All posts for the month August, 2018

Notre Dame at sunset. Could the world be more beautiful?

Here we are in Paris again, our seventh stop in the last five years. It’s our favorite city in the world and this time we got to share it with my family. We spent the last four days of my great-nephew Mat’s Great European Adventure in Paris because, well, you couldn’t have a great European adventure without seeing Paris, right? And then, after we scheduled it, my sister Rebecca decided to end her 10-day trip with her daughter Lily here with us. So lots of family.

Here I am with my niece Lily and sister Rebecca

Now, after all the times we’ve been to Paris there’s not a lot new or us. But seeing it through the eyes of midwestern teenagers is quite the treat. The Louvre, Arch de Triumph, Sacré Cœur, Eiffel Tower, Pompidou Center, Seine, Notre Dame, macarons, éclairs … we crammed a lot in during those four days. I think the young ones were duly impressed.

Then Mark & I had four days on our own, which largely consisted of doing some errands (I got new glasses and a new purse!) and getting some down time to read and relax. We still have another week here, this time with our friends Keith & Nik. For now, though, here are a bunch of pictures that start to explain why we love Paris so much.

My beautiful and charming niece Lily sitting in the Tuileries

Rebecca hanging out in the bell tower in Sacré Cœur

Mat desperately wanted to see the Mona Lisa. We warned him that the crowds would dwarf the painting but even we were surprised by the mass of people. As Mark put it, each time he’s seen it over the last 30-plus years it’s in a bigger space with even more people. Not a great way to experience great art.

Me, Lily, & Rebecca getting ready to climb the Arch de Triumph

Lily enjoying the view from up there

Mark, Lily, and Rebecca up there. Knowing that in a little while we were going to be climbing the Eiffel Tower, Mat wanted to save his energy so he didn’t make it.

Lily & Rebecca in the Luxembourg Gardens, one of my very favorite places on this whole earth

Walking through the Louvre we came into a room with a bunch of statues. I looked up and immediately recognized two of Michelangelo’s “captives.” Four of these pieces he was working on when he died are in Florence and I’d completely forgotten there were two here. When you see them, though, there’s no doubt what they are and who did them.

Mat wasn’t a great fan of scaling great heights, but riding the Ferris Wheel was right up his alley

He did, though, save the energy to climb the Eiffel Tower with the rest of us

Walking past a random shop we found this book about Rebecca

Paris, as seen from Sacré Cœur

Oh yeah, and Mat’s other great discovery – macarons!

After Rebecca, Lily, and Mat had to go back to Minnesota I got back to my favorite activities like lying in the Luxembourg Gardens reading

Or hanging out in the park Buttes-Chaumont reading. Can you tell, by the way, how perfect the weather was for this week?

And Mark could get back to one of his favorite pastimes, taking artsy pictures like this one of a bridge over the St. Martin Canal

And this very Parisian scene

Flowers and beautiful architecture – we loved Strasbourg

I got a little behind here, apparently having too much fun to post pictures and so on. After our stops in Germany, though, we moved on to two two-night stays each in Strasbourg & Nancy, the major cities of the historic regions of Alsace and Lorraine, respectively.

Strasbourg was definitely the star of the show, simply one of the most beautiful cities anywhere. Just across the Rhein from Germany it has been a bridge between France & Germany for centuries, a fact reflected in the architecture, churches, and cuisine. The historic city center was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1988, the first time an entire city center was so designated, and it sure seems to warrant the honor.

More of Strasbourg’s beauty

The city’s cathedral, Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, in its late-Gothic style is certainly the highlight. Topping out at 466 feet it claims to have been the world’s tallest building from 1647 to 1874, but my sense is that other buildings also claim to have been the tallest in that pre-modern period as well. It is pretty well documented, though, that it is the tallest building standing today built entirely in the Middle Ages.

Me and Mark with Mat outside Notre-Dame de Strasbourg

Awe-inspiring certainly describes the cathedral and for us it was particularly fun to watch Mat’s face as it came into view. We’ve seen a lot of these old cathedrals but if you’re from a small midwest city and haven’t been around the world a lot, it is pretty awesome. And of course if you can climb the spire you must, so we did. Great views and not really that hard.

Otherwise Strasbourg is just a fabulous city to walk around in. The canals and the flowers and the buildings are all just beautiful. The weather was perfect. There’s a great modern art museum If you walk just a little way out of the historic city you come to the European Parliament, right in the same area as the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. We found it poignant to be here while our President appears hell-bent on destroying all of it.

Outside the European Parliament. We think the world is a safer, better place when European countries collaborate rather than wage war. Apparently the President disagrees.

Strasbourg is definitely worth a longer stay, but as we knew Mat wanted to see lots of different things we stopped for only two nights before moving on to Nancy, the historic capital of Lorraine. I have to admit, after the beauty and excitement of Strasbourg, Nancy was something of a letdown. It is certainly beautiful, with the UNESCO-recognized Place Stanislaus, built in the 18th century by King Stanislaus of Poland who was also Duke of Lorraine, taking the place of honor. We had the disadvantage of arriving there on the holiday of the Feast of the Assumption which inexplicably means that nearly everything is closed. (I was reminded of our stop in Poitiers four years ago, now, when I needed to go to the emergency room on the Feast of the Assumption and got lousy service from the skeleton crew available. Note to self: avoid France on August 15!)

