Rohit's Realm

// / archive / 2007 / 01 / 11 / bonjour-au-revoir

January 11, 2007

Bonjour, Au Revoir

Pardon my French, but I think that given the circumstance, it is justified. In other words, I'm now officially back in the good ol' U.S. of A., though only peripherally (San Francisco can hardly be considered America, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi notwithstanding). And after two weeks of roughing it in hostels of varying disrepute (and cleanliness), I cannot necessarily say that I'm all that disappointed to be able to finally sleep in my own bed again.

In general, the trip went very well, though I must admit that this will likely be the last time I do the hostel scene. I think I've simply become too spoiled by traveling for work to ever view living in any place resembling the dorms with anything but revulsion and contempt. Albeit the lodging complaints, I still consider the trip a success for two reasons: (1) I saw everything I had intended to see; and (2) the trip was suspiciously devoid of most idiotic traveling issues that I normally face (e.g., crying babies, delays, hassles, etc.). Moreover, despite the hectic travel schedule, I still managed to get some mental, if not physical, rest, and it really felt like a vacation should.

Overall, we ended up passing through: London, Paris, Luxembourg City, Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges, and Amsterdam. Of the cities we visited, I thought Amsterdam was the most beautiful, Luxembourg City the most suited for retirement, and Bruges the most touristy (yet surprisingly worth visiting, nevertheless). And though many will likely vehemently disagree, I would venture that I liked London more than Paris. That is not to say that Paris is not a great city—it is—but in my third trip to London in four years, I finally decided that I want to live there at some point in my life; the who, what, when, where, and how remain to be seen, however.

With respect to the culture and people, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Europe was not as snooty and/or belittling towards Americans as I had thought. Or maybe that's because I'm not white, don't weigh 250 pounds (113 kilograms), and don't talk about God, guns, and glory all the time. Paris was where I expected the most shit, but in fact, got none at all. It's surprising how far a little humility and a lexicon of three words (bonjour, merci, and au revoir) will take you. Moreover, most people speak at least limited English in Paris, which is more than I can say about my French. I only know enough French to sound pretentious; maybe I will look into learning it next (for pretention's sake, no less).

Along the same theme, in Belgium, people turned out to be significantly more friendly than anywhere else I have encountered in the world. In Brussels, an old lady, seeing that we were desperately pouring over a hopelessly worthless map, actually approached us, and then proceeded to walk us to our destination, nearly four blocks out of her way. Imagine that happening in New York. Or even San Francisco for that matter. Hell would freeze over first. In Antwerp, a gift shop owner told us a story about how he worked for a Belgian firm that built most of Iraq's infrastructure in the 1980s and then questioned me in detail about U.S. history from the time period. I think he was surprised I was able to answer all of his questions, but for an American, that is surprising, now isn't it? Iran-Contra, anyone? Incidentally, he also ventured that Saddam was still alive. So maybe friendly, and also, slightly crazy?

I ended up taking a lot of pictures, but considering I still have to proof and upload pictures from my last time in Europe (in Summer 2005), I would not count on them being up soon. Maybe I'll lock myself in a room this weekend and get it all done. Maybe.


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