I am in France, attempting to update this from an internet cafe, but the keyboard's letters are in different places than on an American keyboard, and I only have 45 minutes until the cafe closes for lunch (everything in France except the occasional restaurant closes for two hours at noon), so this may get cut short before I finish. In the interest of time, I'm only going to write about the days I actually did stuff.
Ok, let's get started...
Day 1: Arrival
I flew AirIndia because it was the cheapest flight I could get. The plane was kind of stinky and there were three babies around me. It was not the best flight I've ever been on. On the plus side, the in-flight meal consisted of chicken curry. Not bad. I arrived at Charles De Gaulle airport pretty much on time, met my parents (they flew on an earlier flight from Syracuse), picked up the rental car, and immediately set off for Basel, Switzerland.
Here are my initial impressions of Basel: The thing that struck me the most is that nobody locks up their bikes. Everyone rides a bike, and there are tons of bicycles parked everywhere, but none of them are locked up! Some would have locks connecting the front wheel to the frame, but then not locked to anything, just parked on the sidewalk. And many weren't locked at all. I was shocked. I guess people there don't have to worry about their bikes getting stolen. It makes me jealous. That would never fly in NY.
So other things I noticed: There is public art everywhere. There was a statue on practically every street corner, some modern and some classical. There were also these printed sheets of sheer fabric suspended between the buildings on narrow streets. I don't know if that's a usual thing or a specific festival, because there was no information about it anywhere, but it was really cool nonetheless. I also stumbled upon a random Richard Serra piece near a fountain in the center of the city. The other thing that was everywhere was graffiti. It was even on old, beautiful buildings and a lot of the statues, which I was not a fan of. As much as I like (good) graffiti, there's a code graf writers are supposed to follow, which is no doing it on historical buildings, art, or people's houses.
We went to the culture museum in the morning, which was having an exhibit on the color red, and how it ties into every facet of human culture (life, death, religion, etc), in all different cultures across the world. It was an absolutely riveting exhibition and was exceedingly well done. Every theme got its own separate room, which was then filled with red artifacts that ranged from traditional art such as paintings, to objects such as clothing and even a red Ferrari. Red was also used throughout each room just in the set-up alone. The black cubes that small items sat on, for example, were surrounded by a border of red light on the floor. In addition, every object was numbered, and every museum visitor was given a booklet that explained all the items in great depth. You would need hours and hours to read every description, but as it was, my parents and I had a 2 o'clock appointment to ride a boat around the city, so we gave up on reading everything after an hour and a half or so. Even without reading everything, though, the pieces on display were still incredible. Plus you get to keep the book, so you can finish reading everything any time you want.
So next we had lunch and went on a boat ride similar to NY's Circle Line tours. It took us up and down the Rhine, with an announcer explaining things in German (and English, thankfully). The northern end of the river was the historical area, with lots of beautiful old buildings overlooking the river, and the south was the really ugly industrial area. At the south end, though, were more swans in one place than I've ever seen in my life. There were dozens hanging around the riverbeds.
Drove back to France, to the Burgundy region. We arrived in Avallon, a tiny and adorable Medieval town surrounded by ramparts. We wandered around the town in the morning, then went to a castle in Chatellux in the afternoon. This castle has been owned by the same family since the 1300s. The owners during the French Revolution actually had to leave France to avoid being killed. The current owner gave a small tour. The guy was a wee bit grumpy (how French) and he said he's a member of the "Legitimiste" political party, which means he thinks the monarch should be reinstated. Mmmkay. He gave a tour of just a few rooms on the first floor. The two best rooms were the salon and the library. The salon had paintings of the men of the family throughout the centuries. The paintings themselves weren't in particularly good shape, but the stories about them were great. These men spent time with royalty, and one of the later ones was friends with George Washington.
We went to Vezelay, another medieval town surrounded by ramparts and a stunning view of the countryside. The town's cathedral was really nice. It was smallish, but had an usual amount of light. Usually, gothic cathedrals are dark and somewhat foreboding inside, but this one was quite pleasant. Apparently, it was designed so that on the longest summer day of the year, the light coming in the windows projects a specific pattern onto the floor. In Vezelay, my parents and I also stumbled upon the town cemetery, which had an additional section that contained older headstones, from the early 1800s. The old section isn't really being taken care of anymore, so a lot of the stones were crumbling and overgrown with grass and weeds. It was really neat.
After Vezelay, we stopped at these prehistoric caves in Arcy-Sur-Cure that have cave paintings from approximately 24-28,000 years ago. They're the second oldest cave paitings in the world. The cave formations themselves were absolutely incredible as well. I felt like I was walking through the "Caves" episode of "Planet Earth." And we were allowed to get surprisingly close to the cave paintings, of which there aren't that many, because in the 40s people went down there with oil lamps and got soot all over the walls. Then when they tried to clean off the soot, they destroyed 80% of the paintings. But the ones that are left consist of mammoths and prehistoric rhinos. Farther away from the main paintings was an additional small one, of a hand outlined by red. This was the one that struck me the most. It's near the ground, and is very small, so odds are it was a child who made it. It was really incredible. I could picture my own hand over top of it.
After the caves, we headed to Veules-Les-Roses in Normandy, where I've spent the last three days. But that will have to wait, because I am out of time. The cafe's about to close!