Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Notre Dame Heat

The day we went to Notre Dame, it was hot. One might say hotter than the blazes that once burned through portions of Paris, but that's another story for another day. As we headed towards the famed cathedral, we had the most wonderful breeze blowing off the Seine, but then, once on Il de la Cite the breeze stopped. The square in front of Notre Dame was one big field of heat. The queue to enter the church had a moisture cloud above it from the patrons' sweat.

Once inside though, it was cooler, more calm, quiet. It smelled of ash and wet cement. The light shining through the stained glass was amazing. The ribbed ceilings were so high. The artwork within: breathe taking. It's quite understandable why Notre Dame is as famed as it is.

After we went through the main public areas of the church, we decided to take it a step further and go up into the bell towers. Just because we decided to do this doesn't mean that we just got to walk up the stairs and have a million dollar view of Paris. It meant waiting in a long line for a long time before taking a long walk up the long stairs. I was sure it would be completely worth it though, and it was.

Waiting: We walked around to the port side of the cathedral where we saw the line go from the base of the bell tower at the front, all of the way to the end of the church. In comparison to the line at the Louvre, this was nothing. The Louvre, though, did move pretty quickly and it was being overseen by hundred of statues. The wait wasn't awful though: we were in Paris.
While my companion stayed in line, I took some time away to sit across the street and stare up at the enormous rose window. From the outside, it's not that striking, just large. When inside though, the color is amazing and vibrant. I sat there, staring up at it, planning out my painting, when I realize, "I am out of white paint!!" This is often a problem for me when I use opaque watercolors. I improvised through it and used the memory of the amazing colors you see from inside to paint the blah that I was staring at on the outside... (to be continued)

Learning to travel by train

My travel dictionary

Eurail: a pre-purchased train ticket that may or may not get you where you want to go or may unintentionally restrict you from being efficient or actually moving from place to place.

Oeuf: a condiment; a main ingredient in to-go sandwiches; an egg... in many forms

White: the watercolor that is most easily tainted and the first to run out of

Why do I pick these phrases? Let's start with the first and end with the last.

Eurail was always described to me as a brilliant way to travel from town to town. It's a ticket/system that allows a person to have a flexible travel schedule and make seeing Europe less stressful. Our first attempt at using our Eurail passes was indeed an epic fail.

We arrived at Gare de Lyon at a shockingly early time for Paris: 8:00 am. We found our way to the correct platform and were ready to board the train to Nice. Heading towards the train, we saw that our transport we were about to board was sold out...but we had a Eurail pass....and our plan was to ride this train....and the Eurail guide said that reservations are not required, but recommended...and now we can't get to Nice... Quickly, I started working towards a solution: the ticket counter!

I explained the situation to the clerk at Gare de Lyon who was quick to become frustrated with me because I was holding the most detestable object in all of the European travel industry: a Eurail pass. She was able to help us and booked us on the bullet train to Marseille and then the stop and go train to Nice. After completing this booking, she told me "You MUST go to the Eurail desk in Nice, otherwise you can't go anywhere." That turned out to be true as we struggled to book the remaining train trips. On a side note, we weren't completely successful and had to fly from Venice back to Paris.

Oeuf. Who knew that eggs were so versatile and found in so many un-refrigerated places? When I think of putting a hard boiled egg on a sandwich, I'm thinking about Egg Salad: light, fluffy, slightly indulgent. Parisian sandwiches have changed my view: hard boiled eggs are to be used in place of sliced of jambon or poulet. I now enjoy the hard boiled egg as a snack or main ingredient. Also, if you're traveling abroad, you might not ever see scrambled eggs on a menu... I think that the rest of the world might consider them not too classy.

Bianca, Blanche, Blanco... White adds such a wonderful balance to a picture or painting. When traveling through Paris, everything is so yellow or brown or beige, that the white on buildings and it the sky creates lacing around everything. What happens when you're painting on beige/light brown paper and...you run out of white?!?! You improvise. Hence forth, my frustrating day in Gare de Lyon forced me into painting with many shades of green. I had to teach myself to take a new approach and I loved it.

Upon arriving in Nice 10 years later, I was able to purchase more paints, including white.

Night at the Rialto

Venice is confusing. End of story. No, there's more to the story.

After spending time in France and western Italy, Venice seemed like a completely different world. We arrived in the early afternoon at the train station, Santa Lucia, in the blazing, stagnate heat. The smells of the lagoon and the bustling city were...um...amazing. The first view of the Grand Canal was the busy vapretto depot. People were yelling across the canal, the street vendors were selling fruit and drinks, everybody was going somewhere. With all of the bustling and a huge backpack, there just wasn't the time to take in the amazing first impression of the Grand Canal.

We jumped on our vapretto and headed off to the Lido where we were staying. It was a whirlwind view of Venice, zig zagging across the Grand Canal from boat stop to boat stop until we whizzed past St. Mark's square and out into the lagoon. Wow. The sights, no matter how quickly they passed, were inspiring.

We got to our hotel on the Lido and relaxed for a moment before running up the street to jump into the Adriatic. The water, warm; the surf, shallow; and the swim wear, wee. Nothing could have been better to help unwind after a long day of traveling. When beach time was over and we left the sounds of the gentle waves behind us, the twinkling city across the lagoon started to beckon us towards adventure.

If you've ever been to Venice and went exploring on your own, you know that getting lost in inevitable, but that's okay. For some reason, I thought that my sense of direction was stronger that the labyrinth that formed 1600 years ago. What was I thinking, indeed? After wandering through tiny alleyways, crossing countless bridges and running into dead ends that were just steps into water, I finally made it into the open air. The key to finding the way out is to try following the strongest echo. An echo in Venice is like prairie dog in the Great Plains: there are millions and you'll never catch the same one twice. That being said, I did find one and it led me to a sight to behold, the Rialto Bridge.

Everything in Venice is amazing and breathtaking and memorable and more than you dreamed of and magical and surprising and so much like a fairytale that it's difficult to take it all in. Meeting all of these descriptions was the Rialto Bridge. The night was black and crisp and the palazzos along the canal gave off a soft glow. In contrast to that glow was the bridge: a immense stone structure reflecting more light than all of the glowing palazzos combined. The light, the noise and the mystery all teamed together to draw me out of the maze that is Venice's alleys and out into the wonder that is Venice at night. There began the adventure that took me from being a tourist lost in the alleys to an explorer wandering through the market places and enjoying Venice for all that it is.