Travel: The Madonna

Lastly, one cannot emerge from the gorgeous city of Paris without a visit to the Louvre, the infamous resting place of Leonardo Da Vinci’s mysterious Mona Lisa.

The Mona Lisa.

The style in which he painted her mouth is beguiling; it is this ambiguity that has continued to fascinate art historians to this day. Furthermore, despite widespread speculation as to the namesake of the individual in the picture, if Da Vinci painted his mother, or if he used his own likeness as a model.

Don’t discount the other amazing works of art housed in this museum though; a large and diverse collection of other ethnic arts is available to drown your eyes in! We detoured from the ‘Madonna’ to revel in the artistry of other cultures. I’ve included just a glimpse of what we covered.

Islamic Art

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Egyptian Art: A Mummy!

And with that, I bid Au Revoir to Paris. My mother’s vacation was at an end and she returned home to continue with her job. On the other hand, I continued my journey through Europe by taking a  ‘sleeper’ train for the first time to visit a good friend in Hamburg, Germany!

It was fascinating learning about the cultures of everyone sharing the sleeper cabin with me; it ended up being a minor United Nations of sorts, with the countries of Chechnya, Russia, Finland, Afghanistan, and Romania being present. Unfortunately, the Chechnyan did not speak English and was unable to partake in our discourse.

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Topics of conversation ranged from Global Warming, to the International Economy, and then reaching home for everyone as we started to discuss the plagues of unemployment, government corruption, and the struggles of the lower classes in our respective countries. It was a truly educational experience that served to broaden my mind on the opinions of others with respect to US foreign policy, and the challenges of politics within the borders of nations trying to find their footholds under more democratic oriented leadership.

Travel: The Opulence of Versailles

Since we previously had two gorgeous days in Paris, we had anticipated nice weather for our day-trip to Versailles. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and we were ill prepared for the onslaught of wind and drizzle, forcing us to cut our Chateau visit short. We did manage to tour the main palace before concluding that it was too miserable outside for us to trek across the gardens to the more secluded dwellings at the back of the estate.

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In understanding the history that precluded Versailles, from its humble beginnings as hunting lodge, it is easy to comprehend the beauty that drove Louis XIV to construct a palace here. Despite the carefully maintained landscape, one can envision the natural wilderness that once had a place in this town.

At the time, it was a defiance of how the royal family typically resided. It was tradition for the family to travel to and fro from amongst the households of its nobles, and smaller residences scattered about the country; a manner of putting the monarchy on display. The building of the extravagant Versailles put a stop to this.

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The most important part of living at the main palace was etiquette, a defined manner of greeting, conversation, and room organizing must be maintained by both the royal family and visiting nobles. The closer each room was to the royal bedroom, spoke of how dear or high-positioned the individual in that apartment was.

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My favorite room was the Hall of Mirrors (although I suspect that I would have preferred the Hall of Battles, which was unfortunately closed due to limited manpower). You can see the sparkle of the room as the chandeliers play off of the expanse of reflecting surfaces generously scattered along the corridor. This room is still used for diplomatic functions and state dinners, almost makes me motivated to find a diplomat to marry just so I have the opportunity to waltz about this grand gallery!

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Upon entering, it is simple to comprehend the vast amounts of taxation that citizens were burdened with for Louis’ vision to emerge. It is not difficult for me to understand why this resulted in the fuse for the dynamite of the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette lived a privileged yet lonely existence here, as her husband who preferred to focus his energy on his hobby of hunting neglected her. Unfortunately, in the end she was seen as a symbol for the failed French Monarchy and put to the guillotine in 1793 after spending several weeks in a cell at the Conciergerie Prison.

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What are your thoughts on Marie Antoinette? Did she deserve her sentence as wife of the King? Or was she just as culpable for the suffering of the peasants through her extravagant lifestyle?

Travel: Classic Paris Sites

I promise, this is the last church that I visited in France! Of course, it is the infamous Notre Dame; the building that inspired Victor Hugo’s classic novel with a hunchback as the protagonist who watched medieval Paris life occur from afar. The sprawling gothic architecture is unique, and it is not difficult to revel in the stark contrast these dark creatures present against the sunny skyline.

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The one flaw in climbing the tours however, was how incredibly jam-packed it was. There was little to no room to maneuver, and the entire walkway was enclosed within a 3” x 3” wire mesh. I can’t even imagine partaking in this during the summer!


While I understand the safety precautions, it took some strategic planning to get good photographs devoid of this interference.

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The statues also reminded me of a classic Warner Brothers cartoon called the Gargoyles. It was ‘back in the days’ of my youth, and I’m sure it is no longer a recognizable cartoon or brand. I enjoyed it though! It told the story of good versus evil gargoyles that could only continue their battle within the confines of darkness. If sunrise hit, they returned to their stony state.

