A Dream Colored Shades of Blue

The blue sky, the blue sea, gentle breeze, warm sand, gigantic palms, sun-kissed skin, relaxed people… A lot of blue and green and sun… That’s a holiday in style, something to look forward to and something to remember on a cold drear day as you go about your routine… Sometimes you can feel the waves splashing and whispering in your ear, the sun caressing your skin, sand touching your feet, a breeze massaging your senses… And it all starts feeling so real that it doesn’t matter if it’s a memory you keep or something you’ve only been dreaming was a memory… I’ve always had a deep fascination for the sea, something about it I’ve always found revitalizing and energizing… Water is life and sea must be a huge showcase of life you just want to take a dip into to forget your everyday life…Sometimes it’s peaceful and calm, sometimes a storm comes. It’s pretty much what our lives are.
Sea has always been a dream for me and I’d always wondered what it would feel like to feel the waves splashing and whispering in my ear, the sun caressing my skin, sand touching my feet, a breeze massaging my senses. Even though I loved sea and water, I’d been afraid of approaching because I had never been taught to swim and took my first tentative dip in my twenties. I wish I had been living in a seaside city and never had had to face my fear. Swimming is supposed to come naturally and before we were born, we were all good enough swimmers to survive in our Mum’s womb.
On that day that was all supposed to become real, not only was I to see the sea (I love the way it sounds), but I was also going to take a dip in… the Mediterranean! Where else but here in the middle of the earth can you find so much blue and green and sun?
We were bound for the French Riviera, land of sea and holidays in style! Our first destination was Cannes, originally a fishing village and now a sprawling haven of beauty and chic set against the blue-blue Mediterranean. Blue should always be all the rage in this part of the world. So here we were, another overnight trip of about 1000 kilometers away from Paris brought US to join the paradise… We were not able to catch a glimpse of the Mediterranean yet as we stopped for a quick breakfast joined by a lot of holidaymakers. I couldn’t believe my big day was here and to me finally getting to see the sea seemed like a milestone. We were driving surrounded by the spectacular Mediterranean scenery, nice seaside houses dotted around. Nowhere to that point had I felt so on holiday as I did here.
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Holiday vibes were in the air and I couldn’t wait to take to the sea! I imagine that would be the area I would be humbled to trespass because we know about all these glamorous and uber-trendy people coming here for a getaway. But it all felt a bit low-key though, plain and relaxing setting and wasn’t too much “in your face” (something we are more used to in this country where people go to great lengths to show off their wealth and show ordinary people where they stand with them). Again I was wondering who was living in these houses, whoever it was, they were very lucky…
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We were just about to take a quick tour of the city and found ourselves just outside the famous Boulevard de la Croisette, a venue for the annual Cannes Film Festival which gained the town international acclaim. Some people might expect to rub shoulders with the rich and famous who had walked this boulevard but the place was actually quiet. The red carpet outside Palais des Festivals looked deserted and no good for celebrity-spotting. No celebrity was posing for a photo with an enigmatic smile. It was just a peaceful Mediterranean morning with clear blue skies and gigantic palms. You could just imagine the buzz and atmosphere of the place during the festival when it becomes a scene for star-struck fans and fierce photographers and journalists on the hunt for a scoop or an exclusive shoot. I wasn’t either of these but strangely felt I belonged there. I looked to the left and here it was – the huge, blue Mediterranean!!! So that was it! I wasn’t excited, I felt calm and peaceful as if I wasn’t new to the place.
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I was watching some people (probably locals) basking in the sun and some elderly lady was topless and no one seemed to mind. Cannes wasn’t just about glamour and wealth after all… Then we took a brief walk along the Allée des Étoiles du Cinéma to take clumsy photos of our weary feet next to beautifully preserved hand imprints of celebrities. Did I feel star-struck? No, I really didn’t but I was amazed how my first trip to the seaside turned out to get a cinema feel to it and I could have never imagined it would…
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We opted for a trip to the Isla Santa Margarita which is just about a 20-minute boat trip from Cannes. We walked past some yachts on the bay and astounded by this combination of beauty and wealth, I felt I was in a movie set. Blue skies, pristine white vessels… A perfect holiday dream seemed to be coming alive… If only I had had more time to lie back and take it all in…
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We got on our boat and our brief ride along the Mediterranean began… Never in my life had I seen so many shades of blue. My whole world seemed all shades of blue and it all felt like one, the sky and the sea… My perfect blue dream… Just like Rose in “Titanic”, I felt like spreading my arms and whispering “I’m flying!”. Well, that’s the only part of this iconic movie I’d like to relive really! We shortly arrived to what genuinely looked like PARADISE! A quiet island with perfect sandy beaches, very clear and very blue sea and amazingly green trees to match! Glamour, beauty, wealth don’t seem to matter any longer when you are treated to the scenery!
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The island is famous for its prison where Man in the Iron Mask was held in the 17th century. You can’t really imagine a person being incarcerated in this heavenly beautiful place.
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We took a walk along a very wonderful eucalyptus forest and listened to some birds which seemed to be singing in a French accent and that was a song I wish I could play on repeat… What a serene and intimate setting it was with a soothing smell of eucalyptus lingering in the air… It was very therapeutic and I remembered how eucalyptus was used as a cure for cough in my childhood. All of my senses were pampered with the beauty of that forest. I know we get all patriotic when it comes to nature because we claim our landscapes are like nowhere in the world but this French forest gave me peace of mind and this is what we love nature for regardless of underlying geographical and political reasons. After our enjoyable and therapeutic walk, it was time to hit the beach! Yes, my first dip in the sea ever and it was coming now!!! I couldn’t wait to delve into the blue waters of the Mediterranean. Awww, the water feels so good and refreshing! Now we are talking! That was a very spectacular dip and the view we had was to kill for! Cannes seemed so far away and we were just enjoying every single second of this seaside part of our holiday. I kept reminding myself it was real! “I’m in the Mediterranean!!!!!! I’m happy!” I had to lick my skin which tasted salty and that was how I was so sure it was all happening for real.
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My favourite colour for the moment was… BLUE!!!! Being a rubbish swimmer wasn’t an issue at all because we could actually see the bottom as we were in. So I felt as safe as ever in not so deep part of the blue sea! The Mediterranean was a perfect and very posh place for my first dip in the sea. Sand and sea – we were living it up! Do I need to say I was most unkeen on leaving about two hours later … We had a quick meal and my pear doughnut tasted like the best food I’d ever tried on that bench overlooking the Mediterranean…
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It was time to head back to Cannes and let my eyes feast on all these shades of blue again. I hardly knew I wasn’t dreaming… We were back to Boulevard de la Croisette to find it equally tranquil as it was early in the morning. Even though you realize that six-figure sums are spent daily in these lovely hotels and cafes and actresses strutting their stuff on 22 steps leading to the entrance of Palais des Festivals wearing the clothes you can never dream of wearing and splurge on lavish parties, you feel you belong here in what is portrayed by the media to be a haven for rich and famous. Was that because we spent most of our time here on the Isla Santa Margarita or was that part of the charm and beauty of the place? I guess it might take another visit to Cannes to find out. I had a perfect beach experience and saw the same blue-blue sea affluent people coming here get to see… If feeling comfortable in the world of hefty bills and high ambitions was just a delusion, I don’t care because it was colored blue by the Mediterranean… Here is to my first ever dip in the sea!

Au revoir, Paris!

The rain kept tapping on our window as we woke up for our final day in Paris. Soon it would be time to say Au revoir, Paris, but before that we were going to have the city to ourselves till the late afternoon! Nine hours in Paris on your own, isn’t that romantique? It is enough to fall in love, fall out of love and fall back in it, so we had plenty of time on our hands! “Paris sky, are you crying about us leaving today? No, you really don’t have to”. I was putting on my jeans because it didn’t look like the rain was going to stop any time soon. Then I started thinking “Yes, 9 hours can be quite a lot but it’s my final day in Paris, I’m not going to be here tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, next week, next month and most probably next year as well… So I’m wearing my long dress! It sounds impractical, I know but there might never be a better occasion to be wearing it than today…” Then came packing, our final breakfast of Parisian croissants and a cup of steaming coffee…As we were on our way to the Louvre where our coach was going to drop us off, I felt all absorbed by Paris (why do you always have to wait till your final day in a city to get absorbed, it’s like you know something is about to be gone and hold onto it) thinking about all the great people who had been walking these streets and that was when the significance of being here in this place at this time hit me… “It’s too early to say goodbye, Paris! At least I want une bise on the cheek by your sun before I leave…”. That was what I was saying to myself sitting on the coach looking out the window. Our tour guide said Paris could be weird when it came to weather because sometimes it’s raining and next minute the sun is shining! So choosing to wear a dress might turn out to be quite sensible after all! Paris might grant me my wish for this final day (une bise). Some people from our group were going to Disneyland and the rest were setting out for a day of adventure on their own just like us. So here we were, walking the streets of the early morning Paris and smelling it… Remember how insecure we felt on our first day? Now we were taking things slowly, enjoying everything as we were walking by. Beautifully coloured macarons (a traditional French dessert) in shop windows brought a rainbow into the city. But even the grey sky has so many dimensions and shades to it when you are in Paris… The rain had stopped and we were taking a leisurely stroll wondering what the next spell of weather would be.

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So a short walk took us straight into Jardin des Tuileries, a very beautiful public garden at the heart of Paris. As it was very early, we had it to ourselves! The grey sky and the perfectly green park covered with rainy dew… We walked around for a while soaking up the atmosphere. French like to party! The garbage cans, still not cleaned, were overflowing with bottles. There was not a single person in the park except us. There were a couple birds, though and… goats! We were surprised to see one and just a couple of meters away there was the second one as well! Back home I found out their job was actually to keep the grass down! So they were already up and at work so early! There were some beautiful sculptures in the park as well and I was wondering what it all looked like in the sunny weather.

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I was having fun walking on puddles in my long dress because I was in Paris! It was starting to clear up, we were on our way to the Seine to rest a little bit and enjoy a Parisian morning before we set out for Musée d’Orsay on the left bank. Just sitting and looking around me had never been so pleasurable and enjoyable. The quiet Seine with a few boats with early birds sailing by, occasional joggers (some were quite handsome), the sky turning blue and a bit of HER at a distance… My morning had never been better! A man walking his dog wished us a nice day as my sister told him how beautiful it was! Of course it was going to be a nice day and one we would never forget and “beautiful” was also the word to describe it…

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We crossed the bank to find ourselves just outside Musée d’Orsay. Let me explain why we chose to visit this particular museum during our free time in Paris. As a child, I remember browsing this shabby book my parents had about Renoir. Of course it was just a random book and my parents weren’t fans of his art but just randomly got hold of this book, which along a few others kept me entertained as a small kid. There were some nudity pieces there but I strangely found them funny. I loved the paper they were printed on, glossy like magazines these days. These were the first art apart from Russian paintings I remember ever being exposed to. As a result, Renoir and his style (which as I found out was impressionism) came to represent France to me. France also used to be my favourite country before I grew passionately keen on England. So the moment I knew I would be travelling to Paris, I was sure I would see some of Renoir’s paintings in Paris and revisit my childhood memories. The building that now houses Musée d’Orsay used to be a railway station, this is why its layout looked very unusual with a massive clock at the main entrance. This is a feast for impressionism fans. As recommended by our tour guide, we started our tour from the fifth floor. “Look, a Renoir!”, I whispered joyously! There seemed to be just a tiny moment between a five or six-year old me studying Renoir’s paintings in the living room of my parents’ flat to a 24-year old me in Paris standing there looking at those paintings… Impressionism was what it was all about for me – it was making an impression and so was the power of a dream. One more Renoir, another Renoir… I was grabbing each single particle of my dream as it was coming alive in the beautifully and differently coloured rooms of Musée d’Orsay. Enjoying a bit of art in the city of romance is romantique! Art is the most lasting legacy that is here for us to learn to comprehend and savor. Manet, Monet, Cézanne, Sisley… This museum is a genuine treasure. We went down to see some sculptures as well. There was something else we wanted to see on our final day in Paris so we left just about two hours later. A childhood dream had just come true! Feeling happy, I went outside for a passionate and hot une bise by the Paris sun! Ah, je t’aime, Paris!

