Archive for September, 2007

September 11th 2007
Part Deux

Posted under Europe & France

Everything about Paris has been wonderful!  It’s our first stop and we’ve already discussed the possibility of never leaving.  What’s not to love?  Take your pick of the world-class museums, amazing food, the relaxed outdoor café culture, or the fact that French is one of the most beautifully spoken languages in the world, but we are enamored with Paris.  I especially love the countless patisseries that beckon to me from the street with their brightly lit display cases boldly advertising the special du jour through the windows.  Stepping inside I am overcome by the abundant decadence which takes form in croissants, chocolate éclairs, fruit tarts, cookies, and bushels of freshly-baked baguettes.


While we have enjoyed every moment thus far, we’ve been going non-stop for nearly a week.  The early excitement of the trip ahead, the novelty of unemployment, and the endless list of things to see in Paris have all created this urge within for us to pack as much as we can into each day.  We run from one Metro stop to the next and speed walk between museums and churches and cafés.  But we’ve seen all of our personal highlights- Musée du Louvre (3 times!), Musée d’Orsay, Eiffel tower, Montmartre and Sacre Coeur, Champs Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, Notre Dame and Ile de la Cite, Hotel des Invalides and the Dome Church, Place de la Bastille, Hotel de Ville, and too many beautiful churches to name.  After waking early and crashing early each day, we finally had our first night out in Paris.  We walked from the Marais district along the

Seine to the courtyards of the Louvre.  The tourists were gone, the ground within was completely dark and the façades of the surrounding buildings were softly lit with white lights.  A lone violin player straddled the two courtyards and the combination of his music and the greatness of this place created a mood that was both magical and romantic.  We left and caught the Metro to head across town to see the Eiffel tower after dark.  We’d seen it during the day on Saturday and it was swarming with Parisians and tourists alike, enjoying one of the nicest sunny days of the year.  We decided that we had to go to the top and see for ourselves what the city of lights has to offer.  The view from the top was awe-inspiring from every vantage point and thus far, a highlight of the trip.


Our busy days have been compounded by the necessity of switching hostels because neither of the two we have stayed in so far have had the additional availability we needed.  Our initial idea was to only reserve a night or two in a new hostel and then if we liked the place, we would request to stay longer.  When you’re lugging around 35-pound backpacks its nice being able to leave them in the room (locked to something sturdy, of course) and go exploring all day.  The first two nights at our hostel near Montmartre were fine, but certainly nothing special.  Given the option we probably would have stayed there for our entire Paris visit.  But we had to move and so we spent the past three nights at a low-budget hotel in the Parisian suburbs.  The room was bigger than the first but there was no shower curtain and it was a hike to the train station, so we’re not exactly sad to leave.  We haven’t been able to find accommodations at the last minute as easily as we would have liked so we’ve booked two more nights in Paris, and then the next five in Amsterdam but we still haven’t decided what we’re doing after the first two nights in Cairo.


And so, after spending the first five days rising early and walking until our feet could no longer carry us, we tried to slow down.   This is not a 7-day vacation from which we can return to our lives “back home” and recover during the ensuing work week.  This is our new life and we must make time to relax, learning to live, and rest, on the go.  We woke up later this morning, packed our bags and moved to our new hotel, and decided to spend a leisurely afternoon in the gardens of the Rodin Museum (where the statue of “The Thinker” is).  We peered through the hedges the other day into what looked like a beautiful spa-like courtyard and Tina insisted that we return.  Today, the sky was slightly overcast but it was warm enough to relax and read on wooden chaise lounges with the high walls of the garden keeping the wind at bay.  The setting was so tranquil with the freshly trimmed lawn embracing the tree-lined walkway and the beautifully manicured hedges framing the statues scattered throughout.  It was just what we needed today.

On a final note: I love subways!  I’ve ridden them in the U.S., in Hong Kong, and in Europe and they’re convenient, relatively cheap, and always on time.  Sure, they’re dirty, smelly and at times unbelievably complex and confusing and the Paris Metropolitan is no exception.  But once you get the hang of it, I can’t think of a better way to get around a big city.  We take the metro daily and have become very proficient at transferring from train to train while dodging busy business professionals, wide-eyed tourists and mothers with strollers.  I have a feeling we’ll miss this luxury in the Third World.


September 9th 2007
Bonjour! We are in Paris!

Posted under Europe & France

This city is so alive with its eclectic mix of art, architecture, and multiculturalism, all of historic significance. One has no choice but to dive right in and so, powered by adrenaline and cafe au lait, that’s exactly what we did!

We checked into our hostel, dropped our bags, and headed straight to Sacre Coeur. Started in 1875 and completed in 1914, the cathedral is located on a hilltop in Montmartre. The old stone walls are ominous and foreboding, however, the view of the city is marvelous and inside a luminous mosaic of Christ is the dominant feature.

Notre-Dame preface: My most vivid, though adolescent, reference to this famous monument is of course “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” and I couldn’t stop thinking of Quasimoto ringing those bells!

