30 May 2007
Normally I´m not freaked out by where I sleep, and I don´t even think I´d go so far as to say freaked out about where I did sleep last night, except that it was not especially suitable. It was reminiscent of a certain place in White House, NJ where I stayed once with my mum.
So, at the earliest possible point, I went down the street to a business budget hotel chain for a slightly more expensive, but definitely more McHotel and suitable situation. I knew what I was getting. So I prepaid for new McHotel room, and went back to unsuitable hotel to pick up my already-packed bags. Since I was paying for it, I also had the included breakfast. Then, at McHotel, I got showered and ready for my day, which has yet to actually begin in earnest, because I´m taking care of banal things.
My cellphone finally works, with the Liechtenstein number that also has something to do with Switzerland. Obviously, I´m practicing for being a spy, with all of these shady phone numbers and pensions.
Today, I´m off to the museums in München to kunsthistoriches myself, then maybe to this church with supposedly stunning tromphe l´oeil that Jimmy told me about, and then finally to see La Traviata tonight.
Off to Wien tomorrow morning, I´ll be on the train from about 9:30am-1:30pm.
29 May 2007
Besides various German junk food/fast food of which I am fond, there is also German television. Right now, there is this show on about squid reproduction, which is fascinating even though I can't understand it, because I find squid to be kind of gross yet endlessly interesting. They are not something I enjoy eating, so I think that's kind of why I'm interested in them (aggiungi anche questi alle cozze, Bill). This morning, as I was getting ready to go, there was this show called Stein Zeit: Das Experiment. I think I saw the companion series meant for children, called Die ,,Steinzeit"-Kinder, and it features people somewhere in Bavaria recreating the Stone Age. This guy, without talking, cooked a rabbit, carrots, and potatoes over red-hot stones in a small pit, and then cut the rabbit apart using a piece of flint. It looked really good and he seemed pleased with himself.
The Museum Ludwig was open today because of the holiday, and it was nice, although my brain is exhausted. I'll go back tomorrow morning as planned to relook at some of the High Modern works and then go look at the Pop Art collection. It seems that they have representative works from all of the right people, from all of the right movements.
One general discovery of an artist this trip has been Nicholas de Stäel, who I wasn't aware of before seeing a fantastic non-objective piece in the Centre Pompidou. The Museum Ludwig has a interesting little objective still life, and I've decided I really like his work. The photography exhibit at the Museum Ludwig was quite good, featuring a good mix of photographers, and presenting an almost perfect visual comparison of Bernd and Hilla Becher's typologies with Andreas Gursky, especially including the fantastic Montparnasse. In painting, there were some excellent Max Ernst paintings, and I liked what I saw, which was generally a specific type of surrealism -- Ernst and his friends, including Picabia, another artist I'm appreciating more this trip. My favorites though were an exceptional group of Russian suprematism, with Rodchenko well represented in painting, sculpture and photography. In another area, there were some great Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Lucia Moholy photos, which in some ways I think are complimentary to suprematism. Further connections to the Centre Pompidou, as there I saw again (it was a huge surprise and I'm so happy I got to see it again) the film Moholy-Nagy made of his perpetual motion/light reflection machine thing. I took 1 minute of the film with my digital camera, and one of these days I can post it here via google video. The actual perpetual motion/light reflection machine thing is at the Bauhaus-archiv in Berlin, and so I didn't think I'd see the video again until I got back there.
The weather is totally dreary, it's around 55°F/13°C and raining a lot, which does not promote a good mood. There were lots of people out in the streets today, but most of the stores were closed so everyone was window shopping. The galleries were open, and I walked into one to get out of the rain, where I came across tons of soggy Scouts hanging their wet outerwear over an escalator railing! There were a lot of Scouts in transit today whose day was ruined by the crappy weather. Despite the cold weather, I was roasting most of the day due to my 100% nylon rainjacket, which also makes me fit in with German fashion, because today everyone was wearing walking shoes like mine and nylon jackets like mine. Usually when travelling I am most often taken for German, and it is rather obvious why, although this also means that people assume I also speak German. This afternoon, while trying to make the most efficient exit from Aachen, I had issues pronouncing Hauptbanhof, which means train station, so the very nice gentleman repeated it for me.
