Day 10: The Thinker, The Kiss, and All the Arts

We started off today with the Musée Rodin (pronounced Ro-dahn), which is dedicated to the artist Auguste Rodin. The Musée Rodin also has a Anselm Kiefer exhibit. Kiefer is a currently practicing artist, and many of the pieces are from the past few years. Many of the pieces were appropriately weird. He works a lot in mixed-media, with a combination of acrylic, wood, molten metal, and found plants (and in one piece, a pallet of dirt).

He also had a collection called “Les Cathedrals de Paris,” which referenced pagan tradition from over a thousand years ago as the Christians tried to take over the local pagan religions. A rough transcription of the explanation I heard was that, since the pagans would traditionally worship underground, the (Christian) Church would place a nude woman statue over the doorway of the church in order to make it seem more welcoming. Think about it in terms of returning to the womb.

So, logically, he drew women superimposed on cathedrals.

At least, that’s one possible intent of the author.

Regardless of whether Kiefer was just trying to woo women by drawing them in compromising positions (or maybe he was just creepy), the end result is definitely not child-friendly. Or maybe it is child-friendly, since it depicts mothers in all their glory?

Moving on.

We left the Kiefer exhibit into a beautiful garden, which contained The Thinker, the famous sculpture by Rodin of a poet (Dante) hunched over in thought.

We got our picture of all of us under it, posing like the Thinker.

It turns out that the Thinker also appears in a larger sculpture by Rodin, the Gates of Hell (which depict the events of the Inferno). That was there as well. It was interesting to see so many bronze sculptures, after seeing so many of marble – the bronze makes the sculpture much darker, so the silhouette becomes much more important to the piece. With marble, finer details are much more visible, and shadows can be more easily seen on the surface. So e.g. it’s easier to make out facial features on marble than on bronze.

After seeing the statues in the garden, we went inside to the Rodin exhibit. It turns out Rodin also did paintings, and was good friends with Monet, so there were a few paintings by Monet on display as well. The museum also had many of the studies by Rodin (the practice pieces he did), so it was interesting to see how he would practice the different parts of a sculpture before finally putting it all together. For example, he might sculpt a few legs, and a few heads, and then a general composition of Aphrodite with a child, before making the complete detailed Aphrodite with child.

Inside there were also various versions of The Kiss, another famous sculpture by Rodin.

After looking at all of the Rodins, we stopped by a cafe to refresh ourselves, before heading off to the catacombs.

Unfortunately, the line for the catacombs was too long (we only left the apartment in the mid-afternoon – we’ve not been running a tight ship), so instead we stopped by an Australian bar and headed to the Pompidou.

On the way to the Pompidou, we came across what appeared to be a gas station in the middle of the road. I guess this is how people fill up their cars and motorcycles, I hadn’t noticed big corner-store stations like we have in America (or England).

In the plaza in front of the Pompidou, we came across a pair of women, one pushing the other against the wall and yelling, with the other crying and shaking her head (and saying something in return – I don’t know French)

As we approached, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Should I intervene? If the one punches the other, she could get quite hurt, and I don’t know the emergency number here. Or even the language. So I kept my eye on them as we walked closer.

When we got around 10 meters from them, the bigger one let go, the one up against the wall wiped her tears away and they both laughed and walked off.

Silly actors.

The Pompidou was more modern art. I appreciated these paintings a bit more than I did the Kiefers – it doesn’t feel like Picasso is trying to pull one over on me. While the pieces definitely have the abstract taste of modern art, they aren’t just quick sketches of nude women stapled to a leaf.

We got to see a good number of pieces from the modern art movement between about 1900 to 1945. The younger boys have become quite the art critics.

Though to tell the truth, they were being art critics facetiously, since neither of them understood modern art.

Some people do understand modern art, though. Dad managed to find his favorite, Mondrian.

I didn’t find any Rothkos, but I did find Picassos, which rhyme so are just as good.

A number of the paintings seemed almost like they were glowing. It turns out that the glowing paintings were shown in a darkened room, and there were projectors shining light on just the painting (and not the wall around it). This made the paints seem more vivid and neon. It also seemed almost like a cop-out. The Picasso above seems vivid without needing external light, he didn’t cheat and make a bland painting that needed a square projector to pop out.

Or maybe the artists intended for the painting to be shown under a light. That seems unlikely to me, though, since the technology in the 1920s wouldn’t have been advanced enough for such perfect matting.

