June 25, 2010

Today we got into Angers.  We left the hostel fairly early this morning and walked to the train station.  When the ticket checker looked at my inter-rail pass he played a joke and pretended it was not valid.  He was smiling though, so I knew he was joking so we laughed and he went on.

When we got into Angers we tried to walk to the hotel.  This did not work since the map I printed out was wrong and showed the way from the castle to the hotel, not the train station.

While we were in the station we asked about getting to Sarlat.  It sounds like we will have to take three trains and most of a day.  We will actually have to go all the way back to Paris.  I’m not so happy about this but there is no way to change our plans.  I should have considered this when I booked the hotel but I thought the trains would make it easy to get everywhere.

We took a taxi to the hotel because we were not and tired.  It was nearly twenty-eight or twenty nine centigrade today.  The sun is unforgiving in the heat of the day or really any time after ten. This taxi driver was honest and only charged us what the meter said, which was six euros.  I am now fairly certain the driver in Tours cheated us out of three euros.  Life is like that.

We got into the hotel before our check in time but the room was ready so they gave us the key.  We crashed for a little while and rested.  I tried to get the Internet to work but it didn’t and I got annoyed.  I gave up and we headed out.

We meant to head to the Chateau of Angers first but we ended up finding the Cathedral first so we decided to begin there.  Before we went in we stopped at an H&M (a cheap but cute clothing store common to Europe).  I bought a pair of shorts.  Shorts were the one thing I forgot to bring on the trip.  I’ve just been wearing skirts, which are not great for sitting down on the grass for picnics.

We went in to see the cathedral.  It as relatively small and notable for it’s two large round windows and the scull of St. Marshall under its primary altar.  A not particularly good organist was practicing very loudly.  The air was heavy with the scent of incense, which was cloying when combined with the bad music.

Anna and I wandered around the church and found an interesting wooden carving, which we could not identify.  It was of a young woman slumped with her face half covered by what appeared to be a bit of ribbon.  We figured it had to be a female saint because Mary is never depicted as sad when she is young.

Next to it was a carving of Moses with horns on his head.  This confused Anna.  I’d seen something similar before in the British museum where they were having a visiting exhibit of medieval carvings from York.  In the middle ages Moses was often depicted with horns due to a mistranslation of the Greek and sometimes the Hebrew into Latin of the word for radiant or shinning light.  Apparently no one thought this was a little odd.

After this we went on to St. Michaels, which was a much smaller church.  It was originally built in the fifth century and had been rebuilt many times since.  The church itself was rather dull looking and mostly made of tufta and brick like stacked stones but the history was interesting.  They also had a interesting exhibit of statues.

We are our lunch in the shade outside the church and then made our way to the chateau.  We were entering into the worst heat of the day and kept to the shade as much as we could as we walked.  We arrived at the chateau.  The best surviving part of it was the heavy stonewall that surrounded the fortress and then the moat.  Unlike the fairy tale like castles we had seen before this one looked defensible.  Sadly it had also spent the Napoleonic years as a prison so all the original furniture and beautiful things had been stripped away, including many of the chapel fixtures.

We crossed a bridge to enter and saw the chapel, which was very bare. Then we went to see the Apocalypse tapestry.  It was a visual depiction of St. Johns vision from the book of revelations.  It was mostly complete although some pieces were missing.  I did not find it to be as fine as the unicorn tapestry but it was epic and imaginative.

Anna had recently read the book of revelations so she was able to explain some of it to me, or at least say what things were.  Essentially no one actually has any idea what it is really supposed to mean, St. John apparently wrote the whole thing without explaining anything.   It is either meant as an allegory for God concurring over evil or it is an apocalyptic prediction or maybe St. John was just a surrealist well before his time.  Who knows, the iconography is fascinating regardless.

I liked the seven-headed beast, which looked just like the seven headed dragon monster from Godzilla. I also recognized the image of the whore of Babylon astride the seven-headed beast.  Dante used the same image in his Purgatorio and Spencer used it at an odd point in The Fairy Queen.

After the tapestry we walked along the walls of the castle and the up to the top of the highest tower to enjoy the view.   Ann was exhausted so we walked back to the hotel after that.  She had a nap I rested.  In the evening we went out and had dinner at a take away past place before wandering through the city a bit before bed.  We started the second bottle of sparkling wine and plan the finish the other tomorrow.

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The Great Champagne Disaster of 2010

June 25, 2010

Yesterday we arrived in Saumur early.  We walked to our hotel and left our bags then we headed into town.  We walked up to the chateau but found it was close for major renovations so the most we could see were the grounds.  We saw the grounds as well as an exhibit on pottery and another on horsemanship.  You have to wonder if they didn’t look long and hard for the dullest exhibits to have while the castle was closed.  The castle itself was very beautiful and looked rather like you would imagine one in a fairy tale would.

We got free tickets for a tour and wine tasting.  We wandered through the city in the heavy mid day heat until we found the vineyards.  They were called the  Caves Louis Du Grenelle.  We toured the underground galleries/ underground caves/ underground carved out tunnels left over from rock quarrying that they brewed the wine in.   The city was undercut with them.

It was very dark and cool and a nice change from the mid day heat.  The vineyard specialized in sparkling wine, which is essentially champagne just not from the Champagne region.  They make it with a special sort of yeast and mud.  We had the tasting and bought two bottles, a pink dry and a white dry.

We went back to the hostel for lunch and a rest and then spent the afternoon wandering the town.  We had dinner in the hostel and ate food from the supermarket.

