Fine art, ramen, rain and double espresso

My apartment here in Budapest is just off one of those main boulevards that every big city has. It is heavily trafficked by motor and foot alike. Along the wide sidewalk are hundreds of restaurants and cafés, almost all of them shit. Un memorable places lacking in character, quality food and creative cuisine. But they are flocked to by tourists because of their superficial appearance and most of all, convenience. I don't eat at those restaurants. Food is one of my biggest expenditures traveling, so of course I'll do it right. Plus, I've found that food offers a great way to explore a new city.

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Milano: Round Two of the Recommendation Conundrum

I wrote a while back about how the way we identify places, specifically travel locations is stupid and limiting. I dubbed this problem the recommendation conundrumnoting how we concentrate on one or two specific aspects of a place, making it a must-see. For example, Rome is a city for history, Paris for art, etc. I sincerely hope that i never end up spending serious time in a city that can be truly condensed so minutely.

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Third Time is the Charm in Roma

Rome is one of those places that you can't get out of your head. Its history and buildings constructed in warm tones are pleasing for the wanderer, foreign as it may be, it is physically welcoming. Its grandeur is in its weathered nature, in battered buildings that have stood for centuries, and in the intricacy of its marble fountains and wild traffic patterns alike.

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Take me down to Zagreb

Take me down to the paradise city, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty, oh won't you please take me home...   Guns 'N Roses - Paradise City

If Axel Rose sings truly, as many hardcore fans do believe, then there is not too much to a paradise city. Green grass and pretty girls. Not a bad list I must say, they are definitely necessary but in my mind not quite sufficient.

Keep the green grass, keep the pretty girls, but give me as well good food, plentiful art, nature in proximity and since we're talking about paradise city, let's keep the prices low.

The paradise city in question, is Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, situated in the North, not on the coast.

The Lonely Planet intro to the city was wishy-washy, in fact as it often seems, a load of horse shit. It posed the so-called eternal question of whether or not Zagreb is even worth visiting. Even though they end up with a positive answer, most readers already have so much doubt in their minds that they are fleeing for the beaches of the Adriatic coastline.

But we'd spent weeks on the beach, and weeks with Roman and Ottoman ruins and it was time for something new. It was time to get back to Modern Art. Cities have a spirit to them that small towns can't capture, especially those with tourists in mind. Due to the draw of Croatia's coast and to guide books like LP, Zagreb maintains a certain authenticity. Few places are crammed with hordes or tourists, and few places go out of their way to sacrifice their originality and coddle the tourists.

Obviously its not Paris, but I got a distinctly Parisian feel from Zagreb. Its the wide boulevards with fantastic buildings, classical architecture, art nouveau, a bit of everything - all of it making a statement. You'd be hard-pressed to compare the number of people sitting in parks vs. sitting in cafes, both are plentiful and seem to occupy nearly completely the lives of the locals.

So you sit in the cafe, on the sidewalk of course, or you sit in the park. Where the grass is perfectly maintained. Its a joy to be on grass so soft you can roll in it as if it were your bed at home. And on both the grass, and in the cafes, is the biggest amount of the prettiest girls I've seen in one place in my life.

But you can't lounge around all day, because that can be done everywhere, so luckily there's a lot of intellectual and cultural activities the city offers. From splendid churches and cathedrals to bountiful museums and galleries, it is safe to say Zagreb is thriving with contemporary art and beautiful historical monuments. St. Mark's Church in the old town is a stunner, with colorful tiles arranged on the roof to represent the coat of arms of Croatia.

A highlight was the Museum of Naive Art. Also roughly known as Art Brut (I've got research to do because it may lead to my thesis!), Naive Art is art by artists who are self-trained and don't belong to traditional stylistic schools. They are often characterized by simplification, strong coloration that can be arbitrary, flatness, the use of oil on glass, and a link to Henri Le Dounier Rousseau, one of my favorite French artists. The museum had a great collection of mostly Croatian Naive paintings, as well as a number from around Europe. Here are two of my favorites:

Big Autumn - Ivan Lackovic

Beyond that, its a city that is truly alive. Fueled by the sun and by the seemingly absurd amount of coffee consumed, people are everywhere, always. Its a good thing to see in a city. The cheap prices helped, beer was less than two euros a pint and we ate full dinners for less than five euros.

Zagreb is a great space, with wide boulevards nearly everywhere, great museums and parks, and beautiful people. Its truly a paradise city and I couldn't help but feel that it'd be worth learning Croatian to move there in the future. As if to reinforce that idea, we saw a group of bike racers ride by on our last evening. Its a city that truly has everything I guess.

Photos to come later when I find a working computer.

Thessaloniki

Looking back, I cannot confidently say why, but I headed into Thessaloniki, one of the largest cities of Greece on the Northeastern coast with high hopes. Its not too well heard of by American travelers, despite playing a prominent part in history. Like most places we'll be going for the rest of the trip, its a land touched by many empires, a city where you can find Roman ruins of the agora just a block or two from a Byzantine church, itself not far from a Greek orthodox church built a few hundred years later.

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On and Off the beaten path in Athens

By this point in my time abroad, it could be said that I am decently well traveled. I've seen a wide range of countries, cities and cultures. But despite the exoticism and fascination that comes with a new place, there is always consistency  - especially in cities. A city may be full of monuments, public art, intricate and unique architecture, yet from far away and from an exterior view - they often look the same.

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Paris is hot like the sun

The resounding image of winter in Paris is a frowning girl in a cafe, adorned by a cigarette and the fluffiest down coat ever. Yet with one glorious day, all memories of the frozen wasteland were eradicated as we skipped straight from winter to spring. Saturday evening was cold and rainy, Sunday morning I left the house in shorts and t-shirt. It was if a fire alarm woke a sleeping beast, the sun brought every resident and visitor of the city out of their houses, out of their coats, and coaxed smiles from the icy visages.

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The "Home" Stretch

Starting today, I have but six weeks left in Paris,  plus of course whatever time the future brings. The duration and passing of time have a strange effect, and our ability to sense them is abstract and undefined. For example, days can seem to never end, but looking back time flys. As the French say le temps passe très vite. So what is six weeks? It feels like a lot of time, but it is so much less than what I've already spent here. I can't imagine the feeling of finishing six weeks from now, but I know looking back it will be but flap of a butterfly's wings, a beautiful chord held out as long as it could be, to remain only in memory, words, photos.

For this reason, I've added a sense of purpose to my time that remains, structuring my life with a slight structure that while won't be confining will ensure I miss nothing.

Last semester, I remarked upon the fervor with which those who were leaving tried to pack everything Paris in. To escape that rush, I've made a list of all I want to do, with seemingly enough time to do it.

Since Paris is my classroom, and I'm here to both live and explore as a tourist in my own city, I need to take advantage of everything I've yet missed out on.

The list of full of springtime exhibitions at my favorite museums, churches I've yet to see, parks to be explored and food and drink to be consumed.

The list is not a checklist of things to do, its an ensemble of things to marvel and enjoy for my own sake. Everything is united by the thread of being opportunistic, not saying no, seizing the day. As us kids say yolo. Time to adventure, absorb, enjoy.