The Pompidou also had a wonderful observation deck that looked out over the city. The camera we’re using to take pictures has a built-in HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode, which essentially means that it takes three different pictures (a bright one, a dark one, and a medium one) and merges them into one picture that doesn’t have any too-dark or too-bright parts.

For example, if you’re taking the picture of the stained glass in a Church from the inside while the sun’s shining through it, usually either the stained glass is too bright and washed out or the church’s interior is too dark and can’t be seen in the image.

However, it has the side effect that sometimes dark objects will have a halo around them, which can be either good or bad depending on the image.

We took some pictures on the observation deck. Jason was slightly confused.

After the Pompidou closed, we took the metro to the obelisk on the way home, as it was getting dark. Along the way we found out that apparently not everyone in France is as happy about the slightly more risque ads that show up.

Woman Kissing Handbag, as I like to call it (it’s a common ad here), may or may not be sexist, but we definitely find it hilarious (it just seems inconvenient to travel by balancing yourself on a rolling suitcase).

The obelisk was ostensibly one of the old Egyptian obelisks that were exported as trophies. Now it stands near the Sienne, in line of sight of the Eiffel tower and the Arc de Triomph.

 

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Day 9: Rest, and Relaxation

After the last two days, we needed a day to regroup. That was today.

We did laundry, played cards, and then went out to dinner. The laundry machine was a combination washer and drier. As with all machines here in Europe, we had no idea how to operate it. I’ve had the perpetual fear that someone will think they turned off the oven, when in reality they haven’t and the apartment burns down.

In this apartment, the fire escape is in the kitchen. I don’t know why.

After Dad did a load that didn’t dry, he figured out the magic incantation to make it both wash and dry. It ended up being too hot, so all of my synthetic socks shrunk to about half their size. When I took them out of the ovendrier I didn’t even recognize them as my own – only after asking everyone else if they were theirs did I finally accept them.

After that, we figured out how to do synthetics. Turns out you have to turn the knob to the “synthetics” mode.

For dinner, we went out to a fancy Italian place just down the road. They had a giant poster of Sophia Loren, who I later learned was an Italian actress who came up with the phrase “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.”

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Day 8: Don’t you Louvre me baby

After yesterday’s walking up (and down) 668 steps, we thought what better way to spend today than walking through the Louvre? How big can it be, really?

Pretty big, it turns out.

So big that it has its own museum, about itself. A meta-museum, if you will.

Although to be fair, the meta-museum wasn’t so much about the Louvre as a museum but about the building it was in. Originally, it was a relatively small castle on the Sienne in the 1200s. Over time, it wasn’t needed for defense anymore, and so the French royalty moved into it and expanded it bit by bit. Eventually the royalty moved out (that, or get beheaded), and it turned into a museum.

I heard once that it would take 2 full days to really do the Louvre. The Louvre is laid out with three major parts: Two wings, and a large square in between them. Each has 4 levels of exhibits. There were exhibits ranging from Greek Antiquities from 6500 B.C. up to Arts  of Africa, Asia, and the Americas in 1900 (the emphasis of the museum is very much Euro-centric). In the mere 7 hours we were there, we didn’t fully complete any one exhibit (except the meta-museum). Out of 17 different exhibits, we only set foot in 5. Ellen, Jason, and I split from the group to visit the Greek Antiquities, on my insistence, before heading up to the Italian Paintings section.

Each of the exhibits had a lot of the same thing. Where most museums might put a piece that’s similar to another in storage, the Louvre apparently would just as well put them on display. So the Greek exhibit had what seemed like a thousand statues of Aphrodite, and the Italian Paintings section actually had a thousand paintings of Jesus.

We saw the Venus de Milo, which is the statue of Aphrodite without arms. It was bigger than Ellen had thought it was, and smaller than I had thought it was. In reality it’s just slightly larger than person-sized.

We also walked past The Hermaphrodite, which is the Greek sculpture of a hermaphrodite laying on a mattress. The mattress itself was done by Bernini, and actually looked soft like a mattress, going against the hard marble it was built out of. I felt tempted to lean over and sleep on it, but there was a barrier in the way.

A lot of the Greek statues had been renovated, and not always in ways that held true to the original statue. One statue of Aphrodite had been mistaken by a Renaissance renovationist as a statue of Psyche, so they added butterfly wings.

