Reims 2017

After my sejour in the South of France, I headed back up north to Paris to conclude my trip. I was ready, more than ready to go home, and regain some kind of routine. That’s the hardest part of travel for me, the lack of routine. My last major stop was Reims to see the incredible and grand Porte de Mars. I had previously been to Reims in 2004 when I first came to France, back when I had absolutely zero knowledge about art history. I was glad to return, especially because I got to do so with my art history BFF L (who has her own art historical allegiance to Reims.)

BUT FIRST! We followed the orders of one of our professors who told us to check out the Musée de la Reddition — the Museum of the Surrender where World War II officially ended on May 7, 1945 (though, May 8 is generally seen as the end of the war, as the Soviets gained control of Berlin). It was a small museum, with an engaging video intro (in which we hear Eisenhower attempt to speak French, poor fellow), lots of period artifacts, and the room itself preserved as it was in 1945. L and I both enjoyed stepping out of our usual historical purviews to something that feels so much more immediate. As Reims is close to the French/German border, played an important role in the movement of troops and supplies, particularly after the Allied arrival.

IMG_2058

L and I both enjoyed stepping out of our usual historical purviews to something that feels so much more immediate. As Reims is close to the French/German border, played an important role in the movement of troops and supplies, particularly after the Allied arrival.

DSC03745

The Porte de Mars should have been right around the corner. Should have been. It was, but, perhaps owing to the presence of a large carnival (the likes of which I never considered existing in Europe), it took us a minute to realize that the giant grey, scaffolded thing was in fact the object of my fancy. Completely, entirely covered. I stuck my head as far as I could into the small gap only just visible in the photo. I couldn’t see much. Thus, the wind was out of my sails, and we had a much more open and free day in Reims.

IMG_2072

We made do! L was very patient with me; I only brought one pair of walking shoes with me, so my feet were like, DONE with Europe and all of the walking and our day in Reims was nearly 10 miles of walking. We ate, walked, and explored the city and what it had to offer (that was open!)

 

Arles

Though there are no extant arches in Arles, in antiquity there were several, and now it is home to one of the region’s largest archaeological museums. I took the train on a beautiful day, and walked to the museum, blissfully unaware that there was a free bus service that led from the train station to the museum. It was a longer yet beautiful walk alone the Rhône, unfortunately, my already sun sore skin was exposed even further and I could feel it get crispier and crispier. I felt like the dead little guy there in that waffenstücken.

DSC03654

The Arles museum was one of the biggest of its type that I have seen in France. I could have spend much longer there. One of the most remarkable things they had in their collection was a riverboat that had been pulled from the Rhône in the past 20 years. Preserved using a process that replaced the water that had infused the wood with a preservative resin, the boat was HUGE. The picture here does not do it justice. Beyond the boat, the Arles museum had some canonical sculptures, sarcophagi, and mosaics.

DSC03646

After my time at the museum was done, I was not looking forward to long walk back to the train station, when I happily learned that there was a shuttle. I got off the shuttle when my google maps told me I was getting close to the Arles amphitheatre, so I could do some walking around and exploring about the part of Arles I cared about, which was right next to the train station. I found a small bistro in which to eat where the motherly proprietor clucked over my ever-reddening sunburn and brought me a small cut of aloe to rub. I ate a giant omelet with some of the most delicious frites I’ve ever had.

IMG_1893

 

Arles was, in short, completely charming. It was sleepy in late March, perhaps a little too sleepy, but it like Avignon, pulled at my emotions and made me never want to leave. #Retirement goals.

IMG_1891

 

Europe 2018

AKA who is ready to see my awkward selfie-taking skills in action again?

I did not think I’d be having another amazing European adventure this summer. If anything, a hasty last-ditch attempt to revisit things I hadn’t seen in a few years and to see monuments that were covered up the last time when I was there in 2017 and 2015.

But, I’m incredibly lucky, and I get to have another ‘trip of a lifetime.’ I’m so excited and thankful for this opportunity. I have a lot of work to do to get this trip off the ground, but it should be an amazing one…the best one yet, perhaps!?

This trip will allow me to do all that I wanted to do with revisits and monument viewing, but I will also get to see the major collections of ancient art that I have not yet seen. Below I’ve listed my destination list, and the main attraction for my visit.

