A day in Hamburg, Germany

We woke up in Germany and were served breakfast in our little cabin. Before long, we had arrived in Hamburg. It’s really a very convenient way to travel. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect from Hamburg. It was a city that Cristen really wanted to visit because of its ties to the Beatles. And to be honest again, I wasn’t really looking forward to Hamburg at first and even tried to convince Cristen to nix it from our itinerary. But it was a top priority for her, so I started doing some research for the point of interest cheatsheet and got more and more excited about it. There was lots to see and do there. I started feeling bad that we really only had one full day.

Of course, the first thing we did when we got off the train was look for our hotel, the Hotel am Holstenwall. It was on the other side of the huge Planten un Blomen Park (which, btw, is an awesome name for a park, amiright?) from the St. Pauli U-bahn stop, so we decided to cut through. Unfortunately, it was a repeat of when I tried to cut through Central Park on my last visit to New York City. But this time, I was carrying a 30-pound backpack and a 10-pound camera bag and Cristen was pulling her huge suitcase. Despite the beautiful morning, I could have done without the extended walk in the park. Since we were there quite early, we couldn’t check into our room just yet, so we dropped off our luggage and headed out to see the city.

We decided to start our adventures with a walk along the canal. We had also heard about a ferry ride that was free with our Hamburg card, so we thought that would be a nice way to see the city.

It was actually quite chilly on the deck of the ferry because of the wind and it was a little too crowded to take photos, so we went underneath and just enjoyed the ride. I loved the houses along the canal. They were bright and colorful. Even though I loved the charming villages in France, a lof of the ones we saw were made from the same pinkish stone and they depended on the beautiful flowers for pops of color. Germany seemed more willing to play around with color on their buildings.

After the ferry, we headed to Deichstrasse, a street with historic buildings dating from the 14th Century. Hamburg was the target for a lot of Allied bombing during World War II, so it’s amazing that some of these beautiful historic areas survived.

We were hoping to get something to eat along Deichstrasse, but since it was Sunday, the restaurants were all closed. We had to walk across the bridge to the Speicherstadt neighborhood (old warehouse district) where lots of tourist attractions are to get some lunch.

We both had veggieburgers in Hamburg, and I don’t regret it. It was delicious. Next on the agenda – the Rathaus in the center of town. Something else that I really loved about Hamburg is that many of their U-bahn lines have above-ground sections. When we were in London and Paris, I was telling Cristen that even though the subways are convenient, I missed being able to see the sights while riding around and that I planned on figuring out the bus systems the next time I went traveling. The U-bahn in Hamburg (and later, Berlin) was a great compromise for the convenience of a subway with actually getting to see the town.

Do you want to know my big regret about Hamburg, though? I am still so disappointed every time I think about it. We didn’t get to see this:

Oh man… can you even imagine how amazing that would have been? I kept imagining the poignant love song for Adrienne and the triumphal ballad for running up the stairs. I’ll have to see if there’s a soundtrack.

The Hamburg Rathaus was simply beautiful.

The whole area there was full of life. There was lots of shopping and people eating at cafes and feeding some swans.

I had read that Hamburg has one of the best museums for 19th Century art, so of course we wanted to visit the Kunsthalle Museum. It was over by the train station, so we got off the stop and walked across the street to the museum. I was a little confused because on our tourist map, the museum looked round and the museum we found was your typical rectangular building. But it did say Kunsthalle, so we walked inside and paid our fee. It had kind of a strange smell, actually, and the exhibits weren’t quite what we expected for one of the finest collections of 19th Century art. Here’s a sample.

It was while I was waiting for Cristen at the gift shop and checking out the map again that I realized our mistake. We were at the Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe. The Kunsthalle was on the opposite side of the train station. We almost didn’t go because the Kunst and Gewerbe was so disappointing, but it wasn’t a far walk. And we did pass by the Beiber Haus.

