Sunday, April 28, 2013

GPS Renewal, Palaces, Gifts, and Movies

Worked four days last week; three at Gaayhurst, one at Three Bridges. This week I worked all five days. Monday I was sent to Rosedale. Was supposed to be a teacher but mistake was made and ended up as a TA. Bright side, since it was a mistake, I'll be getting paid my teaching rate, thank the gods. Rest of the week I spent at Gayhurst. So, needless to say, I'm a happy camper.

Speaking of work, last Wednesday my consultant Craig called me. He told how Moynul, the consultant who regularly sends me out to Slough, Three Bridges, and Gayhurst, was pleased with my work of late and so he was offering to renew my GPS contract for next year. I, naturally, accepted. I'd prefer a full time position, of course, but it's nice to have the safety net of a Plan B firmly in place.

Went out with Justin last Friday after school. We met up in Shepherd's Bush to see Olympus has Fallen and to grab supper, once again at Nando's. Movie made one thing very apparent; the world needs more Gerard Butler movies. It had some twists, some surprises, but at its core was basically your basic action flick; explosions, gun fights, cliche bad guy, and triumphant formerly-broken-but-now-restored hero. Not to mention it also had Morgan Freeman and Aaron Eckhart thrown in. Oh, and once again, just like with GI JOE: Retaliation, Korea was picked on. All-in-all, it was pretty great. Found out a few days later though that Justin plans to leave London and move on to cheaper pastures. So, that's that. Sigh.

On Saturday, Christa and I went to one of the last palaces our membership gives us access to; Hampton Court Palace. We had to meet up at Waterloo and take the National Rail out to Hampton Court. Coming out of the station, we walked down and over a bridge to where the palace sat. Once upon a time (and by that I mean c. 1514), it built for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a favourite of King Henry VIII; in 1529, as Wolsey fell from favour, the palace was passed to the King. The King, of course, went on to make it bigger and better - a tradition carried on by his successors. William III, for instance, went all out trying to have Hampton Court rival Versailles and ended with a palace that's half Tudor, half Baroque, but all made from the same pink brick.

Know what else Hampton Court has? Freaking awesome gardens (well, several, really and most with gardens and statues incorporated), an actual maze (which we navigated - turns out to be one of those where you get to the center and then back out again...I was hoping it would be a bit more complex but, hey, a maze is a maze), the historic real tennis court, and the huge grape vine, claimed to be the largest in the world (which has its own room and the area surrounding it is to be left uncultivated so the vine can have it all to itself).

This Friday I went to see Iron Man 3. It was epic. I laughed, I cried, I screamed. The after-credits scene changes the whole context of the film but until that point I was about ready to have a total meltdown. It was a phenomenal movie, totally in keeping with the expectations the previous movies had set. Makes me very eager to see what Marvel will turn out next. Bar is set pretty high for Thor in November. I realize I'm a bit bias - Iron Man is one of my favourite Marvel heroes and Robert Downey Jr. has totally nailed him in the films. Plus, you know, I'm a total nerd when it comes to JARVIS; I mean, heck, what's NOT to love about a sarcastic AI interface?! But, given what I've heard about the reviews and the box office on this puppy, the rest of the world seems to agree with me. Total. Epic.

Oh! And you know what I got in the mail yesterday from Izzy? This:

She's been mentioning a package being in-transit for awhile now. I was beginning to think she was kidding. But, nope, at long last it arrived! I love the colours in the scarf and I've decided to name the bear Odysseus (Odie for short) in honour of his great journey.

And there you have it, folks! My last 2 weeks, LOL.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Ending the Break and Back to the Trenches

Finally back to work!

Well, okay, in theory. Didn't actually work today but the point here is that I COULD have worked since the break is, at long last, over! Okay, it was an awesome break, a great break, but it's still nice to be back at work. And booked for the next three days at Gayhurst.

Last Thursday, I went out. No, really. I went to Clapham Junction for a get-together Engage was hosting. Basically, the teachers and consultants for the Northwest and Southwest - or at least those who weren't trapped at work or still off and about on vacations. I dragged Christa along and stayed over at her place afterwards. We started out at a bar called Revolutions just down the street fromthte tube station. Nicole was there from NW, but the majority of people were from the SW, not that it mattered. We ended up meeting a fellow Canadian teacher, Justin, who hails from Toronto and teaches secondary. He was pretty impressed with my knowledge of comic books and invited us to tag along over to a pub around the corner where he knew the singer performing.

