Adventures in Yonderland

A log of my adventures, both real and imagined.

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

Family!

My family is coming to visit me! I’m so excited to see everyone and show them around where I’ve been living for many months. Have a wonderful day everyone.

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Castles: The Ultimate Adventure

So I have never had a more difficult trip. Just ever. Not to say it wasn’t awesome. But I got lost many a time, traveled alone and carted around my twenty-pound backpack everywhere because I had a hotel in a different city every day. And now that I’ve given you the background of this trip, here’s what made it all worth it. (From least to most favorite).

Blois Castle:

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The staircase here is awesome. Other than just looking really cool, it’s a testament to the fact that castles started becoming much less about actual security and much more about fan-fare. I mean, who would want to stand on an open staircase when people are shooting arrows and things at you? Not me.

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And this thing has got to be the most comfortable-looking throne I’ve ever seen! Especially after reading Game of Thrones, this thing is just the height of luxury. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be king…

Chateau de Versailles:

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This is the Hall of Mirrors. It’s basically one of the coolest places ever. Lined with pictures of battles in which France was awesome (fun fact, the French aren’t really traditionally surrender-ers), it drives home the extravagance of the castle. Well, the famed extravagance. It’s basically what you would get if wall-paper, hundreds of sculptors and gold all got together and threw a gigantic party together. That lasted years. Straight. With no sleep.

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And this is an example of garden art at its finest. The entirety of this absolutely massive garden is designed to be full of surprises, and let me tell you. It is. You would never know that the garden part of this picture was even there until you were almost on top of it. It just looks like a lake in the distance. Total design brilliance.

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All those little flowers there are called Snowdrops. They are my favorite flower of all time. And there are HUNDREDS of them here! I about died. It was too freaking cool.

Clos Lucé:

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This was a really sweet place to visit. It’s the home of Leonardo da Vinci in France and where he died (right in this bed apparently). Especially cool because of just how much of the Clos Lucé I share with my dad. It was a really awesome experience.

 

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Amboise:

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I think this was by far the most beautiful castle I went to, even though it was also probably the smallest. I mean, this picture sums it up pretty well. Open gardens, a view out over the Loire, a refined and not over-decorated castle. It’s a place you might actually live in and there’s a lot to be said about that where castles are concerned.

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And this is one of the first throne rooms in France. Well at least in what we would consider a “traditional” throne room would be. François I actually saw people in this room, which was something of a first for the time. François I, by the way, was a total beast. Patron of the arts (he was the dude responsible for bringing over da Vinci), the start of the absolute monarchy (he rejected the supremacy of the pope over the king), and just generally a cool dude. He is, for the moment, my favorite French king. I’m sure at some point I’ll learn something awful about him though. He was, after all, a king.

And that was a quick summary of a really fantastic trip. Castles. I will always love you.

Off to New Adventures and Dreams…

Going on a castle tour in the Loire Valley this weekend. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Especially because castles are one of my favorite things about European history. There will be pictures, and updates, and hopefully adventures. And…eventually, I’ll actually get around to posting them. haha

Obama in Israel on first official visit – Al Jazeera vs The BBC

The difference in tone of these two articles is incredible. From the title to the almost the very end, an unsurprising and yet interesting difference in treatments.

Obama in Israel on first official visit – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

Obama on First Israel Trip as President Vows ‘Eternal’ Alliance – BBC

BBC News – ICC welcomes Bosco ‘Terminator’ Ntaganda’s surrender

BBC News – ICC welcomes Bosco ‘Terminator’ Ntaganda’s surrender.

 

ICC welcomes Bosco ‘Terminator’ Ntaganda’s surrender

Bosco Ntaganda in  eastern  DR Congo in January 2009 Bosco Ntaganda has been wanted by the ICC since 2006

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has welcomed Congolese rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda’s surrender to stand trial on war crimes charges.

Known as “The Terminator”, Gen Ntaganda surrendered on Monday to the US embassy in Rwanda after seven years on the run.

The ICC said it was in contact with the relevant authorities to arrange for his immediate transfer to The Hague.

