no matter where you go, there you are

Monday, January 25, 2010

everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love. - claude monet

I think I've mentioned in other posts before this, but if you ever go to Paris and want to see a lot of famous museums, I highly recommend getting the Paris Museum pass. Not only did it save me a lot of money, it allowed me to skip lines and visit and see artwork I wouldn't have otherwise. The 5 attractions that were on the top of my sightseeing list and included in the pass were the Lourve, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Saint Chapelle and the Concierge. The total admission for all these places was more than a 48-hr museum pass so I decided the pass was certainly worth it in regards to these places only. However, because I had the pass I then went to the Hotel des Invalides, Rodin Museum and Musee l'Orangerie without spending any extra money. It was really awesome. tips aside, this entry will be about my visit to the Musee l'Orangerie as well as my nice long walk up the Champs-Elysees and my visit to the Arc de Triomphe. From the Metro stop at Hotel deVille, I got off at the Place de la Concorde. It is the eastward end of the Champs-Elysees, home to the obelisk and between the Jardin du Tuileries and another garden I don't know the name of. It offers a great view of the Eglise de Madeline and is right next to the Musee l'Orangerie. The Place de la Concorde is also the home of a GIANT ferris wheel that may or may not be permanent but is indeed a huge eye-sore. I truly believe it should be removed as soon as possible, never to return.

Upon arriving at the Place de la Concorde I take a look towards the Madeline and admire the large fountain in the middle of the oblong rotary. A huge rotary by the way that has no lanes painted where you really would want some. After the fountain I wait awhile for the lights to change so that I can cross the rotary to look more closely at the obelisk which is very pretty and intricately carved with symbols I have no translation/meaning for. Although the obelisk is a very nice sight to look at, the island it's on is small and overcrowded so I head back to the sidewalk the next time the lights change.

I make my way into the museum (through another metal detector) and head to the main exhibit, Monet's Nympheas. The Nympheas is a collection of Monet's water-lily paintings that encompass two very long, narrow, circular rooms. Each room has 4 paintings that are each a unique panorama of color and design. Very beautiful and I sat and stared at them for awhile before heading downstairs to see the other impressionist work.

I don't remember any of the names of the artists but I do remember enjoying quite a number of paintings in the gallery. Overall, the museum was nice and I'm glad I went for free. If I had to pay I might have thought it as overpriced at 7.50Euro. The place isn't very big so compared to the 9Euro fee at the Lourve you can see where I feel the overpriced-ness.

After finishing the museum and feeling a huge wave of fatigue, I decided to try and find an internet cafe that might be cheaper than the hostel before going up the Arc de Triomphe and then the Lourve for the evening. A worker at the museum told me there was internet in the Grand Palais, a 10-15 minute walk northwest of the museum along the Seine. Turns out, he was mistaken and there is no internet. Or the people at the Grand Palais didn't understand me and told me there was no internet. I did get to see the outside of the Grand Palais and Petit Palais up close, so the walk wasn't a complete failure.

The Grand Palais workers said to look along the Champs-Elysees so I decide that the walk from there to the Arc de Triomphe isn't that long so I start up the famous avenue.

The Champs-Elysees is pretty much the equivalent to 5th Ave, Park Ave or Madison Ave in New York City. At least thats the impression I got. It's a place for shoppers who have money. The beginning of where I started was actually set up as a Christmas Market. There was even a Santa with sleigh and reindeer set up on a zipline. After walking up the avenue a third of the way and seeing nothing in the form of an internet cafe, I turn down a side street and ask people in a restaurant. They tell me that there is nothing like that near hear...grrr. This was my first experience with trusting foreigner's English when I shouldn't but that is a discussion to be saved for another post.

Since finding internet was not going to happen and I was starving I consented to buying a real dinner at QuickBurger as the bread and cheese I had was not sustaining me well. The chicken and fries I got with a soda were absolutely delcious. So satisfying for someone who hadn't had a real meal in 3 days. I make it to the Arc de Triomphe as the sun is almost completely set but there is still enough daylight to provide a beautiful background for my pictures. The Arc is in the middle of an EXTREMELY busy rotary and I was confused as how to cross as there were no crosswalks or lights or anything. I glance over to the Arc nad see a stairwell go into the ground and I then discover a similar one on my side of the road. An underground tunnel...very smart.