It was pretty fun. Exchanged cell phone numbers with Justin and then, due to the lateness of the hour and the tube having shut down for the night, Christa and I had to take buses back to her place.

On Friday, after leaving Christa's, I met up with Justin and we went to Shepherd's Bush where we saw Oblivion and then grabbed supper at Nando's. We met up again last night for pizza. Turns out we can really carry a conversation. We'll see how that goes.

Spent today on my usual default setting: sitting around, lazing about, while surfing the net, watching videos, and working on my writing. Always seem to be working on my writing. It's a never ending experience. I sigh.

Bright side, work is back to keep me occupied. Can you say "yipee"? LOL

Monday, April 8, 2013

Paris - Day 4 - Home Again, Home Again

There should laws against early mornings. Blah. The sun wasn't even up when Christa, Tina, and I checked out of our hostel and made our way to Gare du Nord. The plan was to grab breakfast along the way but absolutely everything was still closed - even the McDonald's. We opted (by which I mean we arrived at no other option than) to snag something on board the train.

Setting out went fine - we left Paris on time and all went well. Got the window seat this time around so I was a happy camper. I'm an odd duck, okay? When I travel, I prefer to sit by the window even if all I'm going to see is clouds or the dark of a tunnel. I also prefer to sit facing the entrance, or at least with my back to the wall, when eating in a restaurant, prefer escalators for up-and-down travel and my favourite mode of public transport is the bus, even though it takes longer. I have issues. I am aware of them. Let's move on.

As planned, we grabbed something to eat on board, nothing fancy just some snacks, and settled in for what was supposed to be a two hour ride. Ha.

After about forty-five minutes, the train started randomly stopping for ten or twenty minute stretches at a time. After the third time, the conductor came on the speakers to announce they were pulling in at a station and changing trains. Apparently, the train we were on wasn't fit for the impending tunnel trek under the Channel so they needed to snag a train coming out and switch the passengers around. Cue eye-roll here. We ended up being about two and a half hours behind schedule - not good news for Christa and Tina who had a train to Scotland to catch next from Kings Cross an hour after our originally scheduled arrival. Panic, naturally, ensued.

The solution ended up being ridiculously simple: the customer service rep on our train issued a slip of paper to Christa and Tina each stating that missing their train was Eurostar's fault and waving any charges for stuffing them onto a later train.

We arrived at St Pancras near eleven, local time. Christa and Tina went on to sort out their trek to Scotland and I headed back to the house where I immediately reasserted my online presence and confirmed my continued existence.

Overall, Paris proved one hell of a fun time. Sure, yes, the city was dirty, their restaurants were few and far between, and their service workers were on the rude side. But, ladies and gents, it was freaking PARIS! I saw the Eiffel Tower and stood on its observation deck to look out over Paris from above. I walked the halls of the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa, the Winged Nike of Samothrace, and the Venus de Milo. I took a boat ride down the Siene, toured the Musee d'Orsay, checked out the Statue of Liberty's little sister. I wandered through Notre Dame, visited the graves of the Pantheon, climbed up to Sacré-Cœur Basilica, and walked down D'Elysee from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe, seeing all there is to see in between.

So, yeah, pretty damn epic.

Hot damn.

Paris - Day 3 - Sacré-Cœur Basilica

OMFG, the stairs!

Up and up and up and up - I didn't think they were ever going to end. Forget Everest - you want a climb? Try going to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. It was just stairway after stairway and when you finally - finally - reach the street above, guess what? There's MORE FREAKING STAIRS!

Naturally, when we reached the top, on the other side of the steepest, tallest, evilest hill in all the world was the stupid elevator meant to bypass the stair route. Can you say "FML" much?

Well, okay so there may have been ONE positive side to climbing so high - you got one hell of a view. Of course, all the Paris sites (Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, etc) were on the opposite side of the hill, but the quintessential French quality to the architecture and scope here more than makes up for that.

Thankfully, going down again proved easier, likely because it was just two flights of stairs followed by a gently sloped hill that deposited us not to far from our hostel.

