Monday, July 28, 2008

Cologne Cathedral

This took me several hours to write, I decided to finish it up all at once so it is pretty long. I don't really want to grammar check right now [12:40...], so there will probably be all sorts of errors, over used words, etc. But, I hope it is enjoyable!

So, Hilary and mom and dad and I all piled into the train from Bonn to Cologne, where we were going to catch the fast train to Paris. We had about an hour and a half, so Hilary and I decided to dash up one of the towers [I already showed this pic]:

The staircase was a little, winding, stone staircase that seemed to go up forever. There is a lot of graffiti on things, it is a little sad that people would do that. The first stop is at a giant bell, but we could keep going all the way to the base of the main spire at the top of the tower. Unfortunately, there is mesh covering all the openings (probably to keep people from throwing things), so you can't get that clear of a view out. But it is really high up, and all the surrounding spires make it look like some sort of stone forest.

I can't imagine what it must have been like, to have climbed the tower, before modern architecture enabled us to make buildings as tall as they are now. It must have been awe inspiring, back then (it still is...). I bet people became monks just so they could go to the top of those towers.

Oh yeah, almost forgot... Hilary actually managed to find a way to climb upside-down on the cage surrounding the walk-way at the top of the tower, heh heh heh I should have gotten a photo of that.

Then we went back down into the church. It felt kind of irreverent to snap photos, but other people were doing a lot less reverent things. It is really amazing that out of stone you can build something that seems so light.

[I could go on for a long time about Cathedrals. They are pretty much my favorite form of artistic expression. It baffles me that at one point people had the foresight and perseverance to build something that would take generations to complete. We don't build anything that takes longer than a couple years to build, anymore.]

Then we got on a train back to Paris. It took a while, by the time we got back it was getting dark, which meant things looked really cool from our balcony:

[Hilary took this photo...]

At the base of our apartment was that really good Turkish food place, so we went down and bought a couple really good sandwiches and some "Turkish Delight" because it sounded really C.S. Lewisian. Actually, our consensus was that the applets and cotlets from central washington were a lot better... but the sandwiches were pretty much unbeatable.

Then, next morning [Tuesday] we got, to go into the conference, which was in kind of the opposite corner of the city. We headed to the subway, and as soon as we transfered to the major line that goes to the conference location, we saw massive, massive crowds of people oozing in impenetrable blobs around the subs.

Essentially, what you had was waaay to many people trying to get into the subway. You couldn't have shoved it tighter with an earth-mover. But because of the people stuck in the door-way, the doors wouldn't close. Which would delay the trains. Which made the crowds get bigger. So, you had this unstable loop-effect, which resulted in sort of a catastrophic metro failure. The reason?


Some other major rail-line was closed so everyone was trying to take the one we otherwise would have taken to the conference. What we did is walk a few blocks to a more obscure line, take it in a little closer, then just walk the last half mile or so.

Hmm... I don't remember what else happened that day, I'm not sure if it was the most interesting day of the time there, but I made several observations that I will now insert.

There are a million different types of people in Paris. I would bet that only about 1/3 of the people actually in Paris are French. Everybody is really skinny, some girls are frightfully skinny. Like, you-look-like-you-might-die-do-you-want-my-granola-bar-? type skinny. They are generally well dressed, but actually Japanese people seemed to be far more "style-conscious" than French people. There are NO DRINKING FOUNTAINS ANYWHERE, and this drove me insane. People were rarely in help-booths. Most foreigners could speak French. I'll probably interject more small observations like this in the blog, elsewhere.

So, I think it was the next day, I woke up really early with dad, because we were worried about the Metro clogging, and dad had a talk at the very beginning of the conference day. Dad's talk was really interesting, I wish I could have understood more of it. Unfortunately, to understand 100% of dad's talks puts you into a company of 1 - dad. Not because dad isn't clear, it is very obvious that he takes great pains to make his presentations as clear as possible. It's just because, well, no one can touch him, heh heh heh.

