Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Let's Go Ride a Bike - or Fly a Kite...I'm Not Picky

...or ride a bike to the park to fly a kite...or...

As most people know, I am an advocate of alternative transportation. Instead of being grossly dependent on cars, walking or bicycling (especially short distances) are excellent options! Here's a great article about the benefits of making a city "bike friendly."

Cities who have more bicyclists have safer, happier, healthier neighborhoods. Although, there is a great deal of "red tape" in getting bicycle initiatives passed, (based on other cities experience) it's not too terribly expensive to incorporate safe bicycling within the city. The biggest challenge, it seems, is changing citizens and policy makers' mind set.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Season of Giving

Someone gave me a gift card to this organization, DonorsChoose. What a great way to spend a gift! There are a ton of projects to choose from; you can also simplify the project search that you want to donate to, by city, state, area of study, etc. Since, the holidays are (supposed to be) all about thinking of others, I don't know a better way of doing something positive for someone else than this! Okay, maybe being showered in gifts of cashmere would make me feel good, too!

Even though I don't have children, I can appreciate the need for better education and learning opportunities for kids today. Maybe it's selfish of me, but I don't want a bunch of uneducated, thug, nincompoop's running my country and managing my care when I'm old. Hope you enjoy this organization as much as I do!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cowboys Help "Nix" Crime

A few days ago, I saw this article on cnn.com. It's a wonderful story, in the midst of so much crime and violence. I'd like to see an organization like this in Memphis. Lord knows we could use one - I'd volunteer my time to show kids how to work with horses & ride!! Heck, I'd do that anyway, but if it helped someone avoid succumbing to a life of crime, all the better!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Last Leg

It's been a while since my last entry about my Eurosprint earlier this year. I've been a bit of a slacker...shame, shame.

On June 1st we flew to London. We arrived at around 9am and immediately had to go through customs. Everyone was just whizzing through, until it was my turn. The customs guy asked me a ton of questions, I suppose I looked suspicious, with my dark hair and straight teeth. Nothing too out of the ordinary...How long are you here? Why are you here? Where are you coming from? Can you show me your return tickets (um, yeah, since you can't even print out your airline tickets from the Internet until a day before your flight. He worked at the airport, I thought he should know that. Well, I did have my itinerary - actually, I probably had several copies :-) and he was finally satisfied)? When we finally made it through, Dave told me that he was freaking out a little bit watching the customs guy "give me the business." Especially, when I turned around and pointed out (to the customs guy) that I was travelling with him and his itinerary was included on the paperwork that I just gave him. Dave didn't hear what we were saying, just saw me pointing. We're off to a smashing start in the UK!

When we arrived at our hotel, we were pleasantly surprised. It was located on a nice, quaint, quiet street very close to the tube, market, laundry mat, pubs and Internet cafe's. We were in heaven, if heaven had really small rooms. The desk clerk even let us check in, although we were a few hours early! I was prepared to, yet dreading having to walk around with my backpack all day! As soon as we got to our room, we quickly devised a plan. I'd go to the grocery store and laundry mat while Dave found a place to change money. Mission accomplished, not terribly quickly, but quite efficiently. It was so nice to have clean clothes without having to hand wash and have them "take over the room" as they dried.

Once our mission was over, we grabbed a quick bite at a cool little corner pub and we set off to explore London! It was a beautiful sunny day. People told me how incredible the London Eye was, especially on a clear day, so off we went! The view was pretty cool. However, with the exception of Big Ben, we had no clue where any of the big landmarks were. It would have been nice to have had some sort of ledge around the radius of the bubble showing the landmarks, so that you knew what you were viewing while on the 30 minute bubble-type Ferris Wheel.

After the London Eye, we met up with my friend Ben at the Glasshouse in Soho. On the way, we stopped off at Trafalgar Square! All I could think about was, "feed the birds..." from Mary Poppins. The battle of Trafalgar took place there. A huge memoriam was at the edge, looking as though it was being guarded by two enormous lions. People were constantly climbing on the lions for photo opts. Then we stopped off at Leicester Square; what energy the place had. There were shops and theaters galore! Glasshouse was just what the doctor ordered. The atmosphere was very Old London Pub. We had delicious pints and stimulating conversation.

