Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Oi Oi Paris: Jour 3

Alice and I were kind of exhausted from the first two days of non-stop sightseeing, so we got a slower start on Wednesday and walked through the outdoor farmers' market near her neighborhood. The market is huge, and they not only sell fruit and vegetables, but also meat, whole fish, kids' toys, shoes, clothes, and cheese. The vendors will call out what they're selling and the price, to try to entice you to stop and buy something. All the produce looked so delicious, so we stopped at a stand and I used my 10 words of French to ask for two figs - these figs were the size of peaches, with dark pink flesh inside, and Alice and I each bit into one and ate it as we walked back through the market. So delish.

We then walked to Les Invalides, which contains the Musee de l'Armee with all the military history, armor, swords, guns, cannons, etc., of France. Man, France has really fought in a lot of wars. The old armor was pretty cool at first, and some of the pistols and muskets are beautifully ornate, but after a while it is just tiring to read about military conflicts.

The recognizable golden dome of les Invalides.

Some beautiful pistols from back in the day.
My favorite part of les Invalides was Napoleon's tomb. It's in this circular room with maybe 6 different offshoots holding other people's tombs, and at the back there's this massive altar, accented with lots of gold, several stories high. But the real attraction is the tomb itself, a massive porphyry tomb recessed into the ground, surrounded by a ring of giant female statues. It was pretty incredible. You could probably fit 50 Napoleons into this thing.
Looking down at Napoleon's tomb from the upper floor. There was also a huge dome above it.

Me standing behind the tomb. It really is that giant.
That night we decided to stay in and cook dinner for Alice's husband Kevin, who was at work every day while we played. We stopped at this supermarket which is part of a huge department store - it has a huge yogurt section and tons of cheese as well. Alice picked out a soft cheese for us to eat, which I proceeded to drop on the floor in a liquidy splatter, in the crowded lines behind the register. Ugh. I got a replacement and it was delicious on a baguette. Apparently there are many different kinds of baguette in France as well, and people really do walk around with baguettes all the time. Awesome.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Oi Oi Paris: Jour 2

View from Trocadero
Alice was basically my city-wandering buddy all week, and she was a fabulous tour guide. On my second full day, we picked up pastries at the corner patisserie and walked to Trocadero, where you get a great view of the Eiffel Tower past some fountains with interesting horse-head sculptures. There are tons of tourists in this area, also made obvious by the numerous guys trying to sell you mini-replicas of the Eiffel Tower for 1 Euro. I have no idea how these guys sell enough trinkets to make a living, since nobody seems to buy any.

Our next stop was Arc de Triomphe, which is in the middle of this crazy traffic circle, and was recommended to me by Mike Cullinan himself as a good thing to climb up in Paris, but I did not anticipate that the city-wide strike would extend to monuments as well. So alas, we couldn't climb it. It was still pretty awesome though - apparently it was commissioned by Napoleon to honor the soldiers that fought in his various wars.

trying to look nonchalant as if some paparazzi took this photo, not myself
After that, we walked up the Champs-Elysees, which is a really wide street with lots of big shops lining it, somewhat similar to Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It was kind of touristy but still pretty fun. There are a lot of gorgeous, stylish women in Paris, so it's great for people-watching as well as window-shopping. We walked all the way to the Madeleine Church, which has 52 gigantic columns going all the way around. The inside is sprinkled with columns as well, along with a big mosaic of Jesus and his posse at the back, with palm trees (which seemed out of place).

The Madeleine - church devoted to Mary Magdalene
Conveniently near the Madeleine was Laduree, one of Alice's favorite macaron shops, and one of the two most prominent ones in Paris. We planned to do a taste test - both to find out which shop made better macarons, and also which macaron flavors we liked the best. This is the kind of test that I like to take.

The shop is adorable and small, and sells primarily macarons. We picked some interesting flavors like citron, petales de rose, cassis violette, and fruits rouges. The texture was perfect - crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. YUM.

our bag of sweet treats
I also had my first experience with the automatic, self-washing, free public toilet of Paris. You press a button and the door opens. You press another button inside and a lady's voice says something to you in French as the door closes. You do your thing, and pick a button for a big or small flush. Instead of seeing the flush, you just hear the French voice again. Hmm. Going over to the sink, you hold out your hand and soap magically drops into it, and then water comes out so you'd better scrub! You figure you've done all you can, and press a button to make the door open. Then you have to press the button on the outside before anyone else goes in, so it will automatically flush and wash itself before the next person. Weird!
Next we sought out a craft store that I'd heard of called La Drogerie, which was truly worth the time to find it. It was incredible - jars full of beads in every color imaginable, a rainbow of yarn hanks, an incredible collection of gorgeous ribbons, Liberty fabric fat quarters, and a huge selection of quirky buttons. I could have spent all my money in there, for reals.
oh, the ribbon!
On our way home we walked past Notre Dame, which is such a gorgeous cathedral with crazy gargoyles and really intricate architecture. I'm sure you can find a picture of it online, but the stuff that really intrigues me is the little details, like these four king-like guys near the door, each with his own expression, tall and skinny. Who are they?
what is the first guy standing on?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Eurotrip 2010: Florence and Venice

Sorry I have not been updating the blog recently but I just now feel like I have really recovered from the whirlwind pace of the trip. I will try and post about the rest of the trip over the next few days.

