See The Treasures While You Can

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The fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral is a devastating event for those of us who celebrate the ingenuity and creativity of our predecessors — but also teaches an important lesson.

Notre Dame is a central landmark in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and a treasure of western civilization, with its Gothic architectural grandeur and exquisite rose window and flying buttresses and soaring ceilings that seem to reach up to heaven itself.  Generations of Parisians and travelers have marveled at the cathedral’s magnificence, enjoyed the quiet solitude of its immense interior spaces, and wondered at how it could possibly have been built so long ago.

Now, much of that has been destroyed by the blaze.  The French government has vowed to rebuild the cathedral, but it’s impossible not to wonder whether fully recreating the structure can be accomplished and how the interior decorations that were destroyed can possibly be replaced.  And even if it can be done, will the result still inspire the same awe-inspiring thrill that the original Notre Dame, in all its Gothic glory, inevitably provoked?

As I was thinking of the fire yesterday, I was immensely saddened by the magnitude of the loss, but also happy that I’ve had a chance to see Notre Dame, on multiple occasions, before the fire, including a visit that Kish, Richard, Russell and I took over the holidays several years ago when I took the picture shown above.  Notre Dame was decorated for Christmas on that occasion, with a huge Christmas tree positioned in front of the entrance.  It was a memorable trip, and I’ll always be grateful that Richard and Russell had a chance to see Notre Dame as it was.

It’s helpful to try to find something positive, even in the face of a tragedy like the fire at Notre Dame.  It’s very difficult to do in this case, but perhaps the useful lesson is this:  don’t assume that wonders like Notre Dame, in all their glory, will always be around, or accessible.  If you want to go see something, do it — because you never know when it might be changed into something different, if not gone forever.

CFP’d Off

I’m warning you in advance that this post is going to sound like sour grapes.  And, in fact, some of the motivation for writing it in the first place is sour grapes.  But I’m here to tell you that the College Football Playoff process that was rolled out to great fanfare only a few years ago is already broken.

ype12feWho made the college football playoffs last year?  Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Georgia.  Those same four teams finished in the top five this year.  It was only because Notre Dame ran the table against a weak slate of opponents — and, because ND is nominally independent, a slate that doesn’t include a conference championship game — that college football fans everywhere avoided watching the same four teams play each other again this year.

In the five years the College Football Playoff has been in existence, Alabama has made it every year.  Clemson has made it four out of five times.  Oklahoma has made it in three of the five years.  It’s the same old, same old.

And, for Ohio State fans, what’s especially galling is that this year the playoff selection committee ranked a two-loss SEC team that didn’t win its conference — i.e., Georgia — ahead of a one-lose Big Ten team that won its conference championship.  I can understand Ohio State, which got whacked by Purdue during the regular season, being ranked behind Oklahoma, even though I think the Big 12 is a pretty weak conference.  But I don’t understand how a one-loss champion of a major football conference like the Big Ten can be ranked behind a two-loss non-conference champion.  To me, that result says that the selection committee has quaffed the SEC Kool-Aid and lost any claim to objectivity.  Every year we start with the presumption that the SEC is the best conference in college football, and every year every inference goes in the SEC’s favor.

Who did Georgia play out of conference this year?  Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee State, and the University of Massachusetts.  They aren’t exactly powerhouses, are they?  The rest of the schedule is SEC teams.  Georgia got pummeled by LSU and played Alabama close before losing.  The latter result reflects favorably on Georgia only if you conclude that Alabama is a bunch of supermen — but we don’t know that, either, because Alabama played only SEC teams, along with an out-of-conference schedule that included Louisville, which ended the season 2-10, the Citadel, Arkansas State, and University of Louisiana-Lafayette.

The system needs to be changed.  The playoff should be expanded, and every major college conference champion should be included.  I happen to think that Ohio State could give Alabama, Georgia, and any other team a good game — just as it did in 2014, when the Buckeyes somehow beat mighty Alabama and went on to win the national championship, to the surprise of every pundit and talking head on ESPN.

The champion should be crowned on the field, not in backrooms based on hype.

