A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: tdeits

Snapshots of Paris

overcast 40 °F

This is going to be a bit of a hodgepodge (is that one word or two-or is it even a word?). I am going to violate chronology a bit as well, probably. Suffice it to say that Paris will do that to you. Which amazing thing are you going to be seeing/eating/smelling next? So here we go.....

I went to the Louvre. It's not a museum, it's a career. It is enormous and despite a large number of Royally commissioned items of monumental sculpture, there is plenty of great stuff to keep one engaged for a very long time. So I'm going to ignore the big stuff and just pull up some smaller bits that caught my eye.

First cool thing - they have carefully restored some of the Medieval elements of the Louvre (the roots of the building date to the 13th century) and you can wander around down there. The conical structure below is the base of the original dungeon. The neon is scattered throughout the restored area for reasons that remain obscure to me.

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Second thing - this place is crowded! I can only imagine what it must be like during tourist season. Seriously, Paris is plenty crowded with tourists at the usual tourist spots in November. The good news is that they tend to cluster around the big 3 at the Louvre (Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace and Her Nibs) so places like the medieval sculpture gallery are pretty empty of people but full of some interesting pieces. I liked these two; one for its vigor and the other for her expressive face, often not thought to be a feature of Medieval art.

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A few baby pictures. This is a Reubens, a guy known to delight in round, pink, fleshy ladies - here he goes hog-wild with round, pink, fleshy babies.

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And I liked these two kids from two adjacent portraits by Van Dyck- they were much more interesting than the grownups.

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Sigh, I guess I might as well throw in a picture of Her Nibs - enjoy....

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You want to come back in August and check out that scene again? Didn't think so.

On another day (not sure which one) I also visited the Musee d'Orsay. This was the place where the Impressionists got started, hoping to be exhibited here so that someday they might get a call up to The Bigs, i.e. the Louvre. They needn't have worried; the Musee is magnificent and has a fabulous collection - that you can't photograph.

I did sneak one photo of a not-artwork. There is a small exhibit on the evolution of Paris as a city and in particular, how, at the instigation of Napoleon III, a fellow named Georges-Eugène Haussmann was given every planner's dream - complete freedom to knock down whatever he felt like knocking down and building whatever he felt like building. Indeed, the wonderful broad boulevards and much of Paris' current beauty is the outcome of his efforts. Of course, there was some dissent and this poster that I snapped kind of reminded me of the world of the planning commissioner (me being one, of course).

The other picture is of Napolean III's apartments which have been restored in the Louvre - I guess we can thank him for upscale hotel lobbies everywhere....

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Well, this is going on a bit more than I planned. Think I'll make it a series of snapshots - stay tuned.

Posted by tdeits 11:40 Archived in France Tagged museums paris plants lisa mona Comments (0)

More snapshots of Paris

overcast 35 °F

My French expat friend Evelyn gave me an extensive list of must-do's in Paris and this entry is largely in honor of her success in laying out some great recommendations.

First, I went down to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris.

But before I do that maybe a word about getting around in Paris. The short answer is that there are two main ways to get around - the Metro and, for spots a bit out of town (like my apartment which was in Saint Denis, a northerly suburb), the suburban rail system, the RER. You can buy a combined pass for both systems for unlimited travel for 1 or more days at most train station ticket offices, which worked out extremely well for me; it's called a Paris Visite. Let me also say that while Mr. Google is an amazing travel companion and has stood by me in every transit system around the world, he does have a blind spot in Paris; he doesn't know how to work with trips that combine both the RER and the Metro which was the case for most of my trips. Fortunately, there's an app for that - it's called "Visit Paris by Metro - RATP" on the play store (somewhat misleadingly as it includes the RER which is not part of the Metro). The RATP app readily routes you efficiently on both systems. To give you an idea, the RATP app got me to the Notre Dame in one go in about 30 minutes from my door, while Mr. Google wanted a 20 minute walk followed by a 30 minute Metro ride.

