Europe 10/11 – Ringing in Christmas with Americans & the rest of the world

December 26, 2010

Paris Days Three & Four
Ringing in Christmas with Americans & the rest of the world

I’m currently on a 3 1/2 week trip to Europe.  Centered primarily around the Taize community in France as well as their annual gathering (which is Rotterdam this year) I’ll also be doing some sightseeing and reflecting/relaxing.  Here I hope to log my journey for any who desire to join, first in a several sentence summary (for the busy folk) and then in a more detailed form (for the interested).

La petite
Yesterday (Friday), was spent at the Louvre, before venturing to a Christmas Eve service at The American Church in Paris, an international gathering of english speaking Christians, and then attending midnight mass at Notre Dame.

Today included a delicious chocolate crepe on my way to the Eiffel Tower, then returning to the hostel and preparing to leave early in the morning for Rotterdam.  My next two days will be spent helping to prepare for Taize’s annual gathering of young people and then participating in it for the following several days.  I don’t know what my internet access will be like, but I’ll update if I’m able.

Le grand
On Christmas Eve I decided to venture to the Louvre, one of the premiere art museums in the world and most visited, with millions of patrons every year.  A former palace that was transformed into a museum after Versailles was built (because the King thought the Louvre was too small!) it boasts 12 miles of art covered hallways and rooms that hold some of the most famous artwork in the world (such as the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo).  It’s the sort of place you could spend weeks in and literally just scratch the surface.  Besides the artwork, the building itself is incredibly beautiful.  I stuck to the basics, got an audio guide, and spent several hours exploring.  While surely incredible, the Louvre was honestly a bit overwhelming.  I think I enjoyed the Musee d’Orsay more, just in that it was somewhat more comprehendible. 

On a side note, in the DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, he suggests that the Holy Grail is hidden underneath the inverted pyramid at the Louvre.  Turns out there are 2 “holy grails” under it actually…an Apple store & a Starbucks!  Next to the Louvre is an underground shopping mall & it starts at the inverted pyramid.

One of my friends from grad school has spent the last several years living in France and she recommended that I check out the American Church in Paris (, a large, international, English speaking congregation, for Christmas Eve (thanks Kristen!).  This service was probably one of the highlights of the trip so far (though there have been many of them). As you would, perhaps, expect in Paris, there was some incredibly artistic people involved, including performances of Ave Maria, a handbell choir, a gigantic organ (talk about some epic Christmas carols), and a candle lighting at the end.  The service was liturgical in nature and truly inspiring.  The pastor, Scott Herr, gave an excellent message on the Christmas story according to Galations (yup…you read that right).  Hopefully you’ll be able to read/hear it soon here:

After that service, I quickly headed over to Notre Dame where I arrived just in time to catch midnight mass.  There we literally thousands and thousands of people there…Notre Dame is gigantic and it was entirely packed, standing room only, with no space to move.  The homily, given by Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, was entirely in French (and thus mostly not understandable by me) but the experience of standing in the square with thousands of others listening to the bells of Notre Dame ring in Christmas Day was truly amazing.

I got a late start Christmas Day, after sleeping in a bit after my late night on Christmas Eve and then headed off to the Eiffel Tower.  The sun shone brightly for the first time since I had arrived in Paris, seemingly appropriate for Christmas Day, when we celebrate the arrival of a Light shining in the darkness.  I hiked up the stairs to the first level of the tower and enjoyed some great views of the city.  Unfortunately, the upper levels of the tower were closed for some reason, but you could still see plenty of Paris from twenty some odd stories up.

The rest of the day was sent on various odds & ends…packing up, figuring out plans, and preparing to leave by train to Rotterdam this morning.  I had to make an early start of it this morning, with my train leaving the station at 6:01 this morning, but my eurorail pass secured me first class somehow, so I got a great breakfast, seating with lots of leg room, and free internet (which is allowing me to post this).  Today I’ll arrive in Rotterdam and help them to begin to prepare for the Taize European gathering (you can read more here: I have no idea what the next few days will hold exactly or when I’ll have internet access again, but I’ll post an update when I can.  Merry Christmas from the other side of the pond!


