European Travel Weblog - Summer 2003
Saturday, 20 September 2003
[silica mud]
Natalie smears some "healthy and exfoliating" silica mud into a beauty mask on her face at the Blue Lagoon. | Reykjavik, IS
silica mud. Today's big trip was to the Blue Lagoon. Burr and I told ourselves that we were´t going to do any major sight seeing in Iceland, just relaxing. The blue Lagoon was just our ticket; after a month of running willy-nilly around the continent with packs on our backs it was nice to go to this, admittedly very touristy, gigantic bath full of cleansing minerals. It was a bit like a facial for your whole body, and it did include access to large pots of whitish facial mud which we happily smeared all over our bodies. As a sculptor I couldn´t help but wonder as I smeared silica mud on myself, whether or not this mud would make a good shell for lost wax bronze casts (--the molds for making bronze sculptures...they are essentially made of the same material as the facal mud) hmmmmm.

The Lagoon itself is a small string of lake-like bodies of milky blue water that are run-off pools from the geothermal power plant located nearby. You have to give these icelanders credit, it isn´t every county that can make a utility plant into a tourist trap. The water is the temperature of a hot bath--cooler that a hot tub and hotter than a pool, and contains silica mud and minerals used in the geothermal plant, which also happen to be great for your skin. A favorite area of the Lagoon was the fake geyser where the new hot water was added. YOu could have literally boiled yourself alive there if you wanted--Burr and another man did get a little too close and did some yelping and back pedaling--but that wasn´t the reason for our interest--nope. The *steam*! Yes, the steam the billowed of the geyser onto the water was wonderful. Because of the wind--did mention the Lagoon was outdoors--the steam would fly past as if you were flying though clouds. We did have the audacity to stand up out of the warm water and pretend-fly though the steam which was often so thick that you couldn´t see anything!

The Lagoon is wonderful, but it isn´t for everyone. It´s an even split amongst people we´ve met whether they thought it was worth the trip or not. For weary travelers like us it was ideal.

Burr and I bought our last patches of the trip, we´ve been collecting an embroidered patch from every country we´ve visited, my collection of flag patches will go in our album, and Burr wants to sew his on hims school back pack at home.

We were talking to some folks tonight, 2 Americans and a Swede, and I realized that my favorite souvenir came from one such late-night talk. Back in Poland Burr, Kasia, Remek and I stayed up talking about language and culture and I asked Kasia to "decline" my name for me; in Polish both verbs and nouns change forms, whereas for the most part only verbs cange their forms in English, an exception to this would be the pronouns "I" and "me" for the place of the subject and the place of the object respectively. Anyway, when a Pole would say my name it would change form according to my role in the sentence, whether I was the subject of the sentence, the object, the indirect object, the possessor, etc. There are formulas for most of these changes in other words, but I have never known what formula was used to change my name. Kasia wrote out the seven different forms of my name that night and I now have them in my Polish grammar book. That is my favborite souvenir thus far. I don´´t have them with me right now, I´ll try to put them up soon.

