Month: December 2013

Berlin is becoming, Paris ‘is’, Rome.. was?

It turns out the ‘Roman Winter’ is pretty similar to ‘German Summer’ at least in terms of light and colour.

Andy and I, whose eyes have become small and molelike in desperate adaptation to our natural cloudy Berlin habitat, were confused and overwhelmed by this bright shiny glowfullness.
Nonetheless, we decided to brave the outside world in an attempt to stockpile Vit.D and of course see the sites.
Mother, who has seen and done it all, went to a museum.

We spent a fairly decent amount of time just wandering around, poking our heads into museums and glancing at the sights.

Rome (made up) Fact 1: The trees are super odd little things, which are probably so twisted and warped because of the pure weight of birds continuously alighting, departing in swarms, and returning to roost.

Here’s Andy in front of some ruins. Note the extra birds scattered on top of the building. Possibly it is only in ruins because of the excessive bird usage.

Not a bird:

Some more ruins, with magical ‘Godzilla’ tree in the background. In Rome, trees have to take the shape of vicious beasts to protect themselves from the many birds.

It’s a selfie. But you’ll have to bear with me, because my hair just looks so darn glowy! And for those of you who only come here for the Andy:

We eventually arrived at our quasi-destination. Tada!

We decided to go with a guided tour option, which I would highly recommend.
Firstly, because there is barely any information within the Colosseum, so if you haven’t read the history before you go you’ll find the whole thing a bit lacking (this happened to me last time I went in 2009).
Secondly, because you get to skip the line.
Thirdly because you might end up with this beautiful old Italian man.

Who was strange, but in the most endearing way. Look at the love Andy’s giving him:

We ended up taking the tour with a group of 10 aisan-americans, who were great. The two mothers of the families kept up a hilarious dialogue with the guide, answering every time he asked ‘do you follow me?’ (once with ‘no, actually you lost me a bit’), and grimacing appropriately when he became overly enthusiastic about how amazing all the death and destruction of the Colloseum was.

(It’s a horse!)

Tall Andy is Tall!

Rome fact 2: This kid’s parents love him more than yours love you.

We took a coffee/cioccolato break, and then headed to Palatine Hill, across the way from the Colosseum and included as part of the ticket/tour combo.

Here is the entrance to the hill (above), and here is us (below) waiting for all the other (*coughidiotscough*) in our tour group to work out how to use the ticket scanning machine at the entrance.

And we’re off!

Andy being amused by our guide (a new, less awesome one), and behind him, the chariot racing arena built inside the grand house of some self important emperor (I think this is Domus Augustana?). Apparently everything was scaled down, with small chariots and slave children used as drivers. Lovely those Romans.

Our new guide:

Tall Andy.. etc.

FROLICK!!

We met up with some of those Roman birds, who seemed pretty keen to pose for a couple of shots.

Roman gulls are Hard Core.

And..some more fabulous ruins, all part of the Palatine Hills area.

That’s probably plenty of pictures for now. As an endnote: last time I went to the Colosseum and Palatine Hill I found the whole experience a little lacking. This time around it was super enjoyable, and I think it’s down to both the weather (it was miserable and grey last time), and having the guided tours in both places. I will note however, that it if you’re really into the history and want a very detailed and accurate tour you might want to shop around a bit, or also do some reading on your own.

What’s that, you want one more fancy building?

Here you go then:

Adventure time, Rome style.

Christmas at the institute rather generously involves ‘free holidays’ on Christmas Eve, Day and Boxing day, as well as New Year’s Eve and Day. Last year I hung around work on the days in between, being semi productive but feeling like a bit of a Chump for being one of only about 10 people remaining in the whole building.

This year, we took one look at the calender, realised we could get about 16 days freedom by taking just five days official holiday, and hit the road!

With my sidekick (Mother) and faithful gadget man (Andy the Android) in tow, I flew to Rome…

… The Eternal City.

We quizzed our Italian friends on what to do, and more importantly what to eat in the country. The list was long: Sfogliatelle, Gelati, Cannoli (things which you’d better believe are turing up in a later postings)… and of course Pizza, pasta, foccacia, seafood…All things we should try.
But not in Rome.

Don’t Eat the Pizza In Rome!

I’m sorry, we caved pretty early on.

We flew in around midday, and by the time we got to the city, and then to the hotel, and then settled in, our stomachs were rumbling. So we opted for various pizzas, including a rather delicious four cheeses one.

On a scale of potato to pizza it was pretty darn pizza, if you know what I mean.

We even had room for icecream. Which came in some interesting flavour options.

 Although I guess in Germany, blue is usually ‘Smurf’ flavour.

Disappointing choice there my friend.

