Back in the USA

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 2:02 PM
..and it's never felt better. Europe was fun, but America is home. Coming next: Recaps for each city I visited.

-Howitzer

Sudden Feeling

Sunday, July 25, 2010 at 5:39 PM
....of a hole inside my heart. I guess everyone gets this from time to time? It would be sad if I was the only one anyway. Is life ever complete for anyone though? It probably isn't, because then they'd just stop doing everything. Maybe my dreams will reveal to me what I'm feeling.

-Howitzer

Roma!

at 3:41 PM
So I’m finally in Rome. The destination I was so excited about in the beginning is no longer so exciting now that I’m actually here. I think I’m a bit tired of being a tourist, and overwhelmed by all of the art I’ve seen on this trip. I’ve now seen art in Madrid, Paris (lots), Amsterdam, Florence (lots). Oh well. I’ll make the most of the last leg of my journey, because I know I’ll regret it later.

Rome is a pretty nice place. Compared to Florence, Rome is definitely more urban, more touristy. The entire city center is filled with ancient or religious buildings of historical value. In fact, there are over 900 churches in the city. I find myself spotting a church every five minutes. In America, you would call that being surrounded by rednecks. In Rome, it’s called being pious. I like the people in Rome however. They are very welcoming and good-hearted.

The food continues to be similar to Florence. The pasta plates are smaller and more expensive that I imagined, although at least I feel full after each meal. I think I’ve reached a point where I’m going to stop ordering secondo plates of meat. It’s all just grilled or roasted beef, pork, and veal anyways. I think I’ll focus the rest of my trip on trying different pastas. I really do like the pastas in Italy. My friend once described them as more than just a means to bring sauce to your mouth. I’d say that’s a pretty accurate description. Eating the pasta is more tasty than eating the sauce. There are so many different shapes of pasta, and each shape brings a different texture to your mouth.

Rome is filled with so many churches that I was originally really excited to visit it. I’m less enthusiastic now, but I did visit a church, Santa Croce in Jerusalem, which had numerous important holy relics. The most famous among them was the Title of the Cross, a wooden board which described Jesus’ crimes and who he was. Also present were two thorns from the Crown of Thorns, which Christ wore, a piece of the Holy Cross, a piece of Jesus’ Crib, the finger of St. Thomas, and one of the three nails used to crucify Christ. I wasn’t allowed to get as close as I wanted to inspect the relics, so I had to settle for squinting at them from afar.

Basilica of Sts. Ambrosio and Carlo. Heaven shines down through the central dome.

I found it really curious as to why holy relics are so revered. I can understand the appeal of gazing at a holy relic in wonder, and using it to help you imagine all the legends that occurred. It seems however, that the Church is very protective of its relics, to the point of refusing identification and testing of the relics. I find it really hard to believe that so many relics have been preserved from 2000 years ago, especially pieces like the Holy Cross, or the Crown of Thorns. I am especially incredulous at the idea of discovering the Holy Cross buried in the middle of the desert, during a crusade. I think legend has it that someone received a vision from God, and then discovered it. So either God must be real….or the Holy Cross is fake. But perhaps the real value of the holy relics is to help you reflect on biblical events. I don’t know.

St. Peter's at night. The obelisk in front makes it hard to take closer pictures.

Castle of St. Angelo at night.

Rome also has many monuments built by the ancient Romans. Yesterday I saw the walls of Rome. Quite impressive that they were still standing and sturdy-looking after all these years, and all the sackings that Rome experienced. Some of the marble monuments show heavy signs of corrosion though. It’s sad to see the columns and buildings with large, dark pit marks, where the acid rain has eaten away at the soft marble. It makes me realize the transience of all the other pieces of art, culture, and history I’ve seen. Eventually everything I witnessed this trip will be devoured by time.

Interior of the Colosseum. You can see most of it is crumbling.

Florence: The Renaissance is Here.

Monday, July 19, 2010 at 2:05 PM
I'm working on the entry. For now, enjoy these pictures from Florence! In order of appearance, food, Gates of Paradise, Santa Croce, Campanile from Duomo dome, my orange shoes, and Duomo. Enjoy!

So yesterday, I walked all around Florence, and saw 3 different churches. Florence was the source of half the Renaissance, and I could clearly feel it from the things I saw around the city. Dinner turned out to be amazing, making up for the mediocre first two meals that I had in Florence. I was almost ready to write off Florentine cuisine. Dinner description and pictures are at the end. Now, on to the art!

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Our first stop was the Church of Santa Maria Novella, just a few minutes walk from our hotel. It was bright and balmy out, even at 10am. Even though the high’s for the day was supposed to be around 90, I wore a black collared shirt and my jeans. I’ve been getting this habit of dressing up whenever I visit churches. It feels more proper. What I noticed first about the Italians: a lot of them wore sun glasses. Which was cool, since I brought mine too. Aviator glasses seem to be really popular here.

When we arrived at the church, I was pretty impressed. The Church of Santa Maria Novella was constructed between the 13th and 15th centuries, and is the only church in Florence to have it’s original façade in place. An arrangement of white, green, and rose colored marble covered the front. Three open aired frescoes filled up three arches. I wasn’t sure if these were original frescoes as well. The outside of this church was very neat looking. It looked more like a cheerful palace, compared to the rather brooding churches of Paris.