Destinations
  1. Copenhagen, Denmark: Ny Carlsburg Glypotek
  2. Berlin, Germany: Museumsinsel (though the Pergamon museum is closed, they’re supposed to have a temporary exhibition of some stuff from it open by 2018. Supposedly)
  3. Mainz, Germany: Arches!
  4. Munich, Germany: The Munich Glyptothek
  5. Verona, Italy: Arch!
  6. Rome, Italy: (revisit) Much arches! Such arts! Very yes!
  7. Benevento, Italy: (revisit, but was scaffolded!) Arch!
  8. Athens, Greece: ALL THE THINGS.
  9. Susa, Italy: (revisit) The Arch of Augustus
  10. Nice, France (and technically, La Turbie): The Trophée des Alpes, a monument from the 1st century BCE
  11. Saintes, France: Arch!
  12. London, England: British Museum!
  13. Paris, France: Louvre (many, many times Revisit)
  14. Besançon, France: (revisit) Arch!
  15. Reims, France: (revisit, but was scaffolded) Arch!

Orange

IMG_1701

My visit to Orange was the main reason I went to Provence. With the most famous example of an arch monument in France, it’s a must see for my work. Not only does Orange have an outstanding arch, but one of the oldest completely extant theater complexes in the west with a nearly fully preserved scaenae frons. The first few days I was in Provence it was pouring rain, so I wasn’t able to go to Orange until Sunday, and I had to go then, as it was closed on Monday and Tuesday (navigating opening days is the hardest bit about travel in Europe!) Being Sunday, the town itself was very quiet and sleepy, with not many restaurants open in which to prend un verre.

 

The theater was fantastic–I had it nearly all to myself so it was hard to imagine it teeming with theater-goers centuries ago (and kind of amazing to have it all to myself!) The exterior wall behind the stage front was once called, by one of the King Louis’s, “the greatest wall in France.”

DSC03362

The arch was, in short, amazing. The pictures I took that day are some of my favorites, as the sky was one of those beautiful early-spring days with large fluffy clouds. I was slightly concerned because there was some construction on the roundabout that surrounded the arch, and it was technically fenced off. I decided to consider that fence a suggestion and visit it anyway– and there was a hidden benefit of it being Sunday! There were no workers or construction folks working on the roundabout to get in my way. Or accuse me of trespassing.

DSC03354

I love love love when I can pass through the arches bays. Sometimes they’re blocked off, which is understandable I suppose, but this trip I was fairly lucky and more arches were open than not. The contrast of the bright and the dark of the passageway are literally one of my favorite views.

Alps to Avignon – 2017

My journey from Susa to Avignon was the most eventful trip of the entire trip, and resulted in the very first BAD mood (not just cranky, but BAD). I was *very* excited about passing through the mountains and finally getting myself to the South of France. Turin, while I had enjoyed it, had been stressful (surprising lack of internet) and just stress of my own creating (I imagined my hotel had bedbugs. It did not.) I was ready to get to France, but also sad to be leaving Italy. I felt 100% more comfortable in the northern half of Italy than I had in Rome and Naples.

Leaving Turin that morning was a hassle. It was not a long walk to the train station, but it was pouring rain. I super dislike getting wet in clothing, plus the added difficulty of having glasses. Google also decided to be difficult, and told me to take turns down road that had tall fences that stopped pedestrians from crossing them. Finally arriving at the Porta Susa train station, I hurried in search of the standard train station bar to grab my last delightful Italian macchiato and cornetto con crema. The bar was completely overwhelmed by people, and the line went on and on and on and on. I hate lines, and I hate waiting and I wanted to find my platform instead of wait. So I had my very first vending machine coffee, but you’ll be pleased to note that Italian coffee vending machines are far superior to their counterparts in the US.

IMG_1644.JPG

I was training from Torino to Lyon, then Lyon to Avignon. I was scheduled about a 40 minute wait at the station in Lyon, which was a healthy wait for a train, plenty of time to find your platform (unless you’re at the Bologna train station, sheesh). From the get go though, the train was late, projected to arrive five minutes after my train to Avignon left. Enter super stressed out Charlotte for like the entire ride. I did enjoy the scenery, but nowhere near as much as I should have.

