Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Notre Dame, Fondu, and the Serbian Cathedral

After Montmartre, we hopped back on the subway and headed to Notre Dame. We'd seen the outside (top photo), but hadn't gone inside yet. It was about 5:30 or 6:00, and there was even a line to get into the church. We walked around for awhile. The most impressive thing, in my opinion, is the stained glass windows (see second photo for example). I also remembered a story my dad tells about the French Revolution. Apparently, some of the Enlightenment-inspired Revolutionaries, after thoroughly desecrating any and all Christian symbols, devoted the cathedral to the so-called "Cult of Reason," and actually went so far as to "consecrate" Reason on the altar.

At 6:30, a mass began in the Church (NOT to the Goddess Reason), so we headed out. Unfortunately, the stairs up to the top of Notre Dame were closed so we couldn't go up for the view. But this may have been just as well, because I was still exhausted from climbing Montmartre.

Fairly exhausted now, we decided to get something to eat and call it a day. We had wanted to try a fondue restaurant, and our friend Marie-Jeanne had done some research and given us a suggestion for the "best" one in Paris. So we headed over there.

It was quite an experience! I'd highly recommend it to anyone going there. It was this little hole in the wall place that was so tiny one person actually had to climb OVER the table to get to their seat. (You can see our neighbors starting to do this in the third photo.) The food was simple and excellent-- bread and cheese. (Originally, fondu was a poor man's meal--they threw in all their old cheese and used up their stale bread.) Drinks came in baby bottles for some strange reason (this was the restaurant's hallmark). We were baffled by this at first, but then realized, after seeing so many people climb over the table, that perhaps it was to prevent spills? Anyway, it was an enjoyable experience and we met some nice people who were crammed in around us.

After dinner, we headed back to the apartment and rested up for church the next morning.

The next morning, Marie-Jeanne accompanied us to the Serbian cathedral in Paris. The church is rather inconspicuous from the outside (see me going into the church in the bottom photo), but we knew we were in the right place when the whole street turned into signs in Cyrillic for Serbian food and goods. We'd hit the Serbian neighborhood!

I was blessed to serve with Bishop Luka of France and Western Europe and two of his priests. It was a very multi-cultural service, with parts in Serbian, Slavonic, French, English, and Greek. It was the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, so the church was packed. After the service, we went downstairs and had a very lively coffee hour. As someone remarked, "You can tell they really enjoy being together." I've found this true in every Serbian church I've been to...

Last post on France tomorrow...

Monday, September 29, 2008


After the Arc de Triomphe, we took the subway over to Montmartre hill. We were starving, so we stopped and had a bite at one of the many Tunisian restaurants and then started up the hill. Pelagia was thrilled to learn that this was also the location of the city's fabric market. We slowly made our way up the hill to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (see second photo), with periodic stops in discount fabric stores along the way. While waiting for Pelagia at one of these stores, I became fascinated by a game/scam that was going on in the middle of the tourist area (see top photo). Here, the man in the pinkish shirt is being conned. He first bet 20 euro on a guess as to which of the three disks had the white mark underneath. Of course, he lost, and the guy (and his crew which were posing as by-standers) realized they had a live one. They encouraged him to try to win his money back. One helpful "bystander" even suggested some foolproof scheme that involved him going to an ATM and withdrawing 500 euro, which he would then somehow magically double. The guy pulled out his wallet and showed them his ATM card and said he was going to get the money. I seriously considered following the poor guy to warn him that he was being scammed, but fortunately he came to his senses at the last minute and said he was out. They then asked if I was interested.

Anyway, eventually we made our way up the hill to the church, past the green grass and stairs with lots of people laying out in the sun or listening to street musicians. We explored the inside of the church, and then climbed the 300+ stairs to the top of the church for the second highest view in Paris (after the Eiffel Tower). It was quite a workout! In the third photo, you can see me and the Eiffel Tower in the background.

The fourth photo was taken on our way down and shows a top view of some of the gargoyles you always seen on these gothic-style churches. It turns out that they're actually water spouts, designed to keep water away from the sides of the building. There's also supposedly a mythical element which says that their hideous figure keeps evil spirits at bay.

After the view from the top, we also went down into the crypt underneath the church, which contains more chapels. Finally, we headed back down the hill, where I had a coffee and rested and Pelagia explored the fabric stores more. She says it's worth a trip to Paris just for the great deals on fabric!

More tomorrow...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Dijon Mustard, Pizza, and French Cheese

We had about an hour and a half to explore Dijon (yes, the home of Dijon mustard) as we waited for the high-speed train back to Paris, so we set off on a walk. The first stop was the Ducal Palace, or the Palace of the Dukes, the regal home of the leaders of what was once the vast independent state of Burgundy (11th-15th centuries), which stretched all the way to modern-day Spain. The top photo is of the palace at night.

