Europe trip: Day 14 (Venice Day 2)

Places visited (11 June): Binale sites. Former republic of Slovakia, Korea art museum

Second day in Venice. Went to the supermarket to buy more food supplies, and walking through the streets that range from being at the two sides of the river, to random dark and narrow pathway that oddly has a lot of people walking through it. As if encountered by accident, I stumbled upon Iuav University of Venice (Università Iuav di Venezia; IUAV), probably the only college there.

There are so many things about this city that you can’t find elsewhere: plenty of old buildings that are older than most buildings that I know of, the lack of roads (which also means the absence of things associated with vehicles) and having boats in their place, houses that are that close to the water as you can see in pictures (and the algae markings visible). Partly because of how long ago the buildings were built, and their conservation status, it’s hard to tell if buildings are shops, houses, schools, offices, and so on, at a glance. The only areas where buildings of modern times are seen are in the area where the station I arrived at is located (which is also where the bus terminal to the mainland are, including the airport) and the outlying islands that are designed to look like the older Venice buildings, but distinct enough to tell that it’s new. I saw a construction zone and a demolished site on one of those islands.

If you were to look carefully at the walls, you can see how high the flooding in Venice can reach, which is not surprising considering how low the average street level is to the water, but the increasing frequency and height is a worrying concern.

Without a map, I walked around along the main streets hoping to find a binale site. Eventually, I came across one, which is an exhibit of dead bats, cocoons, and not much other stuff. However, it was also there that I found out where the main venue is, which is at two separate locations. Both are quite far from the place I stayed at.

So what else is there? Well, we decided to wander around aimlessly. Probably areas far away from where most tourists would probably not go to. I came across a jetty where the gondolas that Venice is known for are parked at. Jetty is designed in a way that you would have to navigate through the confusing paths to get to, even though the waterway itself is a major waterway.

Along the way, I noticed that some doors are sealed up for some reason. An obvious way to tell is that the numbers that usually appear above the doors appeared above a wall, though it’s obvious that, by looking at it, there was a door there. Some units has (apparently older) roman numerals carved at the top of the door archway. The newer numbering seems to be a unique number across the whole of Venice except its outlying islands.

Then we came across a courtyard-like place with a unit that seemed to have its door decayed badly. On its window, I could find some sand-like particles at the edges of the window that looked like something you would find at the beach. This is the strongest sign of how high the floods in Venice could go. Looking into the window, it is clear that the place seems to have been abandoned for a while, as I could see flood-damaged items (and flood lines on some) inside.

Along the way back, I saw two black cats. Cats are rarely seen during the time in Europe at that point in time, and these two seemed to belong to someone. These cats quickly wandered away, as if running away from me. I don’t know why, but something made me want to follow those cats.

So the cats bring me to some strange area surrounded by buildings where there are more similar looking cats hanging around. This area is out of the way for most people.

I wanted to get closer to the building and those cats, but it’s fenced up with a locked gate. (Photo you see on the right is taken through the gaps in the fence.)

It was sunset at that time, so, I left when it got dark. I saw light reflecting off the cat’s eyes as I leave.

Now, how do I find my way back. In fact, where exactly am I? The place is not that well lit.

If it weren’t for my phone’s GPS and an offline cache, I would have been completely lost. Having signs pointing to some major places in Venice that are close to my place or in the general direction of it.

The quiet streets with close shops and nobody around is kind of scary though.

