BootsnAll Travel Network

Over the Channel and Through the Woods

October 25th, 2006

Written at 11:00 PM on 10-24-06 in Oxford, England

I woke up the next day, rather reluctantly, and finished getting everything packed up. For a fourth day in a row, I missed the hostel’s breakfast. I preferred the bakery’s food anyway, and I had an extra ten euros to get rid of before I headed back to the UK. After acquiring breakfast (and a baguette for lunch), I headed off for the metro station.

I didn’t have any problem getting to the Gare Nord, Paris’ northern train station from which I’d be leaving. I’d picked up a ticket to London on my way home from the Luvre the previous day. This was an expensive ticket. Even with a eurail discount, it still cost me 75 euros; it might have been cheaper to fly. I preferred trains, though, because they were usually a lot less trouble to get on and off of. Oh, but I was wrong.

I knew I had to arrive half an hour early for check-in, but what I did not realize was the extensive screening process one had to go through to get on a train to London. What made it worse was that about halfway through the process, as I was about to have my passport checked, an alarm went off. Quickly the official who was about to view my passport put on a policeman’s coat and ushered myself and the other passengers back through the ticket gates. Other officers joined the effort and soon there was an announcement that all those on our train were to exit the train station and wait.

Well, if that’s how it was going to be—then I was just going to go get myself a coffee! I did that and by the time I’d sat down and started the drink, things seemed to be moving again. I took my coffee with me and rejoined the line, which had now quadrupled in length. I had no fears about missing the train, however, because if I did, then another fifty passengers would as well. I had also arrived early so by the time I got in line for the second time, I still had a half hour to go.

After having my ticket checked by a human and by a machine, and having my passport checked twice and going through a metal detect, I was in another line waiting to board the train. This line disintegrated utterly, however, just as soon as boarding commenced. I don’t think it was a British thing—so I can only assume it was French—but everyone that had formed into a neat line rushed forward into a blob. Likewise, people who had been sitting perched near the entrance seemed to have no compunctions about cutting in front of about 95% of the people waiting patiently. I’d grown accustomed to this tendency, but it still irked me a bit; I suppose it seems disrespectful and rude, but that’s just me imposing my own cultural views, and perhaps that’s not fair.

The train ride took about three hours and included gaining back the hour I had lost when I left the UK. I spent most of the time reading. When I got to London’s Waterloo station, I had a momentary navigational crisis, but soon I found out that I needed to go to the Paddington train station on the Bakerloo metro line. That was all I had to know. I took the metro (my backpack was beginning to chafe at this point) and arrived at the station only minutes before a train departed for Oxford. I quickly got a ticket from one of the automatic ticket machines and then hurried to board.

The train from London to Oxford took about an hour; again I spent the time reading. When I arrived, I knew my hostel’s address, but I didn’t have directions. Fortunately, there was a map at the train station (and so what if it was a bus-route map) and I was able to navigate the difficult two-minute trek to the hostel. The hostel was relatively cheap, better than I would’ve paid in London. The Oxford Backpackers seemed like a pretty cool place, but I wasn’t really concerned with that by the time I arrived. I was tired, and so after a short bit of reading, I dozed off in my bed until about 7PM. When I awoke, I was hungry and craving something substantial (and not just a baguette). I headed off to a place recommended by the reception—O’Neals—and ordered a burger and beer. An Irish pub, O’Neal’s was a pretty cool place, but once I finish, I decided to head back. I returned, sat down in the common room, and began catching up on my blog, which brings me to this moment.

Three days until I’m back. Cheers.

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The Lady Had Many Secrets

October 25th, 2006

Written at 9:49 PM on 10-24-06 in Oxford, England

So I basically spent the rest of that night in Paris reading my book. Oh sure, I talked a bit with my roommates and I wrote some emails and I posted some picture, but mostly, I just read. I suppose that I was content to do that was a good sign that my trip is nearing its end and that to some degree, I’m ready to come home.

I would like to say I got up early the next morning so I could get a good start on the Luvre, but I didn’t. I got out of the hostel at about 11:00, which had become pretty typical. Breakfast consisted of the usual pastries and baguette from the nearby bakery. After that, I caught the metro to the Palais Luvre stop—or something like that. Basically, the stop lets you bypass the line up in the Luvre’s plaza and instead enter from the underground section.