After looking at a decent fraction of the statues on display there, we wandered up to the Italian Paintings, where the Mona Lisa was displayed. We went, we looked at it.

It wasn’t big. Or, I thought (maybe I blaspheme), particularly good. Not that I could replicate it, or anything even near it. But there were a hundred people crowded around this one small painting, all along on a pillar, when on the walls of the room are other much more interesting paintings. This was true of the Venus de Milo, as well. There were several dozen people crowding around that statue of Aphrodite, when it was just one at the end of an entire corridor full of Aphrodite statues.

That’s the Venus de Milo in the middle.

Some of the other ones had arms. Some of them even had wings. One had a hand on its back, where a child had been sculpted as hugging her, but then the child’s arm was lost leaving a hand stuck on her back.

Throughout the museum, even the vaulted ceilings were pieces of art in themselves.

We stopped for a quick dinner after the Mona Lisa, as we were all starving by this point. Along the way we stopped by the inverted glass pyramid.

After dinner we headed up to the old apartment of Napolean, and then to the French artists. Along the way we saw how nice it was to be king.

Ryan’s favorite part might have been the collection of armor and weapons from Napolean’s time.

By the time we got to the French Paintings section, there were only 20 minutes until the museum closed. Anyone can appreciate a room full of Monet in 20 minutes, right?

To wrap up the day, we photobombed somebody in front of the glass pyramid.

 

 

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Day 7: Triomphing over the Eiffel Tower

Paris has a wonderful night life. You can go clubbing from before the sun goes down to after it rises. Those who know me might be asking, how do I know? I avoid clubs like the plague.

Turns out that across the street from us is a very classy unmarked club. At night the doors open and taxis flood in, full of people dressed in button-up shirts and miniskirts, who then do loud club activities until morning.

At least, that’s what I was told. Ellen and I were lucky in that we got the room away from the street. Everyone else slept in until at least noon, so those of us who woke up watched French cartoons until we left.

It was interesting as a non-French speaker to watch cartoons. Over the course of the morning, the target audience slowly grew older. We started with Les Daltons, an animated show about four Frenchmen stuck in a Nevada prison, and their ultimately unsuccessful attempts to escape. After that was Les Triples, about three triplets who go on adventures (of the sort “we lost our keys in the sand, now we have to find them!”)

The simplified storylines and visual storytelling meant that we could generally tell what was going on and even pick out a word here or there. By early afternoon, once they started the teenage dramas, we had no idea what was happening.

At this point we left for the Arc de Triomph. It was walking distance from our apartment, so we walked rather than take the tube. It was big, and surrounded by a traffic circle, so it was only accessible via a tunnel under the traffic circle and a line.

In lieu of waiting in line for the Arc, we opted to walk to the Eiffel tower, where we’d get a better view of the city anyway. It wasn’t a particularly long walk – we went past a number of shops, before we got our first glimpse of the tower through some buildings. It was definitely a tower. At a thousand feet tall, it looked like it was painted on the sky behind the apartment buildings.

The apartment buildings weren’t small, either, but they were still dwarfed.

We continued walking toward it, using the tower itself as a guide to direct us. We eventually got to the base of the tower, and Ellen, Jason and I spent a few minutes looking across the river at it waiting for the other three to catch up.

The streets were lined with people hawking small pressed metal Eiffel tower models from blankets laid out in front of them. That’s another thing that’s different here compared to London – there are more people in the streets (panhandlers and vendors without fixed shops). At the Eye, the only people selling Eye merchandise was Coca-Cola (although, being Coca-Cola, they probably tried a lot harder for the monopoly).

Once the others arrived, we went to a nearby crepe shop for crepes. I had a chocolate crepe, Jason had a lemon crepe, Ellen got a really good cookie, Kayla got nutella and strawberry banana, and Dad got just nutella and banana and Ryan had a bag of crisps.

Jason’s lemon crepe was incredibly strongly lemony. He called it a “wham-bam” crepe because of how strong it was. He still liked it, though.

Then we went to ascend the tower. There were separate security checkpoints for each pillar and one for the base of the tower as a whole. Remarkably tight security, I thought. Ellen, Jason, and I decided to walk up the tower by stair, and race Dad, Kayla and Ryan who were taking the elevator.

