PARIS October 14-15
Taking a plane 17+ hours to Europe is hard enough. Particularly in light of the Sept. 11th events. A friend and I decide (with a little hesitation) to travel to Italy and France for a few weeks. We planned on doing this in August so it was just a matter of following through. As it turns out, the security wasn't that bad except the lines at SFO were very long. They asked everyone to show up 3 hours but people who showed up just before their flight was to leave were pulled up to the front anyway. It's like giving a tardy student an 'A' and all those in attendance early get an 'F'. What is up with that? Also, I now believe that all planes come equipped with one crying baby. Anyway....we arrive at CDG airport in France early in the morning. After getting our francs and a cafe we take the Metro to our very nice Hotel Dacia in the heart of the Latin Quarter in Paris. We are very close to the Luxembourg Gardens so we go there for a short walk and take in the cool clear French air. Despite the long flight, we are both ready to take in the sites. We take in food at a nearby cafe, walk to Hotel des Invalides (Napolean's former offices) stroll through the Parc Du Champ De Mars and into the Eiffel tower up to the first level. We walk along the Seine a bit then up to Champs Elysee for a very, very late dinner and bottle of the Von Rouge. There is something always great about drinking wine along the Champs Elysee with the Arc de Triompe in the background. It's very late now in Paris but to us it's 3pm California time. So we walk quietly down the Champs past the Place de La Concorde, past the Jardin des Tuileries and through the Louve. At the love, we notice a sign about the museum being closed that day. Later we found out that all of the Parisian museum workers were on strike! Sacra Bleu! Merde! We won't be able to visit the Louve or the Musee D'Orsay the entire time we are in Paris. Very, very disappointing. Back at the hotel, we catch CNN's Anthrax Hoopdedoo. Very depressing. You'd think there is nothing going on in America except Anthrax! I always felt a terrorist organization existed in America and they are the U.S. Media!
Disappointed at the museum strike, we strike out to other sites. But before that, we actually join the strikers at the Pantheon in the hope that our added numbers will end the strike. Didn't work. Headed to the cemetary at Montmarte in search of Jim Morrison's bones. Turns out he isn't there. His door is perceiving over at the cemetary du Pere Lachaise in the eastern part of town but I'm sure you knew that. We did come across the tombstone of Francois Truffaut, the avant-garde French New Wave filmmaker and other famous french people. People actually jog through this place! Not far from the cemetary is the famous Moulin Rouge which means"Red Windmill". The Moulin Rouge has been turned into a Vegas style Cabaret stop with outrageous prices. The days of Toulouse Latrec are long over. However, around the corner, we find some nice non-touristy places to shop and eat. Von Rouge botteile silvuplay? Merci.
We go visit one of my favorite places on earth; The Gardens of Versaille. I was prepared to see evidence of the wind storm that destroyed many trees in 2000 but the garden looked the same as ever. The open spaces and walking paths that go forever are always a treat and me and my friend find many places to sit and dream... Back in Paris, we spend a few hours camped at a cafe in front of the Pompideau Museum (closed of course) having a good time getting comfortable with ordering wine and food. I'm inspired with many ideas since Sept. 11th which left me in a bit of a funk and confused. It was nice to feel a little bit like my old self here. We stroll through the Forum des Halles which boosts an 'inverted' sun dial and sculpture of a human head on its side. We walk past Notre Dame and I tell my friend it is the place were The Hunchback of Notre Dame used to live and work. She bought it. We walked quite a bit in our first three days and experienced very few crowds wherever we went. Easy since many of the places we wanted to go to were closed anyway due to the strike. However, we had a great time eating at different restaurants around the Latin Quarter and drinking only water and red wine the entire time. Now it is on to Italy.
