Paris: The City of Love

Normally, when I travel for work, I end up going to somewhere in North America. Occasionally, some people in my company had the opportunity to travel to Europe or Asia and I really wanted a chance to do that as well. So last month, when a project came in that required on-site support in Paris, I was pretty excited when they asked me to go support it.

France is one of those countries that I’ve always wanted to go to but since it’s France and is so easily accessible, I figured that I didn’t really need to make any plans to actually go and that I’d just end up there sometime somehow.

I was right and that’s how I ended up on a plane to the City of Love on Valentine’s Day.

Hotel du Collectionneur Lobby
The lobby of my hotel.

While I was in Paris, I had a lot of random flashbacks to my time in London. And not because they’re similar; in fact I think the two cities are fairly different. I think I kept making random comparisons in my head because just as London was the capital of the British Empire, Paris was the capital of the French Empire.

And as we know, the French Empire extended quite far as well, taking over significant swathes of both Africa and Asia. It’s interesting because just as you’d see a lot of Indian and Chinese people in London, you see a ton of African people in Paris. It makes a lot of sense if you think about it, but it’s one of those things that is kinda interesting when you’re just walking around the streets taking in the sights.

The Champs-Élysées
The Champs-Élysées.

But for me, France is a unique country because its one of the progenitors of Canada. Canada is essentially like a weird love child between Britain and France but then they got divorced and Britain got full custody of the child. Considering how I’m from the English speaking part of Canada, I definitely see more influence from Britain than France, but it’s cool to be able to say that I’ve been to the capitals of both countries that formed mine.

Since I was there for work I didn’t have a whole lot of time to do some in-depth sightseeing but I really appreciated just walking around the city. The city was incredibly walkable with many famous sights within walking distance of each other.

In general, I thought that Paris was a pretty nice city. Despite it being winter and all the greenery was missing, I thought the city was quite beautiful. There’s a lot of nice streets with a lot of cool buildings on them. I think it’s really nice how each building’s architecture is so intricate. Each building’s facade is covered with these nice terraces and fancy decorations.

The Hôtel de Ville
A city hall that’s called a hotel for some reason.

And that’s just the normal buildings. Once you go to the notable buildings, it gets even more spectacular. When people think of France or Paris, one of the buildings that comes to mind immediately is the Eiffel Tower. Since Paris is in that part of Europe where they set height restrictions on new buildings, the Eiffel Tower still reigns supreme as the city’s iconic landmark.

I have to say though that my first impression of the Eiffel Tower was somewhat disappointing. It’s not as tall as I thought it would be and in fact it’s a bit.. chunkier than expected, so it didn’t really look the same way as I pictured it in my mind.

That said, the Eiffel Tower is a quite nice at night when it’s lit up. I’ll admit that it isn’t as impressive or grand when you compare it to a lot of the modern towers, but it has a certain level of magnificence to it. Especially when it sparkles at night. That’s a really nice touch and I felt like that made it special.

The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower sparkles.

Speaking of special, the most unique thing I’ve seen in Paris was actually Sainte-Chapelle, a small chapel near the Notre Dame (RIP). This was completely off my radar but my cousin recommended me to go check it out so I did. I had to wait about thirty minutes to get in and when I finally did.. I was underwhelmed.

The interior of the chapel was kinda small and dark and didn’t really strike me as being that impressive. I was planning on just leaving when I saw these stairs going to the second floor. I figured, what the hell, might as well check it out, and went up.

And wow, the second floor was entirely the reason why people wanted to go to that place. It was amazing.

Sainte-Chapelle
Seriously, pictures do this place no justice.

I think that stained glass windows are really nice. It’s a really beautiful artistic medium and it requires so much skill to put together. I’ve seen a lot of stained glass in a lot of churches in my time, but Sainte-Chapelle was something completely out of this world.