When I arrived in Lyon, I was the first person off the train, and like jumped off the train before it stopped moving. Amazingly, there was a train-man (what’s the technical name…brain fart) and he yelled at me “AVIGNON?!” and I screamed back, “OUI!” He hollered at me that the train was on Platform 8 and that I should go! So I went, and thankfully it was not far. Upon reaching Platform 8 there was another trainman who asked if I was the passenger from Turin to Avignon and I said yes, and the second my feet were on the train it began moving. I collapsed in my seat so happy to have made it with all of my stuff in tow.

It was raining in Avignon as well. I was staying in an hotel for one night before my airbnb was available (and I wish I had stayed there the entire time. It was affordable and the breakfast was delicious, and there were people that I could have said hi to every day instead of dwelling in my solitude. And the internet worked! But I didn’t know yet that this would be an issue, haha). A very sodden and travel-weary Charlotte made her way to the hotel.

Regardless of the bad weather and the rain, I was immediately charmed by Avignon, I adored it. After getting some dinner in my belly (because remember, I didn’t get lunch b/c of the train mishap, nor did I have breakfast b/c of the bar wait) the crankiness wore away. I was in Avignon, in the south of France, where I had always wanted to go. The internet worked at the hotel, and I was again reconnected with the the world. I called my dad and sister and enjoyed my kebab (probably my favorite travel food) and watched some crappy tv.

The next morning I awoke hoping to find sun, but was displeased. It was again pouring wet, but I wanted to explore. So I did after a charming house-made breakfast with homemade jam. I had fun eavesdropping on the other guests’ conversation and practicing my French. The innkeeper man said my comprehension was superb. I, since the weather was so gross, essentially had Avignon to myself. There’s something beautiful about a rainy city, so I tried to appreciate it for what it was, which was shockingly beautiful and perfect.

 

I met up with my AirBnB which was charming. It was a cute little apartment on the top floor of a 17th-century building. At first I was quite pleased, but by the end of the day, I was kind of frustrated, as the internet had completely stopped working. Curse of the internet. It started in Torino and followed me for the rest of the trip.

But! The sun returned by the end of the day, and, in retrospect, beautiful, beautiful Provence, with all of its blooms and bites, made up for the lack of interwebs.

Ravenna, The Glittering Jewel in Italy’s Crown

“O lone Ravenna! many a tale is told
Of thy great glories in the days of old:
Two thousand years have passed since thou didst see
Caesar ride forth to royal victory.”

“O fallen! fallen! from thy high estate,
O city trammelled in the toils of Fate,
Doth nought remain of all thy glorious days,
But a dull shield, a crown of withered bays!”

-Oscar Wilde, in his poem “Ravenna

The title of this blog should be preposterously bombastic, but Ravenna is nothing short of a miracle. The town itself did not stun; each town in Italy has its own character and so too does Ravenna, but it was a special kind of northern Italy ritziness that I did not love (or hate…it just didn’t speak to me or enthrall).

Yet, Ravenna was worth the three train rides and bus ride and thirty-one year wait. I started the day with my Italian preference a cornetto con crema and a cappuccino. I purchased my ticket that was good for San Vitale, Galla Placidia’s Mausoleum, the Orthodox Baptistery, the Archiepiscopal Museum, and the church of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.

San Vitale (left) and Galla Placidia (right) are neighbors. Galla Placidia predates San Vitale by about a century and a half (give or take), but I visited San Vitale first. Galla Placidia has always been my favorite and I wanted to save it for last (of the two). It was so strange to see the interior of this church that I knew so well from pictures in person. Strange because it was so very familiar but in three dimensions AND the emotional response was legit.

DSC02991

Looking into the apse with the sixth-century mosaics.

I won’t go into huge amounts of art-historian detail, but I spent a lot of time looking at the mosaics. I also spent a lot of time eavesdropping on people as they were talking about the mosaics. Fortunately, most of the tourists that day were French, so I could follow along…especially because my French art historical vocab was “on fleek.” (That’s what the young kids are saying these days, right?) There was no source of light besides sunlight from the windows, and the greens and golds of the mosaics sparkled. The purple worn by the most important figures (Jesus, Justinian, and Theodora) highlighted them even more emphatically in person (because of the LIGHT) than is possible in photographs, even good ones.

DSC03042

One of the mosaics from the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, with the Chi Rho and Alpha Omega, and grapevines all Christian iconography/symbols. 

