29 July, 2007


the green green grass of home: the view from our Air France plane as we crossed over the channel back into England.

we had been wanting to visit the London England LDS Temple during our stay in the UK, but as the name doesn't imply, this building is a good 30 miles or so outside the city center, which is a long way in that part of the world. so we planned our return to the States for a couple of days after we got back from France, giving ourselves time to get a car and drive down to the little village of Lingfield and spend some time in the serenity that it and the temple would provide. before that, however, we had to pick up our things from Kim and Todd's place, which was right in the heart of London. we did this with the aid of our little rental car, a Peugeot 207, but going from Heathrow to Holborn, even after the congestion charge hours, is a lot like driving into the heart of darkness. suffice it to say that i don't recommend driving in Central London to anyone who isn't a serious thrill seeker.

Jill's day- and nighttime views of the London England Temple and its reflection in a pond on its large grounds.

we did make it unscathed though, and from there on to the temple, which is in beautiful Surrey countryside close to Gatwick airport. the temple itself sits on a 32 acre estate known as Newchapel Farm, which boasts gardens, a large reflecting pond and an Elizabethan mansion called the Manor House. the church has also built some dormitory-type buildings for visiting patrons of the temple, which is where we stayed our two nights there.

the Elizabethan "Manor House" that stands on the 32 acres of temple grounds at Newchapel Farm. below, the church really is going into every nation; a selection of the signs we've seen on church buildings in the course of our travels, clockwise from top left: outside the London Temple; on our newly built stake center in Taichung, Taiwan; in front of the Hong Kong Temple in Kowloon; on the chapel we went to for services in the Beauborg area of Paris; on the steeple of the Seoul Korea Temple; in Welsh at the new Chester chapel; and the sign on our Meito Ward chapel in eastern Nagoya, Japan. the sign in the background is also from the London Temple.

i had been to the temple once before in 1992, for its open house and re-dedication after being refurbished, but i hadn't remembered how incredible the grounds and surroundings were. it can be a bit of a hassle to get all the way out there in the countryside, but it's well worth the effort. one place that probably wasn't was one i hadn't ever been before, the famed seaside town of Brighton, another 30 miles south of the temple on the Channel coast. since we had a car, we decided to give it a look, but weren't too impressed by the "beach" made all of pebbles and rocks. still, they made for some good entertainment on an otherwise dull and dreary day:

Jill launches pebbles toward the surf on the "beach" at Brighton. this strip is lined with hotels and a large pier is just visible off in the distance.

so we didn't stay long in Brighton despite the serious entertainment provided by trying to hit other airborne rocks with pebbles (which never worked). i'm sure it's a very nice place to be during the season (notwithstanding all the others who flock there, thinking the same thing), but it was pretty chilly and couldn't hold a candle to the temple environs. what a nice way to spend the last few days of our European vacation.

28 July, 2007


one of the great things about all our travels has been the chance to be immersed in another language. although we learned precious little of any of them, it is really cool to hear so many unfamiliar sounds and see foreign writing, much of it in our case in totally different scripts. Since it's difficult to give you the sounds of all those languages, i thought i'd at least give you the sights. so far, we've been to Taiwan, where they speak what we usually call "Mandarin" Chinese and Taiwanese; Thailand, where Thai is spoken; Malaysia, where they speak Bahasa Malay and English; Singapore, where English is the administrative language, Malay the national language, and Tamil and Chinese also considered official; Indonesia, where Bahasa Indonesia is spoken; Hong Kong, where it's Cantonese and a lot of English; Macau, where Portuguese and Cantonese are spoken; Mexico, where they speak Spanish; Japan, where Japanese is the order of the day; Mainland China, where they also speak Mandarin, but have changed some of the written characters; Korea, where Korean is spoken; Britain, where real English still generally prevails, along with a bit of various Gaelic tongues, like Cornish, Welsh or Scottish; and France, where the people speak French.

signs of our times, clockwise from top left: French in Paris, English and Chinese in Hong Kong, Welsh and English in Conwy, Wales, Korean in Seoul, Chinese in Beijing, Japanese in Nagoya, Portuguese and Chinese in Macau and Spanish in Puerto Vallarta. in the background is a sign from Georgetown, Malaysia, written in Malay. click the picture to enlarge it. below, some Thai script seen outside a government building in Bangkok.

the longer we spent in a place, the more familiar its language became; we got to the point in Taiwan and Japan where we could read and understand a few things, though generally Chinese and Japanese are still alien to us. good thing you can almost always find someone who speaks some English and wants to practice, even in the most remote corners of the world.