And there it was – just as round as it was in the map. And it definitely supports the claim of one of the finest collections. Something that was so great about the museum was that it was large enough that it contained a lot of wonderful pieces, but it didn’t feel overwhelming like the Louvre or the Metropolitan. I’ll just quickly share with you some of my favorite pieces from the museum.

There were some beautiful paintings by Casper David Friederich. I’ve always loved the quiet moodiness of his pieces.

I was unfamiliar with Wilhelm Liebl before seeing two of his pieces at the museum. This was one of my favorites. I liked the mix of patters, but mostly, I loved the detail in the hands and books.

Here is another portrait by Leibl of the Countess Rosine Treuberg. She has a rather penetrating stare, right?

Here’s one of the galleries at the Kunsthalle Museum.

And some more favorites.

There was an Edvard Munch exhibit at the Tate Modern when we were in London, but we didn’t want to pay the extra fee to see it. It couldn’t have had anything much better than these.

Another artist who was unfamiliar to me was Emil Nolde, but he might be a new favorite.

I love running into paintings that I’ve studied in Art History classes. It’s amazing how I have forgotten most of what I learned in most of my classes, but when I see a painting that I studied, I remember almost everything about it. It’s like coming across an old friend.

After the museum, it was definitely late enough for us to check into our hotel room, so we headed back toward the park. We had wondered what kind of room we would find because we weren’t quite sure what to expect from the hotel. It was kind of hard to read what type of place it would be based on the lobby. It seemed nice enough, though, but we were expecting something tiny. Imagine our surprise when we walked into this:

It was a two-story room with our beds on the first floor and a lounge area up top. And then it had this amazing bathroom with a huge shower and a jetted tub and double sinks. And they had Haribo gummi bears on our bed for us. I think I was just overly tired from not sleeping well on the train and all of the physical exertion of traveling for 10 days, but I loved it so much that I started to cry and laugh just a little. We called it the Dollhouse because it was so adorable. We put our stuff away and took advantage of the wifi to check email. I called my family. It was just so fun to relax up in the lounge area. But Cristen reminded me that the Beatles sites we were planning to see were in the Reeperbahn area (the neighborhood known for erotic clubs and sex shops) and maybe it would be better for us to visit before it got too dark.

We were disappointed to find that Beatlesmania — an awesomely cheesy looking museum — had closed a few months before our visit. But there was still the Beatles-platz with a memorial to the Fab Four and some clubs where they first played. The Beatles-platz was right off the Reeperbahn U-bahn stop. And wow… it was… not quite what I expected.

And you could tell that immediately that we were in the Reeperbahn.

We walked down the street to see some of the clubs where the Beatles played. It reminded me of Bourbon Street, and if there was one thing about Bourbon Street that I loved, it was all the neon signs.

I mean, even the toilets were all lit up.

We ate dinner at a Vegetarian/Vegan friendly restaurant that was completely delicious, but mostly, I was so excited to be able to order one of my favorite drinks. When I was in Austria, I loved Mezzo Mix. In Northern Germany, it’s called Spezi and it’s basically Coke and Orange soda all mixed together. I adore it! And I was able to order it in a half liter. Heaven!

I had so many places still on my list that we weren’t able to visit. We had booked a later train to Berlin the next morning because I was hoping we’d be able to squeeze something in, but Monday morning was rainy and after a long breakfast at the hotel, we just decided to head to the train station. So even though Hamburg wasn’t necessarily top of my list before we went on the trip, it ended up being pretty great.

the louvre (and a boat cruise)

I think it’s about time I finish posting about Paris. I’ve been home for almost a month and I have only blogged about the first week of the trip. It’s just that each day was so packed with stuff that it felt like three. Which is awesome when you’re vacationing, but a little more overwhelming when you’re trying to blog it. Anyway, let’s just put this entry in context… After we went to the opera and then relaxed in the Tuileries, we visited the Louvre. And barely scratched the surface of what it contains. In fact, I learned during the boat tour that if you were going to spend 1 minute in front of each work of art it would take you something like 6 months or 3 years or some fact that I thought I would remember but I don’t. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before you even enter the Louvre, there’s the exterior of it. And the walk to it on what Cristen renamed the Rue de Ravioli.

