This blog is turning into a bit of a travel diary…
So last weekend I just had fun with Simon and Patrick in Paris, while trying (but not always succeeding) not to be those obnoxious Brits abroad. True, there were moments of unintended hilarity at our botched attempts to pronounce French menus, while Simon narrowly avoided causing an international incident on the Metro with a party of grumpy New Zealanders. But I did manage to see all the stuff which I’ve missed before: the catacombs, Musée d’Orsay, Versailles, the Conciergerie, and all still within that curious but delightful French paradigm of “people under 26 really shouldn’t have to pay for anything”. They’ve also recently pedestrianised a former main road right by the river, which is now rather lovely to walk down, and another sign (if any were needed) of the joys of freeing our cities from as many cars as possible.
(There’s nothing like wandering around Paris, of course, for reinstating a feeling of European togetherness. Yes, we are yoked to France in the perpetual rivalry of squabbling neighbours, but isn’t it better for this to stay within the big EU tent? Maybe I’m just bitter because of the absurd double-checking of passports which Britain insists on at Gare du Nord when getting the Eurostar back home, as if we can’t possibly trust the standard of French passport-checking a few metres earlier. It’s needlessly unfriendly, especially after moving within Schengen for a week.)
(Having said that, we really need to stop flogging our public utilities to their state-owned multinationals.)
And, yes, I spent the week in Stockholm and then Helsinki for work (and reindeer-eating). Which was pretty awesome, because I’ve always wanted to visit Scandinavia, and this got me two in one go – albeit not for very long. (Nit-picking: Finland is not necessarily Scandinavian, I know, I know.) It did surprise me how different they felt from each other, both in terms of people and general atmosphere, with Helsinki very obviously showing its Russian influences. But both are so wonderfully sane, with the sole exception of their airport food prices, which are not.
Obligatory American anecdote: as we left the excellent Masculine / Masculine. The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day exhibition – and take it for me, I’m not a natural art exhibition fan – we did pass one unimpressed visitor who was complaining to her friend that “if you want to see a lot of naked butts you can just look them up online”. Which very neatly allowed us to pretend to ourselves that we hadn’t been murmuring bawdy jokes to each other the whole time, and adopt the traditionally smug pose which Paris brings out so very well