Rather conveniently for us, the kind folks at Rome held a walking tour at 5:30 in the evening. We started off near the Spanish Steps.

Look, a Church!

The first of many, many churches. One of the most memorable things from the time I spent in Italy with my family when I was 11, is the seemingly endless stream of churches we were forced to visit.

When we graduated as a tour group to ‘fully churched Rome-goers’, we were rewarded by learning the ‘Grand Secret of the Thirsty Roman’… a.k.a, how to drink daintily from the little running taps that are scattered around the city…

Just put your finger on the edge, and the water pops up through a tiny whole in the top:

When we’d gone through the iterations of all 30 tour members drinking and taking photos of drinking, we wandered on past pretty, decorated streets, Roman ‘ruins’ and more churches..

This church, Saint Ignatius, deserves a very special mention, is one of my favourite churches of all the billions I have seen, and is something I would very much recommend you to check out if you’re ever in the area.

Not only is the roof designed to look taller than it is from the inside (you can see, above, the false levels painted onto a nearly flat roof), but it also has a false dome, which looks almost perfect when viewed from the entrance.

There is no Dome!

We also stopped by the Pantheon, lit up in all its glory against the night.

Andy immediately fell in love.

I suspect that Andy’s love of Domes and dome-like structures stems from a a time when we were visited by our architect friend James, and ultimately from when they made joint trip up the Reichstag.

Either way, he was totally in awe (and has spent the rest of the holiday comparing every other experience to that first sighting of his true ‘structure soulmate).

Our final tour stop was the one and only Trevi Fountain, where we frolicked, posed, and threw coins.

Here is our lovely tour guide talking as only an Italian can.

And then, because we are all rather pathetic old things, we headed back home and to bed.

Oh ya, and we finished the night of by stuffing our faces with Panetone and wine.

Birthday in Paris

Monday morning in Paris was, rather surprisingly, the day in which I turned a quarter of a century old.

To celebrate this grand and unpredicted aging, I lay in bed for half the morning while Andy fed me nibbles of macaron. Which I suspect is how all birthdays happen if you live in Paris. We played ‘guess the flavour’, and discovered that Andy, who may have just been letting me win because I was birthday girl, was incapable of differentiating between ‘wasabi’ and ‘lychee-rose’.


We eventually rolled out of the apartment, stopped for a brief moment of posing with the grandness of our foyer, and headed into the world…

Where, as birthday girl, I was allowed to have second breakfasts. Which was so filled with sugary almondness that I felt a strange desire to climb some mountains….

… the closest option for doing so in Paris seems to be Montmatre…

We headed up to Sacre Coeur past a bunch of men who seemed insistent on tying things around our wrists. They blocked both the entrances to the steps so that you couldn’t possibly go around them.
As we went through one of them grabbed onto Andy so I placed my hand on his grippy little claw and said something like ‘Please take your hands off him’.

And got punched as a reward! Which seems a bit counterproductive if you want me to buy your trash.

I hope you notice that after this run-in, I was still ALPHA enough to ‘BAM’…

..And to resume my natural ‘catapult’ position (favoured by all Alpha Males).

Here is Andy above the city, although due to me being unable to make the focus less fixy because of lack of skill, it is mostly only Andy.

But you probably like Andy anyway.

We checked out the Cathedral, but were good little children and didn’t take any photos. Last time around (2009), Lauren was ‘naughty’ and took several photos in a ‘NO PHOTO’ cathedral (I think it was even Sacre Coeur). From that time on whenever we encountered bad weather or other trip obstacles, we knew it was because Lauren had incited the wrath of (the) god(s).

We wandered around the mount for a bit..

 
 

We took double advantage of the whole ‘not being in Germany thing’ by eating 1) fish and 2) foreign food.

The sashimi was amazing- with the tuna and salmon melting into your mouth.

These seemed to be some sort of Japanese/French fusion item- meat on sticks including (on the far right) a weird thing with meat and cheese combined. Not particularly offensive, but also not particularly amazing or oriental.

We didn’t have anything pressing to do in the remaining few hours, so we kept walking in the direction of the Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysees.

(I apologise for Andy’s Moustache. It was ‘Movember though…’)

Our final stop before the airport was the lovelock bridge.

(Sorry fishies)

Ah Paris, you looked and tasted so very good!

 
 

Day of the Tower

I’m not feeling particularly into the writing today, so it’s mostly just photos. Plus, this post consists mostly of pictures of the tower from various angles. 
You have been warned.

So on the Sunday morning of our great Parisian adventure, we gorged on macarons, which you may or may not have already heard about.  Later on, we rolled on over to the tower- after realising that we’d been remiss in missing many-a photo posing opportunity.

Look! Andy is the tower!