27 July, 2007


France is famous for its food, so it's appropriate that i mention our experiences with it here. we weren't exactly dining on haute cuisine the whole time we were there, so lucky for us there was plenty of good stuff to be had without breaking the bank. perhaps in large part due to a very protectionist agricultural policy, France is still heavily invested in farming despite being such a commercial and industrial giant as well. it shows, with fresh fruits and vegetables everywhere you look, and bread and all manner of wonderful cheeses to be had all over the place. even after accounting for less-than-favorable exchange rates though, many of the greens and fruits weren't as affordable as such heavily subsidized stuff should be. no matter, i would have happily subsisted on Camembert and baguettes the whole time we were there--those things were plentiful and cheap.

food in France, clockwise from top left: fruit and vegetables on stands outside shops everywhere; enjoying Camembert baguettes in the open air; more looking-at-but-not-buying fairly high priced produce on the streets; and the breakfast (and maybe even lunch and dinner) of champions: petite madeleines--small, shell-shaped cakes--and baguettes with a whole round of Camembert cheese and a large bottle of Orangina, possible the best drink in the world. below, France may be the happiest food place on Earth: instead of life-sized Mickey and Minnie, there's a giant Orangina.

we found the legends of a Paris being littered with streetside cafés to be largely true, though we didn't really visit many of these as they were usually either packed or closed. we did try the French version of McDonald's, which is named Quick and should be avoided at all costs for reasons of poor customer service and really quite awful food (yes, probably even worse than Mickey D's). we also had some great Turkish food and even an excellent Indian curry at a pretty swanky place that appeared to be frequented by Japanese businessmen. it was quite surreal to be ordering Indian food in French, within view of the Eiffel Tower, all while listening to the now-comforting jabber of a language we thought we had just left behind. a world city indeed. still, i always came back to my baguettes and my cheese, though it, unfortunately, didn't always come back to me. i had bought another four-inch wheel of Camembert shortly before we left, and put it (in its wood case) in the large pocket of my cargo pants. because of the staples in the case, it set the magnetic wand off as i was going through airport security on the way back to London, and the several staff there were totally nonplussed about what to do about it. i would have thought they'd have been happy to be exporting more French cheese, but after x-raying it and several minutes of very confused consultation they made me throw my half-eaten cheese away. i consoled myself with the fact that we were flying Air France, and they were bound to serve up some decent fare, but disappointment struck again: those looking for signs of American dominance in their culture wars against France will be happy to know i only got a lousy pack of cookies.

26 July, 2007


aside from the Eiffel Tower and the Tour Montparnasse, there isn't much of what you could call a skyline in Paris, which makes it a bit of an oddity among world capitals these days. not much of one in the downtown, anyway, but a dogged investigator continuing west along the avenue that we traced earlier, from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe, will come to the purpose-built business center of the city known as La Défense. this area, home to numerous skyscrapers housing many of France's commercial giants, sits exactly on the line described by the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, which line is given the title of Axe historique (Historical Axis).

La Défense seems a strange title, inviting many visitors to assume that the area has a militaristic purpose, but it actually takes its name from a statue called La Défense de Paris, an 1883 monument to the soldiers of the Franco-Prussian War. in the late 1950s, the government decided to develop La Défense as a business district and high-rises began to spring up along both sides of a wide central walkway or esplanade known as le Parvis.

a view down Le Parvis from La Défense's west end, revealing some of the high-rise office buildings to either side, and the Arc de Triomphe off in the central distance along the Axe historique. further along this line, though not visible in this picture, lie the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and the Louvre, among other landmarks; below, Jill cools off by wading in a pool on the esplanade.

there are currently over 70 large buildings on the 77.5 acres of La Défense, with plans to bring that total to more than 80. with 150,000 daily workers in the area and 20,000 residents, attempts to beautify the concrete jungle include the installation of 60 modern art sculptures and monuments. it can be hard to tell which are which, or indeed where these end and the buildings begin: the most famous and certainly most impressive building in the whole complex is something of a monument in itself. The Grande Arche de la Fraternité, known simply as La Grande Arche, sits right on the Axe Historique and is truly monumental in both size and scope. additionally, like some of the other monuments in Paris, this one has already attained some measure of fame despite being less than 20 years old, having been featured in numerous movies (including of course, the great Bourne Identity).

the best of many sculptures at La Défense, this one cunningly disguised as a human thumb (perhaps a monument to the opposable digit?). ours are put up for size comparison and flank the inanimate one, if it's hard to tell. below, La Grande Arche de la Défense, the latest addition to the Axe Historique, and also its westernmost point.

