Saturday, September 13, 2008

France and Frankenkitty

I got in from France very late Monday night and honestly meant to write sooner, but this pesky thing called life keeps getting in the way.

France was pretty much perfect. After nearly 30 hours of flights, layovers, and trains, I could barely stay awake until I saw the French Alps and realized it was totally worth it. Worth having to give up my cushy aisle seat for a middle seat on an 8 hour international flight to appease a family with screaming children. Worth the 6 hours I had to spend guarding my suitcase at Gare de Lyon train station rather than walking around Paris for an afternoon. And worth the nauseating car ride 5 km winding up the side of a mountain once the train from Paris arrived in the Alps. Because when I finally dropped my suitcase in my room and opened the sliding door to the balcony, this is what I saw:

The conference center was on the outskirts of a small ski resort town in the Alps. The center itself was built specifically for French scientists and can be used either as a conference center or a vacation spot for the scientists and their families. The rooms were small, but since my assigned roommate didn't show, it was fine for just me.

Everyone told me that this particular conference (one of a series on a diverse set of topics) would be entirely different than any I had been to. I am used to going to large conferences with thousands of physicists where there are multiple presentation sessions going on for 12 hours a day. This conference consisted of 102 physicists, all with the same research interests. It was the first year that grad students and post docs were especially encouraged to go, which was why I got the funding and was able to go. There was only 1 session at a time, and only held in the mornings and evenings. The afternoons were free for us to socialize and network. We were
especially encouraged to go hiking in the mountains and visit the small down down the hill.

The first full morning of the conference, I met a French woman who is just finishing her Ph.D. in Switzerland. We hit it off amazingly well and spent the whole week hiking and learning about each other's cultures. The conference was mostly Europeans, so I got a very eye-opening lesson as to what fascinating research is being done overseas and how oblivious American scientists can be at times. The frustration they felt about their lack of recognition in America was palpable and led to a little tension at times. But it was a lesson I am grateful to have learned, and these bigger truths were in a sense far more important than the details of the research presentations.

After and exhausting 5 days hiking in the Alps and listening to presentations, I took the train back to Paris and stayed there for 3 days. Despite my fatigue, I was bound and determined to make the absolute most of my short time in Paris. So after a four-hour train ride and dumping my bags in my hotel room, I set out on foot for le Louvre.

Honestly, visiting le Louvre wasn't initially on my list of things to do, but it was Friday evening and not much else in Paris is open, except restaurants. I overheard someone on the train saying it was open until 10 pm so I thought I'd go see what all the fuss was about. I spent several hours wandering aimlessly through the museum trying to make sense of the layout. And my tour book said they had made substantial improvements in general navigation around le Louvre. But I did see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo along with miles of other paintings, sculptures and artifacts.

The next day was "Catholic Day" as I visited Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle. These were my favorite places I visited. I am embarrassed to say that I had no idea Notre Dame was still in use as a church and was surprised to see a mass going on and tons of religious pilgrims flocking to this holy site. In between tours of the cathedral, I took the tour of the towers which consisted of climbing the approximately four hundred stairs of one tower and walking outside along the perimeter of Notre Dame to the bell tower on the other side. This is where I saw the infamous gargoyles that guard Notre Dame and watch over the city of Paris. The view from the towers was absolutely amazing.

But the gargolyes were my favorite.

In the bell tower, you could actually go see the bell that was made famous by Vicor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Next, I went to Sainte-Chappelle, a holy chapel that was build in the confines of the palace of Louis IX. It was built to house holy relics (among them supposedly the crown of thorns) which were only on display to the public on Good Friday. The chapel itself was absolutely stunning, the second floor walls (the main part of the chapel) were mosly made of stained glass. I have never seen anything like it. While the size was nothing like Notre Dame, the beauty and intricacy of the stained glass was just as humbling.

The third day I took the shuttle boat up and down la Seine where I first visited Musee d'Orsay, which houses just about every impressionist painting you can think of. And thousands more you didn't know existed. I also walked along le Champs-Elysees from la Seine to l'Arc du Triomphe, which was pretty cool. I saw some filthy rich people shopping, more people gawking (such as myself) and several beautiful women who were probably models. Lastly I went le Tour Eiffel. It was getting too late for me to go to the top, which was just as good. It was packed.

