France

Day 6: Landscape of the Dead

We had several hours to hang out in Paris following our visit to Normandy. We decided to spend that time meandering through Père Lachaise Cemetery.  Our goal was to first find the burial location of Jim Morrison but as we wandered I was both awed and amazed at the grave sites we were passing through. The cemetery felt a bit surreal which is  not unusual, but at some points it seemed we were passing through an abandoned city. I wouldn’t have been surprised if we had seen the door to one of the tombs open and it’s occupant step out as if to pick up the morning paper.  This place definitely had conveyed the atmosphere of a Tim Burton movie. Many of the tombs/crypts showed extraordinary craftsmanship and artistry; they were truly amazing. We eventually found Morrison’s grave as well as Oscar Wilde’s and they had one thing in common, other than being burial places, barriers to keep the public away. The barriers are close to the sites so they are easily viewed but apparently people were endangering the sites with their attempts at showing appreciation/reverence. I can only guess what people were doing to Morrison’s grave, maybe leaving too many objects, maybe adding graffiti, the story for Oscar Wilde’s was more clear.  At some point for visitors to Oscar Wilde’s grave it became a tradition to kiss the headstone. (“Headstone” in this case is  a bit of a misnomer, as it is really a huge sculpture.) His descendants felt that the abundance of lipstick prints was both damaging and not entirely appropriate so they had the headstone cleaned and surrounded by a glass wall.  Intrepid fans have found ways to still smooch the stone however. This was definitely an unexpectedly pleasant and enriching experience.

 

 

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Day 5: Normandy

Day 5 started with a very early bus ride to Normandy with a smarmy bus driver, I’ll save further descriptions of him for another post.  One of the reasons I took this trip was to be able to go to Normandy.  As with most memorials I have visited, nothing really prepares you and you’re surprised by what affects you and how you’re affected. There is nothing that can convey the shear number of casualties other than visiting Normandy.  As I walked among the marble crosses and stars of David I began to think of my uncle who survived D-Day.  He was a bomber pilot who volunteered for extra sorties beyond his assignment.  While reflecting on his bravery and contribution to the war effort I was reminded of my dad who passed in March. They both led long, charmed, amazing lives.  I walked, bringing them with me, feeling the weight of the place; couldn’t help but weep.

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Day 4: Karma of the Sun King

This day began with the obligatory bus tour of Paris; it’s a good way to see a lot of sites in a short amount of time. About halfway through we stopped at Les Invalides which is  a monument to France’s veterans.  The building was first commissioned by Louis XIV for injured and ill soldiers then evolved into the place it is now.  It currently does house some soldiers as well as the tomb of Napoleon:

Following the bus tour our group split into two groups. Some of us went to explore Versailles the rest went to do some shopping.  I went with the former group. Prior to arriving at Versailles the bus tour guide told us that tickets to the palace could be purchased on site or a sandwich shop near the train station. We were also told that anyone 18 and over needed to buy a ticket but those under 18 could go for free.

Upon arrival we found the shop that sold tickets and decided to purchase the entrance tickets there hoping to avoid lines at the actual palace.  The dude selling tickets said that people 18 and under did not have to buy tickets which contradicted the bus driver, but we went with it because it saved Euros money.  So myself and my partner chaperon forked over our 24 Euro and we headed off to the palace.

When we got to the palace we were greeted by a statue of the Sun King and discovered shortly that the dude who sold us tickets had, intentionally or not, lied; the 18 year olds in our group did in fact need tickets.  Shit.  I took the kids who needed tickets to the ticket line which appeared to be short…until I looked inside and saw that it snaked around through several rooms. Shit. Since we had limited time I decided to ignore the Eagle Scout in me, and I deftly jumped the line. It was surprisingly easy and I wound up about halfway through the line.

While waiting in my illegitimate spot hoping the line would move faster, I noticed some people stepping out of the line then exiting the building with tickets.  Turns out there were automated ticket machines, score! I jumped out of line, found my students and after some minor fumbling we had our tickets and were on our way.  I was proud of myself for solving the ticket issue relatively quickly, but felt bad for jumping the line (insert foreshadowing here).

As with many popular places in Europe, and the U.S., Versailles is amazing and crowded.

Following our tour of Versailles we were to head back to Paris and meet the rest of  the group for dinner. (Weird, as I’m typing this, “From Paris with Love” came on the TV). We got on the train at Versailles and proceeded to sit on it for half an hour before it left, which through us off our schedule. After several transfers on the Metro we finally met up with our group at which time I discovered I had been pickpocketed. I’m fairly certain it happened at Versailles or on one of the crowded trains we took returning from the palace. I suppose it was Karma for jumping the line.