In reality, the churches (Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, St. Sulpice so far) are some of the most famous and beautiful in the world. They are breathtaking inside with their Heavenly domed ceilings, stained glass iconography, giant stone pillars, marble sculptures and murals depicting the life of Christ and stories from the Bible. The architecture in Paris is thus far unmatched by any that we have ever seen. Each cathedral has a main altar in the middle and there are smaller individual chapels around the inside perimeter that each have their own pious persona. Candles are alight all throughout the nave and in the individual chapels. Each has a grandiose pipe organ which, with a choral accompaniment, likely makes for an unforgettable Christmas service.

Musee du Louvre: Let me preface this next excerpt by saying that I am a total museum fanatic! When I check out a new town, the first thing I want to know is what kind of museums it has. This bias is important to note when I say, without hesitation, that every person should make it a priority to experience the Louvre at least once in his/her life. Once a fortress, the U-shaped building is lined with sculptures and the famed glass pyramid at the main entrance is a fine, if unexpected, contrast to the squared building. We arrived early and made a beeline for the Mona Lisa, rushing past brilliant works of art on both sides of the long corridors. The draw of the Mona Lisa has more to do with its fame than with the painting itself but nonetheless, a crowd of early-risers had already congregated around it. After snapping the required photos, we worked our way casually through the Pavillion Denon, which houses many of the awe-inspiring Renaissance oil paintings (my favorite) and sculptures from France, Italy and Spain. For anyone who has the slightest interest in the Christian faith, these oils are not only humbling for their artistic magnificence but they also bring to life the scriptures read during a lifetime of Sunday liturgies. (As a side note, I must confess that I am enamored with the perky but voluptuous female subjects of the Renaissance and am anxiously awaiting the day when that body-type is back in vogue. Until then, I’ll just keep turning down that second “croissant du chocolat”). Also unforgettable are the marble sculptures. I read The Agony and the Ecstasy some months ago and was intrigued by Michelangelo’s methods of studying corpses to learn the musculature of the human body. With that in mind, I studied these incredible carved marbles with an eye for muscle tone and curvature. The definition of each curling lock of hair, the torsos so exquisitely arched and curved that you think they are going to heave with breath; they are simply astounding! The art and architecture of the building itself are nearly as marvelous as the works inside. The brilliant, high ceilings are laced with murals with incorporated sculpture and, if you don’t spend a few moments admiring these masterpieces above, then you have done yourself a disservice. We have not even scratched the surface of the Louvre; we must DEFINITELY go back again soon!


September 4th 2007
And…they’re off!

Posted under U.S.

First stop: Boston!  We were ecstatic about seeing Mark and meeting Meredith and Boston/Rhode Island has turned out to be an appropriate first step in our adventure: a full immersion in American history and culture. 

“Waterfire” (a Providence summer tradition):  We walked from Meredith’s place into downtown Providence around 8:00pm and the narrow canal (a.k.a. Providence River) was lined with spectators, gazing at the burning log fires over the water.   Gondolas glided along the river and one gondola full of volunteers dedicatedly cruised from one end to the other, adding logs to all of the fires.  It was a beautiful community event – lots of families enjoying the outdoors.    We enjoyed an amazing dinner at Nuovo: cool, slippery, local oysters, braised beef spare ribs in a rich, succulent dark sauce, lobster…and a big, juicy Markham Merlot which complemented the meat perfectly.  Magnifique! 

Sunday was all about the boat.  Narraganset Bay is breathtakingly beautiful.  There is a shade of blue that is specific to the Atlantic Ocean: maritime blue, I’m calling it.  The feeling is not of surf boards and beach bums but rather of surly seamen and preppy argyle and plaid-donned Rhodies.  We spent a cloudless, breezy day wakeboarding, skiing, napping on the bow, and snacking on chilled watermelon and meatball sandwiches (compliments of Meredith’s mom).  We stopped for an early dinner in Newport at a favorite spot of Mer and Mark’s called Scales & Shells.  Lobster Fra Diablo was a gargantuan cast iron skilled filled with every variety of the freshest shellfish over pasta in a spicy marinara sauce.  Four of us shared a Fra Diablo for two, washed it down with tart, salty margaritas, and we all left fat and happy.

The next morning, Mer had to work so the three musketeers jumped on a 45-minute train ride to Boston.  Mark’s place is strategically located in the bustling South End, where he can justify not having a scrap of food in his fridge because everything you could possibly want is available right downstairs.  Humping our backpacks up the two steep flights of stairs to his top floor digs was equivalent to about 10 minutes of squats.  We are determined to lighten our packs!    Aaron was psyched to see a game at Fenway and we secured last-minute tickets outside the stadium after some intense negotiations.  Our efforts were rewarded as we enjoyed a great night at the ballpark.  Fenway is a relatively small stadium so it has a kind of hometown feel.  We aren’t huge Red Sox fans or even huge baseball fans in general but, for those few hours, we felt like Bostonians cheering on our home team. 

The Boston Duck Tour: For a mere $27 per person, you can spend an hour and a half of your life riding around Boston in an amphibious vehicle (the Duck) that drives like a car but also drives right into the water like a boat.  There are no windows and plenty of opportunities to “quack” in unison at everyone around town. 

We celebrated our third wedding anniversary today with dinner in the North End, famous for it’s Italian cuisine.  Fate lead us to a little place called Bacco, where we feasted and drank too much red wine.   After a quick night cap at the Oak Room, we are back at Mark’s place.  And tomorrow…Paris!


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