The next day we got up around nine and had our coffee at a tobac and our pastries from a bakery.  We rented bikes and headed all the way to Montasoreau, which was a nice little town with a château.  On our way we passed through some troglodyte caves left over from the age when people cut into the rock to make caves for houses, wine cellars, stone and mushroom growing.

We befriended a nice older Dutch couple who were on holiday and bicycling as well.  They were very nice and kind to us.  We followed them part of the way, they had a better sense of direction then us.  They gave us cold coca colas when we got to the chateau.

We saw the chateau, which had some impressive sound, and light exhibits on the history of the castle and the Loire valley.  It was also wonderfully cooler then the outside.  The tufta stone which it was made off really kept the cool in and the heat out.

On the roof of the chateau we met the Dutch couple again who were having lunch.  We shared with them a glass from the bottle of sparking wine we bought at the vineyard near tours (essentially champagne just from a different region. we had brought.  After they left we ate lunch and I made the mistake of putting a wine cap on the bottle.  This was not the right thing to do with a carbonated wine.  When I turned it and tipped it over to check to see if it would not leak when I put it back in the bag I shook it too much.

The moment I set it up right the cap blew off with a foot high geyser of wine. We henceforth referred to this event as the champagne disaster of 2010. Though my parents made a sincere attempts to educate me in the proper drinking and treatment of alcohol, they never warned me about this sort of thing. The backpack, my shorts and my legs got mildly soaked.  We never found the cap,  although we made a thorough search of the chateau roof.  We think it might have landed in the Loire River.  Miraculously I don’t think we lost that much wine in the disaster.  Anna and I have resolved to buy special champagne cap if we ever intend to cap a bottle of sparkling wine again because an ordinary cap clearly cannot handle it.

We were left with a forth of a bottle of sparkling wine and no way to re-cap or transport it.  So we had no other choice but to finish it, which we did with much joy and giggling over the whole event.  We enjoyed the shade a while longer and drank a good deal of water to combat the heat and sun before we got back on our bikes to head to the abbey of Fontevraud.

We biked 5km in the heat of the day and began to suffer the first signs of heat exhaustion by the time we reached the abbey.  I felt sick and dizzy and queasy and could not cool down. I had to sit in the cool abbey church and drink water, and then I began to feel better and clearer headed.  I hadn’t yet gotten to the point where I was really in danger but I still felt bad and woozy until I cooled down.  I hadn’t though to worry about heat exhaustion or dehydration in France but it had become hot enough to be a concern.  I’ve suffered mild heat exhaustion in the past and know I’m vulnerable to it.

In the future on hot days I will avoid being out in the worst of it, take breaks, drink more water and not have wine with lunch on days when I’m bicycling.  After an hour in the cool of the abbey and a great deal of water I felt fine again.  We biked back the seventeen kilometers home.  We wanted to get the bikes back to the rental shop by 5pm since we had only rented half a day.

We made very good time and got back by 5:30.  It still took longer then we originally expected.  When we got to the bike shop we found it closed since the guy who owned it had an emergency and had to close up early.  There was a note, which said to leave the bikes at a nearby hotel, so we did.  We had not need to worry or hurry to get the bikes back.

We rested and then walked back into town and had a nice dinner at a restaurant.  After dinner we went back up to the Saumur chateau to take in the view and then walked back to the hotel after a long day

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Second Day in Tours

June 20, 2010

Today was my second day in Tours.  Anna and I got up around eight and had breakfast at the hostel.  It was free which was nice, even if it was just bread and yogurt.  We walked over to the Musée des Beaux Arts.  It was an impressive gallery for a museum that six.  I was feeling burnt out on art by mid morning.

We saw the whole gallery.  I was most impressed by some of the depictions of classical myths, especially those of Dianna and her nymphs.  We walked back to the hostel for lunch.  Back at the hostel we talked to the lady at the desk who told us the grocery store was closed on Sundays but the covered market should be open.

We hurried to the market before it closed and bought vegetables and cheese.  I didn’t feel like sorting out the complexities of buying meat in French.  We also got another bottle of wine, this time a Sauvignon Blanc with some citrus flavor. We were under whelmed.   It was sweet like the cheap Rose we had yesterday but not much more could be said for it.

We need to either accept that cheap wine will be unimpressive or go up a few euros in our wine bottles.  We think maybe we will stick with cheap wine when it is just for picnics and simple meals and get a decent bottle every now and again for really enjoying.

I miss beer.  It was always easier to gauge the quality of and simple to learn the brands I liked.  With beer you have one pint and you know if you like the brand or not.  With wine there are so many kinds and brands each bottle is a new uncertain thing.  If Anna and I get a bottle we don’t much like we’re still stuck with it for about two meals.

We’ll just have to learn what we like though and enjoy the chance to get affordable wine.  We can’t really afford to buy beer in France.  It often costs more then a bottle of wine.

After a lunch of left over chicken and cheese we went to see the Musée du Champanonnage (Guild Museum). It was a museum about a union of master craftsmen and was oddly like the Masons.  Apparently they occasionally did odd ritualistic stuff and claimed to have biblical originals.  Most of the time though they just did their trades and applicants had to do a masterwork to get in, such as a miniature Eiffel tower made of slate and wooden miniature towers.  Anna and I both thought it was weird.

Next-door was the Musée du Vin. Sadly it did not have any wine tasting as we had hoped.  Instead it just had a bunch of hokey exhibits in glass cases in a stuffy basement.  We were not particually impressed.  Afterwards we wandered back and got the computer to spend some time in the main plaza.

We went to the Irish Pub in the hopes of beer.  Sadly when we ordered the waitress brought us a bill for over six euros our beer in 25cl glasses, which were smaller then the average half pint.  Any culture that automatically puts beer in a glass that small has no familiarity with beer.  We have despaired of having beer at cafés in France and will stick with Coffee.  While at the cafe I was able to use the Internet and email me family.

