Saturday, January 30, 2010

Parisian Paradise - Part V: The Louvre Museum

No trip to Paris would be complete without a visit to the Louvre Museum - the largest and most famous art museum in the world.

It was already mid-to-late afternoon by the time we got there (after Versailles and the Orsay Museum), which means we only had a few hours to spend there before closing. With over twelve miles of exhibits, it was obvious that we weren't going to see everything. So we focused on seeing the most famous and memorable exhibits first.

The Mona Lisa:

Winged Victory:

Venus de Milo:

Once we had seen these works of art (along with many others along the way), we ventured around to see what else we could find. We came across a number of more obscure art pieces, such as . . .

Man with a disturbing tuft of hair on his back*:

The Invisible Woman*:

Woman with a "Handy" Birthmark*:

And, from the extremely rare traveling collection, the amazing and lifelike sculpture entitled  Darkened Whitney Checks for Rain in the Light*:

We even found our our new family symbol:

Can you see the "D" (for Deidra), "C" (for Chris) and "H" (for Hartwell)?

They had to kick us out of the museum come closing time. You could seriously spend weeks in the Louvre before you saw everything there is to see. But I think we had seen everything we had come to see and more.

* I made up these amazing original, creative names. I know - be impressed.

Parisian Paradise - Part IV: The Orsay Museum

Since out Versailles day trip was cut short, we ventured back into Paris and visited two museums during the afternoon and evening. First was the Orsay Museum, which is housed in an old train station, complete with a large, awesome clock:

The Orsay Museum is filled with art from multiple eras, from a number of great artists. Having downloaded Rick Steve's audio guide for a few of the sites (including Versailles, the Orsay Museum and the Louvre Museum), we spent a lot of the time with earbuds in, learning about the artwork.

We saw Van Gogh's self-portrait (I promise it's behind me):

Along with the classic paintings, there were various other displays - including an Art Nouveau exibit, that included the following:

And, apparently, these Metro signs are famous, too. Deidra learned all about them in her History of Furniture and Architecture class.

Here were a few of Deidra's favorites that she took pictures of:

I'm pretty sure that the last painting there made her laugh really hard at the ridiculousness of the scene. It's like the whole "You'll get a dozen virgins in heaven if you die doing battle as a soldier in this holy war" idea.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Parisian Paradise - Part III: Versailles

We woke up early Saturday morning and headed downstairs for the first of our continental breakfasts. I don't know if it was because on the long flight or what, but I could not get enough food in me. Deidra, Whit, and Brian were all amazed as I downed four croissants, a hard-boiled egg, a chunk of baguette, a pain au chocolat, a brioche au sucre, toast with cheese and sliced meat (ham and salami), applesauce and a bowl of mixed fruit (along with a few glasses of orange juice). I was pretty amazed myself, actually!

After they pried me away from the breakfast table, we took the metro and a train out to make a day trip to Versailles - about a 30-minute train ride from Paris.

Versailles turned out to be one of most exciting - and disappointing - parts of the entire trip.

The palace at Versailles was HUGE and just amazing to look at. How did they create such vast and ornate structures back then?

Before Versailles, the royal palace was inside Paris (where the Louvre Museum is now - more to come on that in a later post). Louis XIV built this palace in Versailles so that he would could be apart from everyday people. Basically, they would have to travel to him in Versailles if they had an issue, which would be much more difficult than just walking down the street in Paris.

But Versailles was also the place where the king invited national and international leaders to come and hang out, basically. So it was a way to show off and impress them with all the colorful paintings and murals, ornate architecture, detailed sculptures, etc.

A lot of history has come out of Versailles. Louis the XVI reigned from here with his wife, Marie-Antoinette, before they were overthrown during the French Revolution and eventually beheaded.

The famous Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, was signed in the Hall of Mirrors:

So, seeing all of that was pretty darn cool. That was the exciting part.

The dissappointing part? Well, Versailles has an amazing garden and grounds, along with another residence, which was basically Marie-Antoinette's estate. But because of the weather, those sites were closed. This is the most we saw of the grounds - from out the palace window:

So our "day trip" to Versailles was over well before lunch, and we headed back on the train to Paris.

The other thing that was frustrating was that Versailles is covered in the cost of a Museum Pass - a pass you can buy that gets you into quite a few Paris museums and other sites. Whit and Brian had purchased their Museum Pass at the airport when they arrived. We didn't, and figured we could buy the pass at Versailles. Unfortunately we were wrong - they didn't sell the passes there. So we had to swallow the cost of Versailles separately, and then buy our Museum Pass later. Argh! There's an extra $45 down the drain!