I have yet to be able to get beyond the rear of the cathedral, because I always seem to walk in during a service and there are sextons in red and black robes stopping people from moving towards the front. It's a very impressive building, because it's actually a lot longer than it seems from the outside. Evidently, it was only completed in the 1880s, but it's definitely quite Gothic. If the cathedral in Köln is Gothic, then the cathedral in Aachen is a triumph of Romanesque exuberance. I must confess, it was exactly what I pictured from Janson's History of Art. The mosaics in there were great, and I think in the Treasury Museum I saw some mention or comparison to San Vitale in Ravenna. I went into the Treasury Museum because it was raining and there wasn't much else to do because everything else was closed. Normally I find Treasury Museums to be really boring, and this one was no exception, but I did see Charlemagne's right forearm and the rope used to scourge Jesus, His belt, and Mary's belt. There was also a collection of broken locks and keys, which has something to do with a connection between the church and city of Aachen, which I didn't understand. Kings from all over Europe sent things to Aachen, I assume to promote their own legitimacy, and so there was an interesting collection of things from farther east as well. The German Catholics appear to still be reveling in the fact that il Papa Ratzinger is pope, and this region is also the objective of pilgrimages from all over Europe, including a lot of Spaniards right now it seems.
Tomorrow, the Römanisches-Germanisches Museum, the Ludwig Museum again, and then off to the Köln-Bonn Flughaven to go down to Munich.
When I'm in large cities, like Paris or New York, I always find it hard to tell if people are really happy, which leads me to think they're not. Today, both here and in Aachen, people were smiling, laughing, and greeting each other in the streets, which makes me think that they are in fact happy, and this is a good thing.
28 May 2007
Last night was also the antique market, and I was rather shocked to see that the Deutschebank elephant banks are a collectors item. Once when my dad was exchanging money somewhere in Bavaria, I got one. Now it makes me feel kind of old to see them in an antique market!
The big thing here besides the cathedral is kolsh beer, and the famous eau de cologne that my dad uses, N° 4711.
Right now I'm waiting for the train to take me to Aachen for the day. Tscuss!
It's raining today, and there's no one in the streets.
Part First, in German
Self, to young woman wearing horse-riding pants: Bitte, where is the Dom?
Fraulein: (makes pfft noise and directs me to the right, the left, and then right again.)
Self: ok, danke.
Part Second, in English
Self: Do you speak a little English?
Fraulein: yes, a little.
Self: Is today a holiday?
Self: What is the occasion?
Fraulein: Ah, this is kind of difficult to explain. It has to do with the Holy Ghost. He is supposed to come today or something.
So, -10 points for being a bad Catholic, and also for forgetting that the day after Pentecost is also a holiday. -10 more points for not realizing this earlier when I saw that the post office in Köln was closed, or when I got to Aachen and saw all of the stores were closed beyond the normal Monday-closedness.
...Slightly later, having another coffee because I can't get into the Dom until 12:30: This is kind of turning into a comedy of errors. All I want to do is see this Charlemagne-built church, and that's about all that's even possible today owing to the holiday. I've taken the scenic route through Aachen to get here, and if I felt like walking another 5,5km through the rain, I could also go to Vaals, which is in the Netherlands. However, walking 5,5km through the rain is slightly too Pride and Predjudice for my taste at the moment.
26 May 2007
And before I get into all of this, one comment: thank God Catherine de'Medici happened to Paris/France. That is all.
So the week started off with the aforementioned pizza Marais. Then came a rapid sucession of entrecôte, cod au gratin, entrecôte with a walnut and shallot sauce (!), duck confit, some rather craptastic ravioli, an Algerian feast, the lack of a table at Chez Robert et Louise and therefore more pizza Marais.