posted by natalie - 01:49 am GMT
Friday, 19 September 2003
Lichen moss grows thick over the mounds of volcanic rock in the Icelandic countryside. | Reykjavik, IS
Pre-breakfast observation. I was thinking this morning on the toilet (where I often do my best thinking), and decided to make this post. I've been meaning to make it for some time now: each country (or region) has its own philosophy about toilets: what it should look like, ergonomic issues, where the flush mechanism is situation (and, indeed, how it works). Norway, for example, likes these Frank-Lloyd-Wright-inspired trapezoidal potties with a knob on the top that one pulls up to flush, and the knob falls back down during the flush. Iceland is similar, but the seat is more of a box. Germany has quite round ones like those in the USA, have a square flusher that is recessed into the top of the WC that you have to push in. Some others also has a kind of "shelf" on the bottom... such that a #2 is on display when you stand up, and you just hope the flush is powerful enough to knock it all down the hole (Switzerland and Poland prefers this kind, too, as I recall). Italy has a chasm straight down the the bottom (that's rather deep, so you fear some splash-back) with a metal rod poking out the front that you must push in to flush. Those of France are like the non-shelved German ones, but there is often a circular button on the top cut into two buttons: a crescent-shape and the leftover. The larger is a "full" flush, whereas the smaller is a "half" flush. Those I witnessed in Great Britain are also kind of boxy, with a metal lever on the right side of the WC that you push down. I meant to start photographing each new type of toilet I came across, but alas did not. Maybe in a future trip...
posted by burr - 08:17 am GMT
Thursday, 18 September 2003
[way out]
Everywhere in Europe exits were labeled "exit" in English, except England, where it is the "way out." | Ashford, UK
[kristen adn the yew maze]
Burr's cousin Kristen finally makes it to the center of the hedge-maze, where everyone else had been waiting for some time... | Hever, UK
[burr and the water maze]
Burr carefully tries to cross the ledge in the Hever Castle water-maze without getting sprayed. | Hever, UK
Aurora Borealis. I'm not sure I've ever seen the northern lights as clearly as you can see them up here in Iceland. As Natalie and I were walking back from the grocery store a few hours ago, there was a long, faint, milky cloud above us and we thought that it might have just been jet exhaust at first... but then it grew and thickened and turned brilliant greens and purples and rippled around like some giant poltergeist. And just now, as I was waiting to use the Internet computer to check e-mail and add this promised update (I waited about an hour), I took some breaks to go outside and stare up at the sky. The display wasn't as interesting as before, but still... still...

So to fill in on the past few days (I don't know how much Natalie wrote earlier): We spent one last day in Paris, rising in the morning to go buy our Eurostar train tickets through the chunnel (the tunnel under the English Channel), then went to the Musée Rodin, and after a fabulous meal (probably the only real meal we ate in France... the others were sandwiches from bakeries, mostly) of beef and mussels, we split up. I went to the famous Gilbert-Joseph bookstore on Rue St-Michel, just a spit from Notre Dame, and looked at books. I found the French translation of Gödel, Escher, Bach, a book of which I am fond, as well as the Harry Potter series in French. Interestingly enough, the first book was translated to something completely different: from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to Harry Potter à L'école des Sorciers ("Harry Potter at the school for sorcerers"). I also found several more used books to add to my collection of Astérix book in the original French. Since they were used, they were only about €20 for 5 of them... now I have a total of ten!! They're very cleverly written "graphic novels" ("bandes desinées," as they're called).

Meanwhile, Natalie did not go to the Musée d'Orsay as originally planned. Since Munich we'd averaged about a museum per day (one day in Firenze we hit 3 in one day), so we were museumed out. She decided that, even though it was one of the most important museums in Europe, she wasn't really in the mindset to take it all in, and besides, it gave us an excuse to go back!! (Other excuses include crêpes, versailles, and the "parade of animals" -- a huge taxidermy exhibition she heard about.) So Wednesday morning we got up and headed to the Gare du Nord (pronouced "garr du norr," but when ordering the Métro tickets, I mispronouned it as "gair du nor," so I actually requested 2 tickets to the "War of the North") and caught our superfast train to Asford, in Kent, right next to Surrey, England. There my cousin Kristen picked us up and drove us back to her lovely cottage home and after a small breakfast of bacon (what they call bacon, we call ham), eggs, and baked beans, decided to skip London proper and stay outside as much as possible on such a lovely day. So we went to the Hever Castle, an estate once owned by the family of Anne Boleyn (second wife of Kind Henry VIII who was beheaded for not baring him a son, but Elisabeth I instead). Lost of history... and two garden mazes to boot. (One in shrubbery, and one was a fountain maze... very interesting!!) We rounded off the evening with a tasty dinner at the Dog & Duck pub, where I had "Scrumpy Chicken" and two pints of "bitter" (a type of ale which isn't all that bitter).