OK- back to the Jardin des Plantes. It is a garden - containing plants. It's big. It's pretty formal and it is quite nice, even in winter.

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It has a variety of beds of different kinds of flowers, most of which, naturally, were not in bloom. It also has an extensive medicinal plant garden which is documented in great detail. It warmed the cockles of this chemist's heart to see molecular structures provided!

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Here's a kind of interesting vertical panorama of the trees that line either side of the formal gardens.

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and another picture of a bit of residual fall color.

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Next stop is the building you can see at the end of the garden in the first picture - the Grande Galerie de l'Evolution. This was a bit of a disappointment, frankly. It is a gorgeous building in the classical 'dead zoo' style of early 20th century natural history museums that they have tried to modernize by opening up the exhibits and cutting back on the number of glass cases, but that isn't the problem.

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It's more of a philsophical/educational issue. It is called a Gallery of Evolution but it is really a Gallery of diversity. Now that's fine, and the rich diversity of life is readily explained by the combination of deep time and the known mechanisms of evolution, but they nowhere bring up anything to do with fossil or molecular evidence, so it is kind of a one-legged table. I know this may be a quibble but as I try to follow the ongoing efforts to squelch good science in schools by proponents of creationism and its cousins like Intelligent Design, I really want to see strong arguments made every time we have the public's attention. I didn't think that this museum accomplished this goal, although I do understand that they were starting with a dead zoo and were doing their best within the context; I just think they should have tried harder to enrich the context as well.

Still, all was not lost. I got to see a stuffed dodo!

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Well, to clear the dust of the dead zoo, I headed across the street to another of Evelyn's suggestions; the Grande Mosquée de Paris for mint tea and pastries. Very nice indeed and not something I would have otherwise spotted.

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Another of Evelyn's suggestions was a visit to the Latin Quarter for some culture. I headed out there in the evening and first browsed a bit in Shakespeare and Company, a very large and interesting (primarily) English language bookstore. Sadly, not a lot of space left in the old suitcase at this point, but it was fun. Then on to the Caveau de la Huchette for a real musical treat. This is a jazz institution in Paris where you grab a beer at the bar and then descend down a narrow staircase into the depths. It does indeed look like a cave; I was surpised there were not beer stalactites descending from the ceiling. There was a 3 piece boogie woogie band playing up a storm and the pianist was a guy who had clearly been doing this for many, many, many years.

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And the crowd was definitely cutting a rug (or would have been if there had been a rug!).

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It was a complete gas of an evening and a day.

However as I warned, I was not going to be entirely chronological in this entry so I want to briefly describe another musical event I attended; a Mozart Requiem in the Eglise Madeleine. Here is a picture of the beautiful altar where the concert was held, taken earlier in the afternoon.

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The concert itself was quite good although not stellar - it clearly was not a regular ensemble of musicians and so some of the playing was a little bit ragged. Nonetheless, a musical experience like this in a place like this was truly special. There was also a distraction during the performance. One of the members of the chorus apparently fell ill during the performance. They moved them to stage left just behind a railing and for the rest of the concert there was an EMT team seen working. I don't know the outcome but I hope everything was all right.

I think I will have to paste together one more snapshot to complete the Paris experience. Stay tuned!

Posted by tdeits 12:24 Archived in France Tagged churches gardens food paris fall museum music mozart evolution boogie woogie Comments (0)

A note about carbon

Taking a break from all the fun. I was more than aware when planning this trip of the environmental costs associated with galavanting around the world in an airplane, especially in the face of our growing climate warming threat. Now, in some ways, air travel is perhaps surprisingly fuel-efficent. A typical long-haul jet like an A 330 or 747 gets something like 70 - 90 miles per gallon per person which is pretty good compared to driving solo, but really not so good considering the very large number of miles I am traveling by air (probably the equivalent of 3+ years of my normal driving mileage).