It was nice to see a familiar face in the sculpture of Joan of Arc. There is a replica of this sculpture in the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Then we walked under the passage into the courtyard of the Louvre.

One thing I learned while hanging out near the pyramid at the Louvre is that a lot of people want their photo taken as though they were pinching the top of the pyramid. There were lines of people waiting to do it.

We did it all wrong and just took a picture near the pyramid.

Now I’m kind of disappointed that I didn’t follow suit and get my own pinching photo. Next time, I guess. I do love the Louvre. It’s just such a beautiful museum.

Not to mention, full of beautiful art.

I absolutely adore the delicate embrace in Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Canova and the way their eyes are gazing at each other.

Nymph 2 by Bartolini

I have always loved the Nike of Samothrace. I’m amazed at power and energy carved from stone. But I remember when I saw the Nike during my first trip to Paris and I was stunned at the approach. She stands at the top of stairs, almost perched as though she was about to take flight. Even though I was expecting it, I was still stunned again.

I am also still amazed at the size of paintings. When I studied these in Art History, they were just small images in books. Seeing them in scale changed the way I thought of them.

We spent a lot of time in those Art History classes talking about Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii.

I could speak at length about its composition and lines and the Neoclassical theme, but looking at it this time, I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the mother and children hidden in the shadows.

I love the tender way the mother has her hand on her son’s cheek and how he, in return, touches hers. It’s as though she isn’t only recognizing the possible loss by sending grown men into battle, but the potential for this son to also grow up and become a soldier.

And it’s hard not to be impressed by David’s Les Sabines (I can never think of the Sabine women without getting that song from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in my head), but seeing it in person allows you to focus on those details.

Once again, I noticed the women and children. Here, the older woman is rending her garment in sorrow and despair.

And the children mimic the fighting they see, implying that war is passed on through generations.

Here’s just a pretty one – Helen and Paris (again by Jacques-Louis David).

I love the simplicity of this portrait of Madame de Verninac. The gold sash is so pretty against the grey background.

And I really want this sofa/daybed.

Madame Recamier by Jacques-Louis David

I didn’t just admire works by Jacques-Louis David, though. I also really love portraits of the Riviere family by Ingres.

Did you know that Ingres didn’t want to be a portrait painter? He really just painted portraits to earn money, but he wanted to be an academic, history painter. I find it so sad, in a way, because his portraits are absolutely amazing.

But yeah, his other work isn’t too bad either.

Here’s Napoleon crossing the Alps. Doesn’t he look so sad? And if Napoleon looks sad, his horse looks downright depressed. It’s a good thing they’re in the Alps, not the Swamp of Despair.

Of course, no visit to the Louvre is complete without seeing the Mona Lisa.

Actually, I accidentally stumbled upon the Mona Lisa. Or more accurately, noticed the huge crowd around the painting and realized where I was. Like I said, I barely scratched the surface at the Louvre. Wouldn’t it be lovely to return to the Louvre as many times as you would like? Then you wouldn’t feel so much pressure to try and see everything all at once. I kept running across delightful little nooks that I wanted to explore more. And luckily I avoided pickpockets and knew not to ride the escalator inappropriately because of some helpful signs.

Later that evening, we returned to the Eiffel Tower to pick up one of the River Seine cruises. I had the information for one of the cruise lines written down, but we just ended up getting on one that was about to disembark.

It was really quite lovely, even if it was kind of freezing. But it was hard to get good photos of the beautiful sights because a) the light was pretty tricky and b) this guy was standing in everyone’s way the entire time. Even when the rules clearly stated that you weren’t supposed to stand during the cruise.

Thanks a lot, guy. Oh well… at least it let me just relax and enjoy the experience rather than worry too much about trying to get good photos.