The Random Restaurant Tour (III)

On Friday the HJ lunch group hoofed it down to the far southern reaches of downtown Columbus, past the Columbus Commons, past the High Street construction sites, and past the Great Southern Hotel, searching for another stop on the continuing random restaurant tour of the downtown area of Ohio’s capital city.

Our destination was Dempsey’s Food and Spirits.  Located at the corner of High and Mound Streets, catty-corner to the old Franklin County courthouse complex, Dempsey’s is housed in one of the oldest surviving buildings in downtown Columbus.  It’s been operating for about six years, but of course none of us had tried it.  More’s the pity!  Once you get past all of the Notre Dame paraphernalia — it is an Irish pub, after all — Dempsey’s is a fine lunch option, and looks like it would be a good place to stop for a cold one after work, too.

I asked our waiter Molly (another crucial indicator of a legit Irish pub setting) whether Dempsey’s had a specialty, and she recommended the meat loaf melt sandwich.  She strongly encouraged getting it with pickles, but being gherkin-adverse I opted for the pickle-free version. The Bus-Riding Conservative, being pickle-friendly, went all in for the sandwich in its original format.  We agreed that, with or without pickles, the meat loaf melt is spectacular — melty and gooey, with excellent and subtly flavored beef and sausage meat loaf, served on crunchy, buttery Texas toast that will leave you licking your fingers and hoping for more.  I noticed that the BRC was being unusually quiet during our lunch and glanced over to see that he was hoovering down the sandwich, pickles and all, with remorseless efficiency and had cleaned his plate while I was only about halfway done.  JV reported that his Big R reuben was quite good.  The Unkempt Guy. however, sniffed that his fried bologna sandwich was only of average quality, apparently lacking the Flintstone-like dimensions that he’s used to up in Delaware County.  Since I don’t like bologna, this did not trouble me.

We’ll be adding Dempsey’s, and the succulent meat loaf melt, to our lunch hour rotation.  And the hike down south and back will just help to burn off a few of the carbs we’ll be consuming on our next visit.

Protesting With Their Feet

Yesterday Vice President Mike Pence gave the commencement address at the Notre Dame  University graduation ceremony in South Bend, Indiana.  As Pence began speaking, dozens of graduating students walked out.

22746804-mmmainThe theme of the Vice President’s address was the importance of freedom of speech and tolerance for different points of view, on college campuses and elsewhere.  Many conservative commentators made fun of the students who walked out on Pence’s speech, deriding them as delicate “snowflakes” who simply couldn’t bear to hear opposing views and finding it paradoxical that the students would walk out on a speech that urged them to listen to other, opposing perspectives.

I’ve had a lot of problems with the trampling of free speech rights on college campuses these days, but in this instance I think the critics are wrong.  The Vice President was exercising his free speech rights by giving an address with the content of his choice, and the students were exercising their free speech rights by walking out on the speech as a protest of Trump Administration policies.  The students exited stage left not because they are “snowflakes” who felt they simply couldn’t withstand Pence’s commencement address — a sentiment, incidentally, that many people who have attended overlong, droning college commencement speeches would secretly share — but because walking out was a visible sign of profound disagreement with the views of the speaker.  It’s a form of the kind of silent protest that we’ve seen many times in American history.

In fact, I commend the Notre Dame protesters, because their protest was non-violent and respectful of Pence’s free speech rights.  They didn’t try to shut him up, in contrast to other recent incidents on campus in which agitators have used violence to prevent some people from speaking — such as the mob that shamefully disrupted a lecture by scholars with different viewpoints at Middlebury College and, in the process, gave a Middlebury professor whiplash and a concussion.  The Notre Dame students had every right to “vote with their feet” and send Pence a message that they disagree with what the Trump Administration is doing, and they found an appropriate way to send that message.

I wish more people would listen to opposing viewpoints and try to understand them, but I’m more concerned about people who think that just because they disagree with someone that person shouldn’t be permitted to speak at all — something that is antithetical to one of the most important rights guaranteed to all Americans.  Based on the protest yesterday, I’d say that a Notre Dame education has given those graduates a pretty good understanding of how the Bill of Rights is supposed to work.