What follows are some visual highlights, unfortunately smelloscreens and replicators have not been invented yet.
Ohhhh the Algerian feast. This happened al fresco on a terrace on the 9th floor of a building in Vincennes, with the Château, the Bois, a rather notable monkey habitat, the entire city of Paris, and the Eiffel Tower all within view. On top of the bed of couscous was lamb and beef meatballs, artichokes, and peas. For the first plate, we had exceptionally fresh tabouli. For dessert, sweet mint tea and amazing little cakelets of fig, cake, honey and rosewater. It was stunning. Afterwards, I talked a bit to the woman who made it about her process, as much as I could ask from my very patient Dutch French to English translators, which resulted in an entirely new perspective on artichokes.
Last night was rather adventurous. Last Monday night, we went to Chez Robert et Louise, and it was closed. Then, a few nights back, some of us went out and had some quite exceptional draft Edelweiss beer. So, the natural thing to do on our last night in Paris was to try to go to Robert et Louise and then have some of this exceptionally fresh beer. When we walked into Robert et Louise, they kind of laughed us out because we were sans reservation. So we went to the bar in the next block for some Edelweiss, and while there, decided to go and try to get a reservation for later in the evening. I went back, by this time having established rapport with the guy. He told me to go to a certain bar and wait for a call at 8:45, which never came. So at 9, we had the possibility of waiting, or sitting at the bar, and at that point, we were not really in the mood for sitting at the bar, so we went and got pizza instead. However. On my next trip to Paris, I will most certainly call and make a reservation and eat at this restaurant, because it seemed absolutely amazing, and it is a definite hole in the wall sort of place where you just get the special and deal.
In between the quiche and dinner, I had Berthillon ice cream on the Ile Saint-Louis that was exceptionally impressive. The flavors I paired were caramel and nougat, which did compliment each other well.
So, all of the amazing food this week was not more than 20euro per meal. Usually we would get the prix fixe menu, which always worked out well. Still, after this week, I am rather doomed to supermarket food for the rest of the trip. It was well worth it.
This evening, while returning to the internet place I'm using, I noticed a place that said "Quality Hamburger Restaurant." This was intriguing, especially because of the ubiquitous and unmentionable competitor across the street.
The result? A Sandwich Club Poulet avec Sauce Provençale, Frites Rustiches, and The Peche. Not bad for French fast food, and it sounds just as exciting as some of what I described above.
21 May 2007
I mentioned the museums we went to on Saturday in the previous post, but since I'm here to visit museums, I want to discuss them more fully separately.
The Institut du Monde Arabe is in a building designed by Jean Nouvel, who is an amazing architect who has done other museums in Paris and is kind of a rival to other current celebritechts Frank Gehry and Renzo Piano. The side of the building facing the Seine is undulating, and the side facing like the Latin Quarter is flat. Since it faces the south, bright light is an issue, but Nouvel solved the problem by using gorgeous Mourcharaby windows with a photosensor so that the open and close automatically. Mourcharaby windows are I think traditional to the Arab world, and they look and work like the aperture on a SLR camera. Gorgeous. The collection presented was amazing, from the Phonecians to present, but all highlights and all presented aesthetically more than contextually. The interesting part was seeing the shift from pre-622 to post-622, because the representation of people kind of stops. The bookshop was great, and I totally played into the Orientalist vibe, which rather unfairly exoticises the peoples and cultures of the Arab world, but is very in tune with the West. Right before I left to come here, I watched The Battle of Algiers again, so I was in the mood to be pro-Arab world anyway. It was kind of in the wake of all of that that l'IMA was founded, to appease a malcontented minority in France with an institution. Not bad, for sure.
If l'IMA was a super positive experience, then my first visit to the Louvre was rather lukewarm. It was of course packed, which was expected, but we were also flying by stuff and missed most things. The highlight for me of what we saw was Veronese's Wedding at Cana, which is massively gigantic and a triumph of artistic achievement. It faces the Mona Lisa, so everyone misses it as they flock to the Mona Lisa, but Veronese trumps Da Vinci any day in my book, as Venetian colore does over Florentine disegno.
