Sunday, May 10, 2009
Paris V's London
It seems a little unfair to try to compare these two very disparate cities, but I can comment on my different experiences on this trip.
First up, in this modern day and age of travel, is the availability of wifi. When we began travelling with laptops in 2000 there was no wifi available in either Paris or London, but at least there were a large number of internet cafes in London. It was seemingly impossible to find an internet cafe in Paris then, with only a handful scattered through the city.
But as time moved on the availability of wifi in Paris has escalated dramatically, both "unprotected" wifi floating out of apartments as well as official free wifi sites around the city. There is very good wifi available at Centre Georges Pompidou, at several parks along the seine and throughout the city of Paris.
London, on the other hand, still has plenty of internet cafes available, and the occasional unprotected wifi connection available throughout the city or in some coffee houses, but London has very little in the way of official, free wifi apart from in the British Library. Even many of the cafes which "provide" wifi do so at exhorbitant prices.
Go Paris! I am even writing this blog entry using the free wifi at the Centre George Pompidou.
Next up I will look at museums and galleries. Both cities have very famous museums and galleries, much filled during their rampant years raping and pillaging other countries in the name of power and colonisation. Both have amazing collections from over the centuries and millenia, at times when the two "countries" were little more than a small collection of villages, if even that.
The museums in Paris are open to the public for free on the first Sunday of every month, whereas many of the museums in London are open for free, or for a nominal "donation", every day of the week. In London this means one can spend only an hour or two walking around looking at amazing history or art, in between visits to the pub, or the shops, or whatever else takes your fancy.
Go London, I especially like the Tate Modern Gallery and the British Museum.
Next up is pub/cafe culture, and this one especially comes down to my personal preference. The cafes of Paris are usually filled from morning to night with people drinking coffee, pastis, wine, beer .... it seems to be a part of their culture, and very civilised at that.
In London many of the cafes are the usual chains seen around the world, with people drinking milkshake sized (and tasting?) coffees from paper cups ... it makes me shudder. But London has some of the best beers in the world. I have a preference for their "hand pulled" real ales and no day when I am in the UK goes by without me indulging in one or two, and often many more, pints of real ale. Usually with some stodgy food thrown in.
But I must say that in the last 10 or so years the quality of food in British pubs has improved immensely. And the prices in London are much cheaper in general than those in Paris.
As far as food for vegetarians goes, French food has (always had) very little in the way of choice whereas in London there is a (slowly) growing amount of options, especially the vegie sausages available in many of the pubs over recent years. But Paris does provide an amazing selection of good quality fresh fruit and vegetables in their various markets and supermarkets.
Both cities have very interesting and enjoyable river walks, with both the Thames and the Seine flanked by colossal buildings celebrating the might and power of their nations, with a number of bridges dedicated to the pedestrian. With the Thames winding through historic old London and the Seine constantly moving around several islands in the inner city of old Paris I am unable to choose a preference here, enjoying the river walks in both cities.
As far as canal walks go, I much prefer strolling along the Canal St Martin than the occasionally difficult to find Regents Canal in London, which is often a bit more "industrial".
The architecture is unique in both cities, especially a walk around the old areas with their tiny winding roads and small buildings. And I like the fact that both cities have not been inundated with skyscrapers, although the introduction of new laws in Paris may see that change in the (not too distant?) future.
Paris recently introduced the velib, bicycles available on the street to all with a credit card and a few euros. Although the bike paths could be greatly improved, it is dangerous riding on the Paris strets with drivers not looking what they are doing, but it is still a wonderful initiative to see and it is soon to spread outside of the city. There are a number of these located outside our apartment and most days there are technicians checking the bikes are in the best possible condition, and with the Voie Georges Pompidou street along the Seine open to the public every Sunday, there are always hundreds of people using the velibs.
So it looks like I will have to be comfortable on the fence and agree that there are many aspects of both cities that I enjoy.