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Just walking along the Seine and beautiful bridges in the hot Paris sunshine breathing the air of Paris like this was amazing. We stopped at Pont des Arts, a bridge famous for its numerous love locks and featured in lots of movies. So many love stories are clattered together here… A section of this bridge actually collapsed this year under the weight of the love locks… Yes, sometimes there is just too much love…

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It was time to rest our feet again and that was when we reached Place de Concorde, Paris’s largest square with an Egyptian obelisk at the centre. I was feeling like a child joining my sister and friend in splashing my feet in the splendid Fountain of River Commerce and Navigation… La Madeleine Church tucked away between other astounding buildings, Jardin des Tuileries on the right, the Arc de Triomphe at the top of the Champs-Élysées and a part of HER on the far left… That was a really epic moment in Paris and I wished it had lasted forever!

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Time came for our final mission for the day. A stroll down Champs-Élysées … I thought a visit to Paris would not be complete without it. This is another part of Paris that I found essential to my idea of it. An aristocratic promenade when you can put on truly chic Parisian airs and feel like a particle of Paris’s beauty show. Paris has another, outrageously fashionable face. Fashion is what adds a chic edge to our otherwise dull lives, captivates and lures. For some fashion is life… That was going to be a long afternoon walk all the way up to the Arc de Triomphe. I felt like singing:

Aux Champs-Elysées, aux Champs-Elysées

Au soleil, sous la pluie, à midi ou à minuit

Il y a tout ce que vous voulez aux Champs-Elysées.

We didn’t feel too aristocratic as we were getting a bit tired and that end of the boulevard didn’t offer too much people-watching. We decided to relax in the park just next to President’s residence, the Élysée Palace where we saw an elegant French lady walking her two cute dogs and a couple kissing (so Parisian).

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We walked on further into the boulevard lined with fashionable shops, restaurants, cinema theaters. What I saw didn’t live up to my expectations, though as I imagined Champs-Elysées to be more extraordinary in a way, not just a long boulevard. Maybe you need a huge bank account to make it an extraordinary experience…We crossed to the other side because that one we were walking on was crowded with some street performers. We were passing by a newspaper stand and I decided to stop to see what newspapers were on sale to nurture this passion of mine for journalism. The image of the joyous Kate and William dominated the front covers. Je ne parle pas français so I wasn’t going to buy a French newspaper (now I think I should have) so I attempted to ask if they had any British newspapers on sale (I love the British press and that was how I familiarized myself with newspaper English). It turned out, they had the Daily Mail! I was ecstatic and virtually jumping with joy! That was the first British newspaper I had bought and I got it there, at Champs-Elysées!!! That was a real treasure and I’d realized that London wasn’t so far away. From the other side of the street I saw my favourite actor, Leonardo DiCaprio, looking at me from a billboard of a fancy shop. That was all a very beautiful Champs-Elysées experience! I felt like singing again…

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We were approaching the Arc de Triomphe and the traffic around it looked insane as lots and lots of cars were circling the Arc de Triomphe in both directions. No insurance company covers accidents which are said to happen here every seven minutes. We needed to cross a little section of this crazy road to get to a wonderful spot to take photos of this monument honoring everyone who fought for France. It felt a bit risky standing there posing amidst all this traffic but it was a perfect Parisian adventure! I wish we had known about an underground passage so that we could cross straight to the Arc de Triomphe to examine its numerous inscriptions…

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It was time to head back to Jardin des Tuileries which was just about a two-kilometer walk! On our way back we popped into a very stuffy Monoprix shop to get some water. We wouldn’t splurge on a fancy meal at one of the cafes at Champs-Elysées of course so we dropped into a huge McDonalds which was just packed so we left. We did some more people-watching as we kept taking a break to sit down on one of the benches. There were people from around the world all around… We made it to where our tour of the boulevard began. It’s a shame it wasn’t Bastille Day when major celebrations take place here.

We were back in Jardin des Tuileries that was full of people lounging here. I saw those green chairs you can take and choose whatever spot you like here. I took one and it was quite heavy! The adventurous part of me wanted to take a ride on the famous merry-go-round here but the girls didn’t feel like joining me and there wasn’t much time before we were due to leave.

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We got a couple of souvenirs in Rue di Rivoli which was a bit challenging as French can be not too keen on speaking English and you can only rely on some words which English and French share to understand what shop assistants are saying. We had another overnight trip ahead of us so we needed a meal. We decided to check out a café near the Louvre which didn’t look too fancy. We were greeted by a most charming and friendly waiters who seemed to go out of their way to make us welcome. It seemed that all of them took turns in coming to check on us asking if we needed anything, while they didn’t seem to attend so much to people at the other tables. One came up to me and standing waving something at my face as a kind of a fan asking if I was feeling hot even though I really wasn’t. It was all extremely funny! When my sister mentioned she was having an overnight trip tonight, they kindly offered her to sleep in there! That was the only meal out we had while in Paris because you can imagine the city is rather expensive and it was the one to remember! Merci beaucoup!

9 hours had gone in a flash and it was now time to say Au revoir, Paris… Our coach picked us up and we headed for Disneyland where the rest of the group were during the day. Spending that final day here on our own made me even more curious as to what other experiences the city had to offer and there sure is plenty! As we got our final views of the Louvre to the song “From Sarah with Love” playing, I was getting really sad. That was it for me in the city of romance. It wasn’t love at first sight and I didn’t instantly get blown away by the Parisian romance as deep down inside I might have been expecting to. But it was very engaging to observe the way my feelings were evolving while I was staying here. In fact, you probably shouldn’t expect to feel all romantic just the moment you arrive but I think it’s your imagination and previous knowledge of the city that makes your perception of it truly romantic. I don’t know if what I experienced was caused by my imagination and was just what it painted over the real Paris. What this visit certainly did was change my perspective on romance and ways we can feel it and made me contemplate what romance really is… Because I believe it’s what you feel inside which is affected by the sum of all of your experiences. Being in Paris living out some script I had had in my head must have been romantic in itself. Was that the script that made me compelled to feel the way I did? Honestly, I don’t even care to know. Would I want to go back? I definitely would because I want to see where me and Paris would go… So yes, I want to take this next step and I hope I will one day and that will be a different journey… Don’t you believe in Paris?