ROME October 18-20
We go take the Metro to the train station. Nothing exciting about that you say? It wasn't except my friend, in her rush, is accused by the French Police of jumping the turnstyle. She shows her tickets and they let her go figuring it wasn't worth a trip to the Bastille. The overnight Eurail to Rome from Paris is about 12 hours and we enjoy a car all to ourselves. We arrive in the late morning to Rome and quickly accept an offer to stay at the Hotel Bolivar not far from the Ancient Center. We are reenergized again after the long train ride and take a walk to the Trevi Fountain, a favorite spot of my friend.. We then walk to the Piazza Navona which is home to Bernini's great fountain of the 4 Great Rivers. We sit down to our first ever Italian meal. It was a great choice at a restaurant tucked in a tiny alley next to the Piazza. The owner welcomed us, fed us well and did all he could to keep us there as long as possible. After our meal, we decided to see many sites but made it a point to find "the Mouth of Truth' made famous in the Audrey Hepburn movie 'Roman Holiday'. We didn't find it that day, but instead visited the very, very old Pantheon (a shrine to all the Gods) they say. Buried there is the artist Raphael. They sure know how to treat there artists in Italy, I thought. Evenings were filled with excellent Italian dishes and Chianti and gazed at the stars when we sat at the edge of the Ancient City of Rome. The next morning we walked into the very heart of old Rome into Emperor Trajan's marketplace and to the Colosseum built by Emperor Hadrian on the site of Nero's monument to spite him they say. The Colosseum is smaller than I imagined and an unusual experience by itself. They say, at its height, the Colosseum presented such atrocities as never seen before or since including the killing of somebody or some animal every 10 seconds. There is now a wooden floor covering about 25% of the area to give the impression of being on the same floor as the gladiators. Imagining what it must have been like then only brings images of horror and death, nothing pretty and poetic at all, just shear death and blood lust. The only reason the emperors used this place was to curry favor from the population and nothing else. The great irony in Italy is that you see so many sculptures and images of lions everywhere but they are exctinct there mostly because of what went on in the Colosseum. From there we walk through Constantine's Archway on the road leading directly into the imperial Senate and monuments built by Julius Ceasar himself many years before the birth of Christ. Here, in the middle of the Ancient City, imagine a time where there was no such thing as Christianity or a "Christ" -just a way of living that was excellent if you were a Roman citizen and not so great if you were anybody else. The weather is beautiful here and the hills are lush with greenery. It is easy to see this place as a once great city center but difficult to imagine that it was the capital of the known world stretching from Spain and England into the Middle East. We walked were Caesars lurked and pondered the incredible history and influence this area, no larger than two football fields, had on the Western World. Eventually, Roma was abandoned by the new Christian Emperor Constantine and its decline paved the way for Germanic tribes to come down and clobber it into oblivion. We stop and eat overlooking the old city and it was hard to imagine all of the history that happened here and all that is left is its bones and the tourists ants scrambling over them looking for a little piece to take with them home. Viola! After a long search we find The Mouth of Truth hidden in the Plaza ---------- We make like Audrey and stick our hand inside the mouth and to our surpise nothing happened. They say truth is the first casualty of war. Perhaps there was a casualty we didn't see? Afterwards, we taxi it to the Piazza Spagna famous for its long Spanish steps and possessing the home of John Keats and Lord Byron. We tour their cool pad and read some letter from them and their children. One letter in particular struck me as symbolic of what Rome is all about. It was by the daughter of Percy Shelley writing to someone notifying that Percy Shelley had just died in a sailing accident. She describes Rome as a beautiful place "ideal if you've come here prepared to welcome death". Death seemed to lie ontop of this city like a light mist that dries the throat and haunts the mind.