At the Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo, it was more interesting to watch people taking pictures of the statues than the statues were themselves. We also saw the large and famous 19th century works by David and Delacroix, which were cool also. I missed the Reubens room and I'd have loved to have seen the Apartments of Napoleon III. It's all kind of ok, because I know multiple visits are crucial and they will eventually happen.
Sunday morning, due to rain, we went to the Musée des Arts-et-Métiers because there was a chance that going to Versailles would be cancelled due to the crappy weather, which I will get to. Arts-et-Métiers was the coolest museum, as it began as a teaching collection for industrial design students from 1790 to some point in the future. The building itself was a Benedictine abbey finished in 1720, when it was the fashionable church for Parisian aristocrats. When the Revolution happened, the congregation no longer existed (because they were mostly all killed during the Reign of Terror), and the establishment of the atelier there was an act of the revolutionary government. The former chapel now houses a Foucault pendulum, and a gorgeous car and airplane gallery. The whole place is newly renovated, and it starts with the institution of standard weights and measurements, and moves from there. They have multiple early examples of arithmatic machines, slide rules, all kinds of stuff. The machines of the Industrial Revolution are shown, along with videos of how they work, which means looms and punch cards, like manual computers. That section ends up with carbon fibers, which was the most beautiful video, because it's very complex knitting in the round. They have models of buildings, how they are built, how cameras and printing presses and cameras are built...
The wierdest thing about being here is that everything is so familiar, because I've seen so many images of Paris that when I'm walking around aimlessly and I run into something famous, my thought response is "oh, so that's where that is." This is like a pilgrimage to the aura of the original, as a result.
The neighborhood where our hotel is located is called the Marais, and the hotel is right outside the Saint Paul Metro station. The area doesn't feel touristy, although we're still really in the middle of everything. We're a ten minute walk from Notre Dame, the Place de
Right before I left, I watched Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations Paris episode, and we passed one of the places where he ate on the way to a bar on Saturday night. It seemed so incredibly cool on the show, and it's a few blocks away so I'm hoping to go there sometime this week. The restaurants around have been great, and I think even with all of the walking, which has been considerable, I am gaining some weight.
The flight here was great. It was the typical cramped transatlantic flight, except it was on Air India and we had amazing food: lamb curry, free Kingfisher beer, real silverware and knives, and Bollywood movies for the in-flight entertainment. The price was so right next time I need to fly to Europe I think I'll look there first.
We got here Friday morning, and we had to wait a long time at the airport because the shuttle company doublebooked to maximize profits and we were were waiting around Charles de Gaulle for what seemed to be like an eternity, after having to wait before customs in a glass jetway (greenhouse effect) for a long time because someone had abandoned two bags at the luggage carousels which then created a bomb threat. We finally got to Paris, dropped our stuff off, and took off for Montmartre. Parishuttle.com is not necessarily recommended.
Sacré-Cœur was nice, although the iconography and decoration was a lot too nationalistic for my taste; too much church and state in one place at one time. We were there during vespers, which was beautiful sung in Latin and French.
We left there, walked down the mont and found a café, and hung out for a bit. Even with all of the tourists, there still are Montmartre personalities and artists out. After that, we went back to the area where the hotel is, got some pizza, and hung out here.
On Saturday, we went to Notre Dame, the Sainte-Chapelle and then the Institut du Monde Arabe, and then had time for lunch before the Louvre. A lot of the group went back to the hotel, but I walked from l'IMA through some of the Latin Quarter to the Louvre. On the way, I passed Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, but I didn't have the name of Don Giorgio's friend nor the time to visit -- it was closed anyway. My intention was to get market food, and what I got revolutionized my already broad concept of eggplant. Picture it: bottom layer, eggplant that has somehow carmelized, then moving up, some onions, then tomatoes, then cheese, all baked together. Amazing, and the perfect amount of it. From the same guy, I bought some lupini beans, which I am saving for a snack later. I also hit up some bookstores in the Place de Saint Michel, which is between the Seine and the Sorbonne.