On our way home, we stopped for Chinese "take away" 'cuz that's what they do in England and when in England...we ate it like it was the best gourmet food we had ever eaten. After that, my eyes closed before they hit the pillow!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Just 'Cuz I Like it...and You Should Too!

Listen to David Byrne's collaboratin with Brian Eno. My absolute favorite tracks are: Strange Overtones, One Find Day, and Life is Long. I can't get enough...I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Oh, Louis Quatorze!

Today we took a day trip to Versailles. Due to having previously missed an adequate morning dose of caffeine and thus suffering the massive headaches that followed, I woke up early to ensure that I had cafe and croissants before the long day ahead. The plan was to leave at 8am...did I mention that we went to sleep at about 3am? Oy! At about 7am, I ventured to a local cafe for some goods - to go. The problem was, I could order everything in French, but could NOT remember how to ask for everything "to go." It was no problem, the waiter helped me with my French "a portir!" There was a little old man at the end of the bar who started speaking to me in English. Was I that obvious? Yeah, probably. He was very friendly; we had light conversation, "where are you from, how long are you here, must 'sees' in Paris..." When he asked why I wasn't going to enjoy my cafe & croissant in the restaurant, I let him know that we were about to leave for Versailles. He replied, "I am heading to Versailles, today, too." It's a beautiful day to enjoy the gardens and it's only about 10 minutes away. "Really?" "I thought the train ride was about an hour." "Oh, I have a car, it's a quick, easy drive." When my items were ready, I wished the waiter and nice old man a "bon journee" and rushed back to meet my brother and Etienne.

First, I told Etienne about the friendly old man and he replied, "is he driving us to Versailles, then." Um, no, I don't know that guy, he could have kidnapped us and sold us into slavery for all I knew. Then I told Dave, who responded EXACTLY like Etienne. Oh, and Dave *did* see the movie, "Taken." Ha!

So, we left a bit later than we expected, but we all had cafe and croissants and that was a good thing. We arrived at Versailles at about 9:45am to find a pretty long ticket line forming. No worries, the line moved rather quickly. By 10:15am, we had our tickets. Now off to the Chateau! Wait, what? We have to wait in an even LONGER line to enter the Chateau?
Um, yeah...see the people to the left? They're ahead of us and we're not at the end of the line!
We finally entered the Chateau. Impressive? Yes. Decedant? Very. Gold and marble covered practically every inch. And the garden...!
View of the Jardin (garden)
Nothing can compare to the grandeur that was - the Hall of Mirrors. Just as the name indicates, one side of the massive hall is completely lined in mirrors, the other side is a stretch of windows overlooking the garden. King Louis XIV created the hall of mirrors so that when the sun shone into the windows, the sun reflected off of the mirrors to remind everyone that the sun king lived there.

Entering the Hall of Mirrors
The arched ceiling was lined with paintings of different scenes; old Greek scenes; party scenes; war scenes. One thing I noticed, as I meandered through the hall, like rushing water through the crack in a dam (yeah, it was crowded), was that Louis Quatorze was the center piece of every painting. It made me laugh. I hear ya Louis!

Taking a picture of the Hall with the massive windows overlooking the garden behind me.
Jardin from the Hall of Mirrors

King's Chambre
After walking through the Chateau, I couldn't help feeling sad that so much of the original contents were destroyed when the French stormed the palace. Oh, I completely understand...if I were starving, I would be the first to melt down curtains made with gold thread so that I could buy food!

Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to take a stroll through the never ending jardin or check out the canal, Petit Trianon or Grand Ecurie, where the horses are kept. To really do Versailles right, it's necessary to arrive as soon as the doors open. Maybe even get there when the gardens open 2 hours before the Chateau opens. Not only can you beat most of the crowd, but can thoroughly enjoy all that the Palace has to offer! Maybe in Euro-Sprint, Part Deux!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Parisian Museums, Boat Rides and Cuisine, Oh My!

On May 30th we took a guided tour of L'Opera Garnier. Honestly, I didn't know anything about the opera house before the tour. Immediately upon entering the building, I was taken aback. I feel like a bit of a broken record...but the architecture...the design, it was so decadent and beautiful!

