Much LAZIER than your average blogger  
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3.26.2007 - 51 comments 

One of the most awesome and breathtaking buildings I have ever seen was this one. Even though it is really hard to get the idea of how large and truly breathtaking the architecture is, one has to really be there to get the true feeling of not only the spiritualness of this place, to say nothing of its shear mass (no pun intended)!

I remember sitting many nights in a little sidewalk cafe along the Seine River just looking at this building (while having a very strong cup of caffe late) and noticing its thousands and thousands of bricks and mortar wondering how in the world they ever built this place. (I still wonder about that fact to this day.)

Notre Dame De Paris is a prominent landmark on the Île de la Cité. Which is for the little city little on which it sits. (Imaging Manhatten Island only much smaller. The seine flows on both sides of the Île de la Cité, hence the term "Left Bank" and "Right Bank." Actually... cutting the city into two halves; the Right Bank, to the north, and the Left Bank, to the south.
Though constructed in three stages, the cathedral was completed in 1250. This period witnessed Paris coming into its own force as a center of political power and commerce. No expense was spared in creating a church that would reflect the capital's newly won prestige. These were the 'development' years of early Gothic architecture, it was essential that Paris should contain an impressive cathedral featuring innovations to surpass such smaller towns as Sens and Noyon. An advantage which Paris possessed over other sites, was that the construction efforts were supported and encouraged by the the king, Louis VII.

They say that it does not belittle other cathedrals to refer to Notre Dame de Paris as the 'World Ambassador of Gothic Cathedrals.' History's winding ways have already decreed as much. For many, their first concept of Gothic derives from some reference to this grand structure. It matters not whether we have physically visited Notre Dame, or not... its persona dominates the Gothic landscape. Victor Hugo's famous novel featuring the moving characterization of the hunchback, Quasimodo, has served the notoriety of the cathedral well. Yet, factual history has claimed this aged lady as a prominent figure near the center stage of its own story.

Notre Dame de Paris, more than seven hundred years old, is only the most recent of holy houses to occupy this ancient sacred ground. The Celts held their services on this island in the seine, and atop their sacred groves the Romans built their own temple to Jupiter. In the early years of Christianity, a basilica dedicated to St. Etienne was constructed around 528 by Childebert. A church in the Romanesque manner replaced the basilica, and this stood until 1163 when work began on the structure which stands today.

Even though I took lots and lots of pictures at Notre Dame, this one was always special to me and seemed to remind me most of those nights in Paris gazing at it over the stronest cup of coffee in the world. They may call it coffee but, I would call it expresso. Starbucks... eat your heart out!

"And the cathedral was not only company for him, it was the universe; nay, more, it was Nature itself. He never dreamed that there were other hedgerows than the stained-glass windows in perpetual bloom; other shade than that of the stone foliage always budding, loaded with birds in the thickets of Saxon capitals; other mountains than the colossal towers of the church; or other oceans than Paris roaring at their feet." —Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris, 1831

3.15.2007 - 42 comments 

First, to those who sent me emails about being late with my post this week... let me just say, that I always post on Mondays, but this week, I had to make a last minute trip to Washington D.C. on Sunday morning and therefore was not able to do my post until now. I just flew in late tonight, so consider me EARLY for next week's post and not late for this week's post.

Auckland in and of itself is regularly voted one of the best lifestyle cities in the world, with the cosmopolitan city centre complemented by great escapes within half an hour of downtown. You can indulge in Auckland's shopping, nightlife and unrivalled cuisine and experience some of the many attractions and adventure activities on offer. Whatever your interests, you'll never be short of things to do in the City of Sails.

If you like me.... wonder why it is called the city of sails, I found out it is because the harbour is often dotted with hundreds of yachts and has more yachts per capita than any other city in the world.

The vibrant central city is nestled between the waters of two harbours - the Manukau and Waitemata - and dotted with extinct volcanic cones. Viaduct Harbour and Princes Wharf are focal points for seaside dining and entertainment. They are also the starting point for explorations of the harbour and Hauraki Gulf islands by boat or ferry. There are more than 800 parks (although we regretably did not visit any of them).

There are also reserves to explore, including the volcanic cones - you can find impressive views from the summits of Mt Eden, One Tree Hill and Rangitoto Island. All give different vantage points in which to view the city. And for many travellers staying in the central city, shopping is always on their agendas.

There are designer streets, boutique villages and malls packed with shops, galleries and great places to eat. Places like exploring Parnell, a boutique suburb with Victorian buildings, gardens, galleries and some of the best restaurants in Auckland.

Nearby is the Auckland Domain, a tranquil park of immaculately manicured gardens, lawns and ponds. At its center is the iconic Auckland Museum. If you continue on to Newmarket for some retail therapy (as the wives like to refer to it as), you can enjoy an array of designer fashion, lifestyle stores, cafes and restaurants.

