Saturday, July 24, 2010

Paris! Paris! Paris!

After Italy, I took a flight to Paris and I was so proud of my navigating skills, as I got to my friend Taneka's house without a glitch. Um, hello. I love Paris! I didn't think I would. Which, perhaps is the best kind of love. That first night we walked around her neighborhood, a bustling and beautiful spot in the heart of Paris. We walked to the Seine and found a cozy Mexican restaurant for dinner. I fell asleep while watching "How to Catch a Thief"The next morning it was pouring rain, so we headed to the flea market (puce de la porte de vanves) via the metro instead of bikes as planned. So much good stuff!!! I need a house to put it in quick! Well, I enjoyed myself regardless that I couldn't actually get anything. That afternoon, I took at long walk to the catacombs. The line was mad long, but I waited in it.... for over two hours. Once inside, I expected to have some sort of emotional reaction, but I didn't. Maybe it's all those episodes of "Bones" I have been watching. It really was fascinating. I was mostly struck by the quantity of remains. I had always heard about it, but it didn't actually sink in until I saw it for myself. Also, the symmetry. All the bones were laid out like bricks, stacked for stability but the ending result was something very methodical, organized and symmetrical. Ick! In a way, that this was done, but, perhaps, more ick, that we (I) stand in long lines and pay 8 euros to see it?!?After, I took the metro to the Eiffel Tower and for a walk along the river Siene. It was a lovely evening, the place was bustling with tourists and I was pleased that one of them asked me for directions! ha! That night, Taneka and I walked around the neighborhood Marais. With drinks at a cute bar, L'perle. We saw a bum, with a unique MO. He sat perched with his two dogs.... well, just, here is the picture. Anyway, it totally worked. I bet he makes mad money!! We made dinner back at Taneka's.Sunday, we took bikes back to the flea market, because of the rain Saturday, we felt we would see more on a Sunny day and boy did we, there were like 3 times as many sellers, and the place was packed even at 9 in the morning. Taneka's roommate, Slavko got lots of good stuff, and I enjoyed shopping with someone else's money, ok, not really, but, I did get to put in my 2 cents here and there. He and Taneka are thinking about staring a resale shop in London. Fingers crossed for them.
It was a lucky coincidence, but that Sunday (1st of the month) was a free museum day, so I took myself to the Louvre. AND. My good cheer at said luck was squashed. It was soooo crowded, the line wrapped around and around. So, trying to come up with an alternative plan, I asked a guard how late the museum was open, and due to a lack of my speaking French, she misunderstood me, and pointed me to an alternative entrance, so, I walked right in. Really. No line. It was great. But, man, it still was a crowded museum, especially to see the Mona Lisa. People are crazy about seeing that, and I don't even think it is about the painting itself, I think it is just because it is famous. It was such a weird frenzy, and I couldn't even get within 10 feet of the thing. I wandered around the museum, allowing myself to get lost and just see what I see. I enjoyed the Egyptian, Mayan, and the Roman and Greek sculptures that were in better condition than those I saw at the Antalya museum (meaning, they still had their private parts - apparently no puritan Christians had gotten to these). I also really enjoyed the works from Iran, something I had never seen before and really never even thought about.
After the Louvre, I walked through the Tuileries Garden and made my way to the Museum of Arts, Crafts, and Design. I didn't have enough time to see the museum, so I hit the gift shop, they had an awesome book store, organized by subject. You want to look up chairs, or lighting, or window treatments.... they have a section for that here. It was great. From there, I went to the fair grounds and rode the farris wheel. Great views of the city! And, no line! I had a nice time there, people watching. The kids especially were so cute. I watching this little girl kick two big boys asses on the rock climbing wall. Yeah! It was a glorious day in Paris and I am not even done yet!That night I met up with Taneka to take the train out to the Buttes Chaumont Park, which she accurately described as kinda like central park but all on a big hill. It was beautiful, and there were lots of people out enjoying the warm evening. Plus, it was off the beaten path from the tourist hot spots! From there, Taneka and I went to the African neighborhood in search of dinner, being Sunday, it wasn't so easy. After walking for quite a while, we wandered into an Indian place. We both agreed that although, good, it wasn't quite like any Indian food we had ever had.

