We all have our reasons for wanting to go home. I am rarely ready to go home. I love to travel,but eventually I want to go home, but it takes some time. Once I am ready—once I am on the way—then I wish I was home at the touch of a button. This is particularly true of air travel which has become increasingly brutal. It used to be much more enjoyable. Those days are long gone Sally.
The most interesting part of the trip home was the Heathrow airport in London. That sounds crazy. It is crazy. What made it interesting was Shoheha. I hope I spelled her name right. She was a crazy Iranian woman we met in the airport. Chris and I were sitting in the airport waiting for our flight to begin. This is not usually the most pleasant task, but a book always makes it bearable. Shoheha was sitting next to us. She had a broken arm and was carrying a large carryon bag with the good arm. She asked me where I had purchased my cup of coffee and after I pointed out the kiosk nearby, she ambled off carrying her massive bag. Chris, being much smarter (and better) than me, told me to go and help her buy coffee. It would be impossible for her to carry the bag and coffee with one good arm. Dutifully, I got up to help. I offered to carry her bag while she bought coffee. Chris said a real gentleman would have bought her coffee. Right again. When I carried her bag I was astonished at the weight. It was HERAVY! Shoheha explained that she had been visiting her family in Iran and was going back home to Ottawa. Her mother—like mothers everywhere—insisted on filling her bag with Iranian culinary treats that you can’t get anywhere except from moms. And like all moms, she brooked no objections from her daughter. It did not matter how heavy the load or inconvenient the huge bag, Shoheha had no choice but to take it back home to her family who would no doubt be overjoyed at the treat bag. Easy for them to say.
We were stuck in Heathrow for an extra hour and half, while what the airline called a simple electronic problem that would be fixed soon” was dealt with. Assurances that the delay would be brief vaporized into the ether like such assurances usually do. Thankfully, we have a pleasant conversation with our new friend from Iran.
Naturally we missed our connecting flight in Toronto and managed to text our friend Garry who was picking us up, that we would be delayed while we waited for the next flight. We were very happy there was a next flight that day. A couple of hours late was no biggie. Our friend disconcertingly advised us he would wait for us in the bar. He might be intoxicated, but he would be there he assured us.
Annoyingly the flight to Winnipeg from Toronto varied between stifling hot and bone-chilling cold. No one would call it a pleasant flight.
We did arrive in time completely exhausted ready for home where, to quote Simon and Garfunkel, all our words would come back to us like emptiness in harmony. But we were filled with joy. It is always great to travel; it is always great to come home.
I love to travel. I think I inherited this from my mother and father. They loved to travel. I am like that and my children are like that. Chris got infected with it the first trip we ever made with my parents to Grand Forks North Dakota .
I often try to figure out why we love to travel. What is so special about it? I think travel is learning. We learn about new places and new people that we would not encounter back home.
Mark Kingwell that great philosopher from Toronto (yes we have them there) got it right. He said travel was like a drug, not just because it is addictive, but also because it alters our consciousness. It affects the brain. It can challenge our routine way of thinking and, as a result, it can change us. One is not the same person after a trip as before.
Alfred Lord Tennyson on the other hand got it backwards I think when he said, “I am a part of everything I meet.” I rather think that everything I meet is now a part of me. I carry a small part of Luzerne Switzerland, Kőln Germany, Strasbourg France, Amsterdam, Paris and London with me. And I will carry them with me forever. I think that makes me a better person. I know others will say, not good enough. They are right. Never good enough.
The essential lesson is to heed the wise words of that children’s book many of read when we first learned to read: “Stop, look, and listen.” That is what it is all about. If we do that, we will enjoy the travel for we will experience something we cannot experience back home. It is not there no matter how much we love our homes. As Robertson Davies said, “People are very very hungry for some kind of contact with a greater world than the one they can immediately perceive.” This is true in more than one sense.
We do not travel to see new things, or new places, or even new people. Henry Miller was correct when he said, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing.” We want to see things, places, and people differently than we did before. We want to change. We want to become better.
Steinbach has this crazy motto: ‘It’s worth the trip.’ Every place is worth the trip. If we see nothing worth seeing that does not mean that we went to the wrong places. It means we were not worth the trip. We did not bring our minds to the trip and then the trip is worthless. Then it is not worth the trip, but we have no one to blame but ourselves. Henry David Thoreau that great American thinker said, “It is not what you look at that matters, but what you see.”
Thoreau’s friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, also a great thinker, said, “If we meet no gods, it is because we harbor none. If there is grandeur in you, you will find grandeur in porters and sweeps. He only is rightly immortal, to whom all things are immortal.”
To do that we have to be open to new experiences. Sometimes that is difficult. But we will be rewarded if we do. One of my favorite philosophers, Albert Camus, who haunted one of the cafés we passed by on trip in Paris, understood this well. He said, “All of a man’s life consists of the search for those few special images in the presence of which his soul first opened.” We want to open up our souls. That’s why we travel.
And once our souls are opened then we can truly see. Then we are able to appreciate what we have back home. It is special too. It also is a place of wonder. If we have learned something on the trip then we can bring that new knowledge to our old home. As T.S. Eliot wisely said,
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
Then we are able to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, which to my view is what great art is all about. Finding the miraculous in the common. I hope I found this on this trip. I think I did. It was truly worth the trip. I can hardly wait for the next trip.
It was our last real day in London. It was the last real day of our holidays. The sun was peaking through clouds in some places. You would still not call it a sunny day, but it was better than yesterday.
Our guidebook said that cruising down the Thames was one of the most interesting ways to experience London. We decided to accept that advice. We also got advice from our Monogram guide on how to do exactly that. He suggested we should take a boat that we could get onto just outside our hotel. We were one block away from the river, so we took that advice as well. As a result we hopped on to the Thames Clipper
The Thames River has been the main artery for London since about the time the Romans invaded. The river is jam packed with historical sites and the wonderful reconstruction of the Globe Theatre. Added to that there are numerous famous bridges, each with its own stories.
The most popular and best served area for boats is between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge. That is exactly where we sailed. On the way we tried to sign up for a ride on the London Eye but it was all booked up. That was a shame for we heard the view from there was wonderful. Next time.
We hopped on the boat watched the river, building along the bank, and most important, the people. Until World War II the north side of the river was the side of wealth and the south side belonged to the lower classes. After the war, the festival of Britain in 1951 began the resurgence of the south bank, which now has some of the most interesting modern buildings.
The south side had some fine looking pubs, County Hall, Tate Modern, the Globe theatre, and a stunning new City Hall. The north side has the Parliament Buildings, The Ministry of Defence, Somerset House, Temple and Inns of Court, Fishmongers Hall, Custom House and the world famous Tower of London near the Tower Bridge.
The Thames River looked murky, but it is clean. 100 species of fish have returned to the river since it was cleaned up. In fact, salmon have returned to the Thames and they are picky fish that only come to clean water. That is a remarkable cleanup considering how polluted the river was before. A whale even came up the river and was beached. The hearts of many children were broken when that happened. Even dolphins have even been spotted in the river.
We disembarked the Clipper near the Tower of London. It is not really a tower at all. The Tower of London was deeply feared for most of its 900-year history. William the Conqueror built it. People who committed treason or threatened the crown were held and often tortured in its dank dungeons. A few lived in luxury in the Tower, but most were abject prisoners. The crown jewels are housed in the Jewel House of the Tower of London. The largest diamond there is 530.2 carats (106 g.). Nearby was a sign that extolled the days when Kings and queens kept lions at that spot. The royal beasts roared at people entering the tower. We did not spot any such beasts.
We also took a number of photos of the Tower Bridge. This bridge was built in 1894. It is a flamboyant bridge with a roadway that can be raised. When the bridge is raised it is 135 ft. (40 m.) high. It has pinnacled towers with a linking catwalk. It is a sensational bridge. Apparently the American who bought the London Bridge and moved it to Arizona, thought he was buying this much more spectacular Tower Bridge.
After a brief visit to this area we found a restaurant/bar for dinner. The Waiter mistook us for Americans and we strongly rebuked him for his mistake. We enjoyed a gourmet burger because it was Burger Day. I enjoyed a burger with a Northcote beer.
After that we took a leisurely walk along the north shore of the Thames. We crossed the Millennium Bridge and caught the boat back to near our hotel.
For supper we returned to the Red Lion because we heard it was Churchill’s favorite. Not really. We were getting lazy. Tired and ready for the end. I again had fish n’ chips sans crushed peas. Chris had steak and Stilton pie. A double Jameson was enjoyed as well. The meal was completed by banoffi pie.
Today we went on a city tour of London. I won’t try to describe everything we saw; just a few highlights. Our guide was Carlotta a fiery English commentator with a sharp tongue and liberal with her opinions. We enjoyed that. We did not get many stops to take photographs.
London is a fascinating city. All museums in the city can be entered without charge. Now we have found civilization! Sadly, we visited none of them. Next time for sure! On the other hand, London contains more billionaires living in it than any other city in the world. So it cannot possibly be the home of civilization. I will have to look elsewhere.
This was the Tower Bridge. The American who bought London Bridge and moved it to Arizona, mistakenly thought he was buying this bridge, which is a lot more interesting than the one he bought. Caveat Emptor.
There is of course a lot of history here. German bombing in World War II destroyed 60% of London. In particular 80% of the old part was destroyed.