By the first story, we were winded. We rested for a while to meet the others, since they were still in line for the elevator. We collapsed on a bench overlooking the Sienne river, before we started up the stairway to the second level.

After 668 steps, only about 300 feet in the air, we couldn’t look out over the Sienne so much as down on it. This was as far as the stairs went, so we’d have to take an elevator to the top. The levels got progressively more crowded the higher we went – the first level was almost empty, the second was crowded, and the third was jam-packed. You couldn’t move without jostling someone else on the deck. Once you jostle yourself to the fence of the platform, though, the view was amazing.

We could look down on the Arc de Triomph. Across the river were the National Gardens, and down the river was the Louvre. In the distance we could just make out the countryside. There was a kissing spot where you could take selfies of yourself kissing someone else on top of the Eiffel (though nothing was different about that spot than the existence of the designation). There was a champagne bar, which sold ridiculously overpriced water bottles (3 euros for a quarter-liter).

On the way back down, we stopped by the first floor, since the others hadn’t been there yet. This floor had glass panels you could stand on and look straight down to the ground several hundred feet below. We practiced bottle flipping – the art of holding a partially filled bottle, throwing it into a flip, and then landing it right-side up.

I can say that I’ve successfully bottle-flipped on the Eiffel tower.

 

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Day 6: Paris, but like with an accent

Today we left London for Paris. Up early, check the beds, go to the station. Fortunately, the rain had dissipated the previous day. The chunnel station was a lot like an airport – security, passport control (on both borders), and then a waiting area near long moving walkways that take you to the boarding platform.

The train itself was a much smoother ride than the Underground, unsurprisingly. We got real seats, with seatback tables and room under our seats to store our baggage. The acceleration was much smoother, as well – on the Underground, it was difficult to stand. On the chunnel train, it was difficult to tell when we started.

For a train that goes 75m (~230ft) under water for 150km (~100 miles), you’d think that there’d be more fanfare for actually passing through the chunnel. Rather, the train dodged in and out of tunnels as it passed through cities in the English countryside, and after one of the tunnels we looked out and saw French-looking houses. The houses all had red tile roofs, and were gathered in groups of a few hundred, with a sharply spiked church in the center of each group.

Stepping off of the train was slightly ominous. At the end of the boarding platform were big signs saying “Beware unaccredited taxis.” Under the signs were people with cardboard signs saying “free taxi” in felt-tip marker, panhandling people to take a ride with them.

We smartly avoided them and went downstairs for the connection to the French underground.

The Paris tube was similar to the London one – it was useful to have experience with the London tube as we learned the Paris tube. The Paris tube is much quieter, where the London tube emitted horrible screeching noises for much of the ride.

We got off at the Franklin D. Roosevelt stop to walk to the AirBnB. Why there’s a FDR square in Paris I don’t know, but there is one. The AirBnB we’re staying at in Paris is much closer to downtown. In London we stayed in a suburb, but in Paris we’re staying down the road from the Arc de Triomph.

The apartment was suitably more fancy. Also more vault-like. The door going to the street was about 3 inches of solid wood, and must weigh at least a hundred pounds. Inside that door is a sturdy glass door with a magnetic lock, that requires a key to pass through. Inside the apartment, all of the exterior doors and windows have had recently retrofitted multi-point deadbolts. The door to the fire escape has 5 deadbolts, which you retract by turning the key several times to crank them open.

Once we had settled in for a bit, we went out to find food and shop for groceries. The first place we went to, a Italian place, only opened at 7. The second was a much more informal steakhouse, where we had dinner and chocolate mousse. The mousse was good, but not as good as the mousse that my sister makes (in general it’s hard to beat homemade foods, though).

 

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Day 5: Friends Seen Long Ago, Artifacts From Long Before

Today was the day we spent visiting people we know in London. Both of them. The first was our cousin Mary, who came here a while ago to go to college. The second was some colleuges from a job I had a while back.

We woke up at a reasonable time to meet Mary for breakfast at the pub where the exterior shots for the new Sherlock series was filmed. As we should have guessed from the day before, it was cold and rainy on the way to the station. I spent a few minutes in the living room with the door open, writing about the day before, hoping that the rain would die down before we left for the station. It didn’t, but it still provided a relaxing patter of rain on the balcony roof.