The next day, I hit up Shakespeare and Company book store and then to Notre Dame to meet Aly. Yes, Aly! It was such a treat that her vacation lined up with my trip there! We had a great day together. We met up with Taneka at a famous falafel place.... King Falafel. Wandered around there just kinda having a fun girly day.... shopping, ice cream, and sitting in a park chatting it up. Loved the shop "Merci". There are so many beautiful clothes in Paris, and I was really good. I didn't buy anything.We then went to the Pompidou for the Lucian Freud show. But, first a drink on their spectacular roof. (!!!) Lucian is one of my favorite painters from college when I was into figure painting. I had kinda forgotten about him, and I was glad to be reminded. We all loved his work, and quotes. We saw another show on display "dreamscape" which was at least in part about Coney island and well, we all kinda looked at each other with the oddity, 3 Brooklyn girls in Paris looking at an exhibit about Brooklyn. We had rose wine back at Taneka's and made plans for the next day.The next morning I slept in and then took the metro to Sacre Coeur. It was a beautiful place, set up on a hill with a nice view of the city. Out front a quartet was playing and I got a little weepy. Dang, I wish I was a musician. From there, I went to the arch de triumph, the place de concord to see the 3000 year old Egyptian obelisk, and back for another stroll along the Tuileries. I picked up goodies for meeting the girls and our picnic at the Eiffel Tower! It was "epic" as Aly called it. We stayed for hours, drinking wine, bread, olives, and waiting for the lights to come on! It was was beautiful.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Spanning the Centuries. A week in Northern Italy.

After Turkey, I took a convoluted route to get to Milan where I met up with my friend Gil, who lives a short ways from there in the small town of Manerbio. It was so great to be in his care. He whisked me off to his floral and gardening shop (Flores) which was just so beautiful and tastefully done in an 17th century building. I loved it there, so many nice growing things to look at. So many nice hand made things too. I met his friend and owner of the space, Marilena. She was just lovely and made us a nice fresh lunch... pasta cooked to perfection, a simple salad, and a giant bowl of fruit. I felt I had died and gone to heaven. She fed and took care of us several times, always fresh tomatoes, bread, and plenty of tasty olive oil.
Gilly showed me around Manerbio and the next town over of Cremona. In Cremona we had beers next to the Cathedral in the piazza with hundreds of sparrows flying over head. I spent a couple days hanging with him, an afternoon helping in the shop, and just generally recovering and taking it easy.On Gil's day off we set out on a road trip. We headed to the Dolomite Mountains, which is the southern section of the Alps in Northeast Italy. It was such a beautiful trip, driving through small mountain towns and farming villages. It was nice to watch the architecture change as we got closer to Austria. I just loved all the grapes, fields and fields, anywhere the sun shone.... even on steep slopes. Grape vines upon grape vines stacked like books up the mountain side. We drove on and on further north and into higher altitude. We made it to the sella pass where we had sweeping views and could almost touch the snow on the highest peeks, it was just amazing.From there we headed to Trento to meet up with some of Gil's friends (Marco and Giulio). Again, I was treated to such warm hospitality, a nice home cooked meal in their house which is in the old servant quarters of a 15th century villa. Giulio is the grounds keeper of the villa and he gave us a tour. I had no idea what I was in for, but he spent hours explaining everything about the property, all the murals, furniture, and history of the people who lived there. It was just so magical. He was such a generous and enthusiastic guy who just wanted to share. Gilly dutifully translated everything and I felt so lucky to be there. The oldest building in the compound was a convent from the 1300's. Apparently this place survived through the centuries and all the wars, because it was hidden on the hill and couldn't be seen from Trento. The murals spanned the rein of Charles the 5th, the old and new testament. I saw hand embroidered fabrics from the 1500's and paintings of all the dignitaries who lived there. This experience is difficult to put in words. I loved it so much. AND, I saw a fox, running into the grape fields and the sun was setting.... I'm getting goose bumps remembering now.... Giulio could tell I was curious about the plants too, around the property and even thought it had gotten dark, he took me around with a flash light to show off the strawberries, plums, and herbs!!!The next day, back in Manerbio, I took a train to Venice. After crossing the first canal, I was in love. Everywhere I turned was another photo opp or something worth marveling at. It was a maze and I got lost several times but not for long. I packed a lot into my day in Venice: St. Marks Basilica and square, the clock tower, the Rialto Bridge, the Peggy Guggenheim collection, the musical instrument museum, more churches than I can remember, and a glorious views from the bell tower. I walked and walked and took hundreds of photos. It defiantly was Venice on speed, but now I know where to spend more time when I go back!!The following day, I took another train to Verona. It was such a hot day, that I found myself lingering in clothing stores just for the AC. I did love Venice more, but Verona was so romantic with the supposed story of Romeo and Juliet being inspired here. I saw her balcony, the roman, arena, Duomo and Anastasia Cathedrals, the Roman theater and archaeological museum, Lamberti Tower....The last time I was in Italy was 11 years ago and I am so happy I went back, I had such a new and different experience and much of that is due to having a friend there and the inside scoop. It was great to go into a restaurant where Gil was a regular and for him to know what to order. We went to a small pizza place my first or second night there and I went back on my own one night. The owner had already closed and the lights were out, but he recognized me and went back in to make me a pizza... and he remembered... no cheese. It was delicious.

