Washington D.C. Day 8: Air and Space Museum Annex and Flying Home

Thursday was my day to fly back to California. Before my afternoon flight, my parents and I decided to explore the Air and Space Museum Annex (officially: the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center), conveniently close to Dulles Airport.

The size of the center is astounding. There are very many planes inside! They're all full-size, real vehicles. Plus there's space stuff too: satellites, rockets, etc., including the space shuttle. Yes, it fits in there without a problem. And there are air-related items (engines, airplane machine guns, etc.) and air-related memorabilia: aerial photographs, food cans used by Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, medals, and even antique dinner plates with a painting of a hot air balloon.

The center does a great job in the design and arrangement of all these displays.

I took pictures. I'm sorry the pictures don't have detailed commentary--we were short on time so I didn't take many notes. We did, however, manage to see almost all of the complex. The only thing I know I missed that I would like to have seen is the air traffic controller simulation/model.

Getting to my flight was easy. There was no line to check-in and security was pretty fast. The only delay was that I had to take a shuttle to my gate/terminal. I didn't have to do this when I landed the week before.

My seat had a surprisingly large amount of legroom, no discernible reason why.

I transferred in Salt Lake City before completing my journey home to San Francisco. In Salt Lake City, I wandered the terminals hunting for food. En route, I saw art; for details see the pictures. After seeing many restaurants I wasn't in the mood for, I was happy when I spotted a Quiznos on a map. But this Quiznos only sold regular sandwiches, not small ones, and I didn't want a regular sandwich because I was still somewhat full from lunch in Dulles. Instead, I grabbed a nostalgic pepperoni slice from Sbarro. I say nostalgic because I often got a slice from Sbarro when my mom brought me to the mall when I was a kid. Sadly, this slice wasn't as good as the memory of my halcyon days of mall wandering.

Update: My parents tell me that what I used to eat in the mall was from a place called Luciano Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria. If only I knew at the time, I wouldn't have stopped by Sbarro!

Washington D.C. Day 7: More Parts of Capitol Hill

We awoke to a bright and clear day. After a late start (or later than planned), we took the metro to the capitol. Once there, I began taking pictures. I also recorded our walking route for posterity.

After walking around the capitol, we explored the Supreme Court building and took a tour of it. It has many gilded things (elevators, window frames, etc.). Photographing was prohibited inside the courtroom, which is sad because it has some neat features. The courtroom, with seven rows of pews, four in each side, was smaller than I expected. Above the room are Greek friezes: some allegories, some symbols, and some simply references to great lawgivers from history. For details, see these two PDFs from the Supreme Court's website: one, two. Above the bench is an intimidating clock with a second hand; I'm sure it puts lots of stress on the lawyers who come to argue before the court.

During the tour I learned that guests are seated in order of their host's seniority (the person who invited them). The press, sketch artist, marshal, clerks, etc. all have assigned seats.

The Supreme Court building had a good exhibit on Thurgood Marshall and court history. There was also a nice display on the lower level.

I didn't get to hear oral arguments because the Supreme Court wasn't in session this time of year.

We emerged from the Supreme Court to discover a bit of drizzle and lots of thunder. Unlike the previous day, this time we had umbrellas. We trotted to our next destination, the Folger Shakespeare Library. Beside its areas for educational and research work, it has a small, multi-level theater that was set up for The Tempest. The displays intrigued me enough to later look up the three-part documentary on Shakespeare in American Life. I listened to all three parts, enjoying the second episode the most. Give it a try if you're vaguely tempted.

We swung by the main Library of Congress building but found it had a huge line. We didn't wait. Instead, we looked at one adjacent building and then another, the James Madison building. My "off the beaten path" guidebook suggested going to the top to the Madison building's cafeteria. The book was right--the trip was well worth it. Though the cafeteria seemed closed, we went in anyway and found what we were seeking: panoramic windows (facing south). I didn't take any pictures because the sky was overcast, but it was still pretty cool.

In the Madison Building, we also found exhibits from the Library of Congress. Maps in our Lives showed the kind of maps we used in elementary school: for instance, a map of the world in simple colors wherein each country has a few icons for the kind of things they produce. There was also a holomap of Manhattan (subways, streets, neighborhoods) and maps of airline routes, ethnic distribution, fire control, natural gas pipelines, and even a cultural map of Wisconsin. All these map me think back to Tufte. (I read his books about how to present information visually.)

My parents then indulged me, letting me go back to the National Gallery of Art to see the rooms I missed on my earlier visit. I got to see Manet, Degas, Vuillard, a whole room of Picasso, and some other notable artists as shown in the pictures.

When we left the National Gallery, the sky was clear and perfectly sunny again. We walked to the Federal Triangle Metro, passing many marble-plated buildings on the way, but were in too much of a hurry to take pictures.

We took the metro to Foggy Bottom and walked to the Kennedy Center, passing George Washington University and the Foggy Bottom Farmers Market on the way. I recorded our route from the Foggy Bottom metro station to the Kennedy Center.

The Kennedy Center is a large, respectable-looking performing arts space. See the pictures.

While at the Kennedy Center, we found the Millennium Stage, a performance area that puts on free shows nightly. We happened to be there during a show by Tiny Ninja Theater. The artists used dime-store figures to perform an abbreviated version of Romeo & Juliet.

For dinner we headed to Herndon for one of our favorite restaurants, The Tortilla Factory. My parents have been going there since before I was born. They brought me there in a baby carrier after I was born. We've been going regularly ever since. It serves a kind of Mexican food that's so Americanized, I can't find anything like it in California (not even in the Americanized restaurants there). We returned on this trip and were satisfied.

On our way home, there was a steady rain with thunder.

Washington D.C. Day 6: Dupont Circle / Embassy Row

Since we returned to our hotel after midnight the previous night, we got a late start on this day, sleeping until 10:30am. We therefore decided it'd be better to eat in Northern Virginia rather than starve until we made it to D.C.

For lunch, we went to the Einstein's near Reston Town Center, at which I had the same quality bagel (with lox) I've learned I can consistently expect from Einstein's. The sandwich was perfect -- exactly what it should be. We also shared some fresh orange juice. It was obvious it was squeezed recently. In all, a very satisfying meal. I'd give it a 4? on my rating scale.

As we left the area, I declined to see the Reston Town Center again. I'd seen it many times while growing up and didn't feel the need to see it again; I remembered it well enough.

Then, a drive, a Metro, and a long escalator ride later, we found ourselves in Dupont Circle. We'd spend the day visiting a museum and walking Dupont Circle and Embassy Row in particular. The route we walked and the pictures I took serve as the primary documentation of what we saw.

When we stopped by the National Geographic Society, we briefly explored the museum inside. It's a small, fairly traditional science museum. We were really looking for a giant glass globe of the world which only one of my guide books (published in 2007) mentioned. When we inquired, the staff said the globe hadn't been there for six years. Ah well. We did find some nice topological maps.

When in the vicinity of Scott Circle, rain started coming down hard. We jumped into the lobby of a Marriott Courtyard, oddly the same chain in which we were staying in Virginia. The rain quickly departed, so we hurried onward to the museum I wanted to see so we could see it before it closed. Because of this need for speed and worry about the return of the rain, I didn't get to photograph Scott Circle. I would've liked to as it had three sections, each with a statue. (Zoom in the Google map to see the different green parts.)

As we walked down Massachusetts Avenue to the Phillips Collection, we realized why the part of town was called Embassy Row. (Well, it actually houses more than just embassies. But it does house many embassies.) Within two blocks we passed the embassies for Australia, Trinidad & Toboga, and Uzbekistan, along with buildings for the Congressional Black Caucus, IEEE, the Brookings Institution, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

We stopped to explore the Phillips Collection. It's one of my favorite museums. It mainly shows art that I like (impressionist and other art from late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) and not much else. It thus has a high density of enjoyable art, yet is small and therefore unintimidating. I took more pictures than I'd expect for a museum this size. In addition to the artists/works represented in the pictures I took, I noted rooms devoted each to Cezanne, O'Keeffe, Rothko, Klee, and Arthur Dove, as well as paintings by Mondrian, Pollock, Miro, Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Gauguin, and William Scott, and photographs by Stieglitz.

We left the Phillips Collection to continue walking the neighborhood.

When rain approached, the park we were in at the time emptied. Even the chess players disappeared. We heard it coming as well--the thunder is a give-away--but later than the locals. I guess the natives have a better sense of impending weather than us tourists.

We retreated to Kramerbooks, an independent bookstore. It's a small place but has a good selection. We browsed for while. It has a bar/cafe, Afterwords Cafe, but the cafe is for sit-down restaurant dining; it doesn't serve snacks like Starbucks.

Hence, we went next door to Starbucks. We sat in the corner by windows looking out onto the nearby circle and people-watched. We ate a Go Raw Banana 'Bread' Flax Bar that, while walking around D.C. earlier in the week, someone gave me as a sample, and also ate a brownie and an oatmeal raisin cookie, both from Starbucks. My mom liked the banana flax bar.

