Sunday, August 28, 2016

My Head's Still In Paris, But My Feed Are Back Home In Anchorage

It took Captain Cook almost two years to sail from England to Alaska, though he didn't really have a map and he went via New Zealand.

This morning, we walked along the Seine and had breakfast in a sidewalk cafe off of the Champs-Élysées.

It was about 8:30am, still a 'cool' 73 or 74˚F after the previous day's high 90s weather.

We left Paris at 2:10pm.  Can you find Waldo?  Or in this case the Eiffel Tower?

Three hours later we'd landed in Reykjavik, Iceland, where it was a brisk 53˚F (12˚C)  And hour or so later we were leaving Iceland.

And soon Greenland was below us.  

A while later we were flying over the sea ice in the Beaufort Sea over far northern Canada.
[You can enlarge and focus any of these pictures by clicking on it)

The sea ice was right up against the land.  Look closely below and you can see a pretty massive and sharp cliff.

Based on the inflight route mapper and World Maps, I'm guessing this was Banks Island

A little while later, we were flying over the Yukon River.

And then past Denali, though the plane's computer map still called it Mt. McKinley.

We landed in Anchorage a little over ten hours after leaving Paris, and that included a change of planes in Reykjavik.

And although I'd been reading reports of rain and cold, when we walked over to the Thai Kitchen for dinner it was bright, sunny, and a warm 72 or 73˚F.

While this isn't as amazing as the Star Trek transporter, I'm sure Captain Cook would have had difficulty believing someone could go this far this fast.  Paris is still part of my reality, but I know it will fade soon.

Travel Thoughts As We Leave Paris

1.  Package tour or on your own?

With the exception of a few short trips where a package was a better deal than booking on one's own, I've never really been on a package tour.  As I think about the time I spent figuring what hotels and train and rental car to book and how and when, I can understand why people like package tours where all those decisions are made for you.

But when I've looked at package tours offered from various organizations - from alumni groups to Costco - the daily individual price (not including airfare) ranges from $200-$400 double.  That makes a hotel room around $200-600 per night.  Our hotels - not five stars, but not shabby either - averaged about $100 per night.  There were a lot of good deals on-line if you look a little.  Even if you make some mistakes, you're still way ahead.  The only surprise from my online shopping was the rental car out of Brussels.  I never saw anything about a €50 site fee.

It was also nice to go at our own pace, not a group's pace.  We linger or rush off as we pleased.

Tours do give you more opportunity to meet folks, but half our trip involved people we knew who live in Paris, Brussels, and Germany.  And we met a number of interesting people - though there were lots of people on the Metro I would have liked to talk to, but didn't think I should.

I was lucky to get a good start on traveling solo when I was a student in Germany.

I would say there were a number of times of indecision and some concern, but that only means we were pushing ourselves into unknown territory and learning.  For instance, I felt terrible about not being able to speak French and I tried a bit, but people preferred English.  And I wasn't sure in the cheese shop if I could get just a few slices, but it was no problem.  And waiters were helpful in the restaurants.  The Metro was easier to figure out than the buses, but the buses were well marked at the bus stops and on the buses.  It was easy to figure out what stops you were at.

2.  Paris has a great bicycle system - Velib.

I only used it once, because J would rather walk, but it looks great and lots of people were using the
bikes.  You can sign up for a day or a couple of days or a year.  It cost about $2 for a day.  There are stations everywhere.  You can check online for ones near where you are going or where you are and find out how many bikes are available or empty spaces (if you want to return one.)  You can ride for 30 minutes free, then then start charging you, I think it was €1 for the first hour and then it goes up.  The idea is to keep as many bikes in circulation as possible - not to take long rides.  But you could just find a new station and drop a bike off before 30 minutes and get another.

The map shows where there are bike stations - these are staggeringly close together.

3.  Food

Seems a little higher than the US, but it was also really good.  Basics, like French bread and yogurt and packaged salads of all kinds, even sandwiches are available everywhere - there are restaurants and bakeries wherever you look.  And little markets.  And sidewalk restaurants have fixed price lunches and dinners.  Some were very reasonable, others a little pricier.

Here's the menu - the formula is €12.50 about $14.   You could choose a salad and the main plate or a dessert with the main plate.

Here's the melon salad.

And the au gratin fish with vegies.  It was sort of lasagna like and really good.

Our plane is now boarding for Reykjavik, so I'll post this now.  Really sorry to leave, but looking forward to the much cooler weather of Anchorage later.  

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Friday In Paris

The Musée Cluny was recommended by a friend, but the idea of rooms and rooms of stuff from the middle ages just wasn't that appealing.  But J wanted to go and it opens an hour earlier than most other museums.

First we stopped for some breakfast in Luxembourg Park.   At 9:30 am the temperature was still in the 70s F, so it was a good time to be in the park.  It later got into the high 90s F.

Then walked the short way from there to the Cluny.