The Mausoleum itself is very small, though the ground level has risen over the centuries so that it is even smaller. The interior of this small building was magical. It was kept dark so that you can really see the mosaics. I was in there for about 10 minutes before it all went to hell (when about 40 French high schoolers tried to cram themselves into the small building that was already pretty occupied. I left Galla Placidia much faster than I had hoped.

After the super crowded Galla Placidia, the Orthodox Baptistery was a welcome respite. I had the structure nearly all to myself, except a few older ladies and couples. The structure was smaller than I expected and that made the mosaics all the more evocative and impressive.

9c82172fa0bf33174c4fe3d465877b89

After the Orthodox Baptistery, I headed over to the neighboring Archiepiscopal Museum, which was probably the most deserted of all of the sites I visited (I found out that the few friends who have been to Ravenna, none of them actually went to the museum, haha) and that is just too bad. The museum houses the material collection of Ravenna’s cathedral and lord, is it impressive. It includes a lapidarium (stones! usually inscriptions), episcopal regalia and ornaments. BUT the icing on the proverbial cake is the Chapel of San’Andrea and its mosaics (built during the time of Theodoric) and the Ivory Throne of Maximian, pictured above. The bishop’s cathedra is made of so many pieces of ivory (:( poor elephants and rhinossss) that are so intricately carved it took my breath away. Literally no one else came in the room while I was there. A few folks stuck their head in and looked at the chair like “why does this old chair have its own room?”

After lunch and getting a little lost, I went to Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the last of the churches included on my ticket. By this point, I was SUPER tired and the cobblestones had done a number on my ankle. So few people came to Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (there was one group there while I was) and I was the only person under 50. I definitely was starting to get a little saturated. It’s a term I came up with to refer to what happens after my brain has gotten overstimulated by what I’m seeing. It’s not that I’m not excited or entranced by what I’m seeing, but that sponge that is my brain has reached maximum saturation. It had been dipped into much art-historical liquid to fully retain anything else very well. I took a break for a while at a coffeeshop that was SUPER modeled after an American coffeeshop (I chose it for location) and wrote postcards.

IMG_1069.JPG

The last stop was the Arian Baptistery, which I got to see for free. I had it all to myself (besides the very uninterested guard who was playing on her iPad). I didn’t stay super long, just looked my fill at the dome and then headed on my way.

My brief, one full day in Ravenna was just long enough to see nearly everything I wanted to see. I did not get out to see Sant’Apollinare in Classe (it’s a few miles out from downtown), not technically in Ravenna, but in the town of Classe. I walked past, but did not stop at Dante’s tomb (bad girl); I was on a mission that had nothing to do with 13th-century poets. I ate a lot of good food and gelato, and saw nearly all of the requisite late-antique sites, and checked a giant item off my bucket list.

Take my word for it. If you have even a small appreciation for art and history and you’re in north-ish Italy, take a few days and a few extra train trips and say hello to this city that holds so many critical art historical masterpieces that are not visited nearly enough.

Belated Blog: Charlotte and the Internet Curse

IMG_1068

Me doing a silly selfie in the Arian Baptistry in Ravenna, Italy — March 17, 2017 my last day with internet. 

My last blog came to you live, from Ravenna right after my glorious trip to Croatia, but then radio silence fell hard and fast. Most of you I’m sure gathered that I was alive and well, but blogging did not happen. It was not from a lack of desire, rather, from a lack of internet. In Rimini, I was so busy (some bad scheduling on my part), that I did not do my Ravenna blog. When I arrived in Torino, I discovered that my internet did not work. This happened again in Avignon, and again in Paris. Three days before I returned to the US, my internet *finally* started working.

I led a cursed life, a half life, wandering western Europe without connection. When I first encountered my internet troubles in Torino, it FREAKED me out. I had settled into a good routine, one that ended with a few eps of Parks and Rec before bed, brought to me live from the Netflix and my VPN. The loss of my only semblance of routine, my connection to the States, and my ability to upload my oh-so-precious research photographs to my cloud-based storage had a rough effect on my happiness. I fortunately had VERY SLOW internet on my phone that was unlimited so I could maintain the basics, but it made blogging not possible.

I still want to do all of the blogs I had planned and the ones I thought of while I was there (I wrote them down) however, because there are memories of each place I’d like to preserve and the blog is a great way to do so. Funny stories I’d like to hold on to. Some of the coolest parts of my trip have so far gone unblogged! There *is* a benefit to this belated blogging, especially for you reader — there will be no whining about the internet being bad 😉