Bayeux and the American Cemetery

When we first started planning our trip, we didn’t intend to visit the D-Day Beaches. We knew our time was limited and the beaches are a little out of the way. But then Cristen’s brother, who served in Afghanistan, asked her to bring him back some sand from the D-Day beaches and we adjusted our plans to include it. We chose to stay in Bayeux because it’s conveniently located near the D-Day beaches and the American Cemetery, but we still wanted to get an early start in the morning. We had a pretty full agenda – visiting at least one beach and the American Cemetery and Memorial, then driving to Mont Saint-Michel for a visit, and then we had a 4-hour drive back to Paris. But since we were in Bayeux, we simply couldn’t leave without seeing the Bayeux Tapestry.

So we drove into town just before the museum was supposed to open, and it was even better in the daylight.

And here’s the museum where the tapestry is located.

We got there just as a bus full of tourists arrived. It’s a very straightforward museum. You walk in, pay your money, pick up your audio guide in your chosen language (which I actually did use even though I’m averse to audio guides), and then you listen to the narrative of the tapestry as you stroll along. The tapestry is so much longer than you expect, but it’s also incredibly fascinating. I absolutely loved looking at it. We couldn’t take photos because of preservation, but the wikipedia entry I linked to earlier has some great details. I especially loved the battle scenes with the charging horses (it’s amazing how they depicted speed with just thread) and the dying bodies. It was definitely worth the stop.

It was a short drive from Bayeux to the American Cemetery. We could tell they catered to American tourists because we saw a sign for “Quick Lunch” and the cemetery had a huge parking lot. Aww… American conveniences. The coast wasn’t at all how I pictured. I kept expecting to see beach in front of me, but we arrived at the cemetery before I even saw the water. That’s because the land actually drops off quite suddenly. It was quite green and lush.

They had this nifty model of where all of the beaches are and how they figured in the invasion.

Here’s a close-up of the diagram.

There’s a path that leads down to the beach. Cristen started down it with a bottle for sand while I went to see the memorial.

Even though I’m a Master of American Studies (according to Purdue University, class of 2007), my knowledge of American History is pretty sketchy. It’s based off anything I’ve read in books, seen in movies, or learned in Art History. Luckily there are lots of great WWII movies, and if you need a refresher, there’s lots of diagrams on the memorial wall.

Also even though I’m a Master of American Studies (see how I got that in there twice?), I’ve never been the most patriotic American. Or at least, my patriotism often swells at surprising times. But walking into the American Cemetery, I choked up with the overwhelming feeling of gratitude and sadness all at once. I remember visiting Arlington National Cemetery when I was about 15 and looking out at all of the thousands of crosses and thinking about the wastefulness of war. I am proud of those who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect others. We so often speak of the men and women in the military as “the military” or “the armed forces” or some other vague group. And then you visit Arlington or the American Cemetery and you are confronted with rows and rows of individual markers. It’s hard not to think about the wastefulness of lives cut short.

But like I said, it’s sadness mixed with a deep gratitude.

Let’s Run Away to the Met

I haven’t read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler since I was in elementary school, but I have always remembered the premise of it. Two kids run away from home and hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. How great would that be?

So here’s the blog post wherein I pretend to be an art historian and show you pictures of the art that stole my heart during my visit to the Met and tell you what I love about them. Let’s get this started because I still have a whole season of Dance Academy to watch on Netflix (Dance Academy is my latest obsession. I watched the whole first season this weekend.)

Saint Tarcisius by Alexandre Falguiere

This sculpture tells about a boy who was told to carry the Host (the Eucharist… or consecrated bread) along the Appian Way. He is affronted by some horrible boys and is stoned to death, but he never lets the Host fall to the ground and remains faithful to the end. I love the way he clutches it to his chest and the peaceful look on his face… meeting death with confidence that he did his best.

Pair of 18th Century French vases.