Another Great Season

Look, I know a lot of pundits and Ohio State fans are at the point where the Buckeyes have to win every game by 50 points and win the national championship, or the season is deemed a failure.  I think that’s ridiculous, but it is what it is.

635776004767032555-ap-ohio-st-virginia-tech-fooThis was a great season, by any rational measure.  If you are an Ohio State fan, you define season success by whether you beat Michigan.  This year, the Buckeyes trounced the Wolverines, in Ann Arbor.  Michigan was a darned good team — they smashed an SEC team, Florida, in their bowl game today.  And then Ohio State won its bowl game today, convincingly beating a very solid Notre Dame team in the Fiesta Bowl.  Those of us who lived through the Cooper era will never forget it, and will always treasure every win against That Team Up North and bowl game opponents because we will always remember, with a grimace, what it is like to end a season with a painful belly flop.

People are upset because Ohio State lost one game, played in a driving rainstorm, on a last-second field goal.  But when your team finishes 12-1, wins its crucial rivalry game and pounds a traditional power in a New Years Day bowl game, you can’t fairly be heard to complain.  If you do, you’re really as spoiled as the appalling Affluenza Kid.

A lot of Buckeyes have made the last few years really enjoyable for those of us in Buckeye Nation and will (in some cases probably) be moving on. Thanks, Braxton Miller!  And Joey Bosa.  Ezekiel Elliott.  Cardale Jones.  Taylor Decker.  Adolphus Washington.  Joshua Perry.  Jacoby Boren.  Other seniors who have won 50 games in their four years.  And, perhaps, some other juniors who think it’s time to take their talents to the NFL.  They have accomplished everything you could ask for, and I will always remember cheering myself hoarse and screaming “ZEEEEEKE” as last year’s national championship game wound down and I got to celebrate a year where my team and many of these same players and coaches won it all.

Thanks, guys, to all of the players, to head coach Urban Meyer and the rest of the coaching staff, and to everybody else who is part of the Ohio State football program.  It’s been a pleasure, and today was the cherry on top.

The Bloody And Battered Big Ten

Rutgers and Maryland may want to reconsider their decision to join the Big Ten, because apparently the Old Conference really sucks this year.

Saturday, September 6, 2014 was an embarrassing bloodbath for the Big Ten.  The top teams — including, unfortunately, the Buckeyes — all lost convincingly.  Virginia Tech came in, pulverized the overmatched Ohio State offensive line, sacked poor redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett more times than you can count, and came out of the Horseshoe with a tough, physical win.  Kudos to them for a great victory.  Meanwhile, Notre Dame beat the tar out of hapless Michigan, shutting out the Wolverines 31-0 and leaving Brady Hoke looking sweaty and bewildered, as always, on the sideline.  Oregon put on a track meet in the second half and drubbed Michigan State, 46-27.  Purdue got crushed by Central Michigan, and Northern Illinois beat Northwestern.

Even the wins that Big Ten teams racked up yesterday were pretty lame.  Nebraska needed a last-second miracle to beat McNeese State.  Penn State squeaked by Akron, and Minnesota slipped past Middle Tennessee.  Maryland and Rutgers, at least, held up their end of the bargain and won.

The season is young, of course, and I’m hoping that the Buckeyes get better.  They’re young, and without Braxton Miller to energize their offense with his special talents I wasn’t expecting them to contend for a national championship.  But there’s no doubt that, after yesterday’s crippling losses, the Big Ten has taken another black eye and its national reputation, which already was battered, has slipped another notch.

I hope I don’t have to take any trips down to SEC country soon.

A Great Win, With Great Respect, In A Great Atmosphere

-8Ohio State won its first game today, beating Navy 34-17.  It was an excellent game, with Navy ripping off huge runs and gashing Ohio State with its great running game, and Ohio State responding with some big plays.  Ohio State’s redshirt freshman quarterback made a bad play but made some good plays and now has a win under his belt, and the Ohio State defense bounced back from some bad breakdowns to stop Navy at the end and allow the Buckeyes to come away with the win.