You’re talking about an entire room covered in giant floor to ceiling stained glass windows. It was honestly breathtaking and no pictures could do it justice. I went on a day that was somewhat cloudy and so as time passed the lighting in the room changed and every time that happened it made the room feel different. That was so cool.

Outside of the sights, I also have to admit that the food and drink culture in Paris was quite nice too. In general, I thought that the restaurant food quality was quite good; every meal I had was pretty solid. That said, I spent like a week in France and I’m still not really sure what French food really is.

I really enjoyed having a basket of baguette delivered to my table at every meal though.

What stood out was the wine. French wine is known worldwide and man, the French really do love their wine. It’s available everywhere and it’s so cheap and good. I went to the supermarket and bought a bottle of red wine for 3.50 EUR, which was cheaper than a pack of Magic cards, and it was still a really good wine.

French Wine and Magic Cards
I definitely got more value from the wine than the pack of cards.

My cousin said that the French love their wine so much that the quality of the wines you get in France are always gonna be good. From what I tried in my time there I have to admit that the wine was actually quite nice.

The only complaints I have about the dining experience in Paris was that first of all, it was more expensive than I thought it would be. Berlin was the only other major capital in the Eurozone that I’ve been to so that was my frame of reference but Paris is definitely more expensive than that. Secondly, I really did not like how all of the restaurant staff just take their time with everything.

As someone from North America, I’m so used to having waiters constantly come by like every ten minutes asking if everything is ok. It feels like it’s a bit much sometimes but I much rather have that than what I experienced in Paris. It honestly felt like they just seat you and just abandon you. It takes like twenty minutes to flag down a waiter and then another twenty minutes for them to do anything about your request.

I honestly felt like I was physically aging while eating at restaurants there. Food and drink quality was nice but the service was just abysmally slow. But I guess that’s just how it is there.

French Food
Cheap and tasty food at Le Bouillon Chartier.

Overall, I had a really good time in Paris. It seems like an incredibly lovely city with a lot to see, do, and eat. Since I was there for work I didn’t have a chance to check out any museums or do anything super time consuming, but the city’s made a good first impression on me and I would love to go back and check it out some more.

That said, I’m in no rush. I feel like Paris is one of those cities that never really changes and so it doesn’t really matter if I go back next year or next decade, everything will still be there.

Vienna: The Imperial City

So the fifth and final place I went to for my trip to Europe over the summer was Vienna. Now normally when I do titles for my posts I like to make up a random subtitle for them. But I saw “The Imperial City” on a banner somewhere in Vienna and really thought it matched so I’m going to use that.

Austria is really one of those countries where I didn’t know too much about. To me, it’s always been “like Germany, but not really” because they speak German and are pretty close by. I heard from a lot of people that Vienna is really nice though, so I was curious to see just how nice it was and to figure out the differences and similarities with Germany.

Just from comparing capitals though, it’s impossible to compare. Berlin and Vienna are such completely different cities that it immediately dispelled any thought that the two were remotely similar.

St. Stephens Cathedral, right in the heart of Vienna.

Vienna is such a classy place. The entire downtown core just oozes class and fanciness.

Right at the core of the city is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which is a giant church that has one of the coolest roof tiling I have ever seen. It has like, a zig-zaggy pattern with a pretty neat colour, and just looks super interesting. It’s also free to enter which is always appreciated.

Walking around the city center from there is just a pretty cool experience. The buildings are all pretty European looking and there’s a lot of nice looking cafes and patio restaurants, which makes the entire area feel really comfy. Coupled with the fact that there’s some sort of cool looking building or monument at every corner, and it makes it a little adventure in and of itself.

Some cool statues at Hofburg Palace.

The reason why I like why it’s called the “Imperial City” is because Vienna is filled with historical palaces. Right in the middle of the downtown area is the Hofburg Palace which has some pretty impressive courtyards and statues. But that pales in comparison to Schönbrunn Palace, which is just a short train ride away from the downtown core.