This morning we got up nice and early so Kristin could drive us to Gatwick airport on her way to work, then we bought tickest for a shuttle bus to Heathrow, where we waited for 3 hours for our flight, which was in the air for 4 hours to Keflavik (Iceland), where we caught another shuttle into Reykjavik proper (where we are now). Somewhere in all that time, I managed to polish off the last 100 pages or so of Harry Potter... and woah, was my head reeling. After my last brief post, we got some dinner at a neighborhood shop: cheeseburger, fries, and 0.5L coke for K660 = US$8.57 each. Two nights in the youth hostel here is about US$10 more than 3 nights in our Paris hotel was... so be warned, Iceland ain't cheap. After buying groceries and our tickets to the Blue Lagoon for tomorrow morning, we determined that we'd already spent our alotted budget for the stay in Iceland, but since we underspent in some places (like Poland and Germany), we'll be OK. Well, there's a line of folk wanting to use these computers so I think I'll sign off now. More to come.

posted by burr - 11:55 pm GMT
grass, and lot of it. We are in grassy, rocky, black-sandy Iceland. It was an uneventful flight from Great Britian´s Heathrow. Burr and I just checked into the hostel, and for the first time we have been split up because of gender specific dormitories. OOooo, what mischief could a married couple be up to, eh? ...but I understand; I´d prefer it this way if I were traveling alone.

We had a wonderful time back in Britain with Burr´s cousin Kristin who is not English, but is working in Surrey (Harry Potter´s home turf!) as a vet. We drove out to Hever Castle, former summer home of Anne Boleyn, ill-fated second wife of Henry the VIII. It had a yew maze!!!!! (A hedge maze.) and a water maze that had water hazards that would shoot up beteen the planks as you dashed though the maze. It was my sworn goal in England to experience at least one maze, and I ran though two! We were plenty wet and winded by the end and had a great walk though the garden with a stop for icecream and drinks. I like Britain.

Kristen has actually picked up more than a little accent, and I´d have to say it is contagoious if for no other reason that it seems to help the Brits understand you if you "translate" for them. We also met Kristin´s new beau Simon, a Brit with a wonderful sense of humor. He is studying to be a vet and beteen the two of them I loved hearing about their animal experiences and asking the what certian breeds of animals were as we passed them in the fields. They took us to a great pub called the Duck and Dog where we had wonderful food a talked.

Burr and I will be back to Great Britain for a much longer stay some day, but this time we only had the one day, and then it was off to Iceland this morning. I´ve already fallen in love with the literal texture of this place and I´m going to make a lot of sketches here...Iceland is yet another candidate for a lo9bger trip. Toemorrow we will visit the Blue Lagoon, the geothermal biproduct of one of their local geothermal power plants...sounds awful I know, but they claim that the mix of minerals is actually great for your skin (like a giant facial for your body) and can even cure psoriasis (sp?).

posted by natalie - 06:07 pm GMT
Hlið. That's my patron word in Icelandic and it means "gate" (as in a boarding gate in an airport). so novel bits on Icelandic keyboards: the characters ð/Ð, ö/Ö, æ/Æ, and þ/Þ. Natalie and I learned about "ð" in Linguistics as "eth" (the hard "th" sound in "they"). Anyway, "hlið" (pronouced "hlehthe," I guess), is just a cool sounding word.

We will post more substantial entries after dinner (we just arrived at the hostel here, and though it's only 17:53 here, we're now 2 hours earlier than we were for 95% of the trip, so our bodies think it's almost 20:00 (8pm) and we've had no dinner. We're off to explore a bit of Reykjavik before the sun sets. We only have today, tomorrow, and Saturday morning here (which may be just as well, as Iceland appears to be every bit as expensive as scandinavia), so we have a lot to see! The weather is substantially cooler than it was in Italy, France, and Britain, but nowhere near "icy!" I think our plan tomorrow or Saturday morning is to visit the famous Blue Lagoon... but again, food now, more later.

posted by burr - 05:59 pm GMT
Monday, 15 September 2003
[beurre, le penseur]
Stopping to think in the Rodin Museum garden. | Paris, FR
[tour eiffel]
On the first floor of the Tour Eiffel. | Paris, FR
lactic acid. My legs are seizing-up, or so it feels. We have been walking so much.

