Thursday, July 17, 2003

Yeah, I'd like to go to Paris one day....maybe even France.....


Day One

Because big cities like London, Rome and Paris tend to be pretty pricey, and because money isn't infinite, I jumped at the opportunity to go on a one-day, thirty six hour excursion to Paris with the 'other' Greg and Blake. John M rode the train with us, but was planning on spending the entire weekend. Once there, we were to meet up with Bridget, Art, Kathy, and Tim, (who somehow managed to make getting to Paris via a direct train an adventure).

Our first challenge was finding our rooms. Blake and Greg had booked a room at the FIAP Jean Monnet, which was in the same 'system' as our wonderful accomodations at CIARUS. Fortunately, it turned out to be a little nicer and somewhat quieter, even if the hallway did reek of b.o. (I found out the next morning we were lucky; apparently, the small child problem was so bad at FIAP that the sixteen-year-olds were ready to kill.) John, on the other hand, was staying with Art in a hotel on the north end of Paris (ours was on the south end), near the Gare Nord (for those of you who haven't been there, Gare Nord is the north train station; it's one Metro stop west of Gare Est, the - you guessed it - eastern train station, into which our train pulled.) We agreed to meet in one hour at the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

We arrived at Notre Dame to find two things; one, there were a TON of people around, and two, we were going to have fun trying to find John. Fortunately, it didn't take long until Blake and Greg saw him. We flagged him down, and he joined up to tell us that - he'd just been mugged. Apparently, two men had cornered him in the Metro station after he'd taken a photograph with his digital camera and gotten €40. Now, I say apparently, because there is some doubt as to whether or not this actually occurred. According to John's story, the he surrendered the money only after the thieves brandished switchblades. But luckily, he was able to keep his digital camera, and he negotiated them down to the €40, even though they had seen his wallet and saw that he had more than that on him. You decide if you think it's true. Finally, he said he'd talked to a police officer, but they were unwilling to do anything, even to go into the Metro to see if his story was true.

After hearing the story (and offering support - it wasn't until later that people began to doubt the story), we went through the Cathedral. While it was nice, and fairly interesting, when compared to St. Peter's in Rome, or the Basilicas in Florences, well, it wasn't very exciting. From there, we wandered around, trying to find a water taxi that John had seen in a guidebook. We finally found it, and spent the €7.50 to go from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower. On the way, I burned off the rest of a roll of film.

We got to the Eiffel Tower around 6:15 or so. John wanted to take the stairs, but confusion over whether or not we'd be able to go all the way up from the second level (where they end) added to the fact that we were fairly certain that no one was admitted to the stairway after six (they aren't) let to us merely opting to take the elevators all the way up. This involves a two-step process; first, you take an elevator up one of two legs to the second level. Once there, you switch to another elevator which goes up a central shaft to the top, 860 feet up. At the top, you have the choice of staying inside, or going up one level to the outside view (which we picked). We hung out up there for a good hour, and I took about 30 more pictures.

After we left the Tower, we headed off to meet the others for dinner in Montmarte. For those of you who are art buffs, this is where Renior painted one of his more famous paintings (the name of which escapes me, but I believe it's Dancing in the Park on Sunday Afternoon, or something along those lines). Dinner was thoroughly enjoyable, and John got to tell his mugging story several times to an astonished Art, Kathy and Bridget. After dinner, we watched the light show on the Eiffel Tower, then Blake, Greg and I headed home.

Day Two

We woke up around 9, and headed over to meet up with everyone at John and Art's hotel. We all wanted to see the Tour de France start, but no one was sure when it started. Blake, Bridget and I wanted to go to the Louvre, which we thought we could do by 1:20 (when we thought the race would start), especially if we kept to a schedule. We breezed through the Louvre (yes, we saw the Mona Lisa) and headed toward the Champs-Elysees to try and catch the start. Instead, we wound up at the Place de Concorde, across the Seine from the National Assembly, where we found out three things: First, the race didn't start until 3:50; second, it was a time trial, so the riders would go off one at a time, a minute apart; third, since he won last year, Lance Armstrong would not go until last - at 7:05 pm. If we stayed for that, we'd miss the last train back to Strasbourg. So we decided to wait for the parade at 1:20. Afterward, we headed to the Musee d'Orsay, where we were supposed to meet Greg at 3:00. But he never made it; we found out later that he'd spent the whole day sitting with the others at the Eiffel Tower, waiting (in vain) for Lance.