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A Full-Day Romance

Waking up in Paris to breakfast of croissants for an early morning drive to Notre-Dame… It is so… Romantique! Needless to say, I had a very good sleep that night and probably I could have had wherever in the world I would have been because I didn’t sleep the night before. It was time to head out for our only full day with Paris and we sure wanted to make the most of it. My sister made a remark that French croissants had too much oil in them but I didn’t care! I loved how the Paris sun gave me une bise on the cheek when I went outside to get on our coach… I was feeling well-rested and light, no suitcase in my hand, ready to embrace love and romance with my both hands… Bonjour, Paris and off we go! I hope you don’t disappoint today and I’m ready, are you?
The traffic was probably just as bad as it was the day before but now I didn’t really care because I was in Paris!!! I’d seen HER (the Eiffel Tower, Mona Lisa), I spent a night here so now I was definitely and positively in the city of romance! I was feeling more playful and flirty and just looking at my surroundings while we were stuck in traffic keeping reminding myself that where I was now was where so many people were dying to be… I’m actually a very lucky person! So it was an early morning and kissed gently by the Paris sunshine we were on our way to one of the most enigmatic and astounding places in Paris, Notre Dame on The Île de la Cité, a natural island on the Seine. It was time to capture the spirit of Hugo’s Quasimodo, Esmeralda… What a perfectly mysterious and enigmatic place it is!
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Here the romance of Paris gets a mystical Gothic twist. The cathedral looks astounding and imposing against the blue sky making you feel as if you were part of some mystical plot. First thing we went inside as the place was not too crowded with people at that early hour. The interior was overwhelming with all of its mosaics, religious images. You could occasionally see people praying. Transept roses, rose windows… Here a rose does not feel like a romantic symbol but a token of an intricate mystery and shows how religious people attach a whole new meaning to it. In 2013 the Cathedral celebrated its 850th anniversary and we got special souvenir coins marking the event from a machine right there in the church. I wish I had read “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” to fully appreciate the enormity of the place. We didn’t stay inside long and went outside to climb up some stairs just in front of the cathedral where we could take in its grandeur.
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When you are standing a little way up, all that seems to be seen is the cathedral and your eyes wander sizing up every little architectural detail. What I saw to me looked like another life going on amidst the splendid twin towers as if all these figures were part of a puppet show up in the air. I was really looking forward to seeing the famous gargoyles which in Gothic architecture were designed to protect buildings from rainwater. The way you see them clenching their jaws is petrifying. Were they watching us from up there? If they were, they shouldn’t have been bored because an average of 13 million people visits the site every year. I wish we could go up and join them in enjoying a splendid view of the city but we had no time for that. Having found out there was recently a suicide in the cathedral made me contemplate eternity and human life. How many more mysteries this building holds…
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As I was engaging in deep thought, it was 9 a.m. and we heard the bells start ringing. What a purely magical experience it was that we, early birds, were treated to! We posed for some pictures with a perfect view of the cathedral and went back down as we saw a man selling Eiffel Tower souvenirs and all of a sudden, he burst into singing Belle from the Notre de Paris musical.
Ô Notre Dame !
Oh ! Laisse-moi rien qu’une fois
Pousser la porte du jardin d’Esmeralda
Wow, that was really romantic and he had a fantastic singing voice! Hugo’s story that made this cathedral linger in art and culture felt somewhere in mid-air…
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It was time to go, we had a lot more to do. We walked some streets to where our coach was parked accompanied by the tour guide. We passed by the famous Hotel de Ville which houses the city’s local administration and marvelled at numerous enormous fountains. This was where our bus tour of the city began. As we found out from our tour guide, there would be beaches close by soon. The only bad thing about it was that we were not going to be here to see it and bask in the Paris sun like this.
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We drove along the Seine and learned some basic facts from the history of the city. What an unfathomable amount of history there is in Paris, more than a human brain can conceive! We arrive in Latin Quarter, a lively and bubbly area of Paris around the Sorbonne which does not look too large from the outside. Lots of cafes and bistros flash by and the streets are getting busier but the Paris vibe is still there.
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At the end of our tour, we stopped at a sensationally beautiful place Trocadero. The view of the main Parisian beauty from up here is truly breathtaking! This is where you get the best photos of her and this is where love birds flock for their romantic photo shoots. If you have that special someone , this place is a must if you are in Paris because I can imagine love feels so much stronger up here. From up there the Eiffel Tower looks like the winner of a Parisian beauty pageant accompanied by other sights that can be discerned. She knows all eyes are on her!
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We have just a couple of minutes here to take our beautiful pictures and leave to be mobbed by black street sellers offering us Eiffel Towers ranging from tiny to fairly large. This is really hard sell and these people seem to be very keen on Russians as they shout “Natasha” in your face as you are trying to leave. How very annoying!
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Anyway, we soon left for a tour of Versailles. Before we did, we made one final stop at Les Invalides (The National Residence of the Invalids) that now houses a museum showcasing the military history of France as well as a retirement home for war veterans. Along with some other war heroes, there is a burial place of Napoleon Bonaparte. The outside is dazzling with gold and the garden surrounding it is spectacular. Alain Delon was said to have a property around here…
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Next up we had a tour of the place which was the epicenter of France’s political life for more than a hundred years. Another place holding a great many mysteries of people having lived behind its enormous walls. If the Eiffel Tower is a symbol of romantic love, the Palace of Versailles is one of absolute monarchy that has witnessed the country’s turbulent past. We were about to immerse ourselves into inscrutability of history. Versailles is about a thirty-minute drive from the centre of Paris and we got an amazing chance to look back as we were already out of the city to see HER standing far up behind. Having seen it for the second day now I was kind of getting used to its beauty. Is that what happens with love as well when you eventually get to the point when the chemistry is gone? Anyway, moving on. We arrived to Versailles to realize why Louis XIV chose this place as the location of his future palace. The scenery is very calm and serene and offers a wonderful getaway from the hustle and bustle of Paris. Well, you think so until you come across another gang of black street sellers at the gate and look behind it to see gangs of tourists queuing for their entry tickets. The façade does look impressive and royal. We had to walk the pavement to the entrance to understand that it wasn’t actually used for walking on in the old days because it was mainly for carriages, royals didn’t bother to do too much walking. This is why I didn’t feel like a queen on a leisurely stroll of my grounds… As we had a reservation for our tour, we didn’t take long to get in. From the inside the place started feeling more just like a museum with crowds of tourists checking it out. You physically feel the place hadn’t been lived on for very long, since 1789 following the French Revolution to be precise. I was working hard to imagine what it must have felt like to be living in such a huge place. Is having a place like that all it takes to make a person happy? Being of royal birth grants certain privileges and opens a lot of doors but many people found it daunting to keep their dignities intact as they were living in a lap of luxury. As you enter the salons of the palace, you get blown away by the furnishing and décor and they make a statement of power and authority. French kings had huge egos that they boosted by lavish interiors. They had servants at their call to help them through their daily routine which might makes us presume they had no worry in the world.
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Some people had to work their way up by getting into the king’s good grace to get admitted to the place and here we were, thousands of us, casually touring it… I was wondering what the kings would say if they got a glimpse of what their residence is like today… But to this day, you have to be in a certain privileged position to get a proper tour because the palace is mobbed with tourists and I think to get a feel for Versailles, you need to take time to let your imagination work because if you are rushed as we were, the place might come across as a barren display of royal wealth but it is the people and their personal dramas that kept the place alive. You have to get into their royal shoes for as long as you are here. Amidst all this lifeless beauty, I kept thinking about things that were taking place here that might not be so politics-related. I might have started picking up on the Paris vibe but at some point it stroke me that Paris was not just about romantic love but a kind of “love” that at least used to be kept private before the social media came around if you get my point… In a way that makes you feel uneasy even though royals were just like the rest of us. The last queen of France, Maria Antoinette, that you see on a painting courteously looking down on you with her children was notorious for excessive partying and adultery and we can only imagine what kinds of things those party people got up to in the privacy of the palace grounds. The portraits that we see on display today didn’t help her public image. I dare presume she wasn’t the only royal to have fed their amorous appetites inside these mystifying walls. Standing there in the middle of the monarch’s chamber, I felt like a privacy intruder. Quite wide but very short beds looked as if they had never been slept in. Probably they hadn’t because a lot of the palace was looted after it was deserted following the Revolution and that must have been a copy of the original one. They could hardly be used for escaping the public eye because even a child-birth was public as it was taking place here. It is at this place where a strictly enforced etiquette which made provisions for every single aspect of royal life went hand in hand with extravagant pleasure-seeking. I found all these fancy bedrooms stifling in a way imagining how queens had their maids at their bedside whenever they woke up or went to bed to help them dress and undress. I’m not sure if I could handle being a royal… And of course, we stopped at the Hall of Mirrors which is next to the King’s chamber. Mirrors were very expensive to get at the time and were only produced in Venice so workers were brought here to make them because everything for the palace should have been home produced.
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What an utterly beautiful place to dance some waltz in and see the beauty of the moment reflected in the enormous mirrors… If I was a royal, it would be time for my promenade because the tour was now over. We were free to stroll the enchanting park of Versailles on our own for a bit. This is where you can really relax and enjoy royal views of Versailles. Was I feeling like a royal? Probably I wasn’t, but I definitely felt relaxed away from the crowds and this is perhaps what the royals came here for. Well-groomed lawns, flowers… You could well spend the entire day on the grounds. Unfortunately, the fountains weren’t working while we were here. There are fountain shows at certain periods and there must be an extra fee to get in. We walked around for a little bit and since we are not royals at the end of the day, it was soon time for us to leave. We had a bit of a meal which was a bit challenging to buy because as I noticed, French people can be rather unwilling to speak English. It was some bread with cheese and I can eat everything if there’s cheese in it! Before we left, we had a mission to complete. We needed to get some tiny Eiffel Towers from local street sellers because they sold them cheap. So we got our euro coins at the ready in fear we might be pickpocketed if we reached for our purses while buying our souvenirs. It was really funny but these black street sellers can really make you terrified. It made us chuckle that they did even try to speak some Russian with us and they didn’t really have to! Versailles turned out to be what I was picturing it to be, a pretty much lifeless display of royal extravagancy and wealth…
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We were on our way back to Paris. It wasn’t long till we saw HER again right in front of us. There’s no escaping HER really. As much as some people who were appalled by this structure tried to hide from it, the best they could do is to climb on top of her… Paris is so diverse that you can even get a bit of New York here when you pass by a replica of Statue of Liberty. Just a little surprise (imagine saying that in American accent!). The original statue was actually a gift from France. As we picked up the rest of the fellow travelers who were staying in the city, time came for another handsome man alert! There was one just the other day in Berlin with that man seated on the stairs of a bank. This man was seated on the stairs as well but of the famous Palais Garnier which houses the National Opera.
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VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