But, I think we were pretty good with our money throughout the trip and made our Museum Pass well worth it anyway (as you'll see in future posts).

So the excitement of Versailles far outweighed the disappointment and frustration - especially looking back on it now. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Parisian Paradise - Part II: The Eiffel Tower

Upon arriving at our hotel Friday afternoon at 5pm, after way too long in transit than I ever care to calculate, we were extremely tired. And did I mention that it was absolutely FREEZING in Paris? Even the locals we talked to said that is was colder than they remember it ever being. Our guide books all said that winters in Paris mean a lot of rain, but never snow. But there was snow on the ground when we got there and snow on the ground when we left.

Yeah - it was cold.

Anyway, we decided that we had to brave the weather and do something that evening, in order to stay awake until a reasonable bedtime and get our bodies on track for the rest of the trip. So the four of us hopped on the metro and headed to Trocadero to get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Our first glimpse was actually while we were on the metro, and we were like giddy little school children - oohing and aahing (ahhing? awing?). I think it was that moment when all four of us realized that we were really in Paris! Anyway, the other metro passengers just rolled their eyes at us. But I'm sure it's not the first time they've seen tourists act like that.

We got off the metro and walked through the frigid chill and bitter cold wind to get to the Eiffel Tower, and it was definitely worth it.

We even caught the tower at the top of the hour, which meant that we got to see it sparkle:

After walking all around and through the tower, we decided it was time for dinner. (And since you're probably wondering - no, we didn't go up to the top of the tower. Like I said, it was FREEZING and the wind was howling - definitely not the right weather to be at the top of a tall tower.) We walked around and found a Rick Steeves recommendation for our first dining experience. We started our meal with an appetizer of melted goat cheese over bread. Then, Deidra and I shared some beef bourguignon over rice, while Whit and Brian shared a dish of chicken and mashed potatoes. Then we all shared some chocolate cake for dessert.

And, as if that wasn't enough, we stopped at a grocery market on the way home and got a couple of chocolate bars to share:

After returning to the hotel and sampling our new chocolates (the Lindt Creme Brulee was the hands-down winner), we quickly settled down for a much-needed good night's rest.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Parisian Paradise - Part I: The Journey

After receiving "exclusive rights" from Deidra to blog about our Paris trip, I took a look back at the recap from my previous international trip. I've decided a serial blog about Paris is in order as well.

We started our journey on Wednesday night (1/6). After a full day of work and a full night of church meetings, I picked up Deidra and we headed to Farmington, where we stayed the night with Daron, Lisa and Austin. They were excellent hosts. Lisa gave us a ride to and from the airport, and they took care of Nelly while we were gone.

From Salt Lake, we flew into JFK airport in New York. Deidra's cousin and her husband (Whit & Brian) were also joining us for this Paris excursion, but they had different flights than we did. We tried to meet up with them while we were both laying over in New York, but that caused more of a hassle than it was worth. We arrived in terminal 2 at JFK, we received word from Whit and Brian that they were awaiting their flight to Paris in terminal 1. Figuring that we would most likely be in the same terminal for our flight out, we exited terminal 2 and proceeded to terminal 1. However, upon close examination of our tickets, we realized that our departure was back in terminal 2. We went to the ticket counter and unsuccessfully tried changing flights from ours (through Dublin to Paris) to Whit & Brian's (straight to Paris). We then called our trip companions to let them know that we couldn't meet them in their terminal and would see them in Paris.

Then we turned back to terminal two and realized that we had made a definite mistake in exiting the terminal. That meant that we had to go back through the crazy security mob, which consisted of an enormous line (loosely termed) proceeding to two metal detector machines . . . one of which was broken. Luckily, we were in no hurry, as our flight was hours away. But it was still frustrating to proceed at a snail's pace for over an hour.

As we approached the metal detector, Deidra turned to me with nervous astonishment.

"Our water bottles aren't empty!"

We quickly pulled our water bottles from our respective bags and proceed to chug down their content before reaching security. This was somewhat easy for Deidra, with a half-filled half-liter container. It was significantly more difficult for me, with a full one-liter container. But I am happy to report that I was able to drink that full liter of water in about a minute's time, and we successfully made it through security. (I did, however, have to use the restroom three times before our flight.)

Our red-eye flight to Dublin was fairly uneventful. The movies were boring and I was less successful than Deidra in actually getting some sleep.