The Parliament Buildings and Big Ben are seen on every city tour. The Victoria Tower on the left end (when facing from the river side as in my photo) contains 1.5 million acts of Parliament enacted since 1497. Maybe the neoliberals have a point about big government. That is an awful lot of laws. At least they have provided employment for armies of barristers and solicitors. There is only one part of the old building (the original Palace of Westminster) that was built in 1097. This is Westminster Hall. So it is nearly 1,000 years old. Its roof is much younger. It was built in the 14th century.
Big Ben is the most famous site of London together with the Parliament Buildings. The day before we got here Big Ben’s clock was shut down and the structure was already being covered for renovations.
We also drove by Westminster Abbey where Prince William and Kate were married. It is a grand church that took 500 years to be constructed. This is the final resting place (or as some believe the second last resting place) of the monarchs of England. It has been the setting for coronations and other pageants. Again we did not go inside. Again I am disappointed in myself. We should have gone inside.
We also drove by Buckingham Palace. This is both the office and home to the British monarch. Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and Princess Anne, and the Duke of York live in the building with 50 staff residing there. It is also used for some ceremonial functions such as banquets for heads of state. No one invited us to dine.
Next we passed Pall Mall (pronounced pal mall) a dignified street filled with men’s clubs that were created to give men refuge from the scurrilous attacks of women. Apparently the interiors are well appointed but peasants like us need not apply. Of course only members and their guest are permitted to dine. Some of these clubs have a 25-year waiting list. Many rich people want to line up to become card-carrying snobs. It is sad that they have nothing better to do with their time and money. Like everywhere else, standards though have been slipping. Some of the clubs even accept women now.
Next we saw Piccadilly Circus. This is a circle (hence the name). It is actually quite small. According to Carlotta, “Where? There. Gone.” Nowadays it consists mainly of commercial shops, so really is nothing special. The circus has London’s gaudiest displays of neon. Trump would probably like it.
We finally stopped at the grand St. Paul’s Cathedral. After the Great Fire of London in 1666 the old wooden church that had been built in 604 was left in ruins. John Donne’s memorial, built in 1631, was the only sculpture that survived that fire. The church was rebuilt on the same site.
One of the most spectacular features of the Cathedral is the dome that weighs 64,000 tons yet is held high and secure by the genius of architecture. It is actually 3 domes on top of each other. The domes are supported by enormous flying buttresses. The dome is the second largest in the world after St. Peters in Rome. We stood underneath the Dome and were stunned it was so beautiful. The church does not contain pews or chairs. Parishioners are expected to stand for the services. This is worse than Roman Catholic churches with their constant up and downs. The church still has 4 services a day.
There are crypts of many famous people and even some commoners in the basement. Sir Christopher Wren, the architect o the Cathedral, has a very simple crypt i the basement . He said, “if you want to see a memorial to me, look around you.” This is a people’s church. It is a home to commoners and not just nobility.
The church was bombed 78 times in World War II. 27 bombs in one night alone. Some of the bombs failed to explode. So much for German competence! 4 bombs did destroy the high altar and none of the walls were damaged and most importantly, the Dome did not collapse. Pretty good English engineering! The men and women of Saint Paul’s–all volunteers–heroically saved the church from fires.
Like all magnificent cathedrals St. Paul’s is difficult to clean. The cleaning job takes 11 years. That is about as long as my basement man cave. They can’t use sand blasting or detergent either. Only steam will clean and protect the building. If you want to keep a church for a thousand years you have to be careful. Our visit to the Cathedral alone was worth the city tour. At least we got to see one of London’s magnificent cathedrals from the inside.
After we left the wonderful Cathedral we drove by the Bank of England and Lloyds of London. The other religion of London is money.
We drove across the Millennium Bridge. Carlotta informed us that the bridge used to wobble because engineers should design bridges not architects. It cost £8 million to repair. Ouch. That is worse than the Bethesda Hospital debacle. At least I think it is worse. The architect apparently is now known as Lord Wobbly.
One thing we noticed on our drive through town is that London has a lot of pubs. Not that this is a bad thing. Carlotta told us London has 7,000 pubs. Some of them really looked interesting too. I wish I had had time to try more of them. There just was not enough time to see all the pubs or cathedrals.
We drove by a ritzy area where Putin had bought some property for $14 million. Apparently he never uses it, just his friends and family. Putin was a career military man before he became a politician. I guess that work pays well in Russia.
After the Cathedral we got back on the bus and continued our magical mystery tour of London. We drove by Trafalgar Square London’s most important site for public meetings. It was here that the crowds entered cheering wildly when World War I was declared. Can you imagine wild cheering for the start of a war? Many thought the soldiers would be home by Christmas. In fact the soldiers had a motto, ‘Home or homo’ by Christmas.
We drove by the famous Ritz Hotel that was named after the Swiss hotelier César Ritz who was the inspiration for that wonderful expression ritzy. I never knew where it came from. The chateau style building was designed to be fake news. In other words the owners wanted to give people the false feeling that they were in one of the grand hotels of Paris where world fashion leaders would ensconce themselves. Even the rich like to pretend they are grander than they really are. Don’t come here to dine unless you are properly attired. No straw hats and fading cords for the men. Apparently it takes 3-6 months to get a reservation for afternoon high tea with scones.
We drove rapidly by Hyde Park for fear we might hear one of the radical opining. Of course they are only allowed there one day per week and this was not it. So they have to bang away incessantly and annoyingly on their blogs instead. Bloggers don’t have to listen to hecklers but they do have to read.
We got a passing look (that was enough) of Harrods founded in 1849. Apparently Prince Charles buys cat food there. Some cats insist on the best. Harrods, it was said, could supply darn near anything from a packet of pins to an elephant.
The last rich area we got a glimpse of was Chelsea. This used to be a bohemian area filled with writers, artists, and other rebels. As so often happens with such areas, eventually the rich realize this is a cool area. Then they become an invasive species driving out the poor locals who can no longer afford to live there. Then it becomes a dead zone with no life, only shopping. That is what has happened here.
After our tour we had dinner at Luccina restaurant near our hotel. Again our Monogram guide recommended it. Eating Italian in London that makes sense right? As soon as we walked in we thought we had made a disastrous mistake. It was too warm inside and it was too cool outside. Unlike Goldilocks we did not find a place that was just right. The red wine was not room temperature; it was soup warm. An ice bucket helped to cool it, but other patrons looked down their long noses at us. A small price to pay we thought. Chris’s meal of penne conpollo came without the promised garlic sauce. There might have been a dribble of sauce. What self-respecting Italian waiter would serve this? Chris asked for “extra” sauce and it was delivered without fuss so after that the meal improved. We really believed it was the only sauce. How can a chef forget the sauce? I enjoyed spaghetti Bolognese. After enough wine we cheered up dramatically. We finished our meal with tiramisus and coffee.
I left Chris at the hotel and ventured out with my camera gear and a tripod to photograph the Parliament buildings and city skyline across the river Thames. I wanted to photograph the city at night As Joni Mitchell sang, “Night in the city looks pretty to me.” I had a great time and it made me feel that dragging the tripod along was worth it. My travelling companion was not so convinced.
I crossed Westminster Bridge with its massive barriers against truck terrorists. Later that night we watched the television news about truck terrorism in Spain. That is what modern life is all about. We could stay home. It is fairly safe in Steinbach, provided you avoid the radicals at Main Street Bread & Butter, but it is not quite as interesting. Sometimes we have to take some chances or life can get pretty insular and dull.
The people of London, like the people of Paris, are certainly resilient. I remember watching a television comedy news show, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight where he showed a Brit fleeing his bar during the terrorist bombing on Westminster bridge, but he was not scared enough to leave his pint of beer behind. He was shown running down the street carrying his glass. The bridge tonight was jammed with people. No one was scared. People taking photos; enjoying life. The terrorists can’t scare us. Only Trump can scare us.
Today we began the last leg of our journey. Again we were traveling by train. We began by hurrying up so that we could wait. Sarah Jane our Monogram rep woke us up to get our luggage down early so it could be loaded onto the car for our drive to the train station. At the station we stood and waited with our luggage for the cart to take it to the train. Meanwhile an extraordinarily loud group of workers banged their tools against anything that would make a loud noise. As they did so, a cart came by with the word “STILL” emblazoned on it in hopeless irony. There was nothing still here except our thoughts that could not be heard. It all seemed pointless, unless the point was to annoy us and disturb us from our tranquil journey.
That was soon followed by something even more disturbing. As we went to line up for our train on the 2nd floor of train station the gate was closed. In fact, the entire floor was closed and we had to leave. We had not idea why or where we should go. Thankfully, Sarah Jane was still with us. Monogram believed in accompanying its babies right to the end and we were grateful for that. She led us to another place on the main floor. Sarah talked to an official who explained that there was a bomb scare and the entire 2nd floor had been evacuated. There was no one there other than the bomb squad. There had been a terrorist threat. Someone had left an unattended bag in the station. “It could be a bomb”, we were told.
The weird thing though was that we did not leave the train station. We were immediately underneath the 2nd floor. If there was a serious explosion would the building not collapse on us? I nervously looked at the entrance/exit to the station. There I noticed the Police Car I had not noticed before. How long would it take me to dash to the outside? How long would it take Chris? Neither of us were up for an impressive 100 yard dash. Adrenalin would like improve our chances but I doubted not enough to make a significant difference. Yet no one moved. We all stood there underneath the danger. Were we too stupid to be afraid of terrorists? This was Europe. There had been recent occasions where fear was justified. No one moved outside. None wanted to leave their place in line. We heard no announcements. Was this folly on steroids? All I know is we survived. After about an hour of standing there waiting for doom or progress, we were allowed to move on. The brave bomb squad had neutralized the threat. I hoped they were brave, and not as stupid as us.
