As I sat in a restaurant seeking inspiration for the next instalment of this travelogue, my muse graced with a large family of American tourists on their first night in Paris. Having come to this city to see the sights, experience the culture and taste the cuisine, it was only natural that they come to the Chicago Pizza Pie Factory. To watch them order was the first highlight. Despite the protestations of the waiter that he was from New York, the patriarch of the family proceeded… to … talk… very… slowly…and… en-un-ci-ate. Or maybe I misunderstood the exchange and all New Yorkers are mentally retarded? It might explain why the waiter also proceeded… to … talk… very… slowly…and… en-un-ci-ate.
My favourite part of the conversation that I was rudely eavesdropping in on, was the exclamation by the eldest daughter of the family, when she realised that Wow! They were in France and they were eating french fries! What a coincidence!
I nearly choked on my beer.

And so, without further ado, I present you with:

Paris – A Visitors Guide

1. Upon arrival you may wish to take a taxi. Go to the taxi queue and politely ignore anyone along the way who offers you a taxi. These touts operate illegally and make their money by picking up unsuspecting tourists and charging them triple.

2. Remember this simple axiom. The Parisian tourist board loves the money tourists bring in. Parisians themselves like the fact that they have work because tourists come to their city, but they hate tourists themselves. This will explain a lot of things you see.

3. Never wear sandals. Remember my story about the dog crap?

4. You will have a hard time as a vegetarian, even the salads have meat in them.

5. Unless you are rabidly anti-smoking, allergic to smoke and literally prone to dying from the inhalation of second-hand cigarette smoke always ask for a smoking table at a restaurant. They are the best tables and, in some cases, the only tables. Otherwise you will be stuck right at the back, next to the kitchens or the toilets or even, as in one case, asked to sit outside in the pouring rain. It isn’t worth it.

6. In the popular areas, although the waiters and waitresses speak English, they will pretend otherwise. So don’t speak to them as if they are idiots or insult them, they will understand you and make you suffer. I’m sure you can imagine what can be added to a cream of mushroom soup.

7. I have observed many American tourists blatantly ignoring what is on the menu and ordering what they fancy. Here some advice: You are not in Burger King. If the menu is hand-written, the chef has compiled it himself, based on what is fresh on that day and what he feels would be a good culinary combination. To ignore this and to order a variant or something completely different is to insult the chef. Remember what I said about the cream of mushroom soup.

8. Yes, the Parisian MacDonald’s does sell beer, they do called a quarterpounder a Royale, and they just call them fries not french fries. Get over it.

9. No, you cannot see everything in the Louvre on one day and the trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower is not worth it. If you want a great view go to the Tour Montparnasse instead.

10. If a local says or does something you disapprove of, fit in. Sneer at them. No more is needed.

The cafeteria, I would not grace it with the title of restaurant, of a large Irish bank in Dublin had a peculiar feature. The side dish for every single meal, regardless of whether it was a pasta dish, rice dish or, would you believe a potato dish was always… potatoes. Every single day. A peculiarity indeed, but not as peculiar as the looks of the servers when you actually tried to decline the extra helpings of potato with your potato. Had I insulted their first born I don’t think I could have offended them more.
It might not have been so bad had they actually been inventive with said root vegetable, but no. Potatoes were there to be boiled, fried or baked. That was it and any suggestion otherwise was treated with the same scorn as was awarded to the potato abstainers. Bon apetit.

What true travelogue does not speak of the culinary delights and disasters? My lunch today consisted of stir-fried beef in a red wine sauce, served with potato puree. Very nice indeed. There is little that can be said against the restaurants of large companies in Paris. Dublin, however is a different story. [Cue flashback]

Having just escaped a mind-numbingly boring meeting, I am reminded of the most boring meeting I ever attended. It was a three hour affair in a refinery in Rotterdam and was hosted by a man who loved the sound of his own voice. I’ll never understand why, since it was the most monotonous voice I have ever heard. After the marathon meeting I was told that I had given the impression of boredom. Apparently I had managed this by falling asleep and snoring loudly, but I did receive the gratitude of my colleagues, as this faux pas seemed to end the meeting quite effectively. Personally I don’t think I was asleep. My theory is that Mr Monotony had robbed me of the will to live and I was already in a coma.

Rotterdam itself is a nice enough town, especially those buildings that were not bombed flat 55 years ago, i.e. both of them. However I was not staying in Rotterdam itself, but in a suburb called Spykenisse. The main feature of this town was the 8 refineries that lit up the night sky with their flaming chimneys. I learned a lot about refineries in my six months there, especially their attitude to environmentalism. For example, plant managers love days of low cloud cover as they can then vent their toxic gases into the atmosphere without the local tree-huggers complaining to the environmental agencies. Encouraging, isn’t it?

Last week I did the unimaginable and went jogging. A truly dangerous escapade, not just for the risk of injury from the flailing elbows of my fellow joggers, nor even the fact that those who drink and smoke, like myself, are better off watching and deriding exercise than actually participating in it. No, the true risk in this activity came from the location; a lovely little park in the centre of Paris… completely surrounded by busy roads full of psychopathic drivers whose vehicles pump out so much pollution I’d be better off smoking. At least cigarettes have filters.

So there I was, jogging away, happy as a pig in poo, surrounded by hardcore health freaks. After a while I realised that the reason I was getting funny looks were because of the Guinness T-shirt I was wearing. If only they knew that I had only chosen that one because I don’t own one with a cigarette theme. The irony would have appealed to me.

Ah, Paris again. How I have missed the obstacle course that is a Parisian street covered in dog crap. Paris is certainly not the city for chronic sandal wearers. Nor a city for vegetarians, for that matter, as chefs in Paris believe the vegetarian option is a sprig of parsley on a nearly raw steak. You can’t really fault them for their priorities.

I may have to revise my opinion of Brussels a little. Any place where the office organises an impromptu champagne party on a Monday afternoon can’t be all bad. The champagne was mediocre, but the principle was sound.

A note to the burger connoisseurs out there: France and Belgium have a burger chain called Quick, whose burgers are amazing. If you like the taste of cardboard that is. Perhaps vegetarians own the franchise?

I never really liked Brussels and now that I have seen more of it, I’m not likely to revise my opinion. Brussels is crumbling but, unlike Paris, that jaded old whore, that is dying elegantly and in style, Brussels is withering away in the shame brought about by it’s own blandness

A note to the unwary: Those who do not wish to be ripped off by “enterprising” taxi drivers, there are two Place Saint Lambert in Brussels, about 850 Belgian Francs apart.

Waterloo International Train Station. Home of the Eurostar in the UK, decent salmon bagels and a herd of sheep more commonly known as tourists. Why these people charge, barge and clamber to be on the train as quick as possible I’ll never understand, since everyone has a fixed seat reservation. So, I enjoy my Monday morning bagel, while gleefully watching the furious glances of the English-speaking, queue-respecting travelers being shot at the French-speaking queue-resistant travelers. This gaggle always seems on the verge of an all-out fight but, disappointingly, never quite crosses that hair thin line.