12/7 - Paris
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.
624. St. Mihiel at the metro stop.
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.)
626. Along the Seine.
627. Old house, Left Bank.
628. View along the quai.
629. Ile de Notre Dame.
630. Statue over the Pont Neuf.
631. Downstream end of the island.
632. Sail barges on the river.
633. Gauls in the Mint.
634. Another view across to the statue.
635. The right bank.
636. The views are slightly better without the construction cabins.
637. A semi-subversive boat.
638. The Institut.
639. Fuller view of the building.
640. Close end.
641. Locks on the Pont des Artes.
642. Memorial to a Resistance fighter. There are a lot of these scattered subtly about.
643. Carpet of locks.
644. The Pont Royal, next bridge down.
645. Statues and pillars at the foot.
646. Across to the north side.
647. Down into the waters of the Seine.
648. Bridge and the end of the Louvre.
649. Plaque on Pont Royal.
650. Parisian street view generally south.
651. Side facade of the Musee d'Orsay.
652. Closer detail.
653. View of the roof decorations.
654. Animals by the entrance; the rhino is clearly after the famous Duerer engraving.
655. Street games on the riverbank.
656. Statue of Jefferson.
657. Unique detailing on a house front.
658. Obelisk across the river in the Place de la Concorde; I did get closer later.
659. Front of the National Assembly.
660. Across the river again.
661. Detail by the Pont Alexandre III.
662. Golden pegasi on the bridge.
663. Memorial to Nelson Mandela on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
664. Close-up on bridge pillars.
665. Golden Dome to the south.
666. First sight of the Eiffel Tower.
667. Another resistance memorial.
668. Old-style kiosk, still in use.
669. In front of the South African embassy.
670. The American Church next door.
671. Church spires north of the river.
672. Special warnings, for tourists and other dumb pedestrians who can't be bothered to pay attention to their surroundings.
673. Drawing closer.
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.
675. A couple hundred yards from the tower.
v16. Memorial to the combatants in the Algerian war.
676. Wider view of the installation.
677. Disclaimer: monument does not endorse torture or war crimes.
678. Interactive display; the names stream continuously, but you can pull out a relative manually to be sure they're remembered publicly.
679. Base of the tower.
680. Half of the Trocadero.
681. The other half.
682. Most of the tower, headed out. I've got better things to do than stand in line.
683. Monument to Polish liberators.
684. From the steps of the Trocadero.
685. Marshal Foch.
686. Statues by the Trocadero.
687. Statues and tower.
688. Along Avenue Kleber to the Arc.
689. Hotel Baltimore.
690. Metro a la Belle Epoque.
691. Arc de Triomphe.
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.
693. Arc and sign for the plaza. Probably renamed by the man himself.
694. Down the Champs Elysees.
695. House Vuitton.
696. Bar Napoleon and golden gate.
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.
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.
699. Gate detail further down.
700. Weihnachtsmarkt a la mode Parisienne.
701. De Gaulle and Elysee Palace.
702. More of the Grand Palais.
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.
705. Across the plaza to the Ferris wheel.
706. Column base detail, Place de la Concorde.
707. Grand buildings to the north.
708. Plaque for the Montgolfiers in the Tuileries.
709. Down the Tuileries to the Louvre.
710. Back to the Ferris wheel.
711. Teamwork - crows dissect a garbage bag.
712. Tuileries to Carousel in winter.
713. Hedge maze before a wing of the Louvre.
714. Gate at the Place du Carousel.
715. Louvre and pyramid entrance.
716. Along the south wing.
717. Out front, Louis XIV, deleaded 1998.
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)
720. Funerary relief.
721. Painted relief by Robbia.
722. All that's left is his feet.
723. An abbot's funeral plate.
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.
725. Amazing column detail.
726. The Trinity; English, and looking a lot like that seated Thor/Jesus figure that people are still puzzling over.
727. In the Michelangelo galley.
728. A sarcophagus in the Borghese gallery.
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.
730. In praise of Bacchus.
731. Botticelli in the Italian section.
732. Another, more famous one.
733. The Grand Gallery.
734. St. Peter the Martyr, machete and all.
v17. Student at work.
735. Room of the State, and crowds to see La Gioconda.
736. Gallery and Chinese guy tour-flapping.
737. Retake, same shot.
738. The Wedding at Cana; remix culture -- the scene is explicitly set in Renaissance Italy -- has been with us for a long time.
739. La Gioconda, crowd, and security measures.
740. The Mona Lisa, side-on.
741. Security curbings.
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.
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.
744. More of the absolutely incredible room.
745. A gigantic commemoration of one of Napoleon's victories.
746. Another Delacroice, crossing the Alps.
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.
748. Community pamphlet pile.
749. Un-unveiled; sculpture under the pyramid.
750. Deliberate choke point. It's a lot harder to get out of the Louvre than it is to get in.
751. Tower of Pavilion Sully.
752. Sully and sky.
753. Church and arrondisement "city hall", coming out of the Louvre.
754. Seine bridge in the sunshine.
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.
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.
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.