Down and Out In Paris and London

Actually, of course, we were anything but down and out. Rather, on vacation. Our plan was to spend a week in Paris, where we had never been, followed by a week in London, where we go pretty often. It didn’t quite turn out that way. Here are a few observations for those who might be interested:

* We saw absolutely no political activity–no pro-Hamas demonstrations, in particular. On the contrary, both Paris and London are decorated for Christmas and teeming with shoppers. I did see, however, that a German tourist was stabbed by a Muslim extremist near the Eiffel Tower yesterday.

* Paris was great. Our principal interests are art, history, and food, in all of which Paris abounds. Versailles and the Louvre were terrific, of course. The Louvre is huge and its collection is vast. But signage isn’t great and I don’t think the collection is as well maintained as it could be. I actually prefer London’s National Gallery.

The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles

The Seine, shot from a window in the Louvre

* The National Marine Museum has just re-opened after being closed for several years. It is a fun visit with lots of ship models, among other things.

* We saw two homeless people in Paris and none in London. No doubt there are people in both cities who can’t afford lodging, but they are not allowed to camp out in the streets. Urban decline, such as we see in San Francisco, Los Angeles and many other American cities, is a choice.

* We took the Eurostar train from Paris to London through the Chunnel. We showed up at Gare du Nord on the appointed day and found that our train had been canceled due to a strike somewhere along the way–a very European occurrence that unfortunately still can happen. We re-booked for the following day, which meant that we spent seven nights in Paris and five in London. Happily, the train then ran as scheduled. It is great–Paris to London in something like three hours.

* In Paris, we stayed at the St. James Hotel and Club which was excellent, like being in the country only in the 16th arrondissement. Highly recommended. In London, we stayed at our usual haunt near the corner of St. James’s and Pall Mall, an easy walk from Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly. Both cities are great for walking, especially at Christmas time.

* Britain’s National Portrait Gallery has re-opened, having been renovated during a two or three year shutdown. I think portraits tend to be boring, but the Portrait Gallery is fantastic, and its collection is sparkling after being cleaned while the museum was closed. The Portrait Gallery is next to the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square and both are a must-see, in my opinion.

Admiral Horatio Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton, his mistress

* The National Gallery is awesome and highly accessible compared to the Louvre. I am a fan of John Constable, among others:

Constable’s “The Hay Wain”

* For some reason, Europeans are more into Christmas than Americans, at least in terms of public celebration. London is very much in the holiday spirit, with streets decorated and multiple Christmas markets:

* Covid and its idiotic shutdowns are a distant memory. People are everywhere, air travel is setting records, stores and restaurants are bustling. Thank goodness. Let’s hope the would-be fascists don’t try to do it again.

* We ate some great meals, as you would expect. Some of our favorites were at less formal spots like Le Stella, a brasserie that is a short walk from where we stayed in Paris. Probably our favorite restaurant in the world is London’s Jamavar, and not far behind is Il Vicolo, a family-owned Italian restaurant located in an alley near St. James’s Square. (Il Vicolo means “The Alley.”) Recommended if you are in the vicinity.

* We left London early Saturday morning. A snow storm hit later in the day, shutting down a number of airports across Western Europe, so our timing was good. I doubt that the snow would have closed down MSP, however.

* As always, it is good to be home.

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