I wrote in my notes at the time that Seth would like this area because it has many young women. A bit after this trip, he moved to Washington D.C. and I learned I was right.

Somewhere along this walk, by the way, we found a nice field of day lilies. "Oh, I love it," said mom.

We didn't make it to Adams Morgan--I hoped we would--before needing to turn back to head to dinner.

For dinner, I took my parents to Restaurant Nora, allegedly the country's first certificated organic restaurant. Basically, it's the Chez Panisse of the east. The menu notes that everything they use is organic except for certain types of food (foraged mushrooms, some seafood, some wines and spirits) that have no certification body. The back of the menu has a statement of philosophy and a long list describing how and from whom they source every ingredient and how each of those farmers does his or her own thing in an organic, sustainable, healthy way. I think this disclosure is the opposite of many restaurants, who are tight-lipped about who their suppliers are for fear that disclosure will reveal to competitors where to get the best quality ingredients.

We enjoyed our meal. The dishes were all fresh and creatively put together. The portion sizes were good; after the main course we had room for dessert. Later, we left dinner not overstuffed, "very comfortable."

After dinner, we had a long train ride home with lots of waiting for trains, sitting at stations. Actually, today was a slow day for the metro overall. I love the your-train-will-arrive-in-x-minutes. Usually x was less than ten except for this day.

Washington D.C. Day 5: Art Museums and Part of Capitol Hill

I ate the free breakfast at the hotel: cereal and a bad (sweet) bagel. Then I met up with my parents and we dropped J off at the airport.

We ate lunch at Chipotle. This was my first Chipotle experience; my parents at this point in time went regularly. I thought I'd be snobby and disappointed given my experience with Mexican food in California. Nevertheless, I thought my burrito was good though not well mixed. It was also messier than most burritos. I particularly liked the cilantro-lime rice--I could eat it by itself; it didn't need to be mixed with other ingredients like most burrito fillings.

We took the metro downtown. Washington D.C. was warm in the sun and nicely green. I took out my camera and began to seriously take pictures. I also recorded the route we walked from where we emerged from the metro station to where we re-entered a different one in late afternoon

We first visited the Freer Gallery. Its collection ranges all over Asia: Moghul knifes, Indian religious objects, Islamic art, Japanese screens, Vietnamese ceramics, Korean ceramics, Chinese bronze, Chinese scrolls, and various Daoist and Buddhist objects. Oddly, it also has American landscapists such as Whistler. There were explanations of every piece in the gallery. I love it!

Next up: the Sackler Gallery. It was pretty similar, with more, say, southeast Asian jugs and more Whistlers. The only thing I have to say here is that I wrote down we quickly visited the Clash of Civilizations exhibit, and also wrote a note that we saw something (sculptures?) made using models with very detailed hands, real dirt, and real hair. I don't know if these two notes are related, nor can I find any reference to an exhibit by that name on the web.

We stopped in the Smithsonian Castle to get a snack. The Castle has a nice garden with many labeled flowers.

Next up was the Hirshhorn Museum, with its good amount of interesting, modern art. We saw Mondrian, Bolotowsky, Calder, Willem de Kooning (he's still bizarre), Clifford Still, Max Ernst, and Georgia O'Keeffe. We saw a funky multimedia installation about presidents. We visited an exhibit (perhaps this one) about lighting.

We saw the special photo exhibit on Wolfgang Tillmans. It included recent political news clippings, a whole gallery of pictures of bent paper, and a series of black squares, Memorial to Victims of Organized Religions. I don't think I need to say more about this wide-ranging, sometimes strange, artist.

The Hirshhorn's Sculpture Garden was unimpressive. You know de Kooning--the guy who makes weird paintings. Well, the garden has several ugly, mangled sculptures by him. It also has a Rodin and Picasso's famous Pregnant Woman sculpture.

Incidentally, the Hirshhorn Museum was really efficient at booting us out at closing time, even shepherding us out of its outdoor sculpture garden.

The National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden was much better than the Hirshhorn's. Almost every piece was worth talking about, most in a good way (though it too has its weirdness, such as Miro's sculpture).

From this Sculpture Garden, we headed north to Metro Center, from where we took the train to Union Station. I stopped recording my route when we entered the metro station, and re-started recording the route on a new map when we emerged from Union Station.

Of course, I continued taking pictures within Union Station. By the way, Union Station has a big food court. I continued taking pictures as we walked south from Union Station through Senate Park to and around Capitol Hill. This area has nice green spaces. One parent said, "the weather's great," but the weather was only great because we started walking after 6pm. The rest of the day was pretty warm.

As night fell, we caught a metro to Eastern Market station. I stopped recording our walking route. From the Eastern Market station, we walked a block to eat dinner at The Old Siam, a Thai restaurant. The Eastern Market area has homeless people begging; they're more noticeable there than the ones downtown (who I don't recall seeing). As for dinner, it was fairly good, a 2+ or 3- on my scale. After dinner, we took the metro and returned to our hotel.

On a future trip, I'd like to visit Eastern Market and its farmers market after they've rebuilt. We didn't bother going this trip because the market recently burned. I first heard about it when an NPR commentator profiled the market after its fire.

Washington D.C. Day 4: National Gallery and Ballston (VA)

I took a good number of pictures this day.

After brunch in the hotel, some friends and I took the metro into D.C. It was a comfortable, overcast day, warm in the sun.

Our destination was the National Gallery of Art. It's a respectable museum though I was disappointed there are few to no explanations of pieces.

The West Building has traditional art up through the nineteenth century, mostly Italian (some religious), French, and German. This building has all the good impressionists: Pissarro (who I like), Monet (who I like) (including The Houses of Parliament, Sunset), Gauguin (who I don't like much), and Cezanne (who's somewhere in the middle). Also, I enjoyed paintings by Canaletto (incredibly detailed), Turner, and Thomas Cole (except for the religious parts).

The National Gallery also has an exhibit of medals (a la coins) from the Renaissance. In addition, it has an exhibit of sketches that wasn't my thing.

The special exhibit on early photography (Modernity in Central Europe, 1918-1945) showed photographs that look like they were taken by people who just discovered the camera. Most were experimental, some were activist, some were montages, and some were surreal (but the surreal photos at the Mountain View festival I attended shortly before are better).

In order to spend time in the East Building, we didn't view the north side of the ground floor of the West Building.

The East Building has modern art. We saw Rothko, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Ruscha, Pollock, Calder (his pieces make awesome shadows), Jasper Johns, and O'Keeffe, among others. Sadly, we didn't have time to finish exploring the building. I'll have to come back sometime.

We spent several hours at the National Gallery.

During the trip, I heard about an art project to photograph pay-phones (before they disappear). Sounds neat!

Upon leaving the museum, we happened upon a gay street festival: Capital Pride. The shop booths sold colorful glass items in the shapes of hearts, stars, etc. The food booths sold crab cakes, gyros, crepes, fajitas, funnel cakes, etc. Sadly, most booths were closed; we stumbled upon the festival too late in the day.

We headed to Ballston, a neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, to meet a friend of one of us (E). Downtown Ballston, located next to the metro station, has a nice four-story mall. There are also bars around. The area was fairly empty when we visited. Away from the main drag, Ballston is pretty bland (like the rest of Arlington). Lots of brick buildings and houses.

With this friend, we went out for Afghani food at Bamian in Falls Church. The menu explained Afghanistan: "Afghanistan has occupied a favored invasion route since antiquity and was known as Ariana or Bactria in ancient times." Sounds a bit politically-loaded given the times.

Our waiter was funny. For instance, when asking him about a Afghani "dough" drink, he asked us about a different drink (a lassi I think): "Tried that? Liked it? Don't get this! It's an acquired taste."

Over dinner E's friend told us about bar tricks and about his drinking kickball league, which apparently is very popular in the area.

How To Give A Best Man Toast / Speech

I recently had to give a best-man-type toast/speech. While there's a wealth of advice on this topic on the web, it takes some time to get past the useless (to me) lists of two-sentence pithy / memorable / funny / touching / famous / witty / etc. quotes to get to guidelines on how to give a toast that is more like a speech. Here are the sites I found useful in no particular order:

Wedding Speeches. Includes many pages with suggestions and guidelines.
The Perfect Toast
Wedding Toasts and Speeches. Similarly good; has many advice articles and allows one to pay to have a toast written.
About.com has many pages about giving toasts. Most are useless. Here are the good ones:
I Rise to Toast the Bride and Groom. Has honest, personal opinions (with which I sometimes disagree).
Introduction to Wedding Speeches and Wedding Toasts. Has an interesting list on how toasts vary depending on the speaker's relationship with the couple.
Despite practice, not surprisingly I got a little tongue-tied during the actual event. Still, I think I managed to get across everything I intended to. Your experience may vary.

If you attended the B and C's wedding in 2007 and want a copy of my speech (or at least the written copy of what I intended to say), just ask.

Addendum: I later found another useful advice column: Modern Manners Guy's How to Make a Wedding Toast. This should go in the list above but I prefer to keep separate the list of columns I read before my speech and after.

