Friday, April 30, 2010

WW2 Tour Pt. 2: Normandy Cont.

Our second day in Normandy wasn't quite as action-packed as our first. We started off by going back to the American Cemetery in Normandy for me to lay out the flowers I'd bought the day before. Since we sort of stumbled upon the cemetery without trying, I'd left the flowers I'd bought in the car and we never made it back that afternoon. So we made a quick trip back to Colleville-sur-Mer for me to pay tribute to the soldiers there. I put a white rose next to the first Texas soldier I found and then put the rest on the unmarked graves for those missing in action or never identified.

After the cemetery we headed to a couple sites I'd found the night before that are relatively unknown. Our first stop was Longues-sur-Mer, to the East of Juno beach (far East of Omaha beach). Longues-sur-Mer was where the Germans had placed a number of huge anti-naval guns that we discovered where, with the exception of one hit by an American shell, where remarkably well-preserved. It was a very wide-open and beautiful landscape, but there was an annoying amount of French youth eating lunch and hanging out on the guns and running around the pillboxes.

Our last stop in Normandy was the seaside village of Arromanches, where the other temporary harbor was built to bring in troops and supplies in the weeks and months after the initial invasion. Unlike in Vierville-sur-Mer, however, the harbor at Arromanches survived and parts are relatively still intact today. We drove down to the waterfront and just walked their seawall for a few minutes. You can still see many of the sunken vessels that the engineers used to stop the breakwaters and establish a relatively calm harbor.

After Arromanches, we got in the car and headed for Dunkirk, the city on the French/Belgian border that was where 320,000 French and British troops were evacuated from when the Germans encircled them. However, Dunkirk was not the sleepy village that all of our other siteseeing places had been, and without GPS or knowledge of the sites in Dunkirk we were forced to keep on going. We continued all the way to Brussels and checked into our hotel. To end the evening, we just got a good Belgian restaurant recommendation and then had a drink at some famous pub bar that features a couple hundred beers on tap.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

WW2 Tour Pt. 1: Normandy

Bob drove in from Munich on Wednesday to pick up me and my things from Rue Quincampoix. We loaded all of my belongings and plowed out of town – without a GPS or map, mind you – toward Normandy. We checked into a little hotel in Bayeux that night around midnight and got ready for our four-day World War II history tour that would take us across four countries in just as many days.

The first morning, we drove out of Bayeux and headed toward Colleville-sur-Mer, the Eastern edge of Omaha beach. We found a place to park and just started wandering the beach until we started seeing the Nazi pillboxes on the bluffs and cliffs above us. We stuck close to the water, though, until we saw a decent walking path that led up the beach and to the bluffs. Once we were at the top of the bluffs, we were astonished at how far out from the landing sites these pillboxes were. When we were standing there, the ocean was at high tide and there still would have been a good 200-300 yards for the Allied troops to cover, up-hill, through obstacles, and under constant fire. However, we landed during low tide and there would have been anywhere between 200 and 400 extra yardage to cover. How anyone made it off that beach alive was completely mind-boggling. I had expected to see some of the x-shaped landing craft obstacles still stuck into the beach, so was a little bit disappointed in the absence of those things, but it was quickly overshadowed by the feeling I got when we headed into the cemetery immediately behind us.

The American Cemetery at Normandy in Colleville-sur-Mer is right off of Omaha beach at the top of the bluffs. It holds over 9,000 graves of Americans that died on D day and shortly thereafter, and is absolutely breathtaking to behold. The site is meticulously groomed, and all 9,000+ graves are in exact line with one another. All are either a Latin cross or Star of David cut from the same pristine white marble. We spent about an hour walking the grounds and traversing the lawns just looking at all the names. There were a significant amount of graves just marked “Here lies in honored glory; a comrade in arms; known only to God.” At the front of the site was a large memorial with some pretty detailed maps of the Allied Expeditionary Force’s operations in Normandy, Northern France, and beyond. After checking pretty much the entire site out, we walked back down to the beach toward our car, stopping at the German pillboxes we’d passed before on our way. These ones were primarily for longer-ranch anti-infantry guns that were aimed down toward Omaha beach from the Eastern endpoint of the sector.