I just couldn’t get over the color of these vases! Part of it has to do with the wall color behind it (so vivid!), but I just loved it. In general, my personal taste is much more simple than this, but I love how intricate it is. But mostly the colors!

18th Century French room.

I love the rooms at the Met. It’s so wonderful to feel transported to a different time and place. I also love that it gives our everyday surroundings the name of “art.” I mean, sure… it’s easy to see why these antique vases and chairs and sofas and place settings, etc. would belong in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but it’s not hard to imagine that our own (yours and mine) domestic, everyday objects could also be art.

Beheading of John the Baptist (I forgot to write down the artist or date)

I always mean to spend more time with Medieval or Proto-Renaissance (or hey, even Renaissance) art when I return to the Met, but I end up just looking at my favorites (19th and 20th Century European and American paintings) again and again. But this piece is in the Robert Lehman Collection, so I happened upon it. Don’t you love how brutal it is? I mean, look at John the Baptist getting his head sliced off on the left… so much blood! And then it’s carried in on a platter to the feast.

I forgot again to write down the info, but this is a detail of an annunciation painting.

In this one, the Virgin is sculptural (see the heavy drapery that looks like marble, even the book blends in). Everything is calm and muted. The dove (the Holy Spirit) seems almost frozen. Although it’s flying, there is no real movement. I just loved the feeling of this piece.

At the Racetrack, 1950s by Kees van Dongen

In this piece, I loved the flat areas of color. It’s a technique that I’m always drawn to. I also love that neon horse and the patterned clothes in the lower-left corner. Oh, and the dog.

Beach at Deauville by Kees van Dongen

Here again are those flat patches of color, but this time the palette is quite different. It’s much more muted. I think it’s an interesting choice for the beach, where I would have expected more vibrant colors, I think.

detail from Princess Albert de Broglie by Ingres

I didn’t end up taking a full shot of the following painting, but you can find it here. With Ingres, I’m much more interested in the details. I can never get over how silky he makes the dresses look or how delicate the lace is.

Can you guess this artist? Without letting your mouse rest on the image, I mean (that’s totally cheating). Did you guess Renoir? Because you would be right. I feel like I can tell a Renoir from a mile away. There’s something so distinctive about his brush work. I’m not sure what it is or why it’s so uniquely his, but take a look at this detail.

detail of Sea and Cliffs by Renoir.

And here’s something to compare it to.

Valley with Fir by Henri Edmond Cross

Ok, so it’s not a perfect comparison. The Valley with Fir above was painted a few years later than the Renoir and in a different style, but still… it’s interesting to look at the difference in brushstrokes and see the kind of effect it has on the overall painting. And aren’t you amazed that just a few tiny brushstrokes can give the impression of a boat or a woman? I am. Here’s a detail of Valley with Fir.

detail from Valley with Fir by Henri Edmond Cross

Let’s look at some patterns.

Espagnol, Harmonie en Bleu by Henri Matisse

I actually really want that tablecloth. I love how the woman stands out, despite wearing a flower (that should blend into the wallpaper) and her rosebud mouth. She still feels very distinct. It must be the blue.

We’ll return to some 15th Century art for a moment. I had never heard this story before.

These panels tell us about the miracle of Godelieve, a pious young woman who was forced to marry a rich man. Her mother-in-law didn’t like her and made her live in a narrow cell with very little food. The mother-in-law also convinced her son that his wife was a witch. So two men took her and strangled her…

and drowned her in a well. I was confused about where the miracle part happened because that is where the story ends on the panel. But wikipedia tells me that Godelieve’s husband remarried and had a daughter who was born blind. Godelieve supposedly cured her. Which was really generous of Godelieve considering her husband had her murdered.

Let’s visit the new American wing. The last time I was at the Met, the American wing was under construction and all of the American paintings were shoved into an out-of-the way spot. Now the American wing is rather beautiful with lots of space. It also has this cool feature where you get to walk through several hundred years by visiting rooms decorated from different periods in American history. These columns, which I believe are Tiffany, are in a gallery that leads you into the American wing.