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Day 3-Paris: Of People, Pickpockets, and Piss

(Editors note: WiFi was surprisingly hard to come by and not very reliable so the following posts are post trip.)

Paris has too many people and it smells like piss.  I had all kinds of romantic notions of what Paris would be like and was feeling excited upon arrival following a three hour train ride.  The train station was magnificent.  The iron work and architecture reminded me of the film ‘Hugo’.  I was beginning to imagine sitting at a cafe having bread and chocolate, then strolling along the Seine to the Eiffel tower; then I stepped outside.  The smell of urine was 1) unexpected, 2) surprisingly strong and 3) inexplicably persistent throughout the city.  So much for the hype.

As with most group tours the day was packed with activities with the added bonus of the Paris Metro (please refer to previous comment regarding too many people in Paris).  We were able to visit the Arch de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and take a boat tour.  Two things I did not know about the Arch de Triomphe were you can’t drive through it, and it has an eternal flame; disappointed to learn the former, interested by the latter.

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The roundabout encircling the Arch is very dangerous to try and cross so it may be accessed through an underground passage which, yes, smelled a little pissy.  If you happen to cross through the passage you may be talked into striking a silly pose:

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At some point after visiting the Arch de Triomphe (this is a post visit account remember) we took a cruise on the Seine where we saw things like this:

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and this:

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cool artwork:

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and a spontaneous dance party erupted on the upper deck where we were complete with people cheering from the banks of the river and a couple of asses mooning us from a bridge.

Following the cruise we visited the Eiffel Tower of which I have only one thought; it’s big, really, really big.

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Honestly,  I had no idea just how large it was.  We were too late to make it all the way to the top, but we were able to make it to the middle level.  (I took some photos, but it was night and they didn’t turn out).

I left out the visit to Notre Dame where the most interesting part to me was seeing this:

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which marks the starting point for all roads in France.  The cathedral is beautiful, but they’re not really my thing. Locating Quasimodo is more of my thing:

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While my introduction to France was a bit stinky, the sights we saw this day were truly amazing.  Next time: “Pickpocket Paradise”.

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Carcassone

This was one of the many places I wanted to stay and explore longer.  I was stunned an amazed by the architecture and craftsmanship especially in the cathedral.  The gargoyles on the outside were a little creepy, but they were balanced by the beautiful stained glass windows.  It was really difficult to get photos without people, or the random car, but I managed to take a few.  I think the place is normally a little crowded, but apparently Marilyn Manson was going to be putting on a show there that evening so there were a few extra peeps walking around.  Anyway, enjoy 🙂

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Streets and Alleys

Upon returning from a trip I’m amazed by 1) how many pictures I took, and 2) the number of said pictures that are similar.  I mean really, just how many pictures of streets and alleys do I need?

Pisa:

 

Madrid:

 

 

 

 

 

Florence:

 

 

The antennas caught my eye:

 

as did the satellite dish:

 

Avignon/Palace of the Popes

 

Zaragoza:

 

Montecatini Terme

 

 

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Schema

One of my goals as a teacher is to help my students embrace their ignorance.  Too many of them are afraid to participate in class discussions because they’re worried they’ll be wrong, or worse they feel they don’t know anything.  I try to emphasize that not knowing things is okay, it just means there is more stuff to learn!  To make them feel better about their own ignorance I teach them about the concept of schema.  A person’s schema is everything they have learned over their lifetime.  People use this accumulated knowledge, or schema, to make sense of and interpret new situations.  Since everyone’s life experiences are different we all have different schemas.  I know a LOT about geography and history but much less about science and math.  I encourage my students to think of their schema as a library they can reference when trying to understand new things.  I demonstrate this concept by having them interpret things like this:

One of the students saw this sign and observed, “Hey, they messed up that sign,  one leg is shorter than the other on the people.”

“Well, that’s to indicate they are walking.” I replied.

“No, I think they just  messed up the sign.”

“Ok, I’ll buy that, then that means they messed up all of the signs we’ve seen like this in each of the countries we visited.”

Silence.

This next photo I took over 10 years ago in Spain and show it to my students every year.  I ask them to use their schema to tell me what they think it means:

“Illegals running across the border!” Is a typical response I get every year, I’m still not sure how they get that from this.  I point out the briefcase held by one of the figures and say it indicates a school crossing.