But, I got out early to go to the Louvre with Hilary and mom. So, they said to meet me by the "Michaelangelo sculpture." I battled my way through the crowds and eventually found the sculpture, a naked person unsurprisingly. Actually, to be honest, it wasn't all that impressive of a sculpture. I mean, it was great, but compared to some of the amazing things Michaelangelo has done, it was sort of like, "... oh. That's all?"

Anyway, we met up there, and went walking around to see some of the other statues, and that is when, from a distance, we caught a glimps of what was truly one of the most amazing works of art I have ever seen:

The statue of Nike. I never knew a) how large this statue was, or b) how graceful and well done it was. I mean, how can a statue that is missing an arms and the head be beautiful? And, unfortunately, its not something that you can capture with a camera, because the picture is small, and this this is just large and imposing, but graceful at the same time. It seriously made going to the Louvre worth it.

We then trekked off to find the Mona Lisa, thinking it would be some great crime against... something... to go to the Louvre and not see the Mona Lisa. When we finally got there, unfortunately, the daunting crowd surrounding the painting prevented us from getting all that close to it:

pretty popular painting, I guess. But, that is ok, because that meant there were less people shoving there way around more interesting paintings, like the Botticelli's. Botticelli is one of the only artists from days of old that painted women that I actually find really, honestly beautiful. They are actually less realistic, more stylized looking, but they have this sort of shimmer to them, and the way he does the hair and the eyes I find very incredible.

Hilary really enjoys impressionism, and one of her favorites (favorite(?)) is Van Gogh, so we headed off to the Dutch section to search for some. They didn't have any!! We found that kind of odd. I mean, it's the Louvre, how can it not have something. But, oh well. We found some Vermeer, and I forgot how much I liked his paintings. I like them because they look like what you'd see if you were to observe someone through a cracked, misty pane of glass.

[Actually, I take back what I said about Botticelli being the only one who draws beautiful women. Vermeer has this incredible ability to take anything common and make an undeniably beautiful image out of it. I liked this painting of his the most.]

Also, Hilary's blood sugar got way low, so we ducked into a corner and started stuffing bread down her, (or, mom did anyway). I was in the hallway, trying to cover for us, when people walked by wondering what we were doing, munching on that illegal lump of bread (the horrors!!).

Eventually, we needed to exit the Louvre, so we could eat a legit lunch and meet up with dad. The exit was actually the hardest thing to find, in the Louvre.

We eventually found it, but it was raining hard outside, so we sat on the steps of the exit, and munched on a really, really, really good lunch of bread, cheese, and tomatoes. I can't remember bread cheese and tomatoes tasting so good, it was actually so good that thinking of it makes me a lot more hungry than I already am. Here is mom and Hilary sitting on the steps munching.

Outside it was raining. The rain stopped at a good time, and didn't interfere with meeting up with dad.

[umm... a subway photo taken about this time. I didn't know where else to put it.]

Earlier, Hilary and mom had been shopping, and they had found a dress for Hilary that looked really nice. Hilary wanted to buy it, so we all set out to try and find the store again. We started walking down this main road for a long ways, and finally got to a place that nobody recognized. We realized we had been going down the wrong way (!) so, we backtracked the opposite direction, and finally found the store. Hilary got her dress and we got to see a bit more of Paris, so it worked out ;)

The sky cleared up a bit, so we decided to walk along the river and head to a park that I had discovered in my previous wanderings while waiting for mom and dad on our very first day. The riverside was... interesting. There were piles of garbage everywhere, like no-one had taken out the trash in a week. Non-sensical or perverted modern art sculptures lined the trash littered banks in sort of an uncomplimentary but befitting way. The good thing that came out of it was I got this shot of Hilary with a great expression on her face.

Anyway, then we got to the park, and it was cool because it had this long, narrow corridor of trees.

Also, red pandas.

And, mountain goats with huge horns, and kangaroos, but for some reason I didn't take photos. At this point, I am sort of forgetting the details of what we did (I should have written things down earlier, like I did in China!), so I'll just start skipping chunks.

