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June 16, 2002

TravelBlog: Europe - part 3

This is the third of nine letters I wrote to friends and family during a two-month solo trip backpacking through Europe in 2002, a year after I graduated from Haverford College. The photos for this and other entries are on my flickr stream.



I'm currently in Paris, and have really enjoyed my first stop in France. The French keyboard layout has been a little bit of a challenge to adjust to (I can only imagine what the Greek and Turkish keyboards will be like), although the computer in this Internet Café is using the English version of Windows, which is at least something. :)

I pick up my story on my last night in London, where I was going to see "Up For Grabs" (starring Madonna). Technically speaking, the show was phenomenal. The set, lighting and sound were amazing and served well to facilitate the story of a struggling art dealer (Madonna) as the play follows her through the story of her first big sale, what she does for it, and how it effects both her life and the lives of her clients. The story had some interesting twists, and there were several bluntly explicit (in terms of the subject matter) scenes that involved racy sexual situations. I think I might have missed some of the deeper metaphorical symbolism, but then again, maybe there wasn't any :) Following the play, I hurried back to the hostel to sleep, as my Eurostar train (chunnel) departed at 7:25 the next morning. I arrived in Paris, changed monies to Euros, navigated my way to the hostel (an MIJE, which is an association of French hostels), dropped my bag off and struck out for a walking tour of the city.

I started at Notre Dame, marveled at the gothic architecture, studied the frontal facade, and strolled through the darkened interior through the throngs of tourists. My next stop was the Deportation Memorial, one to the 200,000 French that died in the Nazi deathcamps in WWII. I then strolled through the Latin Quarter (an area similar to Soho in London, or the Village in NYC), then over by Sainte Chapelle (a beautiful 13th century chapel with enormous stained-glass windows). I didn't go inside Ste. Chapelle, but continued on to the Samaritaine department store that has a fantastic rooftop view of the city. One interesting thing about both London and Paris (more-so about Paris) is that the buildings are much shorter than those in American cities - I think this is due to the European city's age. Anyway, I then snapped a picture of the west side of the Lourve and the Centre Pompidou, both of which I studied in an architecture class at Bryn Mawr. That night, I met and hung out with a guy named Tom who was passing through Paris. Turns out he was the main force behind an American band named Catch-22, and receives royalties for some of his work (he's since left the band) which he uses to fund trips to France. He's studying art in Georgia, and working as a graphic designer while he tries to spend time on his true passion: film.

My second day in Paris was even busier than my first. I wasn't able to get a 3-day museum pass like I'd wanted, so instead I got a 1-day pass and had a busy day. I started at the Lourve, seeing things like the Nike of Samothrace, Venus de Millo, Mona Lisa (which was still under whelming), the Coronation of Napoleon, etc. One very interesting thing about the Lourve, aside from it being the biggest and oldest museum in Europe, is that professional painters will set up their easels in the galleries and paint pieces/copies of the masterpieces. I found them to be just as interesting to watch as the artworks that surrounded them! I also went to the Musée d'Orsay (which I realized upon entering that I'd also been to before), the Rodin Museum which had the original Thinker sculptures as well as The Gates of Hell, The Kiss and The Secret. All very very cool - sculpture is one of my favorite types of art. Because the Musée Carte covered it, I also stopped by the Tomb of Napoleon, which was awe-inspiring; everything in it was huge. There in the center of a vaulting domed cathedral-like shrine was a stone coffin the size of a large SUV that houses his body. Even though I'm not enough of a history-buff to really get excited about it, I was still impressed. I dined at a café, and headed to the Centre Pompidou museum of modern art. Definitely some far-out stuff there. As I was walking through the museum, I did some serious thinking about the meaning of 'art', and what role some of the truly far-out stuff played in the on-going discussion (which is how one could imagine what art is) the art community has about art. For instance, is a urinal with some artist's name on it truly art, and thus worthy enough to be in a museum? (there was indeed such a piece there) I didn't used to think so, but now I think yes, because it forces the viewer to consider the very question an artist considers: what is art, and what does art mean to you? I didn't like that particular piece, but it did make me think.

My next day was somewhat less busy. I saw the Arc d'Triomphe, saw the view from the top, rode the Metro to the Arc de la Defense (another great example of monolithic modern architecture), then over to Sacre Coeur (where I was even heckled by some guy selling what looked to be strands of string), then to the Luxemburg Gardens, and for a stroll through the picturesque Marsias neighborhood. Exhausted from two days of heavy sightseeing, I went back to my hostel room and collapsed for a nap. Soon, I met my new roommate San, who is a visual art masters student at MIT. We went to a cafe where he had dinner and I had dessert, and we chatted away the evening and into the night in true Parisian style.

Having seen and done just about everything I'd wanted to in Paris, I leave for Amboise tomorrow, where I'll continue to struggle with my French phrasebook and see the famous French chateaus.

Now reading: The Fellowship of the Ring. I finished the fourth Harry Potter book last night - I very much enjoyed that series and am looking forward to either another book or another movie to come out soon.

Au revoir! Aaron

p.s. thank you to everyone who has emailed me!

posted June 16, 2002 04:28 AM in Travel | permalink