Our trip to London on the train was interesting. To begin with I learned an important lesson in economics and politics. That is that things are better for the rich. This time we road 2nd class. This was not as comfortable as the 1st class trip from Amsterdam to Paris. It definitely pays to be 1st class. We did not know why we had been relegated to 2nd class. Were we again being punished as we had been last night? What bad things had we done?
As a result of our diminution we sat in a seat facing another couple our knees knocking against each other. Well, at least my knees knocked against the woman from Ohio facing me. I had no leg room at all. Chris was more fortunate. Sometimes it pays to be short. This was one of those times. The train ride was not entirely unpleasant. It was still much more luxurious than air travel. I tried my best not to grumble.
We crossed the English Channel as the English call it through the darkness of the Chunnel. That was interesting. When we hit English soil we saw the light. This was the land of civilization. So I thought. On this trip 2 books had guided me. One was Sir Kenneth Clark’s magisterial Civilisation. The other was Eric Hobsbawm’s magnificent The Age of Capital. These books had added immeasurably to my journey, as good books always do.
We arrived in London where once again a Monogram babysitter met us to lead us to a car that took us to our hotel the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel right beside that famous hotel. Although its location was its best feature, the hotel was extremely luxurious. How much did we pay for this? We did not know. After being second-class citizens it was nice to be elevated to 1st class. We can always dream can’t we? It was a very luxurious suite. This was no typically small European hotel room. It had a separate room with a couch and huge television set. The bedroom had a smaller set. All of the décor was modern extreme. Usually I don’t like that, but today I did. We felt like luxury to boost our flattened egos.
The lighting system was much too complicated for us to figure out how to use, so we largely acquiesced with what we got when we switched it on. We figured out how to do that only after a tedious trial and error process. There was a convenient chair with side table for reading that I appreciated. We lounged and relaxed for an hour or two before we did anything that might tax our brains or bodies.
Eventually we went out to eat. To do that, we walked cross the famous Westminster Bridge right across the street from our hotel. That bridge had very recently been the site of a terrorist attack exactly 5 months earlier on March 22, 2017. The attacker was a 22-year-old Briton Khalid Masood who moved down the pedestrians who were idly walking on the bridge injuring more than 50 people and killing 4 of those. After he left the car that had crashed into near by New Palace Yard where he fatally attacked an unarmed police officer and shot an armed police officer and died at the scene.
This was treated as a case of Islamic terrorism. Trump would be proud of this refusal to be what he considered politically correct. It seemed that Masood had sent a final text message that he was waging jihad in revenge for western actions in the Middle East. Some claimed he had been a member of ISIS, but the British police have found no link to any terrorist organization. It really appeared that he was a home-grown British terrorist. Every country now has these in this globalized world. Every country has too many of these. There were signs of anti-terrorism everywhere. The bridge now had massive iron and steel barriers to prevent any more automobile terrorism. More construction was on-going. We felt completely safe on the bridge. When we got off no so much.
The bridge was crawling with tourists. This would have been easy pickings for a terrorist. We were surprised “only” 50 had been injured. It was even more crowded than Paris.
We really did very little sight seeing today. Our made goal was dinner. Our Monogram guide, Augustine, had recommended a nearby restaurant that we enjoyed. She said it had been Churchill’s favorite restaurant. That was good enough for us, even though it looked modest. It was called the Red Lion. Later we learned many politicians frequently the place because it was very close to Parliament. Thankfully none were in attendance today. We had the place more or less to ourselves.
When we got back I got sick. I thought it was the result of a chocolate bar I had half-eaten. Chris refused to try an experiment to determine if that was the cause. She refused to eat what was left. So the mystery remains. I was hoping I would feel better before our lengthy flight home.
Charles Dickens described Paris and France about as well as anyone before or after him. As he said in his novel a Tale of 2 Cities:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of credulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
That really described the city and our time in it very well.
But today was radically different from yesterday. Chris decided, and I supported her entirely in this decision, that today she should stay behind and rest her ankles. They looked awful. We hoped she could recoup. This turned out to be a very good decision. It worked!
So I ventured out on my own with absolutely no knowledge of French. I considered this a bold move, but the choice was to stay back at the hotel, which I really did not want to do on our last day in Paris, or boldly go forth.
After breakfast I pulled out my maps of Paris and set out. I love Impressionism, but on maps not so much. In maps I prefer realism. Unfortunately, the Paris maps were created by Impressionists or perhaps, even worse, by abstract impressionists who see no need for art to even resemble reality, let alone represent it.
I know that Hop on/Hop Off buses are a bit expensive but they sure are convenient for someone like me who does not speak the local language and who has no real conception of how far apart places are and is not even sure what he wants to see. So finally I hopped on and started my adventure.
I saw a large part of Paris and had a wonderful time all on my own. My first stop was near the Hôtel des Invalides where I was approached by a family from Nazareth who needed help finding their way around Paris. This seemed ridiculous since I had already demonstrated a startling capacity to get my directions wrong in this fair city, but they seemed intent on asking my advice despite my warnings. Had I been better prepared I would have got them to sign a written release of liability. So this was how I led a family from Nazareth out of the wilderness. Can you imagine? Now you know why we are all bound for hell.
Today I got seriously distracted. What else is new? I got distracted, of course, by flowers. There were a series of gardens here one right after the other. It was too much for me to resist. The distraction was more unavoidable, because the skies were gray. Photos of things like the Eiffel Tower looked drab. Flowers in such light on the other hand shone. I took a number of photographs of flowers outside Petit Palais and in the Jardin des Tuileries
Some of the walkways are lined with lime and chestnut trees and I took some snap shots of those as well doing my best to create an Impressionistic image. Skies were grey, so they were perfect for flowers. When the world gives you lemons, make lemonade.
My mind was filled of course with thoughts of Impressionism. I was infused with Impressionism. How could that have been avoided after yesterday’s afternoon at the D’Orsay? So I kept thinking of how I could show the lovely flower gardens in an Impressionistic style. To do that, I thought I would create what photographers call the “Orton effect”. This style, just like Impressionism, is not for everyone. I love it, just like I love the Impressionist paintings. So I kept planning some of my images for applying this technique later. I include some of the photographs with this effect and some more naturalistic for those who might get sick seeing too many Ortons. The technique involved combining 2 copies of exactly the same image. One image is over-exposed so it looks very light. The other image is sometimes also over-exposed but just slightly. The second image is then blurred drastically. Then the two images are combined.
I find the resulting image sometimes is magical. Other times it just does not work. Some think the technique never works. Why would you ever deliberately blur it some ask? I would say, for the same reason Impressionists often did not want a sharp image. A Sketchy image to them sometimes seemed preferable. The image can be more “real” than a clear representation. This is sort of like that.
Eventually I got back on the bus until near Notre Dame. Of course, the grounds were awash with tourists, so I did not stay long. I wanted to take a little more time for photos. I ducked down low to have a hedge hide as many of them as possible.
After I was done, I walked across the Petit Pont Notre Dame across the Seine to the Left Bank. I took some more photos of the famous cathedral from that angle. This was near where I found quite by accident the famous bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. James Joyce and his pals made this bookstore famous. Sylvia Beach originally owned it. During the 1920s, Beach’s shop was a gathering place for many then-aspiring writers such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Maddox Ford, and particularly James Joyce. Beach published Joyce’s controversial masterpiece Ulysses in 1922 when no one else dared touch it.
Beach moved the store from its original location to a large location at 12 rue de L’Odéon where it remained until 1941 when it was closed on account of the Nazi occupation. Some said it was closed because Beach refused to sell the last copy of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake to a German officer. During this period of time it was the center of Anglo-American literary culture. Joyce nicknamed the store “Stratford-on-Odéon.” Joyce actually used the store as an office for a while. Hemingway mentioned the various attendees of the store in his memoir A Moveable Feast. Patrons could borrow books if they could not afford to buy. She also carried controversial books such as D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover which was banned in both the US and UK.
Beach was welcoming to a vast array of writers and artists who had no other place to stay. It was an island of civilization, particularly for struggling writers and artists. The shop’s motto, “Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest They Be Angels in Disguise,” is written above the entrance to the reading library. I think this is the civilization I have been seeking.
By the time I was finished there I thought it was time to go back to the hotel to see how Chris was doing. After some running around (literally) I managed to find the bus again and hopped on for the final leg of my solo city tour back to our hotel. Chris was feeling quite a bit better. The day off from touring and walking did her a world of good. The rash was considerably reduced.
Tonight we were going to celebrate our 46th wedding anniversary. We had made reservations back in Canada for a “romantic cruise” on the Seine River at night. We were very excited about that. It turned out to the be romantic cruise from hell.
We started off right. This time we did the sensible thing; we took a cab to the pier where the ship was docked. When we finally got on the ship for our “romantic” dinner we were sorely disappointed. In fact we concluded that we were being punished for bad behaviour though we had no idea what we had done. That is not uncommon for me.
To begin with, we got absolutely the worst seat in the restaurant. We were near the front of the ship but could not see anything of the city from there. We were near the middle of the ship so could not see out the sides either. The view of the city we had been promised was almost non-existent from where we sat. We did have a clear view of a toilet and the kitchen. The sound of the promised musicians was nearly drowned out by the sound of banging of pots and pans. We were clearly in steerage.