The next day, there was a big session on thermo-acoustics. This was important, because I got to see Biwa-sensei. (Biwa-sensei was my very generous and good adviser while in Japan). I hadn't seen him for almost a whole year, so that was great. We talked in Japanese for a while, then switched to English because his English is superb, a lot better than my Japanese. (Though, it was really funny watching the expression out of the Japanese professor next to Dr. Biwa when I started conversing with him in nihon-go, heh heh heh). Argh, I really wish I knew what it is like to know a second language so well.

Anyway, I invited Dr. Biwa and his wife to dinner. The ever hard-working Dr. Biwa had already made some plans with his wife. It was sad not to be able to eat with him, but I was very glad that he was able to take this short break to enjoy some time with his wife!

[Dr. Biwa, and his presentation on non-linear standing waves in thermo-acoustic engines]

So, after the infrasonic session, which got out at 3:00, I ducked out early again to meet up with mom and Hilary at what they said was a very beautiful church.

Now, I had made a short visit to Notre Dam, the day before. I was itching to go, because it is so famous. And, yeah, it was pretty amazing. It was unbelievably huge, and massive. But... it didn't have the grace of the Cologne cathedral. The Cologne cathedral was light, full of arches and peaked with spires, but somehow maintained a sense of severity to it when you enter. Notre Dam, while perhaps bigger, was blockier, less elegant, and heavier looking. The giant rose windows were impressive, but it seemed less churchy, less reverent inside than in Cologne. So over-all, I was a bit disappointed.

But, the church that Hilary and Mom met me at was far, far more beautiful, and in an entirely different style. It was called the "Sacre Coeur." Something that immediately stood out was the beautiful white color.

It kind of looked fairy-tale ish, if you were to imagine it on the top of a mountain, or above clouds. This church was an actual, functioning church, and inside you were not allowed to take pictures. That is too bad, because on each corner of the dome, at the ceiling, were four incredible statues of angels, and I can't even find a good picture of them doing a google image search [sorry]. But if you go to Paris, go inside the Sacre-Coeur!

Though... inside, I could honestly see how it would be difficult for someone coming from Asia to see anything fundamentally different between Christianity and any other religion where you bow down to, and pay homage to, a statue, and earn salvation by chanting or saying any number of prayers in a particular order.

The Sacre-Coeur is on the top of a tall hill, and gave a good view of the rest of the city. It was windy outside, but I got some good pictures of Hilary and Mom, Hilary has the dress on that she bought the day before:

It was getting later and we had arranged with dad. We had been eating at home, (eating very good things that mom and Hilary had gotten at markets) but we decided to try going out to an interesting place to eat. In typical Marston manner, we looked through the guides for a place known more for it's character than for it's fine dining. We found an interesting place, and after a few interesting mistakes, met up with dad there.

Of course, everything was in French, and nobody spoke English, but we just sort of figured things out. There were boatloads and boatloads of people there, and we sort of had to fight for attention, but in the end we got our food, and it was really, really good.

Mom and I got Lamb, Hilary got chicken, and dad got... Spaghetti!! [go dad!]. Then, cause it's France and all, we decided to go for a little [just a little...] wine. But, I can't remember why, for some reason one of us didn't want red wine, so we ended up getting white. The waiter asked us twice about this, in sort of a cross-lingual, "am I really understanding you right" kind of way, but we got our little bit of white wine, and toasted. Looking each-other directly in the eyes, as is befitting of someone who has visited Germany.

So, after that, mom and dad were really tired, but Hilary and I still had some umph, so we went to the Eiffel Tower, which had a bunch of glittering lights on it.

You didn't have to worry about not speaking English, at the Eiffel tower, because everyone there was speaking English. The lines to the top were way to long, and we didn't want to go so bad that we couldn't see other stuff. So we headed towards what was supposed to be a really busy, interesting street after dark.

We managed to find our way all the way down to the Triumphal Arch:

The picture is kind of deceptive, this thing is huge. We got there at the perfect time, the sky was a perfect Parrish blue, and the lights on the arch cast a complimentary/contrasting orange on the structure. It was really gorgeous, and I spent a long time trying to adjust the settings of my camera to catch both of the hues correctly... but I don't think I quite got it.