The recent construction of this underground entrance was apparent. Why? Because chic and fashionable shops lined the corridors, making the entrance to the Luvre as much a mall as anything else. None of the stores interested me, and I can’t really imagine why anyone would buy something there of all places. I can only assume that such stores would very likely have the highest markup on products anywhere in Paris.

What I did do was to buy my ticket and some stamps. I sent away a couple postcards. I don’t recall ever sending postcards abroad when I was in the states, but I’m pretty sure the stamps don’t cost even half as much there as they did here in Paris. Honestly, you’re sending a little 4×6 piece of stiff paper, and it cost a euro? I know in the States there’s a special stamp for sending national postcards—that costs somewhere between twenty and thirty cents, not a dollar-twenty. Anyway, that’s my rant about stamps.

So after picking up my ticket, I made my way to the main underground plaza that housed the Luvre’s subterranean pyramid. This thing was pretty cool. I’d seen the pyramid from the top during my last trip to Paris, but I never went underground. I’m glad I did. For those that haven’t been here (or haven’t read DaVinci Code—if anyone’s left), the Luvre Pyramid (I’m sure it has some special name) is made almost entirely of glass and sits both above ground and below ground with exactly identical dimensions on either side. There are also several small stone pyramids, three (I believe) surrounding it on the courtyard above and another one sitting a few inches below the tip of the subterranean pyramid. All-in-all, a pretty cool piece of architecture/art. The Parisians were very opposed to it at first (and maybe still are?) but they’re opposed to everything new at first—or so it seems. If they’d had there way, the Eiffel Tower would’ve been torn down, or rather, never constructed.

So I headed past the pyramid and into the next underground plaza where there were three separate entrance into the Luvre. The Luvre has four stories, housing art and antiquities from around the world. I entered the entrance that would take me toward the Mona Lisa. I sort of wanted to “work my way up to it,” but I also wanted to make sure I didn’t end up missing it by some freak accident.

So I entered the Luvre at about 11:30 and was not to leave until about 4:30. Five hours allowed me to see about half the stuff. At first, I began marking off rooms as I went, intent upon walking through every single room. As my feet and knees began to hurt, however, I realized this would not be feasible. I settled with trying to see the whole of the top two floors, which housed all the European paintings, as well as some other interesting tidbits like objects of art and the royal quarters of Napolean III (who was responsible for the Luvre’s creation as a palace…perhaps?).

I cruised through the Greek sculptures. They were impressive. Enough said. I’m not going to go too much into the individual pieces of art I saw. I made a point of seeing all the famous pieces, and I took my time, especially in the French and Italian galleries. But to go into all I saw would require the patience to go back through the Luvre’s pamphlet (or their website) and frankly, I don’t have that patience.

I did, of course, see the Mona Lisa and DaVinci’s Feast of Canaan (or some such thing). Now, some painting have certain reputations and are widely regarded as good—and I don’t really understand why. The Mona Lisa was not one of them. I’ve heard others tell stories of being rushed past the Mona Lisa, only able to glimpse it for a few seconds before they were ushered through the line. That was not the case for me. Perhaps it was because it’s past the tourist season, or perhaps it just wasn’t a busy day, but I was able to take a position near the front of the crowd and stand there contemplating the painting at my leisure.

-“The lady smiles as though she has a secret.”
-“She had many secrets—I only painted one of them.”

Of course I’ve seen copies of the painting; I’m pretty sure there’s no one in Western Civilization (or civilization in general) that hasn’t. Either way, there’s a certain something about seeing it in person. She really does have that secretive smile—that one that every woman has. Its enigmatic, mysterious, and intriguing. Some have proposed that the Mona Lisa is a self-portrait in which DaVinci painted himself as a woman. If that’s true, that would certainly account for the smile. The point, anyway, is that I was impressed and enjoyed my viewing of the painting.

I perused the other European painting collections. I was particularly interested to see the large gallery by Nicolas Poussin. One of the books I’m currently reading, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, is concerned with him and his paintings. One painting in particular is a focus of the book and was hung in the Luvre; I was especially delighted to see it among the galleries. I also really enjoyed the sections with the objects of art. There were some pieces of jewelry and other royal tidbits that were just amazing. Crowns and scepters and whatnot, lined with emeralds, rubies, sapphires, a cornucopia of color and wealth.

