Wednesday, January 15, 2014

(5/)6 Micro-nations VI: Paris seulment

12/7 - Paris

 photo m623_zps9ad3df80.jpg

623. Engrish (well, Franglais), here too.

After a struggle with the parking ticket machines that eventually ended in paying off the security guard directly to spring my vehicle, I drove the couple of blocks over to the Parc des Expositions RER stop and stowed my car, amazingly finding an open free parking space, which was of course too good to be true.  I then got my ticket and got the next train in, ceaselessly worrying that the space wasn't free after all, or was only open because it wasn't actually attached to the train station.  Once in Paris, I couldn't get myself over to the connected-to-anything metro stop correctly, so I went up to the surface because why the hell not hike it, I've got legs.

 photo m624_zps11b0bde4.jpg

624. St. Mihiel at the metro stop.

 photo m625_zps1ee87890.jpg

625. Check your suspected Americans here on their Don Cherry impressions, Pierre Trudeau stories, and whether the Leafs will win the cup this year.  Actually, strike that last one, it is too easy.  (Spoiler: no.)

 photo m626_zpsa64b2d19.jpg

626. Along the Seine.

 photo m627_zps4b9a6f00.jpg

627. Old house, Left Bank.

 photo m628_zps3efe6314.jpg

628. View along the quai.

 photo m629_zps5fc66603.jpg

629. Ile de Notre Dame.

 photo m630_zpsa27652d1.jpg

630. Statue over the Pont Neuf.

 photo m631_zps59cccb55.jpg

631. Downstream end of the island.

 photo m632_zpsb9a1c2c6.jpg

632. Sail barges on the river.

 photo m633_zpsc4605d97.jpg

633. Gauls in the Mint.

 photo m634_zpsc5b70f0c.jpg

634. Another view across to the statue.

 photo m635_zpse35833ff.jpg

635. The right bank.

 photo m636_zps207ee407.jpg

636. The views are slightly better without the construction cabins.

 photo m637_zps7acc3202.jpg

637. A semi-subversive boat.

 photo m638_zps094596ae.jpg

638. The Institut.

 photo m639_zps6aba9151.jpg

639. Fuller view of the building.

 photo m640_zpsbb858164.jpg

640. Close end.

 photo m641_zpsf75e9300.jpg

641. Locks on the Pont des Artes.

 photo m642_zps123d7bd6.jpg

642. Memorial to a Resistance fighter.  There are a lot of these scattered subtly about.

 photo m643_zps2412b58b.jpg

643. Carpet of locks.

 photo m644_zpsc140774a.jpg

644. The Pont Royal, next bridge down.

 photo m645_zps8c4ac238.jpg

645. Statues and pillars at the foot.

 photo m646_zps7d0e96a9.jpg

646. Across to the north side.

 photo m647_zps4b8754b5.jpg

647. Down into the waters of the Seine.

 photo m648_zps321904f6.jpg

648. Bridge and the end of the Louvre.

 photo m649_zpsa796d714.jpg

649. Plaque on Pont Royal.

 photo m650_zps40f89600.jpg

650. Parisian street view generally south.

 photo m651_zpscadab1c6.jpg

651. Side facade of the Musee d'Orsay.

 photo m652_zpsd06805e4.jpg

652. Closer detail.

 photo m653_zpsf0cd2a19.jpg

653. View of the roof decorations.

 photo m654_zpsf72e972a.jpg

654. Animals by the entrance; the rhino is clearly after the famous Duerer engraving.

 photo m655_zpsf065ce4d.jpg

655. Street games on the riverbank.

 photo m656_zpsdc6d54da.jpg

656. Statue of Jefferson.

 photo m657_zps802d67e7.jpg

657. Unique detailing on a house front.

 photo m658_zps93818330.jpg

658. Obelisk across the river in the Place de la Concorde; I did get closer later.

 photo m659_zpsb2dfbc7b.jpg

659. Front of the National Assembly.

 photo m660_zpse55d893f.jpg

660. Across the river again.

 photo m661_zps07c88cb8.jpg

661. Detail by the Pont Alexandre III.

 photo m662_zps2c40153f.jpg

662. Golden pegasi on the bridge.

 photo m663_zps1baf12a5.jpg

663. Memorial to Nelson Mandela on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 photo m664_zps4d5e575d.jpg

664. Close-up on bridge pillars.

 photo m665_zpsbb1646a9.jpg

665. Golden Dome to the south.

 photo m666_zps8704c87c.jpg

666. First sight of the Eiffel Tower.

 photo m667_zps011132d3.jpg

667. Another resistance memorial.

 photo m668_zps04784c46.jpg

668. Old-style kiosk, still in use.

 photo m669_zps0dd5e52c.jpg

669. In front of the South African embassy.

 photo m670_zpsc7e9297e.jpg

670. The American Church next door.

 photo m671_zps62c728bd.jpg

671. Church spires north of the river.

 photo m672_zps90d4cb72.jpg

672. Special warnings, for tourists and other dumb pedestrians who can't be bothered to pay attention to their surroundings.

