Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Back in Seattle

Sunday, January 18th, 2009 by Paul

Airports sometimes seem to be worlds unto themselves: not quite a part of their worldly location, looking more like other airports than the cities or countries they inhabit. All duty free shops look the same, regardless of what language the signs are in.

In this way airports provide the liminal experience between vacation and work, or a life in one city to another. By the time we had sat down at Charles de Gaulle airport, I felt I had already left France. It would not be long before we would in the below-freezing temperatures of Chicago and then to the foggy, gray skies of Seattle.

So far, the culture shock has been minimal. US dollars looked a bit odd at first, and I still sometimes think I need to say “bonjour” when I enter a store or café, or say “au revoir, bon journée” when I leave.

While such things aren’t necessary here, I did have my reintroduction to the peculiar brand of Seattle politeness as I was waiting for the bus. The bus approached the stop and opened its door. No one was getting off the bus, but everyone waiting paused for moment, a couple feet away, wondering who would be the first to board.

I didn’t hesitate: I walked right in and was the first person on.

Photos on Flickr

Sunday, December 7th, 2008 by Paul

Parma

With the previous week very full with work and French class, at last we had yesterday to enjoy Paris and catch up on things. For instance, I finally had some time to download and edit some of the photos from our London and Parma trips. The Parma set includes some great photos of Castell’Arquato, the hillside village near the city, while the London set is mostly made up of photos from the Hyde Park Christmas Market.

That concoction that I’m holding in a couple of the London pictures? When you’re at a Christmas Market, you’re hungry, and you need to get the taste of some extraordinarily bad mulled wine out of your mouth, what better remedy than the flourescent red ketchup sauce of currywurst?

From Italy to London

Sunday, November 30th, 2008 by misty

Last week we visited Parma Italy and enjoyed the great hospitality of Andrea, Cristina, and Gaia, who guided us through the old city walls, the nearby Castell’Arquato, and welcomed us into their home for amazing dinners and fun games. I certainly learned how to play better Uno from Gaia.

Paul and I agreed we’ve never had a trip quite like this one, and it will always be one of my favorites. Over wonderful prosciutto, parma ham, and coffees, we discussed the fortunes and pitfalls of Information Architecture. Paul has been working on various storylines featuring Information Architects saving the world, young wizards à la Harry Potter using IA to get out of trouble and thwart evil, and many more I can’t remember but eagerly await their publication.

With only two days in Paris, we both attended the party of our final French class of November, and left for London. The Eurostar is amazing, fast, easy and not expensive. We arrived and dived right into the heart of Leicester Square (after a rest and healthy serving of Fish and Chips.) England starts its Christmas shopping season early, no reprieve of Thanksgiving or Black Friday here, so we struggled through crowds of shoppers, theater goers, and hip young Brits drinking the evening away. We didn’t see any evidence of binging, though, it seemed most people only wanted to get out of the cold.

And it was so, so cold. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the gastopub/restaurant Abingdon Saturday night, putting to rest any ideas about the state of good food in London. Sunday, we strolled the insanely crowded Portobello Market in Notting Hill with a fellow Seattlite, Rachel Hynes. Hearing about Rachel’s graduate school program, her feelings on the state and future of theater, and how she is engaging in London’s theater scene was very heartening. We can’t wait to see her show at Northwest New Works come next summer.

After the market, Paul and I walked the length of Kensington Gardens to the Hyde Park Christmas Fair, a truly insane and colorful collection of amusement park rides, beer and sausages stands, and german market stalls. All the park was empty, trees unleaved, fog nestled low, but the fair was pulsing and writhing with overbundled kids and parents passing from one stand, ride, sausage, and beer to the next. Curried bratwurst, by the way, should be avoided as well as the mulled wine.

The dark path back returned us to Kensington Church Street, more pubs, cold, and winter shoppers. We found another sleek gastro pub, watched one of the five football matches of the day, and topped off the night by seeing Quantum of Solace in our premier seats. I say it was just fine, Paul says thumbs down. And at $26 dollars a seat, who can blame him?

