You know what? “Tourist” can be a verb if I say so.
THINGS TO DO: London looks a lot like New York, except older and dirtier. If you like churches, you’re set. Also, all of the museums are free, so this should probably be taken advantage of since the city is fucking expensive. The Tate Museum was one of my favorite parts of the whole vacation, for reasons like “An Oak Tree” by Michael Craig-Martin:
The phone booths are also pretty fun to check out, since they seem to single-handedly support the London sex trade.
Finally, you can go just outside of London to Stonehenge, where you can look at very big rocks in a very windy location, or to Bath, where you can keep things classy by eating at a KFC housed inside of an otherwise perfectly preserved 17th century building.
GETTING AROUND: Compared to MUNI, the Underground might actually be a portal straight into heaven. The trains come roughly every 5 minutes and the worst smelling car we entered the entire time smelled faintly of zoo.
Also differing from MUNI is the London idea of a “transfer” station. Making a transfer does not simply mean that you’ll walk to the other side of the platform. What it actually means is that you will be walking through a labyrinthian system of underground tunnels, up and down a catastrophic number of stairs for anywhere from a 1/2 to two miles, all the while searching for a sign to indicate that you might still be heading in the right direction. For this reason, it is essential that you either pack light or travel with someone who doesn’t mind carrying all the suitcases the whole time. (Obviously, I chose the latter.)
THIS N’ THAT: Perhaps, on your first day in London, you’ll land at 9 am after travelling for 22 hours. Perhaps the hotel will be full and you won’t be able to access your room until 2 pm, so you’ll get onto Yelp looking for a breakfast place and walk 5 miles to the restaurant with 4 stars. Perhaps you’ll be so impressed by this breakfast place that you’ll think everything you’ve heard about London food is a load of B.S. and that dipping down to 3.5 stars on Trip Advisor or Yelp is a safe proposition. DO NOT BE FOOLED INTO THIS MODE OF THINKING. For reasons equally inexplicable to Baryon asymmetry, there is an unbridgeable gap between a 4 star rating and a 3.5 star rating in London, both in terms of food and lodging. If you dip down to a 3.5 star rating, you will end up at a shitty bed and breakfast in an attic room with a ceiling so low that you have to crouch down to move around, just outside of wi-fi range. Likewise, the food becomes so inedible that, instead of finishing your meal, you will opt for some potato chips from the hotel vending machine. The food really is just as bad as you’ve heard.
THINGS TO DO: Again, if you’re into churches, you’re all set. Probably the best thing to do in Paris is to wander around, get lost, and take pictures of pretty things that you later realize are important monuments. Paris also has lots of “Sexy Girls,” which must be at the top of the list for English and American tourists, since all the signs outside the sex stores and strip clubs near the Moulin Rouge are written in English. If I would have had more time, I would have gone into the Museum of Sex; instead, I just took a picture of one of their (used-looking) contraptions through the window.
If you make it into the Museum of Sex, do drop me a line and tell me about it, won’t you?
Basically, you can’t go wrong. The whole place is so pretty and so exactly what you’d expect (right down to the red geraniums hanging out on all the window balconies) that at some point, you’ll begin to feel a little embarrassed for Paris, like it’s trying too hard.
If you only have time to do ONE touristy thing while you’re there, go to the catacombs, which are just as weird as they sound. You will also not be disappointed by a night-time cruise up the Seine, which only costs 8 euros. Finally, if you’re looking to get some party on, just stroll down to the banks of the river any night of the week. It’s like Dolores Park in the summertime, except it goes for miles and miles and it’s on a river and there are less hipsters and more tango dancing. Basically, it’s Dolores Park in a perfect, parallel universe.
GETTING AROUND: Even more reliable than the Underground – during the day, the trains come every 3 minutes. Closer in bouquet to MUNI, with bright notes of human feces and a heady background of stale urine and body odor.
Similar to the Underground in the M.C. Escher-like transfer set-up. The reason French people can eat whatever the fuck they want is because they spend half their lives climbing stairs.
THIS N’ THAT: Contrary to what you may have heard, people in Paris are extraordinarily polite and helpful, even outside of the super touristy areas. Allergies acting up? Don’t worry about it! The sweet pharmacist will sell you some Claritin over the counter, even though it’s prescription-only in France. On the downside, you may want to avoid putting a damper on your trip by visiting the Museum of Jewish History which, although professing to be a chronicle of Jewish life in France from 13th century through present day, quite inexplicably neglects to cover World War II.
I think that about covers everything. This was way more helpful than the Lonely Planet guide, wasn’t it? You can thank me later.