The meal was also a disappointment. We were served Rose wine instead of champagne. The appetizer was as tasty and nutritious as last week’s laundry. Most importantly the steaks were not hot. Had they been hot we believed the sauce Bordelaise would have been excellent, but really we were guessing. We sat right next to a young Asian woman and her mother who spent most of the time looking at their phones. We wished we would have their seats with the great views that they did not need. The service was attentive, but not for us in steerage. It was a disaster of a romantic cruise.
Through sheer force of will, we managed to enjoy the evening. The music was subdued but not bad. Strong drink helped ease the pain. The company was great! I dashed to the back of the boat frequently to get photos of the city and Eiffel Tower at night. The views from outside the restaurant were sensational. In fact, they were worth the trip. Most importantly, we still love each other.
Today was an amazing day—a day of art. First Chris decided to soldier on even though her ankles and shins were starting to look like shining veins. We decided that today we would not be stupid. We already did that. No reason to repeat. We had signed up for a city tour of Paris. Such tours are usually whirlwind and unsatisfactory, but they are one way to see a lot of a city in one day when time was limited. A much better way to see a city was the way Chris and I did Florence in 2004. We spent 3 glorious weeks in Florence and never for one minute got tired of it. We did Florence well. Today, we did not do Paris so well, but it was still wonderful.
More than any other city in the world, Paris is the city of art. Parisians carry art in their blood. Parisians are not just passionate about art—Parisians are fused with art. To Parisians art is not just religion—it is much more important than that. Art is life.
In Paris they take to heart the admonition of Karl Kraus “in the presence of art reality is only an optical illusion.” Art is reality; the rest a pale pretence. I think the people of France would endorse fully what Nietzsche said, “we have art so we won’t perish of the truth.” We need art just like we need air, food or water.
Today we got to see art in Paris as we visited 2 of the greatest galleries of art in the world. Art makes the spiritual accessible, even for those who don’t believe in the spiritual in the ordinary sense of the word at least. Picasso knew this. He said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” This is why we need art. Parisians understand this better than citizens from any other city. Today we experienced that.
At breakfast I remarked that we had not yet encountered one snobby French person. How could that be? Were there no self-respecting Frenchmen left? To our surprise we did not meet one in our 3 days in Paris.
Our tour of Paris included the typical city tour by coach. Our first stop was at the Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel). When it was first built in 1889 Parisians did not like it. In fact many hated it. Many of them thought it did not fit into the City of Light. In fact to this day some call it the Awful Tower
It was the tallest building in the world after it was built until the Chrysler Building was built in 1930. Even though the building looks delicate—like lacework—it is built of solid iron and steel. It weighs 10,100 metric tonnes. The design is so solid that it never sways more than 9 cm. (3.5 in.) in strong winds. It is held together by a complex system of iron girders held together by 2.5 million rivets.
Near by we also saw and photographed the Tour St. Jacques. This is late Gothic tower that was built in 1523. The tower is all that is left of the old church of St. Jacques that at one time was the largest medieval church in Paris.
After that we drove through the Latin Quarter. I was thrilled to see Café de Flore. This was one of the famous cafés enjoyed by the existentialists that I got to love during my undergraduate years studying philosophy. These cafés were the places where existentialism was born and then vigorously debated by the philosophers as if philosophy was vitally important as I thought it was.
Café de Flore was a hang-out for artists and intellectuals including the brilliant Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. I would have loved to sit and watch them and listen to them argue about existentialism. Sartre’s partner Simone de Beauvoir often came with Sartre and it was in this café that they “more or less set-up house.”
We also drove by Café Magots that rivaled Café Flore in fame. Artists and philosopher who drank and dined here included Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, and Andre Bréton. Picasso met his muse, Dora Maar here.
We saw the Palais de Justice. This is an enormous building that now house the French law courts. The judiciary in France dates back to Roman times. That is why so much French law is still based on Roman law. The current building though was a royal palace until the 14th century when Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, moved the court to Marais. During the French Revolution thousands were condemned to be executed from the Premier Chambre Civile, reputed to be the bedroom of Louis IX.
After that we saw the glorious Notre-Dame Cathedral. Some have called this building “the heart of the country.” In many ways that is exactly what it is both geographically and spiritually. The foundation stone was laid on the site of an ancient Celtic altar by Pope Alexander III in 1163. An army of craftsmen toiled on the building for 170 years.
The church is considered one of the masterpieces of Gothic art. It was almost destroyed in the French Revolution but was restored from 1841 to 1864 under the guidance of the architect Viollet-le-Duc. He added the awesome spire that is 96 m. (315 ft.) high.
Gothic churches above all represent the interplay of height and light in glorious display. It is incredible to look at the 3 great rose windows on the west, east, and south facades.
Only the north window still has the 14th century windows with their stained glass. “Hymns to the Divine Light” as Kenneth Clark called them. I might have thought they were even more splendid than the stained glass in Strasbourg Cathedral, but it seemed pedestrian to compare them.
Many famous visitors have seen Notre Dame. Joan of Arc was perhaps the first really famous person to see it. She saw it during her lifetime, but more importantly, perhaps, she saw it after her death, because a posthumous trial was held for her 24 years after she had been burned at the stake for apostasy. At the later trial her conviction was overturned, but of course, it was too late to do her any good. Napoleon was crowned Emperor here, effectively ending the French Revolution.
We walked through this cathedral as church was in service. This felt disrespectful, but our guide reminded us that the church needed our fees to keep its maintenance schedules. I captured a large number of images of the stained glass, particularly the rose windows. I love stained glass.
We drove by the site of the publishing of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, that features cartoons, jokes, polemics and satire. It is deeply irreverent and non-conformist. In other words, it is my kind of magazine. It often attacks the church and the far right and has not shied away from attacking Islam. That is what got the magazine into trouble as it became the subject of terrorist attacks in 2011 and 2015. Both were presumed to be in response to a number of controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that it published. In the second of the attacks 12 people were killed including the publisher.
The people of Paris have rallied around the magazine ever since the attacks, as the French are vigorously defensive of their freedoms that have been hard won. They don’t want to give up these freedoms to any religion. Not even Islam, the most militant of the current religions.
I love the French for their defence of freedom of religion and freedom from religion. Vivre la France, libre. They refuse to buckle under to terrorism. Parisians celebrate dissent. They refuse to give up any of their freedoms. Unlike Americans, who talk about freedom but are quick to give it up in favor of security, the French realize that freedom is part of their essence. If they give up freedom they give up everything. To me that is the spirit of France—the spirit of the Revolution.
We drove along the most famous street in Paris, if not the world, the Champ-Elysées and the quarter that lies around radiating wealth, power, and privilege. This is home for the President of France, embassies, and haute couture fashion houses. There were 5-star hotels and restaurants none of which we could afford. Peasants know their places. Some of us at least.
At the end of this magnificent street we saw the fantastic Arc de Triomphe. To me the triumph is hollow but to the French it still signifies glory. It marks Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. Work was started on this magnificent monument to military glory in 1806 before the sheen of victory had not worn thin, but it was only completed in 1836 as a result of his all too swift fall from power and grace. His victory lasted about as long as most military victories. Not long in other words. The only good thing about it—perhaps there is one—is that it is a magnificent structure in the middle of the Champs-Elysées. It made for some good photos. I guess that was one more good thing. It certainly did not reflect glory or triumph.
Our next stop was our longest one of the day. This was at the largest and probably most spectacular museum in the world—the Musée du Louvre. It contains 35,000 works of art—many of them priceless. It is an immense treasure.
The Louvre was built by King Philippe-August as a fortress in 1190, but Charles V the Holy Roman Emperor made it his home from 1364 to 1380. In the 16th century Frances I replaced it with a Renaissance-style palace and started the royal art collection with 12 paintings. All of them were from Italy. In those days Italy, not France, was the centre of the art world.
In 1793 the revolutionaries opened up the collection for the masses. When Napoleon took over, soon after that, he converted the palace into a museum. For the people of course. Napoleon knew how to suck up.
We had a short but marvellous tour of the Louvre. This was our hour or two of art—great art. What a pity that we did not have more time. That is one of the problems with tours. They decide what you will see and for how long. We were accompanied by the guide from our city tour, who turned out to be very good. We enjoyed her commentary a lot.
I have written in much greater detail (no doubt too much detail) on the art of the Louvre and have placed it in the blog under Fat Opinions/Art/A Morning at the Louvre.
We started with Egyptian and then moved quickly to Greek art. It was wonderful to see the amazing development from the solidity and stiffness of the Egyptian art to the Greeks sculptures that seemed to come to life. We stopped to admire the transformation of the ideal into flesh and blood beauty well illustrated by the truly awesome Venus de Milo (Aphrodite Melos) created in about 150-100 B.C. We also saw The Winged Victory of Samothrace. This wonderful statue consists of a statue of a winged female figure—thought to be the goddess Victory on top of a base in the shape of the prow of a ship.
From the Greek section we went to the Renaissance Art. At first in early Renaissance art the portraits showed the models all with the same face. And they were all perfect. No blemishes were shown. They thought that was how it was supposed to be. Eventually artists started to show differences. They showed people with imperfections. That was a huge development in art. That really ushered in the art of humanism. For humans are nothing if not imperfect. Perspective also became important in Renaissance art. Eventully9 they created marvels of perspective. That was something the Greeks and Romans failed to achieve.
One of the masters of Renaissance art was of course, Leonardo Da Vinci. Leonardo was a rebel—like so many artists before and after him. He was gay, left-handed, handsome, and athletic. He was one of the greatest artists in history. He has been called “the most curious person in history.”