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Next stop was Montparnasse Tower. Our travel agency failed to reserve us the tickets to climb the main Parisian beauty and you can spend 3 hours in a queue to get your ticket there. So Tour Montparnasse was suggested as an alternative. That used to be the tallest skyscraper in France. We were to see Paris from the 56th floor! How dizzyingly exciting! We saw some handsome French office workers as we walked to the elevator. Falling in love in Paris can really be like a walk in the park or in this case, a walk to the elevator… It took us to the 55th floor and we needed to walk another floor to get to the roof terrace with breathtakingly beautiful views. We got there and had a photo of the three of us taken which we didn’t bother to pay to get but it’s kind of part of the experience. The terrace is amazing and there are some places you can sit or lie down to relax and take in the city. I took no time to find the best view of the Tower and here SHE is, so tiny and small but the largest and most precious jewel in the lavishly painted picture of Paris. I reached out my hand and it seems like it was sitting in my palm. “You are so beautiful, Madame!”, said I to myself as I noticed many more sights we had visited today lined up in front of my very eyes. We stayed up there a while and then it was time to go all the way down.
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VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100
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We were now on our way to a very unique area of Paris, the area which used to have probably the highest concentration of art talent, Montmartre, ideally perched on the highest hill in Paris. A lot of celebrated artists found their refuge here and I imagined there would be a certain artistic vibe here. The area is visibly set apart from the rest of the city and I had to look a long way up to see where we were about to go. The first impression was that art gave way to petty crime here as I saw crowds of dodgy-looking black people coming and going and I was having doubts whether I really felt like joining this beehive of potential criminals. I’d never held on to my bag as tightly as I was walking up that street. The area didn’t feel safe at all and it gave me a feel of how poor artists who used to reside here must have been. It felt like a Paris underground where you always have to be on alert and aware of your surroundings. We safely got to the top of the hill to Sacré-Cœur, a very beautiful basilica I caught a glimpse of on my arrival to Paris. It’s even more beautiful close up and to me it looked even more spiritual than Notre-Dame. It looked like a rocket ready to burst into the air as we were standing at the foot of the hill watching it. The view from up there was stunning and of course we had a view of HER as well. There were some people lounging in the grass.
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We met our Montmartre guide who got stuck in traffic on his bicycle. The traffic in Paris can really get that bad! He turned out to be very friendly and interactive while he was introducing us to the area. We were cautioned against any interactions with street sellers during the tour. I don’t mean to sound racist but a lot of black people in Paris look a bit terrifying and that sends a clear message you’d better steer clear of them. Some of these guys seemed to be on friendly terms with our guide as they greeted him. He warned us that was going to be a sweaty walk uphill and by the looks on our faces, he might have assumed that made us even more terrified! He did his best to defuse the tension and told a couple of jokes. Accompanied by our energetic and fit guide, we were just about to enter the Sacré-Cœur basilica. Even though I’m not religious, I always enjoy going inside what religious people call “houses of God” while I’m travelling. This feeling it gives you is purely spiritual and comforting as you realize there is some energy in there that I can imagine a prayer can induce in someone in despair and you instantly pick up on it. For some reason, I found the energy in the cathedral a bit oppressing and the silence was really deafening and I was longing to hear a faint sound. I felt the urge to leave somehow. Luckily, we didn’t stay long and went back outside to continue our tour. This is when I saw a most terrifying and quirky dog being walked nearby. We were yet to see lots of dogs in this area of Paris. I was expecting to see lots of street artists at work but in fact all I saw in that part of the neighborhood were occasional groups of tourists. We were shown the first bistro launched by Cossacks in 1814. I smiled at my Russian heritage as we were walking by. Our Russian-French guide made the area come alive with the way he was introducing the sights and I was starting mellowing down after a not quite safe walk up to the area. As we started going down to some quiet place, he was telling a story of a man who once discovered he had learned to walk through walls. Once he met a woman around this area that he instantly felt attracted to and they started an affair even though this woman was married. One night he stayed at her place far too long (doing what? Well, there were some children in the group so it was said they had been dancing) and as he was running away, he discovered he could no longer walk through walls and where was he now? We only had to look to the right to see him stuck in a wall. This is a character from the story “The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls” by Marcel Aymé. We were astonished because the way we were approaching the monument was timed perfectly! To me this whole story was so Parisian and reminded of how Paris wasn’t just about romantic love and the sculpture of a human private part next to this man was another reminder of that and how important physical longings were here.
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We were shown a lovely house previously owned by Dalida, famous Italian-French singer, in quite an intimate location. Montmartre Museum had some copies of famous paintings accomplished in the area by the likes of Picasso, Matisse… To end our tour, we were shown a place where the famous character of the film Amélie came to buy groceries.
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VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100
A couple of hours before I thought the Montmartre vibe had been lost upon me but thanks to the professionalism of our guide, I felt a faint spark of it in my soul. We walked around the area on our own for a bit getting some art souvenirs from here and were struggling for a while to find our way back down that maze of streets. We were not sure if that was the street we needed but there was no question about it the moment we saw a very Russian face of a fellow male traveler in the sea of international people largely made up of some really gorgeous French men. I know probably no Russian men will be reading this so I can have a little rant about how Russian men are nothing like European ones. Scrubby looks, rude behavior, apathy to life is what generally sums up most men in Russia and I guess that was why that particular face stood up in the crowd… But we were in for some treat as we took a vacant bench right across the one where our “handsome” and so very Russian fellow traveler was seated. Checking out French men is an essential part of Paris experience and they make falling in love so easy! You might think Alain Delon was not your average French man but whilst seated there, I thought this idea had to be thrown out of the window as every third men in the crowd seemed a resemblance to this handsome French. I could stay here for hours French-men watching. Merci, French men, for providing some eye candy for us! This is what I miss a lot back home… I’m still struggling to figure out what on earth is the matter with men over here but the fact remains that something is seriously wrong! We left Montmartre wondering if we could come here on our own if we are in Paris again and not get pickpocketed again. We take another peek at the notorious Moulin Rouge and its windmill…
It was time for a brief New York throwback again as we took a brief ride along the business centre of Paris named La Défense with its huge skyscrapers. They were hiding behind HER as we were looking at Paris from Tour Montparnasse. This is where romance is put aside at least for the length of a work day…
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We were not at work, we were on a beautiful vacation in Paris and we didn’t say no to a bit of romance and as the night was settling in, we were just about to let Paris and its dazzling amorous lights work their magic on us. It had been a long day but again who cared, it was time for a late night date! After dark is when love transforms and has a playful spark of passion added to it that sends hearts racing and makes them do all the love talking. Our date was to start at 10 p.m. and we didn’t want to be late. We were there just in time and the magic was about to begin. We took some spot to see it closer. I knew it was our first late-night date but it was my heart speaking now and all that excitement was getting too much so let me get a little closer to you, Madame because tonight all the dreams I’d ever had of love were going to sparkle on you as you let your lights burst that might make me burst into tears of joy… For a tiny moment as we were standing there waiting, I felt like a man waiting for his date to make an appearance. And there she is, flirtatiously shining her bright lights on us. All eyes are on you, beautiful! Remember I said I thought after having seen the Eiffel Tower for two days, I started thinking I was getting used to it? Well, probably, it was a beautiful summer late or HER lights were even more beautiful but I thought Paris IS love! As I was standing here joined by thousands of others, I was thanking life for giving me this beautiful chance to be there in the city of romance feeling blessed and at the same time sorry for everyone who might never get a chance to come here… Jollie, jollie, jollie! Why can’t I just stand here all night watching you….It feels good to be here even without a special someone and even if you do want them blown away by these shining lights here with you, just imagine (but don’t close your eyes, please) someone you saw earlier in Paris or anyone from anywhere in the world who has ever made your heart skip a beat sitting here next to you…We feel love as long as our heart beats and especially when it has beaten in Paris… I feel tears coming to my eyes now just thinking of how hard it was to leave this beauty to be enjoyed by others… French specialties that were served in our coach didn’t help… I raised a toast to Paris (love) and to HER (a symbol of love)… Of course she’s the main beauty around and nothing else can shine their lights as she does but as we were on our way back to our remotely located hotel (safety comes first), we let the Louvre, Champs-Élysées and romantic roadside restaurants dazzle us with their charming lights… I felt in love and it seemed as if I needed that just like I needed the air to breathe… The air of Paris… I didn’t want to think I might not be feeling in the same way when I woke up the next morning… Paris, je t’aime… I believe in Paris, do you? Bonne nuit!!!
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Can you believe you are in Paris? or Do you believe in Paris at first sight?

My overnight trip to one of the most romantic cities in the world wasn’t romantic at all and actually got off to a bad start. I was expecting not being able to sleep on the coach and didn’t grumble as I was tossing and turning in my seat which wasn’t anything like a comfy bed. But feeling really unwell is what I certainly didn’t see coming at all! What I was doing apart from trying to figure out what could have caused that, was indulging in self-pity contemplating how unlucky I was to have fallen ill on my way to the highlight of this trip. Will I be able to bounce back the moment I see the enchanting beauty of Paris or will this city give another romantic person the strength to soldier on? I would have felt devastated to become ill on any part of this trip of course but that was definitely the worst timing! Why should it happen NOW when I’m about to discover the city that has a special place in a lot of people’s hearts regardless of whether they have had the privilege of visiting it or not? This city features on a lot of people’s dreams and even those who don’t aspire to travel there must have a good reason to do so. No matter which group you are in, you certainly have a certain image of Paris which can be intrinsically romantic and sappy inspired by a plethora of books and films featuring long romantic walks, champagne, AMOUR… Or at the other end of spectrum, a casual image of the Eiffel Tower featured in advertisements, merchandises (mostly from China) can pretty much sum up Paris for some… I see the notion of Paris just as the notion of love… Some of us tend to romanticize it and others dismantle it as being overrated. Traditionally, Paris equals love and so you can’t just say you don’t care. Do you believe in Paris?
I was hoping I was because I expected my sickness to be gone and I wouldn’t mind it probably happening in a totally romantic way as we were getting closer and closer to Paris as the night wore on. Anyway, a couple of troubled thoughts and medications later, sleep (or rather delirium) took me in its sweet romantic embrace for a little bit and I did start feeling better from which as I later realized must have been a cold I got back in the rainy Moscow. Well, there never comes a time you’re totally ready for love to come your way but at that point I thought I was ready for Paris to give me a sweet embrace…
Eating in the city of love and romance started seeming rather costly as we popped in a shop somewhere a couple of hours’ drive outside it. The prices were way higher than back in Berlin and the shop assistant wasn’t even half as nice… Did I still believe in Paris? Well, I guess I did because I guess a part of believing in love is being able to accept it is not always what you picture it to be… To put the romance part aside for a bit, I would say my first impression of France wasn’t too positive. First, the prices, then the fields we were driving by didn’t seem as well-looked after as they did back in Poland… But that’s what you get when you travel around. You end up being more aware of contrasts as you keep traveling and you can go from feeling positive to disappointed and equally you can go just the other way around…
So we got some information from the tour guide and were given maps of the city just to find out that the hotel where we would be staying at for the next two days wasn’t even on the map! Magnifique! But well, do you really mind that as long as you are in the city of love? Well, we were yet to discover that… Probably an hour later, here we were, Bonjour, Paris! Well, I might seem to overuse this in my account of Paris but sorry Je ne parle pas français and sorry I had to Google how to say that! Why is that when you don’t speak a language, you always feel the urge to say something in it? So yes, Bonjour, Paris! is all I could say and that was all I had to say at that point as we got stuck in Paris traffic. Do you mind being stuck in traffic in the city of love? The answer should be yes just because it reminds you of cities which don’t hold the reputation of being romantic… So is Paris really overrated? Well, I guess that was too early to be answering that. Should we learn to ignore first snap impressions when it comes to Paris (love)? Amongst hectic traffic, we were able to take notice of a large building of the Stade de France (the national stadium) featuring the photos of some popular French football players and a bit later uphill I saw an image that matched the one that was on a chocolate bar I got in that pricey shop.
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That was The Sacré-Cœur Basilica. That was my first wow-moment in Paris because I didn’t expect to catch a glimpse of this iconic sight from down the road and I wasn’t aware of the layout of the city at that point. Apart from that wow image I’d just experienced, at first glance Paris looked like just your average capital city. And deep down inside, I was waiting for a miracle to unravel because love and beauty are better savoured when unexpected.
As we went further into the city watching joggers and businessmen filling the streets, the coach driver asked us to close our eyes just after another crossroad. I knew what was coming and I wondered if my fellow travelers did as well. I was just about to see HER, the epitome of love and romance, the ultimate oasis of sentimental beauty, the pilgrimage of romantically inclined people from all over the world. Paris is HER and if you ever wonder if love has a material substance, in this place it does and it looks like the Eiffel Tower! You are experiencing that overwhelming feeling, butterflies in your stomach, lump in your throat as if you know you are just about to make an acquaintance with the love of your life. The only difference is that in everyday life we never know for sure when we do meet this special person or even if we do get this feeling, it is most likely our fantasy and illusion taking over and what we see is not this actual tangible person but what our imagination paints over them. For others this special someone takes a lifetime to find or alternatively, others choose to settle for what is a far cry from that beautiful work of art created by their imagination. What I was just about to see was the ultimate dream, the token of love and our search for it… I’m on the edge of my seat, on an emotional high, my heart is pounding, all set for the ecstasy of taking HER in. And here it was, larger than life! All the tourists erupted into an ecstatic and joyous applause! The love of your life has a way of keeping you anticipating… And now that was it!
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What I was feeling at the moment wasn’t as beautiful as it pictured it to be. Waiting for love to come (whether you do nothing but secretly hoping it will find a way to you or you are desperate for it) seems much more romantic and inspiring than actually encountering it. The moment I was waiting to see it knowing it was just around the corner, halfway between the fantasy and reality is the moment I’ll treasure forever… As large as it was and as high as I felt, the actual image of it didn’t meet my expectations somehow. I just knew something wasn’t there… Are you never sure what you see is what you’ve been looking for or should you rather let your imagination do the job for you? I didn’t do that and instead texted Mum to say I’ve just seen the Eiffel Tower but when she asked me if I was impressed, I said I wasn’t… Is there something wrong with me or something wrong with that massive architectural structure dominating Paris’s skyline?
Now that we felt we were officially and emotionally in Paris, it was time to take a trip down the Seine. As we got off the coach and were making our way to where we would board our vessel, I kept sizing HER up and that involved me walking with my head turned to the opposite direction. I was waiting for the Tower to work its magic and felt as if I was in a dream and I held onto it, afraid to wake up and lose sight of it. It looked larger from this angle… There is a tower just outside my grandparents’ garden which is used for providing electricity and I remember growing up I used to call it the Eiffel Tower because to me it seemed to bear some resemblance to the original and as I was standing there taking it in, I remembered that. The real thing was much more spectacular of course and I was trying to figure out how to see love and romance beyond the magnifique architectural piece. I let myself off the hook because I realized I wasn’t at my best that day after a night of feeling unwell and gruesome reality seemed to have an edge over romantic dreams of mine…
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We were waiting in line to get on board as I kept staring at the Eiffel Tower. If I was a man and it was a lady, I believe it would turn away… The Seine, what an iconic sight to start off with! I love it how almost every major city you visit is connected to a river which, I believe, is not just a practicality but is also inspiration for romantic musings of people visiting. It looked quite small but taking a boat ride along the river with its banks jammed with numerous sights was going to be a nice way to introduce us to Paris. That was more like a preview to what we were about to see in the next three days. After some misunderstanding with our tickets, we got on board and were taken pictures of straightaway. I can’t take a good picture and I dread to think what I looked like in that one and I certainly wasn’t keen on paying 10 Euros to get it! We were given headsets and our little voyage got underway! Our guide was an extremely slim lady of the oriental origin and seemed to speak a combination of languages. She gave us a multilingual welcome and it made me chuckle to hear her trying to say something in Russian! There was a brief commentary of the places we were seeing and I continued to size up the city because a river trip is not sufficient to feel really exposed to the sights, but it can do as a little teaser and quite a tantalizing experience. I believe we had a bit of Charles Aznavour playing in between as we were sailing under iconic extravagant bridges (Pont Neuf, Pont Alexandre III (the most impressive one!), Pont Saint-Michel and some others). VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