We, however, did get to see the Museum, and I spent a good amount of time in the Impressionist section, soaking up all I could, and even eavesdropping on a tour here and there. We stayed until they started closing. At 5:15, Blake, Bridget and I headed back to Place de Concorde to watch some of the Tour. I had two, maybe three pictures left, and I wanted to get a picture of the first thing I'd seen when we'd arrived, but hadn't photographed - the Arc de Triomphe. We'd seen it as we emerged from the Metro on our way to the Tourist Bureau (which, ironically, would be featured the next evening on the news back home in Chicago), but I was carrying all my luggage at that point, and unwilling to dig out the camera. So, after snapping a photo up the Champs-Ellysees, we hopped on the Metro and got off at the Arc. I took a picture of the Arc by itself, and Blake once again bailed now-out-of-film me by taking a picture of me with the Arc in the background. He'd done the same in the Louvre when my camera developed a new habit of automatically rewinding the film after photo 31 of 40.

After the Arc, we headed back to John's hotel to get our luggage (where we'd dropped it after checking out of the FIAP). Greg finally made it at 6:45, and we began our long five hour journey back to Strasbourg.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Day after day I'm more confused
And I look for the light through the pourin' rain
You know thats a game that I'd hate to loose
And I'm feelin' the strain
Ain't it a shame?

Oh, gimme the Beach Boys and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock n' roll and drift away
Oh, gimme the Beach Boys and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock n' roll and drift away

Dobie Gray, Drift Away (recently covered by Uncle Kracker)

The last week in Strasbourg was a blur of classes, tours and - rain. Finally, after more than five weeks in Europe, we had rain. Somehow, it didn't dampen our spirits one whit. Instead, it lifted them, since the rain meant cooler temperatures, especially at night, and, given the fact that among CIARUS' many faults there was no air conditioning, that meant comfortable sleeping weather for all. Except Tim.

One of the planned 'events' was a picnic with the students of Nottingham Trent Law School. We met them in the large park across from the Council of Europe on Monday evening, 'round 7. It had spent the good part of the morning raining, to the extent that Dean Jean had made contingency plans should it continue to do so. But in the early afternoon, the rain stopped, even though it threatened to start up again all day. At around six-thirty, myself and about six others decided to walk to the park, even though it was quite a distance away. Sure enough, about two-thirds of the way there, the drizzling began anew. Fortunately, Dean Jean and the Nottingham faculty found a covered place from which to serve the food (cold cuts, bread, etc.) and we were all able to enjoy a simple meal, even if the beer was warm. Presently, a football/soccer match developed, with the Brits against the Americans (helped out by a couple of Brits who crossed over to balance the sides). During the match, the skies (which had stopped raining) opened up, and a downpour drenched us all. But that didn't dampen our spirits; we played on, with several of us (me included) going barefoot in the grass to maintain traction. Tim, the most athletic of the US guys, didn't; he played on with his crosstrainers. Eventually, the rain stopped, but the ground, now drenched, was still slick. And that's when it happened. An errant pass by a teammate sent the ball heading alone for the out-of-bounds. Willis, easily more liked by the Brits than his fellow American students, raced toward it for the British team. Tim raced toward it for ours. Tim easily outpaced Willis, and tried to stop to make the pass and.....slipped. He fell backwards, landing on both hands, but his left hit first, and the wrist snapped like a twig.

Needless to say, our match ended then and there, with Tim being driven to the hospital by Dean Jean. What happened next has become the stories of legend: first Dean Jean got lost on the way (thank God it wasn't serious!), then, once Tim had been seen at one hospital and sent to another for treatment, she nearly made things worse when she tried to take a comparison photo of Tim's wrists. Fortunately, Professor Geraghty stepped in and stopped her. Tim finally arrived back at CIARUS at 1:00a.m., with a cast up to his elbow that he still wears.

We spent the next four evenings partying with our newfound friends, and a couple of their girls (birds, if you will) fancied a couple of our guys (and vice versa, but not the same guys who were the object of the British girl's affections). It made for, as they would say, a jolly bit of fun, and several promised to come visit us in Oxford. We'll see.

Thursday saw our last class in Strasbourg, and Friday, July 4th, was ours to do with as we liked. I decided to head with Blake, Greg K, Tim, John, Bridget, Kathy and Art to a city nearby to which I'd never been (but have been wanting to visit for five years) and which would provide a lifetime of memories in forty-eight hours. Paris.

But you'll have to wait for that....