“Ohhhhh.”

This year I’ll show them this one which is more clear:

 

I wonder what my students schema will tell me about this one:

 

 

Every year my students complain about our school dress code, so I’m looking forward to showing them this photo from the Pantheon

 

Travelling through France, Spain and Italy I was struck by the number of signs that had no text, just images or caricatures like the first photo I posted here.  I started to wonder why there were no words, then I realized, duh, there’s like a gazillion different languages spoken in Europe, pictures are easier than having every translation on a sign.  So if you’re travelling to the Museo de Prado with your dog you’ll know what this means:

 

Another teaching goal I have is to encourage my students to travel.  Many of them are hesitant because they don’t speak another language.  I tell them not to worry, with their schema they’ll be just fine.  Finding food for example:

 

 

A pleasant place to eat….

Or a bathroom…(a little fuzzy, I was in a hurry)

 

 

 

or a place to buy souvenirs…

 

 

 

I’m not sure how well myself or my students could have navigated medieval Carcassone though, even with our schemas.  Without a proper frame of reference, this makes no sense:

 

Here’s a close up, any ideas what this indicated?

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Lost in Translation

One of the things I enjoy most about travelling is reading, or attempting to read signs.  I like trying to figure out what the signs are indicating, other times the signs just make me smile either because they are clever, or because reading the signs literally is hillarious.   For example, on the way to dinner on our first night in Madrid I saw this restaraunt:

The restaruant is called “Fatigas del Querer”.  When I saw the sign I knew enough Spanish to realize the first word meant fatigue and the last word had something to do with desire.  So when I got home I went on Google Translator, began typing and had a good laugh.  I laughed because as I typed and Google instantly translated I got this:

typed: fatigas, Google: fatigue; I was right!

typed: fatigas del, Google: fatigue of; right again!

typed: fatigas del quer, Google: fatigue of poker; HA!

typed: fatigas del querer, Google: labors of love; Holy cow, conjugation does matter.

I was proud to figure out that this shop had something to do with renting bicycles; the graphic helped 🙂

This one is great because you don’t need to speak a language to know what the place offers:

The incorrect grammar and claim of street cred on this one got me, oh, and the dog bowls, very thoughtful as there were lots of people con perros in Spain:

On the way to the Churh of the Holy Family we passed this:

which made me crave carne asada tacos from Taqueria San Jose by my house.  Then I thought, “Wait, what? A taqueria in Spain?”

In Avignon I appreciated the directness of the signage

Not exactly sure what the cow is advertising; does the place cater to, or serve cow?  Maybe I should clarify. Does it cater to cows as patrons or serve them as food?

These next two I found clever:

Must be a town with lots of mathemeticians.

Wholly unoccupied.

Interpreting the sign for this place in English rather than Spanish could steer people away from tasty treats.

 

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Things about Europe, and this trip, that confuse me.

1. Why are the toilets in each country different? More specifically, why do the flush differently?
2. Why does Italy have toilet paper dispensed like tissues and not a roll?
3. Who made the driving rules and why don’t they have more accidents? (Ok, that’s really two questions so…)
5. Why did Pisa smell like piss? (To be fair parts of San Francisco and other famous places do too; I’m just going for the cheap laugh).
6. Why don’t Americans adopt the European attitude and just go out and chill with the neighbors and friends every night? I mean just tonight one of the hotels here had a lobby full of elder people dancing.
7. Why is the McDonalds logo green?
8. Does the Disney store really need to be in Florence, and if so, do Americans need to buy stuff from it? Apparently

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Days 6-7

Days 6 and 7 have largely been spent on a bus with periodic stops at roadside gas stations/cafeterias. Had we not also been stopping at cool places I might be a little upset; if I could remember the names of the places we visited I’d feel a lot better….I’ll blame it on the bus ride. I’ll fill in the itinerary when I return. Meantime I’ve been snapping lots of pics.

Carcassone:

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A bridge from the 1st century on the way to Carcassone, or after….you know, the bus thing…

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A bell in the cathedral at Carcassone…
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…and it’s creepy gargoyle things…

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In one of the alleyways I found some signs of home

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And some flowers

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Almost forgot, we visited a perfume factory that makes and sells its stuff only in France (and online) called

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That had this outside

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Where I bought some eau de toilette that at the time I thought smelled nice and had a hint of evergreen forest, but am now afraid it might smell like a car Christmas tree air freshener.

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