Finally under the arch I spend a bit of time observing all the detailed carvings in the two smaller side arches as well as the main one. It's all the same, plain flower pattern over and over but I find it very pretty.

I enter the arch and begin the ascent to the top. It was up a, you guessed it, narrow spiral stairwell that made me very dizzy and by this point my legs were REALLY tired so I just wanted it to end.

It does and I enter a museum kind of place with models and a gift shop and see that there is still another stairwell to ascend, though this one isn't spiral! The view from the top is wonderful. There are 12 different avenues that end at Charles de Gaulle-Etoile (the rotary around the Arc) and so just looking down each avenue individually gives me a different view of the city than the Eiffel Tower or the Notre Dame did.

One aspect of the Arc's view I was looking forward to was the ability to see straight down the Champs Elysees to the Place de la Concorde and the Obelisk and then all the way down to the Arc du Carousel next to the Lourve. However the eyesore of a Ferris wheel was lit up and blocking the whole second half of the view. Grrrr. I was not that happy. I spent quite awhile staring out into the Paris night since this was my only evening city view and I wanted to enjoy it. But after awhile I knew I had to go if I wanted to see as much as the Lourve as I could in the next 4 hours.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

sing the bells, bells, bells, bells bells, bells, bells, bells bells of Notre Dame...

Yes, the title of this post is from a Disney movie that is based off the novel by Victor Hugo. I'm not ashamed to say that all I know about this indescribable cathedral comes from that Disney movie, but it's true. Before seeing it for myself, I knew what it looked like and that it was famous for its gargoyles, gargoyles that I really wished sang and danced like in the film. My first viewing of Notre Dame was during the night bike tour and although it was very pretty all lit up, my second viewing with the church standing against a backdrop of crystal clear blue sky was jaw-droppingly beautiful.

I don't know anything about architecture besides what I like and think is pretty, and Notre Dame is something I loved. In front of the cathedral there is a plaza where there are plants and benches and it's a place I imagine is packed on a sunny summer day. On this sunny November day there were a lot of people but not so many that I couldn't find a seat and gaze and gaze and gaze at the beauty of the church. I don't think there are any words that can describe how detailed and artistic Notre Dame is. There are hundreds of sculptures and intricate carvings on the front and the symmetry is outstanding. Sure it took 600 years to build, but even then I still can't imagine how the Parisians from so long ago were able to construct it. I tried to imagine, but since there's only so much the mind can take I had to stop. My mind would just be blown.

The inside of the cathedral was dark, but I was still able to appreciate the utter beauty of it all even if I couldn't get pictures that reflected what I was seeing with my eyes. I think my favorite part of the interior was the large stained glass windows on each side right before the altar begins. They were just really gorgeous and huge and pretty.

After I made my way throughout the whole sanctuary I exited the building and hopped in line for the climb to the towers. Because space is so limited up there only 40 people can be admitted at a time so the line moves steadily, but not necessarily quickly.

The staircase was long and spirally and I was very winded when I got to the top and my legs were definitely shaking, but the view was wonderful and seeing all the gargoyles up close was so cool!
Each one was so different and unique and although not terribly detailed, they had great facial expressions. Some were also animals or hybrids of animals instead of just scarwinged creatures or human-like creatures that have been depicted in the Disney movie or the cartoon series "Gargoyles." And as with all the things I really liked, I took way too many pictures of them.

The view from the cathedral was wonderful because I could see the two areas of the city I'd already visited (The Eiffel Tower and Sacre Coeur) and it gave me a different perspective of the layout of Paris.

While at the base of the bell towers you can enter the one on the right (facing the church) and go up and see one of the bells. They also explain how they are operated and how many men it takes to make them play. It was all very interesting. And of course I had a moment's flash to the movie where Quasimodo swings through all the bells to play them, and when he tells Esmerelda all the names he gave them.

After visitng the bells I then had to wait until the group at the top of the bell tower had descended before going up with my group. It was another spiral staircase and there wasn't much extra to see at the top, but it was still fun. The best part was being able to see the architecture of the flying buttresses and other elements from almost a birds-eye view.