But I don’t really want to write about the football right now.  Instead, I’d rather write about the coolness of playing the United States Naval Academy, and the great displays of sportsmanship by college athletes from both schools before, during, and after the game.  This was a game where there wasn’t any chippiness, or cheap penalties, or showboating for the cameras.  Both teams played hard, but fair and within the rules.  The Ohio State players obviously had great respect for Navy, and I think the Midshipmen felt likewise.  When the teams honored each other by listening respectfully to both alma maters at the end of the game, it was a fitting and moving end to a great exhibition.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad that Ohio State won.  But I also want to point out how refreshing it is to see college athletes behave with class, and dignity, in a manner that reflects well on both institutions.  This is what college sports really should be about.

Ohio State fans used to make fun of Notre Dame for playing the service academies every year; we said it was just a way for the Fighting Irish to pad their win totals against overmatched opponents.  After this game against Navy and the game in 2009 that I was privileged to attend in Ohio Stadium, we know differently.  Even though this game with Navy was a nail-biter, and even though the Buckeyes’ victory was a hard-fought one, I’m hoping that the Ohio State Athletic Department schedules Navy again, and sees whether Army and Air Force might fit on future schedules.  Playing them is a way to honor their service to our country and their role in securing our freedoms.  When you hear the National Anthem on the same field with young men who soon will be placing themselves in harm’s way for the good of the country, it just has a different feel.  I admire those Navy players, and I’ll be rooting for them to win every other game they play this year.

Finally, thanks to Mike N for the great photos.  The photo at the top of this post, of the rows of assembled, white-clad Midshipmen on the field prior to the game, should give us all chills, and the photo below of Carmen Ohio being played while both teams stand respectfully, will remind us of how college sports can be great.

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Musee National du Moyen Age

048We’ve had a number of special experiences during our trip to Paris, but one of my favorites was a visit to the Musee National du Moyen Age — the National Museum of the Middle Ages. Formerly known as the Cluny, this Left Bank museum is a wonderful find for the history buff and the art lover.

The museum is located in an actual medieval building, so the very act of entering and wandering around helps to give an idea of life in the middle ages — at least, for the aristocracy and the clergy. You enter the the museum through a walled, cobblestoned courtyard, past the remains of the Latin motto of the place when it was the town house of the abbots of Cluny, and then move through cavernous stone rooms and cellars where various items and exhibits are found.

055The rooms are filled with a rich trove of the art and handcraft of the Middle Ages. If you are a fan of stained glass windows, this is a must-see visit, because the many exquisite examples of glassworker craftsmanship are displayed at eye level, where they can be carefully studied and fully appreciated. It’s great to see the stained glass at St. Chapelle, where the full effect of entire windows is felt, but there is an advantage to examining individual panes, too. The vivid colors and staging of the scenes are spectacular, and the expressions on the people depicted, and the familiar attributes of Biblical personalities, like St. Peter and his ever-present key, come to life when the stained glass is examined up close.

052Another evocative exhibit featured the formerly lost heads of the kings of Judah. When the mob attacked the Notre Dame cathedral during the French Revolution and tried to turn it into a secular temple, they knocked the heads off the kings of Judah who stand in line above the front doors. The heads were replaced in the middle of the 19th century, but the original heads were thought to be lost forever. That is, until 21 of them were unearthed during the 1970s. They now are on display in the Musee National du Moyen Age, still looking somewhat startled that they were removed from their former stone bodies.

There’s lots to see in this museum, such as the mysterious, obviously symbolic series of tapestries featuring a woman, her servant, a unicorn, and other creatures, marvelous wood altarpieces and stone statuary, and many religious items. I particularly liked the flow and pace of the museum, which was in sharp contrast to the jam-packed crowd scenes at the Louvre. There was plenty of room, and time, to enjoy the exhibits and appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the life and craftsmanship of the Middle Ages.047

Notre Dame, Christmas Eve

097It was rainy and breezy in Paris today — so much so that the large Christmas tree placed in front of Notre Dame cathedral toppled over and the authorities scrambled to reposition it before the holiday festivities began in earnest.  Russell and I paid a visit, happy to get out of the cold, pelting rain, and were pleased to hear the choir practicing when we arrived.

