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  • Friday, July 3, 2015

    There Will Be Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

    Maybe I'm just too old to share a bedroom. The moan coming from the bottom bunk was gutteral. Not one of pleasure, thank god. You never know in a hostel, but this wasn't that at all. It was more like the moan of some poor soul writhing around in hell.

    "Hmmmmn.. hmmn.. hmmmmmmnn.. hmmmmmn."

    All that was missing was the gnashing of teeth. I tossed and turned. This wouldn't bother me as much if the snoring of fellow hostelers hadn't become such a problem. When I'd wake up early to start my day, it wasn't for having had enough sleep, but because there was no point in trying anymore.

    "hmmn.. hmmmmmn.. mmmmmmn."

    I put in earbuds and opened the nature sounds app on my phone. The soothing sound of a waterfall. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

    "hmmmn.. hmmmn. hmmn."

    I turned up the volume.

    SHHhhhhhhhhh

    "HMMmm.. Hmmm. Hmmm."

    SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

    The waterfall was now loud enough to cause premature hearing loss, but the moan was so guttural it vibrated the bed. I took out the earbuds. Not even Niagara could drown that out.

    "Grit-grit-grit-grit", came from the other bottom bunk. I sat up. The moaner's girlfriend was a teeth grinder. What an adorable match made in hell.

    "hmmn.. mmmmmnn.. hmmmmmn."

    "grit-grit-grit-grit."

    I fell back down on my pillow and stared at the ceiling. For hours, I slept in five to fifteen minute increments. My anger boiled. I hadn't had proper sleep in days. The snoring I had heard over the past couple of weeks was inhuman, but this combination of moaning and teeth grinding was a first for me.

    "hmmn.. mmmmmnn.. hmmmmmn"

    "grit-grit-grit-grit"

    "zzZZZzz"

    A snore came from the girl on the second top bunk.

    "Are you f-ing kidding me!"

    It was a hosteling trifecta. Too bad there weren't any more beds for a representative from the night terrors sleep group.

    "hmmn.. mmmmmnn.. hmmmmmn."

    "grit-grit-grit-grit."

    "zzZZZzz..."

    The rage. Oh sweet mother of god, the rage.

    "hmmn.. hmmn.. mmmmnn.. hmmmmmn"

    "grit-grit-grit-grit-grit-grit-grit-grit-grit"

    "zzZZZzzz.. zZZ-hnk-glugk-ghlghl-pfaahh............. ZZZzzz"

    My anger finally boiled over. I bolted up and shouted. "Oh my God! Shut The HELL UP!"

    All three beds fell silent. "Oh man..." I thought. "What have I become?"

    The moaner stirred on the bunk below me then sat up. Maybe wondering what just woke him. Immediately feeling remorse for my actions... I pretended to sleep.

    He lit up the room with the flashlight on his phone then moved to the chair by the window. I fell asleep and woke up a half hour later. His flashlight lit the room. He hadn't moved. He just sat there, still and silent.  Surely he knows he's a sleep moaner. Somebody must have told him by now. He was probably keeping himself awake to spare his fellow hostelers. I felt bad, I really did, but I also wanted to break his damn flashlight!! What is your problem?! There are people sleeping in here you jerk!! I covered my eyes with my pillow and tried to go back to sleep.

    A few minutes went by and I was awake again. The only light outside the window came from a streetlamp glowing in the fog. A new foreign city for me to explore in a few hours, but I needed sleep and the moaner was rustling through his stuff. I noticed the shower running. The teeth grinder's bed was empty. Were they leaving because of me? I rolled over and went back to sleep with a pillow over my eyes.

    I woke again from the sound of the door shutting. I looked around the room, their luggage was gone, beds empty. I may have slipped a little closer to becoming an old curmudgeon spending his final years yelling at kids to get off his lawn, but at least I could get three hours of uninterrupted sleep.

    The next morning I asked the snorer if she knew anything about our noisy roommates.