The worst part was that you could only circle the top once and were limited to 5-7 min to see everything. Once everyone was done looking we then began the descent down the stairs to the ground.

Another part of the Notre Dame complex area was a crypt of an archealogical dig which uncovered and preserved the remains of the ancient city of Paris. There was a lot of information to get, but I couldn't grasp what the place looked like because it was so worn and it was like in a building that felt like an aquarium or zoo or something. Okay, that description sucked, but I can't really do better. I just didn't feel it. So I skipped the whole second half and headed to the Metro. On my way there I looked at the Mémorial de la Déportation which is a tribute to the 200,000 French who were deported to concentration camps. I also passed by Hotel DeVille, (and yes, I think of Cruella DeVille everytime I hear this, so what?) which is Paris' City Hall and it was pretty cool. Next stop on the itinerary...Place de la Concorde and the Musee l'Orangie.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Concierge and Saint Chappelle

After leaving the Sacre Coeur, I hop on the subway and take it down to the Ile de la Cite where I had been the previous night on the bike tour. Since I knew the basic layout of the area because of the bike tour I was very grateful I'd gone on it. The Concierge was my first stop after getting off the train and it was much smaller than I thought it would be which made me glad it was included in the Museum Pass so I paid no extra money on it. Upon entering the building you step down into a floor like a basement because it is all stone, but not quite a whole floor below the surface. In the large space with numerous columns (it looks like a church) there is a temporary art exhibition on the left side and a very interesting spiral staircase on the right. The rest of the room doesn't have much to look at.

After walking through the main space, I pass through a small gift shop area into the prison section. The Concierge was the main prison used for holding those who were awaiting trial or execution during the French Revolution. Probably the most famous prisoner held here was Marie Antionette who stayed for a short period before being beheaded. The first cells observered are that of the workers of the prison like the warden. The spaces are tiny and were used for bookeeping and other things related to maintaining the prison. From that point they have other cells set up with mannequins so you can see how crappy living in a prison was. There are also descriptions of the conditions for the poorest people who shared cells. The cells had only hay to cover the cement floor and because of such tight accomodations, disease spread rapidly.

Upstairs there are more cells with mannequins. A couple of the ones in this section were for those who could pay for an "upgrade" and didn't have to share cells. They were also able to have such things as a bed, chair, desk, books, paper, writing utensils etc. These prisoners still had sucky lives but they didn't seem to suck as much as the ones in the communal cells. This was the first place, of a few, that made me never want to go to jail EVER!

After seeing the generic cells, I moved through an informative section that detailed the lives of some of the prisoners. The entire section had English translations which I found very helpful; but like with many places I went to, the information provided assumed you knew the basic history of the place and people. So I liked reading all the profiles of what people did to get into jail, but a fair amount was lost on me. From here I went back downstairs and entered the area where Marie Antionette's cell was. Though they do their best to replicate the cell, the layout of the space was slightly altered due to structural changes to the building, especially the chapel next to her old cell. She had a very fancy and decorated room and was guarded my her own personal guard. There was definitely a lack of privacy though for her since there wasn't no door between her space and the guard (once again, this is all from how the museum placed furniture, decorations, etc.).

The chapel was just that...a small chapel. Nothing fancy or exciting, but I did like how the paintings were described in English and pointed out certain important political figures. I pass through the chapel walk through a courtyard which places me back by the warden's cell area. The Concierge had one more room for me to look at and like the main hall, didn't have much. The carvings on the columns are very interesting but there's nothing outstanding about the place. I get back onto the sideway, walk about 500 feet and turn into the entrance for the Saint Chappelle. The church is part of the Palais de Justice (Court House) complex therefore I must go through a metal detector before entering the courtyard where the church is.

The Saint Chappelle is not a huge church, it's actually quite small in terms of square feet. With my awesome museum pass I get to bypass the ticket line and head straight in. The entrance is in what I would call the basement, which is also a gift shop that has a small chapel/prayer space towards the back. To access the main sanctuary I walk up a narrow, stone stairwell and enter. It's pretty cold inside but that doesn't stop me from appreciating the beauty of it. From about 10-12 feet off the floor up to the very high ceiling are stained glass windows that circle the entire space. Each large window are tall and narrow and made up of smaller spaces that tell stories of the Bible. I'm not going to try and bulls*it what stories the windows tell because I didn't read the info provided but they are from the Bible.