One interesting fact about L'Opera's design...if I remember the story correctly, a prior king was killed in a bombing in front of the L'Opera as he was getting out of his carriage. Napoleon III wanted something grand AND he didn't want to have to get out of his carriage to enter the building. So, there is a wide pathway (wide enough for horses and a carriage), the kings entrance, on the side of the building. The king wouldn't have to exit his carriage until he was almost at his box!

This is Garnier's first display upon entering L'Opera. Inside the second circle from the center, there is writing...including the year, 1815. Can you see it? There's more, but unfortunately, I can't remember or make it out from my picture. I do remember that this entry way was lined with mirrors. I suppose so the creme de la creme could make sure they were, indeed, exquisite.

Here's the view as you walk up the first set of stairs. Marble as far as you can see; every piece of artwork and every design was thoroughly thought out. The landing at the top of the staircase (to the right) is supposed to mirror a stage. Those walking up the stairs are somewhat on display as if they are the actors. Those who have already made it to that level and are socializing along the hallways that have balconies throughout, feel as though they are watching the stage from a posh balcony seat. Very clever.

The ceiling inside the opera house. This is not the original. It was made on top of the original (however, the original is preserved underneath...there's about an inch between the two ceilings) in the 1980's (I think) to spike interest again in L'Opera Garnier. There are several scenes in the picture...each one with a different color background.

A copy of the original ceiling.

The grand hall. This is where the creme de la creme would meet and socialize. Oh and only the creme de la creme could afford to be season ticket holders to the opera.

At each end of the hall, there was a MASSIVE fireplace. It was understood that if people were behind the fireplace, they were discussing extremely important business and mustn't be disturbed. We are DEFINITELY discussing extremely important business and shouldn't be disturbed, but we DO find time to pose for a picture.

Balcony outside the grand hall.

There was so much more to the opera house. If you have the opportunity to go to Paris and have time, I suggest this tour. It will blow you away!

After L'Opera Garnier, we made our way to Rue de Royal. The street is filled with swanky designer shops and such. About 30 minutes of all of the finery that I couldn't, nor would I want to afford, was about enough for me. We made our way to the River Seine for a boat ride. Along the way, we found the best little macaroon place and had a proper sample. Tres yum!

Lady Liberty along side the Eiffel Tower?? I feel so at home!

It was a gorgeous day for a boat ride along the Seine. It was nice to sit (or stand) and enjoy the ride.

Musee d'Orsay. This was built as a train station for one of the World's Fair's hosted by Paris. It's now a museum...it's my understanding that it sorta picks up where the Louvre leaves off. My kinda art; unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to check it out this time 'round.

After the boat ride, we went to Musee du Quai Branly. There was a jazz exhibit at the museum. I found it fascinating how U.S. musicians influenced music in other countries...WHILE thousands of miles away. :-). Also, it was incredible how much white Americans tried to take credit for innovating and cultivating jazz. Of course, we know the story of jazz...I'm no expert, but even I know about the greats who began playing in New Orleans...Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll, etc. However, the articles from the time were giving credit to white Americans who most people have never heard of... it was quite laughable and terribly sad to say the least. Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm sure people from every ethnicity had some influence in the cultivation of jazz; reading some of these articles, though, was quite like reading fiction. Unfortunately, there were no pictures allowed. :-(

We had a long day, but it was far from over! When I say Euro-sprint, I mean it!

We more than worked up an incredible appetite, so Etienne took us to one of his favorite restaurants, Chez Francoise. It had an upscale piano bar sort of atmosphere. Quite nice...and the food; oy! I had lobe de foie gras (I know, but when in Paris...), entrecote de boeuf, jus au thyme, pommes sautees (filet with herb sauce and sauteed potatoes), mousse de chocolate blanc, compotee de fruits rouges (white chocolate mousse with fruit), cafe and chocolat. Of course we had plenty of wine as well. Oh my! Everything was so delicious. I saved a menu :-)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Post Walking Tour

We ate our panini's as we headed to the Eiffel Tower after our very informative walking tour. My feet are swollen and screaming at me by now, but who cares...I'm in Paris!!!

Eiffel Tower!

If you walk to the second platform of the Tower, you get a discount on the tickets. I got an additional discount because they charged me the 24 and under rate. I love Parisians...they thought I was under 24! The walk to the first platform was about 300 steps. Oy!

