Rewind to France

I’ve been feeling guilty since July about not posting anything on my trip to Spain and France this summer. Time for that feeling to go away! I scrounged my emails and found a pretty funny one, sent to my parents and a couple of friends on my last full day in Paris. The email chronicles how my day, which started on a high note (getting into the Louvre in less than 10 minutes!),  spirals steadily downward, ending with stinky cheese for supper. The whole experience wasn’t funny at the time, but I got a kick out of reading about it today. Hopefully you will too! I’ll add some pictures:

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July 23, 2012:

I got up at 7:45 this morning to go to the Louvre to try to beat the lines. The other girls [three of my cousins I was with] were still in bed when I left. They were going to go shopping today. I didn’t get to the museum until after it had opened, and there was already a really long line for security. I thought you had to have your ticket before going through security, so I asked a guard where to buy one. He directed me toward a little gift shop. There were only about 5 people in line so I didn’t have to wait long at all for that. Then I went back to the security line, but I was holding the ticket in my hand, and a guard came up to me and said, “You have a priority ticket, so if you go up and outside the big glass pyramid (I was under it – there are a couple different entrance lines), you can cut to the front of the line.” So I did and I got into the museum in under 10 minutes! Pretty lucky! Usually it takes a few hours!
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Turns out that ticket (I still have no idea how I ended up getting a priority one – I didn’t ask for that kind and it was the same price as a regular one) also let you bypass the heavier security. All I had to do was open my backpack and let a guy glance inside it, instead of waiting in line to send it though the scanner. There were a few hundred people in that line. They would have seen my waterbottle then too and taken it away.
*
So anyway, once I was in, I went straight to the Mona Lisa. Man, was it jammed in that room! And I had a feeling that wasn’t as full as it gets. I got as far as only having one row of people standing in front of me before deciding I could see well enough (being tall has its advantages), taking a picture, and then turning around and fighting my way back out. Then I went and looked at some other paintings by daVinci and other people and then I went to the sculpture area. Paintings only hold my attention for a very short amount of time.
Crowd in front of Mona Lisa

Crowd in front of Mona Lisa

They have so much stuff in that museum!  It’s kind of unbelievable. I’d say 3 out of every 4 people I saw were clinging to a map and trying to figure out where they were. I gave up on the map and started just asking the attendants. It was way easier. I managed to find the Hammarabi Code stone and then I quit looking for specific things and just wandered. And then I ate lunch and found 5 euros on the ground. For real. Next I looked at Napoleon III’s apartments, which (in my opinion) are fancier than Versailles palace, and then I stumbled across some Sevres porcelain displays, and then I was exhausted and overwhelmed so I left.
Sevres Porcelain

Sevres Porcelain

By then it was near 4:00 so I went to the Sacre Coeur basilica.  I wish I had been able to get the other girls to go with me to that. It was so amazing I almost cried. They ask you not to take pictures inside, so I didn’t, and I can’t show you any of it 😦 . Lots of other people were taking pictures, though, even though there were signs everywhere and a guy was running around trying to get them all to stop. Anyway, the domes were WAY higher than I thought they would be. The stained glass was super pretty, and there were hundreds of mosaics made with little tiny pieces of glass or ceramic all over, in the most unexpected places.
Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

If you guys ever go to France and are short on time, skip Notre Dame and go straight to the SC. The basilica is in the Romano-Byzantine style. It’s on the top of what seems to be Paris’s only hill. You have to climb a lot of stairs and steep streets to get there. But it’s in a really neat area. [Neighborhood is called Montmartre.] Lots of shops and cafes and stuff like that – sort of what I imagined all of Paris to be like before we got there. Seemed like it was the “artsy” part of town. I guess Van Gogh’s house is up there and so is Toulouse-Lautrec’s, but I didn’t know that until I’d already left. I left kind of without thinking a whole lot because after I got out of the church I had a very France-hates-America-and-I’m-going-to-let-you-know-it experience that wasn’t very fun.
Steps in Montmartre