He was a genius of both science and art. No one achieved such lofty status in both disciplines. It was astoundingly implausible. He used his knowledge of science to improve his art and his art to improve his science. Instead we got to see the Mona Lisa. Some art critics have focused on her mysterious smile or what Nat King Cole called “her mystic smile” in his well-known song.
We also saw a painting from another great Renaissance artist that Chris and I got to appreciate from our 3 weeks in Florence. This was Tiziano Vecellio or Titian as we call him in English. Gardner says of him that “He is among the very greatest painters of the Western world, a supreme colorist and, in a broad sense, the father of the modern mode of painting.”
One of the first works of art we stopped to appreciate was one by Eugéne Delacroix—one of the supreme artists of France. Delacroix, who lived from 1798 to 1863, once wrote, in his dairy “I dislike reasonable painting.” The work of art we saw was one of his greatest namely Death of Sardanapalus that he painted in 1826. Another work of art by Delacroix that we enjoyed a lot was his Liberty Leading the People, which he painted in 1830, long after the revolution and long after he was aware that liberty had died in the Revolution. The painting is “an allegory of revolution itself”. Liberty, a partly nude, majestic woman, whose beautiful features wear an expression of noble dignity, waves the people forward to the barricades. The familiar revolutionary apparatus of Paris streets. She carries the banner of the republic, the tricolor, and a musket with bayonet and wear the cap of Liberty. The path of her advance is over the dead and dying of both parties. Revolution climbing over the dead bodies. Is this not exactly how revolutions work?
Nearby in the museum we also gazed at a painting by Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) called Raft of Medusa. This painting had a very modern theme for it showed the French ship Medusa laden heavy with Algerian immigrants trying to cross the Mediterranean. The actual incident like many we have heard about in Europe in the last few years was a tragedy of mismanagement or exploitation and abuse. It caused a scandal in its day. Much more so than many such disasters trigger these days. These days such misery is old hat. It raises not a stir. It only raises cries for bigger and stronger walls. We spent a lot of time admiring a masterpiece Jacques-Louis DavidThe Coronation of Napoleon in Notre Dame.
After our tour of the Louvre, we walked through a small part of wonderful garden that I explored more fully the next day– Jardin du Carrousel. After that we wanted was lunch. And we wanted it in a French sidewalk café. Of course we did. We sat outside watching the world pass us by as we dined on a tuna sandwich and a lovely Sauvignon Blanc and a French bier that I did not like. It turned out to be a blueberry beer. In my opinion blueberry in beer is equivalent to a dollop of human excrement on a hardwood floor. Unfortunately I forgot the name of the café. It was across the river from the Louvre beside the Seine and near to the Musée d’Orsay. So we enjoyed our meal while we engaged in people gazing. At one time thousands of roller-bladers came by accompanied by raucous music. It was all gentle and fun loving. I love Paris.
I was actually surprised by how much I loved Paris. The people were kind. That was a big shock. I expected rude. They were never rude. They were considerate and reasonable. They loved fun, food, wine, and art. And on top of that they loved freedom. They refused to be crushed by the truck terrorists of the world. Life went on, as it should. Yes, I love Paris.
I was so in love with Paris that I walked into the Women’s Washroom. I am sure glad I was not in the southern U.S. I might have been shot on the spot by a terrified woman packing heat to protect her from perverts. I did not notice I was in the wrong facility until I left and noticed a line up of curious women who wondered what I was doing there. I didn’t tell them.
As we were dining I noticed we were right beside Restaurant Voltaire. Had I known I would have tried to eat there. Actually, later I did try but it was closed. Voltaire was shut down. That was a crime.
After a very leisurely lunch (the best kind), we strolled to the nearby Musée d’Orsay one of the finest art museums in the world. A friend of ours suggested it was even better than the Louvre. I am not sure that was true, but it was wonderful. Though it has art from other schools, the Musée d’Orsay contains probably the finest collection of Impressionist art in the world. It was stunning to walk through its Impressionist collection. This took a couple of hours. It has other galleries but we figured we had time only for one. That was pity. Just like it was a pity that we did not have a month to see all the galleries at the Louvre. You never have time to do it all. So we chose the Impressionist Gallery. That was a wonderful choice. Once again by the time we were done we were very tired.
Again to spare those not interested I have written in greater detail about the Impressionist art elsewhere in the blog under Fat Opinions/Art/Impressionism. All I will say is that the art was outstanding. I love impressionism, in part because it abandons the hopeless search for perfect representation of reality, thus making an important step towards truly modern art.
So concluded one of our best art experiences ever. It was a day filled to the brim with art sprinkled with a little religion, flowers, and philosophy. The only days that were comparable was some of the days we had in Florence when we spent 3 weeks exploring that art-soaked city. This felt like that. I loved it, but we paid a big price.
When we got back to our hotel we realized we had been very stupid. We had overdone walking and standing. When Chris looked at her ankles they were burgundy red. Or perhaps Bordeaux red. This was not a good thing. Was that worth seeing some of the finest art in the world? Maybe. Maybe not.
We sat around our room relaxing a bit and trying to regenerate. As we did so we listened to CNN and learned that the truck terrorist of Barcelona was believed to have entered France. This was getting too close for comfort, but it was also far enough for us to ignore. Life goes on. Particularly when your life is infused by art, as ours now was. Tolstoy was absolutely right, “a work of art should make people love life more.” It did that.
I urged Chris that we should stay home, but she had none of this. She is a real trooper. We walked to the Brittany region determined to find a restaurant with the food of Brittany. Her father was born there and she wanted at least to dine at one of its restaurants, even though we were some distance away from Bretagne. So we walked slowly—very slowly. This time we extensive instructions from the concierge to the right district and a new map. This map was also less than perfect. It gave an impression of the route. I guess that was fair in the circumstances. I love impressionism for art; for maps not so much.
We only had to walk about 10 minutes (walking very slowly) so it was not onerous. At least we walk this far. On one street there were 4 restaurants all from Brittany. The concierge had said they are all good and we could pick anyone of the 4. This was the Brittany district. We wanted a Crêperie. I later realized I had no idea what a Crêperie was. I have had crepes before. They are like thin pancakes with delicious sweet sauces. They can be that, but they can be much more.
The restaurant we chose was called Crêperie Quimper which is a place in Brittany near to where Chris’ father was born. And they flew the flag of Brittany. That was good enough for us. We were extremely pleased with our selection.
First of all, we were able to dine on the sidewalk. Even though it was a little bit cool it was very comfortable. And of course it was interesting. This is one of the benefits of dining on a sidewalk. You get to see people and in very few places are people more interesting than Paris. The place was bustling with activity, but the activity was quiet. People respected tranquility. This was a civilized nation. I have found civilization and it is here.
We really enjoyed our waitress. She was young and rebellious. I would call her a saucy wench without any suggestions about her character—chaste or otherwise. She had good suggestions about what we should eat. Again like all Parisians we met on this trip she was kind and respectful. No hint of surliness.
I ordered a Loquirie crepe. Sort of like Labroquerie in French lace. This crepe contained beef, cheddar cheese and a fine sauce. No sweet stuff at all. In addition, on the strong recommendation of our waitress I had a local cider from Brittany. It was called Cidre Kerisac. She served in a pitcher. That is my way to drink cider. The food and drink were both terrific. The best part of the meal was however the dessert. A crepe with salted caramel ice cream and Chantilly. It was divine. I mean that literally. This dessert was so good it should be eaten only once a lifetime. Sadly, in my case that might actually be true. Life is hard. I also had a long coffee, though for my North American tastes it was not long enough.
We had a wonderful time. For me this was my highlight of Paris. A quiet evening on a quiet street with good company, fine food, and drink. Life was very good. It was as good as it gets. This was indeed civilization, or at least an important part of it.
Sitting in the sidewalk gave me time for quiet and sad reflection. I wondered if this would be our last trip. Chris’s health is making it difficult for her. Mine is not getting any better. I hope it is not our last trip, but I have to face the possibility. We have had a great run. No one needs to feel sorry for us (except me). We have had great travels for nearly 50 years. Our first trip was 1975. That was a road trip to St. Catharines Ontario. That was where my parents took us a number of times so without much thought it seemed natural. We travelled every year thereafter, often many times per year. Our life of travel has been great. We have been extremely lucky. Lets hope our luck continues.
There were still a few friends on the ship and we said a sad good-bye to them. Some had shipped out at barbaric hours, but not us. Some were spending more time in Amsterdam. That would have been nice, but we were going to Paris. That was not shabby either. We enjoyed our last breakfast on board and saw the staff getting ready for the new passengers that would embark later today. Can you imagine, I felt a pang of jealousy that they were getting on and we had to get off? I suppose that means we enjoyed it.
We had to put out our luggage in front of our stateroom by 7:15. At 7:30 we were picked up by bus. This was the shortest bus ride we ever made. The bus took us to the train station. We could have walked there in about 3 minutes. Chris and I were the only passengers on the bus together with the driver and our guide. The guide had to make sure we did not get lost even though we could see the train station from the dock. We did however appreciate the guide who carefully explained to us how we would get on and off the train.
It seems crazy, but after being pampered for 8 days we felt a little uneasy to be leaving all our friends and going off on our own. The guide made that all easy and slick. It was a tranquil traveling experience and as we learned in Hong Kong Airport a few years ago, a tranquil traveling experience is always the best kind. So we left the comfort of the group and struck out on our own.
I know Chris would have liked to straight home because of her health. She was tired and ready to return to our own home. Her physical problems were a bit challenging. But she was a trooper.