View from the 1st platform

It was another 300 steps or so, to the 2nd platform, then the line for the elevator to the top wrapped arount half of the tower (almost two sides!). The wait was painfully long. In hindsight, it's worth it to pay the extra euro (I think it was only 2 or 3 Euro savings) and ride all the way to the top. On the way down, stop on the 2nd platform if possible and check out the view. It's easier to spot buildings and such from the 2nd platform.

At the top of the Eiffel Tower. The Arc de Triomphe is to the left of my head.

Dave at the apex; the Arc is to the left of his shoulder!

After the Eiffel Tower, we tried to find a post office to change money. By the time we arrived, it was too late to change money. Boo! I was able to use an ATM though. No commission fees, but ATM charges. All in all, I think withdrawing the max daily amount from the ATM, might be the way to go. I'll soon find out when I look at my bank statement! After the ATM, we stopped at a supermarche for some sandwich "fixin's" and discovered that they had an enormous selection of wine! There were some wines for less than 2 euro! I heard angels sing for the second time! We purchased sandwich stuff and some wine and headed back to our hotel. After eating our sandwiches and drinking some wine, we headed to Sacre Coeur. Someone told us it was open 'til 10pm. The church was in our neighborhood, only about a 5-10 minute walk (all uphill!). The walk wasn't too bad, although I had to stop to rest...it gave us a great opportunity to check out the action in our neighborhood. There were tons of bars and eateries!

Dave at the back/side of Sacre Coeur
The front-ish of Sacre Coeur

Eiffel Tower from the front of Sacre Coeur
We only went into the church for a minute. The gift shop and stairs to the top were closing. We had had enough stairs for one day anyway! Inside the church was breathtaking! They were preparing for nightly mass.
There was a statue of St. Pierre. Everyone was touching his foot and saying a little prayer. Although, I'm not too religious anymore, I thought, what the heck. I walked up and as soon as I touched his foot, music started playing and nuns were singing as mass began. If ever there was perfect timing. Dave said it was a sign that I should move to Paris and become a nun. Yeah, I'd be the Martin Luther of Sacre Coeur. I told him of some of my issues with the Catholic church, but I won't bore you here. However, Paris had some amazing churches!! Being raised in a devout Catholic household; I could definitely appreciate it all. Even if someone wasn't raised in a religious atmosphere, they would be hard pressed not to appreciate the magnificance...
On the steps leading up to Sacre Coeur, there was more music, drinking and people just hanging out...
After Sacre Coeur, we went to the metro to meet our friend, Etienne, who lives in Switzerland. He took the train to hang out with us for a while. Of course, our hotel gave his room away, so once they arranged another room for him in a neighboring hotel, we visited and finished off our bottle of wine.

More Wonderful Paris!

On May 29th, we went to a free (English speaking) walking tour at 11am, which met at Place St. Michel (St. Michael's Square) very close to the hip, Latin Quarter. The tour company was "New Europe by Sandeman's." They did a great job, I highly recommend their tour! Dave wanted to sleep late, but I woke up early and couldn't sleep, so took a walk around the neighborhood. I discovered a great boulangerie & patisserie (bread & pastry) shop. I immediately heard angels singing. :-) They sold great cafe, croissants and sandwiches. We bought a panini to have later in the day.

Place St. Michel

Pont Neuf-the bridge at the Ile de la Cite (island) that separates the right from the left bank.

The story of Pont Neuf is that when it was finished, the King (Henry IV, I think) had a massive party. His instructions were to have no one's glass empty. When everyone was good and drunk, he commissioned artists to sketch caricatures of all of his guests. The caricatures were then added to the bridge. You can't see it well from this picture, but the various slabs of stone coming down from the walk, were stone carvings of faces.

Henry IV

Pedistrian bridge; behind me is the Il de la City and Pont Neuf.

At night, this bridge is happening, with music and people hanging out drinking wine. Clubs and bars are so expensive here, that people just hang out in various areas. It's kinda cool, but also might be part of the reason that the streets smell like pee. When hanging out, drinking, the Parisians use the streets as their urinals.

Me and the bro (or mon frere) being silly in the jardin des tuileries.

View of the jardin des tuileries from an elevated walk.

Oblisque given to the French by the Egyptians in the Place de Concorde (Concorde Square).
This square is where beheadings used to take place. Marie Antoinette was beheaded here. Back then, the smell was so bad that horses refused to pass the square.