As we continued our quick walk through the city, I just had to stop and get this second photo. I couldn't believe my eyes. Yes, the store was closed, but I could still get pizza -- through this pizza ATM. I insert a credit card or some coins, punch some buttons and -- voila! -- pizza. (Did you like how I used "voila!" there? By the way, it's true -- they really do say it a lot!)

It was late by the time we got back to the apartment in Paris, so we crashed. The next morning we went back to the Marie-Jeanne's favorite cheese shop to stock up on some of the famous French cheeses (see third photo). They even vacuum-packed them so that we could transport them in the plane without anyone keeling over from the smell. ;)

After the market, we took the metro over to the Place de la Concorde. There, at some fancy hotel, was a gaggle of people huddled outside the entrance. Serious looking bodyguard types paced back and forth and a black car while an equally serious looking black car with tinted windows waited. I thought it must be the president of France or something. We were curious so we stopped to ask -- they were waiting for Madonna. We wanted to see what would happen when she walked out, so we waited for a couple minutes. One young man, noticing my black cassock (which, I guess, is somewhat of a no-no in secular France), asked me if I was a big fan of Madonna's.

We waited a couple minutes but she didn't come out, so we left and walked down the famous Champs-Elysees toward the Arc de Triomphe (see bottom photo). Now we've seen many triumphal arches in our tours through Greece and Rome, but this one is HUGE. (Of course, it's also much newer, not being completed until 1836.)

As with the Eiffel Tower, tourists can take an elevator up to the top, but again it seemed rather touristy, and I had heard that the best view could be had at Montmartre, which we were heading to later.

On a final note, while it's fresh in my mind, one of the priests here in Panorama, Fr Panayiotis, was kidding around with me this morning and asked if we had seen "Old Iron" while we were in Paris. Apparently, this is what the Greeks jokingly call the Eiffel Tower, which while only built in 1889, is the most visited paid monument in the world. In the Greek mind, though, it could be seen as just a bunch of iron compared to to something like the Parthenon.

More tomorrow...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Snails and Wine

Marie-Jeanne's cousin, Marguerite (who lives in Burgundy) met us at the end of our tour of Hotel Dieu and took us to lunch at one of her favorite local restaurants, which is located in an old wine cellar.

We had a delicious, traditional Burgundy meal, featuring--of course--snails (see top photo) and wonderful local wine. (Incidentally, despite their appearance, I thought the snails were actually quite good!)

After lunch, we walked around town for an hour or two, exploring mainly the old city walls. I have several good photos from this, but there's just too much to post here. To see all the photos, click here.

We then met Marguerite again, and she drove us out to an old childhood friend of hers who happens to own his own chateau and vineyard. The second photo is of one of the many vineyards we passed on the way there. The third photo is of his chateau.

This man kindly took us down to his private cellar and gave us a wine tasting. (See bottom photo, which was taken by Marguerite.) This was a real highlight of the trip! He showed us a map of vineyards and explained a bit about the wine-making process (in French, of course, which Marie-Jeanne and Marguerite then kindly translated.)

We were there about a week before they would start harvesting the grapes. During the harvesting period, this man would host up to several dozen workers for a couple weeks to help him harvest the grapes. It sounded like a great opportunity for someone on a limited budget looking to travel--free food and lodging in Burgundy along with a paycheck.

We bought three bottles of wine from the man to bring back here to Greece as presents. After our visit, Marguerite drove us out to her house which was about another half-hour way out in the country. It's truly beautiful land! Although half the French population lives in the cities (including about 10 million in Paris and environs), that means the other half lives out in rural, agricultural areas like this.

We explored Marguerite's garden and had tea before she drove us back to the train station for our 7:30 PM departure. From Beaune, we headed back to Dijon, the old capital of Burgundy, where we would have an hour and half layover to quickly explore the city.

More tomorrow...

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Trip to Wine Country: Burgundy

When we returned to the apartment from Versailles, Marie-Jeanne had kindly prepared another nice dinner for us. This time, the theme was Tunisian. France has quite a strong presence from its former colonies in Northern Africa. In fact, of France's total population of 62 million, about 4-5 million are Muslim (about 7%). Their presence can be felt quite strongly particularly in the larger cities such as Paris. Whereas any outward signs of Christianity are strongly discouraged, the same does not appear to be true for the Islamic community. But this is a much larger discussion...

In any event, we had a very tasty dinner and then crashed for the evening, because the next morning the three of us were off early to visit the countryside -- particularly, Burgundy, in east-central France.

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Early the next morning, we took the famous high-speed train, the TGV (which can reach speeds up to 350 mph), from Paris to Dijon. (See the top photo.) From there, we switched to a conventional train down to the little city of Beaune, the wine-making capital of Burgundy.

