Went to Europe the past week with the familia. Though the actual trip felt long, every moment flew by like water through a sieve. I will attempt to capture my impressions of each place we visited; bear with me. I am sorry I don’t have pictures to demonstrate what I mean; you will just have to use your imagination.

London, England (2 days)

Carefully manicured lawns that seemed to have never seen harsh weather. Grass so green and fresh and uniform that I wanted to touch and make sure it was real. Small, quaint cottages and houses and apartments, adorned with delicate, trimmed flowers. Gardens are an obvious source of pride, even in the balcony of a small apartment.

It’s a strange, but wonderful contrast–the people are warm, friendly; their manner of dress is loose. They are curious, but to me, their accent makes their curiosity a polite one. (At a cafe, my mother asked for “weaker” coffee, and after a confused look and a shrug, the barista obliged. We teased her for days after that.) 

London is (surprisingly) tourist friendly. Museums are free, public transportation (the Underground!) is clear and easy to navigate.

I may be biased because I felt more comfortable here (no language difference!). Language/communication, after all, plays a strong role in how you will perceive, in this case, a country.

Brussels, Belgium (half day)

We walk through a dark alleyway that is reminiscient of Taiwan. Smokey with construction and cigarettes, crowded, no one is paying attention. All of a sudden, we reach a huge open space and are faced with the most astonishing display of old architecture. It looms; a palace, a hall, a church. Sunlight from all sides. I am speechless.

For lunch, we eat a simple sandwich. The servers are friendly, after a brisk “Bonjour!” they slip easily into English. I let a breath I didn’t know I had.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands (1 day)

As if ready to topple over at any moment. The city seems to sit on water, and as though boats, the houses (though stationary) seem to wobble and dance with one another. If not dance, then fight. Each house is off-kilter. It’s not without its charm.

Their English is friendly, but loud, and I wonder if it’s because of our skin tones–people tend to speak louder because they think they will be understood better. I am amused when they try to speak Mandarin.

(We pass by Anne Frank’s house, and I resist the urge to snap at one person in my tour group who asks loudly, “Who is Anne Frank?” Luckily, our local guide doesn’t hear.)

We visit the Red Light District also. It’s not what I expect–it’s tamer, there are no naked girls, but the smell of stale smoke prevails.

My dad points out that all the signs here in the Red Light District are in English rather than Dutch, and I am surprisingly upset by that revelation.

Cologne, Germany (1 day)

Our first stop is a church that our tour guide calls in Mandarin, the black church, simply because it’s covered in soot and other things that have colored it so. These Catholic churches, though impressive, are quickly losing their appeal to me–they all look the same.

The people don’t know what to do with us. Their English is halting and my German is nonexistent.

We take a boat tour on the Rhine, and I feel as though I’ve stepped onto the set of Sound of Music. The landscape is as green as ever, but where England was controlled, Germany is wild. Still, the houses and castles are quaint and charming. We stop by a shop where the shopowner proceeds to sing us several Taiwanese songs. My mother is very amused.

Luxembourg, Luxembourg (half day)

It’s quiet. The housing is similar to all the other countries, as is the architecture. I expect to be enamored, but I am not. People speak French and little English; as in Germany, they don’t know what to do with us.

For some reason, everything seems newer here. I suppose that’s where character is lost.

Paris, France (3 days)

The excitment starts building when our tour guide points out Paris Disney from a distance. He anxiously redoubles his efforts to warn us of pickpockets and the like. We clutch our purses in response. It must be hard to be a tour guide.

It’s rich with architecture, both modern and old, cafes, restaurants, shops, and people. They are dressed sleekly, and I make note of cropped, slim black pants, striped shirts, and colorful scarves and bags. 

Champs Elysee is as I imagined, as is L’Arc de Triomphe. The Eiffel Tower actually reminds me of an unfinished engineering prototype, like the prototype lamps we make at work. This makes me smile. We visit Notre Dame, but it’s like any other Catholic church. I’m more interested in that alleyway in that corner. Good thing my family is too.

People are annoyed with us. I want to apologize; we can’t help it. It’s in our blood. Our English is too loud, too accented, too grating. Their French is smooth and hauty. I feel inferior and scared.

We (Nark and I) get really good at saying “Bonjour!” and “Merci!” We make sure to be last in line when we are with our tour group, where our sad attempts at French are praised and appreciated in contrast.

My favorite is the Louvre. Our local guide is brisk–she knows how to navigate the museum like it’s the back of her hand, and she slices through the crowd as easily as a knife through butter. At one point, some local kids try to imitate her English and she snaps harshly back at them in French. They are dumbfounded. I make note and try not to stand too close to her.

(I like her though. Her daughter is half Chinese and studied Buddhism at Berkeley. She is now in Nepal.)

We only had a couple hours there. I think I could’ve spent a couple of months.

We also go to famous department stores and famous food areas. I’m shocked at the mass of Chinese tourists lugging bags and bags of brand names. My mother can’t resist an LV bag, but her purchase is but a drop in this ocean.

Nark is most excited when she sees macarons. We try them from at least three different places, and to tell the truth, I can’t tell the difference. They’re all delicious.

At the airport, we see crepe lace cookies from a famous chocolatier and we can’t help ourselves. Our last encounter with Paris is a chocolate covered thin wafer cookie with a delicate layer of caramel throughout. The box is gone within the hour.

Post Script

In Paris, we ate a crazy five-course meal; the first course consisted of half a crab, four oysters, four escargot (snails), and four shrimp.

I ate a good half of that, then regretted it sorely since I knew I’d be getting a physical, but my (relative) abstinence from cholesterol rich products must’ve paid off–my blood results from this week show a decrease in my cholesterol level! Hurrah!

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