Saint-Malo and Le Mont-Saint-Michel

Thursday, November 20th, 2008 by Paul

St-MaloThe walled city of Saint-Malo, in the French region of Bretagne, was once home to privateers, pirates, and the French writer Chateaubriand. The hotel in which we stayed was once the mansion where he was born.

Today, Saint-Malo is a great place to walk along the beach or watch the ocean atop the ramparts that surround the inner city. After that you can pop into a café for moules frites or a galette, a type of savory crèpe made from buckwheat flour.

St-Malo

It’s also a great place to get a plateau de fruits de mer. To give you a sense of this dish, imagine taking a boat into the ocean nearby, letting out a net, and pulling up whatever living thing you found, then placing that onto a multi-tiered platter. What you get a huge pile of oysters, langoustines, pink shrimp, grey shrimp, multiple types of sea snails, clams, some lemon and mustard sauce on the side, set into piles of kelp and topped with a whole crab.

We managed to finish most of it, although I don’t think I would consider sea snails “every day” fare.

The next day we took a bus Le Mont-Saint-Michel.

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Bayeux

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008 by Paul

Over the past couple weekends Misty and I have been leaving the confines of Paris to explore the country. The first place we went was the quiet town of Bayeux in Normandy.

Bayeux

Normandy wasn’t always quiet, of course, and many Americans don’t think of Normandy without considering the Allied invasion that marked a pivotal point of World War II. Bayeux is one of the few towns around that area that survived the bombings mostly intact, and now counts itself as a major jumping-off point for tourists wanting to see those historic beaches for themselves. Not that there were really that many in the off-season:

Bayeux

Bayeux is also home to another piece of history, the magnificent Bayeux Tapestry. It was created in 1077 to depict the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings. This battle, occurring during the greater part of October 14th, 1066, marked the point when William of Normandy (also known as William the Bastard), defeated Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, and henceforth became better known to us as William the Conqueror.

If you’re not a fan of history, then perhaps this all seems a bit blasé to you. I admit that, two years ago, I couldn’t tell you when the Battle of Hastings occurred — I even lost a pub quiz because of this very question. I suspect many Americans couldn’t do the same; that said, its effect on the history of England and the English language is difficult to understate. There are very few times when the direction of history changes so monumentally, and in such a way that makes for a good story.

The tapestry is wonderful piece of art and a wonderful story. It’s the story of the death of the previous English king, Edward the Confessor; the difficult relationship between William and Harold, two men with enormous ambitions; a cameo appearance by Halley’s Comet; the building of the armada that took William’s invasion force across the channel; the burning of peasant villages and a women and child fleeing the fire; finally, the battle depicted in absolute gory detail, complete with images of decapitated soldiers, both men and horses lying dead, the field flowing with blood.

Unfortunately no pictures could be taken of it, so you’ll have to content yourselves with the pictures on the Wikipedia page.

We also visited the Bayeux Cathedral, where Harold made his oath to support William in his claim to the throne of England, the breaking of which lead to the invasion (or so the tapestry says):

Bayeux Cathedral
Bayeux Cathedral

We were only there for a day so we couldn’t go to the Normandy beaches. We did drink some good Calvados, a yummy apple brandy named for the region.

I’m slowly trying to catch up with our travels — expect another post about our weekend in Brittany!

Balloon Dogs and Bunnies at Versailles

Monday, October 27th, 2008 by Paul

There really isn’t a good way to introduce or describe the Palace of Versailles. You’ve probably seen it either in person or in pictures, and if not, there aren’t very many words that can be used to describe the place. It was originally built by Louis XIII as a hunting lodge. When Louis XIV wanted somewhere to escape the rabble of the Paris mobs, he turned the modest château into a palace of fantastically colossal scale. It’s hardly believable to walk around the place, to imagine the wealth, the power, and the hubris of the person who conceived it, the same hubris that would eventually bring down the entire monarchy.