Washington D.C. Day 3: Clarendon (VA) and a Wedding

On Saturday, we had some time to kill before the wedding. Some friends and I went to Arlington for brunch. In particular we went to the Market Common in the Clarendon section of Arlington. On the way we got lost around the Dolly Madison, Chain Bridge area, names of roads of recognized from my youth (but that didn't help getting us un-lost).

I discovered Arlington is nice, quaint, and manicured. The retail area puts its parking above the stores, allowing for nice views of shops' facades to remain unblemished by visible large expanses of asphalt.

We ate in Harry's Tap Room. I started taking pictures at this point. Harry's specializes in local, organic, natural food. I'd give it a 3 on my rating scale (which is pretty good). For details see the pictures.

After lunch, we walked around the area. The temperature was in the mid-80s, which was actually surprisingly pleasant in the shade or when clouds covered the sun.

We then returned to our hotel to prepare for the wedding. I don't have much to say about the wedding; it's a private affair. Where it was held, the atrium in Meadowlark Botanic Garden in Vienna, is a lovely setting for a wedding. I wrote down at the time that I wanted to comment on the vows, toasts, icebreaker (!), seating arrangements, and the style of wedding. However, as I'm writing this years after the time, I don't remember anything in particular I wanted to say. I think by "icebreaker" I might have been referring to a crossword puzzle they handed out. Entitled "Fuzzy and Techie", it was a neat combination: every answer was clued twice, once using fuzzy (humanities-oriented) hints and once using techie (science-oriented) hints. These reflected the background of the couple. Many fuzzy clues centered on the law and many techie clues on chemistry. I did a run-through of the crossword for the groom to verify everything worked and made sense. As an example of one of the wittiest clues, the same answer was clued both by "group lawsuit" and "taking a test." I think I called this puzzle an icebreaker because it got people to talk to each other regardless of whether they spoke the same academic language or not and help each other answer questions.

I participated twice in the wedding events, once reading a cute Ogden Nash poem (Reprise), and once giving a best-man-type-speech for B. The Nash poem was even funnier in the context of the ceremony because it immediately followed the reading of one of Shakespeare's sonnets. Ogden Nash, by the way, is a witty poet; I like much of his work.

On the way back to the hotel from the wedding venue, we crossed over a nice river. I guess I didn't notice it on the way.

Washington D.C. Day 2: Holocaust Museum

Last night, I stayed with my parents in the Fairfield in Chantilly, near Dulles Airport. I had a decent continental breakfast from its lounge, well stocked with donuts, muffins, bread, waffles, toast, yogurt, fruit, coffee, juices, etc. After breakfast, my parents dropped me off at the Tysons Corner Holiday Inn to meet some friends. I stayed at the Holiday Inn for the next two days with everyone else attending the wedding.

My friends and I took the metro downtown. Emerging from the station, I took out my camera. I took only a few pictures this day. I also recorded our walking route from when we appeared downtown until we re-entered the metro after dinner.

Walking around downtown, we sweltered in the 90-something degree heat. We quickly headed to our intended destination, the Holocaust Museum, stumbling on the small USDA farmers market on the way.

The Holocaust Museum's lobby is a bleak brick train station, yet it has hopeful tiles with messages from children (ages 6-15) on the wall. This made me wonder at what age kids should learn about the Holocaust. By the way, the wall is also known as the Wall of Remembrance.

The exhibit on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was interesting and detailed. I learned that The Protocols was plagiarized largely from a French work that didn't mention Jews. I also learned that in the 2000s, despite being fiction, it's still being published as if it were true. And, of course, it's in many places on the internet.

The children's exhibit was clearly for kids. The diary entries of children from the Holocaust began as full-page entries and later were mere dirty fragments. The museum does a good age-appropriate job in this exhibit.

The special exhibit on the ghetto in Lodz (the second largest city in Poland) portrayed how the community managed itself: its bureaucracy, currency (yes, it has its own), its stamps, its hospitals, its schools, its cultural and social life, and even how it strictly rationed itself. The community chose who received the limited supplies it received, and how much. All of this was to try to make as normal a world for the children as possible, but the fundamental message I got from this exhibit was that scarcity makes life difficult no matter how much you try. Governing is even more difficult when no one knew what was going to happen next or where people forced into vehicles were going. Incidentally, the presentation space was good at separating the sounds in this exhibit from the sounds in the neighboring exhibit.

The extensive permanent exhibit, though crowded, is powerful. Something about the displays reminded me how recent this horrific event was, made it feel closer than it did before. I had a similar reaction when I toured Martin Luther King's Historic Site in Atlanta.

The first section in the permanent exhibit, on the rise of the Nazis before the war, discusses the science of race and how the Germans defined someone as a Jew by the number of Jewish grandparents. This reminded me of how black was defined during the days of slavery and reconstruction in the United States. This section of the exhibit shows how the Germans, besides prosecuting Jews (even trampling Torahs), prosecuted Jehovah's witnesses (none of whom recanted), Poles (who the Germans viewed as being racially worse, though they had trouble distinguishing them from Germans), and even Freemasons. There was a backlash against targeting certain groups; for instance, people protested killing handicapped kids.

I also learned that the Evian conference, an international conference in 1938 intended to convince countries to let in more (Jewish) refugees, was useless. The conference, combined with reading the display on the ship St. Louis, vividly illustrates that immigration policy is always relevant.

In the section that covered WWII, I learned a lot about the Warsaw ghetto. I learned about the Warsaw ghetto revolt and how the rebels were valiant to the end. I learned there were footbridges for Jews over the non-Jewish parts of ghettos. (Basically, if some parts of a neighborhood weren't Jewish but divided the Jewish parts from one another, rather than make the non-Jews move, the Nazi built bridges connecting the Jewish parts so the Jews wouldn't have to leave the segregated part of the ghetto.)

I'm amazed that the museum has so many pictures of the Warsaw ghetto, even pictures of the rebels. The museum also has a wall from the Warsaw ghetto.

About the Kovno ghetto, I learned that the popularly-elected leaders of the ghetto rebelled. That takes chutzpah--the Nazis knew who the leaders where because they coordinated with them on ghetto rules. In rebelling, the leaders knew they would be killed.

Halfway through the permanent exhibit, there's a room by the stairs without any information; it's simply meant for visitors to refresh themselves before they continue on.

The museum has physical artifacts: shoes, hair, and other belongings. It also has a photo-montage of arms showing tattooed numbers.

I (re-)learned that the Allies didn't bomb Auschwitz because they wanted to see first-hand the conditions there.

Also, the museum tells stories about how Bulgaria, Sweden, and Denmark protected Jews, and describes how Norway became cleansed.

There's a four-story tower of family pictures of residents from a town, Eishyshok, that the Nazis destroyed.

Most of the last floor of the permanent exhibit is devoted to protests, rebels, and individual and group actions of resistance. The nearly final room is about war crime trials. Not enough people were convicted.

The last room is video interviews with survivors.

Like all visitors to the museum, I was given an identity card with the biographical information of a real person who lived during the Holocaust. In my case, I was an Italian Jew who was a lawyer turned pianist (after he wasn't allowed to practice law). Eventually he was deported to Auschwitz and, there, committed suicide.

In better news, The Hall of Remembrance is a beautiful sanctuary.

We spent several hours in the museum. I'm glad I visited with someone who knows much history and could answer the questions I had that weren't answered by the displays.

By the way, I was surprised the museum said practically nothing about Israel.

After the museum, we were hungry. It was a bit early for dinner but we decided to go for it. After wandering a bit, we found a random Italian place downtown, Finemondo. For the somewhat shocking details, see the pictures.

In the evening, we had a pre-wedding gathering for the groom in O'Malley Irish pub, conveniently located in our hotel. It was nice to see long-lost college friends again. But, O'Malley didn't treat us well. The waitress wasn't competent. She didn't really ask whether we wanted anything. If she had, I'm sure we would've ordered so much more that our tab would've been at least double. Also, she wasn't good about cleaning off the table. Finally, to top off the experience, at the end of the night, at closing time the bartender simply said, "Get out."

We retired to a sitting area in a nearby hallway to continue our conversation.

Washington D.C. Day 1: Travel

My journey began on June 7, 2007, with some uneventful train rides to the airport followed by an uneventful cross-country plane flight. What little I saw of Salt Lake City's airport during my brief stopover seemed decent enough. I flew Delta, giving the opportunity to compare its snacks with those served on United, my frequent carrier. I rediscovered how chompable Sun Chips are. :) I also had a boxed snack of havarti-flavored processed cheese spread, whole grain crackers, and Oreos. Considering the creaminess of the cheese and the richness of the crackers (they were so buttery as to be like Ritz), I wonder how many people are tricked by the whole grain label into thinking they're healthy. It's a high-fat, high-sugar snack. The Quaker Oatmeal Apples & Cinnamon Breakfast Bar I selected later on that flight wasn't much better. I had high hopes because I like Quaker Oats, but this bar was too cakey for me, both in texture, sugar content, and sugar topping. It wasn't actually that sugary (22 grams) according to the label, but it sure tasted like it. I think I prefer United's little bags of pretzels, nuts, and cheese-flavored sticks.