We grabbed supper at another Hippopotamus. A note here about Parisian waiters; they basically have two settings.If you're anglophone, they are complete snobs who just want you to tell them what you want so they can get away from you as quickly as possible. If, however, you can speak French, even my Quebecois version, you suddenly become their best friend and they are more than happy to serve you, bring you whatever you may wish on silver platters. I tested this theory, speaking English at first and then switching to French, and so long as you try, they really, really love you. Talk about your Jekyll/Hyde scenarios.

All in all, not too bad a last night in Paris.

Paris - Day 3 - Musée d'Orsay

Ah, yes, the Musée D'Orsay. Once upon a time, it served as a train station, much like the Louvre used to be a palace. Clearly, it's original purpose didn't stick; it closed as a railway station in 1939 when the new trains no longer were longer suitable to its platforms and was then used as a mail centre. It almost got demolished in 1970 to be replaced by a hotel but was given an eleventh hour stay of execution and planning began shortly afterwards to turn it into a museum, one dedicated in particular to impressionist art. It was declared an historical site in 1978 and finally opened its doors after some heavy renovations and six months of set-up in 1986. In other words, it's only just barely older than me!

Outside has several statues of animals, most of the large, African variety, like the rhino above and a few elephants. The line was of the twisty, could-wrap-around-the-building variety but, because the gods apparently loved me on this trip, the security guard monitoring the line noticed my cane and pulled me, Christa, and Tina aside and told us to go around to another door, thus bypassing the whole line. I never thought I'd be grateful for my about your quirks of Fate.

When you walk inside the museum, there's, um, well think of it as a balcony going like a U around the front half of the room, the rest of it being sunken down like another storey, and the whole of it being open under a very, very high and rounded ceiling made up mostly of windows. The pit, such as it is, has various sculptures scattered around it with different galleries leading off of it. At the opposite end, stairs and elevators give access to the five storeys above and the various art pieces above.

And speaking of the various art pieces...

You have to love how, when it comes to paintings, the names tend to be obvious given the subject matter. Take the above piece, for instance, painted by Edgar Degas in 1874, its scene is set in a rehearsal room in the old Paris Opéra—a poster for Rossini's Guillaume Tell is on the wall beside the mirror—even though the building had just burned to the ground. Want to take a wild guess what it's called? The Dance Class. What else?

On an interesting side-note, this painting was commissioned in 1872 as part of an arrangement between Degas and the singer and collector Jean-Baptiste Faure. It was one of only a few commissions that the artist ever accepted, and the painting was delivered in November 1874 after two years of intermittent work.

Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (or "The Luncheon on the Grass" if English is your thing) – originally titled Le Bain (The Bath) – is a large oil on canvas painting by Édouard Manet created in 1862 and 1863. The painting shows the juxtaposition of a female nude and a scantily dressed female bather on a picnic with two fully dressed men in a rural setting. Rejected by the Salon jury of 1863, Manet seized the opportunity to exhibit this and two other paintings, in the 1863 Salon des Refusés (basically what it sounds like - like the anti-prom, this is where the art rejected by the judges of "proper art" went to hang). This painting - for obvious reasons - scandalized those infamous delicate sensibilities of polite society and consequently sparked public notoriety and controversy.

A similar painting to this, called Olympia, is also part of the Musée d'Orsay's collection. I was pretty excited to see it but, naturally, it had been loaned out to another museum. Because that's how my luck rolls.

Do you know what's even more annoying than two artists in the same style having similar names (and, yes, I'm looking at you Monet and Manet, you fiends!)? The fact that art museums seems to take perverse delight in hanging them side by side in the museum. Argh.

This, called Coquelicots (or "Poppies") is a Monet, painted in 1874. It shows a poppy field near where Monet lived in Argenteuil for a time in the 1870s. It's a landscape, depicting a mother and child pair in the foreground and another in the background. Besides randomly wandering a poppy field (you're first clue this predates The Wizard of Oz), these two pairs are used by the artist to set the diagonal line that structures the painting. The painting essentially has two separate colour zones; one dominated by red (to the left), the other by a bluish green (to the right). The young woman with the sunshade and the child in the foreground are probably the artist's wife, Camille, and their son Jean. And, you know, blah, blah, blah...