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I don’t remember the exact order though but they were all beautiful and distinctly Parisian, not like those we saw just the previous day in Berlin. I was starting mellowing out after a rough night but was still incredulous of where I was at the moment. This is when I remember my sister asking “Can you believe you are in Paris?”. This is another thing I knew I would include in my description of the trip. Some things and moments are like grains of sand, they are so easy to lose in the avalanche of the ocean of your memory that you need to grab them before they drown deep down in your mind. I feel like committing them to paper is like saving them from drowning and never being recovered again… I would think my sister expected me to be on a kind of a romantic high because there is nowhere in the world that a romantic would feel at their romantic best but here… I imagined I would be as well but again things often turn out to be quite different from what you pictured them to be. At that point I was questioning my romantic disposition… Was I just a boring pragmatic creature? Was I romantic enough and was Paris romantic enough for me? I certainly had felt a lot more romantic before in places supposedly less romantic than the one I was in at the moment… Well, our perception of romance needs in-depth scientific research, I believe… Whatever I was feeling at the moment wasn’t surely love at first sight… Maybe it wasn’t just meant to be for me and Paris… Or would it blossom into something more in the end? It was a one-sided relationship with a large diverse city so it was up to me to decide where we would go… The Musée d’Orsay, Notre-Dame, Conciergerie… Now we feel we really ARE in Paris! And a few pictures of the Tower as we are sailing by of course. One instantly becomes a background picture in my phone. A very weird but such a modern way of connecting with any place… I was so gutted when a couple of months later, the memory card crashed and these pictures, along with many others, were gone… But no matter how advanced technologies are, the bottom line is that the memory card fitted into our brains and capable of arousing our minds and senses is the most reliable one because it is there for just as long as we are…
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We got back on the coach for the next stop which was the Louvre. She was still standing there, erect and extravagant, a jolie Parisian lady making me feel as if she was Paris itself and I needed nothing more but see her standing here to physically feel where I was… At this point a new tour guide took over and he seemed much more knowledgeable, savvy and streetwise. After a bit of confusion and misunderstanding while boarding our Seine vessel, we were happy our tour guide was leaving us as her EU visa was expiring and we needed someone to make our Paris experience a really beautiful and amazing one and this new tour guide seemed like he could pull it off.
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VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100
The Louvre was just a brief drive away and our coach parked on Rue de Rivoli, a street lined with souvenir shops and restaurants. We were just about to briefly immerse ourselves in one of the greatest art treasuries the world has to offer! Visiting museums can be really overwhelming, humbling and even tedious at times because in order to fully appreciate the scale and grandeur, you need to do a lot of research beforehand. Another thing which is crucial for an enjoyable museum experience is a lot of stamina and consistency walking along large, crowded and therefore stuffy spaces for hours on end trying to make sense of what you are exposed to. I think in a way visiting any sight with a tour guide can take away from the whole experience because getting lost and mingling with people in the crowd trying to get the directions is part of the beauty of traveling but… And there’s also a big BUT. You’ve got to have a lot of time on your hands to savour all the beauties of traveling but if it is an extensive tour of a big chunk of Europe and all you’ve got time for is to merely scratch the surface and decide if you ever want to be back and dive in deeper, a tour guide can be of huge assistance in helping you navigate art, history and whatever you’re exploring. And a tour guide can definitely make or break a trip. Our Louvre guide was Russian who looked like she’s been residing in Paris for quite a while and later we found out she actually graduated the famous La Sorbonne! I always find it immensely pleasurable to watch people and their ways while abroad. At the end of the day, it’s people not architecture and art that represent a hugely diverse face of a city… Watching my fellow countrymen abroad and speculating on how a European environment shaped them up is a massive cultural experience for me. You can try to imitate locals in many ways but what remains with you forever is your native language, it’s like a benchmark and is arguably a powerful tool in making us who we are. So our tour guide was very interesting to watch, especially that French side of her… Before our tour kicked off, we were given earphones and stayed for a bit in the hall to see the Inverted Pyramid that made me wish I had read Dan Brown before my trip to comprehend the enigma behind this structure. Seeing a sign which read “Paris” here was again bringing it home to me where I was. I’m pretty much confused if I have to put it down to my lack of sleep the night before or my poor knowledge of art (which I’m working on improving) but I can’t really go on and on about my visit to the Louvre because overall it was a very blurred experience and to me, as ignorant as it may sound, this whole unsurpassed collection came down to the lady with the most piercing, enigmatic eyes who is originally Italian but is now residing in Paris and technically, a Parisian lady who can well compete with the major lady, if not in size but in its splendour and artistic value. The Louvre itself is an enormous building which started as a fortress and then became a palace. We had only two hours to spend there and of course the museum of such a tremendous scale is not “doable” within such a space of time. The place was absolutely crowded and noisy and we literally had to follow our guide’s footsteps in order not to get lost.
VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100
As the whole Louvre visit was very chaotic and blurred, I’m struggling to piece together the list of the exhibits we did get to see. I clearly remember the first one being Sleeping Hermaphrodite and being strangely captivated by how the mattress this figure was lying on was sculpted because it looked so real… Another one was Aphrodite “Venus de Milo”, also Winged Victory of Samothrace, Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, Three Graces… Then followed painting galleries and all I remember doing was taking lots and lots of pictures. People tend to get overwhelmed and inconsistent on guided tours when there is a certain time limit and pressure of keeping up with the rest of the group… So there were a number of masterpieces I’m genuinely sorry I wasn’t able to appreciate. They featured a string of French kings, especially Louis XIV (whose palace, Versailles, we were scheduled to visit the next day) and of course, one of the hugest personalities in the French history, Napoleon… There was also a variety of precious stones, jewellery which any lady would be mesmerized by…You virtually want to take pictures of everything!
VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100
VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100
But there’s no doubt about what the highlight of an average Louvre visit is… Mona Lisa… You feel the excitement building up as you see the signs for her all over the museum. That should be the next most exciting anticipation after seeing the Eiffel Tower. We were eager to make an acquaintance with the lady herself but it would have been foolish to assume we would have a chance to have her to ourselves… The gallery where she is displayed is nowhere intimate and private, it is packed with people! If Mona Lisa could come alive in flesh and blood, I assume she would be feeling like a superstar mobbed by a starstruck crowd desperate for an autograph. But no one in the crowd would get one, all you end up wirh is a lingering, piercing look… It is like being in a concert in a large venue and whenever an artist looks somewhere your way and it seems they are making eye contact with someone, you think it’s you they are looking at and so do lots of other people next to you… She gives that tense look and seems to never look away and for a moment you might get the impression it’s only you and her in the room… You instinctively hold up your camera and tiptoe over the crowd to take a picture. I was using my camera and its battery was dead just as I was about to photograph Mona Lisa… Well, I had to grab my phone and take another picture, but the painting didn’t turn out well. Probably that was due to the lighting but in all of the pictures I’d taken Mona Lisa had some celestial “thing” over head as if mocking me for trying to get a shot. Well, unlike the Eiffel Tower that you can actually savour and grow to enjoy as the highlight of your Paris trip, seeing Mona Lisa over heads of hundreds of people is more like something you just tick off your bucket list. The painting is disappointingly small and in fact, you fail to see the art in one of the most celebrated paintings ever…You seemed to be worried about fighting your way through the crowd just to get a picture of what you’ve seen a million times just for that “been-there-done-that” feeling… For a lot of people I guess this celebrity painting would make for the final stop… So it did for us. All I know is that I owe the Louvre another visit because I feel ashamed of myself for missing out on its richness and splendour.
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It was time for us to head to our hotel for the next three days which was somewhere in the outskirts of the city. We were driving through the streets and I was trying to pick up on the Paris vibe. I did pick up on the European vibe but I was still struggling for the Paris one. We made a quick stop at a perfume shop and buying some perfume to take back home is a must but we were visiting Fragonard Factory in Grasse a couple of days later so I thought I would wait to buy mine. It must have felt like paradise for a lady to be at a perfume shop in Paris but you’re really spoilt for choice! But here comes another but. Most of items were quite extravagantly priced and I wasn’t thinking straight after the overnight trip so I was just looking around. Prices in Paris especially on your first day here can you want to hold onto your cash rather than splurging on every single whim (a girl has many when she’s in Paris). Perfume shopping has a way of wearing you out because after smelling a couple of scents, you aren’t sensitive to any that follow… Especially in Paris, especially after a sleepless night being sick on the overnight trip…
Anyway, it was time to make a move to the hotel and we did get to see some more of Paris on the way. As we were driving by, we were shown the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel, the exact spot where Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in 1997 and I actually remember the day it happened. Seeing places like this make you feel connected with the recent history and stories you remember unraveling.
We were on our way for a bit and the streets were quite different and got less picturesque as we approached the hotel. What we saw looked like a residential area and in fact all the cities are composed of them and tourists don’t often get to see the real life going on beyond buzzing tourist hubs… Well, this was where we were staying and were instructed by our tour guide to stay away from late at night. If I was traveling to Paris on my own, I would never book a hotel in such a location! Our rooms were on the top floor and it was challenging to go up as French elevators turned out to be quite tricky. So we ended up walking the stairs all the way up with our suitcases! Romantic! Not! There was a young boy in our group and he was going up in front of us and I saw a piece of underwear slipping out of his suitcase onto the stairs which he didn’t care to pick up. Well, I can’t say why but the sight of this boy’s underwear lying around in between the stairs makes me laugh to this day. Russian tourists always leave their mark wherever they go! I don’t take pride in that, it’s just statement of the facts. We relaxed in our rooms for a bit and wanted to go out to do some food shopping as we had the rest of the afternoon to ourselves. I was feeling feverish and unwell again and hated that. The girls weren’t willing to go out that night and I was trying to assure them we shouldn’t stay at the hotel just because of me feeling unwell. I would hate to miss out because of my illness and thought some more medication would get me through. But they look exhausted as well, plus we had no idea how to navigate the city on our first day there. So we went out to the nearest shopping centre and the area did feel dodgy and scary with suspicious-looking people of different nations passing by. It felt as if it was a gangster movie setting. Romantic! Not! Unless we had had a gorgeous French gentleman rescue us to safety… Well, it wasn’t that awful but you wouldn’t want any of that in Paris! We walked into this shopping centre and I made sure I was always on alert because I was afraid of being pickpocketed or approached by some dodgy people. My sister had to buy a new handbag and I was rushing her to do it quick and now I regret I hadn’t got one for me because just recently I saw this same bag on sale in my city and it was five times as expensive as that one she got! A supermarket felt a bit safer and there was wine and cheese everywhere! Well, I don’t care much for wine but I’m a huge cheese lover and that was for me another Paris attraction! Wine prices can be ludicrously low and it can be cheaper to drink wine than water while in Paris. There are all sorts of it really starting from 3 Euros for a bottle! We got hold of a reasonably cheap one, stocked up on some cheese. We met a fellow Russian at the check-out desk and it’s another proof that Russians have a way of distinguishing each other in a multinational crowd on foreign adventures. Yes, it’s reassuring to know Russia is still here but let it wait for a bit till we come back… We safely got back to our hotel and found out we couldn’t actually open our wine bottle as we had no corkscrew with us! Well, we should have made sure we took one on our trip but it just didn’t cross our mind. What shall we do? Well, the only solution seemed to go down to the reception desk and ask if they had one. Luckily for me, I knew the English word for it. Then my sister made a most funny assumption when she said that we would probably be taken to police for drinking wine at our hotel room! When I told my friend who had been living in France and has a degree in French about what my sister said, she laughed hard! Drinking wine is an essential part of the French identity and cannot be deemed as a criminal act… Well, there wasn’t one at the reception desk and I also asked some people from our group I bumped into in the hall and they also got confused as to how to open their wine. When I went back to my sister’s room, I saw she’d already done it the Russian way – she opened it with whatever she had close at hand! I wish I had witnessed it! That was a Paris miracle! So we had a bit of a meal to celebrate our first day in Paris and it was all falling into place and the cheese was magnifique! Here is to our beautiful stay in the city of romance! We decided we would have an early night because we were shattered by then. Watching a bit of TV before bed was a challenge because all the TV channels were French and again as I said, Je ne parle pas françai… We flipped between the channels mindlessly listening to French and ended up watching some funny pet show. Well, it was time for me to leave my sister’s room and get to our room but I couldn’t get in as my friend was fast asleep and I’d been knocking the door, calling her number but she wouldn’t hear… I was thankful I have a degree in English so I went downstairs to the reception to get another key. Luckily for me, she understood English which even in a bit unfortunate situation like this I was happy to use. Bonne nuit, Paris!