And now I am! Amazing!

Tall Andy is Tall.

And my favourite photo of me plus tower that I had to beg Andy to take:

We headed over to some sort of Modern Art Museumy thing which was not the Pompidou Centre.

It was truly beautiful and breathtaking and … and then Andy mentioned that in the whole mural, only one woman was present.

There she is. Madame Curie:

Which made me a bit sad, even though we can blame ‘history’ and all.

They also had dresses by ‘Alaia’ which I want so so badly. How amazingly awesome are these?

Yeah I’m pretty sure this is my wedding dress:

Look! More pictures of the tower:

Later in the evening we headed up Montparnasse tower, one of the ugliest buildings with the most beautiful view of the city.

Later that evening we ate some mediocre food at a pretty terrible restaurant. Turns out maybe there aren’t any real Mexicans in Paris.

Paris- Modern Art and Fine Food

We spent the last couple of hours of our museum days in Paris eyeing off the modern art at the Centre Pompidou.

As you can see, the Centre itself is something kind of artsy.

Walking up, you pass by these beautiful old-school apartments and are suddenly hit with this crazy controversial pipe-covered structure that from the back looks not entirely finished…

.. You walk into a huge ‘warehouse’ and waste many minutes gazing around, feeling a little lost, before wasting many more eyeing the price tag of all the fancy artsy things in the gift shop..

.. the cat seems to know what the haps are, so you continue your journey up the escalators to the galleries and museums…

…which, if you’re the kind of boy or girl who always wanted to go to the moon, feels a little bit like some sort of space journey…

Unfortunately, the museum pass doesn’t cover the gallery exhibitions, but there’s more than enough to keep you interested in the permanent exhibitions.

Plus did I mention that the view from the top floor is quite spectacular?

Shall we take a look at the modern art?

This is two pieces, the feather arrow thing being reflected in the first art piece- a mirror with the picture of a lady bending over.

I love Mondrian. This… I think my face says it all.

This was one of our favourites, with hundreds of little figurines spinning and dancing against the light.

Look! An Eiffel Tower!

I thought these were air conditioning vents to begin with.. but they’re people in prayer. Which seems much deeper.

Another favourite- and an amazing idea. The sacks are filled with spices, so the visual was coupled to a strong smell of cloves and other delights. For me this is a great example of Modern Art successfully doing something cool and different.

This, on the other hand, is ridiculous. The whole room is ‘art’ with the canvases apparently meant to challenge our perception of what art truly is.

Tall Andy is Tall.

They had a Calder (the inventor of mobiles), but did not know how to display it. This made me sad.

Anyhow. There is lots of great stuff at the Centre, and I’d bet even more amazing things moving through the galleries. It was easily my favourite of the museums we visited (although this might be in part because I’d seen the Lourve and D’Orsay previously- but Andy also like Pompidou) and if we go back we’ll definitely take another look.
That evening we tried one of the more touristy french restaurants, which turned out to be amazingly delicious. We started on a goat cheese salad and fish soup, then Andy had some steak while I chowed down on the most delicious preserved duck I have had the opportunity to meet and consume, and we finished on Creme Brulee and more cheeses. So Tasty!

Weathering the weather

It’s been a bit quiet on the writing front from my end for a while…but mostly because lots o’ things been goin’ down.. and some things coming up…

My mother flew in last Friday night, and on Saturday morning bright and early I woke up with the worst case of ‘food poisoning’ I’ve had.. which I only worked out was not food poisoning when I managed to pass it on to Andy. Adding to that that the year is rapidly running out, we just had our work Christmas party (which involved writing and performing a science-based Christmas song (more on that later)), and we’re all getting ready now to fly south with the sparrows.

And meanwhile… Winter is crawling slowly forward.

Some of the first frosty leaves of the season:

And at the same time, the last autumn leaves…

One morning, the air was filled with a fine mist of water that had partially or completely frozen, and so caught the sunlight like glitter. Hard to translate into a photograph, but you can see a bit of the effect below. I spent ten minutes watching it before other people started watching me and I had to move on.

We had sleet, which is the worst.
Tiny wet spiky hard icy particles gunning straight for your eyes and any of the other more delicate parts of your exposed face.

And the next morning, some of the first snow:

And now we’re back to tops of 10 degrees. Strange.

Oh Christmas Tree!

This year we bought our very own very first christmas tree. It’s the first real Christmas tree that Andy and I have had together- but also the first ‘European style’ tree that I’ve had. Usually at home we took a potplant, or a branch from a gum tree or something else ridiculously and beautifully Aussie.
 
 
This is a Storybook Tree.
 
After heading to the market and carefully choosing our baby, then having to lug her home, we took to decorating.


