That pretty much describes it! I'll try to keep text to a minimum.
Friday, December 21: I met my parents at the airport in Paris, we went to the vacation apartment, got stereotypical French food for a cold dinner (paté, cheese, and a baguette), and went to sleep pretty early.
Saturday, December 22: We got up relatively early, I went to get pastries and bananas for breakfast, and then we went to Notre Dame (giant Gothic cathedral) and Versailles (giant palace with giant gardens). Here are some select pictures:
Here are some of the windows and art inside Notre Dame. The carved and gilded wood shows the life of Christ as you walk around the back of the altar and the choir.
This is a model showing what the work site would have looked like while they were building the cathedral. You can pick out bakers, someone designing the windows, and a man walking in a wheel to operate a pulley system.
These two are outside Notre Dame on the river side.
Here's Versailles! We didn't go into the palace, but did peek through some windows and spent some time walking around the gardens. The fountains were frozen over. We walked down to the little “hamlet” Marie Antoinette had built for herself so that she could enjoy the benefits of “humble” life in a “hut.” Ha.
When we were leaving Versailles the sun began to set beautifully. We were really lucky with weather the whole trip.
I love this picture for its bizarre combination of symbols: the moon over the palace of the Sun King.
Sunday, December 23: First destination was my favorite museum, the Musée du Moyen Âge (Musée Cluny). Here's a picture of my parents in front of the old well in the courtyard, and one of a beautiful piece of sheet music.
We finished off the day by walking over to the Panthéon and exploring the Saint Etienne church, and then went to Vespers and Mass at Notre Dame.
Monday, December 24: We left Paris very early in the morning to head to Angers. We got to my apartment around 9:30, and Mom took a nap while Dad and I went grocery shopping. He made me cook though :) We had duck, ratatouille (à la Kel), and poached eggs. After lunch we took the bus back downtown to visit the castle and the cathedral. Here are some pictures:
Mom and Dad at the castle:
One of the Apocalypse tapestries (the set is about 300 feet long):
The recently restored royal residences and chapel (too bad "chapel" doesn't start with an r!):
The moat garden:
Mom and Dad on the drawbridge by the gate:
We walked from the castle to the cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Maurice), so that we'd have a chance to see it in daylight before the Midnight Masses. Here's a view of the cathedral:
This is a particularly intricately carved bishop inside:
This is a carving on one of the side pulpit things. It was carved in the 19th century.
Here's the altar, all decked out for Christmas. They hung a nativity scene tapestry which was particularly beautiful.
This is that pulpit, viewed from the other side of the church. I've never seen it used.
We went back to my apartment to have coffee with my landlord Anne, and then set off for the cathedral for two Masses. The first didn't go perfectly (the choir messed up a few times), but the readings and introduction were done very well and the homily was good. There was a good atmosphere, even if the choir did mess up two entrances. The introduction was a set of questions asked by a child, and answered very well. Some of the questions were "Why was Jesus born in Israel?" "Was Jesus happy as a child?" and "Did Jesus look like his mother?"
In between the masses there was a little party back at our rehearsal space for those staying at both masses. Lots of good food and good conversation, and Mom got by quite well with the remainders of her high school French.
The second mass went better, since at that point we had sung everything at least once and weren't sightsinging anything :) I had a solo, and it went quite well. Especially considering that I had a cold. I was even told that my pronunciation was perfect, which is great because I was singing in French :)
After the second Mass (which ended around 12:30), we went back home and had a snack before going to bed very late.
Tuesday, December 25: My parents were obviously over jet lag, since they came into my room and inadvertently woke me up after only seven hours of sleep. We had our traditional lox Christmas brunch (though with a baguette instead of bagels). We walked through my campus on the way to the train station, and arrived back in Paris mid-afternoon. Perfect timing to take the metro to the Eiffel Tower and see the lights turn on! We got there about four minutes before the lights started up, which was perfect.
Here are pictures of my parents and of me in front of the Eiffel Tower. Pretty good considering that my camera screen still didn't work and we couldn't aim!