Steps in Montmartre

You can pay to climb to the top of one of the domes, which gives a really good view since it’s on a hill, and to go into the crypts. There’s an automatic ticket machine, but it’s set up to only accept credit cards. Specifically, credit cards with chips, which I don’t have because US credit card companies are having a hard time getting with the program. So I got in line to buy my ticket from a person, and when I got to the front, I saw everyone was paying with credit cards and it was working, so I figured it would work for me too (the checker-outers can bypass the chip thing manually somehow).
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I dug my card out from where I was hiding it (in a moneybelt which I shoved way below the waistband of my shorts, practically into my underwear) and had it ready when I got up to the counter. I slid it under the little slot, and said (pleasantly, I thought), “I’d like one ticket for the crypt and the dome, please.” The lady promptly pushed it back at me and said in an unmistakably nasty voice, “NO.” So I confusedly said, “What?” I didn’t understand what she was talking about. Then she said, “No cards.” I was still confused, so I said, “But everyone in front of me paid with cards.” (I saw 3 people do it, and one of them was a British lady who had been standing in line talking about how her card didn’t work in the machine because it didn’t have a chip.) You know what her response was?? “Yes, but just not you.” Same lovely tone of voice. And that’s a word-for-word quote. I was completely blown away.
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I was kind of in shock when I asked why, and she said, “Well, your card is probably no good.” I could NOT believe it. I was speechless. I said, “It is, but…” I took out a 20E bill and shoved it under the slot. Know what she did then? She very primly said, “NO,” to that too!! Then I got mad. I said, “That’s all I have. That’s it. I have nothing else to give to you.” Card or cash. Not sure what other forms of payment exist in France. As I stood there, fuming, cash and credit card on the counter, she whips this out, “Whoa! Calm down, calm down!!” Like she was trying to come up with a reason not to sell me a ticket.
*
I wasn’t about to give her that reason, so I stood there silently. Ball’s in your court, lady. I had no idea what she wanted from me. Probably to piss me off, and to let me know that I, as an American, am not worthy to see anything beautiful in this country.  It worked, but she wasn’t done yet! The total was 8E, so when she finally took my cash, I was due 12E back. Instead of giving me bills (they have 5s and 10s in paper, and 1s and 2s in coin), she gave me all 12E in coin, mostly 1s. She slapped it down on her side of the counter like I was magically supposed to scrunch my hand under the 3″ wide x 1/2″ high slot to retrieve it. Last time I checked, I don’t have jello for bones. I just stood there and didn’t move or say anything. After about 30 seconds of silence, where the couple behind me started peering over my shoulder, she grudgingly pushed the pile under the slot. I think she thought I’d be mad about getting that much coin since it’s so heavy, but I was actually glad because the metro station ticket machines don’t take chipless cards or paper bills, so we’ve been hoarding change for them all the time. And now I wouldn’t have to worry about doing that tomorrow en route to the airport.
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Anyway, I FINALLY got my ticket and I went down into the crypt, where I promptly started to cry. Luckily, it was pretty empty people-wise down there. Unluckily, that meant the acoustics were great because there weren’t lots of voices or footsteps to cover sounds up. So the awful choking/trying not to cry and failing sounds I was making reverberated like crazy off the stone walls, floor, and ceiling. I wanted to try to sit in a corner and hide for a little while but I was scared I’d trigger some sort of security system. So then I wanted to leave but I forced myself to stay down there and look at everything. No way was I going to let that lady run me off.
*
After I sort of quit crying, I went up to the dome. There are 300 steps, and I bet 275 of them are in spiral staircases. It was a pretty neat climb. The spin of the stairs is really tight, so you can’t see anyone in front of or behind you. Being up on the dome was really cool too, and there weren’t very many people up there, unlike on the top of the Eiffel tower. You can see lots of the major monuments, and take your time looking and taking pictures because nobody’s pushing you or waiting for your spot. I took lots of pictures but haven’t looked at them yet. [Side note, the basilica is newer than I thought it was when I visited – it was started in 1875 and consecrated in 1919.]
On the main dome of Sacre Coeur

On the main dome of Sacre Coeur

Looking out at the city from the dome

Looking out at the city from the dome. Paris is WAY bigger (area-wise) than I thought it was.

After taking lots of pictures from the dome, I thought I was pulled together enough to go back down and try to get a picture of the whole church from the front. It was super hot, so I bought an ice-cold water from a guy on the street who was selling them out of a 5-gallon pail. A few seconds after we finished our transaction, some other guy standing a little ways away said something, and guy #1 grabbed his bucket and stashed it behind a garbage can, then leaned there nonchalantly. A few beats later, two police officers came walking by. So I’m pretty sure I bought illegal water! Ha!
*
Then I got my picture taken in front of the building, and then I got on the metro. I decided to go to the Arc de Triomphe as my last stop for the day. Well, I went to the metro station called, “La Defense,” which was labeled with an extra brown tag (for historical markers) that said, “le Grande Arche” (sp?) Naturally, I assumed this was the stop I wanted. It wasn’t. Turns out there’s another big arch in Paris. This one’s uber modern. I looked at it for about 5 seconds then turned around to try to find the other one. I decided I’d buy two metro tickets, since this was a main station and the ticket machines took paper money. That way I’d have one to get to the AdT and one to get to my hotel.
Le Grande Arche

