitles. I mean, the very title of the film is poorly translated as “My best friends.”
On the walk back home from the theater, we crossed a bridge over the Seine, while looking on at the Eiffel Tour, lit up for the night. I guess, when you see such a splendid site on such a lovely evening, you remember that despite the bed bugs–and the rats and the need to watch where you step so as to avoid stepping in dog poop–Paris still has a certain charm.