Oddly, when I landed, my bag had on it someone else's luggage tag--you know, those little pieces of paper with name and address. I can't easily imagine how it happened. Judging by the phone number's area code, the other person was also from the bay area; maybe she took the same flight.

As you've no doubt already guessed, I didn't see anything this day and hence was grasping for straws of things about which to write.

Washington D.C.: Overview

[Note the dates in this post. This is a trip report from a trip long ago. Most of this post and perhaps a slight majority of the later posts were written soon after the trip. The remaining 40% of the text was filled in years later from my notes.]

A friend of mine got married on June 9th 2007 in Northern Virginia, not far from where I grew up. I decided to use the wedding as an excuse to explore Washington D.C. Although I was raised in the vicinity, I haven't often been there since elementary school. I figured it deserved another look. I stayed in the D.C. area on this trip from June 7th through June 14th.

I suppose I should summarize my impressions of Washington.

D.C. provides an intellectual and cultural smorgasbord through its many government offices and innumerable free, quality museums. Having already visited many of the most famous attractions (the Capitol, the White House, and museums such as the Natural History Museum, the American History Museum, and the Air and Space Museum), I presumed I'd be able to explore the rest of what I was interested in and some of D.C.'s distinctive neighborhoods on a five day trip. I soon learned I was very wrong. Although I managed to see many attractions, I could easily spend weeks if not a few months exploring D.C. It's got enough cultural attractions to rival New York City.

D.C. feels different from many other cities. Partially it's because the skyline is clean -- D.C.'s regulations force all buildings to be short (i.e., no skyscrapers). Partially it's the tons of marble used in building many institutions. Partially it's the presence of quiet, uncrowded streets, often with single family houses, mere blocks from major sites, such as the streets three blocks east of the Capitol.

The metro system feels like a good version of those in most cities. It's clean and generally efficient; one doesn't have to look at the schedule and plan around it.

I'd forgotten how temperamental the weather could be, changing from blue skies to rain within two hours and returning to blue skies two hours later. As long as one is prepared, this variability is not a problem. Indeed, it can even be a blessing, reducing the temperature to a more comfortable amount for a few hours. Each day during this trip was usually in the 80s and humid. Because of this, after day two I avoided the peak unpleasantness by planning major walking excursions only in the late afternoon or evening.

While reading guide books, I observed the city is constantly under construction and renovation. Union Station fell into disrepair to the point of having its roof leak, causing chunks of plaster to fall from the ceiling, until it was renovated in the 1980s. (It looks great now.) The Botanic Garden was closed in 1997 for renovations due to, as one guide book called it, "general dilapidation," reopening in 2001. The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, colocated in the Old Patent Office building, recently reopened after a six-year renovation. The National Museum of American History is currently closed for renovation. Meanwhile, several new museums and other sites opened in the last few years. Amusingly, the guide books I borrowed from the library, all published in different years within the last four years, all said the Capitol Visitors Center, being built underneath the capitol, would open the following year.

My home region, Northern Virginia, is as lush and green as I remember it, with many two-lane roads winding through forests. (Well, at least areas that look like forests. There can't be large forests so close to D.C.) The trees are tall. The highways, however, vary in pleasantness; many have tall, ugly, sound-blocking walls.

Incidentally, all the national museums searched our bags upon entry. Once inside, some (but not all), let us keep our bags with us.

I'll conclude with an interesting thing I learned: I was surprised to read that the metro system was built mostly in the 1970s and 1980s (see Washington Metro Area Transit Authority: Metro History (PDF) and George Mason University's Center of History and New Media: Building the Washington Metro). This is surprising because most cities' subway systems were built before cities became too developed, before property rights and people density make it difficult to build without running into lots of opposition. By the way, though both web sites have interesting tales about Metro's history, GMU's online exhibit also explains the architectural design of the stations and the construction techniques for the lines, among other things. For instance, I learned that the yellow line's Potomac crossing is a tunnel that was built above ground, floated to the right place, then sunk.

S.F. Moma

I have lived in the bay area for more than a decade, yet never visited San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art: S.F. Moma. This year my employer became a corporate sponsor; as such, all employees get free admission. This was the impetus I needed.

On Thursday, July 21, 2011, I took a day off work to visit S.F. Moma. (Yes, I registered it as a vacation day--I didn't use my corporate benefit while simultaneously playing hooky.)

Di Yin and I drove up to the city before lunch. We parked by S.F. Moma, picked up our tickets, arranged for our timed entry into the special exhibit, and headed out for lunch. I brought a long list of possible destinations, some within walking destination and some across the city. It'd been years since I visited the city regularly; my list of places to try had grown seemingly without bound.

Because it was a beautiful day to walk around, we decided to restrict our choices to those reachable on foot. We began by trotting down Market to Civic Center Plaza. I took out my camera and began shooting pictures. We went to Civic Center because I wanted to check out Off The Grid's food trucks. Off The Grid organizes groups of food trucks to appear regularly at different parts of the city. Every Thursday some appear in Civic Center Plaza.

We inspected the scene and the nearby street market but decided not to eat there. Instead, we ventured into the Tenderloin to hunt for banh mi sandwiches. I had a few Vietnamese sandwich joints on my list.

The Tenderloin was scary at times. After we were turned away at the first joint we stopped by, we headed straight to one I knew would be open and good: Saigon Sandwich.

After lunch, we stopped at Westfield Mall on the way back to S.F. Moma. On the way out of the Tenderloin, we crossed one intersection that had seven police cars around it, most on different sides of the street and facing different directions, ready to speed anywhere as needed.

Although I visited the Westfield Mall few times before (see this report), I forgot how large and modern it is. It has many floors (seven?), curved escalators, and a notably diverse food court.

We returned to S.F. Moma and began exploring. S.F. Moma's collection includes art and design in many styles: bay area figuration, cubism, abstract, surreal, Latin American modernism, and pop art. Notable artists include Warhol, Jasper John, Lichtenstein, Rivera, O'Keeffe, Matisse, and Klee (a whole room of Klee!).

S.F. Moma's photography exhibits are extensive. The main display has photographs mostly from 1850 to 1980, usually of architecture but also of fashion. I didn't like the modern photographs, preferring the old styles. Incidentally, they had some Brassai. Another (?) display shows photographs of bombed out Parisian buildings due to the Paris Commune of 1871.

The special exhibit in the photograph section was a series of rooms on various contemporary photographers (last ten years). One room had Richard Misrach's striking photos of New Orleans homes post-Katrina. Most have graffiti on them from owners telling looters to go away; others have messages stating we are okay and giving a phone number.

We took a break from our viewing of photographs for our timed entry to the special exhibit on the Steins' collection. The Steins (Gertrude, et al.) collected Matisse, Picasso and Parisian avant-garde in general (including Cezanne and Renoir). It also had some art by the Steins themselves and pictures of Michael and Sarah Stein's villa, which was also architecturally news (a la the art they collected).

Although the art wasn't my thing (it was alright), I enjoyed the exhibit. It was done well, covering simultaneously the history of the art and of the family. It also explored the evolution of the relationship between collectors and artists. It told stories about debts, falling-outs with artists, and intra-family squabbles.

The wall labels had quotes from various Steins describing some of the art including this memorable statement: "[It is] the nastiest smear of paint I have ever seen" but "[is] brilliant and powerful" (describing Matisse's colorful Woman with a Hat). Another label mentioned that Picasso, in reply to being told that Gertrude Stein didn't look like her portrait, said "she will." The quotes made the labels fun to read.

We spent three hours in the museum in total. Overall it wasn't bad but wasn't as interesting or extensive as I expected.

On the way home, we stopped by Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous, an oddly-named ice cream joint that's been getting a lot of buzz since it opened the previous year. We tried it; the buzz was justified.

Los Angeles: June 26: Venice

My photographs cover the day's activities fairly well.

Di Yin took pictures too. The link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #182). When you see a picture about us stopping by Greg for Burn Notice (picture #213), you're done with her pictures for the day and for the trip. I'll link the other pictures in the album at another time.

The three of us began the day by heading down to Gjelina in the neighborhood known as Venice for brunch.

After brunch, we walked around the area, in particular up and down Abbot Kinney, the main road in this part of town. It's an alternative, off-beat retail strip. I think the name of one store we spotted perfectly conveys the aura of the neighborhood: Mystic Journey Bookstore.

On the way out of Venice, we drove through nearby streets. Some were gentrifying, with new buildings next to old mom & pops.

It was early afternoon. E parted ways with Di Yin and I and we drove north, heading home. This time we didn't take a crazy detour as on our last time. We did detour once from the 5 to get around the one-lane section we observed on the way down, but that worked out fine, probably because it was a detour CalTrans told us to take.

Halfway up highway 5, we passed a cattle farm: thousands upon thousands of cows covering hills made entirely of dirt. It was bigger than the farm near L.A. Scary. I never noticed this one before.