Florence October 21-23
Back on the train for three hours to Firenze (Florence), the home of Florentine art and the nest of the Renaissance movement. We arrive at the station and walk around until we find a suitable hotel. We find a good room with decent rates, a few yards from the Ponte Vecchio overlooking the Arno river. Certainly, Florence has a vibe very different from Rome's. It's much more livlier and fresher and inspiration seems to be everywhere. The gelati portions are larger and tastier here (I think) and we finally get into a museum to see art. My breath was taken away when I first viewed Michelangelo's David. It is completely perfect and massive and so alive as to be stunning. It made all of the other sculpture we saw seem amateurish. The great thing about Florence is seeing the historic shift of art made on walls, wood and with rock and marble to art made on canvas and other light material presumably because it allowed for the artwork to be more easily transported and sold. Another observation is that most of the art commissioned was by the church in its ever growing effort to wrest power from the Roman Emperors. In order to teach the illiterate masses about the bible, artists were commissioned to create visual work that translated the beauty and power of the christian God. The renaissance was a great time for artists, lots of money, lots of prestige and all they were asked to do was to create work about God. The cathedrals dominate Florence and the level of detail in these buildings is without comparison. I get a few more ideas to take along with me as we head back on the train to our next stop-
Venice! October 24-26
Venice! Venezia! Oh, what a happening place! This wonderful city on the water has it all! First, all your transportation takes place on water. Secondly, there isn't a single stinking car or moped in site and finally, it's a great walking city with many different things to do. We arrive around sunset and quickly take the #1 water bus which goes along the entire stretch of the Grand Canal. The light from the sunset bounces off the color full buildings around us as we glide on the "green paint" canal underneath the famous Rialto bridge, past the entrance to the Peggy Guggenheim museum and stop to depart near the Plaza San Marco at the end of the Grand Canal. My friend has a hotel in mind and we have no problem finding a nice available room. It has always been my understanding that it is very difficult to find available rooms in Venice anytime of the year. We are fortunate to find one quite easily. We unpack and later stroll down to the Plaza San Marco which Napolean called, "the greatest drawing room in Europe". Before arriving in Venice, I was a little concerned about navigating around the town and getting lost. However, you find it is nearly impossible to get lost here if you just follow were the crowds are coming and going. You'll always find your way to the Rialto or San Marco no matter where you go-no need to know what street you are on. We sit down to a great meal and chianti at the Rialto on a pleasant Venetian evening. Again, not very crowded and service is always fun and excellent and we joke around with the waiters from time to time. Many highlights in Venezia including the Bridge of Sighs, an enclosed bridge that connected the opulent courthouse with the damp, clausterphobic medieval jail. I had lots of laughs there. To our amazing luck, the city of Venice was kind enough to pay for our two day stay through the support of the Casino Venezia Foundation on the Grand Canal. I found that my fundraising style in America worked just as well here in Italy. We visited the Peggy Guggenheim museum filled with mostly modern artwork. Peggy basically built a huge house and then would go out and buy artwork from her friends. After she died, her ashes were placed in the yard and the home became an instant museum. Where are the Peggy Guggenheims of the 21st Century?? Our days were filled with good food, pleasant siteseeing experiences and few crowds. We have an early morning bellini at Harry's Bar where E. Hemingway used to visit before he blew his brains out.We take a gondola on our last night to the train station and head back to Paris.
Paris, October 27
Faux! Faux! The museums are still closed here! The French go on strikes like Americans call in sick! I'm very disappointed at not being able to visit the Louvre and D' Orsay. So what do you do when some of the greatest museums in the world are closed? Well, you can go to the brassiere and eat and drink all day. I imagined there probably was a few museum workers in there as well. We spend a good portion of the day at the Luxombourg Gardens drinking the chianti we bought in Venice and dubbing the day, "International Afternoon Delight Day". This day can only be celebrated if: 1. You are in a foreign land. 2. You are drinking a product that is not from your land or the foreign land you are currently in. 3. You must wear one article of clothing from still another foreign land. That's it.
We check out and head back to CDG airport and we experience our first Ceremony. Someone had left an unattended bag in the carousel next to us. After a few minutes, French soldiers move everyone about 40 yards from the bag. A guy in a helmet comes in and blows the bag up and leaves. Everyone claps (except us cause we didn't know what the hell was going on). We go back in line and make our plane that takes off on time. We stop over in Pittsburgh for a few hours and then return to SFO. Back to the homeland that is America. I really wish I could have stayed in Venice forever I tell my friend. She agrees and we ponder the future under a Bay Area moon....
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