Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Arrivederci Ferie di Agosto!

It's almost September and in Italy that means Ferie di Agosto is over! Ferie di Agosto is Italian for August Vacation, and usually lasts for 2 to 3 weeks, sometimes the whole month. Almost all the shops close their doors and the owners vacate the city. Good for them, not so good for me. This past month I had to seek out alternative locations to do my food shopping. It doesn't sound like a huge deal but I walk everywhere and shop the old fashioned way- a panificio for bread, a macelleria for meat, a frutta e verdura for produce, etc. Tromping all over the city in 90+ degrees to only find "that veggie place I remembered on the corner is ALSO closed" wasn't my idea of fun. Now I'm smiling again because the shop owners are back in town and open for business. You know you are a local when your butcher asks you about your vacation.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Little Lido Time

Yesterday, Michael and I spent the day at Lido di Lignano, a beach located north of Venice. I packed a picnic lunch including sandwiches, potato chips, peaches, and some Prosecco. We lounged on chairs under an umbrella with a nice view of the Adriatic Sea. Our time was spent reading, eating, drinking, splashing, and people-watching. General people-watching in Italy is sure to be entertaining, but on the beach it’s simply comical! Men in Speedos and women in heels and pearls were common. Both genders tended to bare way more skin than Americans. Traveling vendors were selling everything from towels and sunglasses to jewelry, fake purses, and even baskets. A group near us purchased several towels and every vendor that came by their chairs afterwards attempted to make a sale. Michael made a comment that the sellers must communicate with each other on which people are buying. We didn't buy anything but it's possible to have a full day of shopping without even leaving your beach chair! We had a relaxing day and decided that spending a lazy Sunday on an Italian beach tricks your mind and body into feeling like you are on vacation, if only for the afternoon.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Paris: Day 2

August 2, 2009

Our day started off with the tastiest omelets paired with café au lait at Café de l’Ecritoire and then it was off for a morning at the Orsay and Rodin museums. On our way, we passed through Place St. Michel. It’s a historical square within the Latin Quarter and has been the site of many revolutions, citizens fighting against their oppressors. Thus, it was only appropriate to take Michael’s picture in Place St. Michel in front of the St. Michel statue.

The Orsay has a huge collection of Impressionist art that’s housed in a former train station. Think Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Van Gogh. I’ve always loved Degas’ s ballerinas, maybe because the same prints lined the walls of my childhood dance studio. Van Gogh’s collection was our favorite as hubby and I both gained a greater appreciation for his works after seeing them in person. The colors and brush strokes pop so much more.

The Rodin museum contains sculptures by Auguste Rodin and his student Camille Claudel. The building itself is a mansion where Rodin lived and worked, creating most of the pieces we saw. There is something special about when art is showcased within the space of its creation. I’ll call it a boost in my art appreciation. In addition to the mansion, there was a pleasant garden area. Rodin’s most famous work is The Thinker and he was displayed picturesquely among roses. After visiting Michaelango’s David in Florence, I gained a new liking for sculpture and this museum just increased it. Rodin’s biggest influence was actually Michaelango and it shows.

Between the museum hopping, hubby and I grabbed a “walking lunch” meaning we ordered baguette sandwiches and drinks from a window and ate while walking. I felt like a local-on-the-go or at the very least a cheap tourist with a go-go-go attitude.

After our morning of museums, we paused for reflection and beer on the Ile de la Cité before heading to visit Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Damé. To us, having a beer before visiting churches is always a good idea…

Photos can not relay the beauty of Sainte-Chapelle. The contrast of the exterior’s gray concrete with the interior’s colorful stained glass is unreal. The amount of stained glass is simply overwhelming. I can best describe it as being inside a kaleidoscope. The scenes in the panels are from the Bible and King Louis IX had Sainte-Chapelle built as a shrine to display the crown of thorns.

Notre Damé (Our Lady) is Paris’s iconic church and was built by its own people. It’s massive, covered with gargoyles, and has two distinct towers visible from other points in Paris. We happened to catch an ongoing Catholic mass and the wafting incense. Oh! Quick! Get the camera! Quasi Modo sighting…

We paused for a café and stumbled upon Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. It’s a famous shop, started by American Sylvia Beech, where writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce all came to borrow books and meet other aspiring writers. I found it super cozy with wall-to-ceiling books and a white shop cat. I bought two books which are set in Paris: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway and Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. A Moveable Feast describes the lifestyle of a struggling writer in Paris during the 1920’s and even makes a reference to the bookshop!