The original facade of this church is still in place, from around the 15th century? Notice the clean looking white marble.

I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside, which is a shame because I think it had the most beautiful interior out of all the churches I’ve seen this trip. Many of the walls were replete with paintings and frescoes. Among the famous works there were both Giotto and Brunelleschi’s Crucifix. It was interesting to see the different styles. Giotto’s painted crucifix was decidedly Medieval, with less emphasis on accurate physical description of Christ’s body. Brunelleschi on the other hand, gave Christ strongly defined muscles, and really made his agony seem real. The western transept was also cool. It had a gold altarpiece, with pictures depicting Christ, Madonna, and other people. Dante’s Inferno was painted on two opposing walls, with Paradise depicted on one, and Purgatory/Hell on the other. I noticed on the altar piece that Christ was handing keys to St. Peter, and a book to St. Thomas Aquinas. Thomas Aquinas is actually present in many places in the church. My favorite part of the church is the chapel to the right of the main altar. Chapel of Fillipo Strozi. Most of the works in there were done by Fra Filipo Lippi. His paintings on the wall attempted to trick the eye into thinking they were actual carvings in the stone. He painted columns and reliefs into the chapel wall, making careful use of shadowing to achieve his intended result.

One last thing to mention about Santa Maria: Masaccio’s Trinity fresco is there, and is the earliest known piece to show the use of linear perspective.

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, or Il Duomo, was our next stop. If the Santa Maria Novella was impressive, the Duomo was absolutely breathtaking. The marbling patterns were much more intricate, with heavier usage of the green and rose marbles. In addition, there were more carving in the façade of the church. I just stared at the massiveness of the marble designs. Notre Dame in Paris has nothing on the Duomo.

Facade of the Duomo.

Facade of the Duomo.

A side shot of the Duomo, which I thnk illustrates the complexity of the cathedral exterior. In addition to the carvings, there's white, green, and rose colored marble. Amazing.

We climbed up the dome for which the Duomo is so famous for. The church was built starting at the end of the 13th century, but the dome was constructed in the 15th century by Brunelleschi. It was an ambitious engineering feat for the time, having been constructed without scaffolding, and being so huge. The climb to the top was hot and made me sweaty; I had to take off my shirt halfway up. It was all worth it though. The view from the top was gorgeous. We could see the neighboring Giotto’s tower(Campanile) there, as well as the rest of the city. There were red roofs ranging far, surrounded by picturesque Tuscany hills. We sat and enjoyed the view for sometime.

The view of the Campanile from the dome of the Duomo.

In front of the Duomo was the Baptistery of St. John. We did not visit the interior that day, but we saw the famous gates outside. The short backstory: In 1401, Ghiberti famously won a design competition for the gates, beating out fellow famed sculptor Brunelleschi. So successful were his north gates, he was invited to create the east gates. Michelangelo was so impressed with he east gates, that they would go on to be named the “Gates of Paradise”. The Gates of Paradise were indeed masterpieces. I saw that they were full of detail, and very lifelike. Ghiberti was able to give a sense of depth in his scenes by sculpting with higher detail the closer and more important figures. He raised those figures out of the door, while keeping the unimportant servants flat against the gate. These gates are probably one of the most impressive art pieces that I’ve seen. I think Ghiberti spent 27 years on these gates.

Gates of Paradise. These are probably my favorite pieces of art in Florence. Detailed, skillfully made, and intricate.

The last stop for the day was the Church of Santa Croce. Its known for having the tombs of many famous Florentines, including Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli. I was pretty tired and hot by this point, so I’ll skip the description. I did really like all of the inlaid patterns on the marble floor. I’ll leave you with a picture of the marble inlays on the floor of the church, along with a picture of my bright orange shoes.

Allez l'Orange!

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Dinner for the day was at a place we saw walking around once. It had lots of review stickers on the restaurant’s window, which gave us high hopes. The food turned out to be delicious, and relatively inexpensive. I had a egg noodles with proscuitto and creamy sauce for my primi plate, and then grilled lamb with rosemary for a secondi plate.
Salami antipasti. I realized salami was just really old, raw meat that night.

Tagliatelle with proscuitto and cream sauce.

I think I was actually pretty full by this point. Grilled lamb with rosemary.

The best part about Italy is the wine. I love the red wines that we have here, particularly the chianti wines. I feel like my wine experience in Europe started with sweet, light, and fruity wines in Spain. I progressed from white wines to drier red wines in Paris, eventually to the really dry chianti wines in Italy. It’s as if we started slow, and eased our way into stronger stuff.
Matching wine glasses for the trio.


-Howitzer

Italia!

at 1:25 AM
Currently in Florence, Italy. Haven't been able to post as much in the past week, because internet availability has been spotty. However, I should have plenty to post about in the upcoming week in Italy. More churches, art, and food!

On the table for today's sights are Santa Maria Novella Church, Il Duomo, and Santa Croce. Will update about these later.

-Howitzer

Somewhere in the German Forests

Friday, July 16, 2010 at 10:59 AM
I’m currently traveling through the German country side, through thick forests and rolling hills. I never imagined Germany to be so picturesque. In contrast to the flatlands of the Netherlands, Germany is full of hills and tall trees. The trees form a carpet covering the hills, broken only in the low areas to make room for fields of wheat and corn. I’ve never seen the Sound of Music, except for one scene where the main character swirls around singing in the hills. The Germany I see looks just like that scene. This is interesting to me because I imagine the difficulties the Romans had in conquering Germany. The dense wood must have been difficult to dominate.

