Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Louvre and Versailles

“Mona Lisa Mona Lisa, men have named you
You're so like the lady with the mystic smile
Is it only 'cause you're lonely, they have blamed you
For that Mona Lisa strangeness in your smile?

Do you smile to tempt a lover, Mona Lisa?
Or is this your way to hide a broken heart?
Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep
They just lie there and they die there
Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa?
Or just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art?

Do you smile to tempt a lover, Mona Lisa?
Or is this your way to hide a broken heart?
Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep
They just lie there and they die there
Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa?
Or just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art?”
-Nat King Cole

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Museum Disaster

Everyone says to buy a Paris Museum Pass when visiting but what's the point of the pass if it's impossible to get in anywhere?

Monday, December 29, 2008

The City of Lights

Traveling for us is a disease. There was a time when I wanted to come to Paris with a lover. The truth is that I’ve had enough lovers but have never been to Paris. It is time to correct that and Rose is the perfect partner.

When we emerged from the underground subway the grand Opera house appeared before us with a gigantic beautiful crow on top! I walked a around and took many photos. Rose has already seen the inside so we split up for a bit while I wait for my turn. 20 minutes after I first started to wait I realized that the line is at least another hour long and I just don’t have the time to spare. Rather annoyed I thought what is an opera house for if one can’t hear music in it? I guess the same can be said about churches and millions of its visitors. But really, the line to the Opera house was just out of the world! How many of these people have actually been to an opera or listen to classical music? If they were all as excited about the music then we wouldn’t have to worry about the fact that classical music is dead!

We met up with Rose’s friend and got the keys. It was very nice of him to offer to drop us off at the Sacre Coeur despite the slow moving traffic. The view from the top is breathtaking. Having seen the basilica in movies and photos, it seems even more magical at night.

But nothing compares with the panoramic view from the Arc de Triumph. Here all roads lead to Paris. The Champ Elyssee is lined with trees lit up in blinking silver lights. This is the city of lights. Our eyes feasted while our stomach groaned. While walking down the most famous street in Paris, we can’t help but to noticed that we have not eaten for 16 hours! If this diet doesn’t shave few pounds off I really don’t know what would!

Paris is everything they said it was and more. You can’t come here and not fall in love.

Another busy day and exhausting night. Time to retired to bed and start all over again in few hours!

"Well the sun’s going down
With its deep amber light
Embracing the town as we fall into night
To the silvery sound as the birds fly away
Getting ready for love
Getting out of the day

It is the city of night
It is the city if night
Leave the worries of day behind
And dream a new dream tonight

All the lands are a glow
All the lids painted red
And you wish you could take
That last thing you said
Well the night is a drum
Singing songs of delight
But when dawn comes along
Love is lost in the light

But in the city of night
Oh, in the city of night
Leave the troubles of day behind
And dream a new dream tonight"
- Pink Martini

Sunday, December 28, 2008

In Search of Horta - Balustrades Heaven

Traveling is cheap when you don’t have to eat or shop. It also helps when transportation is free but today Rose and I paid our nominal 4 euros for a one-day pass to be shared between the two of us. We loaded up at the free breakfast just before 10am. I had two bowels of corn flakes, a hard-boiled egg, a cup of coffee, a cup of milk, a cup of orange juice and a piece of wheat bread with three slices of ham and cheese. With big sights and little budgets who knows when our next meal will be!

Dreadful of heading out into the cold we coiled back into our bed to study few maps and guides we have gathered yesterday. By now Rose’s fascination with Art Nouveau is starting to edge its way to me. As I finished typing yesterday’s blog Rose mapped out our new route for the day. Tired of walking in the cold we decided to take the tram for a change. We left the hotel just after 1pm and started to look for the 81, which we never found and eventually settled for 4.

There are lots of things to see in this compact city but Rose is set to see the best of Victor Horta and Art Nouveau. Because according to her architect friend, Roland, this is where it all started. So the hunt led us to the Horta stop on the tram station, which now hosts few leftover things from a torn down Horta building. The young traveler map described the Horta underground station as such:

“Nobody would tear down a Gaudi building in Barcelona, but in Brussels something like this happened quite often. Imagine! In 1965, in spite of protest from 700 international architects, Brussels destroyed its most spectacular Art Nouveau building by victor Horta: the Volkshuis/Maison du Peuple. The elegant metal structure of the building was carefully taken apart bit by bit, to build it up again somewhere else. This never happened, and the pieces ended up everywhere all over the country in strange places, like here in the metro Station Horta.”

Emerging from the underground station we suddenly appeared in the Saint-Gilles neighborhood, which is famous for, yes you’ve guessed it, Art Nouveau!!!