To go backwards a little: Notre Dame was kind of eclectic, which is good because it is then continuously relevant, but Sainte-Chapelle was incredibly beautiful and so elegant. To state the obvious, there's a lot more Gothic here than there is classical Renaissance architecture, until the Napoleonic neoclassicism. It's rather unfamiliar to me, but of course it looks right and is the look of Paris.
So, Saturday evening, after the Louvre, we went back to the Marais to a restaurant called Le Marché. There, I had a rocket (fancy dandelion leaves, no?) and parmesan sandwich, entrecote et frites (beef and fries), and soupe de framboise (strawberry soup, like a dessert gazpacho).
Sunday lunch was fast food across the street from the Versailles-Rive Gauche train station: spinach and goat cheese quiche, and an apple tartlet. Dinner was at a place called Léon du Bruxelles, where the specialty is mussels. I tried a mussel for the first time, and I am happy I did not order a whole steamy pot of them, but it was not unpleasant. I had cod au gratin which came with a delightful iceberg lettuce salad-garnish, and crème brulée.
Breakfast is of course coffee and croissant.
Overall, Paris is definitely impressive, and I am not starving.
16 May 2007
2 t-shirts; one neutral, one black
2 longsleeves; black
2 nylon travel blouses; white and yellow
2 Dryfloa t-shirts; print
2 cotton blouses; print and fuscia
1 khaki skirt
1 pair hiking pants
2 linen pants; one gray full length, one navy capri
3 khaki pants; one green highwater, one mauve short, one green army khaki
1 silk dress: the single most expensive piece of clothing I've ever owned, but perfect for travel because of how it folds up to almost nothing and looks great
1 nylon rain jacket
1 cotton sweater
4 pairs ankle socks; three black, one white
2 scarves; 1 blue and black keffiyeh, 1 blue Indian gauze printed scarf
1 pair Merrell Siren Ventilator shoes
1 pair Birkenstock Gizeh sandals
- 1 quart clear plastic bag filled with liquid stuff because of security; I'll buy shampoo and soap there
- hair accoutrements
- Tylenol PM and Advil
- antibiotic for stupid ear infection
- Streetwise Maps; Paris, Vienna, Europe Rail Network
- StreetSmart: Paris (Two Paris maps, because one has the better Métro map, the other has a better street map)
- Berlitz Hungarian for Travelers phrase book (because I may end up in Budapest, and if I do, I don't want to end up like that Monty Python sketch and Hungarian is intimidating enough as it is, unless you also speak Suomi)
- Michelin Guide to Paris (a textbook for the class)
- Riesenthel folding tote bag
- Light My Fire spork
- Moleskine cahiers; black, unlined
- Pilot Precise V5 pens, black, extra fine
- small Nalgene
- Point It Traveler's Language Kit
- small umbrella
Inspired by this sort of article, which I read this winter, and though I concede it seems excessive, they're all essentials
- over 7gb of SD cards and two card readers
- Kodak EasyShare C875 digital camera
- iPod; iTalk microphone; iPhoto connector; charger adaptors
- Garmin eTrex Legend GPS receiver
- Dell Axim X51v with wireless keyboard
- Nokia 3310 Euro cellphone with SIM cards; United Mobile and TIM
- US cellphone; this will be dead weight, but helps at the airport
- universal plug adapter, without transformer because everything else has one already
- tiny adjustable camera tripod
- Energizer Lithium AA batteries
Everything is regulation carry on, according to size rules, the TSA, and my plan. There's not a lot of extra space, but it all fits in my 24" suitcase (less than 1900 cubic inches, and it will encourage me to stay organized and also to get rid of stuff if don't need it. Even this is part of the learning experience, and I'll try to keep reevaluating it as I go.