He denies committing atrocities during the long-running conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The DR Congo government says Gen Ntaganda crossed into Rwanda on Saturday.

‘Most wanted’

“I think justice now has a chance to prevail, now that he has handed himself in,” DR Congo’s ambassador to the UK, Kikaya Bin Karubi, told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

“The most wanted criminal in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has seen that he has no other option now, and the best option for him is to go and face the music.”

Neither the US nor Rwanda recognise the ICC.

However, the US state department said on Monday that it was in contact with the ICC and the Rwandan government to arrange his transfer to The Hague.

“The ICC welcomes news of Bosco [Ntaganda’s] surrender,” the ICC chief prosecutor’s office said, AFP news agency reports.

“This is great news for the people of the DR Congo who had to suffer from the crimes of an ICC fugitive for too long,” it added.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Gen Ntaganda in 2006. He faces 10 counts of conscripting child soldiers, murder, terrorising communities and using rape as a weapon of war.

The charges – which he denies – relate to his time as the leader of a militia in the north-eastern DR Congo between 2002 and 2003.

Since then Gen Ntaganda has fought for other rebel groups in the region, as well as the Congolese army.

Most recently he was believed to be one of the leaders of the M23 rebel group, which is fighting government troops in the east of the country.

The United Nations believes the M23 group is backed by the government of neighbouring Rwanda, though Rwanda denies this.

On Sunday, the DR Congo government said Gen Ntaganda, who comes from the Tutsi ethnic group, had fled to Rwanda after he and some of his followers were apparently defeated by a rival faction of the M23 group.

BBC East Africa correspondent Gabriel Gatehouse says that if Gen Ntaganda does reach the ICC, many will be hoping he can shed light on the accusations of Rwanda’s involvement in the Congolese conflicts, including the backing of the M23 rebels.

Eastern DR Congo has been riven by conflict since 1994, when some of the ethnic Hutu groups accused of carrying out the genocide in neighbouring Rwanda fled across the border.

Gen Ntaganda appears to have been throughout the long conflict, fighting for both rebels and government armies.

His military career started in 1990, at the age of 17, when he joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels, now the ruling party in Kigali.

In November 2008, international journalists filmed him commanding and ordering rebel troops in the village of Kiwanja, 90km (55 miles) north of Goma in DR Congo, where 150 people were massacred in a single day.

In 2009, he was integrated into the Congolese national army and made a general following a peace deal between the government and rebel troops he commanded.

However, he defected from the army last April, accusing the government of failing to meet its promises.

It is not clear why Gen Ntaganda chose this moment to surrender, but there are suggestions the split in the M23 movement has made him vulnerable.

Paris: City of Light, City of Love, City of the Dead

Paris round two was strange, frightening and just generally really nice haha. To preface, I went three days after returning from Italy, my bank card was expired, communication overseas was, well, almost non-existent and I was alone (more or less). But it was something I needed to do. And something that was beautiful to explore for just one more time. And it was well worth it.

The City of Light (La Ville Lumière) did not disappoint. I’m not sure why I didn’t see the Eiffel Tower (La Tour Eiffel) sparkle before this trip, but I don’t think it would ever get old. Ever. All of a sudden I feel like I’m five again. And there’s some magic in that.

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To explore the City of Love, journey with me to four wonderful experiences.

1) Shakespeare and Co. Why? Because I love books and English and reading and writing more than most things in this world. This is my kid in a candy shop scenario. And I spent almost two hours in this small little shop, wishing I had the money to buy, well, anything.

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2) Notre Dame

Now, I’ve actually been to Notre Dame de Paris before. HOWEVER, I’m telling you right now, you have not been to Notre Dame cathedral unless you’ve been inside while there is a mass going on. Because it fundamentally changes the energy of the whole place. It feels warm and powerful. There is that sharp, yet soothing smell of incense mixed with voices rebounding perfectly off stone walls hundreds of years old. It is no longer the austere, cold, grand cathedral I knew beforehand. It becomes a true place of worship so much greater than the awe of its size.

