We never do guided tours, but we did 2 in Dublin, because we only had a day to ourselves. We chose the historic tour, run by bubbly, wise-cracking Trinity history MAs, and the literary Pub Crawl, run by ironic, wise-cracking Irish actors. From the first we learned that every historical site in Dublin is ironic, except the Post Office (at least since they removed the statue of the Floozy in the Jacuzzi). From the second we learned that nearly every good Irish writer had a side business in enriching the local publicans. We also visited St Stephen's Green which we learned was a terrible place to attempt trench warfare for the first time.
The next day our friends drove us to Powerscourt where we learned that all the really big Irish homes are tainted with English pelf, then climbed Killiney hill, which was breathtaking in every possible way. The only downside is my friend's carriage house is down a narrow alleyway that the local soccer fans consider their personal toilet. And the floors had just been refinished so choose which reason your eyes will water.
The next morning we were in London, living with my friend, whose ethnicity is so specific I won't name it here for fear she'll find this and thrash me; and her extended family, who have made such an art form of family rows that you'd think you were still in Ireland except that 1/3 of the "conversations" are in their local language the name of which I still can't spell. Which I guess means exactly like Ireland, except with better cooking. Occasionally an English term will slip into the middle, like, "I'll chop your head off, sister," or "I'm not going to Nairobi to meet some man." So you can get the gist and laugh at the appropriate moments.
I made up my own walking tours of London and Paris, intended to wear us out completely and see so many historical and scientific sites that without photos we'd have no way to know where we'd been, and without photos of the relevant street signs and wall plaques we'd have no way to remember what's in the rest of the photos. Luckily, since I mapped the route out on my computer, I just have to match the angle of the sun with the point on the route and argue with my husband about what country it was. Couldn't be simpler.
My English friend was an excellent host, and I apologize to her constantly for our being American. Then I remember that we actually argued less than she and her mum did, and I feel a little better. She set up some terrific dinners, not the least of which was the Mango Room (perfect Caribbean in Camden Town), an Ethiopian family restaurant with a whole ritual built around roasting your coffee beans for you, and our final dinner with the extended family in Zanzi Bar, an actual Kenyan-style Indian restaurant. Her mum was in town to browbeat her for not being married, and to attend a cousin's wedding, more or less simultaneously. So this is why we went to Paris.
Paris. Noon. Jesus. I have photos of the sweltering sun that look like Nat Geo travel stills of the Sahara. My Paris migraine started in the Tuileries, which is essentially a big yellow roasting pan with a side of vegetation. Which means KA will be disappointed to know we barely did anything except sleep, but at least it was climatisée. We woke up in time to race to our dinner engagement an hour late (you MUST GO, Josephine Chez Dumonet in Montparnasse). Fortunately I know enough French to explain ourselves and get seated next to a lady suffering from heat stroke with her feet in a bucket of ice, and the kitchen, which I suppose could feasibly be cooler than the dining room, given the situation. No, nobody in Paris has AC except our hotel. Nor do they appear to own or comprehend the concept of box fans. Decently dressed middle class people were sleeping on the footbridge over the Seine, in the Champs de Mars, on balconies, anywhere to catch a breeze.
We walked from the restaurant to Les Invalides to the Champs de Mars/Tour Eiffel across the bridge to the Trocadero, where we discovered that there are NO FUCKING CABS IN PARIS. We walked up the Rue Kleber or Boulevard Kleiber or whatever, passing the same two American tourists sitting on the bench at every taxi stand along the way. At one point we even stopped and chatted with them, partly to determine their existence and maybe perform triage. I was certain when we got to the circus maximus that is the Arc du Triomphe that we could hail a cab there, but no. Apparently they can tell we want a ride, and are determined not to give it to us. Fortunately there's an M11 bus (I know, west side of Manhattan, but there it was), that runs down the Champs Elysée whose bus driver was about to faint from dehydration so he forgot to notice if we paid, which we didn't even know how to do if we'd wanted to. And it ran all the way to our hotel, so when I got out I took a commemorative picture of the sign pointing to the church across the street from us. Did I mention we could see the Louvre outside our window? And the roof of the church? Charmant!
The next day we went to the Louvre and took photos of Michelangelo's pornographic late works. Since my last visit, they've moved the Mona Lisa from the middle of a hallway across from the Raft of the Medusa (where I believe it had been since da Vinci hung it), to the far end of a large room that funnels her enchanted crowds against an outer bullwark suitable for blurry photos and lit like a pickup bar. I got much better shots of the Roman hermaphrodites. And the Venus di Milo, which I took from behind so it looks like she's hunching down embarrassedly in front of a dazzled crowd of Chinese tourists and their guide.
For lunch we got obscenely bourgie at La Coupole where we ordered the two tiered Royale, which is not a burger but an entire section of the bottom of the Mediterranean that will never recover. I believe the American students next to us were pretending not to be terrified, either of the sea life or our appetite for it, not sure which. The waiters were so thrilled that we knew of the existence of the Arenes de Lutece (thanks KA!), that they fell all over themselves to give us directions there, and insisted we walk or we'd miss the Jardin de Luxembourg, which they were right. It was hubby's favorite over the Tuileries, possibly because there was air.
So we had to run to catch a nonexistent cab in order to get to our hotel, pick up our bags and catch another nonexistent cab to the Gare du Nord and the chunnel train home. This is how we were forced to learn about the Paris Metro, which works fine, and may explain why no one is murdering all the cab drivers of Paris.
Our last full day in London involved small children who spoke French, Romanian and English. I wasn't allowed to take them home. Then we were force-marched (my friend has climbed Kilimanjaro twice, and most of the peaks of the Andes) across Kensington to see the World Music Festival. Which worked out ok because I want to climb Kilimanjaro, too and could use the practice, plus the bands were fantastic and I'm downloading all their mp3s. My favorite was a Moroccan band called Boujemaa Bouboul. Go ahead, listen.
After was the much touted dinner at Zanzi Bar. Mum sat at the head of the table and demanded the chef's head be brought to her for making such a disgusting korma. She told the waitress, he makes it this way for white people. Bring him out here and I'll give him my recipe. This just isn't right. And she meant unjust, not inexact. I said to my friend's cousin, so this is essentially a little pot of racism? And they all agreed, more or less. What, asked her mother, do you think makes it so sweet? Sugar? I say, realizing vaguely that I've stumbled into a rhetorical trap. And she nods her head as if I'm Dr. Watson. Luckily the Tusker was cold.
Anyway. We got home in one piece, I can't figure out what to get my friends as thank you gifts, and it's just as hot here as there except it's raining and I want to go back now.