Amsterdam was all in all a pretty fun experience. It was a welcomed four days of relaxation, after a busy week in Paris seeing art and eating food. We saw two small museums in Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum. Other than that, we spent our free time in the bars, kicking back and taking in the lively Dutch culture.

We saw the Van Gogh museum our last day there, which was an educational experience. Having seen an entire museum dedicated to the man, I have to say I don’t enjoy his artwork, but I do respect its significance. Van Gogh’s biggest contribution to art, in my opinion, is his influence on future artists and styles. The fact that he was an artist for only 10 years further impresses me of his skill. Van Gogh learned to paint at a time when the Impressionists were popular, but he took his art further. Instead of describing nature by accurately painting it, he expressed what he saw in nature in his paintings. It is from this that Expressionism, Cubism, and other modern arts evolved from.

The Van Gogh museum organized itself chronologically, so that we could see the difference in Van Gogh’s technique as he developed his art. From the beginning, Van Gogh starts by depicting common scenes to learn basic drawing skills. Most of these paintings are dark and bland in color, and the brush strokes are relatively thick. I thought compared to Franz Hal’s strokes, Van Gogh’s were less refined, and not as realistic. I also noticed that the style seemed similar to Impressionist work, but apparently Van Gogh disliked Impressionist work at the time. In any case, I also noticed that there wasn’t a focus on light that the Impressionists were famous for. His most famous piece from this time period is titled the Potato Eaters, which I actually like (it was widely panned).

Van Gogh’s next period comes when he moves to France, and comes into contact with several Impressionist painters. He changes his opinion about Impressionism, and begins to learn Pointillism, using many dabs of paint to paint a scene. I noticed that here too he doesn’t seem to be that great at it, especially compared with some of the Monet’s that I saw on this trip. Van Gogh didn’t focus on the effect of light on his scene; rather, he just made everything really bright and sunny. I thought his colors were too bright, to the point of making the picture seem artificially colored..

It is in Van Gogh’s next period that I think he’s finally gone beyond the learning stages, and starts to really create something that will become influential for future artists. Van Gogh uses even more brilliant colors than in his Impressionist period, and also starts to experiment with lines. He chooses artificial colors to depict nature, and adds waviness to the lines in the paintings. At times, I think his color choice is pretty interesting. I remember one picture where he uses different shades of red to show a person’s shadow. The waviness in his lines is plainly evident in perhaps his most famous piece, Starry Night.

Not long after this period, Van Gogh shot himself, and died. He suffered from mental illness, and despaired that his art had reached itself potential.

As far as our eating experience in Amsterdam went, we mostly ate south east asian food. The Indonesian places were highly recommended, although we never made it to any that were good. We had a few good Thai meals, which reminded me of how much I like curry. Especially curry made using coconut milk. No pictures for these, though you aren’t missing out on much.

-Howitzer

Amsterdam, Home of the Oranje!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010 at 8:39 AM
We've arrived in Amsterdam! Amsterdam seems to be a pretty cool place. We happened to come right after the World Cup finals, in which the Netherlands lost to Spain, 1-0. I find the people to be pretty friendly, and it's almost as if I'm in Canada. The people have goodwill, and speak funny english.

So the first thing we do in Amsterdam is to go to a bar, and drink beer. Beer here is funny, because people just ask for a "beer". Doesn't seem to matter what kind. They might say "white beer," or "dark beer," or just "beer," but they don't seem to specify which kind. Most places have one brand of beer on tap. Then again, we are in a very touristy area. Our hotel is right on the edge of the red light district, so we are next to a lot of small pubs and restaurants. At the pub we went to, we ended up meeting 3 Americans who work for 3M. They were here on business, and popped in for a drink. We ended up talking about business, and they bought a round of drinks for us in the end. We skipped dinner that night, due to all the beer we had, but we did find deliciously tasty pitas with lamb shwarma in them later.

The next day, we kind of lazed around until mid afternoon, where we went out in search of Indonesian food. Because of the Dutch trading past, there's a huge influence of foreign cultures in Amsterdam. Indonesian food here is supposed to be really good. We failed to find one, but popped into a Chinese restaurant instead. Compared to Paris, everything here was much cheaper, so we were really happy all the same.

Because this was the second day after the World Cup final, the country was celebrating the return of the Dutch national soccer team. As such, everyone was wearing orange, their team colors. The Dutch team is nicknamed the Oranje, in reference to the royal House of Orange-Nassau. Everyone was outside celebrating like crazy that day. There was a traffic jam on the canals, because one boat stopped to blast music for everyone to sing along with. I think they were singing some popular soccer song, but people crowded everywhere around the music and sang. They even sang Zombie Nation! I was extremely happy that everyone was wearing orange. And I mean, more than 60% of the people were wearing orange, if not more. I even went out and bought an orange holland polo, with matching orange shoe laces. I don't know how I'm going to be able to wear them back in the US.

Allez l'Oranje!

So that was pretty fun.

