Finally got some IO

Found a cafe that will let you connect USB devices so I am adding two pics taken yesterday.

Yes, I AM a tourist.

William the sheep is overjoyed to be in Paris and see the sights.

William

We stayed up late so I could use the tripod and get this shot

Lights

Oh yea, before we left Bruges, Cynthia got the hookup at the Dumon Chocolate Shop. This place is pretty amazing. It went a long way toward lifting her spirits after the “incident.”

We went to the top of the tower today and we also walked to the Arc d’Triumph. Tomorrow is the Louvre.

It’s the little differences…

Yesterday, as we strolled down the famous Champs Elysse I found myself craving something to drink and maybe a snack.

Cynthia was somewhat befuddled about the fact that I was tickled to find a McDonald’s so I could spend 3 Euros to purchase a Royal with Cheese and a coke.

Today we did not go to the Louvre, instead we braved the Paris Metro and went to the Musée d’Orsay to walk among the best collection of impressionist art ever assembled. Monet, Latrec, Degas and many others including some more Van Gogh.

After that we walked over to Samaritain, a huge depatment store with a cafe on the roof that offers a spectacular view of Paris.

From there we went to the Cluny Museum, the home of the Unicorn Tapestries. It is an amazing museum of Medieval art and history.

From there it was back to the hotel and then out to the open air market for cheese, meats and breads so to make a little dinner.

We shoot for the Louvre tomorrow. Sunday night we take the sleeper train to Venice.

Venice!

Venice Picture Gallery

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The night train from Paris to Venice was an experience to say the least.
We shared a cabin with a Nigerian man who was friendly enough but seemed out of place on a train to Venice.

We made conversation and then bedded down for the night.

As the train rolled through the darkness I dosed off and dreamed of bizarre train sequences from various WWII movies. Then, at 4:00 am I was awakened by a knocking on the cabin door. We had stopped and a uniformed Italian policeman was asking us questions. He was most interested in the man from Nigeria. The conversation was mostly in Italian (which the Nigerian man spoke fluently) and the policeman searched his luggage thoroughly. After about 45 minutes he was done and he left. I fell back asleep as the train pulled out and continued us on our journey.

We arrived in Venice around 8:30 this morning.

I found my way to St. Marks and got a picture right where my grandfather stood in 1919.

Spanning the generations

One of the sites we were anxious to see was the so-called “Bridge of Sighs.” Legend has it that this bridge received it’s name because the prisoners who passed through it on their way to the prison cells on the other side would most likely see the beautiful sight of the lagoon and the island of S.Giorgio and freedom for the last time.

This is probably an apocryphal tale but it makes a great story.

William was happy to see it.

William at the Bridge of Sighs

The food here is awesome and the weather is magnificent. We leave the day after tomorrow for Florence.
Cynthia’s ability to speak Spanish is helping us in many ways since the languages are very similar.

I love Italy

Cynthia and I have fallen in love with Venice.
Once you get past the crush of humanity in the main tourist areas you can find small streets lined with pleasant cafes and restaurants intermingled with shops.

Each turn of a corner reveals a scene more picturesque than the last.

Canals

The people here have been very kind and pleasant. You can walk the streets to all hours of the night and be completely safe. We strolled till nearly midnight last night.

The Venetian glass is truly beautiful and the masks are fantastic. As tempting as these items are, we cannot carry any souveniers back with us and the cost of shipping starts at 70 Euros and goes up. We must content ourselves with pictures and memories for the time being.

The one thing that continues to amaze me is that there are no cars, scooters, motorcycles or bicycles here. All the motorized traffice is by boat and the rest of the traffic is by foot.

Tomorrow we take the train to Florence. From all that we have heard this will prove to be equally wonderful.

Pretty Lights

Canal at night

Fire show at St. Marks

By request

Shefsatyr, look in the gallery (www.baldheretic.com/gallery) for another angle on the grandfather shot.

For the fans of William the Sheep here is a picture of him when he helped me do my laundry in Paris on our last night there. It was quite difficult following the French instructions and purchasing the correct detergent.