I’ve always loved choral music, and it was a great treat to hear the Notre Dame choir tuning up for tonight’s program, their voices rising up to the rafters impossibly far overhead.  The rehearsal was all too short, and then it was back to the bustle of tourists walking around the perimeter of the cathedral, chattering and snapping photos of pretty much everything under the roof.

Christmas In Paris

004We’re in Paris for Christmas this year.  We arrived this morning, Paris time — which was still the middle of the night, East Coast time — and now we’re dealing with jet lag on a rainy day along the Seine.

I’ve never been to Paris during the winter months, so this trip is a real treat.  After arriving via the Metro this morning we took a walk to the Ile de la Cite to see Notre Dame and get visual confirmation that we are, in fact, in Paris.  The cathedral plaza features a towering Christmas tree that gives this much-photographed location a different feel, and the rest of the City of Lights also is supposed to be specially decorated for the holidays.

Manti Te’o, And Hoaxing Weirdness

The Manti Te’o Star Football Player Fake Dead Girlfriend Story is one of the weirdest stories I’ve ever heard, on more levels than I can possibly identify.

One significant part of the weirdness, for me, is this:  how can you have a “girlfriend” who you’ve never really met?  I recognize that the internet, cell phones, text messages, tweeting, and social networking sites permit long-distance, virtual relationships.  Before you took that significant emotional step and started calling someone a “girlfriend” or “boyfriend,” though, wouldn’t you want to satisfy yourself that the person actually existed?  Wouldn’t you want to walk with them, smell their hair, and see how they looked when they laughed or ate their food?  Perhaps it’s a generational thing, but I think a lot of the “girlfriend” concept is satisfying yourself that the person in question is someone you like to be around, and not just some disembodied voice you hear on the phone at night or get an “LOL” from in response to a text message.

Another part of the weirdness is trying to figure out the motives of whoever was involved in perpetrating a colossal hoax.  Why would anyone put the time and effort into maintaining such a complicated bit of deception?  What satisfaction would any stranger get by concocting a phony person, convincing Te’o to fall for the facade, and ultimately making him look like a naive and pathetic Mr. Lonelyheart?  Aside from being astonishingly cruel, you’d have to think that anyone involved in implementing such an elaborate, time-consuming scheme needs to get a life of their own.  And if Te’o was involved, why did he do it?  He had a great career at Notre Dame; why would he feel the need to add a gloss to it by inventing a non-existent girlfriend and then knocking her off?

A final part of the weirdness:  why did the sports news media just swallow this story without doing very basic fact-checking — like trying to confirm some of the core elements of the story?  It makes you wonder how many of these heartwarming, overcome-all-odds sports stories that we hear are outright fiction.

The SEC Kicks Butt

I’m a Big Ten fan — always have been, always will be.  But even diehard Big Ten fans should be tipping their cap to Alabama and the teams of the SEC, which have established a dominance in college football that would make the New York Yankees of old green with envy.

Alabama crushed unbeaten Notre Dame last night, 42-14.  The game wasn’t that close.  Alabama has won three of the last four national championships.  Add the championships won by LSU, Florida, and Auburn — all of the SEC — and you have an amazing record of success.  The truth is that, right now, the SEC teams are better.

We can argue about why.  Some Big Ten fans will tell you its because SEC teams oversign, or boot kids who aren’t performing as expected for bogus reasons so they can sign other prospects, or don’t have the academic standards that Big Ten teams and other schools do.  But on the field, the results are inarguable:  the SEC teams are just better, and they are proving it, year to year and national championship game to national championship game.

Ohio State and Urban Meyer hope to get to the mountaintop, where Alabama has set up camp.  Last night’s trouncing of the Fighting Irish shows what the Buckeyes need to aim for.  It’s not going to be an easy target to hit.

Notre Dame, Back On Top

It’s been an interesting college football season, and last night made it even more so.  With Oregon and Kansas State falling, there are two undefeated major college teams:  Ohio State and Notre Dame.  Ohio State is ineligible due to NCAA sanctions, and Notre Dame will likely be the new number 1.

