Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Eiffel Tower: What Paris Means to Chicago

December 25th, 2009

Let's travel back in time. Not just to 2009... but to 1851. The very first "World's Fair" exhibition of culture and industry was held in Hyde Park, London. An enormous "Crystal Palace" was built to show off England's prowess as a world leader in industry and empire. This became a symbol of the Victorian Age as the industrial era kicked into high gear and began to demonstrate what our species can do with our mastery of combustion, our artistic ability, and our love for the dramatic and grandiose. Inside each of us is a crowd junkie craving to be part of the herd, just hoping to catch a glimpse of our greatest glittering achievements. The Great Exhibition, as it was known, sought to exploit that craving to the fullest.

Across the channel on the continent of Europe, Paris was not going to take this sitting down. The Anglosphere had spoken and it said, "wake up Paris, we know you're in there!!" And so she did... in 1889 Paris threw her very own World's Fair on the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. The "Exposition Universelle" featured something even more dramatic and eye-catching than a Crystal Palace. Paris had a tower... the Eiffel Tower. Built as the entrance arch to the fair, the 1,063 foot tall tower was the tallest man-made structure in the world until the Chrysler Building was completed in New York in 1930. Indeed, Paris had shown the world that she was in charge of Europe and she was as relevant as ever in the industrial age.

Chicago was still a dusty outback to Europe, but there would be a challenge - a gauntlet thrown down. Little did most Europeans know at the time, Chicago was a bustling metropolis that was about to throw a massive World's Fair of her own. To celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' journey to the America's, Chicago threw the greatest World's Fair yet. Our challenge to the Eiffel Tower was the world's first Ferris Wheel. This demonstrated America's nature to the world: Your tower was great. Our wheel is better! We didn't just do something big, we did something impossible. Suddenly Chicago was on the world stage and she has never turned back - "laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth" - the world is still listening.

Back to that tower, though... since we were talking about my trip to Europe. We came out of the Metro station to find the clouds starting to clear up. The lines were extremely long to get into the tower, but we didn't mind the view from ground level. After taking many photos of the tower, we walked across the river and past the Museum of Man. Around this time I began to recognize Paris. She is not just a pretty tower, some broad boulevards, and a warm baguette. Paris has something... a vibe, a personality, an underlying brilliance that feels exciting and new - despite its 6,200 year history. I fell deeply in love with that personality, that brilliance.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Notre Dame

December 25, 2009 - Christmas Day

My first morning in Paris! After everybody woke up, we put away the air mattress and then I went to a bakery a few doors down to pick up some fresh croissants, chocolate bread, and baguettes. Apparently this is normal in France, to live a few doors down from a bakery... and to eat fresh bread every day. I love it!


After eating breakfast and having some coffee, we decided to go see some of the sites in Paris. We hopped on the train to Gare de l'Est and from there took the M4 train to Cité station, which is on an island in the Siene River. From there, we walked past the Palais de Justice to one of the bridges over the Siene and took some pictures.


Then we walked back across the island and over to the famous Notre Dame cathedral. We waited in line to get inside, but once we were in we took lots of photos. My new camera was able to get much better pictures in the low light than I've ever been able to get before!

After winding our way through the cathedral, we got back on the M4 at Saint-Michel and took it to Montparnasse-Bienvenue where we transferred to the M6 and rode that to Bir-Hakeim, the closest Paris Métro station to Eiffel Tower.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Basel -> Paris by Train


After picking up some snacks at Aldi and packing things frantically, Andreas drove us to the train station in Basel, called Basel S.B.B. I took a couple pictures in the station of the other trains while Andreas told me from what country each had originated. Then I boarded the train with Isabelle and her mom. Once the train got moving I got up from my seat to explore the other cars.


We were riding the French TGV - the fastest train on wheels in the world! The ride was so smooth you could hardly tell we were moving at all. It was also dark outside so we could not see the scenery flying by. I walked to the cafe car where there were tables and a small bar that served snacks, coffee, beer, and wine. I opted for an Alsatian Riesling and enjoyed it with a stick of landjäeger - a German smoked meat snack. Isabelle and I spent the rest of the ride looking at the photos I had taken in Australia the month before.

We arrived in Paris at 9:35 and made our way to the commuter train that would take us out to Christéle and Papito's apartment. This was a quick ride but at first I thought that I had lost my train ticket and the conductors were coming through the car to check! After frantically searching all my pockets, it turned out to be with Isabelle and we were relieved that I would not be fined by the train conductor on my first night in Paris.

We arrived at the Vaires-sur-Marne station and met Papito waiting for us on the other side of the turnstile. I was excited to finally reach a destination, and when I pushed my bag through the turnstile it came back up and hit me in the knee -- hard! This would leave me sore and limping for the rest of the trip...

It was Christmas Eve in Paris and all the decorative holiday lights were on. We walked a few minutes to the apartment and met Christele and baby Sohane and a HUGE meal already prepared! We had some Champaign and Desiree had prepared a platter of toasted bread with foie gras, lox, and a pink spread made with caviar. For the main course, we had roasted chicken, goat, and fried plantains. I was stuffed by the end of the meal! I sat back and listened to the family members catch up in Ewondo - not understanding a word. Every now and then Isabelle would try to explain what was going on.


We watched the Christmas Eve mass in Rome on the TV and finally we were ready to sleep. We inflated an air mattress and got the earplugs ready for a noisy night of crying Sohane. I slept well dreaming of all the things we would see the next day in Paris... my first visit to the City of Lights!