This beauty is titled Bal du Moulin de la Galette (AKA Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette). It was painted in 1876 by the Frenchman Pierre-Auguste Renoir. It shows a typical Sunday afternoon at Moulin de la Galette in the district of Montmartre in Paris. In the late 19th century, working class Parisians would dress up and spend time there dancing, drinking, and eating galettes until into the evening. It represents an Impressionist snapshot of real life and shows, as Wikipedia phrases it, "a richness of form, a fluidity of brush stroke, and a flickering light." Me, I think it looks like Renoir made real life into a cartoon and then used faded colours and a dabbing brush technique to make it different but, hey, what do I know?

No Parisian art museum - especially one dedicated to impressionist art - would be complete without Van Gogh. Sure, he was nuts - I think the ear amputation put to bed any doubt on that front - and, okay, he had that whole isolated-and-eccentric thing going for him...but you've got to admit, the man knew how to weild a paint brush.

What I love most about Van Gogh's art are his later landscapes, particularly those in Cypresses series. Starry Night Over the Rhone, painted in 1888, is one of the most beautiful of the pieces, probably second only to The Starry Night in my opinion. In Van Gogh's own words,
Included a small sketch of a 30 square canvas - in short the starry sky painted by night, actually under a gas jet. The sky is aquamarine, the water is royal blue, the ground is mauve. The town is blue and purple. The gas is yellow and the reflections are russet gold descending down to green-bronze. On the aquamarine field of the sky the Great Bear is a sparkling green and pink, whose discreet paleness contrasts with the brutal gold of the gas. Two colourful figurines of lovers in the foreground.
In reality, what the painting's subject matter looks like:

Personally, I prefer Van Gogh's take to reality.

(Please note that since the Musée D'Orsay, unlike the Louvre, did not allow photographs to be taken of its collections, I had to take this pictures off the internet to compensate)

Paris - Day 3 - Eiffel Tower & Riverboats

At long last I move on to Day 3 - also known as our last full day in Paris (try to contain your joy at this news; day 2 couldn't have lasted forever, after all). This time around we had breakfast at a cafe around the corner from our hostel and then headed into the city. Our first stop was heading back to Notre Dame where I finally managed to get my mom's rosary beads. Because I am nothing if not persistant. Go me.

We made our way back to the Eiffel Tower. Here we had a bit of a good news/bad news scenario. The good news was that we got a reduced rate - only €4 each - on account of my disability. The bad news was because of my hip, the Eiffel Tower's insurance (or what have you) wouldn't extend to cover me going straight to the top; in the even of an emergency, they couldn't guarantee my being able to make it down the nearly two thousand steps. Consequently, I (and thus my companions, Christa and her mom) could only go as high as the first deck. It was a bit of a bummer but...I got to go to the Eiffel Tower and see Paris from its first deck. That's pretty awesome enough.

The Eiffel Tower is right on the shore of the Seine, so right after taking in the sights of Paris from on high, we opted to head to the water. We took a boat cruise from the Eiffel Tower down past Notre Dame and back again. Because, you know, like a lot of European cities, Paris was built on the shores of its river, like London and the Thames or Berlin and the Spree or Rome and the get the idea. Old cities like rivers - made transport and travel easier. I digress...

My point here is that EVERYTHING borders the river, so it was pretty awesome going down the river and seeing what there was to see while a pre-programmed voice gave the historical highlights of this and that.

The cruise took about an hour and afterward the goal was to see the Musée d'Orsay. First, however, we needed to feed Christa. Do you know what Paris has a shocking lack of? Fast food. Seriously, finding something quick to eat in Paris borders on the impossible - there's bot so much as a delicatessen as far as the eye can see. It's sad really. And annoying. Ended up at an overpriced cafe eating a pretty gross beef sandwich. Yuck.

Which brings us to the Musee d'Orsay. Which, like the Louvre, requires its own post. Standby...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Paris - Day 2 - Down the Seine from the Louvre

Yup, still on Day 2. What can I say? It was a busy, busy day...

So, once we finished the greatest hits of the Louvre, we exited to walk down the Place de la Concorde (where nothing historically important ever happened...unless you count that time when Louis XVI lost his head but hey who does?) where we saw an awesome view of the Eiffel Tower behind the Fountain of River Commerce and Navigation (above) and the Obelisk (below).