Today the rabble of tourist mobs flock to Versailles to see what life was like for the Sun King. We went to see another spectacle of fantastically colossal scale:
Balloon Flower (Yellow)

I missed the Jeff Koons exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, so I was excited to see his work at Versailles.

Balloon Dog (Magenta)

Michael Jackson and Bubbles

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Impromptu walking tour (sans photos)

Friday, October 17th, 2008 by Paul

It’s been such a nice day out I decided to go on a quick walk around town. It’s been our third day in Paris and I haven’t even seen the Eiffel Tower yet, so I figure I should leave the residential confines of the 11th arrondissement and see some of the more touristed streets.

I set out walking down rue du Faubourg St. Antoine, a large street populated mostly by discount clothing stores. From there I crossed Place de la Bastille. As you might guess, Place de la Bastille is the former site of the infamous prison, where angry mobs made their way up the rue du Faubourg St. Antoine and stormed the place, eventually bringing down the French monarchy. Now it’s little more than a huge traffic circle and home to the Opéra Bastille.

From there I went along the cramped, tourist-lined streets of Le Marais. It’s named after the swamp that was drained to make the neighborhood, and now home to the city’s hot nightlife and gay culture. Oh, and also Orthodox Jews on the rue des Rosiers.

I wandered into the Place des Vosges, the oldest public park in Paris. In my opinion, it’s one of the prettiest places in this city, particularly on a nice autumn day like today. I decided I’d like to take a picture to show everyone.

Here’s where this post became sans photos. My phone’s camera decided to stop working. This is the second time it’s happened, so perhaps I’ll start looking for a new phone with a properly working camera. In any case, feel free to look at the Wikipedia page photos, and imagine the park full of Parisians and tourists enjoying the park and the weather. Or, if you prefer, imagine Ernest Hemingway shooting pigeons for food, which is something he liked to do when he lived here.

Next came the Rue de Rivoli, a quick jaunt past the Hôtel de Ville, and finally the banks of the Seine. At that point I decided the number of people were getting the better of me, and I headed into the Metro and back to home.

I never did see the Eiffel Tower.

On rue Faidherbe

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008 by Paul

After an eight hour flight from O’Hare, an hour to get our bags and get through the airport, another hour on the train, ending with a crazy taxi ride from Gare du Nord, we finally arrived at our apartment in the 11th arrondisement in Paris:

First night in the apartment

Hunger won out over exhaustion and we managed to stumble into a local café. Misty had un hamburger, mainly because we didn’t realize it had become so difficult to find a ham sandwich in Paris these days. I had a filet of a fish whose French name I didn’t recognize, but which turned out to be pollock. Washing those down with some wine, we went back to the apartment and had a nap.

It’s about 9:30 in the evening here: a little after dinner time. The cars are driving by on the street and Jamie Oliver is in French translation on the television. So far, I’m surprised as how comfortable I’ve been this entire day. The months of language preparation seem to be bearing fruit. We’ll see how the coming days treat us.

The Last Days

Sunday, October 12th, 2008 by Paul

It’s been a gorgeous day here:

Last Days in America

Of course this isn’t Paris — and to be honest it’s a bit odd to be walking here, in Arlington Heights, Illinois, days before we’re set to leave American shores for the continental hubbub of Paris.

Just a few days before we were in downtown Chicago. Days before that I was in Seattle, petting our rabbits and teaching our friend and housesitter to give our rabbits their medicine. It’s been a lot of change, mostly taken in stride, counting the days until our flight takes off.

We’re all packed and ready, so mostly we’re just working, relaxing, and spending time with family. We’re both very excited. I expect the days after our arrival to be filled with frantic trips to buy things we forgot and to get things set up for our three month sojourn.

Until that time comes, I’m enjoying the sun.