Cities as Living Things

I saw this video from Mindrelic (via Cameron) and I just fell in love with it.

Last week, Alli and I saw Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, and I adored it. It was one of those movies that just makes you smile the whole time. During the movie, there is a conversation between two of the characters where they talk about the life of a city that is independent of its inhabitants — that a city lives and breathes like an organism does.

Now, I’m no fan of Woody Allen’s, but this idea was something that I really remembered from the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed the film (by far my favorite of Allen’s 586 films he’s made) and if I took anything away from it, it was this idea that we much like the blood cells of the living organism that is the place that we inhabit…we have a structure and life all our own, but we contribute to the life of something larger.

Friday Blogthing – Like Bono, but with better hair

You Belong in Dublin

Friendly and down to earth, you want to enjoy Europe without snobbery or pretensions. You’re the perfect person to go wild on a pub crawl… or enjoy a quiet bike ride through the old part of town.

I was hoping for Paris, but I’ve never been to Dublin.

What European City Do You Belong In?

Anatomy of a European Dream Trip

When we started planning this trip, we were filled with anticipation and nervousness. As it got closer, we began to worry that we didn’t start planning early enough. Once we got on the trip, we realized that our nervousness and worry was nothing – this trip was about us. It was about falling in love in another country and discovering that, even worlds away, we are the best of friends.

This may sound somewhat arrogant, but weaker couples would have come unhinged by the struggles and inconveniences we encountered along the way. We returned stronger and more in love than we’ve ever been.

Discovering Paris together was so fun and I imagine we’ll return to Paris and Venice sooner than we’ll return any of our other locations. My negative experience in Florence almost made me want to go back and give it another try. But not enough.

We spent a lot of time in Rome – enough for two separate posts covering all we did. Rome was interesting enough, but it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. We did, however, see Ferris Bueller and Carrie Bradshaw, which was cool.

After Rome it was off to the Amalfi Coast. It was incredibly beautiful, but difficult to get around. By the end of our trip, we craved creature comforts that we often take for granted (more than 1 pillow on the bed, easy access to food, etc.). But getting home wasn’t easy.

As happy as we were to get home, we were ready to go back after about a week of sleeping in our own bed. Having the experience of this trip will give us more experience going forward. I can’t wait for our next adventure.

Here’s one last thing, a re-posting of my earlier Trip By the Numbers:

  • Miles Traveled: over 12,000
  • Countries Visited: 2 (and the USA)
  • Cities Visited: 8
  • Hotels Stayed In: 6
  • Hours Spent on Planes: 39.5
  • Hours Spent on Trains: 44
  • Hours Delayed on Planes: 32 (includes a 24-hour delay in Paris)
  • Hours Delayed on Trains: 7 (includes the 3-hour delay that caused the Paris delay)
  • Taxis Taken: 13
  • Trains Taken: 11
  • Subways Taken: 8
  • Planes Taken: 4
  • Boats Taken: 8
  • Modes of Transportation: 12
  • Stairs Climbed in Churches: over 1,000
  • Times Swam: 5
  • Gelatos Eaten: around 20
  • Pizzas Eaten: Shane – 7; Alli – 8
  • Croissants Eaten: over 20
  • Museums Visited: 6
  • Americans Met: 19
  • Movies Watched: 7 (Including Shrek the Third in French)
  • Celebrities Seen: 6 (Jude Law, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Andie McDowell, Nicole Ritchie, and all of Good Charlotte)
  • Books Read: 4.5
  • Times We Did Laundry: 4
  • Souvenirs Purchased: ZERO
  • Pictures Taken: 1,920

I hope that you have enjoyed my overviews of each city. It’s been fun to revisit the trip in this way. I apologize for my long-windedness in many posts, but this isn’t nearly as extensive as my written journal, which is now effectively shut until our next trip.

Finishing up the diary

We now return to your regularly scheduled blogging. There’s lots to discuss. Chiefs, poker, US Open Tennis (how good is Roger Federer?), golf, etc. The floodgates are now open.

Trip Days 20-21: Home

We received a very unfortunate piece of news on the final day of our vacation: Alli’s high school art teacher and mentor had passed away after a battle with cancer. It was a really rough time – Ms. McGuire was the reason that Alli became a painter and much of the reason that Alli took the trip to Europe to see all of the artwork that we did.

The news came as a shock to her, but we were buoyed by the fact that we would in fact be arriving home in just enough time to drive to Council Bluffs for the memorial service. We waited quietly for Claudio to come pick us up so we could make our train from Naples to Rome.

We decided early on that we would fly in and out of Paris because it was considerably cheaper than flying out of Rome. Plus, it gave us the opportunity to see Paris, which was something that I really wanted to do with Alli.