So I thought it should be simple to go online and grab some kind of carbon offset to mitigate at least that part of the impact of my travel. Well, it's not so easy as that. First, there is considerable controversy in the environmental community as to what constitutes a valid carbon offset. For example Greenpeace does not consider reforestation as a valid carbon offset. Second, evidently the level of controversy has caused a signficant number of 'retail' carbon offset sites to either shut down or appear more or less moribund. Third, there is really no good way for an individual to validate the companies that offset this service. Businesses can use California's validation of carbon offset programs as a way of ensuring that their efforts are appropriate, but as far as I can tell there is no way for and individal to take advantage of this information. And finally, and most importantly, it is evident that the efforts of the climate change denial community have slowed any progress in this area.

There have been some efforts. Virgin Atlantic apparently offered offsets as an option to its flyers, but the page I found was dead. It is too bad that there isn't one airline that feels it would give them a competitive advantage to raise their fares very modestly to enable them to become the world's first carbon-neutral airline, but the economic and political climate appears to make that infeasible.

It is really too bad. If you have better info, please let me know. In the meantime I will search for alternatives on my return.

Posted by tdeits 12:58 Tagged travel airplanes carbon climate offset Comments (0)

Paris finale

overcast 38 °F

OK, just a few cool things to wrap up a most excellent 10 days (!) In Paris.

First a note about lily gilding. I did happen by chance to wander over to the Champs Elysees in the evening when I heard the Mozart Requiem (last blog) and got a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Let's compare and constrast. One thing I didn't mention about the Louis Vuitton museum was a special feature that Frank Gehry incorporated - a 'secret spot' where you get a nice view of the Eiffel Tower. It is cool how the Tower seems to pop up in unexpected places as you wander around Paris and it's great that Gehry honors that. On the other hand, at the Champs I had a 'really?' moment. For some reason they have decided that the Eiffel Tower needed a big rotating searchlight in case you might not notice it! Come on, people....

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And while I'm ranting, here's another thing. Do we really need a great big lit up Christmas tree smack dab in front of the Cathedral de Notre Dame? What an annoyance. I did think the picture on the right of the tree reflected in the window of an apartment across the street was kind of cool though.

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And while I'm on a roll - YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN!!!!

I calmed myself down a bit with a splurge dinner at a hip Paris Bistro, the Clown Bar. I was lucky that there was exactly one bar stool and I was able to nab it; otherwise reservations are absolutely essential. I had a delicious oyster stew and panko crusted cheese croquettes with a 'Chardonnay Nature'. Minimally processed, unfiltered wines are the current big thing. I thought it was tasty and a good drink but lacking the kind of nose that you get from a good well-made wine. Worth a try, though - the brand is 'French Wine is Not Dead' if you want to check some out (really!). I followed this with a duck breast in brioche with a delicious Languedoc. Yeah, they sure can cook.

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I did run back to the Cite des Sciences et de la Industrie to look at one of the age-appropriate areas that required special permission to enter. Well, it's kind of hard to tell from the pictures but the area for the 7-12 crowd is enormous like the rest of the museum and very resource-rich, including paid staff demonstraters everywhere. Here are a few shots.

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On the way home in the evening I spotted another clever urban planning feature - a light rail line that has grass rails. Looks quite cool!

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Well, that really is enough about Paris - almost. I had a suit and shirts made in Thailand and I had bought a beautiful new tie at the Korea National Museum, so I figured I had better strut my stuff at least once on the trip. So I bought a ticket to the Paris Opera production of La Boehme (how much was the ticket? Don't ask! How good was the performance? Wonderful - including some magnificent sets!). Here's an exterior of the new Paris Opera house in the Bastille district and a shot of yours truly trying to show style.

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And finally just to bring things back to Earth - Go Lugs!

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Merci d'avoir Paris!

