Nine Ways to Love Paris

Don't miss this obscure monument!
How not to fall in love with Paris: Get a really cheap hostel with ratings as high as 50% on Hostelworld. (Unless, of course, you are looking for a mouse to chew through your baguettes. Then please do go for it.)

How to fall in love with Paris: Stay somewhere that does not involve mice chewing through your baguettes. Head out into the city, grab a beret, and blitzkrieg culturehop through the city!

And fair warning: you will see at least three cheesy crowd-setting marriage proposals as you wander around the city. Try not to let it get you down.

1. Photograph Fontaine St. Michel! 

Is it just me, or is his arm about to go?
This is not only a beautiful area to walk around, the crossroads of the Latin quarter, but also the meeting point for some free walking tours! And when I say free, I mean, you really should tip, or the tour guides are legally permitted to judge you.

The walking tours tend to be very good. But even if you're not into walking or tours, stop by this fountain to check out the really sweet lionbirdfish.

You don't want to meet that in a dark alley.

2. Lock your lover to a bridge!

Locke bridge: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding of Boltcutters.

Er, lock your love, rather. Because if you've got a love you are clinging to desperately, there's no better place to put it than on a bridge over troubled water.

Locking lover-padlocks to bridges is a common hobby in Europe, but the popularity of this particular bridge only boomed post some plot-point in Sex in the City. You can write your names and a date on a lock, and lock it to the bridge, and it will stay there forever, or at least until the six-month cleaning crew comes through with boltcutters and releases all those metallic commitments.

3. Look at the Louvre! 

People in glass pyramids shouldn't throw stones.
Unless you want to get arrested.

Day time, night time, the building is one impressive monument to rich people filling space with expensive things. The museum is a must-see, if only to take pictures of forty people taking pictures of the tiny Mona Lisa, which is behind excessively reflective glass. 
The collection is huge and varied, but if you like art, you will prefer L'Orangerie and d'Orsay.

4. Gaze upon Centre Georges Pompidou!

When you feel Art is a pipe dream....
Merely looking at the exterior of this ultracontemporary beauty will irrevocably alter the way you view the world. The building stands in bold defiance to the traditional "aesthetically pleasing" or "attractive" or even "remotely acceptable" buildings that exist all around it. The Pompidou writhes in dialogue with the cultural normativity of the way we, as a culture, feel compelled to hide every aspect of ourselves. It is a vigorous NO to the established norms judging physical beauty. It does not permit you to park your privilege at the door, but rather encourages you to let your preconceptions flow down one of the many available drains.  It is a building without skin, and without skin, are we not all pipes and rectangles? The elegant simplicity...[etc. etc. no pomo]...

5. Saunter up to Sacre Coeur!

We're domed!
Climb that mountain, up from the dodgy neighbourhoods, and march up to the very posh area that makes up Amelie's stomping grounds. But before you explore Montmartre, take a moment to check out Sacre Coeur, which is pretty cool if you like domes.

6. Mosey by Moulin Rouge!

Can-Pan a Performance?
Sure, it's all lit up and pretty. But once you see the ticket prices, you'll realize that you can have much more fun anywhere else in Paris. Of course, you have to drop by for an obligatory photo so you can realize exactly how strongly the cool factor was exaggerated for the movie.

7. Tour the Arc de Triomphe!

Traffic Circle of Triumph!
First built so Napoleon could feel like everyone in his army was tiny when they rode through, the arch is now a very fine centerpoint to a thriving traffic circle. Head to the Arc around sunset to see some really spectacular sunsets that don't photograph well!

8. Catch the Catacombs.

Seriously? Graffiti? Seriously?
Come to terms with the fact that you are going to have to wait in line for an hour or more to see piles of femurs and a few skulls. You are also going to see a lot of plaques of mortality-meditative French poetry, and you will really wish you could read French poetry.

Pro tip: load up a translation onto your smart phone first, because ain't no one got the time to stand around and translate it for you.

9. But seriously, DO go to Musée d'Orsay and Musée de l'Orangerie if you like art at all.
In France, Impressionism impresses you!
By all means, go to the Louvre. But if you want to enjoy art, go to these two museums. There is a lot of Impressionist stuff. (You may have thought you've seen Impressionism before, in other museums. You are wrong. This is so Impressionist it's the Impressive-ist.) They also have some other art styles. Doesn't matter. It's all going to rock your socks.


Calais on a Monday: Not Quite Hopping.

Town hall: like walking by a postcard.
In Bruges? Tired of Bruges? You might decide to take a roadtrip to Paris. 