Once we reached Beaune, we stopped at a little cafe for a coffee and then headed over to the Hotel Dieu, a private hospice founded by a devout Christian in the 15th century. Apparently, this man had been quite successful in public affairs and had amassed quite a fortune (with possibly questionable practices). As he neared the end of his life, he wanted to repent by using his fortune to build a hospital for the sick. He insisted on the best of everything for this place, and you can still see that today.

The second photo is of Pelagia and Marie-Jeanne standing in the main courtyard of the complex. Notice the famous beautiful tiled roofs, which I've also captured in one of the windows in the last photo.

The third photo is from one of the main rooms of beds for the sick. Interestingly, the hospital was able to support itself through the production and sale of wine from its vineyards, a tradition which continues to this day.

More from Burgundy tomorrow...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Palace of Versailles

On our second full day, we headed out to Versailles, which is about 12 miles southwest of Paris. In the morning, Marie-Jeanne walked us to the appropriate train station, not far from Notre Dame. She also gave us the heads-up on a special deal which combines the train ticket with admission at a significant savings (for those of you who might go).

Versailles was formerly the residence of the king and queen of France, including -- perhaps most famously -- Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The palace and gardens are absolutely enormous. Pelagia and I guessed that it would take a staff of several hundred just to keep the gardens maintained.

Perhaps the most interesting thing was in Marie Antoinette's "little" villa (where, we are told, she could escape from the "rigors" of the palace). There we saw the dining table and learned that Louis XVI had drawn up plans to mechanically raise the enormous table, fully set, from the kitchen which was located on the floor directly below. I guess they didn't have time to realize this plan, but it gives you an idea of the kind of luxury there.

At the king's bed, for another example, we read about all the rituals attendant on the king's going to bed and rising from it. Sheesh!

As I once heard someone comment after visiting Versailles: "Now I can understand why the people revolted."

At the same time, you can see how someone like Marie Antoinette could be so out of touch with real life as to say something like "Let them eat cake" (if, in fact, she did) when told that the peasants had no bread.

Anyway, the top three photos are from inside the palace. The first is of one of the many elaborately painted ceilings. The second and third are from the famous Hall of Mirrors.

The third photo is interesting. This simple blue disc is not part of the original palace. It is part of a modern art exhibition which has placed a piece of work in almost every room in the palace. To be honest, this was the only one I liked at all. Some of the others, for instance, included an enormous ceramic sculpture of Michael Jackson with bubbles (I believe that was in the queen's drawing room or something) and a chain link fence with inflated rubber ducky swimming tubes hung on it. Yes. I'm serious.

I'm noticing that this seems to be a trend in such places. In Constantinople, for instance, we noticed that the Turks had a hideous modern art exhibition (with these enormous canvases that were all white with a black speck in the middle, for example) right in the middle of Hagia Sophia, in the room where the Holy Fathers met for the Seventh Ecumenical Council.

There was somewhere else we noticed this, too (I think Rome), but I can't remember now the context. Anyway, I think it's bizarre, but then again I may not be "with it."

Anyway, after the palace, we spent a lot of time wandering through the gardens -- although only a small piece of them. They are VAST. The fourth photo shows the Orangerie, a building where the orange trees are kept in the winter. Apparently, one of the Italian nobility who ruled in France missed having orange trees, so they had to invent a system to keep orange trees alive in the much colder climates of northern France.

After visiting the palace and the grounds, we explored a bit of the little town of Versailles before getting back on the train to Paris, totally exhausted.

More tomorrow...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Seine River Tour

Continuing on past the Louvre, we entered the extensive Tuileries garden, one of several beautiful gardens in the city (see top photo). Of these gardens, we learn:

The Tuileries Gardens, as you see them today, are the work of the famous French landscape architect Le Notre who stand to build them in 1664 at the order of Louis XIV's Minister of Finance Colbert. This is the same Le Notre who laid out the parks of Versailles and it was this same Le Notre also who laid out St. James's park for Charles II of England. This garden replaced another, but vastly inferior garden, which Catherine de Medici had built there about a hundred years before Le Notre was commissioned to change and enlarge it. But even in Catherine's time, this garden was already known as the Tuileries Gardens.

We then continued over to the Seine River, where we caught the water taxi which runs a continuous circuit through the heart of the city. The first stop was the Eiffel Tower, located toward the western end of the city (see second photo). The line of tourists waiting to take the elevator up to the top was quite long, so we opted out. We enjoyed the view from the ground for awhile, having a snack underneath the tower, and then headed back to the boat. We then headed for Notre Dame, a massive cathedral built between 1200-1345 on one of the two tiny islands in the middle of river. The third photo is a view of the church from the boat.