By the time we found Mary, said our hellos, and got to the pub, I couldn’t feel my hands. She was prepared, with a decently-sized umbrella. Nor was she fazed when the wind would repeatadly turn her umbrella inside-out (the trick is to turn it into the wind, sometimes people don’t know that and try to push it back into shape with their hands).

Then we ate a full English breakfast at Speedy’s sandwich bar. We’re pretty much English now.

The pub was very much a hole in the wall, but space is in general a premium in London. As expected, there were pictures of the filming up on the wall, and we took our picture outside the pub. We hadn’t any concrete plans for that day, so Mary suggested we go to the British Museum. She’s literally a museum major (museum science? But don’t quote me on that), so we took her suggestion.

The British Museum is not, as one might think, a museum of British things. It is a museum of things the British stole from other places. We went through the early Egyptian artifacts through the Greek artifacts, for whom I’ve always had a soft spot. The Egyptians as a civilization lasted quite a long time, from several thousand years B.C. to around when the Romans subsumed them via Cleopatra.

One thing that’s different about Europe (from America) is that a lot of galleries and museums are free because they’re sponsored by the state. The government decided that culture is important and all that. I figure this is a good thing, in general, since then all the fun stuff from a long time ago gets preserved rather than stripped for resources. Of course, they were often stripped for resources anyway, most famously by the pyramid looters of the 19th and early 20th centuries (and before). The Greek friezes (panel carved in relief) have all been mutilated for parts and war trophies over the years. Many of them used to hold bronze weapons that have long ago been stripped. Several soldiers in relief even had their faces chiseled off by a victorious general, so the face now resides in a museum in Copenhagen.

At one point, the Acropolis was bombarded, damaging many of the friezes there. That didn’t stop the museum from doing a pretty decent reconstruction, though – they managed to piece together the layout of a lot of the exterior.

The Greeks and the Egyptians, of course, got together and wrote the Rosetta stone in Demotic, Hieroglyphics (the two Egyptian languages), and Greek. The Rosetta stone that was the key to deciphering Hieroglyphics, and now greets visitors at the back door of the museum.

So we got to see that. Then we went to the Egyptian exhibit. This was predominantly statues of rulers, deities (Egyptian pharoes were considered to be gods, also), coffins, and wall panels (generally from the interior of tombs). One head of a king was carved fron a single 20 ton block of stone that was carried by hand from a quarry 200km away (aver 100 miles).

Ellen’s favorite part of the whole museum was a small statue of a cat made out of now-rusted bronze with still-shiny gold jewlery, which we found in the Egypt exhibit.

From there we went into the Greek portion of the museum. As is stereotypical for Ancient Greece, we were greeted with marble statues of various naked gods (Aphrodite and Hermes, to cater to everyone). Less stereotypical, and more surprising, was the intricate gold jewlery. We found intricate neckelaces and wristbands that rivalled modern jewlery manufacturing in detail and precision. To be fair, though, I’m not a jewlery connessour.

From the jewlery, we went to see the friezes that were in the Pantheon, as well as those from a Lykian temple. Interestingly, the Lykian temple replica was only one of possible theorized reconstructions – it’s not unambiguous how it was originally laid out. (The Lykians are from what is now Southern Turkey, and had a distinctly Greek-like artwork. Also their language is only partially deciphered.)

It would be fascinating to teleport a Lykian to modern times to quiz them on how it was supposed to look. Ideally one that spoke English.

Sadly, we can’t.

After the museum, we walked to meet our work colleagues. Along the way we stopped by a high-end gelato shop called “Snowflake.” We all got cones and sat to rest our feet for a short while.

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Day 4: Modern Art, and the Confluence of Round

Art museums are, in general, themselves a piece of art. Modern Tate was no exception, except that it used to be a power plant. This gave it a vast open atrium and plenty of room for art.

Unsurprisingly, the younger boys were not particular fans of the modern art. There were classic pieces by Dali (tentatively Ellen’s favorite), Mondrian (Dad’s favorite), Rothko (my own favorite), and many others.

Among all of these artistic greats, I would definitively say that the younger boy’s favorite was a wall made of carpet.

See, they could rub it and make shapes on the wall. When you try to touch the wall made of Rothko, they tend to yell at you. (For those who don’t know: Rothko is known for his large wall-like panels)

They made smiley faces and inscribed their names. Fun was had by all.