Today, I went to the Rijksmuseum, which houses many pieces of Dutch artwork, from paintings to ceramics, to kitchenware. I think I formed a new appreciation for Dutch paintings from today's visit. I really saw how they focused on realistic representation. When I learned in Humanities class in school about the different paintings, we looked at the paintings through slides on the projector. I ended up really liking the Impressionist and Renaissance painting more, and kind of just wrote off the Dutch ones. Seeing things in person today really changed my opinion on Dutch art. I really liked seeing the different strokes used to represent subject matter. For example, Franz Hal used thick brush strokes, while Rembrandt was a master of light, among other things. Ruysdael was awesome with animating his clouds and his waterfalls; they almost seemed as if they were rolling towards you. I didn't know why Rembrandt was such an acclaimed artist before today. Now I understand that the man was simply a genius at technique. His paintings were just so lifelike in detail. And it's not just that he recreated real life accurately on the easel. He mixed da Vinci's sfumato with high detail in his art. That is, he made the unimportant and far away subjects hazy and undefined, while putting all the detail into the subject he wanted you to focus on. Brilliant.

It was probably much harder for me to see Dutch technique on the projector, where everything is limited by the pixel density and resolution of the image. That's probably why I never liked it that much. It also makes sense why I liked the Impressionist and Renaissance paintings more; Renaissance focuses more with choice of subject matter, style, and composition. Impressionistic brushstrokes are thick, and anyways the focus is on the entire scene, rather than the details. These were all things I could easily see on the projector screen.

So later that night, Phil and I went to the music bar that we went to before. I really like this bar because it's small, and it plays a lot of music. I can see it as a place that I would hang out in, if I had one near me back home. So tonight, we met a bunch of people. First, we met two Americans who were traveling around the world, literally. These guys were going everywhere from Asia to Australia to South America. Typical American dudes. Then, we met this group of highschool graduates from the UK, who were on a graduation trip. Finally, we met a couple of guys from North Carolina. They actually bought us a jaeger bomb. Yet again, my knack for getting free drinks at bars comes through. Pretty fun night overall. It was very chill, yet we met a lot of guys. I really wish I had this kind of place at home.

Not many pictures while I'm in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, the food here isn't that interesting, and pictures would just be of us in the bars. No Rembrandt pictures allowed.

-Howitzer

Beer in Brussels

at 1:14 AM

Sunday, July 11:

So, our second day in Brussels started with us in search of a laundry place. We spent the morning waiting for our laundry to finish, while eating chocolate that we bought in a nearby super market. We were starving when we finished, so we headed out to a supposedly cheap Chinese restaurant. The map we had promised that we’d “never see so much food disappear so fast.” It was too bad that the 3.5 euro lunch advertised was not available on Sunday. We still had our fill though, taking in fried rice, fried noodles, and noodle soup. I think it was funny that this was our second time having Chinese comfort food in Europe.

Once sated, we were off to sample more of the famous beers in Belgium. This time, I started off with a St. Bernardus Abt 12, the beer that I will always remember for the magical time it gave me in Seattle. I moved on to a Waterloo Tripel, and then finally a Cookie Beer. The Cookie Beer tastes exactly like you’d think. It was like a gingerbread cookie drink, and the bartender even gave me a small cookie to go with my beer!

Left to Right: Arrend Tripel, Delirium Tremens, Kasteel Red (Cherry)


If you click on the image, you'll notice that a bottle of abbey beer costs 71 cents. So cheap.


For dinner I had fries, which in my opinion aren’t all they’re cracked up to be in Belgium. They have their fries in paper cones, with sauce dumped on top. I tried mayonnaise, andaluse, and salsa diabla flavors. I think creamy fries are probably the best.

After dinner, it was World Cup time! The Spanish fans were out in force, with bright red & yellow flags and jerseys everywhere. Every third car going by on the street was honking, with passengers waving Spanish flags out the window. It was soccer pandemonium. The Dutch fans had a sizeable presence too. Aptly nicknamed “the Oranje,” their fans wore bright traffic-orange apparel. Being such a lover of orange, I decided to side with the Oranje and cheer for the Netherlands. The game was exciting, more because it was the final rather than for the action. There were lots of yellow cards given, and lots of almost goals. It was sad when Spain won on an overtime goal with only 10 minutes left in the game. I always seem to cheer for the losing team in World Cups. I rooted for Germany in 2002, against Italy in 2006, and for Netherlands in 2010. Oh well. Allez l’Oranje!

And for laughs:

Symbol of the city of Brussels, peeing boy statue!


-Howitzer

Night of Misery

Sunday, July 11, 2010 at 2:21 PM
Allez l'Orange. Sigh. Now I have to deal with obnoxious Spaniards honking and wailing all night. Long live the Orange. Robben....!

-Howitzer

Brussels: Mussels and more!

at 1:08 AM
Saturday, I rode into Brussels on a high speed train. I got to sit first class, which was a pretty sweet experience. I got served food and drinks, and the chairs were comfortable. There was even free wi-fi internet for the ride. I spent most of the ride looking up NBA players and stats, because I just found out that Mami signed Lebron, Christ Bosch, and Dwayne Wade. The train ride was so enjoyable it was almost too short. Alas, we arrived into Brussels, ready for beer and cheaper food.