As said in the tour guide: “some of the most significant Art Nouveau buildings in the city are located in Saint-Gilles. Many facades are decorated with wrought-ironwork, stained-glass windows, sgraffiti and ornamental woodwork, boosting the attractiveness of the house and the social standing of the house-owners. Architects including Ernest Blerot, Paul Hamesse, Armand van Waesberghe and Paul Hankar embarked on a frenzy of creativity as they competed for clients.”

Within steps from the station we started to see the decorative iron works on the sides of narrow buildings that is typical of the trend that only lasted 5 years. Rose was enthralled by everything in sight. This is not the district to miss if you’re a fan of balustrades, like Rose. We must have seen dozens of fancy balcony railings and no two are ever the same. It’s amazing that people went into such details. But the highlight of them all is by far the Victor Horta Museum inside of a house that was once resided by the artist himself. The waiting line outside seemed even longer in the cold but we were not to be discouraged. Having been wondering around with this Hortamania all afternoon on the itinerary 4 of the walking tour, I was determined to see something nice here!

The Victor Horta building looked interesting enough from the outside with vine-like iron beams and balconies, once inside I finally understood the magnetism of Art Nouveau. It was like nothing I have ever seen before maybe except in certain drawings that evoked similar feelings. The whole house had an earthy glow from tones like green, yellow, orange, crimson, burgundy and auburn. Everything complemented each other in perfect harmony, from stained glass to wood to metal to stones, inlayed hardwood floor framed by a thin cooper border which is then surrounded by intricate ceramic mosaic. From elaborate chandeliers and three-floor high stairway to intricate handles and keyholes, nothing is too small to be neglected. I’ve associated metals with cold and coarseness but for the first time I see it in an organic light, curving and turning in smooth contour resembling plants and certain eroticism. Hick, the whole Art Nouveau thing feels kinky like those old colorful French opera posters and the Can-Can dancers. One must be extremely obsessed to have the vision and determination to design and produce all the amazing pieces. That’s what artists do. I’m not an artist but the more I see the more I want to see. We ventured out to more sights on the walking map in the dark before heading back on the bus.

At end of the night we shared a kebob wrap and white bean stew in our neighborhood. With card boards and garbage spilling out onto the street things started to look familiar again, like Buenos Aires. Food was good and we were tired.
Time to go to sleep! Paris here we come!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Brussels Day 1

Rose and I dragged our butts out at 7am into the dark morning. My legs froze instantly so did my ears. We took the bus to the train station where we got two delicious kabob wraps to go for our three-hour ride to Brussels from Cologne. The server behind the counter with limited English was super friendly and offered us two bottles of free water to go with our extra spicy wraps. We’re off to a good start.

As the train rolled into Cologne I got a short glimpse of the famous Cathedral in faint morning light. We switched to the high speed ICE train and headed to Brussels, the city that gave us Brussels sprouts and the country that invented the Belgium waffles!

A phone call to Lufthansa confirmed that my luggage was located and will be delivered to Rose’s friend’s place in the afternoon. I was relived. Roland will meet up with us in Paris just before the New Years Eve. I’ll be ready for some new clothes but more importantly my battery charges! I got two cameras with fully charged batteries but I can’t imagine them lasting me more than two days!

The train first pulled into Brussels Nord station, and then the Midi station. Then we took a train back to Central station only to find out that our hotel is closer to the Nord station. So by noon we have toured all three of Brussels main train stations.

While in the central station we stumbled our way to the tourist information center which happens to be located on one side of the Grote Market, the main tourist attraction in the middle of old Brussels. Of course, we had no idea where we were going and as soon as we turned the corner into the square we each dug into our bags for our cameras. Without a proper guidebook, we didn’t know what we were looking at. The only book I took with me in my carry on was Allen Greenspan’s autobiography which only talked about European economic policies. Damn I should have packed my guidebooks! After a burst of photo taking and quick trip in and out of the tiny jam-packed info center for a survival map and a thee-Euro Art Nouveau tour map which Rose insisted on getting, we dragged our bags back to the train station. We could have taken a bus or a tram to our hotel but Rose suggested that we take the train back to Nord station “because it’s free” (no one check tickets, although if caught we could get a 40-Euro fine, but neither one of us are from here so we weren’t worried). We took the most disgusting elevator to the lower floor of the station and booked our bus tickets to Paris for Monday, 24 Euros for passenger under 26, me, and 27 Euros for Rose. Then we headed towards our Chinese owned, Chinese operated hotel ChaoChow conveniently located near the station across the street from Sexy World, 24-hour Peep show and various other bars and shops of similar kind, I think you know what I mean.