I have a story to tell from our time back in Florence. So much happened then, and I still haven't written it all. Just down the street from the place where we stayed with our friends was a book maker's studio. Burr and I dropped in one morning on our way to a museum and gawked at all the beautiful books. Aside from rebinding books for the Library in town and producing small editions of hand type-set books the man and his wife made journals, sketchbooks, address books etc. Just over the counter you could see all his presses and tools with rolls of gorgeous paper stored overhead. I was in heaven. Many of the books featured marbled covers or pages and were bound beautifully. I stood for way too long just opening and closing them. (They worked so well!) In the end I bought a couple of sketchbooks and we went on our way. Later that day I convinced Burr to swing by the shop again for some gifts. When we stopped in the man remebered and greeted us. He showed us several other books he made that he liked; when he found out I was an artist and a bookmaker (to a lesser degree) he became very excited and pulled out all sorts of illustrations of historical books he had made, and several books-in-the-making he had patterned after old designs. He was so excited to share his craft. In the end He took out a couple of leather bookmarks backed with marblized paper and gave them as gifts to us. Mine is blue with the symbols of the Medici family tooled into it, and Burr's is brown with a stamped impression of two boys reading. I was excited to have connected with another artist and have seen a bit of his process.

Today in Paris we visited the printmakers' Mecca. F. Charbonnel is in the shadow of Notre Dame accross the river, and boasts some of the finest ink and tools in the world for printmakers. Burr even took a picture of me walking into the store for posterity. Not knowing when or how I will next have access to a press I couldn't buy any ink or else it might dry out. After the woman in the store watched us like a hawk as we inspected every product in the small, posh store I asked her if I could see the small metal polishing tools closer. We had a bit of a language break down whe Burr and I tried to ask to see the burnishers (that's what these polishing tools are called), but what we didn't realize was that she was simply saying the word "bournisoir"--burnisher in French...such specialized vocabulary is not my fairly fluent hubby's gig. I left Mecca with a a much coveted, brand new "bounisoir boulle", a burnishing ball on a stick. Feel free to OOooo and AAhhhhhh; I know you want to.

From there we wandered our way to the Eiffel Tower, but I'll let Burr tell that story.

Our next stop after a music shopping trip was the Pompadou (sp?) Buying tickets was a little wierd; we asked if there was a student or artist's discount and tha man said there was, but we needed to show our ID's. He grimaced when there was no trace of the word "art" on my ID, but seemed to think it was good enough. Burr tried to explain, that though he was a student he wasn' really an artist per se, and should simply get the student discount. However, the man said to just show our ID's at the entrance to get into the museum as artists for free. He just wouldn't sell Burr a reduced ticket.

Burr and I moved on to the entrance where we were interrogated in French about the validity of our claim to a free visit. The man there did not seem satisfied with our ID's that didn't say "art" anywhere on them, but Burr kept explaining what the man doan stairs had said. In the end Burr whipped out his new-found vocabulary of art terms from Charbonnel to expain the media I worked in, and cited his own work in photography in undergrad and the man let us pass. When we made it to the top floor there stood one more ticket checker; Burr and I nearly turned around, but when we prepared to brandish our unartful student ID's and explain ourselves, the woman simply smiled and said artists? Pleas come right through. Wheew.

posted by natalie - 08:10 pm GMT
[f. charbonnel]
Natalie, en route to the world-famous F. Charbonnel prinkmaking supply store, in the shadow of Notre Dame. | Paris, FR
[the stravinski fountain]
Dodging the elephant's spray from the Stravinsky Fountain outside the Centre Georges Pompidou. | Paris, FR

"Song for Jedi" (mp3)
"Mot de Trop" (mp3)
Ben Biolay - "Chaise à Tokyo" (mp3)
Sanseverino - "Mal-o-Mains" (mp3)
Les musiques françaises. Today, on our stroll down the Champs-Elysées, we walked into the Virgin Records megastore to see what kind of French music there was for me to add to the collection... and there was a lot... and I couldn't quite contain myself. Since every other country except England is already spoken for (plus I already have tons of British bands), and I have a particular affinity for French, I convinced myself that I could get got not one, but three French music albums: "Western Sous la Neige" by Dionysos (who actually sings some in English, with a cute little accent), "En Plein Coeur de la Nuit" by Sofia Mestari (which Natalie was surprised I liked, because it's a bit more "pop" than most, but that's kind why I got it, too), and a compilation of "Le meilleur de la nouvelle scène française" ("The best of the new French scene"), 20 songs of contemporary musicians that still borrow from the traditional French sound (e.g. accordions, etc.). So that's 8 new CDs from 6 different countries. That should do me for a while...