La Grande Arche is almost perfectly cuboidal and is said to have been designed to resemble a tesseract, or four-dimensional hypercube (go on, look it up; i did). true or not, it certainly seems to be a modernized (and enlarged) mimic of the Arc de Triomphe, and is indeed a symbol of triumph, though not of the military kind. rather, La Grande Arche is a symbol of France's great achievements in world capitalism. though outwardly an ardent globalization protester, France is actually a huge success in worldwide business, as La Défense attests and La Grande Arche summarizes. La Défense is now Europe's largest business district and France is home to several of the world's biggest companies, including its second-largest retailer, Carrefour. but perhaps there are still bugs to be worked out of the French system: both sides of the impressive monument to its laissez-faire economics are crammed with government offices.

19 July, 2007


a bit of mixed bag, this one, but then, what lady isn't? actually i'm speaking of the post being a mixed bag, but the lady in question is of course our lady; that is, Notre Dame de Paris. our day to explore this most famous of cathedrals also took us to many other sights of note around the French capital, including the following, a very important one in the Republic's history:

the Colonne de Juillet (July Column) as a roundabout in the middle of the Place de la Bastille, so named because it was the site of the Bastille prison.

on the 14th of July, 1789, French commoners stormed the Bastille prison that once stood on this spot and subsequently razed it in anger at the ruling regime. this was considered the beginning of the French revolution (a surprisingly affective act then, considering there were only seven inmates at the time) and the date is still celebrated in France as
Fête Nationale (literally National Holiday, though it is known as Bastille Day in English); it is thus similar to America's July 4th "Independence Day" holiday. today nothing remains of the prison whatsoever, and the Colonne de Juillet that now stands in its place can't really compete with the many other attractions Paris boasts. it was worth seeing, of course, but there's not much to hang around the area for.

so we didn't, walking the few blocks (in unseasonable heat) to the Beaubourg area, location of the quirky Centre Georges Pompidou (Pompidou Center). housing a library and a museum, and built essentially with its guts on the outside, the center is named for a former president of France and has grown greatly in popularity from an originally cool reception when it opened in 1977. the building sits on a large square that hosts entertainers of all sorts--on the day we were there a very slapstick comedian was getting a lot of laughs for his schtick and several mimes and "statue" people were busking to healthy crowds. we didn't go in the building, but all the good stuff, such as pipes color-coded to their function, is on the outside anyway:

the Centre Georges Pompidou, an inside-out building in Paris's Beaubourg area. the colors of the pipes and gratings correspond roughly to their functions.

nearby the Pompidou Center is the lady we've been talking about, Our Lady, as it were. Notre Dame, as we say, means just that and is a common way of referring to the Virgin Mary in French. What we're really talking about however, is Notre Dame de Paris, the amazing cathedral that has served as the backdrop for so many literary and cinematic works. built in the Gothic style, Notre Dame is an imposing structure and has has stood in approximately its present form for over 700 years. primary construction was started in 1163 and took almost 90 years to complete, although the whole building wasn't considered finished for about another hundred.

some views of the in- and outside of Notre Dame de Paris, including the famous gargoyles and one of the "rose" stained-glass windows. it was fairly dark inside and very busy when we were there, with some sort of mass going on, which provided some pomp and ceremony to enhance our visit; below, a view of the River Seine from the Île de la Cité, the island on which Notre Dame stands.

the cathedral sits on the south-eastern corner of the Île de la Cité, one of the two islands in the Seine river that constitute the center of Paris (the other is Île Saint-Louis). though the flow of the river has since changed the shape of these islands, they were there and also served as the basis of the Roman settlements over two thousand years ago, so Notre Dame is really at the city's heart in many ways. Île de la Cité is also home to the Préfecture de Police and the Palais de Justice, among other notable buildings, but perhaps the second-best-known structure connected with the island is the Pont Neuf. meaning "new bridge", it is actually the oldest surviving one in Paris and rests gently on the western tip of the isle as it spans a wide Seine. just like Notre Dame, the Pont Neuf is a bit of a celebrity, as are some of it's nearby structures, particularly in one of my favorite movies. The Bourne Identity's title character wakes up in Paris after an overnight drive just across the river from Notre Dame, and later orders his former spymaster, Conklin, to come to Paris and walk to the middle of Pont Neuf and remove his jacket. all this while Bourne is watching him from the La Samaritaine building, a luxury department store that sits on the left bank at the north end of the bridge.