Europe 10/11 – pt 2 – l’Art dans Tout

December 23, 2010

Paris Day Two – 12/23/2010

I’m currently on a 3 1/2 week trip to Europe.  Centered primarily around the Taize community in France as well as their annual gathering (which is Rotterdam this year) I’ll also be doing some sightseeing and reflecting/relaxing.  Here I hope to log my journey for any who desire to join, first in a several sentence summary (for the busy folk) and then in a more detailed form (for the interested).

La petite
After sleeping in & catching up on some rest, I spent the bulk of the day at the Musee d’Orsay having my mind blown by incredible works of art and then took a snowy, early evening stroll down the Champs Elysées to l’Arc de Triomphe.  Paris avec la neige may be cold, but it’s gorgeous.

Le grand
In my weeks before the trip, I had a mini-revelation.  Seeing as no one else was coming with me on the trip, I didn’t need to meet anyone else’s expectations.  While with a group, it’s proper to acquiesce to others desires, or at least to walk “la rue de of compromise,” with just me, I reminded myself that I should enjoy things just the way I wanted, in the way that would be most refreshing.

This morning that meant sleeping in.  After sprinting for a month to get ready for my time away and then the craziness of travel, I was pretty well beat by the time I got here.  Some extra sleep and a slow morning made the day much better, though I still seem to be overcoming jet lag.

Musee d’Orsay is one of the premier art museums in France and the world, housed in an incredible old train station that is itself a work of art.  They are currently holding a special feature on Jean Leon Gerome, a French painter and sculptor in the mid-to-late 1800’s.  Displaying an expansive oevre, Gerome’s work is impressive both in style and its progressive elements for its time.

Also housed at the Musee d’Orsay are works by Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Renault, and Cezanne, just to name a (very) few.  It’s really quite difficult to do justice to the pieces found there and the building in which they’re displayed.  My understanding of art and its history is fairly minimal, but I was continually amazed.

One featured artist particularly of note was Alexandre Charpentier, a sculptor, engraver, carpenter of sorts.  Charpentier was the founder of “L’Art dans tout” (Art in Everything), a group artistic interior designers, furniture makers, painters, and architects.  Their contention was that art was not just to be displayed in special “magnificent” paintings and sculptures, but should be incorporated into the everyday details and mundane objects of life.  I couldn’t help but be stuck by the similarity of the concept of holistic discipleship that helps us understand that spirituality is a pervasive piece of our lives and not a segment gathered into compartmentalized hours of our week.  It’s striking to consider this concept in a country crowned with ornate chapelry.  The churches dotting the French landscape were constructed with the intrinsic purpose of reminding the viewer of God’s transcendence, power, and beauty.  Summed up simply, they leave us awestruck.  But what’s striking about Christ’s life was the way that he lived it in an awe-creating way and then left his disciples to live in similar ways (John 14:12).  The point was not all-powerful moments, but lives of faithful, incredible love.  Lives like those of Brother Roger, who I will be learning more of and speaking more of as I head toward Taize.

Though I was disappointed that part of the museum was closed for renovations, it may have been a good thing, as dusk was setting in when I finally made my exit.

Stepping outside, I was reminded it was winter, with a brisk wind and a steady snow starting to fall.  Not to be deterred, I decided to skip the metro and walk across la Tuileries and Place de Concord before starting the long (it didn’t seem like it would be that far!) walk down the Champs Élysées to l’Arc de Triomphe.  The snow honestly made things incredibly beautiful and though it was a tad colder than the day before, the beauty made it a preferable way to experience Paris.

Champs Élysées is an overpriced, though attractive, shopping street on steroids.  While stopping in Luis Vuitton, I decided to pass on the 1500 euro purse and 10,000 euro suitcase.  Needless to if anyone’s going to get any souvenirs, it won’t be till later in the trip.  Though plenty of people seem to apparently possess ridiculous sums of many which they enjoy spending on inane objects.

By the time I got to l’Arc de Triomphe, they had unfortunately closed the top due to the weather, but I still spent some time tromping about the bottom taking pictures and the like before grabbing the metro back to the hostel.

Europe 10/11…pt 1

December 22, 2010

Paris Day One
Paris for Free along with Australia

I’m currently on a 3 1/2 week trip to Europe.  Centered primarily around the Taize community in France as well as their annual gathering (which is Rotterdam this year) I’ll also be doing some sightseeing and reflecting/relaxing.  Here I hope to log my journey for any who desire to join, first in a several sentence summary (for the busy folk) and then in a more detailed form (for the interested).