 photo m673_zps4a87ddb7.jpg

673. Drawing closer.

 photo m674_zps8d0d3b1c.jpg

674. For cargo as well as tourists.  Paris' streets are small and full of tourists who like to walk in traffic, and the Seine is a wide highway running straight through the center of the city; makes sense.

 photo m675_zps0fe3576c.jpg

675. A couple hundred yards from the tower.

v16. Memorial to the combatants in the Algerian war.

 photo m676_zps9cbadf66.jpg

676. Wider view of the installation.

 photo m677_zps214558cf.jpg

677. Disclaimer: monument does not endorse torture or war crimes.

 photo m678_zpsc8279174.jpg

678. Interactive display; the names stream continuously, but you can pull out a relative manually to be sure they're remembered publicly.

 photo m679_zpsf98f53c1.jpg

679. Base of the tower.

 photo m680_zpse3a1b62f.jpg

680. Half of the Trocadero.

 photo m681_zps1cf50fe4.jpg

681. The other half.

 photo m682_zpsb3ac0677.jpg

682. Most of the tower, headed out.  I've got better things to do than stand in line.

 photo m683_zpsd5a95b62.jpg

683. Monument to Polish liberators.

 photo m684_zpsd86731ec.jpg

684. From the steps of the Trocadero.

 photo m685_zpsff2b1141.jpg

685. Marshal Foch.

 photo m686_zps5cd3473c.jpg

686. Statues by the Trocadero.

 photo m687_zps3cc5b40b.jpg

687. Statues and tower.

 photo m688_zpsfb40c203.jpg

688. Along Avenue Kleber to the Arc.

 photo m689_zps96197813.jpg

689. Hotel Baltimore.

 photo m690_zpsa53a2e32.jpg

690. Metro a la Belle Epoque.

 photo m691_zpscbc19811.jpg

691. Arc de Triomphe.

 photo m692_zps974373a0.jpg

692. Security motorcade in the traffic circle.  This was the tail end of a French-African economic development summit at the Elysees and the start of Operation Sangaris, so Paris was a little busy with heads of state and government bigwigs going around with heavy security.

 photo m693_zps0c202014.jpg

693. Arc and sign for the plaza.  Probably renamed by the man himself.

 photo m694_zps6c3d447f.jpg

694. Down the Champs Elysees.

 photo m695_zps99a4b2d5.jpg

695. House Vuitton.

 photo m696_zps842bd13f.jpg

696. Bar Napoleon and golden gate.

 photo m697_zps01d42090.jpg

697. Modernity -- people taking pictures of themselves in front of the PSG store.  I did not, not gawking nor buying; PSG is a no-history team established for the same reasons that the DFB put Tasmania in the top flight for a lack of other options, owned by a cadre of cash-dripping slavedrivers and until recently followed principally by as hardcore a gang of crypto-racist yobs as you're likely to find, and that is coming from a dude who used to live in Saxony.  Some towns need and enjoy the flash of color and passion that top-flight football brings; Paris by contrast needs a Champions-League-worthy FC like a dog needs a brick tied to its head.

 photo m698_zps2ddd8e36.jpg

698. Architecture and tourists, brought together by an Abercrombie & Fitch sign.  I have no idea how the real local businesses around here manage to keep their leases; the pressure from multinationals for a loss-leader Champs Elysees address, to show the flag and announce themselves, must be enormous.

 photo m699_zps425cf804.jpg

699. Gate detail further down.

 photo m700_zpsc1033e85.jpg

700. Weihnachtsmarkt a la mode Parisienne.

 photo m701_zpsd1e97169.jpg

701. De Gaulle and Elysee Palace.

 photo m702_zpsf8ffcfa1.jpg

702. More of the Grand Palais.

 photo m703_zps182dddd9.jpg

703. Clemenceau.

 photo m704_zpsaf8e8934.jpg

704. "Unfortunately horny" wtf.  Someone involved in the decision to put "leider geil" on this sign does not speak German as well as they think they do -- either that, or this is a massive troll plot by actual Germans, convinced that Parisians will either not be able to read this, or remember it solely from that Deichkind track.  My brother thinks this is probably supposed to be "geile Lieder", "awesome songs", and is just typoed, but it's still hilarious.