It was a great pleasure to ride the Thalys bullet train to Paris (by way of Brussels). The train was very fast. It probably took us less time to get to Paris than it would have by plane. Our security check-in was much shorter and we carried our own luggage on to the train. The train also arrived in the centre of the city. Most importantly however was the tranquility on the train. This was truly a tranquil travelling experience unlike anything one obtains from Hong Kong Airport.
Train is really the civilized way to travel. None of the cramped in seats of planes. You can stretch and sit in comfort. Every seat on the train is like a first class seat on a plane. There is almost no turbulence and no scary thoughts of crashing into the sea. Yet we traveled at high speeds. It just did not feel so high.
Later I realized (on our trip to London) that travelling first class as we did to Paris makes all the difference. Economy class as we did to London is not quite as idyllic. I do not know how much extra first class cost. It was included in our extension. I was not sure why we did not get from Paris to London.
We did notice 3 well-armed police walking through the train. We don’t see arms on an aircraft. That slightly marred the peaceful feeling. But they were smiling. Obviously this was just a walk. Perhaps they were just showing the flag. Perhaps they were going to the bar car.
In about 3 &1/2 hours we arrived in Paris. Neither Chris nor I had ever been to France. We wanted to at least see it briefly. We were here for just 3 days and hoped to make the most of our short stay. As it turned out, for health reasons we did not really accomplish that, but we did see a lot. Whatever we saw was better, much better, than nothing.
A guide from Monogram the tour company hired for us by Avalon, met us right as we got off the train and out of the security zone. She was holding a Monogram/Avalon sign. We instantly felt comfortable. We were in Paris with someone who would help us.
The local guide’s name was Pauline. All she did, it turned out, was walk us to a car right outside the train station. Imagine that another guide for a 3- minute walk. This time we had to walk. I had to visit the toilet and of course, had to pay for the privilege. This is fairly common in Europe but I was told is becoming obsolete as more public washrooms are being provided. Paying for a toilet is hardly civilized. Is Paris civilized? My very first impression was not a good one. After that they were all good.
Pauline introduced us to the driver who drove us to our hotel in Montparnasse in the famous area of Paris called the Left Bank (La Rive Gauche). The Left Bank is the area of France famous for artists, writers and philosophers including some of my favourites. At one time or another the following lived in the Left Bank: Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone Beauvoir, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Baldwin, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Arthur Rimbaud, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Edith Wharton, and many others. In other words some consider it the world’s artistic and intellectual centre. In a sense it was the heart of civilization.
The area is also well known for its cafés. Existentialism was created in those cafés. After settling in to our hotel, we chose a café for lunch that was very near to our hotel. The day was a bit cool and cloudy so we decided to eat inside, even though we would have much preferred to sit outside in the French style. Next time, we thought. Only one thing disappointed us—that was that the waitress was NOT surly. This was hard to believe. Could we really be in France? It did not seem possible after all we had heard about Parisians. Where were the self-respecting French with their famous reputation for surliness? If the truth were known, we never met one surly staff person in our 3 days in Paris. We declared the French reputation fraudulent.
After lunch we went on the craziest walk of all time. The first problem was a lousy map. It was very unclear and did not have all the street names. Then in some cases (not make that many cases) it was extremely difficult (impossible?) to find street names on the street. The streets were also not aligned on a grid, but went in very which direction. Then there was the major problem—us and our lack of brainpower. First of all, we had a very poor conception of where our hotel was located on the map. So we could not really figure out where we were starting from. That makes it difficult to walk in a city you have never been in before. In other words, we were stupid—very stupid—for not taking a cab. This was particularly true because of the fact that Chris still had hip and knee problems. All of this was a template for disaster and that is exactly what happened. The walk was a disaster.
That is not entirely true. It was very interesting walking through Montparnasse region. Added to that we had a few fine views of the Eiffel Tower. We took a number of photographs of it of course. No one can resist that.
Thankfully we did see Hôtel des Invalides or St-Louis des Invalides with its most impressive golden dome. This imposing Hôtel was constructed in the late 17th century for Louis XIV’s invalid soldiers.
We were looking for the Musée Rodin. Our driver had recommended this as did Sarah-Jane. Unfortunately by the time we reached this museum after our epic walk, was closed. We were either too late or it was closed that day. In any event the goal was not achieved and we were dead tired. Dead stupid and dead tired. We had not been very ambitious on our first day in Paris but we did not even achieve our modest goal of seeing the Musée Rodin.
After that we were much too tired to do a lot of walking so we hailed a cab. We took a cab to Tour du Montparnasse near to our hotel. We had been told this was the best for the best views of the city. We were also told that we could sit in the bar and get the view for no more than the cost of a glass of wine. We were fully prepared to pay that price, but sadly, there was no room in the inn. We could have taken a tour but that would have taken more time and cost a lot of money. In other words we were too tired and too cheap to sign up for the tour. So we returned to our to our hotel.
When we got to our hotel we realized that all this walking had been disastrous for Chris. Her rash returned and her knee was wobbly. Chris did not want to go anywhere after that. We had badly overdone it. So we went to the C-store near by and picked up supplies. So our first night in Paris was spent sitting in our hotel nibbling on snacks, eating potato chips and diet coke. What a great Parisian meal.
Thus concluded our worst sight-seeing day ever. And we had absolutely no one to blame other than ourselves. Life is hard when you are stupid. We proved it again.
This was our second trip to Amsterdam so it was not new, but that was all right. It is well worth a second visit (or even many more for that matter). I have included in this blog photos from our previous trip because we had a better opportunity to take pictures on that trip than we did today. Last time, skies were blue and we were not confined in a gondola with glass over our heads. Bart, our cruise director gave us a lot of information about his homeland—the Netherlands.
The population of the Netherlands is about 16.2 million people or about half as many as Canada. For some reason that struck me as weird. Why would Canada have more people than the ancient country of the Netherlands? I think the reason is size. Canada is big; the Netherlands is small. In fact the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Where could all those extra people go? After all, they can only “reclaim” so much land from the sea. Bart helped us to put that into perspective: 182 countries the size of the Netherlands could fit into Australia. 242 countries the size of the Netherlands could fit into Canada.
Amsterdam is justly famous for its canals. The city has 165 canals that stretch for 100 km. The canal ring has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
26% of the Netherlands is below sea level and 60% of the people live 5 metres below sea level. If their dykes broke the country would literally be inundated. That is one of the reasons that the Dutch, unlike the Americans, take climate change seriously. They are already working to prepare for higher sea levels. The people of Miami and many other places around the world should be doing the same thing. The Dutch are already building their dykes higher and higher. They cannot take the risk that the science of climate change is right. They know that they must assume that it is right, because the risks on the other side are too catastrophic. Really that is true for all of us. The Dutch are just smarter than many of us .
The windmills of the Netherlands are not just tourist curiosities. They are used today. In fact their main job is to keep pumping the water out from inside the dykes. If the dykes stopped working in 1 week the country would be underwater to a level of 2 feet.
The Dutch assert that the land they use that was below sea level, has been “reclaimed” from the sea. I don’t like that expression. What does that mean? Does the land belong to the Dutch or does it belong to the sea? According to the Dutch, who are very self-effacing, they got the land that no one else wanted. Some say, ‘God created the world and the Dutch created the Netherlands.’
They don’t actually pump the water out. They have a more efficient system. They “screw” the water out. That is part of Dutch ingenuity. The Dutch refined Archimedes’ screw that he invented in 250 B.C. The power from the windmill drives the screw. Yes—the Dutch are smart.
Even though the Dutch are so smart, they are modest and self-deprecating. Bart was a great example of that. For example he showed two pictures of a recent international summit conference. He showed a slide of Obama arriving with his massive jet and legions of security people. Then he showed a slide of the Dutch Prime Minster showing up in a bike. I don’t know if he really did show up riding a bike, but it is not inconceivable. Is it conceivable that Donald Trump would arrive by bike?
Politics in the Netherlands is strange. Because of their system of proportional representation, many political parties are encouraged. This is the exact opposite of Canada and the United States. In fact in the Netherlands there are more than 11 political parties as a result. For example, one of the parties is the party of animals. Animals have their own party. They have another party for people over 50 years of age.
In the US they basically have only 2 significant parties. Canada has 3 or maybe 4 if you count the Greens as I certainly do. Is their system not better? Does the small number of political parties in the US not lead to more severe and crippling divisions? In the US its an US against Them World. I don’t think that is healthy. I would rather have an animal party. In fact I think in Canada we need a party for plants! Let the wild flowers enjoy rights too. (I am only half joking here). To some extent I believe that, but will leave this issue for another day.
As a result of proportional representation and having so many parties, it is difficult for any party to get a majority. So they parties have to form coalitions. Often that forces them to cooperate with other parties. They have to learn to play together nicely. Is that not a good thing?
The Netherlands has more bicycles than people. They have more than any other country in the world. It is home to 18,000 bikes. That is nearly 3 per person. Of course many Dutch don’t know where they all are. The average person rides a bike for 2.9 km per day and use bikes for one-quarter of all of their trips. Bikes must have lights and driving a bike impaired is a crime. Of course bike stealing is common. There are so many bikes it is just plain easy to steal one. Perhaps that is why most of the Dutch have modest bikes, not fancy ones like us North Americans. They don’t need fancy. Plain bikes will do. I had to be careful at every intersection to make sure a bike did not run me down. I was not nearly as worried about motor vehicles. Cyclists wait for no man and have been known to literally run down pedestrians in the bike lanes. The cyclists are militant about this.