Los Angeles: June 25: A Motley Assortment

On Saturday, Di Yin and I did a motley assortment of things. I of course took pictures. Din Yin did too. The link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #133). When you see a picture captioned "Checking out Venice with Edison" (picture #182), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link the following pictures in the next post.

First, we drove across town to Eagle Rock to see C and her new baby. C is a friend of Di Yin's; we attended her baby shower months before.

After visiting, we planned to stop by Galco's Soda Shop because it was in the neighborhood. We enjoyed it on our previous visit to L.A. but had by now drunk the bounty from that visit. C and J, despite living in the neighborhood, had never been to Galco's so they came with us and we showed them around.

I bought quite a haul: various ciders (most from my favorite Vermont cidery), a nice pile of Mr. Q. Cumber sodas, and an assortment of Hot Lips sodas in various flavors, among others, including some for E.

We then headed to Monterey Park to meet E for a late lunch. He'd selected Huge Tree Pastry, a joint he loves for its Chinese breakfasts (served all day). We ordered and ate too much (because it was good). Details as usual are in the pictures.

After a quick stop, we returned to E's place. I like how most of traffic in L.A. was going in the opposite direction both in the morning and after lunch. I guess we have good timing or good karma.

We relaxed for a while at home. Some people napped. In late afternoon, Di Yin and I decided to go for a walk. After a bit of research, we decided to explore Beverly Hills and Beverly Gardens Park, a two-mile-long green strip of park-land along Santa Monica Boulevard through Beverly Hills. E warned that parking might be tough in the area so we took a bus.

We walked alternating between walking in the park and walking through the residential streets of Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills is nice. We enjoyed admiring the houses, many of which have wings. The park is also nice. Basically, it's a long promenade interspersed by big green areas. In one of these, I climbed a tree! It was fun; I want to do it more often. There are also a rose garden and a cactus garden.

Once we reached the end of the park, we hunted for a bus back to E's place. It took forever to come. I think the bus that was supposed to come before the one we took had something wrong with it and didn't come. All the passengers were grumbling. By the time we were on our way home, night had fallen, and consequently we missed out stop. By about five stops. Ugh, what an unpleasant bus experience. Finally we got home.

By the way, parking in Beverly Hills looked fine. We should've driven.

You may notice in the pictures a lack of photographs of dinner. This is because we didn't eat dinner. Our lunch was so large that this ended up being a one-meal day.

Los Angeles: June 24: Driving to and Eating in L.A.

Di Yin and I visited Los Angeles (yet again) from Friday, June 24, 2011, to Sunday, June 26. My main reason for the trip was to play board games with my friend E and to see another touristy sight in Los Angeles. Although I didn't end up really doing either, it was a fun trip regardless.

After an unusually good lunch at work, Di Yin and I drove south. (Lunches at work are usually good, but this was unusually so.) On the way I took out my camera and began snapping pictures. We made good time despite highway 5 narrowing to one lane for several miles, which caused a long backup that took perhaps thirty minutes to get through.

Di Yin, by the way, also took pictures. The link goes to her first picture from this trip (picture #80 in this general album of summer activities). When you see a picture captioned "Visiting Carmel's new baby - Rio!" (picture #133), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link the album's other pictures in other posts.

Immediately before L.A. we stopped for a while at Pyramid Lake, a sight that we've admired from afar multiple times from the highway. For reference, Pyramid Lake straddles Los Padres National Forest and Angeles National Forest. We had time to explore it. We had a good time, partially because it was rather nice in temperature, which was surprising because the valley was 90+ degrees F.

Later, we met E at his place and headed out to dinner in K-Town. For our first stop, we dragged him to KyoChon (which we visited before) to convince him the Korean fried chicken there is better than his favorite place, O B Bear (which he had us visit before). I think he admitted that his previous impression of KyoChon was in error, but he wasn't yet ready to admit defeat.

From KyoChon, we decided to walk a ways through K-Town to get to our next eating place. However, as the place we intended to eat the rest of dinner at was closed, we continued straight to dessert at the third place on our itinerary: Hwa Sun Ji, a traditional Korean tea shop. During this walk we passed a cinema makeup school. Only a few places in the world can support such a place; L.A. is one.

Still wanting more real dinner after dessert, we headed back to KyoChon for more. With food in hand, we returned to E's place.

Martinez BBQ Festival & Regional Shoreline

On Sunday, June 19, 2011, Di Yin and I drove up to the town of Martinez in the northeast corner of the San Francisco bay for its King of County BBQ Challenge and Music Festival. Incidentally, I was curious and so looked up the county implied in the title of the festival. Martinez is in Contra Costa County. No signs at the festival specified it.

In Martinez, we passed an oil refinery (they're large!) and long trains with many containers on them. We found the BBQ festival in the Martinez Regional Shoreline.

I took pictures of the festival and of the shoreline. Di Yin also took pictures. The link goes to her first picture from this excursion (which happens to be picture #8 in this album). When you see a picture captioned "the beginning of our trip to LA" (picture #80), you're done with her pictures from the festival. I'll link to her L.A. pictures in the appropriate posts.

It was a big festival. We spent a while browsing the booths, which covered the typical wide variety of art and merchandise one finds at a festival. I also tried two of the three BBQ food stands. Details are in the pictures.

There was a music stage with bands that played old-fashioned rock songs. We could hear the music from most places in the festival including where we ate lunch; it was nice. Surprisingly, despite how far it carried, the music near the stage wasn't too loud.

I liked how the whole festival venue was on grass, a contrast to the many festivals on parking lots or streets. It was comfortable (both to sit on and walk on).

Martinez was hot and sunny, 89 degrees according to my car. It was alright in the breeze, though sadly the festival booths blocked the breeze most of the time. It was also alright in the shade.

After exploring the festival and eating lunch, we walked around the Martinez Regional Shoreline.

Counting the shoreline, we spend a bit over three hours in the area.


On Sunday, June 5, 2011, Di Yin, her parents (they were visiting), and I drove to Carmel. The forecast was horrid, predicting rain all day. Nevertheless, Di Yin's parents had already rearranged their schedule to be free this day, so we continued our plan to go to Carmel.

It was pouring during the drive through San Jose. We drove ten miles per hour under the speed limit. The rain let up near Gilroy. By the time we got to Carmel, it was misting.

But this was no ordinary misting. No precipitation fell from the sky. Rather, clouds of mist blew horizontally. One could see the flow of air currents as they sweep around roofs and reflected off the ground.

We parked and trotted over to The Tuck Box for lunch. Di Yin had tried to bring me to this adorable little cafe in a hundred-year-old building on every previous visit to Carmel but it was closed every time (wrong hours, wrong day of week during low season, closed for vacation, etc.). In contrast, Di Yin brought her parents to The Tuck Box on every visit to Carmel, and it was open every time for them. This time, The Tuck Box was open--I guess her parents' luck is more powerful than my bad luck.

As for lunch, Di Yin and I split a turkey sandwich and some scones. The sandwich came with a side of fruit salad topped with whipped cream! How strange. Also, the Tuck Box is known for its scones. They're non-traditional (at least to me), tasting like they're made with buttermilk and corn meal. For spreads, we chose between orange marmalade, some kind of berry jam, and whipped cream. The scones were good with the definitely good quality whipped cream.

By the end of lunch, the weather was rather nice: partially cloudy, no rain. We only needed jackets because it was windy. Despite the clouds, it was bright. I wished I brought my sunglasses (but how could I have known given the forecast?). It was brighter than a cloudless Paris. Is that possible? Maybe it's because of the difference in latitude.

We walked around Carmel. In town, I enjoyed peering through the windows of the many art galleries.

We took a walk on the beach. It was long time-wise but short length-wise because we kept pausing to take pictures and enjoy the sights. We watched dogs playing in the surf, dogs playing for dominance, and even one person kitesurfing.

By the way, Di Yin took many pictures (not just of the beach but also of the town, of lunch, and more) as did her mom, though her mom's photographs aren't online. I didn't bother taking any pictures because I felt that three of us running around snapping pictures like mad would be absurd. The link goes to Di Yin's first picture from this day (picture #6) in one of her albums covering her parent's visit to California. If you're in slideshow mode and see pictures of Di Yin's parents at Google, you've cycled back to the beginning of the album and are viewing pictures unconnected with Carmel.

We walked through the residential areas and admired houses. We even wandered through a nicely staged open house with four bedrooms, four baths and two half-baths, a fireplace, a garden with a stone plaza patio and a grill, ... Six million dollars.

It was a nice time to visit Carmel. Everything was in bloom (gardens by houses, planters of flowers by businesses, etc.).

On the way home, we stopped by the Gilroy outlets.

Carmel's forecast, like that of the rest of the bay area, was for rain. Carmel's was the only forecast that was wrong. For instance, San Francisco saw record rainfall. (Of course, as a rule it doesn't rain in June, thus making virtually any rainfall a record.)

In conclusion, Di Yin's parents have great Carmel luck. I appreciate it.

Paris: May 24: Flying Home

We had breakfast in our apartment before heading to the airport to fly home. I wanted my last pastry/meal in Paris to be an appropriately traditional pastry. I selected a pain au chocolat, a selection that I'm surprised I made. (I thought I wouldn't be in the mood for more chocolate after the mousse the previous night.)