After the cemetery, we drove along to coast to Vierville-sur-Mer, the Western edge of Omaha beach. We went down to the water where the temporary Mulberry harbor was constructed to accommodate 1.5 million men and equipment that passed through Normandy’s beaches in the 7 weeks prior to the invasion. A big hunk of the pier was still lodged against the sea wall. We explored a few of the German pillboxes along the shore and then had lunch at a little restaurant there in town. From Vierville-sur-Mer, we drove about 20 minutes West to Sainte-Mère Eglise, the town where the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions parachuted into in the early morning hours of D day. In the early morning hours of June 6, one of the biggest houses in the town caught fire, so the entire sky was illuminated while the paratroopers were sailing in and a good majority of them were gunned down before they could even hit the ground. The church in Sainte-Mère Eglise still has a paratrooper mannequin hanging by his chute from the steeple to commemorate the American airborne soldier that got caught there and had to play dead for several hours to avoid being shot by the Germans. We went to the Airborne Museum there in the town and then headed back toward Bayeux.

We stopped at Pointe du Hoc, where we'd attempted to go after Colleville-sur-Mer but the rain made up keep on going to Sainte-Mere Eglise. Pointe du Hoc was where these big guns were placed that could swivel and hit Omaha beach to the East and Utah beach to the West. 225 Army Rangers were given the mission to rappel up the sheer cliff face using Batman-style rope launchers and then to disable the guns. It is also a miraculous piece of WW2 history because after the war we left everything exactly how it was post-invasion. The German pillboxes, gun emplacements, and even the bombing craters left by the Americans are still there. We explored there for awhile and then stopped by the German Cemetery en route back to Bayeux.

Back in Bayeux, we ate dinner at a little steak restaurant and then retired back to our hotel, where I sat down to write my seniors wills for the banquet I was going to attend in Austin first-thing getting back from Europe.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Auf Wiedersehen, Berlin!

We didn’t really have much on the agenda for Tuesday, as we had to get back to the airport for our flight back to Paris in the late afternoon. We u-bahned down to Wilhemstrasse to go to the Berlin Jewish Museum with our last couple hours. It was a very modern building – a lot of steel and glass – shaped like a lightning bolt (or potentially a broken Star of David) that tracked the history of Germany’s Jews since the diaspora. It was a good and informative end to a trip that focused so much on recent Jewish history and persecution.

After the Jewish museum we went back over to Kurfurensdamm in Charlottsburg and found a German restaurant for lunch. I had a pretty fantastic black forest cake there too. Not as good as the apple strudel in Prague, but good nonetheless. From there, we just headed back to the hostel, got our bags, and headed to Tegel for our trip home. The public bus to the airport was running late, and then got stuck in 5 o’clock Berlin traffic, so we once again barely made it to the airport in time. We ended up sprinting down to our terminal from the bus stop and checking in with just a few minutes to spare. A fitting way to end our trip of miracles and failures.

I got back to Paris and, after packing for a little bit, realized I didn’t want to spend my last few hours in Paris nostalgically in my apartment. I took my last bottle of chianti down to Pont Neuf on the Seine with a friend and spent the night that way.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Biking Through Berlin