We walked back and I cooked dinner.  We used all the vegetables except some onions.  It was nice to cook again for the first time in a week.  After dinner we walked along the river in the opposite direction from the day before.  The evening was a bit cool and windy but the sun was still up.  The river was slow and placid and we passed several small islands.  We walked all the way to the edge of town and then turned around and headed back.

On our way back we followed some music to a beer garden in the hopes of live music but it was just speakers playing.  We watched couples dance for a little and then walked home.  We laid out our plans for the next day to see some chateaus.

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A day of Chateaus and Bicycling

June 22, 2010

Yesterday we went to two Chateaus.  Chenonceau and Amboise.  We used our inter-rail passes, which gave us unlimited travel for the day.  Chenonceau was right by the town. Only one tower survived of the original castle but the Chateau, which was build later, was impressive. The best thing about the Chateau was that part of it straddled the river as a bridge, so literary one of the main galleries lay over the river and had windows on both sides to look down at it.  During the first World War it was a hospital and during the second it was used to smuggle people from occupied France to unoccupied.  The rest of the rooms mostly consisted of truly impressive bedrooms.  It also had a truly huge kitchen that made up the whole basement.

The gardens were nice and went up right to the river. We had lunch in the garden.  While we were having our sandwiches and wine on one of the benches we noticed an odd event going on at the attached restaurant.  There were lots of people in what appeared to be silly academic robes.  We didn’t ask.

There were paths through the woods as well and we wandered to the maze.  We were disappointed to find. that the maze was not very big, nor tall, or difficult.  We took a picture at the gazebo in the center and continued on our way.

We took the train back to Tours and then out again to Amboise. On the train was a very funny American family with a child that looked like the one from the movie Up.   We arrived in the late afternoon.  We crossed two bridges to reach the chateau.  We passed a tourist-plagued street and walked up the hill.  We bought our tickets and took in the view.  We could see the Loire river for many miles both directions.  There was a little chapel where Leonardo was buried.  He died in Amboise.  He had a very simple grave with just his name and a flat carving of him.  Someone put out fresh flowers for him.

The Chateau was not incredibly exciting inside although I loved the staircases and the balconies.  Most of the original furniture and art was gone.  We took in the view from the top and then had a quick look around the gardens.  We stopped in the town just long enough to buy a bottle of cider at a local store then we got the train home.

We made dinner and rested a bit then we went out.  There was a huge music festival happening that night starting at eight pm and going until five am in the morning.  I’ve never seen a city go into festive mode so fast from almost dead that morning to full party atmosphere with food vendors and stages everywhere.

We saw a fun band or young men with a violin and guitars, then a rolling stones tribute band with a drummer with a fro.  Next we found a really cute band of teenagers trying to be like Night Wish. They wore black and head banged. The lead vocalist had on a cheap black dress, red hair clip and sang in a rising wail.  They were fun and their four fans attempted a mini mash pit.  We went to the plaza and then I bought a beer at the store.

We wandered more past other music and then went back to the hostel to use the bathroom.  We wandered a bit more but we were tired and the crowds were getting wired so we threw in the towel around midnight after about four hours of listening to music.

Today we made a later start around eight thirty.  We rented bikes and biked towards Montlouis.  We arrived sooner then we expected, as twelve kilometers didn’t actually take very long to bike.  We kept going nearly all the way to Amboise.  Interestingly we passed a large aquarium where I stopped to use their bathroom.  It was an odd thing to find in a field but hey life is intersting. Since we’d already been to Amboise we took a turn off to St. Michaels.

We stopped along the way at a small wine chateau.  We biked in and a man told us in French to wait.  He ran off and a young man who spoke English came and asked if we wanted to taste wine.  We said yes and be brought us some wine in the little B&B attached to the vineyard.  We bought a dry white wine and a bubbly white wine.   We wanted to buy more but thought it would be too heavy.

We continued to the town but found it had nothing of great interest then a bench to have lunch on.  We biked back to the main road and made our tired way home, stopping at Amboise for a coffee.  On our way back we passed what I thought was little riverside park of forest paths and I left Anna to rest while I rode my bike through it while.

When I came back to Anna she was talking to the security guard who only spoke French.  Apparently we were not supposed to be there even though it connected to the bike way and there were no signs that said so.  We weren’t really sure what he said but we left.

We biked home exhausted and showered.  We set out to do laundry, which proved difficult since the first laundry mat went to had washers but every single dryer was broken.  We had to carry our wet clothes to another laundry mat to dry our clothes.  We made dinner and at last crashed.

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Traveling to Tours and Walking Along the River

June 19, 2010

We left Paris for Tours today.  It was a long day.  Our train was at 12.20 but we had to check out of our hostel by 11am so we checked out by 10:30 and were on our way.  By eleven we were in the station.  The subway didn’t take as long as we expected.  We waited an hour in a café and then got on our train.  In retrospect it would have been nice to get an earlier train.

We didn’t have a seat for the first leg of the journey since an Inter rail pass doesn’t reserve a seat just a place on the train.  We got seats on the second half of the journey after people left.

When we got in we couldn’t seem to get a Taxi and the bus seemed confusing so we decided to try walking to the Hostel.  The problem was we went a long way in the wrong direction and by the time we sorted it out I was exhausted and my back hurt from carrying my pack.