At this point in the trip, we’ve already seen a lot of cool churches and palaces. I was worried I was gonna be burned out of seeing this kinda stuff over and over again. Seeing Schönbrunn Palace for the first time, it didn’t seem that special. Just some big building. But man, it really was something special.

After turning the corner and seeing the palace grounds right behind it, my mind changed immediately. You had this incredibly large and open garden that was super well kept. In the distance there’s this giant fountain at the base of this hill, with another awesome looking structure on top of the hill.

Behind the fountain at Schönbrunn Palace.

That sight there was really nice. Just walking through the garden was a really awesome experience. You could walk behind the fountain to where the water drops down, climb up the hill, and even get to the top of Gloriette to get this amazing panoramic view of the garden and city in the distance.

That garden was probably the highlight of the trip to Vienna. I probably could have spent a lot more time in that garden, but we had tickets to visit the museum as well so we couldn’t stay that long. The museum itself was alright. There were a lot of ornate and beautiful rooms in there and you were provided with an audio guide to explain to you the history, which was really nice.

A weird Sphinx thing at Belvedere Palace.

A third palace that we went to was Belvedere Palace. We went there before going to the airport and so we didn’t check out the actual buildings but just looked around outside and in the garden. The garden there was also really nice, but really couldn’t be compared to what we saw in Schönbrunn.

Actually, now that I think about it, we went to a lot of gardens in Vienna. In addition to the palace ones, we went to the Stadtpark and the Volksgarten as well. Both of those are also really nice parks and would be a great place to just chill.

Aside from parks and palaces, Vienna has a lot more to offer too. Prater is a free-entry amusement park that is kind of interesting to walk around. They have the famous Ferris wheel there which we did ride, but it wasn’t that exciting. It was neat though because there’s apparently a dinner service where you get a car to yourselves and just enjoy a fancy meal. Must be cool.

The Ferris Wheel in Prater at night.

They also have a roller coaster restaurant in Prater which is pretty cool. Food sucks but the atmosphere is pretty unique. Food and drinks slide down these rails to your table and there’s a bunch of fancy lights and stuff. Totally worth checking out for a drink or something, but definitely not a meal.

Vienna also has a tower that’s a bit of a ways outside of the city, the Danube Tower. It’s a pretty standard looking tower but the view was pretty nice. When we went thought it was really windy so it was kinda painful to be outside on the observatory, but hey, now I can say I’ve been.

And lastly, before I wrap things up. We also stumbled across another Soviet memorial while walking through Vienna. Kinda neat because we started the trip in Russia and all throughout Germany, Czechia, and Austria we could see the mark it made on these places. Pretty interesting stuff from a historical point of view.

The Soviet Memorial in Vienna.

Overall, Vienna is really nice. It has a lot of cool stuff to check out and definitely more than I thought there was. It’s a bit on the expensive side though, as it was definitely the most pricey place we went to on the trip. Granted, we did mostly just stick to the touristy areas, but I think it was money well spent. Lots of stuff to see in Vienna and we covered a lot in the couple of days that we were there.

And that wraps up my write-ups for my trip to Europe! Took a while to finish, but I’m done. I don’t know when I’ll be doing my next trip, but I’ll probably get around to writing about some other stuff until then (sometime).

Berlin: The Tattooed City

The third place I went to for my Europe trip was to Berlin, the capital of Germany. I was really looking forward to the trip because I spent a summer in Berlin four years ago for an exchange and absolutely loved it. I made a bunch of friends then and so I really wanted to catch up with them too.

Going back to Berlin after four years was quite nice. I’ve experienced and seen so much in the four years since I was last there and so I essentially see things through a different lens now. It was definitely interesting to check out all the things that changed and seeing the different sides to the stuff that hasn’t changed.

To me, Toronto is still the city I want to live, retire, and die in. I’ve challenged myself to find a city that’s better than Toronto and in all my travels Berlin is probably the city that comes the closest. Not only is it full of history and culture, but the people are awesome and the lifestyle fits my style quite a bit.