In other news, we got up this morning after a very satisfying sleep digesting our dinner from Quick (the French fast-food chain that, while still serving burgers and fries, prepares them in a Frenchlike manner: buttery and all). We changed rooms in the hotel to one that is larger, but has no shower (there's a public one down the hall) and set out to sight see. We visited Charbonnel (I'm sure I'm misspelling that), a famous art stupply store behind Notre Dame that I'm sure Natalie will tell you about, and set off to see the Musée; Rodin, which was closed. So instead we walked a bit further and found teh Tour Eiffel... have I ever said that Natalie is a sucker for touristy stuff? Well, she is, and since I can't say I much minded the idea, we shelled out the €20.40 (about US$23, I guess) to ride the "lift" up to the top. We found our hotel, the sights we'd seen, those we'd like to see, etc., and took a lot of goofy pictures. After a late lunch (ca. 15:30) we walked all the way to the Champs-Elys閑s to the Arc de Triomphe, and our feet were about to give, so we just took the Métro back to the stop nearest our Hotel at around 18:50. But since the modern art museum in the Centre Georges Pompidou was still open for another 2 hours, we went there and convinced the personnel that we should get in for free because we were art students (well, to be honest, I only told him that Natalie was an art student, and I tried to explain that I was not one, but the guichet wouldn't sell us tickets... he said to just go right in... the security folk took more convincing, but it worked). We spent the last 2 hours of the evening there, and here we are ritualistically checking the e-mail and updating the blog.

Tomorrow we'll hit the Rodin museum when it's open and the rest is a bit of a free-for-all. Natalie wants to check out some of the art supply and stationery stores in our hotel's neighborhood as well as the Musée d'Orsay. I think I'm going to skip the Musée d'Orsay... now, when I told this to the Casparians last week they junped down my throat, but I've been there 3 times, and though I know that there's something new to be gained every time, I want to take the afternoon to stroll around the city, eavesdrop on conversations to see what I can understand, and pop ny head in and out of some French bookstores. Last time I was here, I bought about 5 graphic novels (e.g. comic books) in a series called Astérix & Obélix, and I've finished them, so I'd like to get some more. Graphic novels are apparently a huge French artform: Natalie and I poked our heads inside what we expected to be a games store today, but it turned out to be a 2-level store of nothing but high-quality, hardback comic books of various types. Maybe I'll pick up a few of those too, and see what I can understand. I truly want to master this language someday...

posted by burr - 08:00 pm GMT
Sunday, 14 September 2003
zzzzzzzzzz...... I'm really tired, and typing on this French keyboard is taking most of my concentration...the "a" is in a really weird spot.

I didn't sleep as well on the couchette last night. It was made of vinyl and the sheets wouldn't stay in place. In addition, I had chosen to wear shorts and no socks. I was like a human piece of scotch tape on the mattress. As we came closer and closer to Paris my bare feet became colder and colder. They are no longer experiencing a heat wave here.

Though Burr slept best he ever had on his couchette, we were both tired when we arrived around 8:30am. However, zealots for culture that we were we headed straigt for the Louvre after securing accomadations. We raced from room to room barely feeling like we saw anything, but wanting to see everything. I really liked the French and Italian funerary sculptures...more fuel for my present artistic ideas surrounding the images of life and death. The Flemish and French Paintings on the middle and top floors would sometimes suck me into their gaze and I would stand there staring for a long time. We saw the Mona Lisa, Michealangelo's Dying Captive and the Winged Victory of Samothrace (missed the Venus De Milo tho...), and it was weird to think that this was the first time I'd ever seen them in person; I've seen them reproduced so many times. There were some great drawing-like paintings by a guy called Pietr Boel--; really interesting compositions. It took us nearly 'til the end of our time to find the Etruscan sculptures (personal favorite) and we never did find the fictious rooms of prints and drawings...grrr.