We got a taxi, which turned out to be surprisingly expensive.  I think he cheated us or at least stretched the rules.  The number thing at the front said only five euros but he demanded eight.  He said there was a minimum charge of six euros and then each piece of luggage cost a euro.  This logic doesn’t follow since the cost of the luggage plus the number would have brought the cost up over six euros and he wouldn’t have had to charge us an extra euro to get it up to the minimum cost.  Besides the number thing at the front began with a cost of two euros fifty from the very start of the ride, so surely that was the minimum cost.  I have never been in a cab before where the driver has vocally added an extra cost at the end that they did not calculate from the start on their little number thing. We were too tired to argue and the total cost was only eight euros but I know he was dishonest and took advantage of our unfamiliarity with the taxi laws.   We will try to avoid taxis in the future when we can.

When we got to the Hostel we discovered that there was no one at the desk and nowhere to leave our luggage.  We could not check in or leave our bags until five in the afternoon.  This made it impossible to do anything with our afternoon.

We shouldered our packs and went to the Place Plumereau and had a coffee.  Since I had my computer I checked for WiFi and found that the nearby Irish Bar had a free network.  I checked my email and sent several days worth of emails to my family.  I checked my facebook and found that in a week’s absence I had missed nothing and received only one message. I found this oddly reassuring.  Being disconnected to the web for a week did not cause me to miss anything.  I updated one blog post and decided to do the rest later.  The blog will have to run a week behind or so, especially if I plan to put in photos and videos.

The plaza began to fill around five and students and tourists soon surrounded us.  A small tourist train drove by every hour or so and a horse drawn carriage trundled past every half hour.

We walked back to the Hostel and checked in.  Once our packs were at last dumped we explored the down.  We bought a Rose wine at a local winery, a pastry of liquored cherries, cream and chocolate at a pastry shop and a whole rotisserie chicken at another shop to carry away.

With dinner in hand we went to sit by the river and have an early meal.  It felt vaguely barbaric to eat with our fingers but we didn’t have utensils so we ate the warm chicken with our fingers and then the dessert.  We didn’t have the wine since we didn’t have glasses and drinking strait from the bottle was too un-classy even for a pair of college students.

We walked along the river a long ways.  We passed a beer garden where children were pretending to be jousting knights with wooden horses and young men were play fighting with foam swords. It seemed like a mini renaissance fair or something.

We kept on until we decided to cross the river.  We chose the wrong bridge through because it took us onto a road far on the other side and nowhere near the river.  We followed the road until it at last took us to a pedestrian bridge and we could re-cross the river.

We walked to the Cathedral expecting to find it closed and hoping to see the outside.  To our surprise it was open so we wandered inside.  It was very lovely and peaceful in the late afternoon.  The glass windows were an odd mix of many different eras.  The stone frames had not changed but very little of the original glasswork remained.

There was an odd mix of modern abstract glass windows, modern attempts at classical glass windows, and windows of painted not stained glass, and modern stained glass of colors not possible until the twentieth century.  I suspect that over the years as windows became damaged and needed do to be replaced the church replaced them with the style of the time without ever thinking about the symmetry of the windows.  It was an odd mix but the overall effect of the windows, colors and lights was intact.  The Cathedral was a beautiful unity of open space, arches, colonnades, light and air.  Time had taken the luster of most of the churches original decorations but it could not deaden the beauty of the architecture.

Next to the church was the Museum of Art. We found the garden was open and wandered in.  It was nice with lots of square shaped hedges.  There was also a side building with a huge taxidermy elephant.  It seemed that one of the Barnem and Bailey elephants once died on tour and it was stuffed and preserved there.  It was a little odd to look at.b

We walked back through the city and at last returned to the hostel.  We had half the wine, which proved to be surprisingly good for a 2009 Rose.  It was more like a sweet cocktail but I liked it.  I have just enough taste in wine to know when its not particularly good wine but sufficiently little knowledge of wine not to mind when a cheep wine is merely passable.  Anyway we usually end up taking half the bottle in a flask the next day for lunch and it would be a shame to do that with a really good wine.  Regardless we probably need to stop buying such cheap wine and at least upgrade to the five-euro bottles.  We plan to buy at least one bottle of good wine this week.

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The Sacré-Coeur Basilica and Cimetiére du Pére-Lachaise

June 18, 2010

Today we went to Monmartre.  We went up by subway in the morning.  Once we got out of the subway we walked up a long hill with a great number of hair salons that specialized in hair extensions.  For one of the first times in our trip we were some of the only white people around.  After England this was nice to feel again.

We climbed up a long set of staircases and at last emerged above Paris at the Sacré-Coeur Basilica.  It was a more recent building built in 1877 and finished in 1914.  It was in a mock Romano-Byzantine style.  It was all right but not particularly imaginative.   The whole thing was done out of heavy stone bricks and low arches.  It was the sort of odd blend you get if you combined classical ideas of architecture with the less attractive modern techniques of building.  I was more impressed by the view of the dome from the outside then the mosaics and glass windows inside.

The windows were done in a modern style but intended to imitate traditional glass windows.  The problem was the lettering was in a modern script and they used modern glass colors that did not exist when most early church windows were done.  The result was a bit gaudy.  I’m note sure they were really going for tasteful though, if they were they would not have had two gift shops, machines selling pennies pressed with the basilicas symbol, and ten and two euro candles.  A lot of churches can be shameless about trying to raise money but large Catholic churches tend to be particularly bad about it. An episode involving moneylenders and temples comes to mind.  I understand it takes a lot of money to maintain these beautiful old churches but a bit more tact and taste is called for.

We made our way down the hill past young men selling Eiffel Tower key chains, a harp player, a couple beggars and large groups of tourists.  I really wonder who the hell buys all these models of the Eiffel tower, especially so far from the tower itself.