Our room was big and clean with one huge bed in the middle formed by two twin beds. Knowing that we were going back into the bitter cold Rose and I literately threw everything we had on. I looked completely ridiculous with Rose’s purple fleece pajamas pants over my jeans and four layers of tank top, long-sleeve shirts and turtleneck sweater under my jacket. I traced the Art Nouveau walk onto the smaller Brussels map and once again we headed into the cold -4*C in the middle of the day not consider wind chill.

First stop, Hotel Metropole, built in 1892. According to the map guide “the Toscanini suite is quite ok, for 950 euros per night (breakfast included).” The bar looked cozy with dark plush leather seats. We sat in the piano lunge when asked if we would like something to drink I said “we’re fine for now”, however, we did spend 0.30 euro each to use the bathroom on our way back in the evening.

Then we took pictures of Place des Martyres and met up with a blue dwarf with white hat invented by the Belgian comic artist Peyo in 1958 at the Comics museum hosted in a building designed by Victor Horta.

Just past the rather plain looking opera house between Rue de l’Ecuyer Schildknaaps and Rue Arenberg is Galeries Saint-Hubert, an old shopping mall with a narrow street extending out of the middle section filled with seafood restaurants with fancy displays to attract the tourists. Of course, none of the streets are straight and they change names whenever they turn/curve or pass a traffic circle making it difficult to track where to go.

At precisely 4pm we were guided to the Cathdrale Kathedraal by the loud church bells. I took pictures and walked on. With 30 more minutes of day light we have no time to spare.

Having been searching for traces of Art Nouveau all day we finally came to one of the best example of the day, the Old London store building on Rue Montagne de la Cour n*2 by architect Paul Saintenoy 1898-1899. “This type of extensively glazed department store, open onto the street to stir sales, became popular in most capitals. Paul Saintenoy, who designed few Art Nouveau buildings, created a characteristic Art Nouveau work, where the decorative elements express their constructional roles.”

By the night falls we once again found ourselves at the Grote Market/Grand Place. This time we shared a warm waffle with whipped cream, chocolate and walnuts next to the ever so famous Manneken Pis or the pissing boy, “the ideal national symbol for a country that is also very small and absurd. Little did I know that was the only food we would consume for the rest of the day. The square was full of tourists and light structures that lit up with music. We stayed for a while and started our journey back, afraid we would freeze in place if we stopped moving for too long. By now I have lost feelings to my hands and could barely feel my feet. Thanks to the fleece my legs are still functional.

We were so cold and tired. After walking for 5 hours straight we got back to our hotel around 7:30 and Rose passed out almost instantly. I transferred all my photos and crawled into the cold bed without taking off any of my pants or sweaters for the next 12 hours. What a vacation!

Friday, December 26, 2008


Whoever said getting there is half of the fun clearly doesn’t fly economy. The seats are uncomfortable enough by themselves and I’ve had the luck of sitting next to rather large passengers on both flights who took their seats and half of mine. With the worst headache, dehydration and an empty stomach since I wasn’t able to keep anything down including tea I finally flew over the Rhine River and landed without my luggage. Of course, Lufthansa’s baggage tracking system is down worldwide making it impossible to locate my stuff. But the trip must go on! Rose has already booked train tickets for Brussels tomorrow morning at 8 and we will be in Paris by Monday the 29th. All I’ve got are three tampons, two cameras, laptop and my beloved ipod.

Rose and I met up in front of the Christmas tree with gold balls at the central train station as planned and walk the rest of the way back to her cozy little studio apartment on Herzog strasse in the cold morning air. We stopped in the internationally recognized gourmet chain McDonald for breakfast sandwiches with a side of hazy memories of Buenos Aires, a distant place in a time capsule. Rose always referred to that state of mind as being “high”. I don’t know what it was but it certainly was more surreal than anything else I’ve ever experienced. Most days now I forget I was ever there but with conscious effort vivid images conjure up like warm tears from deep down. It’s not a place we like to talk about with others. It’s not a place to talk about at all. Words and photographs are far too inadequate. We are not romanticizing the Buenos Aires, nor are the tango dancers. People of all walks of live mysterious get sucked into this place like the Bermuda triangle. Now looking back into the bubble we were high.

After staying with her friend for couple of months Rose recently got a place of her own in downtown. I too once experienced the joy of having a place called home in a foreign land, however simple and small it might be.

The trip is just getting started.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lunch at Heidi's

Although Myland doesn't pay the bills, we do get fed every now and then.