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3) The Louvre Museum

And specifically, my favorite sculpture of all time. Cupid and Psyche. I sat here and just wrote some poetry. Because what else do you do when faced with beautiful things at every turn?

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4)”Les Mille et Une Orchidées” (The Thousand and One Orchids)

This was an orchid expo in the Jardin Des Plantes close to the Panthéon (which is coming up soon). Let me say two things about it. A) I never realized there was such a variety of orchids and B) it was probably the most beautiful, most wonderful smelling building I have ever set foot inside. Ever.

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And now, the City of the Dead.

1) Père Lachaise Cemetary

I actually got kicked out of here before I could thoroughly explore the cemetery (which is a laughable statement because the thing is completely gigantic). However, I did find Oscar Wilde’s tomb. And boy, it’s the most…extravagant one I saw.

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2) The Panthéon

This thing used to be a church until the secularists took it over and made it into a shrine for the revolution. But really. The sign below reads “Live Free or Die.”

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However, cool as that may be (and a little strange in my opinion, but whatever), the coolest bit is the tombs under it in which are buried Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Marie and Pierre Curie, Louis Braille (inventor of Braille) and many others. Basically, it’s a history/literature kids dreamscape.

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3) The Catacombs

Possibly one of the least-known cool things in Paris, the Catacombs are way more than just a bunch of bones or tombs. It is at once a place to learn about and experience history, a work of art and, yes, there are the bones of about 6 million ancient Parisians in there too.

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The Catacombs of Paris are an ossuary (bone storage place) with the bones of some 6 million people in them. However, before that they were limestone mines. In fact, the mines stretched under Paris, following good veins of limestone for the construction of the city above it (most of the stone used in old French buildings is limestone). That all worked out great until the city literally started caving in and the King sent a commission down to shore up the mines.

One of the excavators did this from memory after looking at it from his prison cell for so long.

One of the excavators did this from memory after looking at it from his prison cell for so long.

This of course created an large space under the city that was “stable” and unused. So what would anyone do in that situation? Right! Take the bones out of the dumping pits around the city, dump them in the mines and then continue to expand the city with the now-available real estate!

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And it gets better! Soon after they moved the bones, some people had the bright idea to stack them up and make the whole thing a tourist attraction. Yay capitalism!

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Paris. A city of beauty and of the not-so-pretty. A city of day and night, light and dark. But I think most interestingly, a city of history.

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Florence

The end of my tour in Italy was about two weeks past now, but I haven’t stopped travelling yet! Thus the absence of a conclusion. HOWEVER, today ends that. Haha. Here is Firenze (Florence).

It was beautiful. Just as a city, it’s so nice. The streets are wide, but still capture the homey feel of the cobblestone streets I’ve come to love living in Europe.

 

We saw the David statue. However, you can’t take pictures of it. So here’s one I found online. I will say. It was pretty dang cool.

English: Michelangelo's David (original statue...

 

We also went to the Duomo, a really huge cathedral that was actually pretty cool. Especially since we went up the bell tower and could see the whole city!

 

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The Sante Maria Novella was pretty darn cool too. Mostly because we quickly realized that ALL the frescos are from about the mid-14th century. That’s about 650 years ago.

 

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Can’t forget the Ponte Vecchio of course! It’s really cool. And entirely dominated by jewelers. So much gold and silver. It was incredible.

 

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And last, but not least by far, the Bobili Gardens. They were a dream. Just a dream. It was really incredible.

 

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All in all. The Italy trip left me bankrupt and exhausted. But never will you hear me say I regretted it for one minute.

 

The Colosseum and Roman Forum

My last post to Rome. For the foreseeable future at least. I think it was my favorite city, just because of the history and the buildings.

And this is one of them.

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Yep. There it is my friends, the Colosseum. And from the inside.

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Imagine this thing when it wasn’t stripped of its original white marble. Imagine it whole, full of tens of thousands of people. Imagine 80 elevators in the ground all over the field to bring all manners of sets, animals, people and who knows what else to the surface at a moment’s notice.