We woke up and had breakfast at the hostel before heading out for our bike tour threw Berlin. We headed due south to Alexanderplatz, the sort of unofficial city center for Soviet East Berlin. Although the administrative things were closer to the East/West division, Alexanderplatz is really where the Communist architecture and such is most apparent. We did our bike tour through the Fat Tire Bike Company that my roommate Lauren works for in Paris. We got these big, goofy looking bikes and started heading south from Alexanderplatz. Our first stop was Marx-Engelsplatz, a big open area dedicated to founders of Communism Marx and Engel that the Soviets built in an East versus West city beautification program. We got a kick out of taking pictures with Marx and Engel highlighting our Ray Bans sunglasses, Burberry polos, and other designer items. We then headed across the Spree (the river that runs through Berlin) onto Museum Island. This place was interesting because it features – in addition to Berlin’s most famous museums – a massive open lawn where the Prussian royal palace for central Berlin used to be. However, it was so devastated after World War 2 that the Soviets decided to tear it down since it represented the old aristocracy that Communism despised so much. In its place they built a massive concrete cube that was a big civic union flush with restaurants and housing. When Berlin was reunited in 1989, the Western interests didn’t want a massive Communist cube building to be at the heart of reunification, so they used an asbestos problem as justification for ripping the whole thing down. At present, the site is a big empty lawn while the city of Berlin raises funds to rebuild the old Prussian palace from absolute scratch.

We then headed to Bebelsplatz, which is more in the center of East Berlin, and the site of the historic Nazi book burning in 1933. The plaza is bordered by St. Hedwig’s cathedral – for a long time the only Catholic church in Berlin, the law and judicial library, and Humboldt University, where the majority of Germany’s intellectuals – from the brothers Grimm to Einstein – studied. In the middle of the ground of the plaza is a memorial to the book burning, a sheet of glass looking down to a room of empty bookshelves, enough to hold the more than 20,000 books by un-Aryan authors burn that night. Next to the memorial is a plaque with a famous quote by Heinrich Heine from 1820: “Those that would burn books will soon burn people.” Ironically, Heine’s books were probably at the top of the pile since he was both Jewish and a homosexual.

We then rode to the French plaza, home to dual French and German protestant churches and the symphony hall where the Berliner Philharmoniker performs. Here we learned that Hitler saved all the sculpture in this square by having the statues removed shortly after coming to power in 1933. The statues were wrapped up and sunk in the various lakes around Berlin to protect them, and ended up being about the only thing truly original in this square when it was rebuilt. From there we rode to Checkpoint Charlie and checked out of the few remaining segments of the Berlin Wall, which was right next to the former Luftwaffe and later Stasi headquarters. By now we were straddling the former East / West division and so we biked up north through the former “no man’s land” and saw the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Brandenburg gate, and the Reichstag. We biked through the massive Tiergarten and had lunch in a beer garden there next to the zoo. We then made our way back to Alexanderplatz via the Tiergarten’s main street that Hitler envisioned would be the East-West axis of his new Berlin.

It started to rain on us when we were biking back to Alexanderplatz, so we decided to stay close to home that night and just went down Rosa Luxembourgstrasse for a nice German dinner. I got a Stolzer Heinrich (or “proud Henry”) that was a sausage, potatoes, and sauerkraut dish, and a delicious schoffenhauser hefeweissen brew - certainly enough to put me into a food coma before bed for the second night in a row. I love German food and beer.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Beers and Brats (Berlin Pt. 1)

Sunday morning we took an early morning train out of Prague bound for Berlin. The countryside was phenomenal and from outside of Prague through Dresden we followed the Elbe and watched kayakers and fishing boats go by. When we got into Berlin, we took the S-bahn from the Hauptbanhof train station to Alexanderplatz in East Berlin and then the U-bahn up to Rosa-Luxembourg Platz where our hostel was. Our hostel was an awesome place with a restaurant and bar built into it downstairs; and although we were in the 10-bed room the four of us only had one other roommate. We knew were planning on doing a city tour the following day, so we decided to look up the sites we would see tomorrow and then do something on our own that wouldn’t be covered on the tour. Since the majority of famous sites were right along the East/West Berlin border, we decided to go far into West Berlin and just explore the area known as Charlottsburg.