Also, some guy came up and asked us in French where the Eiffel tower was. He didn't speak English well, so we just sort of pointed towards the river. Then, it was really late, so we headed back... it was very enjoyable though.

The next day was Friday, the last day of the conference. This was the day when I was to present my poster. Also, the big session on infra-sound was happening, so I was duty-bound to attend from morning, to like... 6:00 or something like that. So I got there at 8:30, attended sessions, and presented my poster at 10:40. I was actually very happy to be presenting a poster instead of giving a talk, because it reduced the stress, and gave me a higher level of person-person interaction on my area of research. I had some stimulating discussions with people who could directly use my research and who were very interested, so I was grateful for that. Also, I got to talk with some guys who had built infrasonic sensors. This is really cool because I have also built infrasonic sensors, and... you don't really run into people who do that. Theirs was more sensitive and had a wider dynamic range. And it was... MOVING COIL ??? (How do you make a highly sensitive moving coil infrasonic sensor? beats me... but they did it). However, mine had a wider bandwidth, and could sense lower frequencies. So... you know, take your pick. To be honest, theirs was better. And... moving coil... wow, I never would have tried that.

So, anyway, after the very interesting infrasound forum, that ended at 6:00 or so, I went off to see Notre Dam with mom and Hilary again. This time I spent a little more time there than I did the first time.

But we also had another goal... FIREWORKS!! It was July 4th, and the 4th just isn't right without fireworks. Why Notre Dam? Well, lining Notre Dam are a whole bunch of small shops. And some of them, coincidentally the ones run by slightly seedier looking fellows, carried Fire-crackers! They looked like small dynamite sticks. But... you know, whatever. You use a lighter, light the fuse, and it makes a bang. So we bought a couple packs, and rushed off to find a place to set them off.

We thought that we could go back to the trashy part of the river. We figured that, if fireworks were illegal, they would undoubtedly be less illegal than the other types of things that probably normally occurred there. However, when we headed to the part of the river near the Notre Dam, we found it entirely unlike the other portion. It was really really nice, and furthermore, there were tons and tons of people there! They were all sitting down on blankets and eating cheese and wine! It was very French, seeming. Most of them looked college age, but you also would see older people, too. And people playing music.

A word about street musicians in Paris. They are all good. Good good. You probably bet booed off the sidewalk in Paris if you are a bad street musician. In the metro one day I saw mini (~12 person) orchestra playing at a junction in the tunnels. They were very good.

So, we wandered along the river until we came to the bridge that crosses the point of the island on which the Notre Dam cathedral is built. We made our way through the crowds of people on the bridge enjoying their cheese and wine.

On the other side, we found a couple from Seattle, that was kind of funny. We finally decided to head home, where the Ratatoui that mom and Hilary had prepared earlier was finishing up. Ratatoui is a traditional French dish that has various vegetables, meat, and spices, thrown into a pot and left to simmer for a long time. Once again, I am getting very hungry thinking of the food I ate there. It was really good. We also ate some bread that almost qualified as the platonic form of the stuff, and some very artfully arranged vegetables.

Hungry, with good food, good company, and everyone thankful to the One who gave us the blessings, it really couldn't have been much better. So, that was the last evening in Paris.

The next morning, we (once again) woke up really early, and headed back to the airport. Hilary was leaving Paris later in the afternoon, so she came to the airport with us to see us off. My plane was going to leave a bit earlier than mom and dads. For international flights, I try to get there at least 2, normally 3 hours in advance, so I don't have to worry once about being late. Unfortunately, we were about 1 and a half hours earlier than my flight. I was really worried. I have an irrational fear of missing flights... so when we first got to the airport, I wasn't even sure which terminal my flight was leaving from, so I dashed into a nearby hotel to find someone who could tell me the appropriate location (incidentally, there is a large hotel near the airport called the "Pullman Hotel."). I was in the right spot, but because of French timing, the parents and I had to split up at this point. So we hugged each other, and mom and dad sent Hilary with me, because I was going to be more pressed for time. I was also getting sick that day, and at this point I felt really nauseated. Hilary has this great habit - if anything is ever going wrong, she insists on stopping everything else, and standing there and praying about it. So, she prayed that I would get better, and I would make my plane flight. She stuck it out, in line with me, the whole way through check-in, until the passport-required section.