It was a successful (if not harrowing) experience. On the upside I have an increased reserve of clean underwear and socks!

Cynthia even composed a poem….

Saturday night
In Paris, France
Washing and watching
Jay’s underpants

William

Amy, tell Arianna that William was found in Scotland when we travelled there two years ago and hope to return one day…but for now he is happy touring the world and seeing things no other wee Scottish sheepie has ever seen. His optimisim and enthusiasm is carrying the day for us when we find ourselves road weary.

Fabulous Firenze!

Florence is a magnificnet medieval city. At the heart of the city is the Duomo.
It is a spectacular cathedral and is currently being renovated.

We wandered the streets to take it all in. We made reservations to see Michelangelo’s David at La Academia. It is a HUGE statue. For some reason I did not realize it was so big. I do recall it was sculpted with the intention of placing it at the top of the Duomo…but WOW!

We also stood in line for the Uffizi so we could see Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” as well as several more of his masterpieces. There were also some Leonardo Da Vinci works and numerous other Renaissance pieces that were a treat to behold.

Yesterday was a day trip to Fiesole for the view of Florence from the top of the hill.

Today we took the train to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower of. Sure, it was cheesy. But when will we have this chance again?

Tomorrow we catch the train to Rome. We are beside ourselves with excitement.
On Sunday William is hoping to se Il Papa!

Roma!

One and one half hours by high speed train from Florence to Rome the day before yesterday.
This place is BEAUTIFUL! The weather in Italy has been just perfect.

Here is William at the Leaning Tower of Pisa from our side trip the other day.

William and Pisa

We had time to go to St. Peter’s Square which is right around the corner from our hotel. St. Peter’s Basillica is truly wonderous to behold. The largest church in Christendom, pictures cannot do it justice.

St Peter's

St Peters

St Peters

Today we stood in St. Peter’s square and received a blessing from the Pope. And yes, there is a picture of William and the Pope as soon as I can get it uploaded. He is now a “sacred” sheep.

Sigh…it’s almost time to come home

Rome has been so great. I was apprehensive when we first set our sights on coming here.
The warnings of crime and hustles, the concern over the crowds and the price all added to our anxiety.

All those things aside, this is a wonderous city. The people have been kind and generous. The weather has been spectacular. The sights have been glorious and the food has been delicious.

We did witness one of the more common scams here in Rome. As we stood in line yesterday for the Vatican Museum and The Sistine Chapel some gypsies were working their way through the crowd begging for coins. As the trio swirled around us we we protected our bags. The tap you and moan and plead. It’s all a distraction. The guy in front of us lost his wallet from a zipped up fanny pack. Fortunatley the gypsy dropped it and he was able to get it back. It’s impressive how smoothly they work.

This morning it was the obligatory trek to the Trevi Fountain to toss our coins in. The legend is that if you toss a coin into Trevi Fountain you will return to Rome. I sure hope that’s true because I want to come back to this magical city again.

Cynthia and I will cherish these memories for a long, long time.

Trevi Fountain

It’s good to be home

As of 11:00 pm CST Wednesday night we are safely back home.

The plane trip to and from is always the least pleasant part of any vacation.
Still, here we are… a bit jet-lagged but enjoying getting back into our routines.

Coffee is plentiful, refills are free and television is in English.

Processing the experiences, lessons learned and the pictures is going to take time.

Thanks to everyone who took time to comment on the posts I made.
It was nice maintaining a connection back to the states while we traveled.

I do have the pictures uploaded. You can see them in the gallery. http://www.baldheretic.com/gallery
There are some awesome shots from the Keukenhof in the Amsterdam section.

There’s going to be a special “William the Sheep” section as soon as I can get it organized.

1919 – 2005

The angle is not exactly the same. It appears the picture of my grandfather was shot from an elevated position… I also suspect the flag pole was further away from the building in 1919. At least it appears to be when you compare different aspects of the two photos.