Europe trip: Day 9 (Paris Day 8)

Places visited:
Musée d’Orsay (RER C, line 14)
(Note: this was written on day 16, 17, and 19, so some details might have been forgotten until I get to download pictures I had taken that day. Images and additional text added on 21 July)
So finally somewhere new: Musée d’Orsay. I knew where it’s location was because I did walk along there in the middle of the night some nights earlier, which was this massive building that, up until around the 1980s, was a train station. Because of how late I went out, I went around to find a place to eat beforehand. It was this fast food place called Quick near the Pompidou place I went to days earlier. Where to next? It was either the Musée d’Orsay or visiting the Lourve again. I did not explore everything on the last time I was there. Where we went affects the route to take.
Out of random, it was the first choice. Because I did saw an RER station right outside the station, and the station near where we were having both the metro and RER lines. A look on the map shows that it was actually shorter and quicker to take the RER. RER is the commute train within Ile-de-France and acts like a subway inside zone 1 (Paris) and there are no additional fees or tickets needed if your journey begins and ends with the subway (any zone) or RER (zone 1).
What I did not expect was that, immediately after passing through a ticket barrier, I have to enter through another barrier. I guess this tells the system that I had left the subway system and entered the commute train system, and not getting a free ride to outside zone 1.
The RER station platform seemed quite big, partly because larger trains are used, and the train length is longer. The trains carriages are either single deck or double. The carriage that stopped at where I was waiting has double carriages, which appears to be what most carriages are of. I never took a double decked train carriage before. (JR trains has it too, but they are classified as “green” carriages, and therefore pay more to get in.) 
The train seemed to also made up of several train sets linked together and, like the older subway trains, you had to push a button to open the doors. The carriage I took appear to be older than the other carriages of the same train: interior is full of brown, while the newer ones are colourful with a grey frame. What is the interior like? There are plenty of empty seats, but some seats seemed missing or worn out. There’s litter on the floor, and noticeable vandalism on the walls, doors, windows (with paint or, for the others, with something sharp), and even in the tunnels themselves. There’s also dried spit (those black round things on the floor) too. Not that much different from the subway in terms of cleanliness (or the lack of it). I’m surprised that there isn’t any disease outbreak. Really…? Who would have thought that Paris is this dirty?
In any case, the distance between each station is quite some distance, so it means that it didn’t take long to reach what would have otherwise meant passing through many subway stations. On stepping out on the exit pointing to the museum, I was pleasantly surprised that it was right at the doorstep of Orsay Museum. (The the station itself has very few passengers in case you were wondering.)
Like the other museums I went in Paris, there is a discount for my age from the full price. Even more so, it wasn’t until I looked at my (already purchased) ticket that the museum opens up until 9:30pm on Thursdays instead of 5:30pm for other days (closed for Mondays), which I certainly did not plan on, but good for me as I entered in the afternoon. There were more interesting exhibits at Orsay than the Lourve as there are more interesting and famous works there. It is a shame that photography was not allowed, or I would have shown you what interesting things I saw (even though, at time of writing, there aren’t any in this post at all).
I managed to secretly take this photo
We left the exhibition when it was closing at 9pm, though it was quite a rush during the last hour. Funny how bright the sunlight was.
On the way back to the hotel, I used Line 14, the newest line on the network. At one of the stations that lets me transfer to Line 1, I saw plants being grown with lights as bright as the sun even though I am some meters below ground level.
Am I seeing things?

Europe trip: Day 8 (Paris Day 7)