Brussels feels like a small, boring town, with not much to do except to drink beer. In fact, the map and guide that I got for the town pretty much summed it up like this: "Everyone hates this place. If you do, you haven't stayed here long enough." They're arrogant as well. I pretty much checked into the hostel, and then headed out after a quick shower. I found a Delirium tap house, which had about 20 different beers on tap. Beers full of different flavor, and higher alcohol contents. Richard got destroyed by a cherry beer there, and we continued onwards to find food. We sampled mussels, and what I was looking for, fried chicken. After spending tons of money on food in Paris, who knew that spending 5 euros on fried chicken would be so satisfying? That definitely hit the spot after beer drinking.

I think belgian beers have more fruitiness to them. It's as if they're some sort of wine-beer hybrid. Most of the beers I have in America seem to slant towards the bitter side, as in more hops. I'd describe the beers in Belgium as more of a drink, something to sip on.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A description of the beers I sampled:
Arrend Triple: This beer was pretty good, in my opinion. The simplest way to describe its taste would be "cider", although I doubt it is one. It's only just slightly hoppy, and with hints of apple. It's a mostly juicy, sweet beer, with a deep golden amber color. 8% abv.

Kasteel Red (Cherry): This deep red beer exudes a cherry aroma. No doubt about it, this is spiked cherry soda. It's really fruity, slightly sour and sweet. I can't really say more than that. Oh, and Richard had a 1L boot of it and was pretty much done for the night. 8% abv.

Campus Premium: Standard lager, or so I was told. My taste buds were a little numb already at this time, so I don't think I was able to appreciate this one as much. It tasted pretty much clear and refreshing. Crystal gold coloring. 5% abv.

Buffalo Belgian Stout: I was intrigued by this one, a carbonated-type stout. Slightly bitter, possible hints of chocolate, coffee, or whatever it is that makes a stout. It's similar to Guinness with fizz. I think the bartender was pretty accurate in describing it as like a porter. It lacked the thickness of a porter though. Deep black color, big carbonation bubbles. 8% abv.

-Howitzer
Friday, July 9, 2010 at 10:36 PM
Goodbye Paris, we had a great time here. Today we embark on a train to Brussels, the promised land for beer. And mussels and fries I think. The last two days in Paris were spent touring art museums (d'Orsay and Louvre), and then having lazy dinners. The museum d'Orsay had mostly impressionist and post-impressionist pieces, which I really enjoy. Unfortunately, I have no pictures from d'Orsay because of a no camera rule.

I've always liked impressionist painting, because of the feeling I got from staring at them. Rather than needing to look at the details, I could just sort of zone out, and enjoy the entire scene. That's the whole point of impressionist pieces, is to capture the "impression" of a scene, rather than include all the details. A classic example would be Monet's Lady with a Parasol. You focus more on the feeling of light and colors present. It's very enjoyable for me, rather than staring at lines of perspective and painting technique or whatever.

Monet's Lady with Parasol. I think it particularly impresses a sunny, windy day.

Our last dinner took place at that magical restaurant again. The food, the wine, the magical waitress lady, the company, it was all awesome. I think I'm in love. No photos again..because I guess I'm lazy? Also there weren't anything new.

Paris Day 6: Last of the Cathedrals..whew.

Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 5:27 PM
Today, we attempted to visit the Picasso museum, only to find that it has been closed for renovations since last year. Our spirits dampened but still strong, we headed for the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Notre Dame was pretty cool. We visited the Pantheon, and then drank some epic beers at a near by specialty beer pub. At night we had cous cous, and then a revisit of the Notre Dame area.

After leaving the closed off Picasso museum, we wandered past a church, Eglise de Saint Denis du Saint Sacrement of some sort. I actually can’t find it on google maps, but I for sure saw a sign in front of the church which said the name. Anyway, we took a look inside. This church was quite interesting. It was catholic, yet the church was built like an ancient greek temple. That is, there were no arches inside, no transcept. Just one long hall, with simple columns going up. No side chapels. Pretty strange. The outside looked like the Parthenon too. Just a triangle frieze (name still eludes me), with columns supporting underneath. Pretty weird.

Eglise de Saint Denis du Saint Sacrement. This was pretty much it of the church. Pretty non-standard.

Before reaching Notre Dame, we took one last pit stop at Eglise de St. Gervais de St. Protais. I visited this the day before, but this time I had a chance to wander around and actually look at the architecture. I think I already mentioned this, but I found it to be pretty boring. However, the stained glass was pretty interesting, in that they had some pieces that were old, from the 16th century, but then some other pieces that were clearly from the 20th century or newer. There was seriously modern art type stuff in this church. I’m talking waves, gooey-ness, and random shapes. I didn’t understand what the hell they were trying to illustrate.

St. Gervais. See the yellow and blue waves? What does it all mean??

Notre Dame is probably the most famous christian church, and a shining example of French Gothic architecture. The cathedral was built in the 12th century, during the late medieval age. The outside is studded with religious iconography, gargoyles, spires, and multitudes of other details. From afar, the twin towers of Notre Dame rise up as monoliths of spiritual might. Carved in dark stone, the cathedral impresses a foreboding and serious aura to the observer. From the exterior, Notre Dame emphasizes height, with its steep spires, narrow pointed arches, and thin flying buttresses.

Lots of crazy stuff going on, on the outside of Notre Dame. Very typically Gothic.


This is hard to see without clicking for a bigger picture, but the towers have lots of intricate carvings and gargoyles.