Located dead centre of the Place, this obelisk is the real, authentic deal; made by Egyptians, engraved with Egyptian, from Egypt, and gifted to France by the Egyptians. Allow me to say that in a way that, you know, actually makes sense. This beauty is giant and engraved from tip to base with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramesses II, a pharaoh whose fame is probably second only to King Tutankhamen (I would say third, after Akenaten as well, but I don't think anyone besides me and the similarly history obsessed, know who he is). In the nineteenth century, Egypt gave it to the French along with its mate, the pair of which once stood outside the entrance of Luxor temple. What happened to its mate, you asked? Well, I did say this all happened in the nineteenth century - the other was too heavy for the technology of the time to relocate so it was left where it was and eventually given back to the Egyptians. In a show of brilliance, the French opted to engrave the base with engravings depicting how exactly they went about the relocation. Guess they figured it was enough not knowing how the pyramids had come to be...

So, we continued walking down the Champs-Élysées, which was one of those streets lined with shops. Do you know what one of those shops was? The Disneystore! When I went to Florence, I got a Mickey and Minnie pair. In London, I got my Retro Mickey and Minnie pair. I couldn't go to Paris and NOT get a Mickey. So I did. I dragged poor Christa and her mom into the Disney store and got myself a Paris Mickey. To be fair, I did warn them about this...

After this little mission was accomplished, we grabbed supper before poor Christa fainted. We found a pretty good franchise called Hippopotamus where I had the steak and got to break out more of my French.

The Champs-Élysées ends with the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc is, quote, "the centre of a dodecagonal configuration of twelve radiating avenues" - which is a fancy way of saying bunches of roads leads there; it's the Rome of Paris. It was commissioned in 1806 after the victory at Austerlitz by Emperor Napoleon at the peak of his fortunes. In other words, long before he had the bright idea to invade Russia. In winter. Laying the foundations alone took two years and, in 1810, when Napoleon entered Paris from the west with his new bride Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria, he had a wooden mock-up of the completed arch constructed. Construction took so long, the original architect actually died and had to be replaced...and then temporarily stopped during the Bourbon Restoration and finally finished in 1836, just in time for Napoleon's corpse to return home for reburial in 1840, his procession passing under it on its journey to his final resting place at the Invalides. And here's me. In front of the Arc. Ha!

After seeing the arc, my poor, poor companions were dragged on yet another of my missions. A ways down from the Eiffel Tower, in the opposite from the Louvre and Arc and such, the Seine River holds a man-made island called Île aux Cygnes. Now, everyone and their uncle knows that France gave the Statue of Liberty to the USA as a "Hey! You threw off the yolk of a monarchy to gain independence. We did that too.  That makes us like siblings, so here - have a statue!" gesture. What not many people know is that almost three years later the American population of Paris gave the city a smaller replica of Lady Liberty (22m high as oppose to the original's 46m) in honour of the centennial of the French Revolution. At first, the statue was turned east, to face the Eiffel Tower, but in 1937, it was rotated to the west, in the direction of its larger sibling in New York City . Its base carries a commemorative plaque, and the tablet in its left hand bears the inscription IV Juillet 1776 = XIV Juillet 1789, recognizing the American Independence Day and Bastille Day, respectively. Thank you, National Treasure 2.

And, naturally, where else would you end a day in Paris but at the Eiffel Tower? Did you know that at night the Eiffel Tower marks the hour with its lights? It goes all blinky and glittery for a full five minutes - it's quite the sight to see.

Paris - Day 2 - The Louvre

Ah, the Louvre. Once a palace, now one of the world's greatest art museums boasting a collection my friend Michelle, an Art History major, would kill for. Not to mention its role in The Da Vinci Code. And I got to see it. Which led to total nerding out. Oh! And guess what? Because of Mr. Hip (the otherwise established bane of my existence), I got free admittance into all of the museums and historical sites in Paris, as did Christa, for living in Europe, and Christa's mom, because little old disabled me might need assistance after all. If it weren't so dirty, I'd love this city.

Right, so geeking out...let's take this one total geek out at a time, shall we?