Thursday, December 24th

On Thursday morning I woke up to Susan the dog tapping his toenails on the floor outside the bedroom door. Isabelle and I wandered downstairs and I found the bacon and eggs. Andreas has a Nespresso espresso machine, so making coffee was a breeze! I called the airline again to find out if there was any sign of my clothes, since we would be traveling to Paris for a few days. They had no news, so we needed to buy some things for me to wear. I cooked breakfast for us and then we got ready for a quick walk into town.

The walk into Liestal's city center was very short. Isabelle and I do not speak any German, so it was a little bit of fun finding our way around the clothing store. People kept asking me questions in hurried German and I would have to shake my head and shrug my shoulders. We found a couple sweaters and a pair of pants that would get me through the next couple days until my luggage was returned. Isabelle bought her mom a bracelet at a jewelry store and then we walked back to the house.

We took a few pictures outside the house before heading to St. Louis station to get train tickets to Paris for later. Then we stopped at Aldi, a respectable grocery chain in Europe, to pick up snacks for the trip.

Friday, April 16, 2010

ORD -> PHL -> AMS -> ZRH

PHL -> AMS, originally uploaded by zuctronic.
Off we go to Europe!

I spent a few weeks in cold, dark Chicago watching movies and eating out while searching for cheap flights to Zurich. Isabelle was spending the month with her mother in Switzerland and I planned to join them for the holidays.

I found a flight that connected in Philadelphia and Amsterdam on its way to Zurich. This was a marathon run, but I enjoy seeing airports and I had never been to Philadelphia before. I really like the Amsterdam airport and always try to stop for oysters there. They had the airport decorated for Christmas so I took some photos.

Finally I made it to Zurich and discovered that my checked luggage didn't make it! Swiss Air gave me some clothes and a bag of toiletries to hold me over until they could locate and return my luggage.

I met Andreas, Isabelle's step-father, in the Zurich airport and he drove me to his home near Basel where we would wait for Isabelle and her mother to return from shopping. Andreas doesn't speak very much English and I speak virtually no German or French, so it we needed to pantomime to communicate. We had some coffee and cheese and then picked up Isabelle and mom from the train station.

I called the airline to see if my bags were found but didn't have any luck. After trying a couple beers from Andreas' European collection, I was ready for bed! We were planning to take the train to Paris the next day so I needed to get some rest.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Zoo Lights

It was a shock going from summer in Sydney to winter in Chicago, but I had a lot of things to look forward to. Isabelle bought me a new camera as an early holiday gift, a Canon T1i DSLR. This is my first SLR camera since high school and my first DSLR ever! The day after I returned to Chicago, she left for Switzerland to spend December with her parents. I was going to join them later in the month, but for now I had a lonely couple of weeks in Chicago.

I wanted to try out my new camera so I went to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, a favorite place of mine for taking photos. After leaving the conservatory I decided to walk to the zoo, since it's right next door. I stumbled into an event the city hosts called Zoo Lights. Every year they put Christmas lights all over the zoo and play music and have activities for kids. After learning about this, I decided to come back the next week when it was darker and after learning a little more about taking low-light photos without a tripod. Here are some of my favorites!

Clearly, they went all out. I was impressed!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


SYD -> LAX -> ORD, originally uploaded by zuctronic.

Hopefully I'm teaching a few people something here... the title of this blog post contains the three-letter airport codes for the Sydney Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, and Chicago O'Hare International Airport. Hopefully I'm teaching even more people something with this: O'Hare's code is ORD because it USED to be called "Orchard Field" until 1949 when it was renamed after Lieutenant Commander Edward "Butch" O'Hare, USN, a World War II flying ace. O'Hare was my kind of guy... here's an anecdote about him that I fished off the internet:

"(O'Hare) was a great swimmer and spear fisherman, and he insisted that the squadron swim with him. Swimming with Butch O'Hare meant that at eight o'clock in the morning, you swam out into the ocean off Maui; he would still be out there at three in the afternoon! If he got hungry, Butch would roll over and dive, and the next thing you knew, he would come up with a fish of some sort. Then he'd just roll over and lie on his back like an otter and eat the thing raw! He really impressed us with that! One day, he came back to the surface with an octopus draped over his arm. He said, 'Now, you have to learn how to kill these things, boys: you bite 'em right behind the eye.' And with that, he chomped down! The octopus has some sort of spinal cord there, and biting it there does kill it! Then we had to go back to the beach where Butch would put these things in a frying pan with a little oil and some salt and stir them around. He enjoyed them, but they tasted like old rubber tires to me!"

Before flying out of Sydney I had some oysters and sushi in the airport. I didn't want to stuff myself because that can make for an uncomfortable flight, but I couldn't resist two of my favorite foods. The oysters were excellent and the last-minute conveyor belt sushi experience left me satisfied.

The flight back was as comfortable as I could expect. The long haul from Sydney to Los Angeles was a quick 13 hours, but I was sitting next to an Australian guy who was fun to talk to. I bought a small bottle of Bundaberg Rum in the airport duty free and shared it with him. When I offered him some his expression was hilarious, "Bundy ay... yeah why not?"

They have a small entertainment system in the seat backs, so I could watch movies and TV shows and pause things to get up and walk around or eat dinner and snacks. This helped me stretch out the first movie I watched, District 9, for about 5 hours. After that, I fell asleep for 7 hours and when I woke up the plane was flying over Catalina Island into Los Angeles.

I had a 2 hour, 40 minute layover in Los Angeles - enough time to eat a bacon cheese burger at Chili's Too. This was a perfect welcome back to America, haha! We flew away from the sunset into the night to Chicago. I was able to spend one night with her before she left to spend the month of December with her mother. I would be home for just two weeks before joining Isabelle in Europe for the holidays!