At first, I was actually quite disappointed with the interior of the cathedral. The masonry is actually quite austere, with little flourish and adornment. The only artistic part worth noting is the many stained glass windows in there. I’m not as familiar with stained glass, so I guess I didn’t get as much enjoyment out of them. However, on my second visit later that night, I noticed that the beauty of Notre Dame comes from it’s appearance and emphasis on height. When I stared down the central nave from the doorway, my perspective made all the lines in the cathedral bunch together to run straight up. It almost seemed as if the walls of the church stretched upwards into the heavens. The darkness of the stones and the lack of lighting just added to the cathedral’s towering feel. It was a pretty cool sight to see.
A very elaborate circular stained glass window in Notre Dame. Click for a bigger view.

The tourists in the cathedral were pretty obnoxious and disrespectful, in my opinion. They were walking around, using flash photography, talking loudly, all during Mass service.

And that’s about it on religious architecture, for now anyways. After the churches, we went to a beer specialty place, with half off beer, and over 150 different beers from different countries. USA got represented with: Bud. Rofl. Anyways, I consumed about 1.5L of some tasty stuff. This place even had special glasses for each of the beers on tap, so I got a really, really tall glass for my 1L house beer. The thing looked like a giant test tube, and it towered over my head on the table. It even had it's own wooden stand to hold it upright.

Left to Right: Abbey Leffe blonde, some sort of peach cider, Abbey Leffe blonde.

So for dinner tonight, I had cous-cous, which is a north African dish. It’s a sort of really tiny grain, which you eat with other stuff. It’s pretty dry tasting, so you usually have some sort of soup-like dish along with it, or at least dishes with sauce. I had someone back at school tell me about delicious cous-cous they had while they were in France, so I had to have some. It was really, really satisfying, especially considering the price. We spent about a third of what we normally spend at a nice French restaurant, but we were still full and stuff afterwards.

No dinner photos for today; I was too lazy.

-Howitzer

Paris Day 5: Churches and Cathedrals Galore!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010 at 3:59 PM
Today, Richard & Phil and I split up. R&P went to Versailles, while I went to see different cathedrals and churches all over Paris. We met up for dinner at Chez Denise, another highly recommended restaurant.

I rushed to get to Eglise de Saint Sulpice before noon, to try to catch Mass there. I didn‘t end up attending Mass, but I listened to the organist play for over an hour. The organ in Saint Sulpice has a very baritone voice; it was the voice of God calling for piety. Saint Sulpice was built between the 13th and 18th centuries, but I think most of the decorations inside are from the Renaissance period. The decorations feature a lot of classical elements, such as faux Corinthian columns carved into the walls. The church was made of white stone and was structured with large, sweeping open spaces. The entire style showed clean lines, orderly carvings; in a sense, everything was very logical, or “reasoned“. This embodies the Renaissance spirit, in my opinion. Saint Sulpice feels massive, eternal, and unshakeable to me. The columns towered over my head, while the ceiling covered the sky. It was as if the church embodied the authority of God, and forced to me to face my powerlessness.
The ceiling of St. Sulpice looks unshakable.

Another picture of St. Sulpice. You can see the faux Roman columns carved into the stone.

Other things to mention about Saint Sulpice. It was made popular by Dan Brown’s infamous “The Da Vinci Code”, but is actually quite well known in Paris. The church is the second biggest, only slightly smaller than the Notre Dame. It is actually still unfinished; comparing the two towers, it’s clear that the south tower is missing portions.

The next church I visited was the Eglise de Saint Germain des Pres. It is actually the oldest church in Paris, though the original church structure is no longer here. Consecrated in the 6th century, St. Germain was enlarged in the 12th, and heavily damaged by fire in the French Revolution. Hm…it appears that St. Germain was the site of the September massacres, where hundreds of priests were rounded up and beheaded. Rivers of blood ran in the cobblestones in front of the church. The history is pretty bloody.

Architecturally, I wasn’t sure what to make of the church. The outside stone walls seemed very old. The main tower of the church showed signs of crumbling. Inside, the arches were not pointed, but nor did they seem post-Gothic classical. In addition, the faces in the glass artwork were kind of cocked downwards, a la medieval style. All of this pointed to pre-Gothic origin. However, certain portions of the church’s outside had large plain windows, which seemed to be more modern to me. Also, the vaults(ceiling) over head was ribbed, which is a Gothic feature. Furthermore, when I left the church, I saw flying buttresses in the rear of the church. I suppose this mash of architectural styles revealed St. Germain’s multiple renovations and additions.

Here you can see the painted walls of St. Germain.

A cool thing about St. Germain is that every surface was painted. The walls, columns, and ceiling were all painted. The ceiling even had stars painted on to them. Compared to St. Sulpice, St. Germain felt dark, dreary, and more restricted. St. Germain definitely felt old. My impression of St. Germain, was that it was built to remind you of the miseries in the physical world, and to force you to turn to God for salvation. That pretty much sums up my impression of the high medieval ages too, that the Church used God as a means to rise above the every day suffering of the times. It also happens that the 10th century is about when the most major renovations of St. Germain were made. This is my conjecture anyways.
If you click on the image above, you'll see a close up of the column tops. The figures look pretty crude, almost rudimentary. Makes me think that this is high Medieval in origin.