We S-bahned down to the Berlin zoo at the far West end of the Tiergarten, the massive garden that occupies the entirety of Central Berlin, and then walked up through Charlottsburg to Charlottsburgschloss, a baroque castle palace built for the Prussian royalty back in the day. We found it interesting that in the parks leading up to the palace, just about everybody was engaged in games of bocce ball. As we passed one such game, I heard a woman say “Das ist gut, ja!” which is probably the most German thing anyone can possibly say, so that made me really happy. We didn’t feel like paying to go inside the palace, so we just lounged on the grass in the garden outside and took a little power nap. Afterwards we strolled back south through Charlottsburg to Kurfurensdamm, Berlin’s version of the glitzy Champs-Elysees in Paris. Since I was with three girls, making progress down Kurfurensdamm past Louis Vuitton and other boutiques was slow. I was admittedly glad when everyone’s feet starting hurting. We went clear across Berlin via U-bahn and came out in the far North of East Berlin. For dinner, we had an absolute feast at the Prater Biergarten there. I had at least two full meals of bratwurst, Polish sausage, pork loin, corn on the cob, potato salads, and above all, some amazing hefeweissen beers. Everyone was pretty exhausted from our post-pub crawl, early-morning traveling, so we basically went back to the hostel and passed out from a food coma.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pamatkin Terezin

With the afternoon of our second day in the Czech Republic, as opposed to seeing the castle a second time, we wanted to take a bus about an hour outside of Prague to the town of Terezin. The town of Terezin was built into an old Czech fortress built to keep the Prussians out, but we were more interested in the smaller fortress 1000 meters to the East of the bigger one: the Pamatkin Terezin concentration camp. We wanted to go to it primarily because we didn’t think we would have another opportunity to visit one of the camps; there was just too much to do in Berlin to spend an entire day or half-day at Sachsenhausen. I also wanted to visit Terezin especially because it was the camp featured in our 8th grade play at Country Day, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” The camp was originally established as a prison for Czech political prisoners, but it became increasing inundated with residents of the Jewish ghetto that had taken over the town of Terezin just down the road. The camp had large populations of Jewish children and the intellectuals that the Nazis couldn’t afford to be seen killing (yet); this lead to what a Jewish historian called “the greatest education system of all time” in which lower- and middle-school age children were being instructed by Nobel prize-winning physicists and virtuoso musicians.

Built within the ramparts of the old medieval Czech fortress, the concentration camp was an especially daunting site. Walking up to it from the town, you pass through a massive cemetery containing the remains of the prisoners who died there. Only a couple thousand graves existed, so they must have only found or accounted for a small percentage of the 33,000 estimated to have died at Terezin. We walked through the single tunnel leading in and out of the camp and started our tour in the administrative yard. In front of us were the lavish SS barracks, the camp Kommandant’s mansion residence, and other amenities like a swimming pool and cinema for the Germans. To the left was the processing yard and prisoner yard A. We passed underneath the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ so characteristic of the Nazi camps and set about exploring the prisoner accommodations of the yard. Since Terezin was a sort of propaganda camp built to fool people, we also saw the doctor’s office, barbershop, and hospital wings that were rarely – if ever – used in real life. We passed through a super creepy tunnel that snaked through the original ramparts of the castle (which was constructed as like a 20-side star, basically) and led from prisoner yard A to the execution yard, where there were walls pocketed with bullet holes and concrete basins for bodies to fall into. We passed through the fields of mass graves before finally coming back into the interior of the camp to see more prisoner yards, some with mass cells that would hold anywhere between 400-600 prisoners in a single room (with two toilets and four sinks to accommodate the lot of them). It was all pretty disgusting and was a very humbling experience overall.

We left the camp around 6:00 in order to catch the 6:30 bus back to Prague. The only problem was that no one told us the 6:30 bus only operates on Sundays. After waiting at the bus stop for over an hour, we started walking toward the town – clueless as to what we should be doing – with our arms outstretched and thumbs up. No one stopped for us, so we wandered into the old fortress and the town of Terezin to try and find something. Maybe because the town’s predominately Jewish population never recovered after World War 2, or maybe because it was Saturday and thus the Shabbat, but – whatever the reason – the place was a ghost town. We finally found a hotel that was open and one of the women having a drink at the bar spoken enough English to tell us there was one last train that comes through Terezin en route to Prague in the evenings. We hightailed it to the train station and luckily bought tickets. Once again, flying by the seat of our flaming pants. When we got back to Prague, we were pretty exhausted and mentally drained from the whole afternoon, so we decided a pub crawl was in order and absolutely necessary. We got a quick bite to eat at McDonald’s to save money and then headed out with the pub crawl group for a night on the town.