Way back in the twelfth century, the Palais du Louvre was born as as a fortress intended to aid in the defense of the banks of the Seine river against invaders from the north. Now the Louvre houses art, once it housed kings, but in the beginning, it housed weapons. Needless to say that over the coming centuries, extensive remodeling happened and the fortress became a palace and then, sometime after Louis XIV opted to relocated to Versailles, eventually a museum. Now, all that remains of that original fortress are a series of walls near the building's foundations. Want to take a wild guess what's in the background of the above picture?

Now, the Louvre has an art collection that includes pieces from all over the globe and throughout history. It's like the TARDIS of art museums. Ancient Egyptian sphinx? Check. Ancient Greek gods? Check. Alexander the Great engravings? Check. Ancient Roman busts? Check. You could spend a whole week in there...unless you were limited to forty-eight hours. Then you sort of have to limit yourself to a Greatest Hits tour and cross your fingers you'll get a second chance someday to return and go for more depth.

Which in no way stopped me from indulging in more than one just-for-fun pose. I mean, who doesn't want to let their inner goddess out now and again? And if you're going to mimic a goddess' pose, Athena's the way to go. She doesn't get kidnapped like Persephone or keep a strangle hold on her virginity or serve as little more than a god's prop. Nope, Athena's the goddess of wisdom, she who beats out Poseidon, a god second only to Zeus in power, for patronage of Athens, who showed up Arachne by first proving her wrong and THEN turning her into a spider, who helped guide numerous heroes to glory and fame, including Ulysses and Perseus. Provided you're willing to overlook the whole Medusa incident, Athena just rocks, plain and simple. And look at me, rocking her pose.

Perhaps one of the most famous statues ever, the Venus de Milo is a twenty-one hundred year old marble sculpture of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love. Why is she called Venus de Milo you ask? Venus is the name of Aphrodite's Roman conterpart. The Milo is taken from where she was discovered - in the ruins of the city of Milos on the island of the same name in the Aegean. Her fame was born for two reasons. One, when she was discovered and claimed by the French, the Spanish had just taken back the Medici Venus that Napoleon Bonaparte had stolen once upon a time. As a result, the French went a bit crazy with the public promotion. Two, you may have noticed her lack of arms. She was discovered with fragments of her left arm and hand, the latter of which was grasping an apple, and an inscribed plith,  but no right arm was in sight. By the time she reached Paris, the plinth and what arm remnants there had been were lost as well, giving her an air of mystery. And here I am; wallowing in the mystery.

In my second...possibly third...semester of CEGEP, I had to take an Art History course. I hated it. For three hours I had to sit in a darkened basement room and look at slide after slide of various ancient sculptures, engravings, mosaics, architecture and so on while my professor - who had the most dreadful Eastern European accent - droned on. Fifty percent of our grade was made up of three exams that I totally flopped because, no, I did not remember the exact year this sculpture was carved or that building was erected or that mosaic was completed and I honestly could not care less. I do know what years Roman was founded and Alexander took the throne and Greece fought the Peloponesian War and Hannibal crossed the Alps. Events interest me, art for its own sake...I can appreciate its beauty, I can be intrigued by its subject matter, and that's where my interest ends.

The other fifty percent of the grade came from an essay. The professor provided a list of paired pieces and we had choose a set on which to write a comparative essay. I chose the Winged Victory of Samothrace and Nike Adjusting Her Sandal. Why? Because I liked Nike, thought the pieces were beautiful, and didn't think many others would choose them. I wrote the essay the night before it was due and, due to extreme indifference at this point, I basically just copied the instructions from the professor's handout and filled in the blanks with the relevant information.

Fast forward two weeks and the professor was handing out the corrected essays and, for the most part, everyone failed. I think the highest grade was 68. Given that until that point, my highest grade had been 63, my hopes weren't high. And then she gave me mine. I got 100. I passed that course with an 82 - the lowest grade of my Liberal Arts degree. I freaking LOVE Nike Adjusting Her Sandal and The Winged Victory of Samothrace.

Want to guess who's that standing behind me?