La Samaritaine and me, on Pont Neuf. I'm standing right about where Conklin would have taken off his jacket, with Jason Bourne watching from just behind those letters on the building's roof. La Samaritaine does in fact have a rooftop cafe, but this has been closed to the public, along with the rest of the building, since 2005 while renovations are being made to bring the structure up to fire code.

so there's even more to the appeal of Paris than just finally seeing all the things you learned about in French class. i've heard the bells of Notre Dame and roamed where Quasimodo did, and even though Jill thought the pictures of La Samaritaine were a bit much, i've stood pretty much in Jason Bourne's shoes. which practically makes me famous, i reckon, and that's another thing to love about Paris: she doesn't keep all the glory to herself, she loves you back.

09 July, 2007


there doesn't seem to be much more for me to say about la Tour Eiffel, but it is worth a quick daytime look. it's currently the tallest structure in Paris, and owing to the generally very low skyline, the tower is visible from almost anywhere in town. it is a striking view, but close-up views during the day reveal huge webs of ugly brownish-painted metal that are less than entirely romantic. one could almost understand the bitter controversy sparked by the tower's initial placement along the beautiful River Seine. it still makes for some good gratuitous over-photographed-monument holiday snaps though:

a view of the Eiffel Tower from one of the nearby neighborhoods, and below, another gratuitous view enhanced by the presence of Jill, myself and our bodyguard (cleverly disguised as a random tourist).

as i mentioned in theeveningtime post, the whole tower seems something of a cliché, though this may be understandable of the world's most visited monument. last year there were almost 7 million visitors, and we were happy to be two of the more than 200 million that have come to admire the engineering feat since it was erected in 1887. since we're on stats, the excellent Wikipedia article on la tour tells me that the building was the tallest in the world at that time, until it was surpassed by the Chrysler Building in New York in 1930 (it had earlier taken the title from the Washington monument). now it seems that the distinction changes hands (or more importantly, countries) every few years. a couple of years ago we visited the twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which were the tallest structures until the Taipei 101 building took over in early 2005, while we were in Taiwan. Petronas is now reduced to being the tallest twin towers on earth, and soon the Taipei 101 will be dethroned by the Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (which will soon thereafter lose its preeminence to the Al Burj, also in Dubai. this one looks like it may hang on for a while, being more than twice as tall as the 101!). in any case, the Eiffel Tower is about 81 stories tall, which is almost the level at which Taipei 101's "tuned mass damper" sits, to help minimize the building's vibrations during earthquakes and high winds. according to the Wiki article, the Eiffel Tower sways about 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) in the wind, and its top can flex away from the sun up to 7 inches (18 cm) due to the steel's thermal expansion on the heated side. not something most folks want to think about at the top.

the view to the south of the Eiffel Tower, showing the mighty Seine river in all its glory. this shot was taken from the second floor landing moments after sunset.

but enough tech talk; the views are what people go for. we like the views too, and have this habit of going up the tall structures we visit just before sundown so we can get the view in the daylight and then see all the lights come on. this strategy ended up working out as well in Paris as it has elsewhere, only here the lines were so long even on our weekday trip that we were almost too late to see the sunset. there are three levels, but at only €11,50 (about US$16) to get the top, one can hardly pass up the full ride. it's well worth it, and you get to stop and look around on the first and second floor landings (while you endure yet another wait for the next elevator), which is where all our best view shots came from. still, i have to say again that the best view may be of the tower itself, and then after dark, but i'll leave you to judge from Jill's photos. better yet, go there and have a look for yourself, it is worth it, despite the cliché.

la tour à nuit. c'est magnifique!

08 July, 2007


what is there to do during the daytime in Paris? one thing that must be done, and quite thoroughly, is an examination of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, one of the world's most famous (not to mention expensive) streets. anchored at one end by the Musée du Louvre (Louvre Museum) and at the other by the Arc de Triomphe (Triumphal Arch), and festooned with million-dollar boutiques in between, the Champs-Élysées has been referred to as La plus belle avenue du monde (the most beautiful avenue in the world), a moniker that's hard to argue with.

the Musée du Louvre, clockwise from top left: Jill and me in the courtyard with the Louvre Pyramid behind us. the Pyramid was built in 1989 and serves as the museum entrance; what the Pyramid looks like from below, with views to the outside and an atrium teeming with visitors even on this fairly slow day; the art space as art: just one of the hundreds of spectacularly decorated walls inside the Louvre; and the Venus de Milo, one of classical Greek sculpture's most celebrated works, stands without much ceremony in a dimly lit room and only a small circle of red-velvet ropes for protection. below, a very involved tour guide shows schoolchildren through a hall decorated with art covering a staggeringly broad time period.