I’ve been learning to knit- which explains the decorations…  but I also wanted it to be slightly more ‘homemade’ instead of just decorated with hundreds of cheap baubles from NanuNana.

What do you think??

Paris II: Museums

Our second and third day in Paris were museum days.

Note to self and all fellow travelers- BUY THE MUSEUM CARD before you go to any museums if you want to see more than two or three museums. It’s worth the cost if you make it to three, and it lets you skip the line- which is priceless if you’re only in the city for a couple of days.
Last time I was in Paris, it was the middle of winter, and all the Europeans were at
school/working/hiding from the snow. So there were lines, but nothing ridiculous.
This time it was not only a German, but also a French long weekend. I wanted to take Andy to the D’Orsay, which has a whole lot of Impressionist, post-impressionist and generally beautiful art that I fell in love with a little bit last time. But the line was H-UUUGE…So we headed across the park, to the Orangerie, where the line was much, much shorter, but also moving much, much slower.
Andy wandered off to get food while I kept the place, then I wandered off to get food while he queued.
The Orangerie is the permanent house for several of Monet’s water lily landscapes- with rooms built specifically for these works so that you can get a 360 view.
Unfortunately, there were ‘no photo’ signs everywhere, and I am a good girl.
Rather excitingly, they were also hosting a Freida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (wife and hubby team) exhibition…


I was familiar with some of Freida’s self portraits- mum had a book of them that we flipped through occasionally growing up), but didn’t know anything about her life.

It was a little crazy. Probably ‘tumultuous’ and ‘tortured’ if you want the artistic words.
She apparently said she had two great accidents in her life.

The first was a physical bus crash, which left her immobilized in bed for a period of time, and later forced her to wear a corset/brace to stand, then left her in a wheelchair. The time in bed began her painting career and also explain the hundreds of self portraits, and the recurrent health problems that came as a result of the crash- for example her inability to have children-  make for the themes of many of these paintings.

The second accident was Diego- the ‘elephant’ to her ‘dove’, whom she married – against her parents wishes of course- when she was 22 (he was over 40), divorced 10 years later, and married again the next year. She had multiple affairs, and, as her health deteriorated, he took up with her younger sister. But they remained velcro’d to eachother.

Anyway, the exhibition was quite beautiful- although Diego’s style was not my favourite.

After the Museum we had to head back to the apartment. In the morning, a fuse had blown, and we lost power in our apartment. Andy tried to switch the fuse, and the box made a loud bang, and flashed a little. So we called the landlord.

We explained the ‘Bang’ part of the terrifying fuse box. They tried to poke it into action anyway. It made a louder bang, a very impressive flash, and smoke started coming out of the box.

We got an upgrade to a larger apartment:

From which, Andy would be very excited to let you know, you could see not only the Sacre Coeur, but also the Eiffel Tower.

The next morning we got up (somewhat) bright and (slightly) early, and headed to D’Orsay, with Museum cards in hand.

There was a bit of a ‘no photo’ rule in D’Orsay as well, so you’ll have to make do with several hundred photos of the rather beautiful ex-train station interior.

 

(Did anyone watch the 4400?)

D’Orsay was one of the last museums we saw on our ’09 tour- which hit up the V&A, British Museum, Tate Modern, National Gallery and Lourve all in the space of two weeks- and it was one of my favourites. This time ’round I still went gaga over the art nouveau (but realised that Andy is an art deco man- relationship ruined!), and really enjoyed perusing.. but realised that generally my tastes have shifted to something even more modern.

Older art- the religious stuff you find in the Lourve, is beautiful for its richness and can be appreciated for the pure skill involved in creating such a masterpiece. But with excessive viewing, they can blur into one. The impressionist/post-impressionist stuff adds a new angle, but still involves multiple artists adhering (to a certain degree) to a style. There are always a few that really steal your heart (mine flutters for Mondrian, and goes a little gooey for Van Gough), but that sense of familiarity can still set in.

Modern Art seems to have the singular aim to be innovative- and while I’m sure someone in 100 years will look back and be bored by the theme, and even though much of it is hideous and terrible and tacky, I like this quest for uniqueness.

Anyway, after hitting up some art we went for a stroll along the Seine.

We passed by and stuck our head into Shakespeare and Company- a beautiful, old bookstore that shouts out to every part of my DNA that wants to read, and all the other parts that want to Hoard things.

After stuffing our faces with Asian delights, we skipped across to the Lourve, where we walked through the top floor, realised that this had taken us 1.5 hours, and then ran around trying to find the Mona Lisa so that Andy could pose next to her.

That evening we headed to the Centre Pompidou, which houses the biggest modern art museum in Europe (so says wiki!)… but I’ll have to show you those photos later…