Archive for July, 2008

Almost done…..

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Not sure how I feel about that. On one hand it will be really nice to be back in the States and to be able to see everyone again. (I am planning a last ditch tour of the US: Washington, NJ, Detroit, maybe Yellowstone, LA, San Diego, Grand Canyon and I-10 to Florida, The Keys, and back to Norfolk to grab my stuff to head to DC and start work/school. In case no one knew.) On the other hand I am going to miss the constant new-ness of traveling, as well as that whole not having to get up in the morning for work thing. Anyway, Paris was absolutely amazing to see. The only thing that would have made it better was if it wasn´t in France. Go figure. Actually I didn´t have that much of a problem with the people, but more with the train systems in France. I´ll save that for later though. Anyway, I spent three days wandering pretty much all over Paris. On the first day I sort of bee-lined it to Notre Dame and the island it is on. When I got there, though, they had some small scaffolding up in the front of the church, and my first reaction was “not again!” However, it was a minor thing, so I took the chance they would only have it up for today, and figured I would come back the next day to check it out a little more thoroughly. That and the line to climb the tower was a block long, so not to self: arrive early. Well, I wandered away from there, and took the train to Champs de Mars and the Eiffel Tower. First look was during the day, and it was pretty cool. I am still trying to figure if that or the Pyramids was better. On one hand the Pyramids are ancient and one of the old Man-made Wonders of the World, but the Eiffel tower kind of represents France like the Pyramids represent Egypt. Maybe it is also because they close the Pyramids down at sunset and don´t open them up until 8:00 in the morning too, so you really can´t get the dusk-night feel that made the Eiffel tower so cool. Maybe I´ll figure it out when I get back and start sorting through the 15000+ pictures I have snapped along the way.

So I got to the Champs de Mars at around 2:00 or so, so the sun was pretty blazing and it tends to wash out the colors a bit, plus I wanted to see the Statue of Liberty – French edition as I have yet to go visit the one in New York. (I know, tell me about it.) It is actually on a small little island at the very tip facing out to the river, so it was a bit hard getting a picture in front of it, but you get a stellar view of the back side from the bridge right behind it. I actually laughed a bit while I was snapping a picture from the bridge thinking of titling it “The Rear of Liberty.” What do you all think?


I had to hike up to the next bridge to get a good shot of the front side, and it just so happens it lines up with the Eiffel tower too, so hopefully the panoramic comes out alright when I merge it. From there I figured I would walk down to see the Arch de Triumph which it turns out was a bit more of a hike than the map made it look like. It is also quite a bit taller than you think looking at it. I got a ticket to climb to the top, and it seems like Paris is laid out in a hub around this round-about. Kind of neat to see, and I took a bunch of pictures that I can hopefully merge into one huge panoramic of the city layout. It is like a bunch of cheese wedges on a wheel laid out before you. Kind of neat, and you have the Eiffel Tower, Mt Montemart, ect… all laid out before you as well. It is a bit of a climb to the top, however. Something like 300 steps or so. Luckily carrying a 40 lb backpack for the last 6 months has made my legs strong, and I pretty much flew up it. It´s hot though, so I was sweating up a storm at the top. In fact, that pretty much describes most of Paris. No wonder they call it a “French Shower.” I guess that term is pretty universal since pretty much everyone knows it. I mean Brits, Aussies, Swedes, everyone. Anyway, I was a bit hungery after that so I stopped by for dinner. It was absolutely amazing. Veal entrecote with melted cheese, bacon, a mushroom sauce on a bed of potatos. Only cost me 45 Euro. Well, 30 Euro for the entre, 10 Euro for the liter of wine, and 5 Euro for Creme Bruelle. After that I was feeling a little bit tipsy so I figured I would head back to the hostel to get some sleep and do the night shooting the next night. Unfortunately, it doesn´t get dark in Paris until about 10:30 at night and the trains stop running around 1:00 am. Because of that I only really got to get night shots of the Eiffel tower and Notre Dame, which were the ones I really wanted, but it would have been nice to get to the Moulin Rouge and Montemarte. I actually managed to have to walk about a mile back to my hotel from the metro stop because my connection had already stopped running. I guess it was good I was already headed in that direction.

I was kind of up against a hard wall in leaving France because I had tickets to see Clapton in London on the 28th, so I managed to hop on the Eurostar through the Chunnel to London. The upside was that it dropped me in central London a short metro ride from my hotel and Hyde Park. The down side was that France apparently has a quota system for Eurail holders despite advertisements to the contrary on the Eurail site. (The say you may have to pay a supplement, but there is no limit other than the train being full.) Not so for France. I had to pay about $200 for the ticket to London when it should have only been around $75 or so. So note to those planning on making that trip: book way in advance. I kept arguing with them that they had seating available, why were they not taking my Eurail pass? No luck. It was that way for most of France in fact. Coming back from London it was $80 when France told me the return journey was booked for Eurail pass holders and it would be another $200. I managed however, and am actually way under budget for this trip anyway, so not too big of a problem, just a bit annoying. So I made it to London, and saw what is probably the best concert I have ever been to.