My next church was Eglise de St. Etienne-du-Mont, right behind the Pantheon in Paris. St. Etienne is a clearly Neo-Classical church. Smack in the front of the church is a triangular thing which the name of eludes me at the moment. It looks like the front of the Parthenon. The insides of the church felt very enlightened. The columns were very round, and made of a very pure white stone. They were minimalist, without the fanciful and flowery Corinthian tops. Ribbed vaults (ceilings) were present, but they lacked the pointed arches present in the Gothic style. Instead, the ribs were rounded, so that they presented a smooth, continuous profile. Everything about the church suggested logic and order, although in a different way than St. Sulpice. Whereas St. Sulpice felt imposing with its stone structures, St. Etienne felt minimalist.
Eglise de St. Etienne-du-Mont.

Look at the columns in St. Etienne; no decorations, very minimalist.

I also visited the Pantheon in Paris, although only the outside. I have to say, the Pantheon has amazing carvings on the outside. The Corinthian columns have some of the most detailed and life like carvings that I’ve seen. I also visited Eglise de Saint Gervais-et-Saint-Protais. I found this church to be eclectic, yet…strangely uninteresting. Maybe I was just burned out at the time, after 6 hours of church seeing. However, I did manage to catch Mass services there. The priests had waved smoke in the air before I got in, so I saw the haze wafting up towards the heavens while I listened to the chants being sung. This was definitely a cool experience. I’m not a religious person, but I have spirituality, and faith of some sort (I’m still trying to figure that out). I got to hear beautiful chants by the priests and nuns, and I witness some sort of ritual where all the Mass goers reached out to each other, and blessed each other. They even came to me, smiled and wished Christ with me, even though I was clearly just observing in the back.

Me exploring my spirituality. Perhaps God has decided something about me?

And of course, daily dinner photos.

Gateau de Foie de Volaille, some sort of liver dish.

Cotes d'Agneau Grille, grilled lamb

Chateau Cadillac Bordeaux (2007), a drier yet still very light wine. Delectable.

This has been a monster post about cathedrals, but I’m really only half way done. I’ll fill in about the Pantheon, Eglise de St. Denis, Notre Dame, and St. Chapelle later. Bear with me.

-Howitzer

Paris Day 4: Cathedrals, Food for Gods

Tuesday, July 6, 2010 at 5:10 PM
Paris Day 4: Cathedrals and Architecture

This was a pretty cool day. We saw a lot of cathedral architecture, which is probably my favorite thing to do here. Today we saw the Eglise Sacre Coeur, and the Eglise St. Eustache. Sacre Coeur, or Sacred Heart (Jesus’), is a cathedral built upon a tall hill overlooking Paris. From the front of the cathedral, we could see the entire city beneath us. Both of the cathedrals are freaking huge. As in, the ceilings towered over our heads, and made us feel small. I think this is an intended effect of cathedrals, to make people feel the immense power of god, while feeling the helplessness of themselves. After seeing the churches, we walked around looking for Bar Point, a highly recommended restaurant. We couldn’t find it, and ended up discovering the most awesome eating experience I’ve ever had.

At the Sacre Coeur, I could immediately tell upon seeing the stained glass that the cathedral was newly built. The stained glass had elements of modern art in it, most notably the random quadrangles of primary colors that resemble Mondre’s work. Second, the faces in the glass scenes had very stylized cheek bones and shadows. From my amateurish exposure to art, I was able to pick out this much. I was pretty proud to discover that the cathedral was indeed modern, having been built around the turn of the 20th century. Another interesting thing I discovered in the church was a blend of Romanesque and Gothic styles. From the façade and front half of the church, only semi-circular Romanesque arches were present. However, I discovered that in the back of the church there were what I thought were point arches, sort of like a half-almond shape. Pointed arches were pioneered in Gothic architecture, and allowed cathedrals to be built higher while staying narrow. Strangely, Sacre Coeur blended two styles of architecture together, Romanesque and Gothic. Well actually, it turns out that the “Gothic” part is actually Byzantine. Which makes sense in retrospect. The pointed arches inside Eglise St. Eustache are much more pointed and raking, compared to the ones inside Sacre Coeur.

The rising domes of Eglise de Sacre Coeur. No photos allowed inside!

The Eglise St. Eustache is similar to the Sacre Coeur, in that it uses a mix of architectural styles. St. Eustache is strictly a Gothic style church…on the inside. However, the outside façade showed a mix of Romanesque arches (half circles), and flying buttresses, which are another invention of the Gothic period. The strangeness continues. The inside of the church was again, very high. Very, very high. I successfully felt the insignificance of my existence. The pointed arches here were more sharp, which made them look more brooding and dark, in my opinion. The inside walls of Eustache were painted, and extremely faded, which gave the whole cathedral a very timeless feeling. Eglise St. Eustache was built from 1532 to 1642. One thing I did notice about the stained glass here was that, the artwork looked relatively new, compared to the construction date of the cathedral. I think it’s possible that stained glass was replaced at some point after construction.
Eglise de St. Eustache in classic gothic style. You get a sense that the church is towering.