And here's that classic picture that you have to take if you go to the Eiffel Tower and bring along someone you can kiss:
Wednesday, December 26: We started off the day at the Champs Elysées, looking at the Arc de Triomphe before walking past the shopping district. We took the metro next to the Wine Museum, a perfect destination for my Dad. Don't believe me? He chose two bottles of wine to drink with every meal we ate at the apartment. The museum is in an ancient quarry/monastery, and although I don't like wine I still found the museum interesting. Lots of vocabulary I didn't know how to translate though, so I had to rely on explanations like "this is a tool they used to poke something around the bottom of the young vines on the things they grow 'em on." Here's Dad at the exhibit about wine bottles, and both Mom and Dad in one of the tunnels before our tasting.
Here's the Eiffel Tower, which will give you an idea of the weather that day:
For lunch, we went to the rue Mouffetard, which is in the Latin Quarter and is one of the oldest streets in Paris, built by the Romans. We went to a crêperie that had a good lunch menu. Unfortunately, this is when my cold started to definitely turn into stomach flu. Oh well.
After lunch, we went to Sacré Coeur, and admired the wonderful mosaics. I had never paid much attention to the depictions of saints in the dome, but they're fascinating. But you're not allowed to take pictures.
Thursday, December 27: We first headed to the Catacombes, but they're closed until February. So Mom and Dad will have to come back to Paris, I suppose.
Sainte Chapelle was open though! A "sainte chapelle" ("holy chapel") is a chapel built to house a relic from the Passion, and the one in Paris was built for the crown of thorns-- though this extravagant purchase was most likely a very polite way of making amends after a bloody war. What's remarkable about the chapel are the approximately 1,100 stained glass windows which tell the main stories of the Bible, from Genesis to the Apocalypse. Here are a bunch of pictures of the chapel and its windows:
After lunch in a fairly typical restaurant we went to the Musée Rodin, housed in the hotel/house itself where the famous sculptor lived and worked. His most famous work is this guy:
You might also recognize these lovely hands or the Kiss. The first time I saw the latter, the room was totally empty when I entered and the statue was so realistic that when I walked in on them I felt a profound feeling of embarrassment. Not so this time, when the museum was packed to the rafters with tourists.
After leaving the Musée Rodin we walked over to the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal in the Rue du Bac, to see St. Catherine Labouré's incorrupt body. She's been dead for over a century, but she looks like she died yesterday. Back to the apartment for a last Parisian dinner (and in my case, a restless, chilly night of nausea before I finally threw up at four in the morning, getting rid of the last of whatever was bothering me. Something always goes awry on my vacations...).
Friday, December 28: Au revoir, Paris... 'Ello, London!
I really like British Airways. They didn't lose my bag. We arrived in London without mishap, and successfully navigated the Tube to Clapham, where we found our hotel. Chosen because it cost half as much as any other hotel, ours wasn't the height of luxury but was comfortable and close to a Tube stop. We checked in and then headed back to the center, planning to find a restaurant for dinner in Chinatown. I love Chinese food, so it was heaven. I hadn't been hungry and had barely eaten anything since Wednesday, so everything on the menu looked appetizing.
We stopped at Tesco on the way back to the hotel to have a look around and for Dad to pick out some interesting beer (when in Paris, drink inexpensive but good wine, and when in London try as many unusual kinds of beer as possible). I don't like beer either, but England has pickles (France has only those icky sweet ones), so I got a jar.
Saturday, December 29: We started off the day visiting St. Paul's, the enormous cathedral which was rebuilt right after the Great Fire in 1666. It's well known for its dome, which is very tall. It's nifty though, because there's a big outer dome which supports the inner dome, so that you don't see any support from the inside. We took a guided tour around the cathedral, choir and crypt (including taking us places where most people can't go, like to see the big spiral staircase to the Dean’s private library, which appears to float since it supports itself rather than needing arched supports to hold itself up).
After the guided tour I convinced my parents to climb up about 160 stairs to the Whispering Gallery, which is around the base of the dome at the level where most of the ceiling is. Supposedly if you whisper against the wall on one side of the dome someone sitting a hundred feet away on the other side can hear you. We didn't get it to work.
After that I convinced them to climb another 120 steps to the Stone Gallery. That turned out to be outside at the base of the dome outside, with a nice panoramic view of London.