Still, I got what I was looking for.
A picture of myself at the same location (St. Mark’s Basillica) as my grandfather in 1919.

Maybe I am a dork, but I think it’s pretty cool.

European Oddessey – Amsterdam

Matt G.‘s recent posts have reminded me that I have been lax in creating an actual log of our trip outlining what we did so I think I will steal a page (or 5) from his journal. Each thumbnail image is a link back to the gallery.

Be sure and have a look at Matt’s posts about his trip. He hit some good sites!

Amsterdam

When we started mapping out our plans for the trip, Amsterdam was picked as a starting point for a number of reasons. The location in the north made it a good jump-off location, the large airport meant easy access via non-stop air transport, the Van Gogh and Ryks Museums legitimized the city in spite of it’s more notable reputation. Icing on the cake was the fact that my friend Carl had taken up residence there many years back, providing a social anchor for when we arrived in a foreign county. Never underestimate the value of a friendly face when you are in a completely alien environment.

Carl was pretty quick on the draw and actually called me on my cell phone as we were exiting the Central Station to find the tram to our B&B. He gave us good advice on which one to catch and offered to meet up with us after we were settled in.

Once we did get checked in to the B&B it was a quick phone call to arrange a meeting at The Dam just a few tram stops away. We were joined by Carl and his lovely lady Suzanne. We strolled the shops and canals taking in the sites and working toward defeating jet lag. For all intents and purposes it was about midnight (according to our internal clocks). In Amsterdam it was a sunny 11:30 am by the time we met up with our hosts. We knew we had to stay up or face the prospects of being lagged for the whole trip. Carl and Suzanne took us to a wonderful Dim Sum restaurant and then over to a book store to meet up with their friend Sean Condon who was hosting a book signing of his latest effort, “My Dam Life”, a story of his experiences being an Australian ex-pat in Amsterdam. We bought a copy and had it inscribed. We hung out for a bit and then moved on to wander some more. Carl led us to an open air book market where we saw many an interesting tome. We were not prepared to lug heavy books across Europe so we browsed but did not purchase.
This was no simple thing. With a degree in library science, Cynthia is an avid reader and a lover of books. Almost every room in our home has book shelves.

We wandered around and around and around. We were quite exhausted but the sights were delightful. The canals, the architecture. Carl was telling us an endless stream of tales regarding how he arrived in Amsterdam, obscure political tidbits about Holland and Amsterdam and generally doing a stellar job of keeping us awake. Very much appreciated but taxing none-the-less. We walked and walked and talked and talked. Suzanne had to leave us after the book signing so it was just Cynthia, Carl and I. After awhile we made it to Carl’s apartment and then on to the art gallery Suzanne runs in the Jordaan. It was a nice place with some interesting pieces in it. At this point it was late in the afternoon and we needed to get back to the B&B and get some rest. We were pretty sure we had beaten jet lag and were ready to sleep. We caught the tram back to our B&B and passed out after acquiring some food at the local grocery store

The next several days were spent doing the obligatory canal cruise and visiting the Van Gogh Museum. We even encountered a large anti-Bush demonstration. Apparently he was in Holland due to the VE-Day celebrations.

The weather was a bit cool (around 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit) and raining occasionally. Our second to last evening was spent at Suzanne’s apartment. She and Carl invited us for dinner where were served a delicious rack of lamb. We were introduced to poffertjes. Yum! Carl shared some home brewed chocolate beer with me and we were joined by Suzanne’s sister and her friend from Greece. It was a lovely time. Alas, I was struck with a major headache and was going downhill fast. Our hosts arranged for a taxi to take us back to the B&B. Apparently there are some tricks to hiring a cab and Suzanne’s sister came downstairs and spoke (in Dutch) to the cabby. Basically telling him to treat us fairly. Before we left Suzanne made the comment “I guess we know who the party person is in the family” which struck Cynthia as VERY funny considering she tends to be a home-body.