Perhaps in part because they ride bikes so much, but really because they are environmentally responsible, their government plans to abolish all petrol (gasoline) and diesel-powered cars by 2025. That is only 6 years from now. Their law is not yet binding, but that is the direction they are riding (on their bikes of course.) By 2025 they want only electric cars on their streets. And bikes of course. China is moving in this direction too. Americans and Canadians instead are chasing losing technologies.
The Netherlands is also famous for allowing marijuana use. That does not mean anything goes. There are rules and laws. First, as Bart explained, the laws were not changed to legalize marijuana. Policies were changed not to enforce the marijuana laws in some circumstances. The Dutch policy allows people to possess and use small amounts of cannabis. The maximum amount one can carry is 5 grams (0.2 ounces) can grow is 5 cannabis plants.
Selling grass in coffee shops remains technically illegal but is tolerated by police and prosecutors provided owners stick to the rules and don’t create or permit nuisances in the neighbourhood. They are not permitted to advertise. We were told that if we saw “coffee house” that would be a place without marijuana. Sort of like Tim’s. A “coffee shop” however is a place where you can find whacky tobacky. Weirdly, smoking domestic tobacco products is not permitted in these shops. The Dutch are strange. Or perhaps they are just stoned.
The rules are not quite the same for foreigners. The government has said that only Dutch residents can buy weed in coffee shops. They don’t want to encourage grass tourism. So oddly, a Dutch person from New York cannot buy dope in the Netherlands, but a Canadian who lives in the Netherlands can. Sometimes I think the politicians who created these rules smoked too much dope.
In the afternoon, Chris stayed back on the ship, and I went for an afternoon stroll on my own. I love the city of Amsterdam. To me it represents diversity and freedom, 2 things I cherish. Amsterdam is the city of intellectual, political and religious freedom. That is definitely for me. In North American cities people are expected to toe the party line. In America—the so-called land of the free—people who do not demonstrate sufficient patriotism or staunch Christian beliefs are severely ostracized. That certainly is not freedom. Too often I think the only freedom Americans enjoy is the freedom to impose their views on others. Too often, genuine freedom is forbidden.
40% of Dutch people self-identify as non-religious. Yet they are extremely tolerant of religious views of others, provided they in turn practice tolerance. That is precisely the right way to deal with religion in society in my opinion. Everyone should be free to exercise the religion of their own choosing including the right to practice no religion at all.
The Dutch also do not like to impose their social views on others. The Dutch were the first to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001. Freedom of religion in the Netherlands is rooted in the religious wars that took place in the 16th century in European. People remembered how people were slaughtered over their religious views and practices. They do not want to repeat that. That led to the first form of limited constitutional recognition of freedom of religion in 1579. Remember that was during the 16th century when Catholics and Protestants elsewhere were taking turns burning each other at the stake.
The city of Amsterdam is extremely congenial. It was so easy to feel completely at home here. No doubt it is one of the most congenial cities in the world. I love Amsterdam.
The Dutch love art. They have one of the world’s great museums—the Rijksmuseum. One of the world’s greatest artists—Rembrandt—comes from the Netherlands. They also love tulips! How can you not love a country that loves art and tulips? The Keukenhof Gardens are the finest tulip gardens in the world.
Did you know that the first financial boom and bust was caused by tulips? It seems incredible, but it is true. There was tulip mania from 1600 to 1630. Tulips, not railroads, furs, diamonds or gold led to the world’s first stock market boom and crash. I bulb could be sold for a fortune. Land was traded for tulips. In 1634 one Dutch trader exchanged one 1,000 pounds of cheese, 4 oxen, 8 pigs, 12 sheep, a bed, and a suit of clothes for one tulip bulb. The Dutch know what valuable—flowers!
We were lucky when we went to Keukenhof because they also had an orchid show. Go figure–an orchid show in a tulip garden! Life is good.
Historically the Netherlands welcomed religious dissidents fleeing persecution in other countries like Germany and France. They accepted religious dissenters. That was another reason why I loved Amsterdam. This was my kind of city. Tulips, canals, bikes, art, freedom, and rebels. What is there not to love?
I saw no sign of military posturing. The Dutch have outgrown that. At one time they had it too. Not any more. All military ambitions have been abandoned.
This does not mean that the Netherlands is perfect. Like so many other parts of the world the fearful people are growing in influence here too. The fearful people are trying to persuade the rest that all of their problems are caused by nasty immigrants. As a result far right political groups have been growing in popularity, but thankfully have not become dominant. I don’t think they will become dominant either, but we will have to wait and see.
No one seems to fear terrorist attacks. The Prime Minister is single and lives with his mother. No one comments about that. He is completely free to do that. People like him. He is thoughtful, not aggressive. He is kind, not belligerent. He talks calmly without ranting. Americans could learn a lot from the Dutch. So could Canadians. This country is for me!
Perhaps my search for civilisation was over. It seemed to me that it could be found here in Amsterdam. I was able to forget about terrorists. I remembered them, but only for a short time. As I walked through the city enjoying the sun, the canals, the wonderful old buildings, the sidewalk cafés and bars, and the obvious freedom enjoyed by all. I was immensely pleased. It really felt like this was the place for me. This was civilisation. I love the Netherlands!
After our last river cruise fine meal and copious amounts of wine, we returned to our cabin to pack our bags. This was sad. Our river cruise was over tomorrow and all our friends for life were going their separate ways. We said our good-byes and prepared for our new adventure on our own. That was scary.
We arrived in Kőln at about midnight. I am very sorry to report that by then I was under the influence of strong drink. Too much imbibing at dinner. I was in a sorry condition. It turned out that was a big mistake, because as a result I failed to rouse myself to photograph the famous church at night from the boat. I got a very brief view of the famous cathedral as I happened to wake up from my slumber, and peeked out our window as we glided by it. It was really too late. Had I been in better condition I could have strolled down the street when we anchored for the night and captured a glorious image. I will never forgive myself.
And yet….I fortuitously woke up from my slumber for some incredible reason, and looked out our window, at the exact moment that that our ship glided past the famous Kőln Cathedral. I did not have time to set up my tripod. Besides the ship was moving and that might not have helped, but I had time for one, and only one grab shot of the magnificent cathedral at night. I captured a very blurry image of one of the finest cathedrals in Europe at night. I did not capture a sharp image, but I did capture the ghost of the cathedral or the essence of the cathedral. I got a picture of its skeletal outline or its bones or its pure essence. I love the image I captured. It was a wonder. Perhaps it was a miracle.
After breakfast we went on another walking tour with a local guide Ernst a sharp-tongued cynical German Ernst. Like all our guides, I enjoyed his commentary very much. It is great to have a local guide when you visit a new city for the first time.
This time we visited the city of Kőln (or Cologne if you prefer the English version). I always wonder why people have to change the name of cities or countries to match more closely, or at least phonetically, how they want the name to sound or look in their language. For example, why do some Europeans spell Canada as Kanada? It makes no sense. They could easily use the correct name with the correct spelling. Why not?
Before we saw the cathedral our guide showed us Gross St. Martin a prominent landmark in the city, but it is not old by European standards. The cathedral was completed in 1880 and a year later the city wall was demolished.
As we walked through Old Kőln our guide Ernst reminded us that in ancient times we would have been forced into constant vigilance that women from upper floors of buildings did not discard their garbage or dirty “water” or worse, onto us on the street below. In those days women dumped out their window onto the streets beneath what they wanted to discard even if it came, from the “night pot.”
Ernst drew our attention to the fact that most buildings in Kőln are “fake.” Forget about fake news, these were fake buildings. That is because 90% of the buildings were destroyed during the Second World War and many were replaced by similar buildings that would fit in better, it was thought, with the historical city centre. Ye they were good fakes. For example, as I said earlier I loved Gross St. Martin and was surprised to learn that it was “fake.” It was a good fake. I took a number of photographs of it, before and after I realized it was a fake.
It was very fortunate that the Kőln Cathedral was saved as a result of poor aim of Allied bombers, and some attributed this to God’s will. Why else would it have been spared? Of course, we might ask, why were all the other churches razed and not saved? Did God not like those other churches?
Like so many cities in Europe, Kőln also suffered at the hands of the Allied forces in their efforts to destroy the Nazi led government of Germany. By the end of World War II 90% of Kőln was destroyed. Amazingly the Cathedral was largely spared.
Ernst, our guide, was pleased to demonstrate to us the incompetence of military combatants. The Allies used the cathedral in the heart of the city, as their target for bombing the city, and, naturally, that meant that it was saved, because the Allies so rarely hit their target! Everything around it except for the cathedral was completely destroyed. It was actually hit 14 times by aerial bombs, but most of them failed to explode, as so much Allied ordinance was a dud. Of course as so often happened with unexploded ordinance, years later children playing in the streets were attracted to it and it frequently exploded in their hands. The Allies They did manage to break many windows, but the structure was intact. Fortunately, locals spirited away the majestic 14th century stained glass from the church before the Nazis realized it. As a result it was spared too. Was that divine intervention? Or was it just another example of the incompetence of war and warriors? I think the latter.
A good example of a building that was not spared was Gross St. Martin. This church was completely destroyed because the Allies did not aim at it. They only aimed at the Cathedral because it was very large and very central, the Allies did not actually want to destroy it. After all, why bother to bomb a church? But it was their target.
