We are just wrapping up the last day of our trip. We just finished packing, and even with the stuff we’ve bought along the way we have room left in our bags.

Despite Randi coming down with a cold yesterday, and myself this morning, we have had a great time in Paris. Yesterday we visited, in order, the Orsay, Le Invalid (armory museum and crazy topography maps), Napoleon’s tomb, and the Rodin museum. We finished the day with a picnic on the Seine and a nighttime bike ride around Paris. Actually, we spent the whole day using a new bike rental system that is cheap, convenient, and while a bit scary at times, hands down the best way to experience the city.

Today we visited the Louvre, which, along with the Rodin was our favorite art museum of the trip. It is a gigantic building and packed with amazing paintings. We wish we could stay another day and go back tomorrow, in part because our colds were kicking our butts so we left for an early lunch of delicious Ramen soup.

After lunch and a short rest in our room we were off to L’Orangerie, a museum which reminded me of an interesting story. Monet was commissioned to paint an allegory, but when he received word that his wife had fallen ill he left before it was complete and it had to be wallpapered instead (thanks Woody Allen). This joke is actually quite on point for this museum, as it’s main attraction is Monet,s Water Lillies, which is actually a number of large paintings that fill up two rooms. They are treated with much pomp and circumstance, but we found them completely devoid of any merit as anything more than a pleasant wallpaper. Much of the Orsay, as well, fails to cause an impact after many of the other museums we’ve seen.

After admiring the craft-less scribbles of people who have been thrust upon the public as artists by a self-ordained intellectual elite, we were off to Sainte-Chappelle, a beautiful little jewel box of a church that, like everything else worth looking at on this continent, was covered in scaffolding. This really isn’t a good time to visit if you want to see beautiful historic buildings, although if you are a scaffold enthusiast buy your plane tickets immediately as I am sure that it will all be taken down as soon as they receive word that we are leaving.

We then climbed to the top of Notre-Dame, which was very cool (and scaffold free), ate a grec (giant gyro with fries on top, best thing ever), and watched a bunch of Parisians play a version of lawn bowling called petanque in the most charming, and tourist free, square in Paris.

I am too tired to place all the photos, so I’ll just leave them all at the end. We’ll see you soon back in the states!

p.s. WordPress crashes every time I try to add photos, but stay tuned

This overdue update is going to be brief and picture intensive so that we can get started on one of our last full days in Paris.

But first, we should probably wrap up Venice:

The weather wasn’t very cooperative our last two days. It was cold, windy, and would start pouring every few hours. And unfortunately, Venice is not the best city for staying out of the rain.

We made the most of it, seeing the Doges Palace, ordering spritzs, and drinking prosecco. On our last evening, Eric cooked us an amazing meal of roasted chicken, shallots, and porcini mushrooms in our apartment kitchen.

Sadly, it was gorgeous on the day we left. I am looking forward to experiencing Venice again some day, ideally in better conditions.

Everything was admittedly brighter when we got to Paris, which seems to blend some of the best aspects of the other two large cities we’ve visited; it’s huge and thriving like London, without as much of that business-as-usual feel, and it’s got plenty to see and experience like Rome, without feeling quite as touristy.

Our first 1.5 days were spent taking in the city. Here are the pictures to prove it:

Only two full days of honeymoon left! We are getting the museum pass for both days, and will be running around as quickly as we can to cram it all in. Thanks to Adrienne’s recommendation, I am most looking forward to climbing the 400 steps to the top of Notre Dame’s tower at sunset.

But I’m still not sure how I feel about you after spending three days in your city.

On the other hand, it only took 10 minutes to fall in love with Paris.

And to think… I hate the French!

This morning Randi and I took a short water bus ride to the island of Murano with the intention of buying something made of glass. Before our trip we both read the book City of Falling Angels, written about Venetians by an outsider who lived in the city for a number of years. The book describes the very old art of glassblowing that Murano is famous for. This, combined with wedding gifts from my Mom and Grandpa with instructions to use it to buy something beautiful on our trip, was the inspiration for our morning excursion.

We had already stopped into a number of glass shops in Venice proper, so we knew when we walked into the first shop in Murano that it was, well, impressive (I don’t really know how to communicate the beauty, creativity, and craftsmanship of Murano glass, other than to say that we spent hours going into the various shops on the island and never got sick of it). At any rate, in the first store, which was huge, we found a cool vase, unlike anything else we have seen, that cost exactly what we wanted to spend. This was actually kind of shocking, because our budget was tiny when compared to the ridiculous prices of anything larger than a salt shaker. It turns out that the vase is part of an older collection that had been upstairs (“upstairs” being by invitation only, and after being invited upstairs, I can tell you that there is very little, if anything, under 1000 euros, and a whole lot that it worth more than your car, and some worth more than the cars of everyone reading this combined) and had been moved down to the main showroom and discounted to make room for newer designs upstairs.