What this meant, though, was that we would have a full day of travel our last day of vacation. First we would ride with Claudio to Naples, then we would catch a train to Rome, and then we would catch another train that would take us overnight to Paris, where we would wake up and have plenty of time to make our flight home from Charles de Gaulle airport.

The first part of the trip went remarkably well. We arrived in Naples with plenty of time to make our train (thanks to Claudio, the consiglieri of the Italian Taxi Mob), and we arrived in Rome with enough time to grab some food before our night train.

Dinner in the Rome train station

We went to a place called Mr. Panino, a fast-food, Italian version of Subway, only without all the health. Man, was it ever disgusting. We grabbed our last gelato of the trip in the airport and it ended up almost making up for the nastiness that was Mr. Panino – it was creamy and tasty, probably the 3rd best gelato we had (out of 11 total, I think).

Our train from Rome to Paris was slightly delayed, which sucked because the Rome Termini train station is a madhouse, full of begging gypsies who exploit their own children and various vagabonds and smokers. Plus, it was spectacularly hot.

Our train room back to paris When we got on the train and into our tiny traveling car (the picture at right shows ALL of the room – the beds are behind that mirror and fold down), the heat was stifling. The air conditioning was barely leaking out of the single vent by the window and it didn’t work properly unless you shut yourself in the closet of a room, which emphasized the suffocating nature of the heat.

We pulled away from the station about 30 minutes late, which didn’t cause us a ton of worry – the guy who was the train representative in our coach assured us we’d make up the time on the way. Even if we didn’t, we had over 4 hours to make our plane when we arrived in Paris – plenty of time to get from Gare du Nord, where we’d be arriving, up to the second Charles de Gaulle airport train terminal.

Alli and I passed some of the time watching episodes of The Office on our ipod video (totally genius) and The Italian Job. We tried putting the beds down and crowding into one of them, but the heat persisted through most of the night, keeping us plenty uncomfortable along the way. We attempted sleep, but as it was before, sleep was difficult on the train. It was made more difficult when in the middle of the night, we discovered that we were stopped in the middle of nowhere. We got concerned as the stops got longer; at one point we were probably stationary for over an hour.

As light came, we began passing through French towns, which was encouraging, but not uplifting considering that we had to get to Paris, which sits in the Northwest part of France. I knew that once we passed through Dijon that we were a couple hours out. We were scheduled to be in Dijon around 6:45. We arrived after 9.

We were really starting to get concerned now. The cabin train rep assured us that we’d only be 2 hours late, which would be enough time for us to make our plane still, but any later and we’d be seriously pushing it considering we were on an international flight to Newark.

The cabin train rep lied. 2 hours became 3. We now had just over an hour to get off our train, catch a metro from Southern Paris to Northeastern Paris, clear security and make our plane. It was starting to look bleak. I started to unravel and my wife, God bless her, was the one who remained calm along the way. We finally managed to get some change to get onto the subway and got quickly on the train to the airport. We had to make 11 stops in about 45 minutes.

We didn’t make it.

Considering that we were trying to return home in time for a funeral, it was a major blow. As I spoke with the Continental desk, Alli sobbed behind me, which made me all the more upset that Continental was not doing more to assist us in finding another flight out. It’s no wonder that people are disgruntled with the airline industry – Continental provided us with no assistance and absolutely no concern for our well-being. I could chalk it up to the desk workers being French, but it is the same back in the states. We need an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights and quickly.

After attempting to get on several different airlines (despite the Continental desk telling us that we couldn’t…we could for a fee), we resigned ourselves that we were not going to get home that night. We found the only hotel that was a part of the airport, the Airport Sheraton. It was certainly above what we wanted to spend, but I really did not want to get a taxi or shuttle to another, less expensive hotel. Considering that I was planning to make Trenitalia or SNCF pay for our stay, I wasn’t too worried about it (I am still waiting to hear back from them).

I had an absolutely spectacular cheeseburger – something I’d denied myself these 3 weeks – that evening in the hotel terrace restaurant. While we could have stayed somewhere cheaper, it was nice to stay in a quality hotel and get a good night’s sleep after all that we’d been through in the past 36 hours. It was awesome to get a nice hot shower and to have a comfortable bed to sleep in after sleeping on plywood for a week in Amalfi.

We awoke plenty early to make our flight, arriving when the airport opened. We got in line to clear customs and found ourselves in line for a flight to Newark that left earlier than ours did. This was weird, considering that the morons at the Continental desk told us that we were on the earliest flight out. Another Continental worker that morning managed to get us on the flight because (big surprise) all flights to Newark were delayed. The early flight, scheduled to leave at 9:10 AM was now not scheduled to leave until after NOON.

