travel

Today, I walked the city of Paris.

Throughout my research, I read again and again, “Paris is a walking city.” This seemed to bode well for me, as I’m notorious for walking everywhere when I’m in a city where I can (I walked from Bethnal Green to Regent’s Park last winter when the tube was on strike), and I knew I would embrace it straight off.

However, I had no idea just how much of a walking city Paris truly is. For a walker, it is ideal – everything somehow is so close together, so built practically on top of each other, that it is impossible to walk a hundred meters before finding something else breathtaking.

I think it has to do with the way the city was built. Through its history, Paris has always been an enclosed city, piled high of itself, layered in a way that is almost Trojan. It is tall compact unlike anywhere I have seen before. Buildings stretch for storeys, and the rare gaps are filled with greenery; a medieval tower sits next to a seventeenth century shop next to an office block. Everything connects to each other, historically and culturally, and that connection means everything is tight together.

Today, I walked the city. I walked from my flat in Republique to the Marais, to Île de la Cité and Notre Dame, to the Louvre, along the Champs-Élysées, to the Arc de Triomphe.

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Fitbit says it is 23,000 steps, but I’m pretty sure it was more.

And it left me with a hell of a sunburn. Yow.

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travel

From England, to the sea, to France.

Eurostar is amazing.

My day was special from early on in the morning, when I knew I was leaving on a train from St. Pancras Station. If you have not heard me go on about it, St. Pancras is my favorite building in London, a Gothic Victorian marvel of a station.

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And then, I realized I was going to get to leave from a train under the glass dome of King’s Cross.

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It was an absolutely surreal experience; King’s Cross-St. Pancras is one of my favorite stations in London, one I got to know well off the Victoria line last year, and one where I simply sat and savored over winter holidays to destress from the semester. It’s a gorgeous station, and it made my trip worthwhile only to have left from it.

Of course, this was only increased when I realized I was riding a train under the English Channel, through the so-called Chunnel. And then I emerged from England, to the sea, to France.

The French countryside – or what I could see from the train – is gorgeous. It is long, gorgeous stretches of green, farmland and fields, dotted with small towns, hewn villages clustered around an ancient church. The spires of those churches rise up over the countryside like dark hands, wrought of stone that looks medieval from the distance, and are surrounded by light houses like something from years past, like a lost world still living.

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And then the train pulls alongside Paris, and then it’s the height of that gorgeous French architecture, the fair-framed buildings reaching upwards, the ornate twists of iron grates, the curves within the blocks.

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It let us off at Gare du Nord, a station in the midst of Paris, surrounded by that gorgeous image of Paris that haunts every romantic’s daydream.

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I had to jump on two Metro trains from the train station in order to get to my flat, between Republique and the Marais, off the Arts des Metiers stop, which was a deep frustration carrying irrationally heavy luggage. And I’ve run into trouble with this Airbnb – not only is the flat not entirely equipped, but the host missed our meeting time and I had to wait outside for half an hour, which meant I did not have much time to properly explore my area after.

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On the other hand, I have ten days in Paris, and I’m going to make the most of it.

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travel

There’s something beautiful about London.

Coming back to London is always a surreal experience.

Feeling the plane pull into Heathrow, disembarking into the airport, hearing that clipped accent all around me again – it always takes a moment for it to sink in that I am back in England, that I have finally made it here. And then it settles over me: home.

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Each time I go to London, I try to explain why I love it so much and why I am so happy here. Though I’m only here for a single day before I whisk off to France, this time I’ve settled on the quiet. There’s something beautifully reserved about England and about the way people interact with each other; it is not distance, as I think it is the most connected people I have ever come across, and it is not shyness. It is a silent acknowledgment, a politeness, an understanding of privacy and contentment. There is something beautiful in the fact that London breathes in unison but does not feel the need to speak.

London is the place where I don’t have to push myself to be someone that I am not. London is the place where I can be me in all my complexities and idiosyncrasies and be accepted and welcomed for them. London is the place where I get to relax, be myself, not have to worry that I’m not following the norm or obeying the rules. London is the place I feel real.

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My first night back in London, my best friend and I went to Brick Lane. If you tell me you are going to London, this is going to be my recommendation – it can be found in some guidebooks but not all, so it’s a good amount of tourist charm and genuine quality. It has the best Indian food I have ever eaten, the best bagel baker I’ve found, and the nicest markets I’ve shopped in.

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Brick Lane is also in the midst of East London, which is my secret hipster weakness. No regrets.

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Honestly… I hate to leave.

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