I had really hoped to stay until the Luvre closed at 6PM, but walking at such a slow pace was troubling for my knees. After about two hours of walking at this pace, my knees began to snap. Every other step, my right knee would click, loud enough that it would occasionally draw the attention of others. It irritated me and I can’t imagine it was very enjoyable for anyone else in my immediate vicinity.

There’s something else I want to comment on. I’ve already had a bit of ranting in this blog, but bear with me…

I don’t understand why people take pictures of the things they do. The era of the digital camera has brought about an advent of the everyman’s photography. I won’t take issue with digital cameras now, but what I will take issue with is the almost incessant click, beep, and flash that permeated the Luvre’s halls. People took pictures of everything, and each time, I found myself wondering…what the hell are you thinking!? Do you really think you’ll even remember what that was? It’s one thing to take pictures of something famous (I’ll get to my rant on that in a second), or to take pictures of a person or a place, but to simply take pictures of painting after painting or sculpture after sculpture…it just seems like…with each picture you take of something relatively unimportant to you, you decrease the importance of something that is important to you.

What I mean to say is, you take a hundred pictures of statues that strike your interest, but there are a couple you take pictures of that are special to you, or it’s a picture that you’re in. When you go back through those pictures, it’ll be like “…and here’s a picture of another statue…and here’s another picture of a statue…and another statue…” And after about fifty of those, you get to a point where you’re like, “OH, and here’s a statue I really liked” (if you even remember which one you liked). But by this time, you (or whoever you’re presumably showing your pictures to) is so saturated by pictures of statues, that you or this person are like… “Cool.” And not like, “Wow, that’s a really great picture” or “I like it a lot. What made you like this one in particular?”

The point, if I’m not being clear, is that this profusion of picture-taking is troubling to me, and distracting from the aesthetic experience that I seek from observing art. I don’t expect that many necessarily agree with this view, and everyone can go on clicking and beeping there pictures away, but as for me, I’ll continue taking my one or two dozen pictures of things that are special to me, and not just “a thing I once saw.”

The other thing in the Luvre that got me to thinking was, as Shakespeare put it, “What’s in a name?” A lot, apparently, and especially a lot of pictures. People take pictures of things because they’re important—because they’re supposed to like it. Things like The Mona Lisa and the Venus DeMilo (to name just a couple) are hotspots for picture-takers. (Even if technically they’re not supposed to take pictures of some things, like the Mona Lisa). People…tourists…are so preoccupied with getting a picture of something that’s supposed to be important that few people take pause to actually ponder what it means to them. What’s another picture of a statue or a painting that’s already been photographed a million times (as I’m sure both those pieces have been)? I didn’t need a picture of anything in the Louve—there’s already pictures of every piece online. What I did want was to embrace the inspiration and the emotional impact of a piece and to remember that. By pausing for a moment to contemplate and personalize an item—famous or not—I commit it to memory in a far more vivid way than a picture ever could (at least for me). That way, when I see a picture of that object again, I don’t just say, “Oh, I’ve got a picture of that” and instead say “Oh, I remember seeing that in the Louve. I really liked it because…” Again, this is not necessarily a position that 99% of people occupy, but it is one that I feel is definitely legitimate.

I returned to the hostel at about 5:00. I spent a little time on the internet on my computer before the internet went down; it wouldn’t come up again before I was to leave the next day. So instead I occupied myself reading. I had a coke and a couple pieces of pizza bread from the nearby bakery—also a sign I’m probably ready to come home. At one point in the evening I got hungry again and went down to the kitchen to fix some pasta. Mmm…plain pasta. I also waited to use the internet down there—I was trying to get my plans figured out for the next couple days before I left. I also tried to read, but there were some other people down in the lounge that were having the most absurd of conversations; I can usually block something out when I’m reading, but not this. These Irish guys (who talked like they were still in high school) were berating this girl (who I suppose was a recent friend of theirs, despite their verbal abuse) to tell them her age. I can’t really convey the absurdity of the conversation, but it had me grinning (and occasionally grimacing).