Incidentally, I took a few pictures this day. Di Yin took four. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #47). If you're in slideshow mode and see a picture of Di Yin mailing postcards, you've cycled back to the beginning of the album and are viewing pictures from an earlier day that I already linked to.

The streets were empty at 7am. Maybe people in Paris start work later than in the states? The train we took that ends at the airport, however, was rather full, so maybe it's just that people up early for work aren't walking around outside.

From the train, we saw a train fully laden with new cars.

Traveling was easy. We had no problems taking the train to the airport, checking-in, going through security, flying, or getting a shuttle to take us home once we landed. We got selected for a random inspection at customs, but even this luggage search was fast and the inspector courteous and friendly.

We flew home non-stop on Air France. The eleven-hour flight was alright, a surprising fact given that there were no personal, on-demand TVs for each person but only shared screens above the airplane's corridors. I enjoyed the main courses of both our meals. We were a bit nervous about flying Air France given our bad experience on KLM on the way to Paris--KLM and Air France are close partners--but I think the discomfort we experienced on the KLM flight was mainly due to sitting next to a large man who slightly overfilled his seat. On this flight we had no such difficulties; for much of the flight I sat next to Di Yin and a sleeping baby (who certainly does not fill up its seat). Nevertheless, I was still slightly irritated by the fact that the armrests didn't entirely rotate up to disappear between the seats. Di Yin and I couldn't share our two seats as if they were a couch. Regardless, I think the flight was perfectly fine and would do it again.

Paris: May 23: Good Food and Other Stuff

This day, our last full day in Paris, brought us all over the city. It was a beautiful, clear, and warm day, again hot in the sun. Also, the sun made it difficult to take pictures because the contrast was too high. Nevertheless, I took some. Di Yin took some too. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #1 in this album). When you see a picture of Di Yin pushing a luggage cart (picture #47), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.

We spent the morning running errands, mostly picking up gifts for people back home. Our route wandered through the upscale boutique shops in the area north of the Louvre and Jardin des Tuileries. On the way, we also stopped by the post office to mail postcards, a surprisingly fast and efficient transaction. Of course, as we collected gifts for friends and relatives, we detoured to sight-see in the area.

After shopping, we took the metro east past the Bastille (well, where it previously stood) to meet for lunch a coworker/friend, P, who's lived in Paris with his family for the last year. It was a great meal, one of our best on the trip. As usual, for details see the pictures.

We parted ways after lunch, with Di Yin and me walking to the conveniently close Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise. We meandered through the cemetery to visit certain graves, most notable Oscar Wilde, whose grave had a small crowd. Walking through this vast sea of monuments/funerary sculpture was weirdly pleasant. I think the pictures convey the sense. Incidentally, we saw lots of crows.

We took the metro a bit north to Canal Saint Martin. We started our walk along the canal near the stations of Stalingrad and Jaures. This area was sketchy. Because Di Yin and I were tired, we walked only a few blocks along the canal before heading home (doing about a third of my guide book's walking route). I feel like we got the feel of canal.

We rested.

Dinner was at L'Ambassade d'Auvergne, a restaurant literally across the street from our apartment that specializes in cuisine from Auvergne. Auvergne is a rustic central region of France known for its pork. Only two-thirds of the way through this trip did I find out it was a chow-worthy destination. This turned out to be another good meal, with great appetizers and desserts though generally disappointing mains.

With two unusually good meals this day, it was a nice way to end our trip in Paris.

Paris: May 22: Eiffel Tower and the Architecture Museum

Following K's request, the day's goal was to see the Eiffel Tower up close.

I took pictures. Di Yin took fewer, partially because she didn't take pictures on our late afternoon excursion. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #163). If you're in slideshow mode and see a picture of us on a train, you've cycled back to the beginning of the album and are viewing pictures from an earlier day that I already linked to.

But first (before the real adventures): another day, another pastry run.

After breakfast, we hung out in the apartment until it was time for our early lunch reservation at Breizh Cafe, a restaurant known for its Breton style crepes. (We had an early lunch so we could make it to the Eiffel Tower before K had to leave.) Brittany crepes use buckwheat flour rather than the standard egg crepe batter. Interestingly, the cafe has three locations: Brittany, Paris, and Tokyo. The menu was in Japanese in addition to English and French. We were a bit overwhelmed with the number of choices. For details on the meal, see the pictures.

After lunch, we took the metro across town to the Eiffel Tower, disembarking at the station (Trocadero) just across the Seine from it. We took many pictures as we approached the tower, from beneath it, and as we retreated in the opposite direction. We passed lots of people peddling stuff on blankets; this didn't surprise us much. More surprisingly, we saw a number of card sharks, each with quite a crowd.

Having had our fill of the Eiffel Tower, we headed back to our apartment. (We didn't feel any need to ride up the tower, especially considering the tremendous view we got from the Sacre Coeur the previous day. The tower would've shown Paris from a different side of the city but I didn't care enough.) K had to pick up her bag to head to the train station for her train home.

After dropping K at the station, I advocated to Di Yin that we should go explore more. I felt as if we didn't do enough this day. Happily, Di Yin was persuaded, a good thing because the museum we ended up going to turned out to be one of our favorites on this trip.

The museum we selected, the architectural museum, Cite de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, was back across town, near the same station by the Eiffel Tower that we disembarked at earlier this day.

The museum covers a millennium of French architecture. The bottom level exhibits tons of casts of church facades. It's shockingly extensive. I was impressed with the V&A Museum's Cast Court, yet that's a mere two rooms and this is perhaps a dozen. There must be four times more casts in this museum than in the V&A! It was neat to see these facades at close proximity without crowds (as there would be if we visited the churches in person).

The cast section also has a great 3-d interactive computer system for virtually visiting many churches. One can pan around in any direction and zoom in. The comprehensive imagery (one can look straight up, straight down, where-ever) and the detail (zooming in, one can see more details than one can with the human eye standing in the same spot) makes this an awesome addition to the museum.

An upper level in the museum has lots of models of more recent buildings: houses, sports venues, cultural venues, public buildings, and, yes, churches.

A special exhibit about the creation of social housing discussed each housing project on a theoretical level about its architectural style and about its architectural construction of space and community.

A separate wing of the museum has accurate copies of church murals (complete with the degradations that happened over time). This exhibit is quite an extensive complement to the casts of the church facades.

Not everything was translated into English but enough was that I was happy. Plus, the exhibits are all visual, meaning I didn't feel like I had to read much to get something about of them.

As an added bonus, the museum has great views of the Eiffel Tower from its huge windows. The Eiffel Tower views were arresting. No matter how many times I saw it, I paused every time I passed a window.

We spent about an hour and a half in the museum before they kicked us out at closing time. We saw almost all the permanent exhibits.

I was very happy we went out again after dropping K off, both in terms of seeing more and because the museum turned out to be great--our "delightful surprise" for the trip.

We went home for dinner.

Paris: May 21: Montmartre

Di Yin's friend K came to Paris for the weekend. We asked her earlier what she wanted to see in Paris while visiting us and we postponed exploring the places she wanted to see until she was here. That's how we ended up exploring Montmartre this day.

I took pictures. Di Yin did too. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #78). When you see a picture captioned "the next morning, we went to a Breton crepes place" (picture #163), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.

First, however, I had to have my traditional pastry breakfast. K was as excited about this as I so we showed her a few pastry shops as she selected her breakfast pastry.

After breakfast we took the train up to Montmartre, a lively neighborhood that is so hilly it reminded me of San Francisco. There are lots of pretty houses in the area. Around the Sacre Coeur basilica it's quite touristy, packed with shops, restaurants, and boutiques. There were entertainers scattered around: a capoeira troop, and musicians performing The Beatles (not surprising), Michael Jackson (not surprising), and Oasis (surprisingly universal). Also, the area is still rightly noted for its artists; one neat square was packed with artists selling their wares / hawking their skills. (I say still because Montmartre used to be Paris's artist quarter.)

After exploring some of Montmartre, we headed down the hill to lunch at Un Zebre A Montmartre. We then climbed back up to see the Sacre Coeur and the remainder of Montmartre we wanted to see. We headed down the hill and stairs once again and grabbed the metro to the Latin Quarter, where Di Yin wanted to wander around a bit.

Of course, I guessed her real reason for going down there: nearby, on Ile Saint Louis, is Berthillon, a great sorbet shop that we previous discovered. It remained great. We sat by the Seine and ate, taking our shoes off and draping our legs over the edge (but not into the water; it was too far below us).

We walked home, accidentally passing a environment/green-themed street fair on the way.

For dinner we brought K to our local standby, Les Philosophes, which we visited twice before. The place is good but the menu is limited so it doesn't excite me much. Di Yin likes the place so we keep returning.

Paris: May 20: Versailles

This day was finally our long-planned day to go to Versailles. After I ate a pastry breakfast at home, Di Yin and I assembled the picnic lunch to bring to Versailles and we were on our way.