Like Like Like Lycia, a week in Southern Turkey!

After Istanbul, Susie and I took a short flight south to Antalya. What a beautiful little pansion we ended up at in the old town of Kaleici. Antalya has a history of more than 2000 years, we mostly stayed and explored Kaleici which is bordered by Hadrian's Gates to the north east, a hellenistic tower at the south by the sea and a roman era clock tower to the west. Beautiful cobble stoned streets with ancient Turkish and Greek houses and architecture with sweeping bougainvillea crossing over many alleyways.We spend our fist afternoon in the Antalya museum. There we learned so much, namely our education began about the roman period in that region. We were officially in Lycia which was a major providence during the roman era and today is known by that name for its ruins and also for the Lycia Way hiking trail. The museum had so many sculptures and tombs and coins and we could have spent days there. It really was such a treat and peeked our interest for what we would see in the coming days. I was also struck by the bones of St, Nicolas. Yes, that Saint, as in Santa Claus.The next morning we decided to take a boat trip off the coast of Antalya to some swimming spots and around a few scenic islands. The water was fine!!! and Susie got a good dose of swimming in. That night beers and dinner by the sea with a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean at sunset. Such lucky girls we felt like for sure.The next day we took at bus to Cirali which is a small agricultural village, really, with two dirt roads, lots of pansions, a beautiful stone beach with access to the ancient city of Olympos and the mysterious Chimaera. We spend the first afternoon enjoying the beach, swimming, and making up little art projects for ourselves with the beautiful rocks that lined the beach. I think perhaps only Susie and I could find ourselves in Turkey and be so content for hours playing with pebbles!!!The following day, we got studious and employed what we had learned at the Antalya Museum to explore the ancient ruins of Olympos. It was so amazing, and so vast, we climbed rocks and great big hills, and under fallen trees, and we still didn't see everything. All the ruins still haven't been uncovered. People there are so used to seeing these ruins, down by the sea, they became picnic tables and places to dry a towel. We were shocked... and really just feeling privileged to place our hands on something so carefully crafted and so long ago. We saw tombs, and churches, city gates, and fortresses.... wild grapes and figs.That evening we started walking to Mount Chimaera. The goal was to get there and back before it was too dark... and well, we had to hitch a ride with a husband a wife who owned a pansion, and still it seemed we walked forever, but it was worth it. I have never seen anything like this is my life. Flames were shooting out of the hill side. Here and there up the rock face, small flames escaped tiny cracks in the rock. Apparently it is related somehow to volcanic activity, but it is just gas that escapes and ignites when it hits the oxygen. People have been congregating here for thousands of years, and some say this place is how the Greek mythological creature Chimera was named. Our long walk back was cut short by our pansion owner who picked us up... thank you. That's a small town for you.On the 22nd, we packed up and headed to the otogar (bus station), to catch a dolmus to Kas. Kas is a fishing, and sorta tourist yacht town set in a nook between steep mountains, small secluded beaches, and a bustling harbor. From the shores there, you can look out at the Mediterranean and see the Greek island of Meis. That first day, we wandered around the harbor, city center, and down to a small beach. We really wanted to do another boat ride here, but the wind was so crazy we couldn't even swim from the beach. We really loved our pansion in Kas, the owners were very nice and Susie and I were in awe over the size and age of the grape vines that shaded their roof