I had the six-bed dorm to myself that night, which was nice. It allowed me to pack and get myself a little bit sorted before heading to England. I was also trying to dispose of anything I didn’t want to haul back. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much, and I’d recently been acquiring a lot more things than I’d been getting rid of. I didn’t look forward to hauling my backpack around the next morning. I stayed up late reading, until about 1:30 when I decided it was finally prudent that I get some sleep before my travels the next day.

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Would You Like Some Coffee With That Cash?

October 22nd, 2006

Written at 7:54 PM on 10-22-06 in Paris, France

After my adventures in the Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore, I headed off toward Notre Dame. You couldn’t really miss it. Resting on a small island in the middle of the Seine River, the cathedral dominated the surrounding area. A large bridge gapped the distance between the main road that ran along the river and the large plaza in the front of Notre Dame. I got in line, and though it was long, it moved pretty quickly. There wasn’t a ticket counter or metal detector or anything—there were just so many people that it was taking time for them all to siphon into the entrance.
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Return to Paris

October 22nd, 2006

Written at 1:10 PM on 10-22-06 in Paris, France

I awoke in my Paris hostel at around 10:00 and quickly realized I had missed breakfast. It was probably a typical “hostel” breakfast anyway, though. After I showered and gathered my things, I made my way for a bakery on the corner, where I picked up a couple croissants for breakfast and a baguette for later. Then I made my way to the metro station.
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Wham! Bam! Amsterdam!

October 21st, 2006

Written at 9:18 PM on 10-21-06 in Paris, France

So I’ve fallen a little behind on my blogs; I’ll try to keep this relatively brief and succinct.

Side note: I added a page for Berlin Pictures and Amsterdam Pictures. Those pictures are also now linked throughout last three blogs.

I arrived in Amsterdam without much trouble, though I must say, were I to do it again, I doubt I would arrive at night in that city. The train station was an easy five-minute walk from my hostel, so that was fortunate. However, it didn’t change the fact that I was in a city at night that I was unfamiliar with and which had a somewhat infamous reputation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Just When I Thought I Was Better

October 17th, 2006

Written at 8:34 PM on 10-15-06 in Berlin, Germany

I felt better yesterday, but I feel worse today. Then again, yesterday I wasn’t stuck on a train where the only thing dividing smokers and non-smokers is a sheet of glass with an opening in it the size of a door.
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Suggestions Anyone?

October 16th, 2006

So the next week of my travels are to be spent in Amsterdam and Paris. I´ll be leaving for Amsterdam tomorrow. However, that leaves me with an extra three days between when I´m in Paris and when I need to be in London. I have a few ideas on where I might spend this time, but I´m open to suggestions. Places within half a day´s train ride from Paris, preferably. In England is okay, as well, so long as it´s in the lower part of the UK. I appreciate any advice. Leave comments or email me. Thanks.


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No More Walls, No More War

October 16th, 2006

Written at 8:34 PM on 10-15-06 in Berlin, Germany

Note: I’m still on a computer without a good writing program, so the apostrophes are all messed up.

I’m still sick.

Just thought I’d throw that out there—you know, so I can be showered with sympathy or whatever. Actually, in all honesty, I’m feeling pretty good, all things considered. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Very Strange Story

October 15th, 2006

Written at 8:28 PM on 10-14-06 in Berlin, Germany

Note: The computer I’m posting this from doesn’t have microsoft word so all the commas are replaced with weird symbol thingies. I’ll fix it when I have time.

Well, I’m sick again. Thanks a lot, Julie. I’ll get to that in a moment, though.

I spent most of my last full day in Prague hanging around the Shakespeare Café. I did quite a bit of work on my novel and did some reading as well. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cafés and Cadavers (well, sort of)

October 13th, 2006

Written at 11:37 PM on 10-13-06 in Prague, Czech Republic

Wow, it’s been three days since I wrote my last blog, and what have I been doing? A whole lot of nothing. Which is exactly how I want it.

Today marks officially two weeks until I return. I’m 4/5 of the way through my trip. And my how it’s gone by. Even slow days, like those in Prague, seem to disappear like grains of sand through my fingers. Now then, let me get back to the story.
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