Wednesday, May 19, 2010

First Impressions of Israel, Greece, and Paris

The mental fog is beginning to lift as my sleep patterns are returning to "normal," so it seems time to regurgitate a few first impressions from my travels in Israel, Greece, and Paris.

Quick Hits
In Israel, you can't swing a (rather thin) cat without hitting a tourist or a church (or synagogue or mosque). In Bethlehem, which is in Palestinian territory, you can't swing a cat without hitting the street merchants who swarm to sell unsuspecting tourists a wide range of generally unwanted goods. In Athens, you can't swing a dog (I didn't see any cats in Athens, but I'm told that they almost run the island of Santorini) without hitting an archaeological dig. In Paris, the city and the people are too beautiful and distracting to even think of swinging a cat (or dog). (No dogs or cats were harmed or even touched in the construction of this paragraph.)

All of the road signs were in three languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Minarets were everywhere, making Israel appear more Muslim than Jewish. The landscape looks remarkably like Utah with barren hills and minimal vegetation--in other words an arid desert--except that the Israelis tend to build their cities and towns on the tops of the hills.

The protests in Athens looked remarkably like protests in Washington, DC., except that their anarchist "protesters" were throwing Molotov cocktails. I would have felt somewhat sympathetic toward the regular protesters, which were generally well behaved, except that many held signs with the hammer and sickle prominently displayed--not surprising given that the Communist Party of Greece holds about 20 seats in the Greek parliament. Yet given Soviet Communism's extremely bloody history (worse than Nazi Germany's), I put the hammer and sickle in the same category as the swastika, so I found the display somewhat nauseating and decidedly distasteful.

Paris was simply amazing. Words fail me, but I will go back given the opportunity and adequate finances.

My first experiences of Paris were of the subway and regional rail system, which is at least as large as New York City's, but much cleaner. It also runs with nearly German efficiency.

While in Paris I did not meet a single rude Frenchman (or Frenchwoman), even though I speak only a few words of French. Of course, I ate in street cafes, not in fine restaurants where you pay for the waiters to be snooty. Still, I suspect the myth of the rude Parisian is just that--a myth. Parisians are probably just as likely to be rude as anyone else is, especially when dealing with the stereotypical American tourist who acts like he owns the country. (Unfortunately, this stereotype is partly based on fact, which is one of the reasons why I avoid American tourists when traveling abroad.)

One final, important observation: French chocolate is excellent, nearly as good as Belgium or Swiss chocolate, but the difference in quality is almost undetectable.

Picture: My first view of the Temple Mount, taken from the Mount of Olives.

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