Places visited:
Eiffel tower
(Note: This was written on day 12 to 14. Some details might be forgotten until I take a look at pictures I took that day.)
I think I had gotten over my jet lag already: I’m waking up at the usual 9am without an alarm clock…
Anyway, on this day, I went to the Eiffel Tower. Yes, that famous pointed thing that everyone associated Paris with. I had been to the Tokyo Tower and the Personas Twin Towers that had been based on this, but this is the real thing! It may not be the tallest structure now, or was designed to be temporary, but it was for many decades from the time it was built.
So, which subway station is the best? It depends on what you want to see: the nearest station, [name 1, line1], might not be scenic at all. The other station on the same line, [name 2] does. In fact, it is there where all the scenic shots were taken from. Which one did I take? Well… Neither. It’s [name3, line2] instead.
There is some explanation behind this. While looking at the map, I saw a large patch of greenery at the south-eastern corner from the Eiffel Tower and kind of unsure or forgotten what the stations I mentioned earlier were. When I got to this station, the tower was not visible at street level.
With the help of maps and my compass, I eventually saw the tower, but not the large patch of greenery I saw on the map. Turns out that the street I was walking on ran parallel to it.
(Entered a supermarket along the way. It was there where I saw the French styled plug extender and socket. There was no adaptor though. Did not think about buying it until later.)
There are several entrances to the place: group, stairs, individual, and staff. All entrances besides the stairs uses some kind of a double decked diagonal elevator.
I had spent a lot of time in there, and it seems that many people from all over the world speaking many different languages there. There is a separate elevator that being you to the summit, and there is a queue for it.
People entering the tower at ground level would exit here. On the opposite side for the way down.
Those modern skyscrapers in the distance is the La Défense district I went to yesterday
This place is the summit. That little nub you see near the top of the tower.
I decided to climb down the stairs on the way down. It is quite a climb, and midway through, I came across a level that the elevator did not stop at. Sadly, half of the floor is under renovation at the time I went there.
Those scaffolding in the background there
Reaching the ground level, I made my way to the place where the nice picture of the tower is taken from, as well as waiting for the sun to set around 10pm. (Bought some chips for €3.50 along the way…)
The wait was worth it. I got to see the postcard view of the tower with my very own eyes. Trying to take a good shot is challenging with the zoom, white balance and exposure to deal with. (These are things you can’t do with a camera phone.) Waiting for the top of the hour after sunset would have the tower having a lot of flashes from it for about 5 minutes. Missed it? Well, it repeats every hour until 1am.
This was probably an unforgettable night I’ve ever had. There’s the magical feeling in the air.
(I was unable to find a usable toilet since before heading up the tower until reaching back to my place, which is many hours later. No wonder Paris smells of urine everywhere: where are the working toilets?)

Europe trip: Day 7 (Paris Day 6)

Places visited:
Notre damn
Latin Quarter
La Défence
(Note: this was written on days 10 to 12, so some details could have been forgotten)
I went to the Nora Damn (fix spelling later), which was located on the same island I was at days earlier, but at the south-eastern corner of it. I only went to the north-west, north, and south-west of the island that other day.
To get there, take the train to Citié. There is only one entrance to the station, and it’s quite easy to miss due to the construction around it and not being well signed. It’s one of those that you would need to have arrived there by train to know where exactly.
Citié station by itself looks like one big ventilation shaft with stairs around one end later. They look quite old, and a set of stairs that branches of it (identical to the stairs from platform and one that does lead to the exit) appeared blocked off. A look on the other side reveals that the (modern) ticket barrier is above it. The stairs is a long climb up, but fortunately there is an elevator.  (No elevator from the ticket barrier to surface level though)
From there, it’s a relatively straightforward way to get there as there are signs pointing to the place. Well, as well as knowing that the place is in the south-east of the island and using the compass as aid.
The Notre-Dame (?) is this big cathedral visible from far for its sheer size and design. I didn’t know how old it was until I saw signs that celebrated its 850th anniversary. So, I guessing that is the year 1163? I hardly know any building older than from the 19th century besides the Osaka castle, but this is the oldest structure that isn’t a ruin that I’ve ever stepped into!
Just on the opposite side from the south side of the island is the area known as the Latin Quarter. Its a place known for its history of being where Paris was founded centuries ago.  Besides cafes, restaurants, and bars of today, there isn’t really anything there for me.
From there, I headed to a place called La Défence. It’s a business district at the outskirts of Paris. With so many modern office buildings that seem to have been built in the last two decades, it seems so very different from the rest of Paris with tall buildings everywhere. Paris could have become something like this if the city weren’t made into a UNESCO world heritage site. Landmarks would look out of place if buildings surrounding it at the time it was erected aren’t conserved too. The train station located there is underground and seems like a major station with interchange of many different lines along with some bus terminals.
It was also there where I entered the first shopping mall in France. Shops at Champs Elise are more like a collection of shops with their own building next to each other.
What isn’t clear to a casual observer is how dirty the place is… For example, it’s rare to find a phone booth in Paris that isn’t vandalized, or there are a lot of spit marks on the floor of the bus terminal.
I wonder what other places in France are like? I heard that Paris itself is a world of its own.