I took a bunch of pictures this day. In fact, I took more pictures than Di Yin took. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #1 in this album). When you see a picture of Di Yin holding a book on a train (picture #76), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.

However, we got on the wrong train! It took us a while to realize it because we were too engrossed looking out the windows watching the Parisian suburbs go by. They looked fairly English. We enjoyed the journey, though I wish we didn't have this lengthy (two hour) detour that wound around to the north-northwest of the city. Versailles is southwest.

Versailles is a grand royal palace, in the same vein as Hampton Court Palace, on a king-size estate. Because we arrived late, we decided to stroll around the gardens, have our picnic lunch, and only then later in the afternoon explore the palace itself.

The gardens are designed in a very regular, geometric pattern (the French style). Interestingly, Di Yin observed that the width of the paths in most of the gardens implied everything was meant to be carriage roads. Anyway, though the linear geometric pattern of this formal garden style appeals to me (and I think I could be a good designer of French gardens), I find I enjoy strolling and sitting in English gardens more.

I was disappointed that about half the groves I wanted to see (whether for their statues, their fountains, or their design) were closed. Furthermore, the fountains weren't running anywhere. I guess the grounds weren't yet in full force for the tourist high season.

Incidentally, many marble statues looked too new and clean, especially those outside. I assume they're reproductions of the original, though I suppose they could have just been cleaned excellently rather recently.

As for the palace, it was opulent and extravagant (as expected). It was built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries under King Louis XIV, XV, and XVI. We took the audio guide tour through everything. The audio guide was good: interesting and paced well (except for the section on the Dauphin Apartments, but that was probably by necessity because there are fewer interesting things to say about them). Aside from the Dauphin Apartments, we listened to everything, which is quite something because Di Yin normally has little patience for audio guides.

Part of the palace houses the Museum of French History. The museum has many paintings done in the late seventeenth century when the museum was established. It's neat how a contemporary museum becomes a history museum.

In all, we spent 1:45 in the palace. After finishing the palace, we had some extra time so we walked the grounds a bit more. Despite this extra time, we had to skip visiting the palaces of Trianon as well as Marie-Antoinette's estate, all of which are attached to Versailles. Those palaces and grounds are a twenty-five-minute walk each way from the main palace; hence we couldn't squeeze them in despite having some extra time. We had simply lost too much time from our train mistake. Regardless, we decided we got a good feel of the grounds and palaces in Versailles; we didn't feel deprived.

We wandered through the town of Versailles on the way to the train station. It seemed like a nice town/suburb, quite wealthy.

We took the train home (no wrong trains this time), ate dinner at home, and met Di Yin's friend, K, who arrived in the evening to visit us for two days.

Paris: May 19: Musee d'Orsay

Our main goal this day was to visit the Musee d'Orsay, our last of Paris's three major national museums. We chose this day to visit it because it's open late on Thursdays. Thus, if we liked it and wanted to spend a long time there, we wouldn't have to hurry.

I took some pictures. Di Yin took similarly few. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #296 in the album). If you're in slide-show mode and see a picture captioned "the beginning of a new week" with strange blue things hanging from a shop awning, you've cycled back to the beginning of this album and are back at an earlier day on the trip. If you hit pictures of the bread festival, you've definitely cycled around. I've already linked to those pictures.

After breakfast at home (I dashed out first to buy my morning pastry to get back in my routine), we headed over to the Richard-Lenoir market again to go shopping. (We visited it four days earlier.)

We lugged our market supplies home and used some of them to make lunch.

After lunch, we walked a bit to catch a bus to take us to the museum. We decided we'd ridden enough metros so, as the bus was convenient, we might as well take it.

The Musee d'Orsay covers art from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, thus continuing where the Louvre ends in the mid eighteenth century and ending before the Pompidou begins a third of the way through the twentieth century. I looked forward to liking the Orsay more than the other two museums because this is my favorite time period for art.

The Musee d'Orsay is a grand space: an entirely open former train station complete with an opulent, gorgeous clock. I wish I could've taken a picture but photography was prohibited inside.

The museum has all the impressionists I expected: Renoir, Pissarro, Degas (he liked his woman and dancers; also, early Degas is not my thing), Monet (both early and late; early is not as good), Manet, Sisley, Cezanne, Bonnard, Matisse (during his pointillism days), Van Gogh, and Gauguin. I learned about the rise in pastels, which I didn't realize coincided with impressionism and post-impressionism. I noticed that Henri-Edmond Cross, who I hadn't heard of, was as effective a pointillist as Seurat. I also hadn't heard of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, but he deserves to be in the list above. There were certainly artists who didn't inspire me (different styles than the styles I enjoy, but from the time period the museums covers) and whose names I didn't write down. (Except one: I wrote down the name Adolphe William Bouguereau not because I like him but because he makes such weird, large religious paintings (light allegories).)

I realized I went into the museum expecting only paintings, but the museum also has things I didn't expect such as a lot of sculpture, early examples of photography, furniture, vases, plates, and other decorative arts from that time (e.g., pre-raphael, art nouveau).

The museum has an exhibit on Paris's Opera House, with a cool twenty-foot by twenty-foot model of the opera house quarter that was topped with glass so one could walk across. There's also a large model of the Opera House itself (also twenty feet long). Plus, there are full-scale reliefs from its facade as well as sculptures from the building. Di Yin and I had originally planned to visit the Opera House at some point during our stint in Paris but after seeing this exhibit we didn't feel the need to any longer--it was that effective at conveying the sights.

Overall, it is a fairly good museum. We spent about four hours in the museum in total. (I'm not counting the time we left the museum for an aperitif and break.) Like the Orangerie, the building's architecture provides good natural light. There is almost no painting-level commentary, but the room commentary is good (though sometimes in overblown language) and in English, French, and Spanish.

After the museum, Di Yin insisted on walking home, so walk home we did, crossing the Seine, passing through the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, passing by the Louvre, and heading through the Palais Royale and its gardens. Seventy minutes later we were home. Though our feet ached a bit, it was such a picturesque walk that we didn't complain much.

Then we immediately found somewhere to eat: La Fresque.

Paris: May 18: Musee de l'Orangerie, Berthillon, and more

This was meant to be a low-key recovery day after our previous long days of walking and sightseeing. Di Yin managed our timing this day, and it ended up relaxing and fun. Maybe I should let her control the itinerary more often.

I took pictures. Di Yin of course did too. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #215 in the album). When you see a picture of homeless sleeping on a mattress (with a caption that begins "another day") (picture #296), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.

For once, I didn't begin the day with a pastry! Rather, we ate a makeshift breakfast at home: refrigerated supermarket pancakes (good, better than any I've found in the states) topped with mashed sardines ("better than tuna" Di Yin says) or mashed eggplant; a leftover steamed artichoke, which went really well with the sardines; and French yogurt, pineapple this time. I've also had rhubarb and apricot (both of which I preferred because they were less sweet than the pineapple). And, okay, I did have a bite of the previous day's leftover palmier.

We took the metro to the western end of the Jardin des Tuileries, where the Musee de l'Orangerie is located. On the way to the museum we walked through a fraction of the garden-park.

The Musee de l'Orangerie is rightly famous for its huge Monets. They're a striking sight. Di Yin's reaction was "I just gotta say wow." Also, walking the perimeter of rooms with these paintings so that my field of vision was completely covered by these paintings was an entirely different experience than seeing them from afar.

The museum has an extensive impressionist collection. As I walked through a lower hallway admiring the museum's many nice Renoirs and Cezannes, I thought, "this is my type of museum." It also has lots of Rousseau, Laurencin, Matisse (he's into the ladies), Modigliani, Picasso, Utrillo, Derain (pre-cubism), and Soutine (the bridge between impressionism and cubism). There are practically no one-off paintings--the museum chooses a handful of notable artists and focuses on them.

The pieces are presented well under good natural lighting. No paintings had explanatory labels and the room explanations were only in French, but I enjoyed the museum regardless. We spent about an hour and a half in it.

After the museum we headed to lunch at Le Souffle. It serves about a dozen types each of savory and sweet souffles, as well as other dishes. The souffles we had were good, light, and airy. Nevertheless, I think I prefer Cafe Jacqueline in San Francisco (my review), but it may be due to the difference in types of souffles we ordered.

From Le Souffle, we walked over to Paris's most famous avenue, Champs-Elysees. Because it was sunny and warm (hot in the sun), we stuck to the shade. We walked through its garden end and its shopping section most of the way to the Arc de Triomphe. I know Champs-Elysees is famous for its shopping but I found the window-shopping not as nice as the window-shopping the previous day.

A metro trip later, we were on the other side of the Seine in Luxembourg Gardens, below the Latin Quarter. It's a large, pretty, grand, stately, popular park. We strolled around it and also sat at various places in it.

We decided to walk (indirectly) home from here, taking us past the Pantheon, through the Latin Quarter and the many cafes near its universities, across Ile de la Cite to Ile Saint Louis. At Ile Saint Louis, we stopped by Berthillon for sorbets. They were fan-freaking-tastic, on par with the amazing, memorable gelatos we had in Rome.