King Stanislaus of Poland, also Duke of Lorraine, stands in the center of Place Stanislaus. Strange to think of this very, very French city being ruled by a Polish king.

So after a fairly dull first day in Nancy we decided to take a day trip on our second to the nearby city of Metz, the modern capital of Lorraine. That worked out well; the train ride was, as always in Europe, gentle and relaxing. The city was interesting; the recently opened Pompidou Center-Metz, an extension of the major modern art museum in Paris, was fun to tour, and St. Stephen’s Cathedral was another stunner. The latter has the largest expanse of stained glass windows in the world, including not just glorious old windows but also windows by the modernist Marc Chagall. Impressive.

And then again, after just a two-night stop it was off again, this time to Paris.

Did I mention that I think Strasbourg is beautiful? Here it looks more French than German.

Mat discovering the beauty of an Aperol Spritz

Even the entry to our hotel was beautiful

Notre-Dame de Strasbourg

Imagine the terror of walking down the streets of Strasbourg, enjoying the flowers, and stumbling onto a crocodile!

Some of the ornate work inside Notre-Dame

Getting ready for a little lunch

Gustav Doré was a 19th century Strasbourg native, to whom a room in the modern art museum was dedicated. We both liked his stuff, particularly this Calvary scene.

And then there was this, umm, hunk of metal that spoke more to Mark than it did to me…

There was art out on the street, too

This spooky guy was looming over us at dinner one night

These flowers were all over Strasbourg

As we left Strasbourg, Mat wanted to leave ashes of his late brother Dexter in the canal. Dex died just a couple months ago and the wounds are still pretty raw so this was perhaps more powerful than the picture makes it look.

This is a view of Notre Dame de Strasbourg, with all its flying buttresses, on the climb up the bell tower.

Me, en route up to the top. We loved the way the stairs were almost out in the open.

The view of Strasbourg from way up high

Nancy is also important as the first time Mat tried steak tartare. He was an exceptionally adventurous eater, particularly for a 14-year-old. And he certainly seemed to enjoy this dish!

Mat & Mark outside the golden gates to Place Stanislaus in Nancy

More of Place Stanislaus

St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Metz, site of the world’s largest expanse of stained glass

You don’t see a lot of modern art stained glass windows in great cathedrals but here we have some Marc Chagall windows

And more modern art

Metz is also home to an extension of Paris’s Pompidou Center, the major modern art museum in France. One “piece” on display while we were there was the Dream Room, which was pretty dreamy.

Mat learned that he liked this kind of art

And the kind of art that consists of huge strands of spaghetti that you can walk through

Finally, Metz’s attractions included an area with all sorts of guys like this hanging out, just waiting to make friends

Heidelberg’s Old Town with the castle looming above

I’ve wanted to come back to Heidelberg for a very long time. I came here first in the mid-1970s when I was in the Navy stationed in Naples and my brother was in the Army in nearby Wiesbaden. I remember it as this beautiful old college town on the Neckar River.

Fast forward forty-plus years and I finally made it back. I certainly didn’t see anything that I remembered as it’s at least possible that things change over the decades. It is, though, still a beautiful old college town. The University of Heidelberg was founded in 1386 and thus is one of the oldest universities in the world. Its nearly 40,000 students account for a quarter of Heidelberg’s residents and as a result the city has a wonderfully youthful sense about it.

Mat & Mark sitting along the Neckar River

From my perspective there were two main attractions here, the old castle and the Philosophers’ Walk. The old castle looms over the city. Built originally in the early 15th century it was variously expanded and destroyed as peace and war alternated in the 16th and 17th centuries. When the local prince tried to rebuild the castle in 1764 lighting struck – literally – and ended any efforts to restore the castle. Today the ruins are evocative and even romantic. So romantic, in fact, that while we were wandering around the gardens a guy next to us knelt down and proposed to his girlfriend! (She said yes….)

Mat & Mark up in the remains of the castle

The other highlight was the Philosophers’ Walk. Across the Neckar from the old town but on the university side of the river, the pathway offers great views of the city and castle and is supposedly where the ancient university’s scholars would walk and talk. Today the path leads to the top of Heiligenberg, the hill opposite Heidelberg proper, to ruins of an 11th century monastery. It made for a wonderful climb on a summer afternoon.

The view of Heidelberg and the castle from the top of Heiligenberg (Saint’s Mountain)

Not such a highlight was the University. I was expecting to find some campus with beautiful old buildings that had withstood all the turmoil Germany experienced in the 20th century. Maybe it’s there somewhere, and there are pictures on the web I can find of beautiful old buildings, but the part of the campus I found was as ugly as anything one could imagine. Just these horrible 1970s- or 1980s-era buildings with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Sad.

Some of the ugly buildings on the University’s modern campus

One more view just to show I’m not exaggerating

The Old Bridge across the Neckar River

A view of the town and river from the castle

Up in the castle stands the world’s largest wine cask. That’s Mat above it, looking pretty small in comparison.

Mat & Mark in the town square

We can always find good food, including this lovely summer salad

Mat had his first burrata cheese in Heidelberg. It was a hit.

Pretty fancy, huh?

En route up the Philosphers’ Walk

And an old tower at the very top

One more view of the river and Old Bridge

As we were leaving Heidelberg we came across this window display. Perhaps the strangest ever.