The star attraction of Kőln is no doubt the Cathedral. It is a Roman Catholic Cathedral that acts as the seat of the Archbishop of Kőln and of the administration of the Archdiocese of Kőln. It is a world famous monument to German Catholicism and Gothic architecture. It was declared a world heritage site in 1996 and today is Germany’s number one tourist attraction visited by 20,000 people a day. We had an opportunity to visit it briefly, but declined. That was disappointing because it has been said that this cathedral has the finest interior of any church in Europe. However, we were getting tired and wanted to rest and were getting tired of crowds and wanted to avoid them. So we walked around the cathedral a bit, trying to get a good view for a photo and letting us rest a bit.
The Kőln Cathedral is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and has the second tallest spires. With its twin towers, it provides the largest façade of any church in the world. The choir has the largest height to width ratio of any medieval church. The medieval church builders wanted a magnificent building to house the dubious relics of the 3 Kings and to fit the place of worship of the Holy Roman Emperor. Only the grand was suitable for the Emperor.
For me traveling is learning. Today we learned a little bit about Gothic Art. Gothic Architecture is a style of architecture that flourished in Europe during the High and Late Middle Ages. It evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture. It is a style that is most familiar as the style of the great cathedrals, abbeys, and churches of Europe. Many castles, palaces, universities, and town halls also have Gothic style. Gothic Architecture started in 12th century France and lasted up to the 16th century. At the time it was usually called Francigenum (“French work”). Its characteristics include the pointed arch, the ribbed vault that evolved from the joint vaulting of Romanesque architecture) and the flying buttress.
Although many of the great churches and cathedrals were built in this style, some much smaller buildings have embraced this style as well. The style often leads to appeals to the emotions and many of the smaller buildings are considered buildings of distinction. Many of the larger ones are listed with UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.
The Cathedral is a world famous example of Gothic art. Gothic art is fascinating. I will never forget my introduction to Gothic Art. That occurred when I watched a spectacular television series called Civilization and it was narrated by Sir Kenneth Clark an erudite commentator. Later I bought the companion book and enjoyed it immensely. It really was my personal introduction to art in particular and even, to some extent to civilization. It was from that occasion that I have developed a life-long interest in civilization. The good and the bad of civilization. It is never an unmixed blessing.
Early on in that wonderful series. Clark stood in front of a magnificent cathedral in France–Chartres. I had never heard of it before. I doubt that I had heard of Gothic art either. Clark saw that cathedral, and other Gothic Cathedral as being “an expression of the Divine Law and an aid to worship and contemplation.” He said, it certainly has this affect on me… this quality of lightness, this feeling of Divine Reason.”
According to Clarke, in Gothic architecture, “The dull mind rises to truth through that which is material.” “This was,” as Clark pointed out, “a revolutionary concept in the Middle Ages. It was the intellectual background of all the sublime works of art in the next century and in fact has remained the basis of our belief in the value of art until today.”
Clark the importance of the Gothic style of architecture, was not only the pointed arch, but the lightness of high windows–what we call the clerestory and triforium. ‘Bright,’ he says, ‘is the noble edifice that is pervaded by new light,’ and in these words anticipates all the architectural aspirations of the next two hundred years.” I love that concept, a structure, a work of art that is “pervaded by new light.” That is the magnificence of Gothic Art.
The height of Gothic art, to Clark, and I accept this, although I have not yet seen it, is the Cathedral at Chartres. Clark marvels at how it is permanent. Remember that is Clark’s benchmark of what is civilization. To the medieval man geometry was a divine activity. God was the great geometer, and this inspired the architect.
We must remember, that to the medieval thinkers geometry was the instrument to explore the mind of God. And architecture–in particular what was later called Gothic architecture–was the manifestation in materials of the mind of God. What an astounding concept. Clark said that in Gothic architecture with its vault and arch the architect “he could make stone seem weightless: the weightless expression of his spirit.” This was an astonishing achievement–to make a stone building seem spirit–i.e. to make it spiritual–part of the very mind of God. That summed up Gothic art.
In many ways, Clark sees the construction of the gothic Cathedrals of Europe as the birth of European civilization. Our intellectual energy, our contact with the great minds of Greece, our ability to move and change, our belief that God may be approached through beauty, our feeling of compassion, our sense of the unity of Christendom–all this, and much more, appeared in those hundred marvelous years in the 12th and 13th centuries.
It fascinates me that the Cathedral of Kőln stood incomplete for so long. The work was halted in 1473, leaving the south tower incomplete but crowned with a huge crane that remained in place as a landmark of the Kőln skyline for 400 years! Intermittently some work was done on the structure of the nave between the west front and eastern arm, but during the 16th century construction stopped completely. I would say, it stopped until the local regained their sense of confidence.
In the 19th century encouraged by the discovery of the original plans and with the commitment of the Protestant Prussian Court to complete the cathedral. Through civic effort that was achieved. The state actually saw this as a way to improve relations with its large component of Catholic subjects it had gained in 1815. Imagine that!
The new unified country of Germany celebrated the completion on August 14 1880, 632 years after construction had begun. It was the tallest building in the world for 4 years until those darn Americans completed the Washington Monument.
In 1996 the Kőln cathedral was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, but sadly, in 2004 it was placed on the World Heritage in Danger List.” In fact it was at the time the only western site in danger, because of plans for a high-rise building near by. That would have visually impacted the site that is already visually impacted by other structures in the area. Most of those other structures are ancient, but some of them were depressingly modern. It is not enough to get a building or an area listed; it must then be protected. In 2006 the building was removed from the site of endangered buildings list because the local authorities wisely decided to limit the heights of near by buildings.
During the evening we travelled 17 Km down a canal from the Rhine River that we had cruised for more than a week all the way to the city of Amsterdam. This was the end of our cruise, though we still had one more day on board and then 3 days in Paris and 3 days in London.
Today we had breakfast with our Australian friends and were joined by an American Presbyterian Minister from Dayton Ohio who was also a lawyer. What an odd combination. He was a very interesting man.
I asked him something that has been bothering me for some time. How could evangelical Christians so overwhelmingly support Donald Trump for President no matter what he said or did? To me it seemed entirely incongruous.
He said that their entire conservative religion is based on fear. They fear hell, the devil, Muslims, crime, fear immigrants, elites, blacks and Hispanics. That is just the short list. They have many other fears. Their list of people to fear is extraordinarily long. That is why they support Trump’s idea to build a wall. They feel safe behind walls. Like people felt safe in the Middle Ages behind castle walls.
Trump told them when he was campaigning ‘Don’t worry, Trust me.” That was his message. The times are scary. Mexicans are sending us their worst people—rapists, drug dealers, and murderers. Blacks are getting uppity and dangerous. Trump’s message was simple. Don’t worry I will make you safe. I will take care of you. I will keep those scary people away from you and your home.
I will keep the American carnage away from you. The disaster in Chicago where crime flourishes in the city centre should be kept on the other side of a wall too. “Believe me,” he says and they do. They feel safe with Trump. I think they still do and that is why they continue to support him.
Americans are very fearful people. They spend more on their military than the next 8 countries combined, yet they are scared of everyone. That is why I think their civilization is in decline. Fear is inimical to the desire to build civilization. That requires confidence, something current Americans lack.
Until today we were a bit disappointed that we had not seen much of Europe from the boat. Usually we sailed at night when we could see nothing. So really we felt the idyllic scenes of sailing by castles on the Rhine were a bit deceiving. That is we felt like that until today. Today things were different. We sailed right by the castles. Before the day was finished my camera was nearly white hot from taking over 500 images. Before the day was out we were nearly ready to cry out, “ABC.” That meant, “Another bloody castle.” I must admit I never felt like yelling out ‘ABC.’ Today we spent the entire day on the ship. In morning we had it nearly to ourselves as skipped an excursion. It felt like this was our personal yacht.
Castles were built because rich Europeans (no one else could afford a caste) feared many things too. They feared invasion, the princes nearby, foreign nobles, the masses, and the rabble. Castles were designed to build a wall around the families of rich people and keep the fearful enemies out.
The Rhine Gorge, as this area was called, has greatest concentration of castles in the entire world. It seemed there was one or more castles around every bend in the river. That is why this area has been declared a World Heritage site.
Schönburg Castle is a gorgeous castle perched on a spectacular rock overlooking the Rhine River and a town of Oberwesel and an equally spectacular church. I love churches; I love cathedrals; and I love mountains. Here you get all of these together.
In one town we sailed by a church and pub that were married together. In order to get into the church you had to walk through the pub. Who thought up that design?
Again a church and a castle
This was probably my favourite castle. Marksburg Castle was built (mainly) from the 14th century though partly from the 13th century. It still retains much of its medieval character. It has never been destroyed. Its canons fired on vessels that did not have permission to go by. Knights who pledged their loyalty to master of the castle made it their home.
Eventually we arrived in Koblenz. The city was first established in 9 B.C. by the Romans who deliberately chose the site because the two rivers met there. In the 5th century the Romans withdrew from the Rhine, leaving the territory to the barbarians.
The Jews of Koblenz were not treated well in the Second World War. Before World War II about 500 Jews lived in Koblenz—a small but fairly wealthy community with a synagogue. After the war none were left. A few escaped, but most were killed. Murdered by the Nazi regime and their numerous supporters.
Kristallnacht is a night that people in civilized countries should never forget. It was a night when it was demonstrated forever how thin the veneer of civilization is that separates civilization from barbarism. No one should ever forget that there is no barrier between the two. It must be remembered that Germany at the time considered itself, not entirely without justification, the most civilized country in the world. It took great pride in its achievements.