We walked to the Moulan Roughe and were under whelmed.   I suppose the movie inflated my expectations.  We took some photos but the shows were far too expensive to consider.  We walked back up the hill in a state of exhaustion and hunger to look for a Café that a friend of Anna’s recommended.  By the time we found it I was cranky and famished.

The food took forever but at last arrived and we had a decent lunch of fish and cold cuts.  We took the subway over to Cimetiére du Pére-Lachaise and bought a map.  We walked through it and saw, Georges Mélies, Proust, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Chopin, and Heloise and Abelard. At Wilde’s grave we overheard several other Americans being impressively ignorant.  One lady asked us what he had written when she overheard us talking about the grave.

His tombstone was kind of strange.  It had a sort of Aztec like flying angle leaping up into the air against a large grey block.  It was covered in lipstick kisses and comments of admiration written in marker.  I think it may have been the most loved gravestone in the cemetery.  I usually object to marking gravestones but in this case I think it was appropriate.  I put on some lipstick and added my own kiss to the grave.

We went on through the graveyard and passed through the memorials to the Holocaust concentration camps.  There were gaunt statues of metal and stone and the warm afternoon seemed to grow cold.  It never seems right that sunlight and birds can surround anything so grave and heartbreaking.  As we walked we could hear the loud laughter of children in a playground lower on the hill from the graveyard.  There was a monument to the French resistance and another to the Spanish Civil War as well.

We finished up by visiting Heloise and Abelard’s grave.  It was covered in scaffolding and clearly in the midst of repairs but we could still see the statue of the two lovers together.

We took the subway again to the area around the National Opera where we went to Harry’s New York Bar where expatriate Americans like to hang out, or at least Hemmingway and Scot Fitzgerald once did.  Fitzgerald is said to have once passed out there.  We went out of our way to see it because of the history.

I had a Bloody Mary and Anna had a White Lady.  We debated Fitzgerald and “The Great Gatsby”.  I argued that I liked it and Anna argued that it was dull and overrated.  I said that the plot was a little odd and dull at some points but the first paragraph of the book was more then enough to make up for it.  Anna said she wasn’t that moved by it.  Our literary taste sometimes overlaps but not always.

We really liked the place until we got the bill, which nearly made me do the same as Fitzgerald did.  Twelve and a half euros per cocktail is a very painful thing for students.  We had never imagined drinks could cost so much.  Most bars in London usually the worst you can pay for a mixed drink is eight pounds and the usual price is six.  At other places in Paris the prices were similar.  The bar itself didn’t look that expensive or have any prices posted so we assumed it would be like the others.  That was a miscalculation.  I guess the history of the place or the proximity to the Opera allowed them to really ratchet up the prices. We swallowed our shock and paid.  Two drinks there cost as much as lunch.  Life is like that sometimes.  I know now to be careful of historical bars.

We took the subway home and got dinner at the supermarket, which was the best we could afford after the unexpectedly expensive drinks.  We ate in the room and at last rested.  Tomorrow we leave for Tours.

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Versailles and the Fake French Village

June 17, 2010

We went to Versailles today.  We walked to the Montparnasse Train station and took a local train to Versailles Chateau.  The tickets cost only about ten euros in total.  The trip was quick and the walk to the palace was short.  The morning was cold and windy and I made the mistake of wearing a skirt.  I was glad to get inside and warm.

I tried to see if I could get in free like I did for the Louvre and could not.  I had to pay eighteen euros. I am not so sure about this European resident/ European student deal.  At the Louvre the woman selling the tickets suggested it, at the middle ages museum they wanted to see my student card, I am still confused by what happened at the Orangery and it didn’t work at Versailles, although the woman selling the tickets suggested that if I said I was a resident of the UK it would have been fine.  She didn’t seem to believe that the stamp on my passport was a six-month visa (the visa for US citizens enter the UK on a tourist visa for six months or less is just a stamp).  The stamp doesn’t have a length of stay printed on it, which seems to cause a lot of confusion.  I’ll keep seeing what sort of discounts I can get as a UK student (technically I am still a student of UCL until September.

When we went through security the guard make Anna check the Swiss army knife she’d forgotten to remove from her bag that morning. Although food was not permitted in the palace he didn’t notice the entire picnic was smuggled in to eat later in the public gardens.  I supposed he might have also figured that we had the good sense to wait until we left the palace to eat the food so didn’t feel the need to tell use to leave it at the coat check.

The Palace was ridiculously opulent.  No wonder the peasants revolted.  Louise covered every surface he could with the imagery of power using everything from gold to roman gods.  His great mistake, as I see it, is that he focused only on impressing his nobles and foreign dignitaries.  He should have spent all that money and artistic resources on using the same subversive imagery on the Parisian people and the rest of France.  It worked for the Roman emperors, at least for Augustus.

I couldn’t help but think about the shadow of the French revolution as a I looked at the palace and the grounds.  They were incredible and stunning but you have to think about when and how they were built.  It’s still up for debate what all the factors were that caused the French revolution but Versailles seems to me in to be in many ways proof of public image failure and political miscalculation.  It was beautiful though.

The audio guide really romanticized the French monarchy and didn’t talk about the revolution much.  I can’t really blame the people who run the palace, it’s their job to restore and maintain the place, of course they’ll romanticize it.

I felt a little like a sheep as I was herded from room to room by the tide of tourists.  At one point I got very rudely shoved out of the way by a tiny Japanese grandmother.  I guess she was really interested in Marie Antoinette’s bed or maybe she had just had it with being polite in such a huge crowd.  The palace felt like a long corridor of beautiful gold inlayed rooms with ceilings painted with neoclassical depictions of Roman gods.  It was fairly repetitive after a while; creativity wasn’t at the forefront of anyone’s mind.  Every inch of the imagery on the walls was symbolic and ceremonial.