Posted by tdeits 15:16 Archived in France Tagged food paris culture eiffel opera wine notre dame lugnuts Comments (0)

Santiago

overcast 78 °F

I left a cold and gray but delightful Paris and headed for Santiago, Chile - another 12 hour overnight flight, this time on Air France. I guess it's no surprise that they win the prize for best food so, with a modest amount of sleep it was really no problem. Perhaps it's worth mentioning that jet lag was never a problem on this trip. I have generally found that traveling east to west is much easier for me to avoid jet lag and that certainly was confirmed on this trip.

When morning came we were over the Andes so I can't resist a couple of airplane window snapshots. I later found out that there is a bus route from Argentina to Chile over the Andes that sounds like an awesome experience - next time?

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I disembarked and grabbed a shuttle bus to the hotel. After a quiet afternoon at the hotel sitting on the deck, sipping mojitos and blogging, I had a light dinner and hit the sack. By the way, the hotel was the Hyatt Place Vitacura and it was an extremely nice stay with an exceptionally helpful and friendly staff. A bit of a break from Airbnb's and well worth it.

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So what to do first? I know! Let's go to a hands-on science museum! I hit the subway system and zoomed out to MIM, the Museo Interactivo Mirador. It's a nice modern building with an attractively laid out interior.

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Each bay contains a related set of exhibits, and each had a volunteer explainer standing by. There were some maintenance issues with the exhibits, which is of course not uncommon, but overall it was quite well done. One exhibit was kind of unique- devoted to copper and copper mining. It had nice displays of different uses for copper and of different methods of ore refining. It also had an exhibit where kids could see themselves in the equipment used by various workers in the mines and refineries; a little bit of recruiting, I guess.

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One cool thing that appealed to me was their exhibit shop, just outside the museum proper.

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I seems to me that this would be an absolutely ideal place to install an Innovation5-style fablab for the surrounding community!

I walked around the neighborhood of the museum quite a bit to get a feel for the area. My overall impression was of modest and well-maintained single family homes. I did glimpse pockets of poverty in Santiago but I will say that in general the people seemed in good spirits. I also had the feeling of greater warmth of interactions between people wherever I went, including families with children, young couples and just regular folks. I would go so far as to say that I felt that the Chilean people were the most content population I saw on the trip. There are some very nice parks and perhaps surprisingly some very good and well-populated bicycle trails. They have had some tough times both politically and economically, but the economy is apparently recovering and people seem to be getting on with their lives pretty well.

I decided to go for a traditional Chilean meal and picked a place nearby called Chilenazo where I ordered a traditional Chilean barbeque specialty, the parrillada, cooked by this guy.

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It looks big, but it is in fact much bigger (this is the half portion, by the way). Imagine being served a delicious skirt steak that would be a full meal in any US restaurant along with a blood sausage. You wolf it down and the server brings a delicious flank steak of similar size and a nice big pork sausage. You work through that and then its an amazingly tender pork chop and a serving of barbequed tripe. Now in a state of total torpor and meat saturation you are served two more relatively small (waafer thin?) pork sausages. Oh and did I mention the potatoes? I failed completely, by the way.

I only had a couple of days in Santiago and I wandered around downtown for a while. Their central market is quite cool with lots of fruit and flowers. I also ran across this bridge which had a couple of interesting features. First, of course, are all the padlocks. I had seen this in Paris as well but apparently it's a worldwide thing - love locks. Couples write their names (or sometimes a wish) on a padlock and lock it to the bridge. It's becoming a bit of a problem in some places where the weight of the locks actually are damaging the bridges. The second interesting thing is the water. It's hard to tell from this photo, but that water is extremely muddy and moving extremely fast - Andean melt water which is carrying huge amounts of sediment even in mid summer.

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I really liked Santiago - from the great weather (upper 70's) moderated by their altitude, the surrounding Andes that poke up wherever you look, the decent infrastructure and people it is a pleasure to be around it's an extremely appealing part of the world.

Next, I'm off to Valparaiso a coastal city that has always intrigued me - and my final stop on this adventure!

Posted by tdeits 08:05 Archived in Chile Tagged mountains food hotels markets on museum santiago hands barbeque Comments (0)

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