Hyde Park was general admission so I got there about an hour and a half before the concert started and 30 minutes after the gates opened. Being alone, I easily weaseled my way up to about 5 feet away from the very front. I was that 6´0″ a$$ standing in front of the short people totally blocking their view, but hey, all is fair in love, war, and seeing Eric Clapton live. Anyway, they started out with the winners of some British reality show about getting bands back together. Not too bad, but could have cared less about them. However, I wasn´t willing to sacrifice my spot, so I endured. The next band I had never heard of, but they were damn good: Robert Randolph and the Family Band. They played for about 45 minutes, and along came Jason Mraz. First of all, I didn´t know he was playing until the night before, then when Robert Randolph came on (not in the line up the night before) I pretty much thought he had backed out. So, when he actually came on I was a bit surprised. No one in London apparently knows who he is either, because everyone was asking “who is this again” the entire time. Sort of funny to see market penetration , or lack of it, in effect. He played for about 45 minutes too, and a darn good set. I am not the biggest fan, but is acoustic stuff is amazing. Then the headliners came on. John Mayer for about an hour and a half. Very Blues-y which I actually liked more than his CD´s. It seems like he is holding back a bit on his CD´s to be more mainstream. Then Sheryl Crow. Not the biggest fan, and she had a whole “I hate Bush, gas should be free” agenda which sort of pissed me off. I mean who the heck is she to be complaining about the cost of gas, right? She sings well enough though, and it was a bit funny seeing her do the “backup dancer” dance the entire set every once in a while throwing in a power stance. (I think she was coached by Jack Black.) But, after her was Clapton so I endured. When he came on, I had managed to squirm my way to only having one person in front of me, so I was pretty much front row. I sat there the entire time blown away that I was watching Eric Clapton play from about 10 feet away (including stage space.) I had seen Van Morrison before, and he refused to play his mainstream stuff (I mean THE song he is know for: Brown Eyed Girl, as he views it as his sell out period), so I was expecting not to hear a lot of his older stuff. However, he ran the gamut. Some of the newer in the beginning, a good rendition of “Before you Accuse me,” and then closing with Layla (the original version), Cocaine (amazing), and an encore with John Mayer and Sheryl Crow of Crossroads that blew me away. So all in all, the best concert I have seen, and to see Clapton play in London just makes it that much better. Oh, and I bought the T-Shirt. He!

Coming down from that high, I spent the next days visiting with some friends I had met in Prague and Rome that were in town too, and going to the Tate and seeing Big Ben. Big Ben is better than the Tate, by the way. From there the chunnel back and the start, or maybe continuing episode of “I hate the French Train System.” I kept trying to get to Barcelona to see the running of the Bulls, however, they “couldn´t” make reservations for certain trains along the way. They apparently didn´t know why, but I managed to get stuck in Nice, Lyon, and Montpellier along the way, each for a night. I was supposed to take the night train from Paris to Geneva and then a day in Geneva, then night train to Barcelona. No such luck. Managed to see Geneva for a day, but the night train I was told was running out of Lyon, and Switzerland couldn´t book it, only a French agent and I had time in Lyon to book. I get there, no openings. Stuck. The next morning I take a train to Nice hoping to catch a train to Barcelona for the day. Stuck. Montpellier. Stuck. Show up at 6:00 in the morning to catch the ¨:26 train to Barcelona that they couldn´t reserve for me in Nice because their system wouldn´t let them “at that time” and one teller is working with a line 20 people deep. Needless to say missed that connection, and had to catch one 4 hours later that got in last night at 7:00 in the evening. SO. I wanted to smack a Frenchman after that. Hence my burgeoning dislike of the French, or at least the French railways. Anyway, I am here in Barcelona now, enjoying Sangria and San Miguel, so all is well. I am already reserved for the night train to Paris and connection to Amsterdam to fly back home on Friday. So it seems as this experience is coming to a close, but I have to say I am EXTREMELY glad I decided to do this. I wasn´t sure how I would handle the traveling alone for six months, much less the wildly different cultures I have visited, and I was actually a bit nervous to take off, but it has been amazing. I think that everyone should travel at least once in their life.

So I am off. I´ll see most of you within a month or so.

JC

Here are the pictures of Paris
Here is Venice
Here is London