Le Grande Arche

Well, they were the wrong kind of ticket. I got to the AdT just fine, but when I went back into the metro station, neither of them worked, not even the brand-new one (the old one should have been good for another hour too). So I tried to buy another ticket, but there was only 1 machine and it only accepted credit cards. You guessed it – credit cards with chips. OMG. So then I tried to ask the guy in line behind me if I gave him a 2E coin, would he buy me a ticket with his card please? The tickets were only 1.70E, so he would have gotten a tiny bit extra. But he pretended he didn’t understand me, even though I knew he did. His wife did too – she tugged on his arm and looked at me and said something to him, but he just shook his head and refused to look me in the eye. I thought I was going to cry again, so I went outside and started walking down the Champs-Elysees. I managed not to cry and I figured I’d hit another metro sooner or later. It took about 15 minutes, but I did, and that one had a machine that took coin, so I finally got to buy a ticket.
Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

There was also an older man working at the help desk there, so I decided to ask him if I could buy the special ticket you need to get to the airport, since by then I was thinking I’d have trouble with that tomorrow, based on my luck today. They’re more expensive than a regular ticket (by like 8E) and I didn’t want to run into a person-less booth or a broken machine or not enough change somehow or something crazy tomorrow. He was super nice. So nice, in fact, that I started crying when he innocently asked me if I was enjoying my day in Paris. Poor guy. After I explained to him (in a mix of really awful French and English) that it wasn’t his fault I was crying, he brought me into the little room off the sellers’ window area and let me sit down and gave me paper towels for my nose. He wasn’t surprised that I’d run into some nasty Anti-American stuff. He apologized for it even though it wasn’t his fault and said, “We not all like that. Just some, are ‘orrible.”
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He sold me a ticket for tomorrow, and then I finally got on my train, but I wasn’t thinking and I got off at the wrong stop. I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t find my connecting train and then I realized I’d gotten off 2 stations early. So I went back and got on the next No. 1 and FINALLY got back to my neighborhood. I stopped in a grocery store and bought some bread and fruit and yogurt and a cheese sampler tray for supper and breakfast tomorrow. Some of the cheese smells a little bit like feet. They’re all unlabeled so I have no idea what I’m eating. I’ve tried 3/4 of them and they’ve been good. The fourth one is a really strange texture and it smells the worst. I’m not sure I’m going to be brave enough to try it. I think one of the good ones is Brie, and another one is some sort of blue cheese. The weird one is white and grainy and in a ball. And it stinks.
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“Put a 10DKK coin in the slut”

FYI… It’s been a while since I last posted, so this post is going to be a lot of random things thrown together.

Okey dokey. For some reason, I’m still able to access a US-based VPN despite my being in Denmark. I’m a regular/certified member of this particular VPN, but until recently, I didn’t know I could access it outside the US. At any rate, it must do something to my IP address, because I discovered that when I logged in to the network, I could watch the Olympics online. NBC’s coverage was a little strange (I didn’t know there were only four women’s gymnastics teams in the entire world!), but it was nice to watch a bit of the Games every now and then.

I hooked my computer up to a projector one night so other people could watch too – here’s a picture of Christin trying to point her toes like the synchronized swimmers. We all agreed that those women (who are very talented!) have semi-frightening feet.

The Olympics have somewhat inspired me to start working out again (my other inspiration is insomnia). I didn’t bring any running shoes, so I’ve been doing some barefoot sprints in the park behind the studio. It’s a nice place to run. I always make sure to scout my running line in shoes before getting started, though. (Think: park + dogs + bare feet.)

Working out means sweaty clothes, which in turn means laundry. Here are the instructions for the washer and dryer at the studio. I laugh whenever I load them up…

The tile project is coming along, slowly but surely. As of this evening, I have 347/388 made and ready to go into the kiln. I think I can start loading tomorrow, which is a good thing because I’m out of storage space. I need to empty a few boards of them into the kiln so that I can reuse the boards to finish off the last few. Right now the kiln is filled with (cooling) work by a Danish artist named Susanna LastName?, who’s going to sell her mugs and plates at a big craft fair in Copenhagen this weekend. Masako and I are going to go check it out on Saturday. Want to come with us? Those are Susanna’s glazed but unfired mugs on the cart in the picture below.

 

Because I know you’re dying to see it, here’s a photo of one of the grocery stores. I usually ride a studio bike there, but if it’s not raining I try to get a little extra Vitamin D by walking instead.

This is how you leave your bike while shopping in Skaeskor. Coming from crime-ridden New Bedford, MA, the sight of all these unlocked bikes still blows my mind (in a good way).

 

I’ve been eyeing the fancy cheese in this store for the past 3 weeks, and today I finally broke down and bought some. Food is super expensive in Denmark, and some things are particularly, strangely expensive (for example, there’s a heavy sin tax on butter, but none on alcohol). I rationalized this purchase by noting that while definitely not cheap, Camembert and Brie are still less expensive here than they are in the US…

This snack was worth every penny!