I sit along the side of the church in the chairs amongst all the other tourist and am really taken back by the detail of each window. There are thousands and thousands of pieces of glass used for each window and each window is distinct. None of the them tell the same story and the smaller spaces are all differnet geometrically. The two examples I posted above show circles and non-striaght-edged diamonds. The back window, which is seen when looking at the church from the front outside, is a large "rose window" which I find particularly stunning. The framework is that of a flower, but each piece of the flower is an element of what section of the Bible is being told.

My only dissapointment with the Saint Chappelle is that for some reason (maybe because the sun wasn't shining through it) was that the left sided windows were very dark and it was hard to distinguish what the pictures were depicting. There was also a lot of scaffolding covering the front-left portion of the church and the main center window above the altar and so not being able to see that was sad. But since like 75% of the glass is original from however long ago, I understand them having to preserve the building and the glass. Though the building is another place that I probably could have stared at for awhile, I still had many places to see. And it was quite cold. I exit the church, find the exit to the Palais de Justice complex and head south towards the Cathedral de Notre Dame.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

i travel not to go anywhere, but to go....the great affair is to move - Robert Louis Stevenson

Metro...Commuter...Long-Distance...Night... All types of trains...All trains I rode at least once. For 3 weeks the European rail system was something I admired, depended on and hated all at the same time. Admiration because America doesn't hold a candle to Europe in regards to train transportation. Dependency because the trains were my only means of transpo besides my own two feet. And hatred because of unexpected fees and multiple problems with reservations.

Upon purchasing a Global EurailPass (certainly worth the money!) that allowed me 15 days of unlimited travel anywhere in 21 different countries, I received a free map and timetable along with booklet on how to use to the train system. When I arrived in Paris I had a plan: all I had to do was make a few train reservations for certain long-distance trains and the 2 night trains I would be taking. I knew there would be a "small fee" attached to them all, especially the night trains, however, when I hear "small fee" I think of 3-5Euro, not 5-15. I was not very happy when train reservations for 3 trains plus 1 night train amounted to $66. And since I could only do some of the Italian train reservations while in Paris, knowing there would be even more fees made me very frustrated. I had expected/budgeted in my mind $20-30 so having to pay that much was NOT fun.

My other ordeal while making train reservations that morning was dealing with the trains I wanted being booked already. Orignally my plan was to take an afternoon train from Paris to Milan, then a night train from Milan to Rome. I had read that the fees for night trains in Italy were less than in France and from the Eurail timetable I believed you could get a reclining seat which costs less than a couchette. However, the train to Milan was booked, as was the direct night train to Rome (my second option) so I was slightly panicked as I don't like disruption to my plans I've thought very carefully about. Especially when I was meeting Anne based off the time I originally planned. After mentally calming myself down I asked about a night train to Milan, and then a early morning train down to Rome. YES, they had one available!! I was at least going to make it to Rome, even if it was going to be 3 hours later.

So some words of advice for future train travelers...Reserve your seats online in advance if you can. And if you can't, have back-up plans. There may be seats available on the trains, but they aren't for 2nd Class Global Pass people. So unless you want to pay like a 70-100Euro fee to get on that first train option by upgrading yourself, have back-up plans. Also, I was traveleing between Paris and Rome on a Sunday night so traveling between major cities on a Sunday night might not have been the best choice. I also advise all of you double check the tickets you receive from the window person before leaving because the date might be wrong. Although the person I was dealing with spoke English well enough for me to make the reservations, he booked me on the train for the wrong date. I luckily found out though, not because I looked, but because I was trying to change my tickets and they pointed it out to me. Which leads me to another piece of France at least, they have the languages that are spoken at each window listed on monitors above so look for those if you don't speak French.

Traveling in multiple foreign countries when you don't speak any of the languages makes yourself very vulnerable to mistakes and miscommunication like I experienced with the train reservations. I was definitely expecting to have some problems, but it didn't make them any less frustrating. The good thing was that I learned from my mistakes and when I had to make my other reservations I was prepared and had no problems. I think that's it for the rambling and advice about reservations. Since this post is already long enough, I'll add my thoughts about riding the trains later.