View of the Eiffel Tower from Place de Concorde
Arc de Triomphe view as we cross the Champs Elyeese

Louvre as a Maze

On May 28th, we had tickets to the Louvre at 11 am. As soon as we woke, showered, grabbed a coffee and crepe, we headed to the Louvre. It was massive and incredibly beautiful. Below is a picture from outside the Passage Richelieu and then when the passage opens into the courtyard area. As popular as the glass pyramids are, I found that I really don't like them up close and personal. Immediately, they took away from the magnificence of the original architecture and overall aesthetics (in my humble opinion).

Louvre courtyard from inside. Even the ceilings merited a stop, look and awe!
When people say that you could spend days, weeks, even months in the Louvre and not see everything, they were NOT exaggerating! We spent at least 6 hours and only barely scratched the surface of the most popular items. The map is one's best friend; however, it can still be frustrating getting around as some wings have duplicate numbered rooms (10, 11, 12, 13 going in opposite directions...which #13 is the right room?) and some passage ways were closed, so you had to find a longer alternate route to get from a to b. Dave said that the room numbering thing was very "French." "Wait, we don't have enough numbers, but have duplicates of these. Ah, then we make these rooms 10, 11, 12, and 13, too. Now we can have wine and baguette."

Dave with the Code of Hammurabi. The oldest written laws.

The famous Mona Lisa.

One of my favorite paintings. I have no idea what it's called or who it's by, but it took my breath away when I saw it.
Another painting I know nothing about, but thought was beautiful.
Napoleon III's apartments. By far, one of the highlights of my visit. They were unbelievably extravagant!
Psyche & Cupid by A. Canova
After a long day, we finally found Aphrodite: Venus de Milo!
Once we finished at the Louvre, we set out to find an internet cafe. The hotel had some semblance of internet, but it was ornery and difficult to use. We took the metro to the biblioteque. We asked a girl where the biblioteque was and she said, once you get to the street, it's the big glass building, you can't miss it. When we topped the stairs from the metro to the street and looked around, we noticed that all the buildings were glass! I was so exhausted and hungry that all I could do was laugh. After a wild goose chase, I was about to turn into medusa. No food and drink makes Martie a very irritable girl, no matter what fabulous location she's in. We found a really cool pizza place, UP (stands for Urban Pizza). They had an 8,90 euro special. One (very large) pizza, biere (beer), vin (wine) or soda and cafe. Our waitress Chloe, was very nice, she let us know that since we were so close to the University, and internet was available there, no internet cafe's had survived. Wifi was everywhere though...if only I had a laptop! Chloe was nice enough to let us borrow her laptop so that Dave could check his email and I could charge my phone. Chloe also helped us with our French. :) I was in a much better mood after that!!

The Trek to Gay Pari!

Amsterdam was such a friendly City. Everyone was so accommodating. The locals seemed to take great pride in their City; it was clean, the museums were extremely well maintained. Everyone (including people in nice clothes and suites) rode bikes or walked everywhere. Hopefully, I will have another opportunity to visit.

On our way to Paris, we had a 3 hour layover in Geneva, Switzerland, so we took the train into the City and had a quick look around and lunch.

Switzerland was absolutely beautiful. The air was crisp and clean. Everyone spoke French, which was a pretty good introduction that I didn't know quite as much French as I'd hoped. C'est la vie.

Lake Geneva

Fountain in the Jardin de Anglais (park just across the Lake Geneva bridge).

Once we arrived in Paris, we made our way to the hotel. I called a week before we left for Europe to verify our room confirmation, but guess what...no room (a practice that we learned was very common place. Someone said that hotel owners are called "sleep merchants." Due to a high demand for hotels, some feel as though they can do as they wish and get away with it. Most Americans, like us, were too time pressed to look for another hotel). After a bit of a headache, we were able solidify a room next door for the night. Our hotel promised us that they would have our room ready the next day...which they did. They were pretty cool after that.

After we dropped our luggage off at the worst room ever (no pics unfortunately; but lets just say that it's everything I imagined a "pay by the hour" place to be), we headed to the middle of Montmartre. What a cool area! We found the cabaret, Au Lapin Agile, a popular hangout for all of the old artists that lived in the area. Before you even saw the place at the top of a hill, you could hear the piano playing and everyone singing french songs. I loved it!