La petite
After a whirlwind tour of NYC on Monday with my friend Mike Boyle and his wife Allison, I found out my flight was delayed from 11:30 pm to 3:15 am.  Arriving in Paris considerably later than I originally planned, I successfully navigated the trains and metro to St. Christopher, my hostel.  Being a light sleeper makes staying in a hostel an adventure, but I was too tired to give anything much notice.  Today I secured my Eurorail Pass and then went on a free walking tour of the entire city with a group that happened to be comprised almost entirely of Australians.

La grande
It was great to get the chance to catch up with Mike again, after not seeing him for a year.  Mike lived in Canton for a year as an anthropologist, studying the connections between Canton, its economy & poverty issues, and religious institutions.  I had emailed him when it became apparent that I’d be spending all day in the city where he now lives, and he thankfully had the day to spare.  Mike’s astute observations on culture, politics, religion, and people made for a great day of conversation as we toured around the city.  I got to stop at the headquarters of 2 of my favorite non-profits: Acumen Fund & charity:water and see them in action and then we sent the rest of the day hiking all over the city.  We managed to see Rockefeller Plaza, Times Square, Ground Zero, Wall Street, Trinity Church, the grave of Alexander Hamilton and the Statue of Liberty before taking a boat to Ellis Island.  Ellis Island was fascinating and well worth the $12 it cost for the boat.  We could have spent much longer there quite honestly, but it was late in the day and we still needed to get some dinner and get me to the airport.  Unfortunately, we got back to Mike’s apartment to find that my flight had been delayed because of weather conditions in Paris.  Mike graciously stayed up late to run me to the airport at midnight, with my flight now scheduled for 2:30.

Finally actually taking off closer to 3:30 am, I somehow managed to be next to a couple that took great delight in bickering with one another, all amidst professions of love.  And so I figured it was probably time to catch some sleep.

Landing in Paris after 4pm meant that I wasn’t sure if my hostel would still have saved my bed (I was supposed to check in at 3) and that I had to successfully navigate myself across Paris for the first time after dark by the time I got through customs.  Thankfully the metro is simple to navigate and when I got to the hostel, they still had a bed and they even complimented me on my French.  Obviously,  I hadn’t said very much.

Too exhausted to do anything else, I spent the rest of the night figuring out a plan of action and successfully locating the nearest ATM.  My room had 6 of us in it (the rest from Brazil) and jet lag knocked me out long before anyone else around 11.

This morning I woke up at 7:30.  I wanted to get breakfast, secure my Eurorail Pass, and make it to St. Michel by 11 for a free walking tour of the city that I had found.  I figured the tour would be a good way to catch my bearings and create an itinerary from for the remainder of my time.  Gare du Nord, one of the central transportation hubs in Paris, has got to be one of the more confusing buildings around, but I finally found what I needed, waited in one of the longest lines of my life (as I’m not much of a roller coast enthusiast) and finally secured a train pass for the remainder of my time.  I made it to St. Michel just in time for the tour.  

My guide, Daniel, is originally from Amsterdam, speaks 6 languages, and has been in Paris for a year and a half.  The majority my group of 20ish people were randomly nearly all from Australia. The tours are put on by a group who provide one free tour (reliant on tips) and three paid tours (which are quite reasonably priced).  In 3 1/2 hours we managed to see Notre Dame, le River Sienne, L’Institute de France, le Louvre, Pontiac Neuf, Palais Royal, the Paris Opera House (inspiration for Phantom of the Opera), Jardiniere des Tuileries, Musee D’Orsay, Place de la Concord, the Obelisque, le Grand set la Petite Palais, and (from a distance) Sacre Couer and the Eiffel Tower (pardon my likely poor spelling of everything :). We topped it off with a late lunch in a tiny cafe and I managed to make it back to my hostel just before it started pouring rain.  

My hostel is located on a picturesque river of sorts called la Basin de la Villette, which I have a fantastic view of from my new 10 person room that I’ll be in for the remainder of my time in Paris.

That’s all for today…I think some dinner is ahead and then figuring out what I’m going to see when over the next few days. Bien nuit.

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