Berlin Visit 2 (Es war so gut und unvergesslich!!!)

I couldn’t wait to reunite with the city that I was most charmed and fascinated by on my first trip to Europe. Berlin didn’t just meet my expectations, it turned out to be so much more than I thought it was. I wish we had had more time to explore it the first time we were here. Even though it wasn’t supposed to be the highlight of this trip because we had a lot of new places to explore and hopefully be blown away by, I was happy I would be able to pay another visit to this city which I felt so connected to. In my previous piece I gave a detailed account of how this city made me feel and to me was actually what a city should be like and what kind of vibe it should offer both to locals and tourists.
After enjoying a trip on Autobahn and some German radio, I found myself here again. This time round I wasn’t reflecting much on many years back when there was a bloody devastating war between the USSR and Germany. As I’m writing this on May,9 which is for us, people born in the USSR territories, a day to remember and reflect, references have to be made to what we call the Great Patriotic War but this time round I wasn’t travelling to Berlin thinking of what it felt like to the USSR people who were there to hoist the USSR flag on the Reichstag. I was thinking of what it would feel like to be back to where it felt so good and the vibe was so amazing.
I knew we would have some time to ourselves while in Berlin so I did some research to make the most of our second visit here. I was amazed at how much there was to discover and I knew we wouldn’t have enough of the city and would be longing for more when we leave. As I was reading stuff on Berlin sights, I was picturing myself walking this area that I was briefly introduced to on my first visit. So in the end there was a plan in place and we were hoping we would see it through as much as we could.
Berlin was just as we left it a year ago, a lovely combination of busy and queit and I instantly picked up on the Berlin vibes and couldn’t wait to leave the coach and go on our little Berlin adventure. The first stop was a must-see for every Russian on a visit to the German capital city. That was the Treptower Park, a place which commemorates Soviet soldiers who fought in the WWII. That is one of those places where you feel acutely proud of your national identity, proud to be Russian and it doesn’t matter that you’re miles away from home. We felt privileged to come here again and have another moment to take in the serene beauty of the place and, more importantly, to feel humbled by where we come from and our nation’s glorious past. And the fact that we could safely be there and just embrace life was I think what this war was won for. I was once more astonished by what I thought to be the Germans’ way of trying to make it up for what happened years and years back. And I hated to think that where I was at the moment was a pet hate of Soviet people and instead was taking comfort in the thought that there was no more war and that gorgeous park was a place to reflect on where we were and that long way we have come as a nation. Without worrying about taking pictures as much as we did the first time round, we were walking and staring at the main monument which we approached as close as we could. I heard some other tourists from our country shouting something and I thought that was such a disrespectful thing to do especially for a Russian… As we were leaving the park, I think we were all wondering if we ever get back again because who could have thought we would be back that time and feel incredibly proud to be Russian in Berlin again.SAM_3734