Relaxing by the Spree river.

Probably my favourite thing about Berlin is the character of the city. Every single city you go to has distinct characteristics that really define the atmosphere and feel of the city. It’s kind of the ambiance that wraps up your entire experience. Either it’s good and it makes everything you do better, or it’s not very good and things just don’t feel right. To me, the “dirtiness” of Berlin is one of the most defining traits.

And I say that in a positive light actually. I thought places like Malacca are kinda dirty, and even many parts of Korea aren’t very clean either. But Berlin somehow managed to make itself into a “dirty-in-a-cool-way” city. I don’t really know how to explain it.

But walking around the city, it’s really obvious as to what I mean. There’s countless amounts of graffiti everywhere. On buildings, cars, even on the remaining portions of the Berlin Wall. There’s millions of cigarette butts just strewn on the ground and on the train tracks. Beer bottles and other garbage are also very common in the city.

And yet, it just all works.

Some colourful graffiti on the East-Side Gallery.

Parts of Berlin just feels very edgy and cool. Like you took the most stereotypical tattooed gangster and turned them into a city. This is reflected in a lot of the young population too. Self expression and individuality is pretty strong amongst the young people and so you see lots of people with piercings, tattoos, and dyed hair.

This just fits perfectly with the city, and is honestly one of the reasons why I like Berlin so much. But of course, that’s not all of the city. Due to the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, there’s still a difference between the Eastern and Western parts of the city. The Eastern side has more of what I described above, and it just so happens that I stayed there during my exchange and during my trip, so it worked out well.

The Western side and the city center are a bit different, but they’re all sums of the same whole really. You have some more residential areas that really feel like a city suburb even though you’re still in the city with all of the conveniences. The city center is fairly modern and interspersed with historical buildings and other points of interest. That entire stretch between Tiergarten and Museum Island pretty much covers most of the standard sightseeing areas in Berlin. It’s perfectly walkable and doable within a day too.

The Brandenburg Gate.

I have to admit that one of the weaknesses of Berlin as a city is that it’s not very exciting to sightsee for a couple of days. You hit up the major sites within a day or two and then.. you’re done? There’s a lot of museums to check out as well, but for your traditional tourist, there really isn’t that much to do.

But I think that’s fine. After spending a summer in Berlin, I realized that the best part of Berlin is actually just finding your own niche and sub-culture. The people there are so multicultural and open minded that you can find a lot of underground things there and honestly there’s something for everyone.

For me that’s definitely video games. The gaming scene in Berlin is pretty huge and they even have their own Meltdown bar where you can drink, play video games, and even watch people play video games. I made most of my friends through that bar and it was definitely one of the highlights of my exchange. On the last trip back I made sure to go back and meet some of my friends too.

Meltdown Berlin, still my favourite bar.

And of course you can’t talk about Germany without talking about the beer. Berlin, like the rest of Germany, has pretty good beer. It’s also really cheap. In fact, a lot of the food in supermarkets are ridiculously cheap. It feels so good to just shop for food in Berlin.

But going back to beer, it’s cheap, accessible, and tastes good. What more can you ask for? Not only can you get a half liter bottle of good beer for like a dollar, but you can drink it anywhere. Outside on the sidewalk? Sure. On the trains? Yup. Even in one of the many parks they have in the city? Definitely.

People hanging out around the Soviet War Memorial.

Berlin just feels so stressfree and refreshing. And it’s not only because the alcohol laws are less restrictive, but because there’s just so many places to just relax. The city is filled with parks and other recreational areas so there’s always a place you can sit outside and just hang out and enjoy the weather. The city itself is also incredibly green for being such a large city and so it really does feel nice to be outside.

So yea, I really like Berlin. I would recommend it to everywhere to go check it out, at least for the historical significance of the city if anything. But the city really shines when you spend actual time there I think. Just have to go there and just enjoy.