The royal family was essentially putting on a full time show for their nobles from the moment they woke to the moment they went to bed.  It allowed the French king to keep his nobles close and weakened their ability to plot or organize against him.  Unfortunately it also weakened the noble’s ability to keep an eye on and control their peasants.

The most stunning room was the hall of mirrors.  On one side was a row of windows and on the other tall mirrors.  It created an impressive corridor, and must have been doubly impressive in a time when glass was more valuable and difficult to make then it is today.

The gardens were the real reason for going.  Although Versailles is known for its fountains they were not on while we were there.  Versailles is actually located in an are with very little water, even when a king lived there they could never run more then one or two fountains at a time.  They do shows on specific days when they run the fountains but not when we were there.

We ate lunch in the garden.  We have a good system now.  We can put wine into a metal water bottle, tea into a thermos, sandwiches into a bag and fruit into a plastic contained.  Travel is a lot more pleasant when you don’t have to worry about finding somewhere affordable to have lunch and can just eat when we are hungry. We wandered up towards the Grand Canal.  We took a left towards the Grand Trianon and then the Petite Trianon.  They were the king and queens private houses when they felt the need to flee court.  I was more impressed by their gardens.

Marie Antoinette had a Hamlet built for herself with a little fake French village and farm.  It was like a Disney movie come to life complete with baby animals at her farm.  I thought it was bizarre but I really like the picturesque village and the animals.  I do still think it was kind of a bizarre thing for one person to have built for herself.

We also saw Marie Antoinette’s private theater, where she put on plays with her friends and servants to be watched by her family, friends and servants.  Apparently she liked acting and often played a serving woman.  I kind of suspect that court life was driving her and her husband slightly insane.

We walked back up just as it was starting to get cold and rainy.  We retrieved Anna’s pocked knife from the coat check.  This was very important since it contained our wine bottle opener.  We got the train back and had dinner at a little cafe.  Roast chicken and potatoes is a wonderful dish.

We had a night in because we were exhausted and laid out our plans for our final full day in Paris. I realized as I flipped through the guidebook that we haven’t really taken advantage of the Paris nightlife.  It’s not as if we can go see a flay thought since I wouldn’t understand a word of it.  Neither of us likes clubbing and we can’t afford to go the Opera or the symphony.  We’ve been so tired every night that the best we can do for going out is to have dinner at a restaurant.  We have enjoyed walking through Paris in the evening or seeing the sun start to set over the river.

We may see about more evening stuff when we get to Tours or maybe in Nice when we can talk to other travelers at the Hostel about what they have done and liked.  I went to so much theater and the like in London I don’t think I’m missing much finally having a break in Paris.  It’s also not as easy to get cheap student tickets to things in Paris as it is in London.

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Musée National du Moyen Age and The Orangery

June 16, 2010

We made a late start this morning.  We slept in until ten thirty and had tea and croissants in the room.  Two days ago we bought a little electric kettle because the hotel doesn’t have one.  Technically were not supposed to have food or drink in the room but have been successful at sneaking in food so far.

We walked to the Musée National du Moyen Age – Thermes de Cluny.  It was a museum of mideval art set in a ruined Roman bath.  I was very impressed by it.  They had a good exhibit of stained glass windows and some incredible tapestries.  My favorite was the Lady and the Unicorn.  It had a unicorn in it like the Unicorn tapestry in the Cloisters in New York but the themes were very different.  It could just as well have been called The Lady with the Unicorn and the Lion since a lion features just as prominently in the tapestries.

There were six tapestries in the first five a lady and sometimes her lady in waiting stand about with a lion and a unicorn.  Each tapestry symbolizes one of the five senses.  There is sixth tapestry that most people say symbolizes a sixth sense of spirituality.  The other possibility is that the first five tapestries show the temptation of the five senses and the sixth shows the lady resisting the pleasures of the flesh.  Unicorns can symbolize either purity, virginity and Christ or they can mean sexuality and carnal pleasure.  Oddly enough they can often mean both.  The middle ages were an interesting time.

The tapestry contained a lot of animals and flowers including a lot of rabbits and birds.  I spotted a heron.  There were quiet a few other more minor tapestries in the museum, which were almost equally impressive although never part of such a large or complete set.  Several of the pieces they had belonged to sets that were broken up over several museums.

The museum dedicated two of its larger rooms to showing how the museum was literately on top of a set of ruined roman baths.  The room was lit entirely by the huge windows at the top with no artificial lighting.  There was not much of the original baths left although they had some statues and a nearly complete little animal fresco.  In a poorly lit corner I found a damaged statue I could not identify, it was some sort of beast or monster but without a face.  There was no sign to say what it was.  It unnerved Anna and she would not look at it closer.  I took a few pictures to see if I could make it out better in the light of the cameras flash but the bumps and bone like edges unnerved me too and I backed away from it.  Right across in the same corner in a pit was an open roman sarcophagus.  There was only one small sign to identify it and it was hard to see in the dim light of the room.  I followed Anna back into the well-lit body of the museum.

We moved on to see a truly impressive number of statues of Mary and Baby Jesus.  You would think that in so many hundred years of carving the same thing some one would at least alter the composition a little, but no one was pretty much like the other.

We had lunch in the garden outside and watched a small pack of energetic children run around the fountain.  Their parents watched them with the tired but amused expressions.  I couldn’t blame children who’d just spent hours in a museum for needing to let off a little steam.