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We got back on our coach and made our way to the city centre. The city was waking up to a new day but there wasn’t much commotion. We drove by the Berlin wall which we saw and even left our little marks on when we were here last year. I felt sorry for the rest of the tourists because that was their first time to Berlin and seeing this iconic landmark of the Berlin history through the window was just as much as they could get. The Spree River bank, the statue of molecular men I described in my first report of Berlin were still there of course. These feelings you experience when you come somewhere as significant and vibrant as the German capital are certainly different from what you were experiencing when you were here first. I don’t think I can describe what exactly makes them different but all I know is that it is different. It’s more like revisiting your own memories and adding new flavours and emotions along the way. So you end up with a whole different memory of the place.
The one thing which I think will always be true of Berlin is reconstruction works taking place almost everywhere you go. It felt as if the city was always in quest for something new. Surprisingly enough, what looked like a new tube station being under construction caused no disruption to the traffic! As we were driving through the city, I was figuring out the itinerary for our walk and it looked quite clear even to me knowing I’m not good with directions, which is a huge setback for a traveller.
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The first stop was the Reichstag. On our first visit here all we had time for is to take a quick photo of us outside the building and now we were here for a longer visit and actually we were going to get inside all the way up to the Reichstag Dome! What a marvellous place to be in Berlin (even if no references are made to 1945)! We went through security and we felt a bit tense because we were aware of the significance of the building we were just about to get into! As far as I understood, a certain amount of people were allowed in in certain periods of time and as we were making our way inside, we were stopped with quite a strong gesture by one of the guards which gave us a feel of how the security was observed. Then an enormous elevator took us up to the Dome and here we were! From up there the whole of Berlin seemed just in front of us and felt as if we could reach out and touch it. The roof was getting busy and I was starting to experience one of the perks of travelling up there. There were all sorts of people taking pictures or just basking in the early morning sun, different languages were spoken (which was a huge treat for me) but mostly it seemed to be German and I was happy it added more authenticity to our visit. Of course it’s a notoriously touristy place but in Germany you hear and see a lot of people who speak German so for me it was the indication of German people being quite patriotic even though getting around is so much less of an issue to them than it is for us. The Brandenburger Gate, Tiergarten, the TV tower and much much more were visible and I could switch my view by just turning my head! What a lovely morning European style! That was just what I was saying to myself up there and I knew I should seize the day and make the most of the city! I was wondering if the Parliament was being at work while we were up there. A couple of guys cleaning the glass definitely were. I texted Dad to tell him where we were and he replied with something like “You should hoist the Russian flag up there!” Well, I thought that was a bad joke and that would be the last thing I wanted to do up there. As we were on our way down, we got hold of some free books about the Parliament and I’m proud to say I have my copies both in English and German and was able to read the German version, which shows my German isn’t too rusty so far!
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As we left the Reichstag, we posed for some photos and decided we would rest our feet sitting on the grass just in front of it. The grass didn’t look so green and well-looked after as I expected and I was astonished to see some cigarette butts lying around and had to remind myself we were in Germany! But that wasn’t a big deal and we were relaxing there for a bit admiring the view and thinking how lucky we were to be living this moment and listening to some girls close by having a conversation in German!
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We headed off to grab a drink to cool off and popped into one of the places just across the road. It wasn’t as pricey as you would expect a place like that to be and me and my friend made use of our German while asking the shop assistant to open our bottles for us and never in the world would I have thought I still remembered what the German for “bottle” was! That is what communicative language teaching is all about I believe! After enjoying our drinks, we went along the park there and had another German specialty, which is Brezel. It is kind of a round pastry. And there I managed to remember what the German for “cheese” was! That was my passionate love for cheese kicking in! It was all gut as we were sitting there stuffing our faces and people watching! The next stop was the Brandenburger Gate.
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I couldn’t wait to cross the safe street and see it close up! I love this iconic sight of Berlin! It was crowded just like it was the first time we were here but I was loving the fact we had some time to spend here now and pose for some photographic evidence of our stay in Berlin of course! To me it’s one of the most vibrant places I’ve ever been to so far! It’s packed with tourists as you would expect it therefore it’s nothing short of authentic but to lots of people around the world it sums up Germany. I was standing there trying to take in every little detail of the structure – gigantic colums, horses on top! I felt like reaching out my hand and touching one of the colums to get me “in touch” with the story the Gate had to tell! And that’s been a long story which was several centuries long… There were some tourist “traps” here such as people dressed like bears (symbols of Berlin which are featured in a lot of advertisement boards of the city) posing for pictures with tourists some of whom might have no idea they would be asked to pay. There were also some Wurstchen sold from stalls. So that all made it a busy and hot place and I was loving the vibe and the diverse crowd.
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We were about to make our way to one of the sights we missed out on seeing on our previous visit and that was the Holocaust Memorial which was just around the corner across the road from the American Embassy with a funny bear welcoming visitors at the entrance. I should say that is quite a complex piece of architecture. To some people it might not even look like a monument at all, it’s more like a series of long mazes among which you can go for a pensive walk to experience another side of the Berlin history. Pensive is exactly the word to describe the way I was feeling while I was taking in the monument. The topic of war somehow always resonated with me, probably because of the books I read in my childhood which introduced me to what a small child could make of a great human tragedy that WWII certainly was. Anyway, to me it didn’t feel like a war monument at all, so “confused” is probably another word I would use to describe my emotions at the time. It was hard to figure out what these massive marble stelae stood for, I loved to see them as black boxes of our minds where a memory of those who lost their lives must live on… We saw a sign for a monument honoring homosexuals persecuted under Nazism and it is certainly not something I would see back home because we have to admit we’re homophobic as a nation even though I don’t want to start a political discussion against the backdrop of the recent anti-gay laws that got the rest of the world talking. So, this monument was somewhere close by but we had so much more to see that we left back to the Brandenburger Gate where we admired the glory and grandeur of this monument which is so fundamental to the German national identity. It’s like the Kremlyn to us…
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After a while it was time to make a move and take a stroll along the famous Unter der Linden. This boulevard got its name thanks to linden (lime) trees that used to line up this long wide street. You can’t see a lot of trees here these days though but it’s quite a posh street where there are a lot of embassies and business centres. I wasn’t surprised to see the Russian embassy looking the most extraordinary and posh and that was a little piece of home. We walked by another posh building which looked like a luxury hotel welcoming new visitors. We popped into a souvenir shop, posed with a lovely yellow symbol of BERlin.
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People-watching has to be one of the things I love most about travelling. As we were walking along this fabulous street with lots of people enjoying a walk just like us, we spotted a very handsome man resting on the stairs of the building which sign read “Deutsche Bank”. He looked like a person working there. I don’t know if that was the setting or this particular guy but almost a year on, we still can’t forget him… We even took a quick photo of him… We don’t get a lot of men like this in this country so we know a really attractive man when we see one.
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It was getting really hot as we made it to the monument to Friedrich II and were about to cross the street and find ourselves near the Humboldt University where I knew I would get a couple of books this time. There were all kinds of books and if my German was a little better, I think I would have got more. I ended up buying two books on what it’s like to be a Berliner. I thought those were perfect books to take back home from Berlin.
We passed by Deutsches Historisches Museum to get blown away by the beauty of the Berlin Cathedral. On my first trip I was genuinely moved by it and here I was again. It has to be one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture I’ve seen so far. There were some amazing pink flowers outside it and it looked like a postcard photo, it was so perfect.
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We had to keep walking because there was another thing on our list of things to do in Berlin. We wanted to take a boat trip along the Spree. There was one boat just about to depart and we were hesitant if we should take this one. A man in charge saw us and I guess he understood what we were here for and I asked him in a mixture of English and German how long and how much the trip was because we had to make sure we were coming back to this exact place. We assured us that was a round trip. Whether it was the heat, the charm of the city, exhaustion from several days of travelling or all of these, we couldn’t think straight and stood there struggling to make up our minds. I wonder what kind of attitude we would have got back home… But this man seemed perfectly patient and we realized everyone on board was waiting for us to make a decision… That shows how important customers are for Germans. We boarded the boat and handed 10 Euro notes to this man and he said “Perfect!” in American accent. That made me giggle to myself. So the trip began. We got a close look at the dome of the Cathedral and it was massive! There were a couple of dozens of tourists on the boat and it was boiling hot! I wish I had a hat to put on. Our captain (the one who welcomed us aboard) was providing a running commentary of what we were observing. It was both in German and English and I was savouring the moment. How authentic it was to be sailing by the iconic sights of Berlin and having a quite nice German man speaking about them. I was surprised I could understand most of what he was saying. Berlin is known to have more bridges than Venice we were to visit later on our trip. So we passed by several of them. One was so low that we were asked to bow our heads when we were crossing it. We had a GUT view of the sculptures outside the DDR museum of naked bronze people sunbathing and then there were some real clothed people enjoying a hot Berlin afternoon on a beach! You would think that beaches and Berlin don’t mix but turns out, they do! Berliners know how to have a GUT time! People lounging in the sun under palm trees, DJ’s playing some funky music… I believe we also got a view of a huge conference centre and yes, Berlin sounds like a good place to do business. But this wasn’t what we were doing as our trip went on with us seeing and crossing beautiful bridges and basking in the Berlin sun. This hot sun was making me a bit dizzy but I was loving Europe and this wonderful city! Our boat trip was coming to end and as we were unboarding the boat, our captain said «До свидания!» to us which is the Russian for „Bye!“. Ah dear, how could he have known we are Russians?! He might have heard us talking while we were trying to decide if we were taking the trip… I’m absolutely amazed by how good people in Europe are at distinguishing languages and how comfortable they feel speaking other languages… I think English teachers here have an easier time because people are motivated to SPEAK and interact with foreigners!
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Amazed and a bit flattered we had got some special attention, we made our way to the bus stop to take a bus to Potsdamer Platz where we were supposed to get a panoramic view of the city by taking Europe’s fastest elevator. I had never been on a double-deck bus before and it was exciting to be sitting on the upper deck watching Berlin. We made sure we were getting off at the right stop and here we were in what looked a bit like Times Square to me. There were hugeeee skyscrapers all around and we made our way to Sony Centre where we were to stop for a meal German style. We entered and found ourselves in a hugeee futuristic building with a large fountain in the centre. That was a really busy place with a cinema theatre, cafes and restaurants. I was loving it! That urban feel to it was so appealing! We had no difficulty finding this place I looked up on the Internet called Lindenbräu where as the name suggests, we would sip on some lovely German beer which is a must while in Berlin! We picked a table on the upper balcony and from up there we got a fabulous view of Sony Centre! I’d never had a meal with a view before! There were lots of German specialties on the menu and we made sure we tried Sauerkraut which is traditional sour cabbage. For drinks, we ordered what was called „1 meter bier“ which contained eight samples of four kinds of beer. The way it was served looked like nothing I’d seen before! Eight 0.2 litre glasses were served on a meter ruler which spread all across our table! How GUT it was! We saw a group of fellow countrymen just across the table and realized there is nowhere in the world you wouldn’t meet people from Russia. They were enjoying some potatoes which looked just the way we have them back home and we started craving some as well! Without further ado, my sister asked the waiter to bring us “potatoes like this” and I was afraid he would bring us a huge portion because we didn’t specify how much we wanted! But he looked like he was OK with that… The service was really spot-on and quick! The portion he brought us was just OK! A group of Russians enjoying potatoes in Berlin… I wished we could spend a bit longer here because it felt so relaxing up here and we were like a bunch of Europeans sipping on our Bier (never mind, we were in a touristy centre though!). Our meal was a really good value so you don’t have to pay a hefty bill for good food in Berlin!
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There was one last thing we wanted to do in the capital city of Germany. We were to get a panoramic view of the city in the building just across the street. We saw what looked like Walk of Fame in Hollywood. I was enjoying the square and how empty it was! We got our tickets and got into the elevator greeted by another lovely man. That was a super quick ride! The view of the city was magnificent! My sister and friend weren’t too excited about getting up here but for some reason, as I’m not afraid of heights, vintage points like this give me an extraordinarily liberating feeling as if I own the city… We saw some familiar views at a totally new angle and I didn’t really want to leave… My sister and friend attempted to straddle what looked like an ox and got some weird looks from people walking up and they did look funny on that ox! We stayed up there for a while and it was time to make our way back down to the ground. We got back into the elevator accompanied by that lovely man again. He pressed the button saying “I’ll be your captain for today!” I guess I was the only one chuckling at this. SAM_3903
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We had enough time on our hands to get to the Zoo where we were to meet up with the rest of the group. We waited a bit for a bus to take us there. I was amazed by how short bus stops are in Berlin! What would be one bus stop here was about three stops in Berlin! We got off at the Zoo but as we realized, we weren’t on the right side of it. We tried not to panic and asked a passer-by for the directions. She was very nice and did her best to help. We did find the side we needed and did some food shopping outside the Zoo. My sister kept grumbling she didn’t have time to do some shopping and that was really annoying and it was sad to leave. I was proud of myself though for doing some research back home so we ended up having a really good day in Berlin all on our own! Our adventure wouldn’t have been so exciting if we hadn’t got lost a little… It seemed to be just part of the plan. We had an overnight trip ahead of us… As we were driving through the city, I took some last peeks at it and wondering if I’d ever get to come here for the third time. I wish I had a crystal ball to tell me… When we were outside the city, we stopped at a shop where I got some German newspapers. The royal baby was all over the news! It was nice to read a German language coverage of the event. Berlin totally stole my heart probably not by how beautiful it was but by how comfortable and at the same time buzzing it was. That sounded like a perfect combination to me!
I was asking myself “Will I get any sleep on the coach?” “Probably not…” Anyway, Guten Nacht, Berlin and it was time to get ready to say Bonjour, Paris! in the morning…

Dzien Dobry, Polska!