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We then headed to the Orsay Museum; it has a diverse collection of impressionist paintings, and documents the progression of this art. Once again, no photos allowed. Some of my favorite artists were on display, such as Van Gogh, Manet, Monet, and Cezanne.

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As dusk approached, we decided to breath in the crisp Paris air, and swing by the triumphal arch to witness the largest roundabout in the world. Interesting Fact: Insurance companies no longer debate claims when an accident occurs here, to save time and headaches they now just split the damage costs 50/50.

Strolling to the Eiffel Tower took longer than expected. Fortunately, we arrived just as the sun dipped below the horizon. This allowed for a large array of photographic shots documenting the vibrancy of the lights with respect to the darkening sky.

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(I almost lost mother in the crowd, she is about a head shorter than me and quite difficult to locate even in a supermarket)

Opting not to wait in line and pay the high lift prices, We managed to climb to the 2nd level platform (a LOT of stairs) and witness some breathtaking views of the city, and particularly the Champ de Mars at night.

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On the hike up, I took some time to have a nerd moment and admire the forethought required in the difficult connections. It’s interesting to consider the complexity of the geometry and how the designers engineered all the steel elements to puzzle together in just the right formation.

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What comes to mind when you think of Paris? Have you been to any of these places? How have the inspired you?

Travel: Latin Quarter of Paris

In all theory, I have had more than my fill of churches by this point of my trip. However it is hard to avoid iconic religious architecture that attests to the strength of faith in those that aspired to build it. The bulk of what we explored exists in the Latin Quarter, a section of Paris that is rich in history.

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The first part of our day included a visit to the Pantheon. It was a church built as a promise by King Louis XV should he recover from his illness. Consequently, it replaced the ruined church of the Abbey of St Genevieve and was completed in 1790. Unfortunately, the renowned architect, Jacques-Germain Soufflot did not live to see its completion. It is a prime example of early neoclassicism, and has been modified to be a secular mausoleum that houses the remains of distinguished french citizens. Some of the tombs include, Marie Curie, Louis Braille, Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Hugo.

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After that, we made a detour stop to Saint-Étienne-du-Mont Church which contains the reliquary of Sainte-Geneviève. She is the patron saint of Paris, and is said to have led a prayer marathon that saved Paris by diverting Attilla’s Huns away from the city.



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On the way to the last church of our day, we passed through Place Saint-Michel. This area has always been a convening area for students to discuss social life, entertainment, and most importantly politics. It has a history of being the starting spot for insurrections, and even the centre around which famous authors, such a Hemingway, participated in intellectual discourse.



The final church was Sainte-Chapelle, a Rayonnant style building – an offshoot of traditional Gothic Architecture – built to house Louis IX‘s collection of relics of Christ, one of which supposedly included the Crown of Thorns. Louis’ artistic and architectural patronage of Catholicism, and particularly this Church helped to position him as the central monarch of western Christendom.

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We then made a stop at the nearby Conciergerie which was formerly a royal palace, but was modified to be a prison. For hundreds of prisoners from the French Revolution, this was their last residence prior to being marshalled at court, sentenced, and guillotined. It’s most famous resident was Marie Antoinette, who spent her last few days in a cell there.

The quality of life of the prisoners was based mainly on their personal wealth, and the whims of the jailers who watched over them.

Travel: Roman Ruins of Provence

I just finished the France part of my trip, so I am back-posting amid a week of spotty WiFi. I legitimately had to get something at McDonald’s every night so that I could coordinate the next leg of my trip, leaving not so much time to keep my posts regular. I spent a few day’s traipsing the Roman Ruins in Provence.

Provence’s history dates back to the Roman Era in which it was the first province they established beyond the Alps. The outstanding architecture that still exists today is best attributed to the Pax Romana, a movement initiated by Caesar Augustus that was seen a period of peace and minimal expansion by military forces. It lasted from about 27 BC to 180 AD, a length of two centuries.

It is not hard to see the distinct culture of this heritage-filled region, and the lasting impact that the Romans have had; from the Aqueducts, to the Temples, to the Theaters  their construction methodology is precise to a tee, this has enabled the structures to last thousands of years with little weathering. This is in sharp contrast to the asian-style of construction, if you’ve ever been to the Great Wall, the rocks are jagged, disproportionate  and merely thrown together in a pile, some of the slopes require you to hike up an 80 degree grade!

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Arena of Nimes

Just imagine when this immense arena was used to proclaim the glory of Rome through the battles of gladiators versus beasts!

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Interestingly enough, I did not get the opportunity to watch bullfighting when I was in Spain, but the Nimes Arena is now a popular attraction for it, and we managed to watch the youngsters take on ferocious bulls. We did not expect, however, that they would actually slaughter the poor creatures, it turned out to be a pretty gory experience