Oh. And you want to know what else is at the Louvre? This:

Leonardo da Vinci painted this little beauty between 1503 and 1506 and, from the day of her completion until the day da Vinci died, she remained his constant companion. After da Vinci's passing, it passed into the hands of Francis I of France and eventually became the property of the French Republic. She has been on display in the Louvre since 1797 and attracts crowds so dense she merits her own room. Getting to the front of said crowd to snap the photo required shoulders, elbows, and knees playing the offense and certain degree of flexibility to avoid getting the same in turn. I may have had to tear up a little at one point to get a bit of space for photo taking. I would have loved to have joined her in a picture, but I was lucky enough to get her solo as it was!


I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to the lady's whose foot I stomped on to get her to move. In my defense, your elbow said hello to my ribs first. Not an excuse, I know, but not unjustified either. If anyone reading this plans to visit the Mona Lisa, think rugby and prepare accordingly. 

Paris - Day 2 - Notre Dame & Pantheon

I admit I may have gotten a bit...planning crazy. So much to do, so little know how it goes.

My first impression of Paris, BTW, is that it's not a city overly concerned with the image it presents. In London, every morning sees street cleaners out with brooms and cleaning carts working to ensure London is as bright and shiny as can be for the day's tourists and travelers. Paris, meanwhile, has a virtual carpet of cigarette butts coating its sidewalks and seems to be totally okay with dogs pooping where they please and the results being left for nature to deal with. London marks their streets for pedestrians with the ever handy dandy "LOOK LEFT" or "LOOK RIGHT" or "LOOK BOTH WAYS" directions. When the crosswalks turn green, the admit loud beeps to warn drivers and, heck, when they say pedestrians get the right of way, they actually MEAN they get the right of way. In Paris, crossing the street is taking your life in your hands. Say a prayer and good luck.

Needless to say, it added a certain spice to the adventure.

Today began with a trip to Notre Dame Cathedral. There was a cafe right outside the metro's exit where we stopped for breakfast. Poor Christa is one of those people who absolutely must eat at regular intervals or her body begins shutdown procedures. Ironically, when she does eat, she fills up quickly so doesn't eat very much per sitting. So, thus, while I'm usually one to skip breakfast snack at lunch and go big for supper, the potential fainting of my friend meant a change of plans. I had a cheese omelet.

Notre Dame was literally across the street from the cafe. I kept flashing to various scenes from Disney's Hunchback...which lead me to worry about molten hot metal pouring out of the gargoyles' mouths and had me humming "God Helps the Outcasts" while walking through the interior. I had wanted to just...slip into the line and go in but Christa (AKA She of the Goody-Goody Shoes) insisted we start at the back of the line. I sigh. It was a pretty beautiful place and more than deserving of the hype. I had promised my mom I'd get her rosary beads from Notre Dame but, of course, the gift shop was closed so we opted to kill time and return later to try again.

Do you know what's around the corner from Notre Dame? The Pantheon. It's basically a really, really big mausoleum where some of the most prominent and famous citizens of Paris are buried. This would include Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Pierre Curie and Marie Curie - the last of whom is the one of only two woman interred at the site and the only one there in her own rights. It was pretty awesome. And mildly creepy.

Went back to Notre Dame. Gift shop still closed so opted to try again the next morning.

We then walked along the Seine, following it deeper into the city. Saw some sites, some bridges, this and that, and then finally happened upon...The Louvre! Which, for obvious reasons, merits its own post so stay tuned!

Paris - Day 1 - Eurostar & the Bastille

It was the longest morning in the history of mornings. It just seemed to stretch on forever. I woke up. I unpacked and repacked my bag. I made myself lunch (because, yup, I slept late). I watched old episodes of Murder, She Wrote and The Middleman. I Skyped with my mom. I waited. Finally, Christa and her mom - a lovely woman named Tina - arrived on my doorstep (their original plan to check out the British Museum was a bust when it turned out their baggage was too big to be checked so they opted to meet up at my place early). And then we waited some more. I thought I would die from all the waiting. 4:22PM could not have come too soon!