Then, I said goodbye to Hilary, and passed through into the high security section. Once I got through, I walked up to a kiosk and tried scanning my passport. It didn't read. I tried it again. It didn't read. What??? So I asked one of the helper ladies standing there. She took her time walking over there, examined me suspiciously, and tried my passport. It didn't work. Tried it again. Didn't work.

She motioned to a long line, and said "wait here please" and walked off very unconcerned looking. It was the line for checking in luggage, and I didn't have any check-in luggage. Time was ticking down, and I was feeling rather impatient. The person checking the luggage didn't seem in any hurry, stopping to chat about things with the various people in the line. AAAAagh! So my tension was rising. But I figured this had to be the last line, and then I'd be able to get on!

Heh heh. I finally, [finally] got my boarding passes, and had to figure out where to go. Unfortunately, there was an even HUGER, LONGER line that I had to go through after that, which was second wave of security. So I waited the agonizing half hour, 45 minutes to get through that, and right before my turn, a lady with a child begged me to go in front of me. Well... why not. It's a lady and a child, "women and children first" right? Well, I don't regret it, but it was still more stress when the kid darted past security and got lost in the crowd on the other side, which caused more havoc and still further loss in time.

Finally, got through that. I started running, because the only way to get to the place my plane left from was by train. Once through the pass-port check, in which the person barely glance at me or my passport, I started racing to get to the train. I got there just as the gates were closing, and slipped inside. Victory!

But when I got to the other end of the train, I was dismayed to find... yet another line. This was the "take your shoes and belt off, change out of your pockets, laptop out of your bag [but I didn't have mine] etc, and show us your passport, for the 3rd time" line. Meanwhile, a bunch of people flying to New York were all going to be late as well, and the tension in the line was unbelievable. Their flight was leaving five minutes before mine, so I let this very worried looking man go in front of me. We ended up having an interesting conversation, because both of us thought we were going to miss our flights.

So, once through that, I took off running to the gate. It should be finishing boarding at this point. However, I get there and find out that the plane has been delayed for 45 minutes, and everything is fine... I really didn't even need to worry

But, story is not over yet. I am sick that day, and feel like I'm going to throw up. So, the whole first part of the plane ride I feel terribly sick. Then, that starts to leave, and I drink a whole ton of pop. I really dislike using toilettes on planes, though, so I just hold it for... 8 hours or however long I need to. The last 3 hours were pretty brutal because of this. By the time we got there, I had to pee so bad that I could barely stand up strait. We got out of the plane in Detroit, and walked what seemed like a thousand mile long corridor, with no bathroom. "JESUS! I REALLY REALLY NEED A BATHROOM ABOUT NOW!" We finally arrive at the big room. There are like... 10 long lines in front of security check point. But... there is a bathroom! "THANK YOU JESUS!" That was probably the closest I've ever been to popping.

Anyway, after that, I come out and look for the shortest of the lines. I get in it. I get all the way to the front, when the last guy in front of me looks middle-eastern. Poor guy. The man in the security checks something in his pass-port. For some reason, and I don't know why, the whole procedure, composed of the man looking confused, going to talk to some senior person 3 or 4 times, and occasionally asking the man questions, takes like half an hour. But, I keep telling myself that it is almost done, and I don't want to get into any of the other lines because they are so long. Meanwhile I watch people who started at the end of the other lines when I was at the front of this one make their entire way through security before I budge. I get a little irritated.