We quickly made it through customs in Dublin (our first passport stamp of the trip!). Our layover in Dublin found us waiting in a cold terminal for a few hours, which was only made better because of the UK family waiting near us, consisting of a mother an three sons (ages 14, 13 and 9, probably). It probably won't be as entertaining to you, but just imagine us being low on sleep and the boys talking in their Irish accents and it makes it funnier, I promise.

The boys starting betting on the toss of a 5-cent coin. At first, they tried "heads and tails," but it was quickly determined that "there are no heads and tails - only the 5 side and the not-5 side." So then they started betting pennies on the "5 side" or the "other side."

The youngest of the three soon lost his loose change, but was undeterred. He and one of the older brothers opened up their respective packs of Starbursts and began betting pieces of candy, which they referred to as "lollies."At one point, the youngest brother lost a toss and the older brother demanded two "lollies" instead of one. This started a brotherly argument that I, the second of four boys, could certainly appreciate.

Finally, toward the end of the betting, the youngest brother had lost about half of his "lollies." The mom finally recognized what was going on, and admonished the older brother to "give your brother back his lollies. Those are for the flight!" At which, the youngest brother pleaded: "But mum . . . I lost them fair and square!"

Like I said, probably not funny to anyone but Deidra and I, but it certainly helped pass the time.

We finally landed in Paris at about 3pm Friday afternoon (1/8), where we purchased train tickets and commenced to navigate the train and Paris streets to Le Royal Hotel. We were expected to meet Whit and Brian at the hotel at 5pm, and we rolled in there right on time.


(P.S. Sorry for the length of this first post and the lack of pictures. I promise more pictures and shorter posts going forward.)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Top 9 of 2009

I was just thinking of everything that has happened this past year, and came up with what I think are the my top 9 accomplishments of 2009:

9. Paying off one of my student loans: It's not the first, and definitely not the last, but each one that gets paid off makes me feel a little bit better.

8. Celebrating my 4th wedding anniversary: Definitely the easiest and funnest accomplish on this list, and I look forward to many more.

7. Getting over 100 universities aligned with SHRM's curriculum template: This is a goal I helped accomplish while working remotely as a research consultant for SHRM. Our initial goal was 25, which we met in February or March. Our goal got upped to 50, 75 and 100 and we were able to successively meet all of those goals successfully.

6. Receiving my PHR (Professional in Human Resources) Certification: After successfully passing the test, proving my MS in HR degree and verifying my prior HR employment, I became certified as of January 2009.

5. Reading 50 books: In the past, I have read probably about one book a month, so to do more than four times that amount in 2009 was truly an accomplishment for me. I think I'll cut it back in 2010, and focus on longer and more classic books.

4. Getting a job offer as Instructor at Trocaire College in Buffalo: This gave my the confidence and motivation to pursue my PhD and hopefully be a tenured university professor in the future.

3. Accepting a job offer as Instructor at Brigderland Applied Technical College: This allowed my the opportunity to stay in Logan (and not move to Buffalo), develop and deliver teaching and training, and prepare for a potential PhD programs in 2010.

2. Finally releasing Racing & Retracing: Eight year after releasing my first CD, and five years after recording the initial tracks for this CD, Racing & Retracing was finally released on October 28, 2009, after the final instrumentation and artwork were completed.

1. Running the Top of Utah marathon: Easily the most physically and mentally challenging goal I have ever accomplished, from day 1 of training through the finish line of the marathon itself.

What would you say are your biggest accomplishments of 2009?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

December books

I did it - read 50 books in 2009! The final books for December were as follows:

Malcolm Gladwell

An interesting look at snap decisions. Not quite as good as Outliers (which Gladwell wrote later), but better than what I finished of The Tipping Point (which he wrote
earlier). I guess that means he keeps getting better! I'll have to pick up his new book, "What the
Dog Saw."

L. Frank Baum

This books introduces some other characters and story lines that ended up in the movie "Return to Oz." It is basically similar to the other Oz books thus far. But they are entertaining and easy reads. So I'll probably read one more at least to help me
reach my 50 book goal for the year.

L. Frank Baum

This was very similar to the other Oz books. But the new characters and story still seemed fresh.

Charles Dickens

I think I'll have to make this one a Christmas tradition. It's a fairly quick read with great imagery and storytelling. There's just some things that can't be captured in a
movie - no matter how many times it's remade.

Dan Brown

I actually liked this book more than Dan Brown's other books, because it wasn't as wildly over the top, though it was still rather unbelievable at points.

Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

This book talked a lot about forming positive and healthy habits, and emphasizes the importance of managing your energy (instead of managing your time). It had some great ideas and advice on finding success at work and at home.