After visiting these two churches, we set off to look for Bar Point. We discovered a secluded square with a multitude of restaurants, but could not locate Bar Point. So we split off to look at each restaurant’s menu, ambiance, and customers. I happened upon this small unassuming restaurant, but it had a window full of stickers from restaurant publications. This restaurant had the largest collection that I had ever seen, which probably meant that it was good. So we ended up trying it out. Oh man…we hit the jackpot with this one. I won’t give the name here for fear of other people discovering this hidden gem. The ambiance? Classically old France. The food? Burgundy region. The waitress? Super impressive…Suffice to say, we had grins on our faces the whole night. I started the meal with a terrine, which is some sort of ground pork sausage-pate. I followed with a tender veal in an exquisite sauce that I can’t even describe properly. By that point we were stuffed and ready to roll Phil down the sidewalk back home, but still had more to come. A plate of Burgundy region cheeses followed, which gave us enough time to settle our stomachs, and digest. The wine we chose for our meal was a red Saint Amour (2007), which was very light and slightly sweet. Good for both the hearty meat and the creamy cheeses. The hazelnut ice cream for dessert was average, but who’s to complain? By that time, we had already experienced the best meal of at least a few years, and there was really nowhere higher to climb.

La Terrine de Grandpere: yummy with pickles

Veal stew in some traditional Burgundy sauce. I don't know what was in it, but it was unbelievable.

Plate of traditional Burgundy cheeses. Goat and cow.

Thus ended a perfectly awesome day in Paris.

- Howitzer

Paris Day 2-3:

at 4:48 PM
So, spent the last two days in Paris. The first day, went and saw a currency museum (disappointing), obelisk from Egypt (disappointing), Champs Elysee (pretty cool), and the l’Arc de Triompe (sweet!). The second day, we had an ambitious plan to tour the Louvre museum for the whole day. We lasted about two hours walking around that maze of a building before deciding to quit for lunch, and to buy walking shoes. I think we walked around 8km today, but about half of it was for shoe shopping. That was ridiculously stupid.

The glass pyramid which sits over the entrance of the Louvre.


The Louvre….the world’s most famous art museum. Indeed, it probably has the most masterpieces of all the art museums in the world. Certainly the most famous ones. Just a taste, I saw Hammurabi’s stele, which I think is the first codified law in recorded history. For me, I was pretty awed in thinking about all the legislation we have now, and Hammurabi‘s Code being one of the earliest. Among the treasures of the Louvre, I also saw Winged Victory of Samothrace (I knew it as Nike of Samothrace). I really liked this one for the majestic posture of the wings thrown back, with the body leaning forward. I can definitely see how the appeal is actually enhanced by having the head and arms missing. What I also noticed about the statue was that the clothes on Nike had a gossamer feel to it. It was as if I was seeing through the thin cloth, as well as seeing the delicate linen ripple in the slight breeze. Definitely very cool, considering it was carved out of marble. The sculptor was an undeniable master.
Nike (Winged Victory) of Samothrace

.....and here's our daily dinner photos, from L'Alivi:

A refreshing Gazpacho made with tomatoes and guacamole.

Pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes.

Independence Celebrated

Saturday, July 3, 2010 at 4:31 PM
Happy 234th Birthday, United States! It's a little sad this year, for me, because I'm not celebrating it with fellow Americans, and doing traditional fireworks and bbq and such. Oh well, there's always next year.

-Howitzer

First Day in Paris

at 4:03 PM

Paris sucks. Just kidding. Except, it took forever for us to get out of the airport. I think we spent like 2 hours trying to buy tickets to take the train into the city from Charles de Gaulle airport. We tried to buy tickets from these little green ticket machines which you see some variation of in every metro station around the world. Except these special green ones only took coins. Coins, for a 27 euro purchase. See, people were smart enough to realize the absurdity of this, so there was a credit card reader on the machine. Except, the machine wasn’t smart enough to read anyone’s card. We’re talking long lines of 15+ people at each of the dozen machines in the CDG train station. Each person figuring out the long way, why the little green machines didn’t work. Then going and lining up the human tellers to buy tickets. And what’s worse, the teller that we went to closed, though thankfully right after we got our tickets. The poor bastards behind us had to suffer and wait twice as long as we did after that.

Paris is not all bad though. I’m looking forward to seeing the many museum, churches, and multitudes of other tourist attractions in the city. Not to mention the food…and we also got a great deal on our hotel. I peeked at the manager’s reservation list, and we got a cheaper price for a triple than someone else who ordered a double room. We’re even staying for one more day. So take note, fellow travelers: hotel prices vary a lot.

My first dinner in Paris on the other hand, was absolutely amazing. It could be that I’d been up for near 36 hours at that point. It could be that I hadn’t eaten all day. But I think it was the best meal I’d had in at least a few years. We had a three course meal, along with some red wine. I started off with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes in a salad. This cheese was extremely fresh and juicy. I think France won me over at that point. But wait…there’s more. I had a beef bourguignon, with the tenderest beef I’ve had. I’ve made pot roast before, using chuck roast and 4-5 hours of slow cooking. The beef bourguignon tasted like it was done for at least twice as long. It was like the promised. And right when I thought I was as satisfied as could be, the waiter brought out the crème brulee. Goddamn. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything resembling this creamy toffee goodness sitting in front of me. And we could only stare and laugh at Phil’s face, as he stared at the impossibly large cheesecake slice before him.

Fresh mozzarella slices with olive oil and tomatoes. C'est delicieux!

Beef Bourguignon. Tenderest beef ever.

Creme Brulee. This was creamy, and had a crispy sugar top.

I think the impossibly good dinner redeemed all the crap I had to deal with at the Paris CDG airport. We shall see how the rest of Paris goes.

-Howitzer

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