The Louvre was larger than I imagined and six hours later it was more than my weary body could handle. I had to sit more and more toward the end of our jog through the museum, and I was so tired and rushed that I only made one sketch--one of those P. Boel paintings. I think the Louvre is one of those places you need to live next to to fully appreciate it; I expect that I'll need to go back during another trip.

Our hotel is wonderful. It wouldn't earn any stars, and the WC is down the hall (eventhough the shower and sink are in the room), but the view is marvelous! We look directly down on a street named Rue de Rivoli which seems to be a main avenue. From our balcony--yes, we have a balcony--we can see lavishly embellished French buildings. I have know idea what specific era they are from, but when they're lit up at night it's a beautiful thing.

I need to sketch more.

posted by natalie - 09:17 pm GMT
Ce serait difficile.... Yes, this will be a bit tricky. Why? Because French keyboards ("claviers," as I beleive they're called), are completely different than any other language. Everything's rearranged (it's the French, what do you expect?)... but there's apparently a nifty trick that allows you to change the keyboard settings to whatever language you want, so I have reverted it back to English. The tricky part is, say when I want to type an "A" and temporarily forget where it is, I look down at the keyboard and hit the "A" key, which produces a "Q." Even stranger is the "M" key producing ";" etc. etc.

Another funny story about yesterday in Levanto: as Natalie was off getting ice cream cones and I was in the park, waiting for the hostel to open back up so we could get our stuff, a little blond kid waltzed up to me with a 1€ coin and asked something in italian, which I didn't understand. So I said, "Parla inglese?" and he thought for a moment before responding, "no." So I said, "Parla francese?" and he looked at me with a funny no-you-big-silly-man smile and said, "no, italiano!!" So I smiled and shrugged my shoulders. I think I did piece together that he wanted two 50 cent peices for a ride on those horsie-things in the park, but Natalie had all our coins and was off getting ice cream. When she returned, she found two 50 cent pieces and beckoned him back over, and we made the exchange. He yelled "Grazie!!" the way only a happy blond 5-year-old boy probably could as he ran to get his sister and mount the mechanical rides.

Last night we rode from Milan (last you heard from us) all the way up to Paris, getting in around 8:15 this morning. Then we searched and walked for about 2 hours (and what seemed 50 miles) until we found a nice little 1-star hotel near the Louvre and Centre Pompidou to stay. It's a tiny room on the 5th floor (6th floor in the USA) with a double bed, sink, and shower. No toilet. The toilet is a public water-closet down the hall... so as long as you don't have to do a #2, you're OK (the shower can take a #1). But we have a balcony that overlooks "Rue de Rivoli" and has a lovely view, though not of anything famous. We checked in, proceeded to get some tasty pastries for breakfast, and took onthe Louvre (there was a discount on Sunday admission)... which was quite a challenge. We spent 6 hours easily and saw less than half. This was partly due to it being so huge, and partly to us being so tired and rather museumed-out. Afterward, we returned to the hotel and took a late afternoon nap, getting up at 21:00 (9pm, about 2 hours ago). Once our time is up, we might stoll out to either the Tour Eiffel or Notre Dame to see them in the evening lights.

Tomorrow the Mus閑 d'Orsay is closed, so we plan on seeing the Centre Pompidou modern art museum, as well as some other sights. I'm hoping to touch base with my friend Gr間oire who lives in Robinson (Paris suburb) to get together for coffee before we leave, but he doesn't seem to be responding to his e-mail. Anyway, more to come.

posted by burr - 09:17 pm GMT
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University of Wisconsin-Madison
Smithsonian Institution
National Library of Medicine
About the Trip
For the fall of 2003, we're taking a break from Madison to work for a bit in Washington, DC. Natalie landed an internship at the Smithsonian Institution after acquiring her MFA, and Burr will be doing research at the National Library of Medicine. But, with a month or so of free time between the end of our lease in Madison and the start of our capital tenure, we decided to jaunt around Europe! We'll be sleeping on trains, seeing some art, and visiting some friends. Here is a loose itinerary.

Since Europe is riddled with "cyber-cafes," we will stop occasionally to post our thoughts about the trip and keep you (beloved friends + family) up to date with what's going on.

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