deck. Some of the vines were bigger than my arm.That next morning, we rented a car with plans to hit as many ruins as we could and enjoy the scenery. We started out headed towards Kalekoy. Susie and I being how we are, had to stop and look at the plants!!! We saw so many neat thistles and other things we couldn't identify. It was a beautiful winding narrow road and we spotted an ancient, I mean ancient, old man who was trying to flag us down, he seemed harmless and looked in need of a ride, so we stopped, he got in and proceeded to speak to us in Turkish, we spoke back in English and just drove on. A few minutes passed, and we spotted another, even more ancient man flagging us down. He caught on quick that we didn't speak Turkish so he was just kinda mute... the other one rambled on and we will never know what he was saying. I felt like we had two time pieces with us, both so thankful for the ride, both very regal and unassuming. We left them at the next crossroad and I know I felt sad to see them go, oh, for what they could have taught us. Susie and I continued on to Kalekoy, from there we walked to the necropolis. Susie and I climbed over rocks and partially tipped over tombs, broken and complete ones, but all had been at some point robbed. There were so many, and it seemed to go on forever. We stopped perched on the steps of one to have some fruits and nuts. I said to Susie, you realize we are having a picnic in a cemetery. On our way back, I saw that a local woman had used one of the tombs to tie a clothes line too and it seemed yet another was part of a wall to a chicken coop. I guess if you see this stuff your whole life...Anyway, from there we drove to Kale, in search of the ruins of Myra. Finally we found it and realized we were in for a different experience that what we had had previously. This place was a tourist trap, vendors everywhere and high priced tickets. I wondered what the difference was here to the places we just kinda wandered into. Must have been the roman theater. It was spectacular, you see these things in pictures, but man it is different in person. What a treat to walk around here, seeing the mathematics and artistry at work. It was so huge and beautiful. Also in Myra are the even older tombs built into the hill side, apparently in the 1800s some were discovered that had been painted bright colors. These hill side mountains tombs we saw several times along our trip back, just at the side of the road next to some cows or goats. What the what!?!??? It was awesome.From Myra we went into the town square of Kale where we visited the Church of Saint Nicolas, which began in the 6th century and has been rebuilt or repaired many times since then. We saw beautiful tile work, frescoes, and arches. Saint Nicolas is the patron saint of New Amsterdam, which as you know is New York City. Man, this guys gets around. You should read the wikipedia article about him.Our trip back to Kas, as the sun was setting was spectacular, the coastal route (which made me car sick in the bus) was just jaw droppingly beautiful from our car. Clothes pin turns, rolling hills, steep cliffs, olive trees, and the beautiful turquoise, cerulean, blue green, ultramarine, cobalt.... water. We were trying to figure out what tube of paint would describe this. I think maybe none. It was stunning.They next day was our trip back to Antalya to catch our flights out. It was great to be back in Kaleici and I enjoyed it all over again. I was really sad to leave this part of the world, but happy to discover it and looking forward to visiting again!!! Thanks, Susie for being there with me!!!!

ps. a few things to mention about Turkey.... the call the prayer. everywhere. several times a day. so beautiful and haunting. Also, People were so helpful, friendly, and nice and I didn't mean for this fact to be an after thought. Everyone we encountered showed extreme patience and warmth to us. It was easy to understand why so many people love this country. AND... can anyone identify this flower? The smell is really strong and sweet...