Afterword, we went up to the observation deck, which was 18 stories above the city. 18 stories is high enough to largely be above most of the buildings – this is a relatively short city, but from what I hear, not for long. 18 stories is high enough to see a decent distance, but also high enough that the wind is unimpeded. We three (Ellen, Jason, and I) huddled against the driving wind and drizzle debating how hard it would be to hit the pedestrians below with a bouncy ball while the other three stayed inside and brought us hot chocolate. That’s one thing that’s different about Europe that I remember from last time I was here: hot chocolate is actually good. It’s not that powdery stuff that we get in the US, but it has actual taste and texture.

After a while on the deck, we walked down the river over to the London Eye, the big ferris-wheel-like structure on the banks of the Thames. Apparently it’s sponsored by Coca-Cola now, so it’s officially called the Coca-Cola Eye of London. I guess someone has to pay for it. At any rate, the Eye was roughly what I expected: a pretty decent observation point. We walked onto enclosed pill-shaped capsules at the bottom of the wheel, and then slowly rotated around to the top. Around capsule were small tablets which pointed out what could be seen from the Eye, which went out quite a distance. We saw the Big Ben from above, right next to MI5, right next to the Buckingham palace. Each of these buildings looks hundreds of years old (because they are). Back in America, our CIA building just looks like an office building.

Ryan said he would be scared of the height, but the slow-moving nature of the wheel meant that he wasn’t scared and got to enjoy the sights.

By the time we got back on the ground, a quick 28 minutes later, it had started raining in full. We stopped by the picture booth, since for some reason they take a photo of you in the capsule, like it’s a carnival ride. It’s fun, but it’s not like a carnival ride where you make goofy expressions and scream a lot.

We ducked through the rain to a small steakhouse located under a rail bridge for dinner. We filled up on steak and then headed home on the tube, to rest up for our final full day in England.

 

 

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Day 3: Sex and the City

Our first full day in London. What to do?

Sleep, apparently.

I slept in until noon. Jason slept in until 3 in the afternoon. I suppose that’s the result of a combination of jetlag, exhaustion, and staying up late. At least he slept in. Ellen, Kayla, and I played various forms of solitaire, while Ryan played video games on a smartphone.

Once Jason woke up, everyone ate breakfast (at 4 in the afternoon), and we headed out to take a bus tour.

We all bought oyster cards, which are London’s equivalent of a TxTag in Texas, a prepaid card for public transit. (TxTags are for toll roads, but that’s pretty much as close as we come to public transit). We took the Underground to Paddington Square.

The square was full of life. Thousands of people streamed through the international center of London. There was even a Five Guys. There was a M&M world, as well as a LEGO store with a line so long they had bouncers keeping people out. In the square, a few hundred people had gathered to watch a man on a 10-foot (3 meter?) tall unicycle juggle knives while he balanced a hackeysack on his foot. Unfortunately, we missed the part of the trick where he got on a ten-foot unicycle, but by how effortlessly he peddled back-and-forth during his routine I had no doubt it was trivial for him.

According to our tour guide, some street performers have to get licensed to operate in especially busy areas.

After seeing the show, we walked down to a pub called “The Porcupine.” The dining room was up a narrow and rickety set of stairs, designed for people just slightly shorter than my own 6 foot stature. Instead if porcupines, they served various forms of meat – I had sausage on mashed potatoes, Ellen and Jason shared a chicken topped with bacon, and Dad and Kayla had chicken and pork pies. I was much too scared to try those.

After dinner we went to our bus stop. Apparently the Original Tour company was allowed to use some of the same stops as the public transit system. As in the movies, all of the buses here are double-decked. The tour bus was open-topped, and for some reason it was exceedingly cold. It was the evening of a summer day, and Ellen and I were shivering against the wind. The tour guide on the bus gave entertaining stories for all of the major sites: the Eye,

the Big Ben (which they’re thinking of rebuilding),

the Tower of London (not, actually, a tower, but rather a castle that used to be surrounded by a moat of sewage),

the Tower Bridge (which used to be a gaudy blue-and-white), among much, much more.

We didn’t get to see the London Bridge, because there was a terrorist attack the night before, and CSI still had the bridge closed off. The tour guide repeatedly assured us that we were safe, and thanked us for visiting even with the terrorist attacks. I didn’t even learn about it until we got on the bus, but I still would’ve come.