Well, let me say, a museum of the middle ages, housed in a building built in the middle ages turned out to be much better than I expected.

Here we are walking down into the lowest level which was built in Roman times and was a bath.

[Most of these pictures enlarge and focus if you click on them.]

This week I'm reminded anew, that just because people lived 500 or 1000 years ago, doesn't mean they weren't just as involved and aware of their world as we are of ours.  And even more obviously they were talented in many ways.

We then walked over to the Notre Dame, but it had a line to get in so we passed it up.  One of the benefits of the museum passes is supposed to be skipping the lines.  But nothing we went to had a very big line (Notre Dame is free;  the Eiffel Tower did have a line, but it isn't covered by the Museum pass).  I posted yesterday about the Lebanese food place we stopped at.

We made it to the Pompidou Center.  This has 'modern' and 'contemporary' floors.  The modern goes back to the beginning of the 20th Century.  The contemporary seems to be the last 20 or 30 years or so.

My mind is filled with so many thoughts from the last two days that this post is just a glimpse while I try to make sense of everything.  From the Pompidou, first a view.

You can see Sacre Couer on the top of the hill on the right.  The wide angle lens makes it possible to get a lot more into the picture, but it makes things look further away than they actually are.  (I went to look for the view I took from Sacre Couer, but it didn't get posted.)

And from the 'modern' collection, here's part of a Matisse from 1910 - young girl with a black cat.   There were some great works there, but I was familiar with a lot of the painters (my year as a student in Germany in the mid 60s gave me a great art education), and I wanted to see the new stuff.  Here's a little from the contemporary floor.

I wasn't impressed with the two short films that looped in the theater, but it was a great place to catch a short nap.  Dark, relatively quiet, and big, soft sofa like seats.  A few winks was exactly what we needed to carry on.  The description talked about the symbolism of the films, but I still was unimpressed.

This is a close up from a larger canvas by Cheikh Ndaiye  - the one in the middle below.

The description says they are from 2011 and that the artist is interested in urban transformations.
"These former cinemas, built shortly after the countries of Africa gained their independence, consist of a hybrid architecture influenced by the international modernism that arose from colonization.  The re-appropriation of these buildings is observed by the artist with a degree [of] 'euphoric' objectivity [oblique angles, Technicolor skies] strangely reminiscent of freeze frames."

This picture particularly caught my fancy - by Edgar Arceneaux.  Detroit Monolith:  It's Full Of Holes, 2011.

This is a closeup of a very large drawing by Iris Levasseur, Amnesia FB, 2013.  From the description:
"Here, it is about a medieval character dressed in a current outfit:  a recumbent statue in jeans and sneakers."
 Maybe he's one of the people in the stained glass from the Cluny museum transformed so he can fit into the Pompidou's more modern and contemporary collection.  Here's the first English article I could find on Levasseur.  And here she talks in a short video (in French).

Oh, there so much more, but not now.  Off a few blocks more to the Museum of Art and History of Judaism. 

The building was once owned by a wealthy French Jew.  This is the courtyard you cross after going through security.  All the museums we've been to have someone look into your bag.  Some wand you or have you go through a detector of some sort.  This museum had the tightest security screen.  You went into a little glass booth.  There were two soldiers with machine guns in the corner to the right (not on the picture.)  Presumably there are others unseen.  The courtyard would make it harder to break in I assume.  An interesting note is that the wall on the left is just a facade to give more symmetry.

I was struck by this sculpture by Chana Orloff called Le peintre juif.  It's from 1920.  Just look at the great angles and how everything flows just right.

These were all from yesterday.  Today was another busy day and my mind is racing about how to get it into a post.  Maybe it will be several posts.  But don't hold your breath.  We head out to the airport tomorrow and head back to Anchorage with a stop to change planes in Reykjavik.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Great Tabouleh. Even Greater Hospitality at Au Vieux Cedre

We were wandering down the street from the Musée Cluny to the Louvre when we came across this Lebanese restaurant.  I asked for some tabouleh and he put it into a big bowl for us to share.

But then he came over with some pita and dips - hummus, baba ganoush, and I'm not sure what the third one was.  Next he brought us cups of cold water. (It was in the nineties - high 30s C - today.)

By this time I'd learned that the man who was bringing such pleasure into our chance meal was named Moseafa, and like the restaurant, he's Lebanese, working for his uncle.  When I went to pay, he wouldn't take payment for anything more than the original tabouleh.  

I forgot to mention the baklava and another sweet as well as a falafel that he brought over for us to taste.

It's not a big place, but the food was great and the hospitality amazing.

Au Vieux Cédre.

On Rue Saint-Jacques..

Here's what it looks like from outside.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Selfie With Mona And Other ParisMuseum Highlights

We had comfortable weather last week in Paris, but now that we're back it's hot. My computer says it's 38 C (100 F) now at 7:30 pm.  We decided the best place to be was inside the air conditioned museums.  So we got museum passes and we're using them.