It happens. And if you are heading to Paris, you might think it's a good idea to stop in Calais. A grand plan!
Just, you know, stop for a hot minute and remember that the days of the week do have an impact on what you can do. Are you stopping in Calais on a Monday? Yes? Oh, good! You didn't want anything to be open, right? 

Of course not! Because it won't be. 

Possibly open. But they wouldn't tell me in English.

Hotwheels and I went all over the town, looking for anything fun to do. All we found were closed doors, closed restaurants, and open flowers. 

Ok, they were pretty flowers.
So we decided to look at everything the city had to offer. And we found some super cheap amazing wine. And so we bought lots of super cheap amazing wine and planned to picnic on the beach. (This sort of activity is a good idea any day of the week!)

There were statues.
Suspiciously tilted...

For another prominent building, you can also go see Eglise Notre-Dame. On the scale of Notre-Dames, this is not the most impressive Notre-Dame in France. If you have to pick one, I'd probably recommend the one in Paris. It's, you know, a little fancier.

Not so much flying buttresses.

And for an unexpected find in Calais: a plaque dedicated to my neighbor and close personal friend, Thomas Jefferson.

Hey homeboy.

The beach is quite nice, and proved an excellent picnic location. None of that pebbly nonsense you find in Nice. It's real sand. The kind your toes dream of burying into.

Beach: contains sunsets. 

We did eventually find the one restaurant that was open in the town. It did not disappoint. Raw oysters. Fish. Wine. Perfect. 


In Bruges: It's like a Dream

It's like a dream. Good luck cutting the tourists out of your pictures.

The film, In Bruges, featured two primary characters with differing opinions of the city. 

Colin Ferrell just wanted to be back in Dublin while Ralph Fiennes reminisced about how magical the city was. Like a dream! 

I read somewhere these characters were based on the writer's first and second days in the city. And I knew exactly what he was talking about. 

How can it not be charming? There is a dog that has spent most of its life in this window.

Window dog is Windog.

The first day you spend in Bruges, you can walk around and see all the tourist stuff. Everything is charming. You can probably find a nice charming tour to take you around the city, and give you a rosy view. I enjoyed the Can You Handle It!? tour, which points out film locatoins and has a roster of snarky cynical sailor-cursing guides that will show you around the nice charming city.

The city is undeniably beautiful, and features unnecessary quantities of decoration everywhere all the time.


And everywhere you look you can see quaint old stonework. And canals, of course, that make the place reminiscent of Amsterdam, minus the heavy drug use.


There is a central square which you should not, and, in fact, cannot miss, because it is the center of everything ever. Between the cute buildings and carriages, there is nothing to remind you that you are in the modern era.

Except for photobombing tour buses.

There is a very tall, very impressive bell-tower in the square. It's very hard to miss, and you may remember from the film, In Bruges. If you haven't seen the movie, I said nothing. Nothing!

Yeah. THAT belltower.

It's worth a climb, you can see a top view of the quaint city. There are cathedrals and stuff.

Cathedrals. And stuff.

The city makes a beautiful place to walk around for a day. The risk is strong, for any city that size, that if you stay much longer than a day you are going to get restless fast. If you're there on a Sunday, you will find stores closed at unexpected times, and a choice of maybe two restaurants.

There is a lot to like about a day in Bruges. And if you are coming from Amsterdam, especially, the city will feel like a dream. Hopefully with better dream sequences than that movie within a movie.


Amsterdam: Things to do include Anything.

Covering up the typo sign that reads Hamsterdam.

If you talk to people who have visited Amsterdam, they'll all tell you the same thing: AMSTERDAM WAS THE BEST I LOVED IT YOU SHOULD GO THERE! I DON'T REALLY REMEMBER WHY OR ANYTHING THAT I DID BUT IT WAS THE BESSSSTTTT. 

And that is the secret of Amsterdam: it's got the reputation as the Vice City capital of Europe for a reason, and your options are limitless! Everything is legal! Except violence/murder/other-things-that-are-not-legal, so don't get it confused with GTA: Vice City, and stay cool. Remember, the locals have to deal with at least one spacecaked-shroomed-out-drunk tourist screaming and running naked through the red light district every day, so don't be that guy.

Anyway, within the parameters of anything, you can probably find something to like in Amsterdam.

Like Art? Do yourself a favor and go see the Van Gogh museum. You'll see lots of pretty colors, and looking at his take on scale and perspective, you may even feel better about yourself as an artist!

Like History? See the highly minimalist Anne Frank House! It's guaranteed to cheer you up about as much as a concentration camp!

Like old buildings? Walk around! 
Pro tip: watch out for bikes. They don't break for tourists.