    "Do you know if they had to get up early for a flight or anything?" I asked.

    "Yes," she said in a Brazilian accent. "Last night I hear them talking about having an early flight."

    "Oh good," I said. "I thought maybe they left because of me. Did you hear him moaning in his sleep?" She shook her head.

    "It was so loud it shook the whole bunk."

    I pointed at the other bunk. "And then she started grinding her teeth," I said, leaving out the part about her snoring. "I yelled at them to shut the hell up, and then they got up and left. I feel bad, but I haven't had a good night's rest in..."

    "Oh, is that what you yelled last night?" she said. "I just thought you had night terrors."

    Sunday, May 31, 2015

    My First Day in Rome

    After leaving Paris, I flew to Rome for the next stop on my grand finale tour of Europe. Had I realize how cheap it was to fly around Europe, I may have had a very different trip. My Paris to Rome ticket was just $21.80. Less than the cost of a 10-mile taxi ride in the states.

    With my morning spent traveling, I didn't have time to properly see the major sites in Rome, so after settling into my hostel, I just went for a walk. 

    My first stop was the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs, a church built inside the 4th century frigidarium of the Baths of Diocletian.

    The Baths were used until the siege of Rome in 537, and about one thousand years later, a section of the remaining structure was adapted into this gorgeous church by Michelangelo.

    Just inside the doors is this sculpture of St. John the Baptist by Igor Mitoraj. 

    Before building up the courage to leave everything behind to have an adventure, heading out my door for a walk only ever led to cornfields and dogs chasing me. Life is significantly more interesting now. 

    Rome was already worth the $21.80.

    Not every turn on this rainy afternoon stroll led me to something as fantastic as a basilica designed by Michelangelo, but every turn led to something interesting and new to my eyes, which I suppose is the point.

    Like this real life Geppetto I spotted working in a toy and puppet shop.
      
    And, although under maintenance, the impressive Trevi Fountain, one of the most famous fountains in the world. 

    I didn't get to see it functioning in all its glory, but I found what the workers were doing to restore the 18th century fountain just as fascinating. 

    I walked miles of roads and alleys taking photos of anything that was unlike home. Like the numerous scooters, which unlike in Indiana, are respectable forms of transportation and not just vehicles for those with one too man DUIs.

    The rain never let up, but I'll take a rainy afternoon with my camera in Rome over a sunny day at work.

    As much as I didn't mind a little rain, I looked for every opportunity to duck out of it for a while...

     Oh perfect... a covered porch.

    This is Rome's Pantheon, built during the reign of Augustus from 27 BC to 14 AD.

    It has been in continuous use throughout its entire history.

    Just waiting to shelter me from the rain for a bit.

    After a day that started with a 3 AM alarm clock and a rush to an airport in Paris, I found myself on the other side of Rome with a camera full of new memories and a long walk back to my hostel. I decided to call it a day and plan my day two in Vatican City.

    Friday, March 13, 2015

    Day trip to Rouen

    Northwest of Paris along the River Seine is the city of Rouen, Normandy. My friend Jana lived there for a year during college, so made a generous donation to send me on an all-inclusive day trip!
    I don't use the word charming very often. In fact, I don't know that I've ever used it unsarcastically, but as far as towns go, Rouen is pretty damned charming. It's full of cobblestone streets lined with half-timbered houses, towering Gothic cathedrals, shops, cafes, panini vendors, and plenty of fascinating history.

    From a list Jana sent me of places to see, I plotted out my route on a map. First stop was Tour Jeanne d'Arc, the Joan of Arc Tower. This is the only surviving part of the Castle of Rouen, where Joan of Arc was imprisoned in 1430. Today it houses a Joan of Arc museum.

    I knew very little about Joan of Arc before visiting Rouen. Here's a brief history, which you may already know. She claimed that God told her to join the French forces and lead France to victory in the Hundred Years War with England. Although not fighting directly, she held her banner and lead the French army to Orleans where they achieved a victory over the English. Later, she supposedly convinced the cautious France to go on the offensive, bolstered their resolve, and changed the course of that war. 