Arriving in Brest (Belarus) early in the morning was part of my dejavu. Just like the same trip last summer, that one was tiring and exhausting and made me want to cross the EU border as quick as possible. The only unfortunate difference was that our coach was parked across the bridge from the railway station and we had to go over it carrying our bags. Mine contained all those things I had with me as part of my “dress-to-impress” effort. But the closer the EU was, the lighter a heavy bag seems. So we got on our green coach safe and off we went driving through the streets of the early morning Brest till we reached the Belarus-Poland border. It would have all been the same dejavu if we hadn’t been asked to look out of the coach window while our luggage which was in the boot was being examined. Whoever saw their bag being taken out of the coach and thus randomly picked for closer examination, had to get out and open their bag in front of the customs officers and lots of other tourists waiting in other coaches to cross the border as well. Luckily, none of us had to do it and we didn’t have to struggle opening our bags as some other tourists did.
A quite handsome Polish customs officer stamped our passports and found out something was wrong with the guide’s visa, which caused a bit of a laugh because she was supposed to be the last person to have any problems of the kind. By the sounds of it, she would have to leave a couple of days later because her visa was expiring and the prospect of travelling without a guide didn’t sound too good.
About an hour later here we were in the EU and welcomed by one of its newest members, Poland. Dzien Dobry, Polska! That was my second encounter of this not so foreign to us country. This time I didn’t contemplate the tumultuous Russia-Poland relationship as I did the first time I was travelling here. I was just enjoying the incredibly green fields, the quirky Polish letters on advertisement boards, the sound of the Polish radio playing on the coach and our guide giving us some more details as to what we were going to see on this trip. It was all real and not for a tiny second did I doubt that . My reality of the time consisted of what was a striking contrast to Russia and Belarus. Beautiful streets, village houses with elegant swans and religious statues. They conveyed a sense of warmth and home. Some Poles were obviously enjoying planting crops (at least it looked like a leisure activity). I felt nice and comfortable, the way you’re supposed to feel when you had been to some place before. You put your fears and anxieties behind and just enjoy the moment. That’s exactly how I felt, a fresh and new sense of comfort. That was the first country on my trip I was visiting for the second time. That was a real-life miracle for me because at some point I thought I would never get to go abroad at all and here I was travelling Poland for the second time.
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We enjoyed some more dejavu there going shopping in the familiar shopping mall. Like a bunch of seasoned travellers, we got stacked up with some food and felt at home with the Polish currency and being around foreigners in general – we are all humans at the end of the day! I knew I’d be back, I tell you, dreams do come true! That whole routine had a certain significance to it, like very few shopping trips in my life do. We got back on the coach and were on our way to the capital city, Warsaw. Another dejavu on my way!
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I couldn’t wait to take a walking tour of Stare Miasto (Old Town) again and revisit the memories of my first-ever trip. We recognized some views of the city as we arrived. Yes, we weren’t as excited as we were at the same time last year but it was nice to be back and rediscover a bit of Warsaw.
People were out and about, it all looked like an ordinary working day and we were part of it for a couple of hours we were staying here. One of the first most recognizable sights was the Warsaw National Stadium that I said “Hi!” to for the second time. The vibe of the city seemed just as it was when we left. The only difference was that the sun was welcoming us back and that was building up the excitement for the first day of our trip.
The rest of the group went on a guided tour of Stare Miasto (Old Town) and we ventured to explore it on our own. For an hour and a half we had the city to ourselves and that was the most beautiful and amazing feeling and I knew at the time I would be writing about it!!! We were taking a leisurely stroll of Castle Square and taking in its beauty and glory which was restored after severe WWII bombings. Now that it seemed that it was just us and the city, this beauty was more lively and fresh.
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Sigismund’s Column right in the centre of seemed to be leaning like the Pisa Tower and about to fall. That was a creepy visual hallucination all three of us were experiencing. But it was also charmingly beautiful against the clear blue sky. We took a moment to sit at the feet of the monument and feel a physical connection with the place. There were people reading or chatting and enjoying a lovely summer afternoon.
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We had no time to lose so we made our way further to Dung Mound (Gnojna Gora). From up there we could enjoy the view of the Vistula, the Stadium and some more of the city. It was so beautiful and liberating to stop for a couple of moments. This is when I knew I got back in touch with the feeling of exploring and sensing Europe. I just needed to reach out my hand and it was mine again! Who was it living in that building on my left hundreds of years ago? Is there anyone living in there now? I was eager to know everything, like a child making their baby steps in getting to know the world outside…
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There were horse-drawn carriages everywhere just as there were the last time we were here. I was asking myself if anything at all had changed and the answer is nothing had really but somehow it all felt different once we were properly exposed to it. The square wasn’t too crowded and I kept looking back as we were heading to Old Town Market Square to get more views of the place because I couldn’t believe I didn’t have to keep up with anyone and explore the place at my own pace. No guided tour can give you that feeling of freedom to explore. I was elated with joy!
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There were all sorts of people walking by and it was so refreshing to see a variety of new faces exploring the city as well. There were also some Gypsies there and I instinctively held on to my bag. The street was lined with a lot of nice and lovely cafes where we could stop for a coffee or an ice-cream but maybe some other time if we happen to come again… It was all just as we left it… Poland is famous for cheap and high-quality food and everyone was welcome to taste it as part of their experience of Europe…
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We were walking by St. John’s Archcathedral which was apparently closed for restoration. I was inside last year and it was a humbling spiritual experience even for a non-religious person like myself.
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Then we found ourselves right at the heart of Old Town Market Square with a Syrenka (“Mermaid”) monument in the middle of it. Dzien Dobry, Syrenka! This is a beautiful female protector and symbol of Warsaw. We were lucky to find a vacant seat on a bench just opposite it and watched some joyful kids splashing their feet in the water below the monument. They were having a time of their lives and so was I taking in the amazing view of what I think a typical European capital is like… I could picture myself sipping coffee in one of the cafes nearby and letting the world go by reflecting on life… Here I was looking at the monument and windows of differently coloured houses and wondering if there’s anyone in there because to me they all looked like frozen pieces of life… From my observations, such houses are typical of major Polish cities. They were all really beautiful and painted a magnificent landscape in front of my eyes.
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Since we didn’t have much time to spend reflecting on what living in a country which was a new member of the EU was like, we headed further into the city centre to explore it a bit more. We saw some nice retro car and more lovely cafes on our way. It all felt nice and homely. We found ourselves near the Barbican, these large high walls which used to be fortresses back in the day, so typical of Poland. It is the second-largest in Poland, we saw the largest one on our previous trip to Krakow. I love these architectural structures and somehow felt a connection with them on my first trip last year. We wandered surrounded by these large safe walls for a bit and took some photos of course. We climbed some stairs and got a nice view from up there. We also checked out some inscriptions scratched by a bunch of tourists who had visited before. That was when I truly and genuinely felt like a citizen of the world reading all of these marks left by people from different parts of the world. Could any of them know that very moment I was there reading these and thus connecting with whoever left them? I guess not but that’s the beauty of those inscriptions, as vandalizing as they are to an architectural structure. I reflected for a bit on what it was like back then when kings ruled the country and for a moment it all felt like my reality for the time… The clear blue sky and meticulous bricks made up the colours of my Warsaw afternoon.
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Next to the Barbican, we came across a very sweet and touching treasure, a little stone boy, Mały Powstaniec, a statue commemorating children who fought and died in the Warsaw Uprising of 1939. I was standing there looking at this boy wearing a huge helmet on his head and it broke my heart to think of all these children who were killed and how wrong and unfair it was to take their young innocent lives… That was one of the most intimate and moving little monuments I’d ever seen! Amidst of this sightseeing, it just makes you stop and think for a second of how precious and fragile life is and how rightfully Warsaw was called a Phoenix city for rising up from flames and bloodshed of the war… May all these little heroes rest in piece and may their memory live on in this inconspicous place by the Barbican…
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It was time for us to make our way back to Royal Castle Square. We watched some beautiful flower beds on our way and were basking in the Warsaw sun which was shining so welcomingly brightly as if inviting us to stay for a little bit more… We met some people basking in the sun as well and a couple of them were homeless and asleep. Well, if you explore more, you’re sure to come across more contrasts like this. We said goodbye to Royal Castle Square and made our way down to where our couch was parked. Our fellow travellers were not back yet so we had a little bit more time before we left. We walked a little bit to find this amazing green space with beautifully trimmed enormous bushes! It was nice to rest our feet and pose for some photos on the grass. It was an early afternoon and we had the whole space to ourselves!
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It was now time to say a proper goodbye to Warsaw… We had so much to look forward to on that trip but this part is always a bit sad even if like this time, it’s the second time you’d done it. We drove for a bit to find ourselves outside the city and stopped for a lovely Polish lunch which was just as substantial and delicious as it was a year ago… Polish food is an amazing value for money! I think this is what we and Poles have in common when we really make an effort to make our eating experiences homely and intimate.
It was quite a long and familiar way to the Polish-German border and this little village where we were to stay for the night. On our way, I made an attempt to have a listen to a Polish radio station and I found that oddly interesting and engaging and I remember spending a couple of hours just figuring out some words which were similar to Russian and a few Ukrainian words I know. A pure linguistic delight can easily be found in any part of the world and that’s the beauty of my job and language is arguably one of the best ways to connect with the country you’re visiting even if it is just by hearing this language being spoken without understanding much of what’s being said.
We arrived at our hotel in a nice and small village which seemed like a nice place for a stopover. All we wanted now was a good night’s sleep which would get us ready for what the next day of our adventure would have to offer. Watching TV at this lovely hotel was also something I couldn’t miss out on my foreign trip. I popped into my sister’s room and we watched my favourite BBC World News and finishing up the leftovers of what we got earlier that day at Pajero. I love this channel because just like those inscriptions on the Barbican, in a way it keeps you in touch with the rest of the world. That was when we found out the news about the arrival of the royal baby George! How cute was that to be in Poland and to get a live coverage of the reaction in London! This news kept us awake a little longer and it was a really beautiful international experience and the joyous London seemed so much closer now that we were in the EU! We certainly couldn’t see the “It’s a Boy” sign from our hotel window but we felt part of the event anyway! Congratulations, William and Kate and all Brits! I messaged my British friend on Facebook and posted a photo from Warsaw on my timeline so that was my way to keep people updated with my adventures. Wi-Fi connection was surprisingly good! It was now hard to sleep for all the excitement but it was time for some shut eye. Amazed by my international experience of the day, I went to bed with a smile on my face. It is Dobranoc from me!
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The Second Start

Dreams do come true! Here I was, embarking on my second trip to Europe. The way I felt was certainly different to what I felt before I set out on my first trip which I was sure would teach me to hear, see, feel things in a different way. I will never be the same person I was last summer when I was expecting for a magic fairytale to unravel and make me experience all those emotions I could have never thought I would feel.
This time round it wasn’t going to be a fairytale but rather a beautiful, stunning reality I would be creating against the backdrop of what my sweetheart, my gorgeous Europe would have in store for me. Even though this part of the world already had my heart and soul, I knew I might not get to experience that “wow-effect” the way I did the first time I set foot there. It’s the same as you can go from puppy love to real love and become more alert against some pitfalls which may emerge. We all know life and love in particular is not a bed of roses. Roses can have thorns. That’s why my expectations were reasonably high and for me this trip was an opportunity to get another chance to discover Europe and see if my feelings that kept me high through my first trip would blossom into real love or just go downhill (I knew there was still a chance of that happening).
I was feeling more like an adult, seasoned traveler and was more consistent in how I prepared for this trip. Maybe that was due to me learning to see, hear and feel differently indeed. The streets I’d walked and the air I’d breathed certainly got to me and made me even more sentimental but, strangely enough, more realistic. Is this what happens as you get older? Thoughts of my trip didn’t keep me up at night but they featured in my lovely, sweet dreams and made me smile to a new day in the morning. I admit my sleeping patterns aren’t too healthy but thinking of this new more mature experience made getting out of my bed in the morning so much more worthwhile.
As part of getting myself more organized, I tried to become more knowledgeable about the history of the places I was going to visit to become more aware of their cultural significance. And this is what I call a far-reaching educational benefit of travelling.
Even though I made a list of things I’d be taking with me, packing was rather elaborate and I couldn’t avoid last-minute preparations and the number of outfits in my suitcase showed how much I was in love with Europe and was trying to dress to impress.
What happened next was like a dejavu to me. Getting on the train to Moscow with my new lovely suitcase in my hand, thinking how this new trip would turn out and more importantly, enjoying the company of the people I love. Everything was pretty much as it was last year, apart from the fact we all felt less anxious. And more one thing – we got drenched in a heavy rain in Moscow and our habitual walk along the Red Square was soaking wet! The flowers which were on display as part of the 120th birthday celebrations of the main department store (GUM) were also soaking wet but no less charming. We enjoyed a Russian-style meal inside the department store because the weather wasn’t good for a leisure stroll. It seems like everyone at the café was Russian and it would have been of interest to see some overseas diners and their reactions to our cuisine. Some foreigners in souvenir shops buying expensive Russian extravaganza (which looked like a part of a king’s attire) made me smile. It would be just a day before we would be pretty much like them except for the fact we wouldn’t be splashing out on souvenirs.
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Just as we did the previous year, we met up with our group and most of them looked like first-time travellers and in a way I wished I was as well because it was a bit sad to realize it would never feel as fresh and new as it did the first time round. But what I was feeling was beyond doubt new. If those people were just to say a quick, humble “Hi!” to Europe, I was just about to “Hi, beautiful! How have you been since I was away?” That “been there, done that” feeling was what was totally new and it should have been because it was a totally new experience I was ready to embrace. Luggage – checked, paperwork – checked, a good spirits – checked!
Off we go again! Europe, I missed you a lot!