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Europe, June 2000

Europe, one of my biggest goals.  I have wanted to visit the continent since I was very young.  Originally, I had planned to travel through Europe that summer with my mom, but my mom was building a house in Richardson, TX, at the time and decided that she could not go with me.  I decided to go anyway.  So, I began in earnest to find out what it would take to travel Europe.  Beginning with the Idiot's Guide to Traveling Europe.  I read and collected 3 travel guides to help me.  I planned my trip in excruciating detail, deciding ahead of time where to go and for how long.  Pass and tickets in hand, I remember boarding the plane with great apprehension.  I had never traveled alone before.  Luckily, I met a nice French woman on the ride there who helped me a little with my French and helped me pass the time.  

Paris


It is unfortunate that my camera did not work very well during my trip.  My tried and trusty point&shoot that had been in my family since I was 12 now refused to focus in any sort of normal, predictable manner.  In a way, however, it is almost fitting since I was so confused during so much of my trip.

I began my trip in Paris because I have always want to visit Paris the most out of Europe, but also because I speak a little French and no other European language.  

I read extensively on how to get to Paris from the Airport and tried out my French on the ticket lady - she spoke in English immediately to help me.  Oh well.  

Riding the RER train was an experience (future link to musings).  I transfered to the metro which took forever because I had no idea how to travel a subway.  We don't have them in Dallas.  I must have looked very lost because a nice French student girl took pity on me and told me how to get to my metro stop. 

I remember exiting the metro with my bag, it was very strange.  Earlier, I had been underground / in a building, but here I was actually out in the open, in France.  A feeling of excitement and joy washed over me.  I was standing with my suitcase in France, surrounded by French people, surrounded by complete strangers, thousands of miles from any place I knew and from any people I knew for the first time in my life.  

Excitement quickly faded to apprehension as I tried to figure out my way from the metro stop - where was the street my hotel was on?  The guidebook maps did not help at all.  I decided to ask for help from some people who were playing soccer in the square.  Turned out that they were travelers (who slept in the park with their tent) and didn't know the area either, but they did find someone who could help me.  So began my chronic ailment of being lost.


The 3 figures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam apparently would all go to heaven back in the "dark" ages.

Notre Dame has a free, English speaking tour about the history of the Cathedral and a little about Catholicism.  Left is one of the carvings at one of the entrances which shows god with 3 smaller figures on his lap representing Catholicism/Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  Apparently, the church believed then that all 3 religions would get you to heaven.  I thought it was very interesting how the church, which is supposed to be the authority on the word of God and infallible, can change it's mind so dramatically on such a basic point.

During the French Revolution, the peasants misunderstood and knocked down the figures of the different kings of Judaism on the front of the building, beheading them believing they represented kings of France.  The figures now are all reproductions, the originals being lost Until they were found in a vault underneath some bank one day this last century.  The originals are housed, not in Notre Dame, but in a small museum I discovered randomly in my wanderings. 

Body & heads of the original kings on Notre Dame, which I found randomly wandering into a very small museum.

Graffiti in Chinese on a pillar in Sacre-Coeur.  Paris is covered with Graffiti, and the famous monuments are not spared.
So, where are all my pictures of the famous sites?  So far, there has been 1 fuzzy picture of the Tour Eiffel, and more are not to come.  I think we've all seen those pictures.  What would be interesting about that?  "I've been there."  So what?  What is the purpose of traveling somewhere grand if we don't experience it and think about it?  If  I want to simply see something beautiful or famous, I can look at a picture.  My travels are not about seeing, but experience and really observing - what is behind those pictures, what we don't normally think about. 

Paris is a place of people, of music, and of "culture."  It was very shocking to me to be surrounded by buildings of old.  I live in Dallas where buildings are torn down / remodeled when they reach the ripe age of 20, maybe 40.  We are such a youth centered society, and it shows in everything.  Where people try to remain young, remain immature.  We live not with the elderly but push them aside in separate communities, where we don't appreciate, and where we don't want to see our futures or "doom."  In our media, we see only the young and the beautiful.  In our music, and in our buildings.  We only see what is young, what is new, what is pretty- especially in suburbia where the populous is flocking to. 

It was so different for me to be constantly hearing music, not of my self-chosen car radio, but from live performers.  Street artists.  Setting the mood, I felt like I was living a documentary travel show. 


Musician playing for money on the slopes of Sacre-Coeur. 

Nice - My next stop was without very many memorable picture, although I did end up arguing with a French man who tried to ask me for money.  He started following me around, and it took a great effort on my part to ditch him.  I couldn't bring myself to tell him to leave.  Too nice?  I ended up losing him while in the busy market.  At least I got to practice my French. 

Rome I got lost in Rome more often than anywhere else.  The street signs are placed on tiles on buildings, all in different colors, in different places, and in different fonts.  A very interesting place where ruins abound everywhere. The Vatican was very different.  Seeing monks and priests walk around in uniform, I was kind of surprised at how authentic their clothes looked.  Previously, I had only seen the

Obelisk in the square by the Pantheon.  The catholic church expressing it's might by stealing symbols from other lands, and then topping them with a crucifix.  Christ has conquered.
monks of Scarborough Faire, a Renaissance Festival that takes place in north Texas every year.  There, people wear costumes that have the look of costumes - flimsy and put together.  Though, what

I found the most amusing, was the smoking group of monks on the plaza leading up to St. Peter's Basilica.  Europe has different views on smoking, I gathered (seeing people smoke everywhere in every building was different). 