After our snack, we finished making our way home. We ate dinner at home this night.

Paris: May 17: S. Le Marais, Ile St Louis, Jardin des Plantes Quarters

It was another beautifully temperate day to walk around a pretty city, though this day was brightly sunny (in contrast to the others). We spent the whole day walking. Though we didn't do everything I'd ambitiously planned, it nevertheless ended up being a long, exhausting day, and a day on which we didn't see any sights people would consider important.

My pictures provide a sampling of the things we saw. Di Yin also took pictures. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #141 in the album). When you see a picture with the caption "another day" (with the Eiffel Tower in the background) (picture #215), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.

We began by walking through the south side of Le Marais, a district we explored the rest of already: 1, 2. On Rue de Temple, we found many necklace shops and handbag shops, often engaging in large transactions only (i.e., buying in bulk).

We crossed over to Ile Saint Louis, explored it, then hopped back briefly into Le Marais, and then strolled over to the neighborhood across the river surrounding Jardin des Plantes. On the island, Rue Saint Louis en l'Ile has many cute shops. We also realized that it's cooler and winder near the Seine, yet another reason to want to be near it. Back in Le Marais, Rue Saint Paul is a nice street. Though I don't like the stores as much as Rue Saint Louis en l'Ile, I think I like the feel more. (See the photograph.)

We stopped in Pavillon de L'Arsenal, which turned out to be the highlight of our day. The main exhibit covers how Paris grew architecturally and geographically. It explores how commercial interests and political will influenced the result, and how the changes were implemented through building codes and zoning changes. The museum has a number of models and videos. Upstairs are pictures and discussions of major new buildings and renovations in Paris in the last few decades.

We then wandered around for quite a while hunting for food, eventually finding Comptoir Mediterranee, an adorable little deli that serves food from Lebanon. The guy running the show spoke French, Japanese, and English with Di Yin and was a friendly hoot. I wonder if he spoke more languages. He ended up showing Di Yin pictures of his Japanese friends' children. I thought it might be a one-man joint--he assembled our sandwiches for us--but someone came in to help him at some point. Also, he played (American) jazz music over the cafe's speakers.

After lunch we explored the neighborhood around Jardin des Plantes. Obviously, we had to go in Jardin des Plantes, Paris's botanical garden. We didn't explore much of the garden but did discover there's a zoo. There were some pens, including one of kangaroos, outside the menagerie proper; we enjoyed the sights (and smells) of the animals. There are also some themed gardens; we spotted the alpine one. Also, in search of the labyrinth (which turned out to be a spiral), we climbed to the high point in the garden (which turned out to be nothing special except for the nice breeze).

In this area, we also stopped by the Grand Mosque, where we sat and rested for a while. We passed near a church with (according to my guide book) a classical (a la Roman) interior, but not close enough to detour to see it for variety.

Heading back toward the Latin Quarter, we made our way to Paris's Pantheon. Built in the eighteenth century, there's no Roman history to it, just Roman architectural style. It's been at times a church and at times not (right now it's not). Sadly, it was too late in the afternoon: the Pantheon was closing soon and we decided it wasn't worth the entrance fee to go in given the time we had.

We walked up and down the noted old street Rue Mouffetard. The southern side is a market street as good as our local one, Rue Montorguiel. We heard more English here than in other parts of Paris. It's a more medieval part of Paris (near the heart of the Left Bank) with correspondingly more tourists.

Here, we ran into a friend of Di Yin who's working on her dissertation while living in Paris. She was sitting outside by a cafe having a drink with her cousin. It was a shock to run into someone Di Yin knows at random in a foreign city. We sat and joined them and chatted for a while.

Later, when they had to run, we took the metro back up to near our apartment to eat at Les Philosophes, the same restaurant we ate at on our first night. It was still good.

Paris: May 16: Ile de La Cite and the Centre Pompidou

On this day, we slept late, the result of many long days one after another. We decided to make this an easier day.

Nevertheless, I ended up taking well over a hundred pictures, in fact the most I took on any day during our trip. They document the day well.

Di Yin also took many pictures. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #1 in the album). When you see a picture with a caption that begins "the next day" (picture #141), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.

After breakfast, we headed south to Ile de La Cite mainly to see the two major religious sights on the island: Notre Dame Cathedral and Sainte Chapelle church. Ile de La Cite is the island in the Seine on which the town that grew into Paris originally started. It now contains many large government buildings and also some narrow lanes.

Our first stop on the island, however, turned out to be La Fete du Pain: the party of bread. This pavilion in the square in front of Notre Dame had many bakers demonstrating their techniques. It was mostly a promotional activity I think--they gave away a lot of samples--but they did have stands on the other side of the square to sell more bread and pastries and sandwiches.

We then explored Notre Dame Cathedral. It took 170 years to build. I always forget that cathedrals take a long time.

After Notre Dame, we stuck our heads again in Fete du Pain, wandered through Marche Aux Fleurs (flower market), and headed over to the next big destination.

Sainte Chapelle is incredible! It's small, but all the more lovely for its size. A brochure calls it "a gem of High Gothic architecture." It's nice simply standing in the compact space bathed in the light streaming through a dozen large, intricate stained glass windows. It's peaceful and atmospheric. I think the candelabras help with the latter.

My guidebook says some windows are more important and/or impressive than the rest, but I don't see how--they're all amazing.

I like how the figures in the stained glass are small--the windows don't bang you over the head with "this is a picture of this particular saint" as some stained glass windows do. If you look closely (but I generally didn't), you'll notice the scenes are actually pictures from the bible, arranged clockwise chronologically around the chapel so that Christ's Passion is above the altar.

I was worried we shouldn't go to Sainte Chapelle on a cloudy day, and this day was cloudy. I needn't have been. Di Yin told me the stained glass will be nice anytime--otherwise the place wouldn't be famous--and she was right.

Interesting historical fact: the chapel was built in the thirteenth century. It was built to house the Crown of Thrones, a relic that the king acquired for more than the cost of building the chapel itself.

By the time we were done with Sainte Chapelle, it was well after 3:00pm. We were so energized by the day's sights that lunch was shockingly delayed. We walked home and composed a simple lunch for ourselves.

After lunch, we relaxed for a bit.

I wanted to do something else before calling it a day. Around 5:00pm, I convinced Di Yin that we should spend the evening exploring the Centre Pompidou, a museum a mere block and a half from our apartment.

Before entering the museum itself, we enjoyed the expansive, tremendous views of Paris from the top of the building. I took a lot of pictures! Those views alone make the entrance fee worthwhile. I just wish they kept the glass cleaner.

The Pompidou is home to the National Museum of Modern Art, one of Paris's big three national museums. It's a big museum: it supposedly has the largest collection of modern art in Europe! I liked the 1920-1960s floor (and especially the earlier parts) much more than the 1960-onward floor. After seeing this museum, I looked forward to the Musee d'Orsay (the only one of the big three I hadn't yet visited) because it focuses on the time period before this museum (and after the Louvre). I think all the art I tend to like comes from this middle period.

The museum has what you'd expect given the period: rooms full of Matisse, coverage of Fauvism (Braque, who I like, his earlier work in particular), Cubism (represented by more Braque), Picasso (in rooms and even so many they're shoved into hallways), Kandinsky (ditto), and Dado. There were also rooms devoted to people who I never heard of but must be important: Georges Rouault, Henri Michaux, Paul Strand (a photographer), Alberto Giacometti, and Francis Bacon. But don't let me mislead you--most of the museum is not devoted to particular artists. I listed those artists above because I find it interesting what artists they considered important enough (and had enough pieces from) to warrant their own rooms. Incidentally, I realized that the term fauvism derives from the French word for "wild beasts." It was applied to these artists because they strayed far from the traditional rules of painting.

My pictures show what I thought was interesting in the museum. Perhaps the most striking piece isn't represented in my pictures: there was a movie by Rineke Dijkstra, titled I Can See A Woman Crying, of British school children talking about Picasso's painting Weeping Woman. It's earnest, intelligent, and mesmerizing in terms of what the students say, how they think, how imaginative they are, and how they relate to each other. I found a copy of the video online (11:52) but it's such poor quality it's hard to make out what the students are saying (especially with their accents) and hence not worth watching. Rather, read the best description of the work (the paragraph "About this work, Rudi Fuchs writes"). Other worthwhile commentaries: 1, 2 (section beginning "Do I see a woman crying?"), 3. I think I got more out of watching the video because I hadn't seen the piece the students were looking at.

The museum is done well: every room has a description; there are a decent number of labels, and all labels are translated into English.

In addition to the permanent collection, we visited two special exhibits. The special exhibit on Francois Morellet displayed funky geometric installations, often with neon lights. Some installations were motion activated. I kind of liked a few of these, or liked the idea behind them at least.

In the special exhibit on Jean-Michel Othoniel, I realized he makes generally weird stuff with lots of types of materials. I like his glass mobiles. He also has some glass structures that it's not clear what holds them up / keeps them balanced. There must be a supportive metal filament inside.

We spent three hours in the museum, after which we returned home for dinner.