 photo m705_zps337095cb.jpg

705. Across the plaza to the Ferris wheel.

 photo m706_zpsbc9ec359.jpg

706. Column base detail, Place de la Concorde.

 photo m707_zps3cc469ab.jpg

707. Grand buildings to the north.

 photo m708_zps231441ab.jpg

708. Plaque for the Montgolfiers in the Tuileries.

 photo m709_zps1913e0fe.jpg

709. Down the Tuileries to the Louvre.

 photo m710_zps47e885b3.jpg

710. Back to the Ferris wheel.

 photo m711_zpse8f1213b.jpg

711. Teamwork - crows dissect a garbage bag.

 photo m712_zps9a5123ca.jpg

712. Tuileries to Carousel in winter.

 photo m713_zpsd9b65484.jpg

713. Hedge maze before a wing of the Louvre.

 photo m714_zps60758c9f.jpg

714. Gate at the Place du Carousel.


 photo m715_zps2a9d58a0.jpg

715. Louvre and pyramid entrance.

 photo m716_zpsc16b1167.jpg

716. Along the south wing.

 photo m717_zpsf20240d7.jpg

717. Out front, Louis XIV, deleaded 1998.

 photo m718_zps5e665802.jpg

718. Look back to the gate.

I went in the pyramid and surrendered my knife like a good boy, figuring that it beat getting it metal-detected somewhere inside and getting tossed.  As it turned out, it was unnecessary and I probably could have trucked it in without issue.

719. Inside the sculpture gallery.  There is, by any responsible measure, Too Much Stuff in the Louvre.  (DNCO)

 photo m720_zps4967f761.jpg

720. Funerary relief.

 photo m721_zps52b6c723.jpg

721. Painted relief by Robbia.

 photo m722_zpsd5a5a3ec.jpg

722. All that's left is his feet.

 photo m723_zps7bd80f6f.jpg

723. An abbot's funeral plate.

 photo m724_zps56e1732f.jpg

724. Fighting dogs in the courtyard.  It turns out that something like this, art that's in rather than alienated from its historical and temporal context, is a lot more interesting, on average, than the stuff piled together inside, at least to me.

 photo m725_zps0eebfeb6.jpg

725. Amazing column detail.

 photo m726_zps376f816f.jpg

726. The Trinity; English, and looking a lot like that seated Thor/Jesus figure that people are still puzzling over.

 photo m727_zps6509e8a8.jpg

727. In the Michelangelo galley.

 photo m728_zpsfc483540.jpg

728. A sarcophagus in the Borghese gallery.

 photo m729_zpse062813a.jpg

729. Gallery view; Napoleon stole this stuff from Italy, literally dumping the remains out of the many, many sarcophagi in this room for the art value of the coffins.  He'd've made a hell of a Monty Haul D&D player.

 photo m730_zpsf37a785b.jpg

730. In praise of Bacchus.

 photo m731_zps6234fda8.jpg

731. Botticelli in the Italian section.

 photo m732_zps724d1a03.jpg

732. Another, more famous one.

 photo m733_zpse3c8870f.jpg

733. The Grand Gallery.

 photo m734_zpsee624cf0.jpg

734. St. Peter the Martyr, machete and all.

v17. Student at work.

 photo m735_zpsd72ffed6.jpg

735. Room of the State, and crowds to see La Gioconda.

 photo m736_zps65e2f077.jpg

736. Gallery and Chinese guy tour-flapping.

 photo m737_zps4056fb85.jpg

737. Retake, same shot.

 photo m738_zps1f102beb.jpg

738. The Wedding at Cana; remix culture -- the scene is explicitly set in Renaissance Italy -- has been with us for a long time.

 photo m739_zps511f5313.jpg

739. La Gioconda, crowd, and security measures.

 photo m740_zpsbc1868f0.jpg

740. The Mona Lisa, side-on.

 photo m741_zps15f96fab.jpg

741. Security curbings.

 photo m742_zpsbd3f43cc.jpg

742. Titians on the back of the security device.  The security measures -- which include this whole block and probably the entire of the room (the walls have been moved in about 20-25 cm, all the dun-gold stuff is non-solid synthetic material, there are holes all the way around waist-height) -- are almost more interesting than the art here, at least to someone like me.  And yet people will continue to try to steal the world's most famous painting.

 photo m743_zpsc9af090f.jpg

743. Rotunda immediately past; this is what you missed if you fought your way to La Gioconda, stood in front of it long enough to get your wallet stolen/not be called a sucker, and then went home.