Later, we met our friends Emmanuelle and Julija in front of the church, where we took the bottom photograph of ourselves. Emmanuelle is a French girl whose family converted to Orthodoxy some years ago in what could be described as France's version of the EOC. We were classmates together for one year in Greek school here in Thessaloniki. She is now doing an MA in Greek literature at the Sorbonne. Julija is a Serbian girl who has been studying theology in Paris for several years now. She is a friend of our bishop, Bishop Maxim, and we met her during our trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina last December.

The two of them took us around the city for awhile. We walked by the Sorbonne and stopped in St Stephen's Church to see the relics of St Genevieve, one of the patron saints of Paris and an Orthodox saint from the fifth century. St Simeon the Stylite sent her a letter after seeing her in a vision.

They also introduced us to a new phenomenon in Paris which we thought was great. A private company has set up bicycle racks all over the city, with good, sturdy bikes electronically locked. For 29 euro a year, you get a membership card that allows you to take and leave the bikes at will. Thus, if you need to go somewhere in the city, you simply grab the closest bike, ride to where you're going, and leave it at the closest station. Emmanuelle let Pelagia try one of the bikes out, which she liked. Incidentally, you can a photo of this, and all 260+ photos from the trip, here.

Finally, Emmanuelle took us to a Georgian restaurant for dinner, with two of her friends, a Russian-French man and Russian-American woman. The Georgian cuisine was very interesting -- a mix of mediterranean, Turkish and Indian. And it was so nice to have such a variety of foods to chose from! They have restaurants from everywhere! That's one thing all the Americans here in Greece miss. Greeks like Greek food -- and usually not much else. In fact, they're generally downright suspicious of anything not Greek. Fortunately, Greek food is delicious, but it's also nice for us American types to have some variety, so the Georgian restaurant was refreshing.

More tomorrow...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Market and the Louvre

The next morning, our first full day in Paris, Marie-Jeanne took us for a tour of the city. First, we went to the local open market (see top photo), where we saw stores full of beautiful vegetables, cheeses and meats.

The second photo is of Marie-Jeanne's favorite cheese store. We went back before we left and got a selection of French cheeses to bring back for our neighbors, who kindly took care of our animals.

We had coffee sitting out in the sun at a cafe in the market, and then headed toward the heart of Paris.

The first stop was the Louvre, which was formerly a castle and then an enormous palace. In the inner courtyard of the palace, you can see the famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) pyramid-shaped entrance to the museum (underneath the pyramid). We didn't go in to the museum--as it would take days to really see everything--and proceeded on to the palace gardens, Jardin des Tuileries.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Americans in Paris (via Greece)

I know, I know! It's been over a month since I posted anything on here. The truth is that this summer has been incredibly busy with work. I made some progress on my dissertation, which will focus on leadership and hierarchy in the first-century Christian community in Corinth. And then there's my normal translation work. I didn't think you'd all be really interested in a photo of me sitting in front of my computer, so the blog has suffered. : (

But now I finally have something to report. Pelagia and I celebrated 5 years of marriage last month, and to mark the anniversary I arranged a trip to Paris for last week. We spent 5 full days there and just returned this afternoon.

We have three different friends living in Paris, and they had all invited us to come visit them in Paris. One even had a free apartment to offer us, so that sealed the deal!

We flew out of Thessaloniki, had a brief layover in Rome, and then on to Paris. I had found cheap tickets with the Italian national airline, Alitalia, which--as it turns out--is on the brink of collapse. In fact, there was a good deal of uncertainty as to whether they would still exist today for our flight back!)

Our friend, Marie-Jeanne, met us at Charles de Gaulle airport in the evening, and then took us on a taxi tour through Paris (including a nighttime drive down the Champs-Elysees) on the way to her home, which is just east of the Bastille. See map below.

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As it so happens, Marie-Jeanne currently has two apartments in the same building, so she gave us use of the one on the top floor. Apartments (or studios, to be more precise) in Paris are, I imagine, much like New York. They are extremely tiny and expensive. But it was plenty for our purposes. And it had a wonderful view.

The top photo was taken from the balcony as soon as we walked in. That's the Eiffel Tower lit up in blue, with the Bastille to the right.

The third and fourth photos were taken from the balcony the next morning. Again, you can see the Eiffel Tower and the Bastille on the right of the third photo. The fourth photo is of St. Marguerite's, located next to Marie-Jeanne's building.

It was getting late by the time we arrived, but Marie-Jeanne had prepared a wonderful, typical French dinner for us, complete with fois gras. In the second photo, you can see Pelagia during the cheese course. : )

Stay tuned for Day 2! (Warning: I am making my way through several hundred photographs!)