It seems like whenever I’m at a museum, I fall in love with a new artist. On this visit, it was Maurice Prendergast. And not just because he has an awesome name. Here’s the first of two paintings on exhibit.

Central Park by Maurice Prendergast

There’s a lot going on in this painting, but it’s still orderly and balanced because there’s a repetition of form. For example, look at the wagon wheels at the top and how the circle is repeated again in the bushes just below them on the right.

Picnic by the Inlet by Maurice Prendergast

I think I just love how busy these are and yet they are controlled. Here’s something on the other end of the scale.

Across the Room by Edmund Chalres Tarbell

The most notable thing in Across the Room is the empty space that takes up most of the canvas. I bet my 19th Century Art History professor (whom I loved… that class was maybe the best class I ever took) at Smith would have said it was “pregnant” with something. He always used that phrase. Does it symbolize the painter’s emotional distance? Whatevs. I just like that the composition is unique.

Lady with the Rose by John Singer Sargent

I love this portrait. I love the somewhat cross, bored look on the subject’s face. But if I were going to have John Singer Sargent paint a portrait of me, I think I’d be a little annoyed if this is how it turned out.

In the Laboratory by Henry Alexander

I don’t know much about science, but I know I am a sucker for lots of beakers and science-y looking things. I mean, look at all those colors! And how they are translucent.

detail from In the Laboratory by Henry Alexander

Science is pretty.

Out of all of the amazing paintings I saw that afternoon, though, I think this one (and a few similar ones) was my favorite.

Office Board by John F Peto

I know… it’s super simple. And how can it compare to all of the other masterpieces? Honestly, it doesn’t. There are way better paintings, but I loved this one. I like how it took something so every day and turned it into art. I love how it tricks the eye by making photographs and bulletins and elastics look real. Here’s a closer look:

detail from Office Board by John F Peto

It reminds me of Maira Kalman’s illustrations, which I also love. But more than anything, I think it’s the first thing at the museum that really made me want to create my own art. I know I could never be a Matisse or Renoir and honestly, I could never be a Peto or a Kalman, but it feels much more accessible somehow.

Are you burnt out on paintings? I just have a few more that I want to share.

Story of Golden Locks by Seymour Joseph Guy

I love this painting of an older sister telling a bedtime story. Mostly I love how her shadow almost looks like a bear, and I love how terrified her little brothers are.

detail from Story of Golden Locks by Seymour Joseph Guy

There is no way that kid is going to sleep that night. Big sis must be a good story teller.

And finally… I loved seeing all the Cezannes and Van Goghs etc. but this time I looked at them a little differently. This time I read names like Aix-en-Provence and Antibes and Arles and saw scenes like this…

Gardanne by Cezanne

and I thought… I am going to be there in less than 3 months! I will get to see those places for my very own self. And then I smiled.

I actually went to the Met for a very specific purpose. I was meeting up with an old friend from junior high and high school who works there. I haven’t talked to Benny in years, though we’ve kept in touch via facebook. I was a little nervous, to be honest, about meeting him again. It can be strange to meet up with people from the past. You forget that they don’t know about everything that has happened in the 15 plus years since you’ve seen them (and that’s a lot of living). But it was seriously the best to catch up with him.

We talked for a little while when I first met up with him, but then he had some meetings to attend and we decided to get together again after he was done with work. Luckily, I could easily entertain myself at the Met for several hours (I never even left one wing). And then we pulled up a bench in Central Park and talked for an hour or two. It’s crazy how he’s exactly the same as in junior high/high school, but more grown up. Later, I met up with him and his boyfriend for a movie and ice cream. I had lots of fun experiences while I was in New York, but the hours I spent with Benny and Malan were my favorite part of the trip. It was just so perfect to reconnect.

And it helps that it was the most gorgeous evening in Central Park.