Exhausted, but how rewarding it is, as always.

Didn’t get wi-fi in Brussels, and couldn’t connect in Paris though there’re tons of APs (most are protected). When I checked out the hotel I saw a Linksys AP at the concierge, but wouldn’t have time to blog anyway.

Just record some fleeting thoughts here, to be expanded in our never-finishing travel site:

  • The Dutch houses usually have their living room at street side, with a large window WITHOUT curtain. This is the same in all 3 Dutch towns we went to: Sassenheim, Haarlem, and Amsterdam. I wonder if it’s because they don’t care about their own privacy, or they don’t care about other people’s lives so nobody peeks. It’s wonderful for us, though, to peek into many tastefully decorated living rooms to get the ultimate reason (for me) for travelling: witness different lives as they happen.
  • If I have to pick my favorite country/place in this trip, it’d be Belgium/Brussels. Big factors: Tintin, beer, and Art Nouveau. I absolutely love the comic walls in Brussels. Turn a street corner and you see a piece of art, intimate and accessible. The ‘t Brugs Beertje in Bruges is a beer lover’s paradise. Brussels’ Art Nouveau buildings aren’t as striking as Gaudi’s, but they’re still fine living monuments.
  • Paris is too big and sophisticated to take in 8 days. It didn’t help to have 3 days of bad weather, May Day when everything is closed, and my aching ankle. Some quick notes of do’s and donnot’s:
    • Best panoramic view is from Notre Dame, because it’s in the middle of the city and close to most sites. Arc de Triomphe is also good. Sacre-Coeur and La Defense is too far, and Eiffel is too high, and Paris at night is way too dim to be called the City of Light!
    • Do NOT go up La Defense. It’s not covered by museum pass, and the tall buildings around it block most views of the city.
    • Best underrated museum: Plans-Relief. Have some stunning city and landscape models. The one for Mount St. Michel is incredible. Later I found out from a book we bought that we only saw one wing of it due to construction, whereas the whole museum should take one full floor of the Invalides.
    • Most relaxing museum: Rodin. The garden is perfect for afternoon nap: there’re several lounge chairs.
    • Best moments: riding bike in Versailles garden. My ankle was hurting badly those days, so I felt like flying on a bike. We went to all borders of the garden, seeing only a few locals jogging in the vast woods. At the end of the Grand Canal, the chateau can hardly be seen, along with hordes and herds of tourists.
    • Do NOT go to Delacroix Museum (though it’s covered by museum pass). It’s a tiny house, and the courtyard is just so. Delacroix’s works are pretty impressive, and he must be seething in his coffin when the Rodin and Picasso museums are so much better compared.
    • Best cafe that we went to: Flore en Ile (something like that) on St. Louis island. We had stunning hot chocolate (I think it’s better than what we had at the so-called Paris’ best Angelina, which is pretty good, and different), and very nice Tarte Tartin.
    • Best for our stomach: this is a shame to admit, but it’s a Chinese restaurant (万里香 at the corner of 温州街). There’s just nothing like a hot noodle soup at the end of a day. The taste is very authentic, and the restaurant always crowded.
    • Biggest disappointement: Amélie’s Café des deux Moulins. I didn’t read the direction carefully enough, and thought it’s on the north side of Rue des Abesses along Rue Lepic. We walked up the curved street all the way to Rue Norvins, passing one of the only two remaining windmills in Montmartre (Moulin de la Galette) on the way. We cut back to Rue Lepic and still couldn’t find it. I was very stressed out and rain was pouring. Luckily, as we walked back toward the metro J noticed the cafe. The interior is dark and messy, hardly recognizable from the movie. The screen on which Amélie wrote the menu backward is gone. There’re only a couple of movie posters on the wall. There’re two ugly unhappy waitors. I guess the French just don’t care about one of the most popular French movies of all time.
  • There’s no coincidence that most great modern cities have at least one great urban planner/architect associated with them. Paris was created by Baron Haussmann, New York by Robert Moses, Vienna has Otto Wagner, Berlin has Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Brussels has Victor Horta, Barcelona has Gaudi. Now think of what’s been happening at Chinese cities…