Finally, after it turned out that, nope, wasn't going to die after all, it was time to head out for St Pancras train station. We hopped the Piccadilly and thirty minutes later realized we were way too early and went in search of supper. Ended up grabbing burgers at some frou-frou burger place...Burgers Inc or Gourmet Burger or something like that. Ironically, we were almost late snagging our train. We went through security - where lucky me got a pat down - and then had to dash to make it. I didn't get the window seat. This was a travisty of epic proportions, but I opted to be the big girl I appear to be on the outside and downplay my horror. Woman sitting next to me had her husband seated in the window seat on the opposite side...and across the aisle. He was surrounded by this Jewish family's children; a daughter next to him, and two more daughters and a son across from him, all under the age of 7ish. I offered to switch and so did Christa, but he claimed it was fine. Half an hour in, the kids were all out like lights so he may have been on to something.

We took the Eurostar, did I mention that? It was a two and a half hour ride that travelled under the Channel for a leg and gave some pretty nifty views of both the English and the French countrysides. Unfortunately, it also travelled so fast that said views were gone as quickly as they came and photos were impossible.

We reached Paris. Walked out into the station, navigated ourselves out to the street, walked in the wrong direction, corrected our course, and found our hostel. I discovered I am a magnet for strange men - most of the crazy, drunk, or just plain weird variety - wanting either directions or to offer directions. That was fun.

After settling in, we went back out with the intention of checking out Sacre Couer. Unfortunately we went south instead of north and, after getting lost and found, we opted to see the Bastille instead. Anyone who has ever heard of the French Revolution has heard of the Bastille. Once upon a time, it was a fortress in Paris, known formally as the Bastille Saint-Antoine. It played an important role in the internal conflicts of France and for most of its history was used as a state prison by the kings of France. You've heard of the Tower of London? The Bastille was essentially its French counterpart, where kings would put the prisoners too important or influential for the head-chopping part of the program. Like Voltaire. Its Revolution fame came when it was stormed by a crowd on 14 July 1789, thus becoming an important symbol for the French Republican movement. Unlike the Tower of London, however, the Bastille did not survive to today and was eventually demolished. The Place de la Bastille took its place.

Afterward, we grabbed supper at McDonald's. Don't give me that look - after much debating, we just went with what was nearby and it happened to be McDonald's. Don't give me that look - it's true!

We had a small debate on how to best work out ticket purchasing for the next few days (whether to but ticket booklet or multi-day pass) where I got to break out my French - that was fun; Quebec would be so proud - and then it was back to the hostel to rest up before Day 2 - AKA our first full day of Paris exploration!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Term End Break: The Beginning!

Last week was spent entirely at the super-casual school of past fame, with the exception of Friday when I was reshuffled and sent to Slough instead. When Friday came around, Christa slept over and we watched movies online and ordered Chinese take-out.This week GPS was void (term end break is upon me with the first two weeks of April being off and, consequently, a month worth of GOS voidness to look forward to *sigh*) and I only had three days - one at super-casual in year one, two in Slough with Nursery.

Thursday I did nothing more exciting than ordering Chinese take-out for supper. Friday I went out and ran some errands. Had to get euros for my impending Paris excursion and return a shirt that looked more appealing online than in my hands. Finally, I saw G.I. JOE: Retaliation and grabbed some pizza to end out my day. Can I just say that I really, really, REALLY hope they find some plot loop for the third film (which has already been green lit, FYI, by Paramount) to resurrect Duke. I loved his character both in this film and the last and, also? With him dead I worry about poor Baroness sitting in some lab, getting her nanites removed, so she can be with a man who isn't there anymore. On the plus side, however, no matter what the third film is sure to have oodles of Snake Eyes and, really, can you ever have too much of the strong, silent, ninja type?

Saturday I vegged, working on my writing which I swear is just this || close to be finished...or at least the second draft is. Who knows how many drafts it'll need before I'm satisfied? Sunday I went out again - to see Jack the Giant Slayer (I'm a movie buff, okay? I love movies, ergo I see lots of them - don't judge) and Ewan McGregor was pretty darn funny.

Which brings us to today. I didn't sleep much last night - two of my roommates (the third having gone home to Canada) headed off for a Greek cruise this morning and their friends slept over here last night; need more be said? I did manage to grab a few winks eventually and then spent the rest of the day Skyping with my mom, updating my blog (clearly) and making some macaroons (don't laugh - I have photographic proof, thank you very much).


Wednesday I head off with Christa and her mom for Paris. So excited I wish I had a TARDIS around to jump ahead and have this wait be over already! Needless to say, my next post is sure to be interesting!