Scenes from the Big Apple

One of my favorite things to do when I visit big metropolitan areas is to go on photo walks around the city. I was in New York for the Web 2.0 Expo last week and each day I walked about 14 blocks to the convention center for the conference. I tried to carry my camera with me as much as I could.

Here are some of the pictures I took:

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.

Seven Foot Nine Man

I was in Atlanta for the HOW Design Conference this week and as I was making my way to the Delta terminal in the airport on Wednesday, I saw this:

Seven foot nine man at atlanta airport

This man is Seven feet, nine inches tall.

I know this because his shirt said: www.sevenfootnine.com. His name is Sun Ming Ming and he is the tallest basketball player in the world. When he got on the tram, I was certain that I was seeing things. There was no way that there was a man that large. Apparently, I was wrong.

I’m a tall guy…probably 6’3″ with my shoes off, but I was DWARFED by Ming, who was a full foot and a half taller than me. That’s a full-size Mr. Goodcent’s sub. Unfortunately, I only had my Sprint cameraphone and this is the best picture I could get, but there was a train full of witnesses, all of whom emerged saying the same thing, “MAN, that guy was HUGE!”

And that wasn’t even the highlight of my trip to Atlanta…

The HOW Design Conference is perhaps one of the most wonderfully invigorating creative conferences that exists. Bryn Mooth and her staff at HOW Magazine put together a stellar lineup of speakers and sessions that makes it the seminal conference for graphic designers, creative directors and the like. This was my 3rd consecutive year attending and it was just as good as the rest.

I didn’t take to Atlanta quite as well as Las Vegas in 2006 or Chicago in 2005, but it was really neat to see a city I’ve never been to before. It was like opening a new box of shoes for me, although this box of shoes didn’t smell of leather and rubber, but of smog and humidity. Despite its less-than-appealing weather proclivities, I found the downtown skyline pretty remarkable. It is unique and much bigger than I thought, although I found it rather frustrating that there were perhaps three restaurants in the 5 blocks surrounding my hotel that were open on Sunday (when I arrived). Lunch was an ordeal and I settled on an Irish pub where I got some fish and chips. Not bad, but not what I was looking for.

Food-wise, the rest of the visit to Hotlanta was a bust, save two meals. First was my dinner on Monday night. Alli had heard from Rachel Ray that The Flying Biscuit is the place to go in Atlanta. Since I’d heard that the train system in Atlanta was good, I purchased a 4-day pass to the MARTA, which turned out to be totally worth it. Not only did it take me 1 block away from my hotel directly from the airport (Tony, I know you think mass transit in KC will be a bust, but this is where it is AT), but it took me North to 10th Street, a mere 3 blocks from The Flying Biscuit. Great meal, eclectic setting, and very affordable.

The other meal that stood out was my Tuesday night sushi at the Pacific Rim Bistro, which was in the building next to my hotel. I had a Dragon Roll and some Hamachi and thought that it was wonderful. I don’t eat sushi that much, but since I’ve found I like it, I try to eat it whenever I can. Good stuff!

As far as the conference went, I was really happy. I love listening to these uber-creative people talking about their successes and their careers and how they have accomplished what they have. On Monday morning, I listened to Chip Kidd, a book designer who is probably most famous for designing the cover of Jurassic Park, which in turn became the branding statement for the whole franchise. I read his book, The Cheese Monkeys, last year, but forgot to bring it with me. Chip was nice enough to sign something for me and when I got home, I stored it in my book and it will be there for a long time.

While the rest of the conference was great, I had one minor issue – I wished that speakers would wait until the end of their talks to start showing all the work they’ve done that makes them so great. I’d rather hear what you’ve come to speak about first, folks. Graphic Designers are notorious egomaniacs who love the chance to whip out their portfolio whenever they can – even people who have great jobs and don’t really need to (do you hear me, Armin Vit?).

All in all it was a great conference. I’m glad to be home for sure. Alli and I leave in less than 2 weeks for our trip to Italy. I can’t believe it is almost here!