As we were walking away we noticed a large group of police in riot gear gathering in vehicles.  No one seemed particularly worried about them so we decided we did not need to be either.  I’ve noticed a lot of police dressed in riot gear or armed over the last few days although I’ve not seen any reason for it.  As we were walking back this afternoon a large convoy of police vans trundled past with their lights and sirens blaring.  Either there’s been trouble in the suburbs or maybe their doing practice runs.  Two days ago when we were walking towards the Louvre we noticed a lot of police standing around and found out the reason was that a local politician was giving a speech and they were patrolling the area, or at least standing around looking bored.  Regardless Paris has a much heavier police presence then London.  Anna thinks there may be a conference going on somewhere.

We walked to some comic book shops and looked for one that had direct American imports.  We found one and Anna bought a few of her favorite series.  We walked along the river up past the Louvre to the Orangery, a gallery that holds most of the Impressionists in Paris.  Although we arrived around four thirty we didn’t get inside until nearly five thirty when it was about to close.

The reason for the wait was not because the building was overly full, or that security took very long to go through but that two of their cash registers had broken and they could not sell the tickets fast enough.  We finally got in a about thirteen minutes before closing and hurried through the galleries.  We saw Matisse’s Water Lilies and a few Renoir’s.  There were a few early Picassos before he got into cubism and a few other French painters I did not know of before.  There was a visiting exhibit of an artist I forget the name of.

Seeing art is a great hurry is not ideal but it was better the losing the chance to see it at all.  I really wish I had had more time to see the Water Lilies.  Being in the room with them felt like stepping into a peaceful afternoon beside a pond.  One look at them and the world seems to slow and calm.  They were the most serene paintings I have ever seen and every wall of two rooms were covered by them.  Seeing just one in the Tate Modern did not compare.

The walk home was long and tiring the problem with seeing Paris by foot is that your feet hurt a lot at the end of the day.  The upside is that we have seen a lot of Paris, or at least the central part where we have been staying and seeing Tourist sights.  Tomorrow we will go to Versailles and on our last day in Paris we will go to the big cemetery in the Northern part of the city.

We bought our dinner at the Carre Four, a local supermarket, and carried it back to the hotel.  Dinner, breakfast and lunch for tomorrow cost less in the grocers then our entire dinner last night.  We will picnic in Versailles tomorrow if we sort out the trains properly and get there.

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Eiffel Tower

June 15th, 2010

We went to the Eiffel Tower today.  We meant to get up at 7am but were just too tired and slept in for another half hour.  After a few days of going full tilt and were pretty worn out.   We stumbled out of bed and went back to the Cafe we went to for breakfast yesterday.  We had cafe and chocolate croissants standing up at the bar again.  I love the strong dark coffee.

I have not seen that many other young women standing in the cafe in the morning.  It is mostly men heading off to work or lazing about.  Women tend to sit down.  The bar tender doesn’t seem particularly surprised that we want our breakfast at the bar and is as nice to us as everyone else.  Were not really in the part of Paris where there are a lot of young people our age.  We’re a ways off from the university.  I miss the feel of being by a university and the hustle and bustle of other students.

We walked to the Eiffel Tower, which was a bit of a way.  We got there at 10am, a half hour after it opened and didn’t have to wait in line very long.  We accidentally got into the elevator line when we meant to buy tickets to walk up from the lower floors but we didn’t realize it until we were being shuffled into an elevator.

The elevator took us up to the first level were we went strait to the next elevator to take us up to the top level.  From the ground the tower doesn’t look all that tall but from the top the view is stunning.

You can see all of Paris laid out before you.  The Seine bisects the city.  Paris’s few larger parks are huge clumps of green among the large tissue box like buildings with their central courtyards.

It was cold and windy up top.  While we were there the weather wasn’t particularly good but that at least kept the number of tourists down.  The stairs down were surprisingly hard to find but we located them and began to walk down.  The wind and the view were spectacular.  We left just in time because our journey down was frequently halted by large groups of upwardly mobile school children.

We got down and had a chilly lunch at the base of the tower after dodging the many young men selling cheap models of the Eiffel tower.  We walked to the Arc de Triomphe.  We thought about going up but we had just come from seeing the view from the tower.

As a UK citizen under 25 Anna could have probably gotten in free but I would have had to pay so we just looked at the outside.  We saw the never-ending flame for the unknown soldiers from WWI.  It was just like the US monument to the Unknown Soldier.  It wasn’t as moving because of the flow of tourists around it were less revenant and line to go up into the arch was right next to it.  I suspect at night it’s effect is much greater.

We crossed back over the street via a tunnel and walked down the Champs Elysées.  I was less impressed by it then I expected, maybe it was the surfeit of McDonalds.  I expected more high-class retail stores with window displays and found a boulevard choked by tourists.

We found a post office for Anna to send her postcards home and then crossed back over the river long before the Louvre.  We had a long walk back and I quickly tired.  We paused in a toy store where I considered buying a plastic Barbar figure or maybe a Little Prince figure but decided against both.

By the time we got back I was in a state of utter exhaustion and sore feat.  We had essentially crossed the greater part of inner Paris.  It might have been a good time to sort out the Paris Metro but we did not think of it at the time.

After a nap we went out of dinner.  We found a nice little restaurant in a nearby plaza where a great deal of confusion occurred.  Anna did not understand that steak tartar meant raw beef and the waiter became greatly worried when she tried to order it and he did not think she understood what she was doing.  Then we tried to figure out what the restaurants Happy Hour entailed.  This resulted in the waiter assuming we wanted to huge beers.  I ended up with a strawberry beer and Anna a white one.  They were each over 50ml.