Prague Pt. 2

The next morning our only plan was to catch the free walking tour of the city that we’d missed the day before. We had done one of these before in Amsterdam and we liked the company that managed them. We met in the old town square just north of our hostel and started the tour there. Our guide, Michael from Germany but with a British accent when he spoke English, gave us the run-down on 800 years of Czech history in a solid ten minutes as an introduction to the tour.

He led us around the square and told us about the various Cathedrals and municipal buildings that line it, and also all about Prague’s famous astrological clock that has been a figurehead on the city hall since the 1500s. The old town square was flooded with people, so I was glad to move out of the old city – passing the original university and Mozart’s concert hall on the way – and out into the “new” old city. Prague was really interesting to walk around in because there were so many different looks to the city: the Gothic architecture from around the reigns of the Charles and the Winceslases, the baroque architecture from the first Czech Republic, the Communist architecture from the post-war years, and finally a Neoclassical style that accompanied the reemergence of the Czech Republic from the USSR. So it was very aesthetically pleasing in an odd, occasionally jumbled sort of way.

We eventually headed back into the old city and into the Jewish quarter. We passed Franz Kafka’s house, the new main synagogue, and the old Jewish synagogue and cemetery. The cemetery is significantly above ground because the kings of Bohemia would routinely deny the Jews a second cemetery, and since Jews are required to bury their death within the Earth, they would have to cart in soil and pile it on top of the old layer to put an additional layer of coffins down. In some parts of the old Jewish cemetery, there were 13 coffins on top of each other and an unfathomable web of tombstones on top. We then passed down to the river and saw the concert hall, but when Michael started leading the group toward the castle, we split off and went back to the hostel.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Prague Pt. 1

Friday morning, the 23rd, I packed up from Paris and left for Prague, Czech Republic. I was traveling with three girls from the University of Wisconsin. One of them had stayed at our apartment after the Texas Independence party the night before so she wouldn’t have to go to the airport alone, so the two of us took the first 5:30am metro out of Châtelet Les Halles toward Charles de Gaulle. When we were just about there, we realized that SmartWings, the airline we were taking, operated out of one of CDG’s more obscure terminals, so we tried to get a hold of the two other girls – Katie and Melanie – that would be traveling with us. The first couple of tries were unsuccessful and went to voicemail; the third try was more successful, but with a catch; my phone calls had just woken Katie and Mel up in their apartment in Paris. With a little over an hour before the plane was scheduled to take off, those two leapt out of bed, sprinted to Gare de Lyon to find a taxi, and sped to Charles de Gaulle as fast as they could. They had to have an airport employee convince the ticket agent to re-open her booth in order to check them in and then lead them through security to bypass the line. We all four made the flight, but so began a trip of miracles and failures, in which we would be constantly flying by the seat of our pants. Oh, and the seat of our pants would be on fire the whole time.

We got into Prague and exchanged our Euros for the Czech monopoly money, the Kraun, before getting onto a bus destined for the city center where our hostel was. It took us awhile to get our bearings, but we made it to our hostel and checked in around noon. We’d missed the free walking tour of the city that we planned on taking at some point, so we just decided to explore Prague a little bit on our own. The Vltava (or Moldau, in German) splits the city in two, and we spent the majority of our time on the East bank where we lived. We were staying in Prague’s old town square, which is on the more Western side of the East bank, if that makes sense. We decided on Friday, however, to cross the river and head up through the embassy district to Hrad Praha, or Prague Castle. We found our way to the famous Charles Bridge, which is flanked by old Gothic towers and guards in traditional Czech garb, and decorated across its length with a lot of religious sculpture and iconography.