It was now dinner time and we found a family style place called Restaurant Polidor. It had long shared tables with a loud and lively atmosphere. Afterwards, we made our way back to Notre Dame for an evening climb to the top. There were 400 or so stairs that were narrow and spiraling. The view of Paris and the gargoyles made the trek totally worth it. We tried to wait at the top to catch the Eiffel Tower’s light show, but security began ushering us back down the stairs before it started. On the way down, we found a hidden window and once again witnessed the Towers dancing lights.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Paris: Day 1

August 1, 2009

We arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport shortly before noon after a very short and direct flight (1 hour, 20 minutes, yeah!). Then we took a train from the airport to the Hotel Design de la Sorbonne. On the way there, Hubby and I had an ‘I was just thinking that’ moment – that in every city the train rides between the airport and the center always look the same. The hotel was located on a quiet street, rue Victor Cousin, facing the Sorbonne University. We had a nice view from our room #42, but I forgot to take any pictures of the view or even the room itself…. (These sites Hotel Sorbonne and Trip Advisor have some nice ones.) I loved the way the room was decorated in a funky French style which made up for the super tight space. Our room had the smallest bathroom I’ve ever seen. Imagine a closet with a toilet, a tiny sink, and shower. I later discovered that shaving long legs was nearly impossible and flooding the floor was a given.

For lunch, we wandered around the corner from the hotel to Place de la Sorbonne, a lovely square in front of the university with cute cafes and gushing fountains. We had a fine seat at Café de l’Ecritoire facing the square. The weather was wonderful, with no humidity compared to Italy. After many months of anticipation, planning and research on my part, we were finally in Paris!

We visited the Cluny museum, The National Museum of the Middle Ages. The courtyard/entrance area was ornamented with seashells, indicating the building’s former use as a Roman bath. Inside, we saw the six wall-size Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries, five of them depicting one of the five senses. We saw the remains of a Roman frigidarium (cold room with pool) with 40-foot ceilings, the best preserved Roman interior room in Paris.

We found the stone heads from Notre-Dame. They have an interesting history… They were sculpted around 1220-1230 and were once upon the bodies of Judah’s Biblical kings adorning the Notre Dame. Revolutionaries thought they were the Kings of France and in 1793 beheaded the statues. The heads were buried in a backyard and not found until 1977, two centuries later! (adapted from Rick Steve's Paris 2009)

We then walked down Boulevard St. Germain past Napoleon’s Tomb to the Rue Cler area. Here, we perused the market scene and equipped ourselves with our dinner picnic: a crusty yet soft baguette, brie cheese, strawberries, and of course some French wine. We continued on to the most visited monument in the world…the Eiffel Tower. It’s cliché to say it’s breathtaking, but it really was, and I couldn’t take my eyes, or my camera, off of it. After some typical tourist gawking, we spread out our sheet in the grassy Champ de Mars Park, uncorked our wine, and munched with other locals throughout the evening, gazing up at the Tower. One neat thing that I noticed while we were picnicking was the prevalence of what I will call the “Potluck Picnic”. Parisians would arrive armed with a similar fare to ours – a blanket, a baguette, and wine. They would stake out their spot with a view and begin the socializing. Other friends would arrive, bringing dishes ranging from salads to cheese to meat-on-a-stick (insert Phish reference here – Time for the Meatstick!). They would join their group and the social circle would expand. It was a delightful glimpse into a typical Saturday evening with friends. I would love to do this with our circle of friends back home, though I’ll admit I’m a bit jealous of the Paris scenery.

After dinner, we walked closer to the Tower to check it out up close. Its size when viewed from far away, like from the park, was deceiving. It appeared so close, but we had to walk a little distance to actually reach it. We passed on climbing up, the lines were ridiculous! Instead, we found tasty crepes and camped out along the grass on the other side of the tower near Trocadero square. We waited out the sunset and then at 10pm, we were part of the audible “ahhhhs” from the hundreds of onlookers gazing up at the dancing lights.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Blog Spot

Welcome to my new blog spot! Sorry for the goofy pun, I have trouble resisting that sort of thing... After cruising several sites, I decided to relocate our Italy blog here. Blog spot is linked with my Google account and I love that! I've been playing around with the features of my account and discovered many useful applications. Google documents, bookmarks, maps, photos are all accessible anywhere in the world that you can log in. The people closest to me know that I LOVE to travel and that includes all the planning. When researching for our latest trip to Paris, I came upon a hotel with a Mac computer right in the room... with free Internet access! How awesome is that? I didn't choose the hotel only for this... it was also in a great location and highly recommended through Trip Advisor. The in-room Internet access for an Internet junkie like myself was just bonus. So, while in my Paris hotel room, I was able to log in to Google and had access to my all my research including saved maps, links for museums, restaurants, and boat cruises in seconds. It was travel planner heaven! And as always, hubby only had to show up!