We began the day at the Rodin museum and garden.  I haven't taken Rodin as seriously as I should have.  I'm guessing that the thinker is so well known it's become a cliche.  But it was really stunning. But you've seen it so I'll show another picture from the Burghers of Calais.

The garden was still a comfy temperature when it opened at 10am and it had a nice little restaurant.

Wandered the sculpture garden enjoying the garden as well as the sculptures scattered in amongst the trees and flowers.  There was one white hydrangea  still in bloom.

From there we walked to the Orsay.

The Impressionists are the big draw here and there up on the top.  But the post-Impressionists were much more exciting for me.  There were lots of people there, but it wasn't horrible.

I was also taken by an exhibit on an artist I hadn't heard of.  Not pictures were allowed in that exhibit so I'm just showing you the poster.

His works cover a wide variety of styles and his life was fascinating.

From Musee Orsay:
"To date, France has never devoted a solo exhibition to Charles Gleyre. Yet he was a major figure in academy painting in Paris in the mid-nineteenth century. For a long time, given the smooth perfection of his facture and his subject matter, mostly taken from mythology, he was taken for a cold, conventional esthete blind to the revolutions of his time. However, research into the history of art draws attention to the important role played by his studio, which gave us artists like Jean-Léon Gérôme que Claude Monet and Fréderic Bazille. Also, fresh interpretations of his work, including first and foremost the psychoanalytical analysis published by Michel Thevoz in 1980, have uncovered the fascinating contradictions of both the artist and his work. Placed under the sign of spleen and the ideal, the exhibition is an opportunity, through the major loan from the Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts in Lausanne, to delight once more in the illusions of academicism."

Here's something on Gleyre's life and another piece on his teaching methods.  And here's a review of the exhibit with one of his most famous pictures.

The Orangeries and Louvre, both on the museum pass, were just across the Seine from the Orsay, so . . .

There are two rooms like this one with Monet water lilies. They were painted especially for these rooms and took 12 years.  There is something about seeing art that is so glorified that takes away some of the power for me.  I couldn't help wondering how many people in these rooms would think these were great pieces of art if they weren't displayed this way and if they had never heard of Monet before got to the museum.

But there were other works that I did find sticking.  One particularly, because this artist really hadn't
registered in my brain before.  Chaim Soutine.   From The Art Story:
"As an expatriate Russian Jew living within Paris, with few friends beyond fellow artist Amedeo Modigliani, Soutine interpreted common themes with the eye of an outsider, further enhancing his unique perspective regarding his human subjects, landscapes, and still lifes and lending them a particular vanitas and poignancy. A prototypical wild artist, Soutine's temper and depression are both well documented and were poured into the paint he layered on the canvas. Soutine's body of work transcends the movements that dominated the avant-garde during his lifetime, expressing a clear personal and artistic vision that both looks back at historic themes as well as toward future modernist styles."

This was supposed to be a brief post so I could take a nap before we go out to dinner.  And this  has only a few of the 150 pictures I took.  So let's get this done.  Last stop was the Louvre.  There probably is no good way to visit the Louvre.  We figured this was a scouting foray, just to get ourselves oriented and we only spent about 90 minutes there.  They have lots of Greeks.

And signs direct you to Venus de Milo  and the Mona Lisa,  Neither were as mobbed as i had been led to expect.  Here's the crowd with Mona, including the woman taking the selfie.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Paris Trash, Night Eiffel

We spent time with an nonagenarian relative in Brussels than drove to a little German town where old friends live.  There was a certain poignance hanging over the visits, every thinking, this may be the last time we see each other.

We're back in Paris in a hotel in a totally different part of town - not far from the Eiffel Tower.  It's hot.  It said 89˚F when we arrived this evening.  Lots of people whee

The tower looks much better at night.

And there's a long food court sort of area.

And the tower pokes up above the buildings as you walk the streets.

The garbage gets picked at night as well.  My eyes are shutting so I'll shut down now.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Brussels Walls - Graffiti and Green

This is a quick post as we get ready to visit friends across the Belgium border into Germany.  We just spent two wonderful days with my 90+ cousin (my father's first cousin).  More on that later, but we need to go soon.  We're driving this part of the trip and I have to pick up the car.

But here are some walls - mostly in the short five minute walk between our hotel and my cousin's apartment.  I've saved the most impressive wall for the very end below.

These first three are one long mural that goes around the corner.  It starts on the right and if you look carefully, the yellow on the left on the first one connects to the yellow on the right of the second.

And then it goes around the corner.

Here's one with lush green vines.

And I'm guessing - didn't get to check with anyone - this one with the peeling paint is what you get when you pull the vines off.  But it just may be old paint.

These vines were hanging on the wires too.

Less ambitious graffiti.

The kids playing in front of the grocery below our hotel window.

And this one was much more serious.