The crowning glory of the Amsterdam leg of our trip had to be, HANDS DOWN, The Keukenhof. For 8 weeks out of the year you can roam 28 hectares (roughly 70 acres) of beautiful tulip gardens. We took the train to Liden and then a bus to the gardens. A VERY easy commute. We met a fellow from Idaho on the train who was going out there to shoot some pictures. He was very pleasant but rather odd. Mostly harmless, I’m sure. The skies threatened rain but the provided a very “Van Gogh-esque” background on the day. We spent the entire day out there shooting pictures and marveling at the beauty. It did hail for about 10 minutes. No worries, we ducked into restaurant and had some lunch.

It was a magical series of days. Getting to catch up with Carl was very pleasant. Experiencing Amsterdam the way we did was great. Sorry, no sex museums or drugs. Not my style. Bill will cover that on his trip, I’m sure!

Next up, Bruges Belgium and the “Maiming of the Nose”

European Oddessey – Bruges

Bruges, Belgium
(photos behind this link)

After our stay in Amsterdam we packed up and left for Bruges, Belgium. This stop on our journey came recommended to us by my co-worker. We did some research and thought it would a good interim before Paris.

We took the #17 tram in Amsterdam to Central Station. Using our rail pass we negotiated passage on a train to Antwerp with a connection to Bruges. After a few hours we were there. We headed to the taxi stand to catch a cab to the Hotel Patritius. As Cynthia was entering the cab she slipped and hit her head on the door frame. Since she was off balance she pulled up and out smashing her nose.

It did not bleed immediately. Cynthia’s eyes were wide and she looked to be in shock. She kept apologizing and I was pretty worried. I instructed the cab driver to take us to the nearest hospital which he did. On the way Cynthia’s nose began to bleed pretty good. I assured her we would be ok and that we were going to get some help. We got to the hospital pretty quickly. I sent Cynthia inside and I paid the cabbie and grabbed our bags. Already the decision to pack only backpacks was paying off.

I hustled into the hospital just behind Cynthia and we talked to the admission nurse. Cynthia is admitted pretty quickly after they look at our passports and I jot down our home address. They let me go back with her.

By this time Cynthia is bleeding quite a bit and we are pretty sure her nose is broken. The nurse gives us some paper towels to clean up and it’s not long before a technician is taking her back to x-ray. When Cynthia comes back she sits with me and we clean her up. Soon a doctor comes in and informs us that the nose is not broken. This is good news. She gets a nurse to come back and bandage the wound on the outside of her nose the internal bleeding slows quite a bit.

The nurse did not speak English very well but he read the chart and seeing where we were from looked up, smiled and said: “Houston, have a problem!” .

The hospital gave us a copy of the x-rays and told us they would send a bill (which we still have not received). They called us a cab and we went to the hotel. Cynthia’s spirits we already picking back up.

We made it to the hotel and checked in. After that we needed to find a pharmacy to fill the prescription for pain killers the doctor gave us. Turns out it was extra strength ibuprofen. I had Advil in my bag! Oh well.

Bruges is a beautiful city. Filled with old world charm you can easily be transported back in time just looking at the buildings and walking the streets.

In the center of the Market stands the statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck. The statue honors these two leaders of the ‘Battle of the Golden Spurs’ which took place on the 11th of July 1302.

It wasn’t long before we found the Dumon Chocolate Shop. Quite possibly the most famous hand made chocolate shop in Europe. The prices were great and Cynthia stocked up. This cheered her up even more.

Bruges is so charming and it was pleasant to explore. There was a great Internet cafe near Our Lady’s Church. This church has the distinction of housing the Madonna with Child created by Michelangelo. It’s a lovely marble sculpture and there are no real crowds to speak of.

Despite the tragedy this was an excellent stop. The charm and the chocolate went a long way. We drank some lambics, I smoked a Cohiba Cuban cigar…it was nice. Cynthia even took the time to climb the 300+ steps to the top of the bell tower on our second day there.

Next stop, Paris!

European Oddessey – Paris

Paris gallery behind this link!