And now about the fact that it’s roughly 2,000-ish years old. I mean, the Romans invented a distance-counting machine no one could repeat until Da Vinci (mostly because they were using the wrong kinds of cogs).

And then there is the Roman Forum. Which is literally just acres of history scattered around. I honestly can’t go into all of it, but here are two super impressive structures.

First, Constantine’s Basilica/Cathedral. This is the 1/3 of the original structure still standing.

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Yeah. This thing was massive.

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And then there is the Arch of Septimius Severus. Which is one of the best-preserved pieces in the entire forum. Which mostly looks like this.

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All in all. It’s just cool.

The Sistine Chapel

This place deserves its own post. You aren’t allowed to take photos, so I don’t have any from mine and I’ve used some public shots that I have really nothing to do with. But even so, it bears talking about.

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

It’s literally a masterpiece. A 5,900 square-foot masterpiece.

Ceiling Extraordinaire

The story goes that the Pope went to Michealangelo and said, “I want you to paint my personal chapel with the twelve apostles and Jesus.” And good ol’ Michelangelo said, “Thanks, but I’m good.” The pope, of course, used all kinds of “enticements” to get Michelangelo to do it, and in the end he did. However. He said, “Fine. But I’m doing this thing my way.” And then proceeded to make the thing way more extravagent than even the pope was envisioning.

On the ceiling are scenes from the creation story, the most famous of which is the Creation of Adam. Which most people probably think is a stand-alone painting. Nope. Fresco. Painted on the ceiling.

Español: Fresco en la Capilla Sixtina.

On the sides of the ceiling are prophets and some other notable bible stories, all of which are really impressive.

Zechariah (fresco by Michelangelo)

However, I’m going to bring the attention to the Final Jugement.

In the previous paintings you can feel the hope and life in the pictures. The painting is soft, the movement slow and gentle, the faces largely kind. Not so much in the Final Judgment. To quote Rick Steves’ “No one is happy.” Not even the people who ascend into heaven with Jesus. No. One.

The Last Judgement

And look at the movement in the painting. On Jesus’ right hand side move up the saved, while on his left the wicked are forcibly tossed back into hell. Even Michelangelo’s most vocal critic is there which his junk covered by a snake biting it all off.

Yeah. It’s pretty nasty.

But here’s what got me. This painting was done 25 years after the ceiling. And Michelangelo was a lot older and looked much more darkly at religion, as in he wasn’t so sure we were all getting into heaven. The question he supposedly asked himself is “have I used my talents for good? In a manner to please God?”

Michelangelo's self-portrait

Michelangelo’s self-portrait (Photo credit: RogerGW)

And the answer…according to the man himself, perhaps not. He painted himself in the painting…as flayed skin held by one of the Saints. Michelangelo, one of the greatest artists ever to have lived. Doubting himself.

The Vatican: Area? City? Country? Let’s just make it a continent.

So the Vatican was awesome. If I can somehow manage to impress upon you all the sheer magnitude of St. Peter’s Basilica…I will be the greatest writer who ever lived. Mostly because I don’t even get it. And that was done on purpose by the architects. I’ll explain.

This is the Basilica.

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This is the Basilica from the inside. The statues up top are 2-3 times the size of the ones down below, playing with your perception and making everything seem less large.

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This is a Cherub baby. It’s the size of a full-grown man.

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This bronze canopy is seven stories tall. As you can maybe see, it manages to attain about, oh, just shy of half the ceiling height.

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There are some other cool things in here other than its massive size, like the Pieta of Michelangelo, but I for one am still trying to conceive of the size. John Paul II is buried here too. I have a lot of respect for that man, even if he was the pope. Which sounds weird, but being in the Vatican really drove home one thing: Popes are politics. If you don’t believe me, I ask you then why in the world someone would build the St. Peter’s Basilica. How much could that have cost? Imagine what the church could have done with that instead. And I don’t want to get political or religious, and I know what I just said is an insanely simplified statement, but still.

When I look at this, I wonder.

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