Friday, 2 November 2012

Week 5 - Rheine and Paris

Time for another update!

Kirmus colour
So, after leaving Berlin I took a train to a little German town called Rheine, just north of Münster. It's not very well known, probably because it's small and nothing particularly momentous goes on there.

However, my old school friend Jenny lives there, and it was time for a visit, to catch up with her, her hubby, and finally meet her kids.

Horizontal pipe organ (shades of The Goodies?)
After the general hubbub of Berlin I was expecting a few fairly quiet days, but it turned out that my first evening there was also the last night of Kirmes, which is like a travelling fair that moves about German towns (as I understand it). So I ended up wandering around a noisy packed out carnival, with rides and music and food and people being suspended upside down and spun around, while I had a beer and caught up with Jenny. It was quite amusing.

Amelie with chocolate ice cream - perfect
In the end I opted not to be spun upside down, although it was slightly tempting, as to do that sort of thing at home you generally have to queue up for an overpriced theme park and then wait for hours. We did go on a spinning chair ride though, which turned out to be quite a fast, *high* spinning chair ride. Most enjoyable :) I also succumbed and finally tried a German currywurst. Quite edible, but not exactly a delicacy...

Anyway things settled down into the more expected routine for the next two days; basically hanging out with Jenny and her two girls, Amelie and Laila, and her husband Christian in the evenings.

Münster promenade
Laila with leaves
We spent one day visiting Münster, where we ambled around the town and had some lunch (and, more importantly, an ice cream). I also got to check out the house that Jenny and Christian are building in Rheine – construction in Germany is somewhat more solid than in Brisbane. I guess you need that when it can get down to minus-something-ridiculous in winter.

The weather was a bit grey again, but it wasn't raining, so on the second day Jenny and I hopped on bikes (with a trailer for Laila) and went for a little ride. There were autumn leaves and mist and deer. We finished the day off by stuffing our faces at the local Chinese restaurant. Later, Christian produced some single malts which went down extremely well.

So all up, Germany was pretty good to me. It struck me as slightly messier than Switzerland, but I think Berlin is a relatively un-German city. Rheine was certainly more sedate and organised. The people seemed relatively friendly too (as long as you obey the numerous rules – don't you dare disrupt the supermarket queue or stand on the bike path though!).

I'll definitely have to come back and explore more some day.



And then, I was off to Paris. I got there a day late due to the French deciding to have a rail strike. You have to love them – any country that throws up rioters who sets fire to cars in protest of having to work more than 32 hours a week gets the thumbs up from me.

Parisian skyline
Paris itself was interesting. I found it amazing and unforgiving at the same time. It's a big, fast city, and is definitely less relaxed than Berlin. Admittedly I spent more time on my own and less with a local guide, but nonetheless, it's a pretty fast moving place.

Pere Lachaise cemetery
I arrived in the afternoon and found the place I was staying pretty easily. Nick is an old friend of my sister's and he very kindly put me up for four nights. It turned out that his flat was practically next door to the famous Pere Lachaise cemetery, so I went out for a look and took some nice moody photos in cool grey evening.

bumming around the Eiffel Tower hur hur hur
Later, Nick arrived home and we headed out for some drinks and dinner with friends of his. This turned into quite a lot of drinks which was just fine by me. The food was great too.

On Saturday I hopped onto the metro and found my way into town for an exploratory wander. I started near Notre Dame and ended up taking in a selection of Parisian landmarks, like the Louvre (from the outside), the Champs-Élysées and Arc de Triomphe. I finished up at the Trocadéro and Eiffel Tower, both of which were quite photogenic in the failing light.

In the evening Nick's girlfriend cooked up a lovely curry, and on Sunday some friends of theirs popped over for a very civilised crepe-based brunch. In the afternoon we headed out to the cemetery again and this time we sought out the famous graves of Jim Morrison (boring) and Oscar Wilde (much less boring), before I headed off to ascend the Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower – or IRON MAN?
The plan was to get up there at dusk but the queues were much longer than they had been on the previous day, so I was stuck in the cold wind with hundreds of others as the sun went down. I took the stairs up to the second level (unfortunately they don't let you walk up to the top – they should have a separate line for crazy fit guys who don't like crowds!) and had myself a nice cup of mulled wine as the lights of Paris came out. I thought about you all then. No, really, I did. It was like when a cat who has the cream sits thinking about all the other cats. ;)

Anyway, I took my time looking about the tower. Also I took my time ascending to the top, because there was another enormous queue on level 2. And I love big groups of people *so* much. The view from the top was spectacular, and the freezing wind bracing.

bum OF the Eiffel Tower?
All up it was an exhausting evening, but also awesome and well worth it.

I had one day left in Paris, and after tossing up various options I decided to visit the Louvre, because it would really have been a bit silly to visit Paris and not do that.

Paris by night
Unfortunately it was also French school holidays, so in addition to the usual droves of tourists, there were also countless extra visitors. As a museum, the Louvre is amazing. It is huge! And you walk around and run into famous things. I was walking through rooms of really nice Roman statues when I thought "oh hey, that one looks a bit like the Venus de Milo – oh wait, it IS the Venus de Milo...". Nice to know I can recognise at least one famous artwork.

Horus making shadow puppets in the Louvre
There were rooms and rooms of amazing sculptures, paintings, Egyptian sarcophagi and artifacts from all sorts of ancient cultures. And that was one wing of about five.

I was getting pretty tired of the crowds though. The Pergamon in Berlin was quiet, like a museum should be. The Louvre... was not. I had to resist the urge to strangle people more than once. Still, I figured I would explore one of the other wings and go see the silly Mona Lisa while I was there.

Perhaps it's an amazing work for all sorts of reasons that I'm not cultured enough to understand, but I've always found it underwhelming in pictures. Reality was no different. There was (for example) a cool painting of a lion eating a chubby infant, while the horrified mother looks on, waving her hands in the air, that I found much more interesting (and amusing, but that's just me).

Oh look here it is:
http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:Monsiau,_Nicolas-Andr%C3%A9_-_Le_Lion_de_Florence_-_1801.JPG

(I can only imagine that the boob was sort of conveying that the infant had been torn from it, and not that the artist was being gratuitous)

Mummy!
Anyway, the crowd of sheeple queueing for the Mona Lisa was at least as diverting as the picture itself. When I went to take a picture of the crowd some silly security lady told me it was forbidden, and I got into a little war of words with her about it, such was my mood. It was a good indicator that it was time to go home, which I did.

Next time I think I will check out the hunting museum, which, in place of huge crowds, apparently has an animatronic talking pig.

Anyway all up, Paris has a lot to offer, but I'm so not a big city guy, and I doubt I could live there. Bonsoir, Paris! See you again sometime, preferably in summer when everyone has buggered off to the South of France!

Huge thanks as usual to my lovely hosts, Jenny and Nick! I'd be a lot poorer, culturally and financially, if it weren't for everyone looking after me here.

Update: the complete sets of pictures are now up on flickr.

Rheine:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/strepto42/sets/72157632473060401/

Paris:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/strepto42/sets/72157632579904659/