After a few days in Bruges we caught the train to Brussels where we would board the high speed bullet train to Paris. Brussels is the capital of the European Union and has a very large, very busy and rather interesting train station. While we were waiting we encountered an odd fellow speaking French who I assume was playing the part of a germ. Perhaps advocating cleanliness or a cleaning product. He was armed with a plunger and a toilet bowl scrubber. It was very entertaining if not somewhat surreal.

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I was very excited by the prospect of this train ride. The bullet train travels at speeds of up to 200 mph and reaches Paris in about 2 1/2 hours from Brussels. The trip was cool. We saw a lot of the countryside and the train was very clean and comfortable.

In no time at all we arrived at the train station in Paris. We hopped off and headed to the front of the train station to catch a cab. In our research we read that you should avoid hailing a cab in Paris. At the train station there is a cab stand and you wait in line there. There are some type of “free-lance” cabs that wait beyond the “official” stand and they are to be avoided.

After we checked in to our hotel we set out for our first attraction, The Eiffel Tower. It was just a 10 minute walk from where we were staying and it was a gorgeous day!

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Heavens to Murgatroid! That thing is HUGE! Built in 1887-1889 for 1889 Universal Exhibition and Centennial of the French Revolution the tower juts an impressive 986 feet into the sky.

As you might imagine, there were crowds and vendors everywhere. We crossed the Seine River over to the Trocadero. From here you can climb the steps and get a good view of the tower and the surrounding area.

We decided to make our way back to the hotel and see about getting some dinner. There was a street nearby that featured some good places to eat as well as some shops with wine, bread, cheese and fresh produce. It smelled heavenly!

After dinner and relaxing a bit we walked back to the Trocadero to set up the tripod and get a nice time-lapse shot of the Eiffel Tower at night. If you click the thumbnail you can go through the progression of shots leading to the ultimate night shot. We did not know this, but the tower “twinkles” every hour on the hour for about 10 minutes starting at 10:00 pm. The twinkling lights were installed for the millennium and looks VERY cool.

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It was starting to get chilly and we were fairly tired so we packed up the camera gear and walked back to the hotel hand in hand. It was quite charming.

We slept good and got up the next day with our sites set on mounting the Eiffel Tower. For just under 11 Euros you can ride to the top. The view is pretty spectacular and I we got some great pictures of the city. From there we caught the hop on, hop off bus to tour the city. This gave us a very good overview of Paris and allowed us to get our bearings.

After that we mostly walked to take in the sites. We did use the Metro to get us to the Musee d’Orsay but walked and walked otherwise.

Over the next few days we walked to Notre Dame, we walked to the Louvre, we walked to the Arc DeTriumph and to the Champs Elysee. We walked and walked and walked.

The Louvre was worthwhile…besides the obligatory Mona Lisa and Venus De Milo we saw many interesting exhibits including Winged Victory of Samothrace.

While we really like the Louvre I have to say, the Musee d’Orsay had to be our favorite. Filled with impressionist works we saw more Van Gogh works as well as Monet, Manet, Degas, Cézanne, Renoir, Pissarro and the list goes on and on. The museum is an old train station saved from demolition and remodeled into one of the best art spaces I have ever seen in my life.

I took some pictures but nothing can do that place justice.

Notre Dame was beautiful to behold and also of note was Sainte-Chapelle. Some magnificent stained glass. We also visited the Cluny Museum , home of the famous Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries.

There is one thing we did which I recommend to anyone going to Paris. There’s a restaurant at the top of a department store called The Samaratain. From the roof you can see all of Paris and it’s very nice. We enjoyed a lunch there and fed the sparrows who came begging at our table.

Paris is full of some very fond memories. We were getting rather tired going all day every day and it was catching up to us. When the woman with the severe eye makeup and the goth-esque clothing passed us on the street for the second time I quipped “I’m late for my noon haunting”… an inside joke that kept us laughing the rest of the trip.

We polished off Paris with another long, LONG walk. We needed to tire ourselves for the upcoming ordeal…

Next up; Night train to Venice!