 photo m744_zpsef3d36eb.jpg

744. More of the absolutely incredible room.

 photo m745_zpscfdfd49e.jpg

745. A gigantic commemoration of one of Napoleon's victories.

 photo m746_zpse037bc1a.jpg

746. Another Delacroice, crossing the Alps.

 photo m747_zps94d131a0.jpg

747. Staircase detail.

To do the Louvre more than this requires multiple days.  There is just so much stuff, and while a lot of it is out of its historical context and less interesting to me, it kind of makes it up on pure overbearing almost-incomprehensible volume.  I don't have the time to do it thoroughly, so I headed out to try and find lunch.

 photo m748_zps496eae16.jpg

748. Community pamphlet pile.

 photo m749_zpsf33082d6.jpg

749. Un-unveiled; sculpture under the pyramid.

 photo m750_zps38c8646a.jpg

750. Deliberate choke point.  It's a lot harder to get out of the Louvre than it is to get in.

 photo m751_zps6053acf1.jpg

751. Tower of Pavilion Sully.

 photo m752_zps08fe6f52.jpg

752. Sully and sky.

 photo m753_zps61a3e8f9.jpg

753. Church and arrondisement "city hall", coming out of the Louvre.

 photo m754_zps6e707063.jpg

754. Seine bridge in the sunshine.

 photo m755_zpsd5775830.jpg

755. Front of Notre Dame; that's it, I was hungry and broke.

I did not find the Henri IV weinstube that my folks had remembered so fondly from 40 years before; I found a hotel of the same name that probably doesn't set up its sidewalk cafe in the winter.  However, I did hit my last points before heading out; seeing Paris in a day is impossible, even not going in museums (which is in itself kind of inexcusable) -- I need to come back sometime, stay in the city, get a week-long metro pass, and see this place for real.

 photo m756_zps66554eaf.jpg

756. Back at the Place des Expositions, industrial action; this was the only sign I saw of the French national pastime ("en greive") in my time in-country, which is perhaps better luck than I had even with weather on this trip.  The Ecotax operation escargot ran while I was in the Pyrenees, and by the time I got as far as Marseilles, never mind Nice, the demonstration was over.

 photo m757_zps4620dd6d.jpg

757. Cap haul; 20 isn't so bad for six days in mostly non-beer-drinking countries.  Between the two local Peroni caps, the Moretti (which turned out to be surplus), and the Titanbrau, this probably covers every commercially-available beer native to the Italian peninsula.

12/8 - Charles de Gaulle

So I managed to fill up and return the car without incident, and without the staff freaking out about the mileage.  I'm now in the neo-Kafka-esque departure hall of CDG, and have probably about an hour to kill until an Icelandic counter opens.

So what was the point here, and what have I learned?  In terms of objectives, this was an incomplete success, since I missed the Vatican and thus only got 5/6.  However, that wasn't on me, but on Trenitalia.  I was in position to correctly and completely accomplish this trip, and did so without personal or vehicle damage -- other can do it too.

So what's necessary to do a trip like this?

First, you need a satnav, or at least an experienced rally navigator to call turns.  I brought direction sheets as I've used in the US in the past, and rapidly abandoned them.  The satnav, which should be available in any modern rental, is your most important piece of equipment.

Second, you will need a small, modern, hopefully diesel vehicle, preferably closer to the start than the end of its maintenance cycle.  The diesel increases your cost per liter of fuel, but increases your distance between fillups even more.  I had seven fuel stops planned, assuming a gas engine; I did only six.  Fewer stops means faster total drives.  The lack of maintenance hurt, as described in the Switzerland bit, but to a certain extent any time you pick up a rental car, you should assume it's been abused, and any time you drive 2500 miles at a stretch, you should assume you will need to dump some oil in the vehicle in the process.

You will need to budget about 40% of your fuel cost in tolls.  Any road of note in Italy and most roads in France are tollways, and fucking expensive.  Switzerland requires a 35e toll sticker on entry, which must be paid in cash (you might be able to get around this by renting in Zurich, but that probably makes the flights more inconvenient and expensive by more than 35e of value).  Germany, of course, is free of tolls on the Autobahnnetz.

You will need New England driving experience to handle the combination of mountains, winter, rotaries, leadfoots, and people with no lane discipline.