Still unconvinced, as we are not hardwired to splurge on anything until we have assured ourselves ourselves that we are getting the deal of a lifetime, I asked if it was possible to see the factory. Five minutes later we were sitting in a room full of kilns and various metal apparatuses watching a swarthy Italian man read the morning paper over a cigarette. After a short wait, and being joined by a family of potential customers, the men finished their break and went to work.

We watched two guys work on a clown sculpture. The process was amazing. They worked together gracefully, knowing each others movements with no apparent communication. They were precise but not gentle. They were patient, but with no hesitation. In short, they made something that is incredibly difficult look easy. They also convinced us to buy our vase.

Homemade pasta. Fresh seafood. Artisan breads. The best coffee.

I am convinced that this is what Italy is made of.

We have eaten incredibly well in this country, and for the most part, pretty cheaply, too.

Instead of boring you with allege details, here are some of the highlights:

– Brie and Truffle Trofie* (in Rome)
– Frigidarium gelato (in Rome)
– Carafes of house wine (everywhere)
– Pesto… Even on pizza! (in Cinque Terre)
– Lobster linguine under $10 (in CT)
– Fried anchovies (in CT)
– Fresh fish carpaccio (in CT)
– Scampi** and mushroom linguine (in CT)
– Gourmet grilled cheese (in our own Venetian kitchen)
– Spritz with Prosecco (in Venice)

It should also be noted that Eric has been incredibly brave, ordering many things off menus despite having no clue what they will end up being. Moreover, essentially every unknown dish has been tasty!

* Trofie are little hand-rolled pastas that also have a little potato mixed in, like gnocchi. They are our new favorite.

** This was no ordinary shrimp scampi. It consisted of GIANT prawns, completely whole. We had to tear them apart ourselves. Unlike Eric, I couldn’t bring myself to suck out the brains…

Please forgive the poor quality of these photos… They are all from my ancient 3G iPhone. But even while shown in poor quality, the view of the sunset from our table at Trattatoria del “Billy” on our last night in Cinque Terre is still worth writing home about:

After half of a day in Venice, I am still not sure what to think of it.

It sort of smells funny.

Everything is slightly askew.

The water continues to rise while the city continues to sink.

Its easy enough to understand why it might have once been the center of the world.

But seriously, who would build anything here?

To Venice. Lots of free Internet to mooch. Our apartment is gigantic. Off to explore now!

We seem to hit our stride by the last day in each locale. Today was wonderful. We started out by taking the much less strenuous stroll from Manarola to Riomaggiore. The walk itself was kind of annoying because the path was crowded with day tourists. It probably would have been a lot more tolerable if we had already had some coffee, but we hadn’t…

Anyway, the day improved dramatically when we found a very quiet, off the beaten path cafe. We savored our espressos and cappuccinos with fruit tart and cream pie for breakfast. Suddenly the morning was looking much brighter!

The harbor at Riomaggiore was quiet, and we spent much of the morning watching the fishermen bring their boats in and staring at the little fishes. After lunch of seafood pasta on the seaside, we explored the town.

The best part of the day was when we went swimming. We climbed down the rocks off the path between the two towns and found our own little swimming hole. The water was salty and turquoise and pretty much perfect.

Now Eric is off trying to get us a reservation at the best restaurant in town for this evening. Hopefully he’s successful. We tried going the first night we were here, but they were booked up.

Tomorrow we are setting out bright and early for Venice by train. After reading City of Falling Angels, it is probably the part of our trip I am most excited for…

The town church (and there is only one, I believe) is situated about 50 feet from our hotel. Apparently the priests/nuns/monks/whomever take their ringing of the bell VERY seriously. Not only is it loud as heck, but it goes off every hour on the hour and half hour from 7:00AM to 9:00PM.

This makes naps difficult.

Oh, and occasionally they ring the bell at other random times, like this morning at 7:12AM when it rang 36 times in a row, as if they were trying to say, “TIME TO GET UP, EVERYBODY!!!”

The bell was charming…. The first day, anyway. Not so much anymore.

We just woke up to our second and last day in a fairytale land. This is our view…

The Cinque Terre is comprised of five towns spread along a seven mile stretch of cliffs overhanging the ocean. Every hillside with enough earth has been terraced for grape growing, and the towns cling to rocky cliffs almost overhanging the ocean. This is a society that has been battling nature for hundreds of years, but at least now they have tourism to help out.

Yesterday we walked from our home base, Manarola (town #2) to Vernazza (town #4). I had forgotten since I was here last, seven years ago, what a tough hike it is. Very long, lots of up and down, and lots of old panting Germans. Corniglia, the town we passed through on the walk, was so charming that we would happily stay there next time despite a hellish climb from the train station.

Vernazza has the most crowds, most bars, most tourist shops, and perhaps the most beauty of the three towns we visited. All it takes, however, is two steps off the main drag and you are all alone. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a ton of time to enjoy this side of Vernazza, because Randi needed to get to a restroom,* and they are difficult to come by in these parts.

* R adds: OMG. Not to overshare, but I’ve never had to pee so badly in my entire life. That nasty, TP-less train station bathroom was like a golden oasis….