the Louvre itself is magnificent and was one of the first things we made sure to see. most of the places on our Parisian itinerary were sights i had learned about in French class back in junior high school, and the Louvre was pretty much at the top of the list. home to La Joconde (Mona Lisa) and Venus de Milo, the Louvre is justifiably famed, but the whole experience at this museum is much greater than the sum of its parts. it is the only museum that i have been to, as far as i can remember, whose art space itself seemed to be art; that is, the lines between the artworks on display and the space in which they are displayed are seriously blurred, producing a more holistic and altogether engaging encounter. the building itself was once a palace and literally everywhere you look there is something to engage your eyes, be it a statue, an ancient artifact, or a ceiling fresco. the Louvre is big enough, and holds enough incredible art that you would probably need a solid week to see and appreciate it all, but that kind of time investment would take too much away from all the things there are to see just outside.

along the Champs, clockwise from top left: Jill and the street sign bolted to one of the ultra-expensive buildings that lines the avenue; the 3,400-year-old Egyptian Obelisk that stands at the center of the Place de la Concorde; me in front of one of the fountains that flank the Obelisk. these fountains are a memorable sight from the final stage of racing in the Tour de France (which just began in Britain, of all places), when riders pedal their way up and down the Champs-Élysées and around the Place de la Concorde several times before crossing the ultimate finish line; and rented sailboats chased by young boys on a large pond at the Jardin des Tuileries evoke images of a simpler time in the French capital.

leaving the museum and heading west towards the famous avenue, one first encounters the Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden), which was once enclosed by the now-destroyed Tuileries Palace, home of French royalty before they built and moved to Versailles. our mid-April weather was unseasonably hot, and the Jardin was packed with Parisians enjoying the afternoon sunshine in the park's tranquility. just beyond the garden lies the true beginning of the Champs-Élysées, the Place de la Concorde. legendary as the site of the revolutionary guillotine that beheaded Marie Antoinette, Lavoisier and Robespierre, among many others, it started out life as a simple square to honor King Louis XV. nearly half a century before his statue there was torn down by the revolutionaries, his successor Louis-Philippe placed the 23-meter high, 250-tonne Egyptian Obelisk that had been gifted to France in the square's center, flanked by two commemorative fountains. this one of "Cleopatra's needles" is, like its counterparts in London and New York, among the oldest true obelisks today, having been initially constructed around 1450 BC to mark the entrance to the Luxor Temple.

continuing east beyond the Place de la Concorde the low (for a modern downtown) buildings that give Paris much of its charm slowly draw closer to the edge of the tree-lined avenue, and the expensive retailers that add to the city's fashionable reputation begin to make their appearance. along the Champs-Élysées are the Élysées Palace, residence of France's president, numerous packed cafés and Louis Vuitton's largest store, along with the gleaming outlets of other retailers who can afford rents said to be north of a million dollars per thousand square feet of space. needless to say, we didn't do a lot of shopping.

the Arc de Triomphe, France's monument to her war dead, is so large that shortly following the celebrations marking the end to World War I, a biplane was able to be flown through the major archway to commemorate fallen airmen.

what we did do was make our way to the Place Charles de Gaulle, formerly (and often still) known as the Place de l'Étoile (Star Square), due to its being the intersection of 12 of Paris's streets, including its widest avenue, Avenue Foch. the Place is home to another of France's most well-known monuments, the Arc de Triomphe. the second-largest of more than 100 triumphal arches in the world (the largest is in Pyongyang, North Korea, strangely enough) it is quite a bit more spectacular than London's Marble Arch, and also seems to get a lot more attention from the locals than its English counterpart. during the several minutes we were there trying to get someone to take a decent picture of us, dozens of French Foreign Legionnaires were amassing on the square in preparation for what appeared to be a commemoration involving the tomb of the unknown soldier, which rests beneath the eastern arch. we didn't do much resting, however, due mostly to the growing heat and also to the noise and smog. one more thing the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries have going for them is space and distance from the city's hustle and bustle; not so the Places Concorde and Charles de Gaulle. both are effectively huge and very busy roundabouts upon which chaos and not much else besides the car horn reigns. when we'd got the best pictures we thought we would, the call of the nearby Eiffel Tower rose above the din and we quickly made our escape there.