After the bus tour let off, we stopped in a World of Candy store by the Underground station. It was full of sweets and bright colors, Dad let us each buy one piece. There were chocolates, gummies, chocolate frogs, and even an adult section.

I’ll let you imagine what adult candy is.

I’ll give you a hint: We got lots of schoolboy giggling out of it.

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Day 2: Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, and London

Once, while on a trip with my highschool robotics club, my roommate was the one who answered the 5:30 wakeup call (in robotics, the early bird gets practice time on the field, and often we were up until midnight the previous night). He picked up the phone, said “scramble the fighters!”, and promptly went back to sleep. I had no idea what was going through his mind.

Now I do. I was holding a phone in my hand in a dark hotel room, wondering where I was and why I was so tired. The voice said something about a 6:15 wakeup call. 6:15… Time yet for me to sleep. I woke up Jason, since he had wanted an earlier wakeup call, and crawled back under the covers.

The phone rang, and I woke up to get it. This time it was Dad, wondering where we were.

I looked over at Jason, still soundly asleep. This time I understood it was go time. Missing this morning’s flight would be mean being stuck in Germany for at least another day.

We went downstairs for a quick continental breakfast, which in this hotel means someone shows you to a table and there are fancy glasses and eight million forks.

Eventually we caught the bus to the airport. Luckily, we arrived with plenty of time to spare.

Arriving in Dusseldorf, we had a 5 hour layover, so we had an opportunity to drop off our bags at a locker and take a train into town and have lunch.

As with the previous night’s dinner, a Coca-Cola came in a bottle, along with a small glass with an icecube at the bottom. We had to specifically ask for the ice cube. Maybe ice is a rare commodity here? I’ve always found ice makes soda better.

Water is about as common as soda and bottled water is the norm here. At restaurants, you buy water in a heavy glass bottle, which eventually makes it back to the bottling facility. It makes it much harder to stay hydrated – we’re all used to places giving you a large cup of iced water, and then asking what you want to drink.

Also, most water here is “with bubbles”, or soda water as you might call it in the states. We’re making sure to ask for still water, bubbles aren’t our thing.

After a nice lunch, we explored the town for a bit. Across from the restaurant we found a Kinko’s-like store with a 3d printer.

The buildings here are, in general, much taller and closer together. Every building we saw was connected to its neighbor, and was at least 4 stories tall. Much unlike back in Austin, where there’s downtown with 50-story buildings, and then there’s not-downtown with 1- and 2-story buldings.

We returned to the airport, and headed to London. My baggage had, in fact, arrived, contrary to my fears of the day before. Once at Heathrow, we took a train to Paddington station, and from there to Queen’s Park, where we walked to the AirBnB we were staying at.

It was just like in the movies, a three-floor building, with a narrow staircase leading to each flat. Ours was the top floor. Inside it was spacious, despite the external impression of many buildings packed tightly together. The back porch looked out over a garden so large and full of trees that we almost forgot we were in the middle of a city. Ellen’s window didn’t get quite a lucky view, as it looked out into a brick wall.

Her room was unlucky, also, in the fact that it was tiny. While everyone else’s room was spacious, larger than a typical bedroom back home, hers was roughly the size of my bed. She appreciated it, though.

Dad and Kayla went out to buy groceries and get dinner. The four children (counting myself), being too tired to walk after our ordeal, chose to stay at home and play cards late into the night.

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Day 1: Austin to London

Today I learned that the Germans are pretty much the nicest people  in the world. If we had been traveling through America, or maybe any other country, all six of us would be sleeping on the floor of some airport terminal in some faraway land without my luggage. Instead I’m residing in the most expensive hotel I’ve ever eaten in, having just finished possibly the most expensive meal of my life (25 euros – I’m not a fancy diner), all for free. When I woke up that morning I never thought I’d end up here, but here I am.

The whole trip started 23 hours ago, at 7 in the evening Austin time. We arrived at the airport to learn that our flight to Frankfurt was delayed by two hours (the plan was to fly Condor to Frankfurt, then catch a connector flight on Lufthansa to London Heathrow). We were fine with this, being the adventerous people we are – we simply explored the Austin aiport for a few extra hours.

Transatlantic flights are normally no fun at all, but our seats were automatically upgraded to premium, so we got extra legroom, free pillows and blankets and earbuds, and free movies. Good movies, too – I watched Rogue One and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, two of my favorite movies. That and 3 hours of having my eyes closed helped to pass the 11 hour flight.