Guess what. We missed our connection in Newark. But we did finally make it. It turned out that Andie McDowell was on our flight from Paris and the first thing we saw when we got off in Newark was her yelling at someone on a cell phone – a very diva-like moment. We had almost 4 hours to wait for our flight, during which we charged our ipod.

Alli charging the ipod in Newark

We also had one more celebrity sighting, spotting Nicole Ritchie and all of Good Charlotte waiting for a flight to Nashville. I snapped an OK picture of her, but it’s hard to spot her baby bump. She is so small that it’s hard to imagine her carrying a baby…she looks like she’s maybe 11 years old.

We got on our flight to KC that was supposed to leave around 8:30. DELAYED. But this time, we were on the airplane and sat on the runway for OVER TWO HOURS. After this experience, I’ll never fly Continental again. I don’t care if I have to pay more to fly someone else…it won’t be Continental. It’s so confusing how airlines cannot get their stuff together. I saw an interview with the head of American Airlines and he acted like they had no control over the awfulness that plagues the airways. You and I know this isn’t true. Customer service is at an all-time low in every airline except one. You’d think that the other airlines would study what Southwest is doing right with their domestic flights and figure out how to apply it to international flights.

But alas, the major airlines are all run by morons who think they know what the customer wants, but really have no clue. We finally arrived home after a huge delay, thankful to be back on the ground in Kansas City and to be sleeping in our own bed that night. We were also thankful to have someone picking us up at the airport (thanks, mom).

As dreadful as our travel to and from Paris was…if I had to choose between going and not going…it wouldn’t even be a contest. But still…it would be nice to know that if we decided to go back that the morons who run the airlines and trains somehow managed to remove their heads from their behinds.

Trip Days 1-4: Paris

After an extremely difficult trip from Kansas City to Newark (via Philadelphia), we arrived in Paris around 1:30 p.m. If you consider that we were supposed to arrive about 9:00 a.m., you’ll get a pretty good idea of what our dreadful flights from the states were like.

The Eiffel Tower We tried to figure out what train to take from Charles de Gaulle airport, which took us about 45 minutes and then managed to make it to the Louvre train station around 3. Once we exited the subway (which is, by far, the best way to travel in Paris), I realized that I had NO CLUE how to get to our hotel…only that it was close.

Fortunately, we had gotten a pre-paid SIM card for one of my mom’s old phones and we pulled it out to give the Hotel Louvre Forum a call. Having a cell phone on this trip was great, making it easy for us to talk to our families back home and to contact our hotels and villas along the way. Once we spoke to the hotel, finding it was pretty easy. Our room was quite small, but it was in a great neighborhood – extremely close to the Louvre in the 1st Arrondissement (neighborhood). After a long trip, we crashed for a few hours, woke up and walked around a bit, before catching a bite at a restaurant just around the corner from the hotel.

Alli's first Paris breakfast The next day was a big one. We took the subway down to the Arc de Triomphe and then walked from there to the Eiffel Tower and along the Seine to the Musee d’Orsay, which contains an amazing collection of impressionist artwork. We got tickets to the special exhibition, which was all based upon the collection of one of the most important art dealers near the turn of the century. In the exhibition, we saw the first of 6 celebrities we would see upon our European trip – Jude Law. It was surreal because he was about 10 feet from me when Alli saw him. No one was bothering him, though, so we didn’t either.

Inside the Musee d'OrsayThe collection at the Orsay is wonderful, full of the stuff that we would not see the next day at the Louvre. It’s a little disappointing that the Louvre chooses not to display the work of the Impressionist era, but the Orsay more than makes up for it with their collection of Van Gogh, Degas, Renior, and many others.

After the museum, we went to Notre Dame, which was great – by far my favorite church that we saw in all our travels. It is beautiful both inside and out and if you take the tower tour, you get a spectacular panoramic view of Paris:

View of Paris from atop Notre Dame

In 1998, I visited Paris with my family. I don’t know what it was about that visit, but I thoroughly disliked the city at the time. It was the normal, garden-variety reasons for disliking the City of Lights (rude people, everyone smokes, etc.). Looking back, those reasons were pretty lame. Perhaps it was 10 years of maturity. Even more likely, it was exploring the city of lights with my best friend and the love of my life. We also didn’t plan particularly well 10 years ago and Alli and I went with a very specific list of things that we wanted to accomplish in the city, accompanied by the Frommer’s Pocket Guide (a must for international travel), giving us the opening and closing times of each of the museums and attractions.