We were two thirds of the way there, so it wasn't too difficult to convince Mom that she could go another 150 steps to the Golden Gallery, and it was WELL worth the effort. We had such a beautiful view of the city, and the sky was particularly photogenic, so I took a lot of pictures. (In case you're wondering, there was barely room for the twenty or so people up there, of which Mom and Dad were the oldest, and the three of us were the only Americans)
Climbing down wasn't difficult at all, and we explored a little bit more before heading out. Here are Mom and Dad in front of the cathedral, and one of the cathedral alone. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, look for the golden cross on top. Just below that is a little dome on top of the big dome. That's where we climbed!
We ate lunch at a pub, and then walked across the wibbly-wobbly bridge (more formally known as the Millenium Bridge) to the Tate Modern, the biggest and most ridiculous art museum in the world. (The first qualifier is a fact, the second is my opinion.) This was on my must-see list, since the Tate is the temporary home of a work called Shibboleth, which is a 167-meter long (547 feet) crack in the floor of the main hall. Wikipedia says that when the work was only a month or so old (in November) fifteen people had already been hurt by the piece. There are signs up to prevent this.
Anyway, Shibboleth is supposedly about racism and the colonial upheaval and pretentious things like that. It really is well-done though, the crack is lined with wire and was installed quite artistically.
Here are some pictures of the crack, including Mom at a fork asking punnily "Y?!" and me dangling my legs into the art. The view from above only shows about a third of the piece. It would be impossible to photograph the whole thing.
We walked around the rest of the museum, which has a Monet or two and several Picassos to give it points, as well as a speckled canvas entitled "Dirt" (part of the Texturology series), cubes made of mirrors, and a nifty pavillon made of woven wire that only eight people can look at at once because it's fragile. It's a great museum, and it has a great book store, and although I love it, I'm glad it's free because I'm not sure I'd pay to go inside. Except to see the big crack.
Sunday, December 30: Sunday we went to Mass at Brompton Oratory, which is gorgeous. The Anglicans filled their churches with the tombs and memorials of impressive dead people (writers, war heros, kings, composers, scientists...) as a way of rejecting the "excessive" paintings and statues of Catholic churches. I'm not sure who's more excessive in this battle, anyway. Bromptom Oratory took revenge by being more painting- and statue-filled than any Catholic church I'd ever been in. We went to a sung Latin Mass, which was beautiful. However, I'm generally not a fan of Masses where I'm not in the choir. There was a lot more ritual than at a typical Mass, such as the priests taking off their [silly-looking] hats and bowing every time anybody said or sang the word "Jesus."
After Mass we went to the British Library, stopping briefly near platforms nine and ten at King's Cross on the way:
The British Library has an enormous collection, including many famous manuscripts and first editions and autographs and originals that they display museum-style for all of us bibliophiles. Check out their website for the "Turning the Pages" feature which lets you look inside some of the manuscripts. For example, you can compare the printed versions of some of Shakespeares plays to see how much changed between the first edition of Hamlet in 1603 (dictated from memory by an actor who played a minor character) and the edition from 1642 (or somewhere around there) which was printed from Shakespeare's rough draft. Huge differences! What we know may be nothing like what was performed then.
Some of the things we saw: the original handwritten manuscript of Jane Eyre; the original handwritten Alice in Wonderland; original scores by Mozart, Bach, and Handel, including the original copy of the Hallelujah chorus (he scratched out a lot); Beatles lyrics jotted down on whatever paper was handy; a letter written in the hand of Elizabeth I telling her council of Lords to shove it, that she would marry only if she wanted and that they could leave her alone; the Magna Carta; some of the first things ever printed (in Korea); illuminated religious manuscripts from various religions; very old maps of Europe... so many amazing things.
We were all pretty much overloaded with information when we arrived at the British Museum, which is way too enormous to see in a day, let alone the hour we had before it closed. We made it to the highlights though, including the head of the giant statue of Ramasses II, some Assyrian lions, the Rosetta Stone (!!!), and the Mildenhall Treasure (a huge find of Roman silver stuff they dug up about fifty years ago, which I had heard of because Roald Dahl wrote a short story with that title).
After the museums we went to a restaurant that I highly recommend to anyone going to London-- it's a Thai restaurant in the back of a Churchill-themed pub (Churchill Pub, near the South Kensington Tube stop). Everything's really good, really cheap, and big portioned. Best meal we ate, in my opinion.
