March 15, 2008

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Last summer my wife and I had the wonderful blessing of traveling to Europe for three weeks. Our intinerary included the U.K., Italy, Germany, and France. After many requests from family and friends, here are a few high resolution photos, including some from Disneyland Paris. I left some quite large to give an idea of being immersed in the places.

Let's start in the U.K. Can't take credit for this wonderful photo- my wife snapped this right at dusk while we walked the London streets. The detail is amazing.

Venice was highest on my list of places to visit this trip- and it did not disappoint! It's busy, noisy, and full of contrasts, totally unique- and enchanting at night. As you can see in this first photo below, the buildings in St. Mark's Square are the foundation of the Italy pavillion at Epcot. The second photo is of a sign outside a restaurant in one of the hundreds of small alleys that fill Venice.

Gondolas and gondoliers everywhere. One gondolier passed by our rented apartment, text messaging while he "drove". Twenty-first century technology merged with Renaissance transportation! The last Venice photo is from the top of a campanile (bell tower) overlooking the islands.

Next stop: Florence. We stayed in a mesmerizingly beautiful 14th century fortress overlooking the valley. All the main tourist sites were seen, but also a small museum that was our favorite in all of Florence: Museo dell' Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. This actual location once included a studio where Michaelangelo carved David but now houses a collection of various kinds of art. His Florence Pieta is here: a magnificient marble sculpture he never finished due to his discovery while carving Christ that this portion of the marble was imperfect. The photo below is of a haunting carving of Jesus on the cross, displayed in another gallery. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of the artist.

Lenvanto is on the northwest coast of Italy. This charming seaside resort serves as the gateway to Cinque Terra, five towns built in the hillsides accessible once only by train. To visit all five, it takes about 2 hours to drive the curving roads that hug the rugged cliffs.

Rothenburg, Germany is a quaint little village surrounded by the fortress that protected it. You can walk the tops of the fortress walls and gain a terrific view of this beautiful town in Bavaria. Highly recommend stopping here if Germany is on your agenda. Munich was also a stop for us while we were here. Driving the Autoban is quite the adventure, since there is no speed limit. FUN!

Last by no means least, Paris. My favorite European city- even if Disney had never touched down here. The city itself is a theme park, full of beautiful architecture, gardens, and museums. This was our second visit. The two clocks below are from the Musee de Orsay, a converted train station that now houses the ultimate galleries of Impressionist art. If you can name it, it is probably found here. Photos do not do the museum, or the art found here, justice. The colors are rich and varied, the complex is stunning. We found it more charming than the Lourve and still worth several hours. The balcony off the 3rd (or 4th) floor cafe has terrific views of the Seine river and the city. Do not let the reputation of the Parisians keep you away- they are kind and helpful, if a bit reserved for American tastes.

Prior to our evening's boat ride on the Seine, we happened to be walking and looked down to the riverbank below. What did we see? The Ratatouille premier! We didn't stay more than a few minutes as Paris was waiting, but it was a fun little bonus.

Finally, here are the Disneyland Paris pictures. The first two photos are taken from our tethered hot air balloon ride. One looking toward the Newport Bay Club and the other toward the park with the Disney Village entertainment center below.

The park itself: Disneyland Paris, pure and simple, is a design masterpiece. Given this park is located in one of the world's most beautiful cities, it had to be spectacular- and it is. You enter the park through the Disneyland Hotel and gardens. Once inside, the centerpiece chateau is at the end of Main Street as to be expected. Almost as large as Florida's castle but it is designed to be explored. Tapestries, stained glass and statuary tell the story of Sleeping Beauty in the upper galleries, while a huge fire breathing dragon resides in the dungeon below. Tomorrowland here is known as Discoveryland, tributing Jules Verne and other visionairies.

This park has to be seen to be believed. Details abound, and each attraction is reImagineered both inside and out. Pirates, Phantom Manor (Haunted Mansion), and Space Mountain almost seem like entirely new attractions, and we could have spent a day in each land just exploring. Yes, we did spend a few hours at the Studios- mostly out of curiosity- and it was more than enough. A second rate park that needs more than Tower of Terror to make it Disney quality.

Our three week adventure included time with some friends of ours who had recently moved to Wales. It was a delight and blessing to reconnect with them on their home turf in the U.K. Originally from Scotland and now landed in Cardiff, Fraser, Anna, Beth, and Aidan prove that friendship is not limited to those we see everyday. Hope you've enjoyed the photos and the narrative!

(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

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