The flight was still an eternity, but we eventually we landed at 5 in the evening, Frankfurt time. A little bit late to meet our connecting flight to London at 3:30, but no worries, the Condor flight crew reassured us that we just talk to the staff at the gate and they’d set us up with a new flight.

Someone must have been misinformed, because either we misheard which gate had the staff, or the staff decided not to show up at the arrival gate. Either way, we couldn’t find the Condor staff to get us to London. Undeterred, we hiked to the desk where our connector was supposed to take off from. We had to leave the security area to change terminals, but that wasn’t as bad as it sounds. American security is much more stringent than European security – Here in Germany they even let us keep our shoes on.

Along the way, Dad’s girlfriend Kayla, who teaches German at a college, taught us how to pronounce various German words as we passed by them. (I can’t quite get UT to count this as a credit, though). For example, “Not halt” is pronounced “note halt,” and while you would think it means “not a halt,” it actually means “emergency halt.” Which explains why a lot of buttons said that.

As we would learn a word, we would all say it to ourselves (and each other), until we happened upon something else to catch our eye. In the meantime we were walking around saying “not halt,” and the Germans around us were wondering why we’re walking around saying “emergency stop, emergency stop.” It’s a miracle we didn’t run afoul of any anti-panic laws.

Once at the Lufthansa gate, we found out that our connecting flight had in fact departed hours earlier. A portly man behind the counter kindly tried to put us on another Lufthansa flight, and after spending a few minutes on the phone, informed us that all of the remaining flights of the day were booked because the weekend was a religious holiday, so everyone was travelling. He said we should go find the Condor service desk in the atrium airport, and he said that they would have to give us a hotel voucher, implying that there’s some sort of law.

We managed to find the Condor service desk in the airport atrium. Unfortunately, so had another few dozen people from our flight, so they were swamped. By the time we were at the head of the line, the agent informed us that not only were all of the flights to London-Heathrow for Saturday full, so were all of the Sunday flights.

This is where I think most people would give up. Our trusty Condor agent did not, and excitedly assembled a complicated plan whereby we would take an early-morning flight to Dusseldorf, and then take an afternoon flight to London. The second leg would be on British Airways, which Condor doesn’t have any agreements with, so the agent called up corporate of both companies and hammered out a deal. The deal involved our luggage being trusted to be managed by Condor overnight, hoping they would put it on the right plane in the morning. Then we would take the bag from the baggage claim and check it into BA, who would take it to London.

It still took several hours to hammer out the deal, which we managed to pass by playing cards. But at least we had a deal.

Until morning, then, we got to stay in the airport hotel. I’m used to travelling in the cheapest motel, but when I stumbled into the hotel at midnight after 23 hours awake, including an 11 hour plane ride and 5 hours wandering an airport, I was blown away.

The hotel was so fancy, we couldn’t figure out how to turn on the bathroom lights. The switches were weird press-button switches, but pushing them seemed to do no good. The room lights had already been on when we entered the room.

Not wanting to be the room that called room service asking how to turn on the lights, Jason (who I was rooming with) went down to ask the other two rooms (the airline gave us three rooms for free) whether they had figured it out. Turns out, you had to place the room id card in a slot by the front door before the switches start respecting you.

Having not used a bathroom since I left for the airport in Austin, I went in to use the bathroom. I closed the bsthroom door, which had no visible lock, and turned around to walk to the toilet, when my eye caught Jason peering in at me with his characteristic grimace.

Turns out, this hotel has a bathroom with the unique feature of having a window in the entryway that looks into the bathroom, with a perfect view of the shower.

There were no blinds, no frosted glass, nothing to block the view. We theorized that maybe it was designed for businessmen travelling alone, since the window gave an excellent view of the TV from the shower.

We also had various other ideas, but that was the least creepy so we stuck with it.

We managed to block the window using a pillow, since while I had neither clothes or toiletries, Jason did and wanted a shower.

Before his shower, though, we went downstairs to grab a bite to eat at midnight. I had eaten nothing in the past 18 hours that we had been in the transit system, and the only meal anyone else had had was airline food.

After a good meal in the wonderful weather of Frankfurt, I finally went to bed at 1, ready to wake up at 6:30 to catch our 9:00 flight to Dusseldorf, concluding my 24 hours awake.

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