Monday, December 31: Monday we went on a bus tour by Evan Evans, the same tour I did a year and a half ago. It's a really good tour, and it's nice to have a guide for these highlights of London:
Changing of the Horse Guard (since the regular guard has holidays now):
Driving around central London, including seeing the Houses of Parliment and the clock-tower housing the bell Big Ben:
The Tower of London and the Crown Jewels (which we reached by Thames cruise):
The Tower is particularly interesting. The Crown Jewels are impressive, and White Tower (fortress built by Guillaume de Normandie, a.k.a. William the Conqueror) is amazing. Dad sometimes is a very typical boy, and enjoyed seeing all the painful-looking weapons and the armor. Henry VIII's armor is particularly... unique. See for yourself:
We also stopped by Bloody Tower, and the tower where prisoners carved very elaborate graffiti into the walls during their "residence" at the Tower. I have a photo here to correct whatever preconceived notions you will have. This was impressive stonework: many carved verses of scripture or their family crest into the stone. This one carved his crest particularly deeply into the wall:
Tuesday, January 1, 2008: New Year's Day we'd saved some places that we knew would be open. We started off the day at the recreation of Shakespeare's Globe theatre, which is fascinating and very impressive. The tour of the theatre is great, and the museum is really interesting as well. Here is a picture of the stage and one of the seats of the theatre:
The theater is made almost completely of oak, and has the first thatched roof in England since they were outlawed after the fire in 1666. It has sprinklers on top though, so it's not a danger. Even the "marble" columns on stage are painted wood.
Outside the theatre I caught a magnificent view of St. Pauls through the Globe's gates, which have about a hundred iron animals and plants mentioned in Shakespeare's plays. What a photo :)
Here's a poster that hangs in the museum, which I took a picture of instead of buying a copy at the gift shop:
After lunch in Soho (interesting fried fish) we went to the V&A, the Victoria and Albert Museum. Queen Victoria started it about a hundred years ago to make art accessible to whoever wanted to see it. It's a free museum, and it's enormous. Among its exhibits are a collection of dresses and suits from the past three hundred years, a silver gallery that about as big as a football field (and much more interesting to look at), a huge colorful glass chandelier, sculptures, and so on and so on. We had less than two hours to see as much as possible, so we walked fast and didn't stay to look at anything for too long. One room that amazed us all was full of casts of famous sculptures from around the world. Huge casts. Like the doors and arches from a cathedral, or a forty foot high tabernacle. Victoria's philosophy was that if they couldn't bring the real thing, they'd make an identical cast so that the English could see the world's art even if they didn't have the means to travel.
Wednesday, January 2: We window-shopped a bit in Picadilly, then ate a traditional English breakfast (meats and eggs and toast and such) around lunchtime before heading back to the hotel to get our bags and set off for the airport. London is one of my favorite cities, and I know I will go back. And I'll see my parents again in six months. The past two weeks were such a wonderful vacation, and I've gotten my parents addicted to Europe as well :)
The adventure of the day was that I found out five minutes before the gate closed that my gate had been changed, so I speed-walked about a kilometer (no exaggeration) to the new gate, barely making it in time. Then my train from Paris to Angers was running late, so I had to pay for a taxi to get home rather than taking the bus. But it's good to relax and get back to normal speed.
Thursday, January 3: I suppose I'm still on travel mode, since after sitting for about five minutes with "nothing" to do I was ready to leave the house. I headed downtown to shop for a new digital camera, since I definitively killed mine in London. The broken screen should be covered under the warranty. Whatever I did to it when I dropped it onto a cobblestone street will not be. It turns on and off, but does no more tricks. My new camera (recommended by the salesdude) is a Nikon camera that's comparable to the one I'm replacing. Amazing how six months difference can get you the same/better features for a lower price! Didn't do much else today, just went to buy eggs and milk, made egg drop soup with some of the eggs and drank some of the milk to go with ginger cookies brought back from London (I got seven boxes. They don't make them in France.) and then spent the afternoon writing this post. In the future, I'll try to travel to places with internet access so I can blog more frequently and less loquaciously.
Happy New Year to all!