Getting back to number 1 has been a long, rough road for the Fighting Irish.  Since the early ’90s, the once-vaunted program has fallen on very hard times — hiring coaches who just didn’t fit with the school and its mighty traditions, who somehow couldn’t recruit athletes to the school that boasts of Knute Rockne, The Four Horsemen, “Win one for the Gipper,” Touchdown Jesus, and Rudy as part of its football lore, and who led the team down the road to irrelevancy.  But now, Notre Dame is back, rising to the top behind a defense that is the best in the land at preventing opponents from scoring.  The Golden Domers have one more game to go — next Saturday, against the USC Trojans — and if they win, they will play in the BCS National Championship game.

I’m glad to see Notre Dame back in the picture as one of the elite college football programs in the country.  Unlike some of my friends, I’m not an ND hater.  I think the sport is better off if the storied school in South Bend is part of the mix.  I’m hoping the Irish win on Saturday and make it to the championship game.

Notre Dame, like Ohio State, has an incredibly loyal fan base.  It’s been kind of pathetic talking football with ND fans in recent years; they’ve been beaten down by uninspired play and repeated dismal seasons.  This year, the Domers have their swagger back.  When you’re a college football fan, it doesn’t take much to go from the depths to the heights — and sometimes right back down again.

Eurotrip 2011: Rouen, Le Havre and Paris

Rouen.

After Dad left, Roland and I lugged our stuff to the other side of Paris, where we had a reservation at the Peace & Love hostel for two nights. Unfortunately, Roland’s first hostel happened to be the worst one I’ve stayed at so far. The room was crowded and dirty, with three beds in each bunk, leaving you too little room to sit on your bed and increasing your chance of being awoken in the middle of the night by your bedmate climbing the ladder. The only common area was a bar that doubled as the reception desk, where people partied all hours of the day. There was no kitchen, and the bathroom was dirty. The staff seemed more interested in pouring shots for the partiers than making your stay comfortable.

Alas, we were stuck with the hostel – we had pre-booked it not only for those two nights, but for another after returning from Rouen three days later to fly out of Paris the next day.

I decided to devote my last day in Paris to seeing Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. However, the train going to Poissy, the Parisian suburb where the building is located, was shut down – something I discovered only after a lot of frustrated waiting and wandering. By the time I found an employee of the Metro system who spoke enough English to explain to me that I had to take a different route to get there, it was early afternoon and I was too tired to go. Instead, I checked out Paris’s strangely peaceful central business district (where I happened to be when my plans were sidetracked). It wasn’t very charming, as you can see, but I liked La Grande Arche, a modern counterpart to the Arc de Triomphe.

La Grande Arche.

I spent most of the day reading next to a beautiful pond at the Bois de Boulogne park on the outskirts of the city. Like the Villa Borghese park in Rome, it was bereft of tourists.

The Bois de Boulogne park.

The next morning, Roland and I took a train to Rouen. There are no hostels in northern France, for some reason, so we were forced to stay in a hotel. Going without the social atmosphere of a hostel would have been a big problem if Roland hadn’t been with me. We ended up really liking the hotel – the Hotel d’Angleterre – thanks to its location next to the river, its friendly staff, and the fact that it costs only slightly more than the average hostel.

Rouen was a big change for me after staying in Paris for ten days. It was less crowded and noisy and fast-paced. We seemed to be some of the only tourists in the city. The people were less beautiful and stylishly dressed, which isn’t a complaint, because it means they were also more approachable. I was surprised to see so much Norman architecture there.

A public square in Rouen.

Rouen has three wonderful Gothic cathedrals – the Notre Dame, the Saint Maclou, and the Saint Ouen. The Notre Dame is well-known as the subject of a series of paintings by Monet, who tried to capture its colors at different times of the day.

The Notre Dame.

The Saint Ouen.

That evening, with the help of our hotel’s receptionist, Roland and I devised a brilliant plan to rent a car the next morning and use it to see Mont Sant-Michel and Saint-Malo in one day. We walked to the car rental store the next morning with optimistic smiles, having already fixed our lunches for the trip, only to have our spirits crushed by the employee who informed us that no cars were available that day.