    Joan was captured by Anglo-Burgundian forces and was eventually moved to Rouen, England's main headquarters in France. This is a model of what the Castle of Rouen once looked like. 

    Once imprisoned, Joan of Arc would never leave the fortress since this is where she would be tried and executed for witchcraft and heresy. 

    Joan had become a popular figure among the French Forces, so rather than just kill her and turn her into a martyr, she was first tried by the church in order to discredit her. They charged her with several crimes, but basically it came down to her claiming that God directly contacted her and cross-dressing, because she wore male clothing and cut her hair short when joining the French military.
    After signing a confession in exchange for life imprisonment rather than execution, Joan put the male clothing back on because she could fasten her hosen, boots, and tunic together, which deterred molestation and rape while in prison. This labeled her as a relapsed heretic and she was sentenced to death.

    The reasons for wearing male clothing was argued in the trial, but practicality and rationality didn't really matter since this wasn't about cross-dressing, witchcraft, or heresy. Regardless of her actual role in the war, Joan's actions boosted moral among the French troops and paved the way for French victory. She didn't have a chance.

    At age 19, Joan was sent to this spot in the town center of Rouen and burned at the stake. Her ashes were cast into the River Seine. 

    Her popularity only increased after her death. She attained a mythical stature and has appeared in literature and art for centuries. She later became the patron saint of France and a national heroine. She was canonized by the pope in 1920. 
    Left photo: Statue near the site of execution. Right: Joan of Arc graffiti

    Since 1979, at the site where her pyre was lit, stands the Church of Saint Joan of Arc.

    Rouen is also home to the Rouen Cathedral, the subject of more than thirty paintings by Claude Monet.

    Monet rented rooms across the street from the cathedral where he would paint it from different times of day, seasons, and weather. 
    Before going to see the cathedral, I stopped to see one of those paintings at Rouen's Museum of Fine Arts.  This one is titled, Grey Weather.

    Unfortunately, construction on the western facade prevented me from taking a photo from Monet's viewpoint.

    And I wasn't able to get inside, but the outside was beautiful.

    Connecting the Place du Vieux Marché, where Joan of Arc was executed, and the Rouen Cathedral is France's first pedestrian street, the Rue du Gros-Horloge.

    The cobblestone street is full of shops, cafes, and half-timbered houses, three of which may have existed before the execution of Joan of Arc in 1431. 

    The road's name is derived from the Gros Horloge, a 14th-century astronomical clock, that it passes under.

    It is one of the oldest in France and possibly the largest of such clocks that exists.

    This is the Church of Saint-Maclou.

    Considered to be one of the best examples of the Flamboyant style of Gothic architecture in France.

    I spent most of the day walking up and down streets taking photos. It's hard to put your camera away in this town.

    Which is why there are so many photos in this post. Mmm panini. I wish that sandwich never had to end.

    I love how the buildings sometimes lean out and no longer conform to any 90 degree angles. 

     This is the Church of Saint Ouen.

    I regret not going inside. After not being able to get into the other cathedrals, I guess I just assumed I couldn't.

    It's home to a very large original CavaillĂ©-Coll organ, which I know nothing about other than the name sounds photogenic.

    I tried to find some locations Jana talked about to take pictures for her, like the restaurants she loved and her old apartment. Unfortunately, her favorite place to eat is no longer in business, but I think it was near this block.

    Next I walked down her street, Rue Orbe.

    And took a picture of her old apartment for her. I hope these bring back some good memories.

    When I saw this behind her apartment, I knew she would have to remember it. Something like this doesn't go unnoticed.

    When the sun set, I decided it was time to get back on the train and head back to Paris. Thank you Jana for a great day in the "charming" town of Rouen, full of rich history, priceless works of art, and delicious french food and coffee. My trip to France is so much fuller now thanks to you.