You will need to be really good at beating jetlag, and prepared to begin and end each day with a significant amount of night driving.  You will get about eight hours of daylight, max, this time of year, and a lot of that is going to need to be spent doing tourism in the micronations.  Additionally, the first leg is "get off the plane and drive 750 kilometers".  If you're not going to be able to do that, then wake up at 5 AM local the next day and do another 800km, including the most dangerous and isolated mountain stretch in the route around dawn, this may not be the trip for you.

You will need enough proficiency in French and Italian to be able to read road signs and follow traffic/weather reports.  The German and Spanish portions are short enough to not cause major problems, but you will need to read a lot of French highway signs, and a fair number of Italian ones.

You will need to be very lucky with the weather.  Any time you do this, you have the climb into the Pyrenees, the descent out, the climb into Italy from Monaco and the drive straight through the ranges, the climb up and then back down San Marino, and then the climb through the Heidi-land Swiss Alps to get to Liechtenstein.  There is a lot of mountain driving here, and bad weather luck can make a lot of it unfeasibly dangerous.  I had a cutoff built in if the weather was too bad to go to Andorra, but I also had unreal weather luck despite several severe storms in the area.

That said, you probably want to do this in the summer.  You'll have more tourists, but also less ice, less weather risk, and more daylight.  That'd probably be the smart way.

Even at that, you probably need to be a little insane to do this.  It probably does not meet your definition of "vacation" to do 4200 km -- about 2500 miles -- of OTR driving in six days.  It barely meets mine, and I do insane stuff like this pretty regularly.  It's a punishing stress test on you and your car that could easily be expanded to two weeks, doing no more than 500km per day, at a lower risk of driver or equipment breakdown, and in more hospitable conditions.

But if you want an adventure -- here, in the safest and most civilized part of the world, where airsoft drivebys make the national news -- you kind of have to push the envelope.

The other important takeaway from this is that it's not only possible, but so easy, really, to do this route that it needs compressed.  I crossed national borders 21 times on this route -- France - Andorra - Spain - France - Spain (Llivia) - France - back into Llivia - France again - Monaco - France (by accident on foot) - Monaco (and back) - France - Italy - San Marino - Italy - Switzerland - Liechtenstein - Switzerland - France - Germany - Luxembourg - France -- and got stopped by customs exactly once.  Nobody asked me for my passport.  I used exactly two currencies.  Even twenty years ago, those numbers would all have been significantly higher.  These micronations are objects of humor for being small and poorly differentible from the countries around them, but every country in Europe, even -- albeit haltingly -- Switzerland, is moving in the same direction.  Greater connectedness, fewer borders, more interdependence.

A hundred years ago, as seen in Liechtenstein, a passport was something you had to get the state authorities to hand-write out for you, a certificate that it was ok to leave where you were from and move about freely.  Now, they're more useful as a form of international photo ID than for the blandishment from the appropriate ministry that the pictured individual is allowed to travel.  I didn't get stamped at the tourist offices where the service is offered -- I don't get stamped moving between the bigger EU countries, so why bother about the smaller ones?

Even with the EU/euro in "crisis" (tell that to a 1.43:1 exchange rate), the trend continues: Kazakhstan in UEFA and the protests in Ukraine are proof of that.  There's something to be gained from closer connections, even at the cost of sovereignty, because what does sovereignty actually mean in a world that has mostly renounced war and embraced multilateral agreements?  Every agreement, given separate national interests, must be a compromise; everybody loses something, and they accept it as long as they gain more.  If the ability to, Cartmanlike, tell other countries "wha-eva, I do wut I want!" is sovereignty, then that is disappearing, even from Russia, China, and the US.  If not, then sovereignty means something else, and that's negotiable as well.

Perhaps, in 20 years, with a more unified Europe and self-driving, self-training electric vehicles, six days will be too long for this trip -- you'll sleep while the car rides in the caternary lane to recharge, and this much time would mean a full day in each place and no risk driving in to Rome.  The Swiss sticker gone, all tolls charged directly to the license plate holder via RFID and thence to your rental bill.  Maybe.  But for now, it's easy enough to be possible, and hard enough to be an adventure -- if done in six days in December.

v18. Passage to the gate wing, CDG.

Despite the number and long names of the countries encountered, I was able to get them all onto the two lines on the customs form by printing small and on the ground.

God fucking damnit I should have recharged the mp3.  These assholes are going to do me for 6 euro if they don't shut the fuck up.  This is always my least favorite part of traveling: when I encounter Americans in numbers again coming back.  However, Icelandic still has Svartir Sandar in library, so 6e to effectively re-buy that record, plus a pretty good pair of earbuds, as it turned out, is not a huge loss -- and the in-flight won't run out of battery or need to be stopped on the ground approach.  "Ljos i Stormi" all the way home.