Rome was my first experience with Italian men, as well.  I have never been called to or stared at as much as when I was in Italy.  "Ciao, Bella!" But, the men there seem to see beautiful women everywhere.  All I had to do was ignore them, and they moved on to the next woman.


The obligatory I was there photo at the Forum.  See, I really was there.  Actually, it's one of the few in-focus pictures I have from my time in Rome.

 

Florence  

Firenze.  All in all, supposedly a wonderful tourist's city.  I wasn't too impressed.  Met a nice Indian guy there, Gupta, I think?  I think I was getting tired of churches, anyway. But, I did get to see David.  David was very impressive, he's huge and on a pedestal.  We always see David from that classical pose so I decided to take a picture from a uncommon perspective.

In any case, my impression of Florence was mostly one of tourists.  It was full of tourists, and seemed to cater to them well.  I think this was the first city in my trip that really was mostly tourist run.  Paris and Rome are large enough that the locals still greatly outnumber the sight-seers.  Perhaps it still the case with Florence, but maybe I never ventured past the touristy areas.  Then again, I think I only spent 1 day here, so perhaps I also did not get a real feel for the place.


An unusual view of a famous sculpture.

 

Venice I really like Venezia.  I don't know why.  It seemed a very interesting, very romantic place to me - maybe because the canals were so strange or so interesting.  Some people think that Venice smells, but for some reason I didn't think so.  I remember being approached by a man from Naples trying to get me to donate some money and sign a petition for AIDS patients or something.  I signed it, why not, right?  

The place is so crowded with tourists, but the small alley ways that I seem to love abounded everywhere.  It is so easy to get lost there.  Windy alleys that dead end into a canal.  The inability to see more than a few feet.  The lack of distant landmarks...  Wandering around, I got lost so often, but managed to discover new sections (at least to me).  I met a local who took me around a bit.  At one point, he took me to a small courtyard, gestured to the buildings and informed me the building there were young - only 200 years old.  That blew me away - 200 years?  That's about how old my country is!  Wow.  It's really different, thinking a building is new if it is only 200 years old, where as we think things are old once they hit 2 or 3.  

Venice was also over run with tourists, annoying, but I do enjoy looking at street artists, which live off the camera toting spectators.   I think, though, that my favorite moment was sitting in the church of Vivaldi listening to a Vivaldi concert.  Vivaldi is definitely my favorite classical composer, and I felt somehow richer, more enlightened for listening in the place he once performed regularly.  Silly... and sadly true.


The inside of the bridge railing has been worn smooth with hands over the centuries.  The outer edge, not so easily accessible, is still rough.  I think that was really interesting.

Vienna  - What a change to go to Austria from Italy.  I went to sleep in a land where people take their time, party and shop into the small hours of the morning, and lack any sort of organizational instincts, and I woke in a land where the streets were, amazingly, labeled, where everything is clean, and where the stores all close at 5pm.  It was a refreshing change.  I remember sitting in a park by and old castle that had been converted into a governmental building.  I remember watching the people walk and socialize.  It was very calming, and the sky was beautiful.  I had a few moments to reflect  (future link to musings), and it was nice.  Vienna is supposedly the heart of classical music, and I had to go listen to a music concert.  Standing the back of the hall behind all the seated patrons is a great way to stay awake.  Actually, the music was great, and I was very grateful for landing a spot on the railing so I could lean.  In a mall at the free email center, I saw the most handsome man I had ever seen.  He was Mexican.  I found that weird since my view of Mexicans had always been the overweight workers that oogled at every passing woman.

Munich  - Here I didn't do much.  Tired of traveling, my trip was beginning to wind down.  I staying in a single hotel room, and I read a book for most of the day.  Shame on me!  Actually, I was feeling a bit sick and didn't want to be walking around anymore.  When I finally did decide to walk around, I found a place where a bunch of guys were surfing... in the city.  Basically, a bit of the river had been diverted to run through a park, and it passed over a man-made change in depth such that there was a constant wave.  The city boys would get on their surfboards and practice surfing back and forth across this wave.  Too bad my picture is so fuzzy it is pretty much unintelligible.  Europeans are so strange! (hah)  Oh yeah, German food sucks - Sausage and sauerkraut are not my thing.

 

Zurich
My last stop, and I decide to post the picture of chocolates.  I visited the Lindt factory and developed a new found taste for Lindt chocolate.  Maybe the free mini-box of chocolates helped just a little. 

My impressions?  Lots of clocks everywhere - I guess there is a basis for the Swiss clock?  I remember a park full of large chess games, a little taller than knee-high.  Mostly, I remember being glad to finally be able to speak English easily with locals and being happy to be going home soon. 


Chocolates

Final Impressions - There are only a few words you need to know in any language when traveling: Yes, No, Thank you, & Excuse Me.  Good shoes are a must.  Boredom is just an opportunity to rest.  Getting lost is not the end of the world.  Traveling alone is not a big deal and probably preferable - at least no one will see you make a mistake.  Journals are a good friend substitute, at least I'll have a record of all the dumb things I thought about then.  I get home sick, and I can sleep on trains.  I get bored of taking pictures, and I get bored of scanning them pretty quickly. 

A scan of a page out of my journal.  My carte orange / public transportation through Paris.  I took this picture right after arriving in the Metro - I was so tired, but I think the picture turned out surprisingly well.  Maybe because I was too tired to smile too much.  More likely because the picture is so contrasty that you can't see the imperfections that are there.