Roland decided to stay in Rouen to do sketches. I debated the pros and cons of the three nearby cities I could get to for free with my Eurail pass: Caen, Dieppe, and Le Havre. I chose Le Havre, even though everyone told me it was an ugly city that wasn’t worth visiting. I was attracted to it for a few reasons: because its downtown, rebuilt with reinforced concrete after being destroyed in the Battle of Normandy, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; because I had had enough of pretty French coastal cities after Nice and Marseilles; and because it was the underdog.

The Hotel De Ville in Le Havre.

My day in Le Havre was one of the most interesting of my trip, but the buildings there are horribly ugly. It was sad walking into town from the train station; as you get closer to the city center, there are fewer old-style buildings and more post-war ones made of exposed concrete. Even the city’s cathedral was rebuilt in that style. It was a powerful reminder of the destructiveness of World War II, which I haven’t seen much evidence of in the other cities I’ve visited so far.

Although the post-war structures are ugly, their architects constructed them with modern materials so that they could rebuild Le Havre and provide comfortable housing to its citizens as quickly as possible.

Le Havre’s concrete cathedral.

Le Havre is clearly eager to make sure its few tourists have a good time. It’s tourist office was the best I’ve seen, with English-speaking employees who gave me a free map and suggestions for a walking tour. Everyone seemed to be happy that I was visiting the city. I felt like an honored guest when I was there.

After returning to Paris the next day, I had enough energy to make the many little train and bus trips necessary to get to the Villa Savoye in Poissy. It was a beautiful counterpart to Le Havre’s ugly modern buildings. Le Corbusier’s design looks clean, light and interesting. Thanks to windows that span almost the entire exterior walls, it was so sunny inside that I had to wear my sunglasses. There is a garden in the courtyard on the second floor and on the roof.

Villa Savoye.

Inside.

My trip to the Villa Savoye was also like the one to Le Havre in that afterwards I was glad I had strayed from the popular tourist spots and had a more personal experience as a result.

When Roland and I went to the Peace & Love hostel at 6 P.M. to check in, they told us they had given our beds away because we’d arrived more than three hours after the arrival time listed in our reservation – something that the other hostels I’ve stayed at haven’t paid attention to. We found a cheap room at a nearby hotel and tried to forget that the Peace & Love hostel existed.

Our last walk through Paris.

We took one final walk through Paris to the Arc de Triomphe and the beautifully-lit Eiffel Tower, where we stayed until late at night drinking wine. Although I had spent ten nights in Paris, I wasn’t tired of it at all, like I was when I spent the same amount of time in Rome.

Eurotrip 2011: Paris

Eurotrip 2011: Nice and Marseille

Eurotrip 2011: Venice and Milan

Eurotrip 2011: Interlaken

Eurotrip 2011: Florence and Pisa

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 2

Eurotrip 2011: Rome pt. 1

Eurotrip 2011: Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: The Journey To Palermo

Eurotrip 2011: Santorini and Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Athens

Eurotrip 2011: Istanbul

A Favorite, Quiet Moment

My trip to Paris is drawing to a close and I’ve been reflecting on my favorite moments during the trip.  If you are a traveler, you know what I mean — those moments when things crystallize and, in a strange way, the travel experience is reduced to its essence.

The view from the Square Jean XXIII

There have been many such moments on this trip, but one of my favorites occurred during a visit to the Ile de la Cite when Richard and I sat for a bit on a bench in the Square Jean XXIII, a small park directly behind the Notre Dame Cathedral.  It is a green, peaceful location, and we found it on a bright, sunny morning.  It was out of the tourist mainstream and a perfect contrast to the hurly-burly of the Louvre and some of the other, more crowded tourist destinations.

At the center of the square is a small statue, in the gothic style, and formal garden beds.  They are surrounded by rows of trees that provide wonderful deep shade on a sunny day for the benches underneath.  This quiet, shady spot allowed us to revel in the coolness as we admired the sun-baked statue and gardens and, in particular, the massive yet graceful hulk of Notre Dame looming behind, with its swooping flying buttresses.  I sat there, somewhat dazzled by the scene, and was immensely happy that Richard and I could enjoy that moment.