However, it wasn’t so much the stuff that we planned to do that made Paris great this time around, but it was just exploring the city together, walking down the beautiful streets, stopping in small cafes for bread or water, and seeing Paris as fully as we could.

After Orsay-Notre-Dame Day, we crashed. After walking around what seemed like ALL of Paris, we were well-ready for some sleep. The next morning was Sunday, and we awoke early to find a cafe that was open for breakfast so we could get in the line at the Louvre. The first Sunday of every month, admission to the Louvre is free, so we knew that there would be lots of people waiting to get in.

I.M. Pei's Pyramid

As you can see in this picture, people are already lining up along the left side of the picture. By the time we entered the museum, the line traveled all the way behind where I stood when I took the picture all the way wrapping around to the right side of the picture past the pyramid. It was pretty crazy, especially once they opened the doors and about 25,000 people made their way directly for the Mona Lisa. It’s a mad dash and it’s amazing because people blow right past tons of amazing artwork, including a 2nd-century-BC statue called The Winged Victory at Samorthace.The Winged Victory at Samorathace

I think that Alli and I did our best to try and experience the museum, while I felt a lot of people were just there to “see” everything. What is the point of art if not to experience it? I just felt like so many people in the museum saw each piece of artwork as just another attraction in Paris, which is sad because the artwork there is so beautiful and inspiring.

I don’t know if I’d say that for the Mona Lisa, though. After seeing her up close for the first time, I think that my first reaction was, “Big deal.” First, she’s amazingly small…maybe 16 x 20 inches, which is surprising, considering the mystique surrounding da Vinci’s work is massive. I’m not trying to make the accomplishment smaller; I’m just saying it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I much preferred Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana, which sits opposite the Mona Lisa in the same gallery and is a huge contrast to da Vinci’s work in that it is massive and complex, while the Mona Lisa is small and relatively simple in its nature.

I much preferred the Impressionist-heavy Musee d’Orsay to The Louvre, but all the same, Alli and I spent several hours on Sunday making our way through the massive former palace-turned-museum, viewing as many of its 40,000+ works as possible (it is said that if you stood in front of each of the Louvre’s works for one minute, you’d spend over 4 months in the museum!). It’s really one of those things that you must see to appreciate. It’s truly massive.

After spending our time in the Louvre, we returned to our room for an afternoon nap before venturing out again. If there’s one thing that I loved about our vacation it’s that we never shied away from taking naps. It was relaxing and we still managed to see everything that we wanted to – really a great vacation. We took a boat tour of Paris on the Seine our last night in Paris, which was really enjoyable, albeit a tad cold. Paris had considerably cooler weather than everywhere else we traveled and we weren’t completely prepared for that. We still had a blast though.

Twisty-Awesomeness Breakfast Our train from Paris to Venice didn’t leave until 9 p.m. the next day, so we slept in a while and checked out of the hotel, leaving our bags and setting off for our last day in Paris. We returned to our favorite bakery and picked up a little piece of heaven that I dubbed the “Twisty Awesomeness” and took it and some water to the park that sits adjacent to the Louvre. We spent the morning talking, enjoying the sun and our breakfast, and talking over our time in Paris.

We wandered around the city, trying to kill the several hours we had before our train left, but the time seemed to drag on. We weren’t complaining, but both of us were ready to move on to our next adventure. We ended up walking up the Champs Elysees and found ourselves back at the Arc di Triomphe. We found a movie theater and figured it would be fun to check out a movie while we were there, well aware that we wouldn’t be able to understand it. Still, the appeal of air-conditioning and comfy seats was too much to ignore, so we ended up checking out Shrek le Troisième in French. It was pretty funny, but at the same time, French is such a sexy language that when Shrek and Arthur are talking to each other, it just sounds weird.

Shane in his train bunkWe went back to the hotel and grabbed our bags, then headed off to Gare d’Austerlitz for our overnight train to Nice, France, where we would meet our train to Milan, then ultimately, Venice. We waited quite a while, arriving a couple hours early to the train station. Then, inevitably, our train was very delayed, and our room was quite small. I suppose that should be expected on a train, but still, that didn’t make the cabin any bigger. Attempting to sleep in the train was even more of a disaster than I imagined. Not only that, but it was also amazingly stuffy in our cabin, but that was nothing compared to the NOISE. I think that I will hear screeching brakes in my nightmares from now until eternity.

The trip from Nice to Venice deserves its own post, so until then, I hope you enjoyed my overview of our time in Paris. I’m certain that I’ve forgotten some aspects of the trip, but in the interest of space, I figured I should wrap it up.

UPDATE: Check out Alli’s review of Paris.