Just Southwest of Newmarket is the suburb of Mt Eden, where you can climb the extinct volcano Maungawhau for spectacular 360 degree views of the city. Close by in Kingsland is Eden Park, New Zealand's largest stadium, where it's possible to catch a game of rugby or cricket. If you know which either of those are? I would say as an American, the closest we can get to those are perhaps football and baseball.

The best way to see the central city is on foot. You'll find a bustling and cosmopolitan world of clothing and jewellery (sic in USA) stores, souvenir shops and cafes. Head to the boutique areas of High Street and The Chancery for designer clothing and then find a restaurant for lunch. For an active afternoon, head to the waterfront to get out on the water or walk over the Auckland Harbour Bridge for other breathtaking views of the city and harbour.

You may not be able to tell it from this particular picture, but they say that because of the high concentration of people (and cars) in Auckland, that its smog can be as bad as Mexico City and Los Angeles at times. Fortunatly that was not the case when we were there.

Auckland itself is on what is called the North Island because New Zealand itself is really made up of two islands made into one country. It is beautiful and green (well outside of the cities that is). It was one of those... "I want to come back here again someday" kind of places for me.

"When we get out of the glass bottle of our ego and when we escape like the squirrels in the cage of our personality and get into the forest again, we shall shiver with cold and fright. But things will happen to us so that we don't know ourselves. Cool, unlying life will rush in. . ." - D. H. Lawrence

3.04.2007 - 34 comments 

Monticello is actually the home of Thomas Jefferson. And at this place you can explore the house, gardens, and plantation of Monticello, the mountaintop home of the third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independance.

If you perhaps think that this place looks kind of familiar to you... it is because an image of the west front of Monticello (the same direction of the shot I took pictured here) was featured on the reverse of the 5 cent coin of the United States of America coined from 1938 to 2003 (the image also returns to the reverse on the 2006 coin design). It is also on the reverse of the United States of America two dollar bill that was printed on it from 1928 to 1966.

The house is of Jefferson's own design and is situated on the summit of an 850-foot-high peak in the Southwest Mountains south of the Rivanna Gap. Monticello, in Italian, means "little mountain." Monticello is the only home in the United States of America that has been designated a World Heritage Site. From 1989 to 1992, a team of architects from the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) painstakingly created a collection of measured drawings of Monticello.

These drawings are now kept at the Library of Congress. The World Heritage Site designation also includes the original grounds of Jefferson's University of Virginia.Thoughout the house and grounds, you can view examples of Jefferson's inventiveness like: A Moldboard Plow of Least Resistance, a Wheel Cipher (similar to the one used in the movie "The DaVinci Code"). And a Spherical Sundial.

Some of the other innnovations Employed at Monticello by Jefferson were a Revolving Bookstand, a Polygraph (Copying) Machine and Monticello's Great Clock, a Weathervane Compass Rose under the Northeast Portico. A Concave Mirror, a Dumbwaiter and even a wine Dumbwaiter. All of these things were things that Thomas Jefferson himself had either invented and or designed for his home.

When you think about all the things that he built and invented, it was strange that he ever had the time to be the President of the United States of America.

As we took our tour of this place, I just found it really great that this house was so inivative. As we went to the solarium, they showed us the windows that he had shipped from France to use in this area of the house and how really beautifully it accented the house and made you feel like you were in a garden rather than a house.

As if this house (and the Declaration of Independance were not enough) for Jefferson, on January 18, 1800, Thomas Jefferson, (then only Vice President of the United States), alluded to plans for a new college in a letter written to British scientist Joseph Priestley: "We wish to establish in the upper country of Virginia, and more centrally for the State, a University on a plan so broad and liberal and modern, as to be worth patronizing with the public support, and be a temptation to the youth of other States to come and drink of the cup of knowledge and fraternize with us." And that was the beginning of the University of Virginia and how it got its start in Charlottesville.

Monticello itself is located in Albemarle County in the Piedmont region of Central Virginia. Monticello is on Va. Route 53 near the intersection of Interstate 64 and Va. Route 20, approximately two miles southeast of Charlottesville, seven miles from the University of Virginia, 70 miles from Richmond, (which was were we came from to visit the house). It is also 110 miles from Williamsburg, and 125 miles from Washington, D.C.While this site is really not very close to much of anything other than Charlottesville, Virginia, it is still worth the trip if you are ever within 150 miles of the place. As famous and "larger than life" as Monticello seems, the house itself is actually no larger than a typical large home.

Jefferson considered much furniture to be a waste of space, so the dining room table was erected only at mealtimes, and beds were built into alcoves cut into thick walls that contain storage space. Jefferson's bed opens to two sides: to his cabinet (study) and to his bedroom (dressing room). But this house and our visit to it, will be to me, an awesome adventure and one that I will always remember enjoying.

"I am happy nowhere else... and in no other society, all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end... at Monticello." ~ Thomas Jefferson