After Thor presented his work at CIRP on Monday he hopped a train for Florence in the morning. we spent the train trip seated next to a couple who alternated between yelling at someone on the speaker phone in some foreign language that i did not recognize (i.e. Not Italian) and blasting what sounded like polish folk music on their cell phone. It turns out that loudly playing music in public on your cell phone is a very popular thing to do in Europe. I don't know how many preteen girls I saw blasting Miley Cyrus on the speaker of their cell phones. Anyway when we arrived in Florence we checked into our hotel room which was across from the Duomo.

Thor in front of the Duomo in Florence

The inside of the Duomo.
The church was not open yet but the dome was so we decided to climb it.

Thor climbing through the narrow passages of the dome.
It was a long tough climb but it was well worth it.

Me at the top of the Duomo overlooking Florence.
After we got down from the dome we decided to walk around the city a bit. We stopped by the Ponte Vecchio which is a medieval bridge over the Arno river in Florence which is filled with shops.

Me in front of the Ponte Vecchio.
Then we stopped by the Uffizi museum where he had 1pm reservations. By making reservations in advance we were able to skip two hour line and get directly into the museum. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures in the museum.
The Uffizi.
Me from the porch of the Uffizi looking at the Duomo.
After the Uffizi we headed up to the Galleria dell' Accademia home of the David. The David turned out to be much bigger and more impressive than I thought it would be. Again we were not allowed to take pictures but Thor has seemed to prefect the art of taking sneak shots at museums.
Thor's stealth shot of the David.
After dinner and a few bottles of wine we headed up to the Piazza de Michelangelo which has an amazing view of Florence.  The piazza is also home to the third of the three Davids in Florence (the real one in the Galleria dell' Accademia plus the replicas at the David's original home outside the Uffizi and in the Piazza de Michelangelo).  Thus we were able to complete our David trifecta.
View of Florence from the Piazza de Michelangelo.
After we made it down from the piazza we had desert and a few more bottles of wine. Then we walked past a bar called the red garter and decided to go in. The bar seemed to be playing exclusively American top 40 music but there were a lot of people dancing so we decided to go in. I don't know if there were any actual Italian people there since we spent most of the time chatting up two cute German girls but I had a lot of fun anyway. We did however drink much more than we should of given that we had to get up early and rent a car to drive to Venice early in the morning.

Thanks to our late night out in Florence I was not doing well by the time we got to car rental agency on Wednesday morning. Fortunately everything went smoothly with the car rental and we hit the road over the Tuscan hills to Venice. Climbing the hills outside Florence was really very beautiful.
Thor in the hills of Tuscany.
We arrived in Venice in the early afternoon, parked the car and took a water bus into the city.
View of Venice from the water bus.
Venice is truly a unique and beautiful city with canals for streets and water everywhere.
One of the many canals in Venice.
First we stopped by the Piazza di San Marco and took a look at Saint Mark’s basicalla.
Thor in the Piazza di San Marco.
I tried to convince Thor to climb the clock tower but he was having none of it until we realized that it had an elevator which satisfied my desire to see the city from high up and his desire not to climb stairs.
View from the clock tower of the Piazza di San Marco.
View of Venice from the clock tower.
View of the entrance to the Grand Canal.
We spent most of the rest of the day and night walking around the city getting lost in the narrow alleys and admiring the canals.
Thor from the Ponte di Rialto

Flooding outside Saint Mark's Basicalla as the tide came in.

The canals by night.
In the morning we took another water bus out of the city and hit the road for Austria.
View from the water bus as we left Venice.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Oi Oi Paris: Jour 1

Okay, I don't really speak any French, but I remember a little from the half semester I took in 6th grade. Anyway, I arrived yesterday afternoon after a 12-hour journey from Boston, including two planes and two trains, before arriving at the apartment of my friend Alice and her husband Kevin in the 15th arrondisment of Paris. Five-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower!

Today, after eating a delicious almond/chocolate pastry, we walked to the Louvre and spent five hours seeing as much as we could - there are a ton of awesome things there. My favorite was Napoleon's apartments - crazy awesome. Apparently the Louvre was once like a giant mansion for Louis XIV until he thought it was too small. Woo hoo, can't wait to see Versailles!

I also really liked the mummies and their multi-layered coffins. Apparently it was really important to them to make sure their bodies didn't decay, and there's a whole Book of Death with all the spells they had to cast, with the help of amulets, on the mummy to make sure they came back in the afterlife. The also mummified their cats, dogs, fish (!), birds, and an alligator??

We also saw some amazing paintings, but all the captions were in French, so we sometimes had to guess what they were about. This one is called the Wedding Feast, and we weren't quite sure who the bride and groom were, but only two people in the whole painting are looking straight at you. I love how much is going on in this painting.

I have so many more awesome photos from the Louvre, but zero energy to write about them after having walked all over Paris all day. One thing I love is that, even when you're not in a museum, all the buildings in the city are just beautiful themselves! Random statues and gold things everywhere! This is Pont George V:

Tomorrow there is a strike so the trains are all not running, so we will be in for some more walking! It's okay, it burns of all the pan de chocolat that I plan to eat.