Europe trip: Day 5 & 6 (Paris Day 4 & 5)

For these two days, I visited two different museums: the Lourve (glass pyramid) and the Pompidou (building with pipes on the outside). Day 5 was the first Sunday of the month, so admission was free that day. However, that also meant that there are large crowds there.
So, I took a look at the area of the Lourve 2 days earlier where the queue was long. What caught me off guard? The queue that Sunday was 4-5 times longer!
 It took about 2 hours to clear it.
So what was inside there? A lot of ancient paintings and sculptures on display. It takes a whole day just covering one wing. You wouldn’t believe how many people crowded around a particular painting armed with cameras. What is this painting in question?
Mona Lisa. Yes, it’s the real deal, though you would be disappointed about its small size.
Actually, I visited to most of the other exhibits of that wing before heading there.
I then got hungry. However, the prices at the cafes are crazy high. It was a tough decision of leaving the place.
After eating, where to head next?
It seems that the museum at the Pompidou  is free on that day too. It is where the “more recent art” are on display. Was too tired and sleepy from waiting in line earlier, and left midway.
I did return the following day and continued where I left off, though had to pay the admission fee. I spent most of the day there until it was about to close (10pm), though I had just seen everything by then.

Europe trip: Day 3 & 4 (Paris Day 2 & 3)

Still recovering from the jet lag, I woke up early (5am) to explore the area and buy some toiletries that couldn’t be brought though airport security. There was no 7-11 in sight, and stores did not open until 8am.
A lot of walking was involved: more than 12 hours of walking though the streets, and ignoring most of the red pedestrian lights. (They appear annoyingly frequent, and there was no warning before the green man turned into red.)
I went to the Louve to check out the place and did not go in (until day 5). I took pictures of the area and realized that there was a long queue (3 times longer in day 5) because of security checks and such.
Following the wide open area from there seems to be a large park with many people, fountains,  and ducks. Following even further, we ended up at Chaps Elésee, and the triumph arch.
Really. That was all not planned or expected. The Eiffel tower could be seen from the arch.
So, what about food? Well, there was no convince store. Sandwiches were expensive. KFC was nowhere to be seen, MacDonald was more expensive than back home. 
Well, the supermarkets we encountered were too small too have a large cold food section. I did saw a Carrefour while wandering aimlessly, but it was not yet open at that time and did not come across another outlet afterwards.
Bought some snacks, but they don’t fill my hunger. There were bakery that sells the baguette for around €1. (The euro signs in French are written after the number. Euro-cent divider was either a comma or the euro sign itself in place of the dot.)
Then I stumbled upon a supermarket near were I stayed that sells nothing but (store branded) frozen food. It’s cheap (by European standards), but stuff from Asia are expensive and packaged like some exotic food. (I saw a box of sushi selling for €12.) The fries I bought there for €1 per box had about 26 pieces and, after using the microwave oven, actually tastes quite nice. Shame I bought only 2 boxes.  Did buy other stuff though they were completely depleted by day 6.
Why the inconvenient operating hours?
On day 4, I did not went out until evening. I wondered around aimlessly again along river Sene, not too far away from the Louve.  There was an island in the middle of the river that is said to have been where Paris was founded, though, except for the nice scenery, there wasn’t really anything there. There was also a bridge that was full of paddocks that said something about a woman’s heart. I don’t recall what exactly, but the sight of paddocks was mind blowing. (Oldest padlock I could find there out of the thousands I saw [of course i did not look through every single one of them] was in 2004, though the majority were from 2011 and 2012)
We wandered around further along the river until night has fallen. That happened at 10pm.
You wouldn’t believe that a picture I took that appears to be daytime was at 8pm.