So, I finally get through that, and into customs. Now, when I look at customs, I try to be very honest. So when it asks me if I'm taking fruit, or vegetables, or nuts, or meat in, I felt duty bound to declare the beef sticks in my backpack, that they never would have known about otherwise, the lettuce on my sandwich, and the nuts dried nuts I have in a bag. I make it through another blisteringly long line, where a plump and jovial fellow looks at it and says I'll need to go stand in this other line, in another room. So I walk to this other line, where they eventually ask me to pull out all my meat, etc. products. I pull out a "Bifi" beef stick I picked up in Germany, and my flavor soaked sandwich that mom and Hil made in Paris. And the pecans, etc. They confiscate the bifi stick. Meanwhile, my backpack sets alarms blazing.

They pull my backpack out of the system and ask me to pull out the contents, which I do. Out falls a pile of 3 or 4 more "Bifi" sticks that I forgot about. Oops. "There's no problem! No problem!" The huge security man says very seriously, "because you declared it." And he takes my "Bifi sticks." Another security lady hands me my sandwich and says "here's your sandwich."

Behind me I hear a woman and her husband wailing "It's just a sandwich! We don't care! Take it! We want to make our flight!!"

I grab my stuff and head over to a North West help counter. A little old asian woman is working the desk. Great! Little old asian ladies. They are always nice, right? I tell her that in Paris they didn't give me my boarding pass to State College, and I needed to get it here.

"Ok sir, may I see your ID?"

I hand her my ID. She looks disgruntled.

"What is your flight sir??"

I tell her my flight. She looks more disgruntled, but in a way similar to the lady in Paris who was slightly disgruntled that she couldn't get my passport to work in the kiosk but unconcerned that this guy might miss his flight.

"You are not registered for the flight, sir."

"Uh, wait, no, what? I mean, uh..."

"It doesn't show you on here."

"How...? um... uh... wha...? But, I um, so, Orbitz, I bought a ticket, it said I have a ticket, and, um..."

At this point I was tired, sick, and not at the best of my wits. Some crazy reason, she didn't ask me any more about it. She punches a few more buttons, thinks, punches some more buttons.

"Would you like a window seat?"

So, I got finally made it through all security, and had my boarding pass, and entered the otherwise very nice Detroit airport. The first thing I did was find a chair, sit down, and eat my really, really good, fully declared bread, cheese, vegetable and salad dressing sandwich. I also got a text message from Hilary on my phone, asking if I made it there alright. After all that, it was really nice to get that. The rest of the trip home went really smoothly. I was really sick the next day, but I recovered in the following 2, and I think that is a record recovery time for me, for this kind of sickness.

So, I have been really blessed to have had, in the last year, 2 really really good international trips - China and Paris. They were so entirely different from each other, but also, some of the most enjoyable things I've ever done. I wasn't initially convinced I was going to like Europe all that much, but I found out that I really do. Germany was absolutely wonderful, and Paris was enjoyable as well. I have to admit that if it weren't for everyone who was with me, Paris wouldn't have been as enjoyable. But the company makes or breaks everything, and in this case, it really made it perfect. Couldn't have asked for better. I'm just sorry I didn't take more pictures than I did...

And this post took me about 4 hours to write. So I hope you enjoyed ;)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim, I had no idea that the trip home was so brutal--I can see now that you needed every one of those prayers I was praying for you! And you're right! The people you're with make all the difference! You were so fun! You graciously did NOT mention the hours you waited for us at the Louvre and Sainte Chapelle...thank you! Mom

7:57 PM  
Blogger Hilary said...

Tim,I second what your mom wrote! and thanks for taking the time to post. I really enjoyed it! Hilary

11:54 AM  
Blogger tmm said...

Thanks for reading! The trip back was a little long, I just posted about it because I thought it was funny in hindsight.

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Marian said...

wow, that was a massive post.
that's cool that they let you take photos in the Louvre, I feel like you don't always get to do that. I also really enjoyed the picture of dad and the one of the food. thanks for posting :)

6:52 PM  
Blogger thebeloved said...

Congratulations on making it through the flying adventure--and sick too!!

10:47 PM  

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