You , too, can go Tourist watching!

Like really skinny buildings? Well, someone does.

One of the many thinnest buildings in Europe. Rationale? Tax loophole.

Like making fun of monuments that are compensating for something?

Meeting place for the walking tour.

Speaking of compensating, you can visit a condomerie, and buy your friends a bewildering array of bad-idea protection!

Insert joke here.

Like cheese? Go to the Cheese museum, or better yet, just eat a lot of free samples upstairs and skip the museum!

This museum isn't cutting it.

Like pimped out rides? This one shouldn't be hard to find.

You wish your car had rims like that.

Like sitting around and relaxing? Amsterdam has many very chill parks. Sitting and taking in the nature on nice sunny days comes highly recommended. 

I hear ducks can be really interesting.

Like boats? Take a canal tour.

Canals: less confusing to navigate around than Venice.

Like Red Light Districts? You can walk around and see the ladies displaying their wares in windows, but while it is legal and regulated except for problematic problematic human trafficking problematic.


Berlin: Historically Interesting.

People go to Berlin for two reasons: 

1. History. Between the World War II history and the Berlin wall, the city is swimming in history.
2. For that all-night/all-day techno club that doesn't close between Thursday and Sunday.

Because I like to do things like sleep occasionally, I went for the first reason. 
Japanese Art Inspired BERLYN wall.
There this thing about big cities where when they get all gentrified and ritzy, the creative art scene utterly tanks. Fortunately for Berlin's artistic integrity, rent is still super cheap! You can find vibrant art things and some communist buildings crumbling into bleak ruin bars. And of course you have to visit the very nice East Side Gallery to see the most complete and bemuraled section of Berlin wall sitting around.

Amsterdam Substances Inspired Berlin Wall.

Unfortunately for tourists, Berlin is a confusing city to visit. It has many disjointed sections and an initially confusing public transit network, so if you go in unprepared, you lose a lot of time figuring out what you should be doing and where.

Museums: not quite the center of night life.

If you want to skip any sense of being in a vibrant, living city, stay in the museum district! It has all kinds of mostly reconstructed buildings to look at. Note: any really dark statues are old enough to be dirty. That's how you know they're original!

Not quite hopping.

However, it is highly recommended to walk through this district at least once: you can find a really great flea market of old stuff.. Especially if you are collecting steampunk: there was one guy who exclusively sold old binoculars. Or, if you're feeling cheap, you can settle for some communist pins.

Museum District! Vibrant! Young! Calcified!

WWII: Plenty of stuff to see.

In Hamburg, I had first encountered WWII history as told by Germans, which tended to be very carefully neutral and factual. Unfortunately, the free walking tour I took in Berlin was guided by an Englishman. Sure, it was factual and interesting, but it was more of the same history written by the winners.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews: will not cheer you up.

Actually, the walking tour in Berlin is totally worth the three hour tromp. You can, without any research, see where the museums are, and get a sense of which ones you want to visit. You'll pass the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, and even get to stand on top of the parking lot that covers the bunker where Hitler did his famous double suicide thing!

Bleak Blocks
In school, I know at some point or another, you studied WWII history, and whether you fell asleep during lectures or not, every corner you turn in Berlin becomes an "oh right, that happened" moment.

Decorative elements around the city sometimes give you pause.

Eagles, huh? What exactly are you locking your love to?

Well, those Eagles: they have old roots in Germany, and have been a part of their coat of arms as long ago as Charlemagne. But in a city that has such strong WWII history, it can't quite avoid reminding visitors of that period of national socialist repurposing.

Note: Not a swastika.
There are also tons of museums that talk about the run-up to the war. If you want WWII content, they've got lots.

 Berlin Wall: Also some History

There is a Checkpoint Charlie museum, which some locals warned me away from. The East Side Gallery (see above) is highly recommended if you like art. But really, you can't go anywhere in the city without seeing the marks of the wall on the ground, or sections flung up as a reminder of the way things were. 

Wall Remnants: often less pretty than East Side Gallery.

The wall went up overnight, and changed everything. It came down almost 25 years ago, and is still being milked for tourist dollars!

Big Brother's Rosetta Stone

Potsdam: land of palaces. 

If you get tired of the Berlin post-communist aesthetic, take the train out to Potsdam, and see all the fabulous palaces that rich people built a long time ago!

Pro Tip: Take the time to actually check to be sure that these places are open! You can also see the Other Brandenburg Gate.

More like a Brandenburg Cake.

Most importantly, there is a building in Berlin that was clearly designed by a crazy cat-lady.