What we had intended was to find out if the happy hour beer was cheaper then wine and get wine if it was not.  I’m not sure how that reached the point of the waiter suggesting strawberry beer and us nodding in confusion and assent.  I’m not even sure why he assumed I could possibly want my beer to taste like strawberries maybe he just thought that that was the thing to suggest to an American girl.  Anyway, while odd, huge, and mildly expensive the drinks weren’t bad.

The food was the incredible thing.  I had guinea fowl with potatoes and Anna had cooked beef with the same.  The sauce was incredible.  After dinner we crossed to a cheaper cafe to have our evening coffee at the bar.  We walked home in the cool evening air and rested contently after a good meal.

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Homesickness and the Louvre

June 14, 2010

I’m feeling a little homesick today. I am exhausted from dealing with a language I cannot speak.  When I traveled in Spain I could speak, if not particularly well.  In Paris I have no words for things beyond bread and coffee.  I cannot strike up conversations and I find myself limited to smiles and pointing.  Most waiters, museum staff, hotel staff and anyone else who works in the tourist industry speaks English but I feel embarrassed to not have even a bit of token French to offer them.  I will use the phrase book to study and learn more basic things.  Anna’s French is good enough to handle most situations.

My time traveling in Spain last summer gave me an inflated image of my ability as a traveler because my Spanish was good enough to get by.  I wasn’t very articulate but I never felt the weight of wordlessness.  I could slip through the world and culture with the awkward charm of my mediocre Spanish.  I could talk to people, ask questions and have conversations.

My time in England was made easier because there was no question of language beyond a few varied bits of slang.  London was not much more foreign to me then any other large English speaking city.

Every city has it’s own feel and rhythm and in a way they are all similar.  Paris’s architecture is prettier then that of London but lacks the wealth of green parks that London has.  The streets vary between beautiful old architecture, to charming modern buildings, to rather ugly new shops.

It is a more expensive city then London and has a more languid pace.  London is full of sandwich shops and coffee shops with everything to go for a few pounds.  In Paris there really isn’t such a thing as a quick cheap meal.  The good restaurants are more then Anna and I can afford and the cheap sandwich places are overpriced and now very good.  Even the corner grocers are expensive, grouchy, and poorly stocked; at least in the area of Paris we have been staying.  We’ve found a super market where the groceries are affordable and bought some basics ones there.  We plan to save money by brining our own lunches. There’s no point wasting money on a bad pre-made sandwich.  I am sad  that I am not getting to try as much French food as I hoped to but the restaurants are just too expensive for students. At least espressos and croissants are affordable when you have them standing up at the bar.  The coffee here is incredible.

This morning we got up early this morning and had breakfast at the only open cafe nearby standing up at the bar.  We walked to the Louvre and arrived about twenty minutes before it opened.  We got in right when it opened and went to the ticket booths. Anna got her ticket for free because she was a citizen of a EU country and between the ages of 18-25.  I got mine free too because I’d been a resident student of a EU country for six months.

Going in the morning was a good idea.  We got to the Mona Lisa before the crowds.  There were so many barriers between us and it, a cord of ropes, a table, and a glass case it was a little hard to see.  I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I would be.  I enjoyed a few of the other Leonardo Da Vinchi paintings a little more since I could get close to them and see the details.  I liked St. Sebastian.  All of Leonardo’s people have such peaceful faces.

I burned out early as we cut through nearby galleries to see the Raft of the Medusa.  It was a painting worth seeing although I found it very unnerving that dying men could be painted in such a sensual way.  In art death and desire seem to be alarmingly similar.

We went to see the early pre-roman artifacts then we found a café.  The café in the museum was damn expensive for very little but the view was incredible.  A coffee made it all bearable and we went on.  We saw a room full of Leighton paintings.  He did a whole series in honor of a queen and her life.  It was impressive but very clearly a commission and political propaganda.

We saw the Venus De Milo, she was as lovely as the pictures would have you believe.  We saw the Etruscan, the Greek and Roman sculptures.  I was able to really appreciate that from the class on roman art I took last year.

We left after four hours when we were exhausted and the museum was starting to become crowded.  We had half decent sandwiches from a little stand connected to a shop and ate them in the park.  All morning it had threatened to rain and it began as we were walking back.  There is no smell in the world quite like warm rain on dry earth.

We pass countless tourists sheltering in doorways as we walked along huddling under our solitary umbrella.  We reached the Sainte Chapelle only to discover there was a long wait.  When we finally got in I realized the wait was solely to go through security.  The chapel is on the grounds of the Palace of Justice.  Actually buying our chapel tickets only took a moment.  Anna’s ticket was free but mine cost five euros.  Whatever got me into the Louvre free didn’t seem to apply there.

An English tour was staring just as we arrived so we joined it.  A very perky French girl led it with interesting English.   The chapel was once the private chapel o f a French king.  He had it set up so he could walk on a bridge from his rooms in the palace to the chapel.  The real reason to visit the chapel was the window.   They were on the top floor of the chapel and filled the entire room with an incredible colored light.  The chapel was also supposed to have once held a lot of holy relics, including the “crow of thorns.”  Most were lost in the revolution although Notre Dame has the crown now and a piece of the “true cross.”  I doubt anyone thinks the relics are real but they show them once a year anyway.

The tour was long and my feet hurt by the time it ended.  We walked partway back and paused at a cafe for drinks, and then we finished our limp home.  We got an electric kettle on the way because the hotel didn’t have one and we missed being able to make our own tea.

We got in, rested, walked briefly by the river, had a dinner in the room and collapsed after a good, if exhausting, day.

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