A Week In Croatia: Part 1/3

I took a sleeper train to Croatia, and managed to find myself in a car with two women from Britain, one from Croatia, and a guy whose origin was unknown. He sure knew what he was doing on that sleeper train, though. He came in, said hello, and went about setting up his quarters in a way that said, “I’ve done this about a hundred times and have the process down to a science.”

On Sunday, my first full day in Croatia, my friend Mia took me to a Leonardo da Vinci traveling exhibit. They had touchable models of many of his experiments, a couple of his notebooks, many prints of his anatomical sketches, and prints of a few of his paintings. This was in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. I fully enjoyed playing with all of the mechanical toys, and found some things that would help our physics students back home.

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On Monday, I wandered around Zagreb on my own for a while until Mia was out of class. I visited the famous cathedral in Zagreb. The two towers of this cathedral are built from a stone that erodes very easily and has to be replaced often. So often, in fact, that there is almost never a time during which neither of the towers are under construction.

When Mia had her lunch break, we visited the Museum of Broken Relationships. It was at once intriguing, inspiring, humorous, and heart-wrenching. It was easy to see how much a relationship meant to the person who sent in the item. Sometimes they wrote their story in a humorous way, sharing their failed love and a smile at the same time. Others were clearly still heart broken by the loss, while still others simply wanted to help readers not make the same mistake they had.

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Paris started with a meet-up at the airport, after which my sister and niece and I took the RER B for Paris. After that, the fun began!

First stop: the Science and Industry Museum! We saw the transportation exhibit, the light&vision/optics exhibit, and a math exhibit. The transportation exhibit included models of the trains that I am now very familiar with (TER, TGV) – as well as interactive sections about building and testing ‘green’ cars, new types of windmills, and a multi-layer map of Paris. My favorite to see was the Geode – but the best thing to play with was the lasers in the light exhibit. There was also a turbulent fountain (a video of which you can see here. Google some studies about turbulent fountains, too)!

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The museum area also had a giant dragon slide! Unfortunately, it was closed for the season – so we could only take pictures of it from afar:

P1320374                   P1320377

On our second day, we went to breakfast at a Croissanterie that my niece declared to be “The best ever!” As an added bonus, it was local and therefore did not have tourist-trap pricing.

The first museum of the day was le Musée de Cluny, a medieval museum. It was amazing: the armor, tapestries, church pews, jewelry, gold work, chests, and more were masterfully crafted. The church pews were particularly interesting because the seats were so small no one would ever be comfortable in them – and thus no one would fall asleep! The museum itself is a partially restored ancient building that was probably a monastery.

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Next was the Eiffel Tower. We took a lot of photos before we even got to go up the stairs, and once we were at the entrance we found that the top was closed because of high winds. All three of us made it up to the first level and wow, what a view! It was windy and cloudy, but still, to be there was quite the experience. I braved the stairs up to the second level, which had more of an unobstructed view. It was simply amazing.

I think the thing we noted to be most interesting was the color: the Eiffel Tower is a tan/beige color, not black nor dark brown nor dark bronze, as you’d guess from most of the photos.

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Our final stops were the Arc de Triomphe (which has 300 stairs) and then a few hours in the Aquarium Paris.

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A Famous Phrase

A friend of mine here at UTBM set up a photo exposition of various international students. When he came to take my photo,  he asked me what France is to me. In all honesty, I picked something that I had noticed and recently discussed with another friend. It was a small observation, but here is the result:

“Vous devez toujour appuyer sur le bouton pour faire n’importe quoi”

Photo Credit: Adrien Sinky

Photo Credit: Adrien Sinky

When my friend Ana and I went to the photo exposition, we stood a while and chatted with people, nibbling on tasty desserts and considering all of the portraits. At some point, Adrien, who had taken my photo, introduced me to the host of the space and I found myself explaining the phrase I had chosen.

It is, simply, an observation. It is something that I have to do every day and that I had to discover quickly to be able to function in France. There is a button to open the doors, a button to turn on the lights, a button for, well, just about anything.

I remember the first time I tried to open a door here. It took me a few moments to figure out how the door would open. There was no bar to push, there was no noticeable thing – until I saw the button that was on the door frame. It looked like a doorbell, but when I pushed it the door unlocked. From that moment, I took it upon myself to remember that there is nearly always a button to push if you’re not sure what to do next.

During the expo, I explained this to more than a couple people. Most of the reactions were ones of, “Oh, I never thought of that.” It is such a normal thing to them that they don’t even consider it. There are plenty of things like that in the United States: we flip a switch to turn on the lights, we push a bar to open public doors, and we don’t have to push a button to continue the hot water in a shower in hotels or apartments.

A Trip to Strasbourg, Luxembourg, and Nancy – Part 3

In Nancy, we stayed in a very new hotel that had a great apartment. I cooked for the group for both evenings, and we had a great time with it. Nancy had less to see, but we still got to tour through the city’s monuments and numerous churches.

We took a suggested tour route through the city, and we found it hilarious that one of the tourist stops was Societe General (which is the bank we all use). I think that the building that Societe General is in is what was the actual attraction – it was old with great architecture.

The center of the city was a beautiful gilded square. I stopped in awe. I have never seen so much gold in one place!

Later, we walked through a park that had a merry-go-round and a petting zoo. The petting zoo was great fun, as was getting to read the names of all the animals in various languages. Finally, as we walked home for the night, we chanced upon a Little Free Library. I did not take a book, since I have already bought a couple of books in French and have little space for more.

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On the last morning, Evan and I went to an aquarium before anyone else woke up. The aquarium was quite large and included a small zoology section. Evan was very excited, as he has an aquarium at home and was able to tell me about the various fish we saw.

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A Trip to Strasbourg, Luxembourg, and Nancy – Part 2

Luxembourg was easily my favorite city of the three. The buildings are mostly ancient with fantastic form and function. They have lasted the numerous centuries without truly fading.

On the first day, we visited the Casemates. None of my photos were good enough to share here, but I loved exploring the underground tunnels of brick and seeing the ancient architecture. Luxembourg used to be a fortress of a city and is built in mountain foothills. This meant many beautiful photograph opportunities and lots of walking up and down hills and stairs.

The hostel we stayed in was part of the Hostelling International company, and I could not believe how many languages I heard! I met some American students, a Canadian, and I heard Chinese, German, French, Spanish, and English being spoken.

We went down into a very green valley in the central part of the city and wandered around the beautiful space and then over to lunch. After lunch, we wandered to a different park and found a big swing set. We took some videos and high-speed photos of us jumping off of the swings and just as we were circled around looking at the photos, a pair of police came our direction. We finished our looking and went on our way but were stopped by the police who said that we had left after seeing them and that our actions looked suspicious. After they inspected the area where we had been standing and declared it fine, we walked away. I think all of us had different emotional reactions to the encounter ranging from scared to angry to indifferent.

On our last morning before going heading to Nancy, we walked around a different route and saw a more modern part of the city, eventually crossing the red bridge that is in a few of my photos. After that, we trudged up the hills with our luggage to the train station and rested while we traveled to Nancy.


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Exploration #8: Cracks

Photo from Keri Smith's "How to be an Explorer of the World"

Photo from Keri Smith’s “How to be an Explorer of the World”

It was hard to find cracks in the pavement in my neighborhood because, well, there just aren’t cracks in the pavement here. I had to walk all the way down to the bus stop before I found any, and they’re not filled with tar. These cracks only exist where the pavement has been set in multiple sections. I don’t know how the French did it. Their pavement is always smooth.