The castle was more baroque than it was medieval, so palaces and gardens really took the place of ramparts and defenses. We wandered the gardens and then the interior grounds of the castle, going inside the Cathedral of St. Vitus. St. Vitus wasn’t that much different from any other Gothic cathedral I’ve been inside in Europe so far, but it was perfectly situated to catch the rays of the setting sun through the primary stained glass window in the sanctuary. That made the whole interior of the building lit up with a bunch of vibrant colors that reflected off the walls and floor like a disco ball, almost, which was pretty cool and really beautiful.

After getting back down from the castle area, we headed to the West bank of the Vltava to find an outdoor patio where we could get drinks. We found this one little place that was only accessible through an alley so narrow it had pedestrian traffic lights to tell you to proceed or to wait. I’d never seen one of those before, so that was pretty entertaining. We all got a round of Czech beers, Pillsner Ursquall, as a pre-dinner happy hour before heading back to the hostel. After getting cleaned up, we went out to dinner at a traditional Czech restaurant right in our neighborhood. I got another Pillsner Ursquall, and then a braised beef plate, salad, and the best damn apple strudel I’d ever had in my entire life. We then headed back to our hostel, had a few drinks, and went out to a club on the Vltava called Lazne, where we spent the remainder of the night.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Texas Independence Day

Thursday the 22nd was the last day of classes at ESCP and thus the perfect time to celebrate a slightly belated Texas Independence day. Although April 21st is the real anniversary for the Battle of San Jacinto, in which the Texans charged the divided Mexican forces outside of present-day Houston to win their freedom, half of our potential guests had a test on Thursday so they couldn't have been able to attend the night before.

My old church friend Elizabeth Medlin - who came and visited Rue Quincampoix for St. Patrick's Day - sent us Texas postcards to decorate the apartment with. It wasn't much but at least we had some form of Texas flag on the front door. Then, between myself, Cameron, and our helpers Katie and Lauren, we cooked an absolute feast to remind ourselves our Texas and help share a little bit of home with our foreign guests. The menu focused on chicken fajitas, and we had the four burners of our stove going strong for a good six or seven hours to get everything ready. For fajitas we had rotisserie chicken and sauteed onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, bacon, and beans. The snack table included fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, and black bean / corn dip. We had a strong Norwegian contingent, a good-sized Australian party, some Canadians, and then some French, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Swiss guests as well. I told everyone that they were only allowed to bring tequila, whiskey, or beer - because the Texans sure weren't drinking champagne behind the walls of the Alamo - and the majority of people listened. One of the French guests brought a bottle of wine, though; it wasn't until later that we found out it was a 150 euro bottle of wine from his parents' vineyard! It was a lot of fun and made me miss Texas all the more, but I have a little bit more of Europe to enjoy at this point and had Prague to look forward to the next morning.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Parisian Weekend

This weekend I spent, literally, 95% of my waking daylights hours out in a cafe with my book. On Thursday I went down to the Rive Gauche, directly south of Notre Dame and Ile de la Cite, to find the old English bookstore Shakespeare & Company. It was founded in the 20s and, so I learned, became a haven for young no-namers like James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and a slew of other French, British, and American poets and authors of the time.

I went in there looking for some reading about the Catholic Church and/or Papal states in preparation for my trip to Rome, but ended up getting a book about the Nazi occupation of France from 1940-1944. The book's called "Americans in Paris" and chronicles the exploits of the relatively large American population that stayed behind in Paris when everyone else fled the city to escape the encroaching Nazi forces. The majority of these Americans then became an integral part (and often leaders) of the French resistance. What initially drew me to the book is that the summary on the back of the book, which described a few of the main characters in the American/French resistance movement: "...and Silvia Beach, owner of the famous bookshop, Shakespeare and Company." I knew that Shakespeare & Co. had a lot of history behind it - including being the first publisher of Joyce's 'Ulysses' when America found it too obscene to publish - but had no idea the role it played during the Nazi occupation. I, therefore, was obliged to purchase and read the book. Thus, the majority of my weekend has been spent in cafes outside the Pompidou Centre (and a short and cold period in the Tuileries gardens) reading with a 4.50 euro cafe au lait at my side.

Friday afternoon I spent next to the statue fountains adjacent to the Pompidou Centre at the Jardin de The (tea garden) Cafe. Saturday I moved to the Chavelier Bleu (blue knight) about a block closer to home for a cafe au lait twice as big and cheaper by 20 cents. Saturday's highlight was also getting my first cheeseburger in four months; a big surprise considering it came from a legit Parisian cafe. The Paris Beaubourg cafe next to the Pompidou served it up real similar to the 'wild style' of In And Out Burger. I'll pay 15 euros for a burger that good anyday. And, today (Sunday) to wrap up my Parisian cafe weekend, I headed down to the Tuileries gardens with a sack lunch and my book, but after 45 minutes in the cold wind without the sun making a reappearance, I changed venues for the comfort and heaters of the Chevalier Bleu. I like that place, among the various other Pompidou cafes, because the plaza in front of the Pompidou is one of the largest open spaces for people to congregate, so there's always good people-watching and performances by musicians or artists going on right in front of you. I have a lot of reading to do in preparation for my trip to Berlin and Bob and I's tour of World War II sites in France, so I'll assuredly continue my cafe au lait and reading binge over the weeks to come.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Barcelona-esque Reunion


This weekend for Easter our friend Lauren Bonds came into Paris to escape her job at RBS in London. She was the friend we stayed with when Cameron and I went to London the second weekend we were here and also one of the people we met in Barcelona three weeks ago. So, when I met her at Chatelet Les Halles train station, that marked the third country in which I've picked her up on a random street corner. She was a little late getting in, so we got her situated in our apartment and then for dinner we settled on one of the cafes right in our neighborhood looking out onto the plaza in front of the Pompidou Center. We went super French and between the three of us got quiche, a croque monsieur, and steak tartar.

The next day we went up to Montmartre so Lauren could see the Sacre-Coeur cathedral and the artsy areas that make up the neighborhood around it. We stopped in one of the squares near the cathedral where a bunch of free-lance artists work and got a couple of rounds of coffee and a light lunch from one of the many cafes there. We also took her (in the same area) the Moulin Rouge, but we couldn't get very far into it.

We then attempted to go to the Musee d'Orsay, but when we got there the line was so unbelievably long that we bailed on the idea and decided to walk home via the Tuileries gardens and the Louvre to see if the line at the Centre Pompidou was any better. I take a book or something to the Tuileries all the time when the weather is nice, but it was both Lauren's and Cameron's first times being there, so they enjoyed it. We got back to our neighborhood and then went to the Pompidou but were thoroughly unimpressed. There was a big collection on display by some supposedly reknowned artist named Lucien Freud, whose works haven't been showcased since the 80's. It was apparently a big deal that these works were at the Pompidou and available to the public, but we were thoroughly unimpressed. His specialty was ugly and otherwise deformed nudes, so I didn't care to spend more than 10 minutes in the entire thing. The rest of the museum, minus perhaps Picasso and the rest of the cubism works, were equally as underwelming. I have trouble looking at something that could have taken me 2 hours and $16 worth of materials at Hobby Lobby and calling it museum-worthy art.

In the spirit of saving money, we had a pretty low-key evening. Cameron and I cooked a big feast, starting with some fresh baguettes, cheese tray, and some nuts and fruits. For the entree we had teriyaki chicken with a buttery and sauteed vegetable medley of mushrooms, onions, and cucumbers. For dessert, our third consecutive fresh-baked loaf of banana bread. After dinner, we just had wine and watched a movie as no one was in the mood to go out and spend a bunch of money.