Unfortunately, since I was a woman travelling alone I was too scared to do much at night. I mostly tried to finish up my sightseeing right around dusk and then ate dinner in the evening pretty close to the hotel. It's not that I felt particularly unsafe in Paris at night, but the streets were so tangly and the stores all closed early and I was really scared I'd get irretrievably lost.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip. I was scared to death to go and wished Dean could have come with but it was worth all the time and stress leading up to it. I am trying to get the rest of my approximately 3 million photos loaded to share with anyone who wants to see. While I recognize this shouldn't be difficult, I expect it to take a little time and it's not currently at the top of the list so it might have to wait awhile.

Lastly, McLovin had his surgery on Wednesday. His incision is a little scary (we have dubbed him Frankenkitty) but he is already moving better than he was when he still had the bad arm. His posture has improved dramatically and he has made the transition to full-fledged tripod without incident. I can't seem to get a really good picture of him, but I got a pretty close one of the surgery site because it's so freaky. Because he's still so little, they had to practically shave him bald and the incision seems to take up his whole right side. I think he'll look a lot better once the fur grows back. But for now, he's definitely comfortable. The vet said to ease her own mind she opened up the arm during surgery and confirmed there was very little blood flow and the tissue looked unhealthy. Despite my initial reservations, this was definitely the right thing to do.


Jeni said...

First -welcome back home! Second, thanks for posting such great pictures as well as a narrative of your experiences in France/Switzerland! Sounds like it was a fantastic time crammed into too few days though!
And as to the kitten and the arm loss -my neighbor's cat got his arm caught in a trap a couple years ago and it was very badly mangled. The vet removed it, cat healed up very nicely and today, that cat is in and out of her house, wanders around over here at times and still has his taste for "hunting" too! Aren't you glad though that you made this decision and how much eventually, it will help poor "Frankenkitty?"

fermicat said...

McLovin! What a super kitty. I know he is gonna be fine.

dr sardonicus said...

Sounds like you had fun! Best wishes for a speedy recovery for McLovin.

Jackie said...

Welcome Back! Loved the pictures, and happy the kitty is doing well!

Dianne said...

Welcome Home!
The pics are amazing, especially the stained glass. That must have been something to see up close. I'm so pleased that you went.

McLovin won't be Frankenkitty for long. Little guy has a lot of names doesn't he? lol

I'm so pleased that he is doing well and you are all together.

On to the next adventure.

Beth said...

Wow, what amazing photographs. I am so totally jealous ... and so happy for a new healthy McLovin!

Oh, and LOVED the gargoyle photo. They're my favorite as well.

Hot4Teacha said...

So glad you had a great time in France - yay! And McLovin looks like he's going to be fine - with great parents like you & Dean, how could he not?

ammanners said...

Oh my god that is just fantastic - It really seems like a great experience. What a wonderful opportunity you were given.

I am so behind on e-mails, etc. Things are kind of crazy. Though I think we have a resolution of the welcome dinner for the night before the wedding - so thank you for the input.

When do you guys move?

ammanners said...

Oh my god that is just fantastic - It really seems like a great experience. What a wonderful opportunity you were given.

I am so behind on e-mails, etc. Things are kind of crazy. Though I think we have a resolution of the welcome dinner for the night before the wedding - so thank you for the input.

When do you guys move?

LL said...

Niiiice. Looks like you had a great time, and a well deserved working vacation.

Although I'd wager you still haven't caught up on your rest...

spants said...


Glad you had a good time in France. Start planning to take Dean there because you know you want to go back.

fermicat said...

How's McLovin doing?

Silvio is having some problems now. :-(

magnetbabe said...


Thanks, I'm not the best photographer, but had to share some of my best shots. I think we did make the right decision. He gets better and better everyday and amazes me with how well-adjusted he is.

Everyone has to say it with an exclamation point. Read your post and commented this morning. Hoping for a speedy recovery for Silvio. He's a fighter.

dr. s,
Tons of fun. Now back to the reality of packing up and moving.

Thanks, it's good to be back. Kitty is still doing great.

On to the next adventure is right. Ray/McLovin/Frankenkitty gets his stitches out Monday so no, he won't be Frankenkitty for much longer. ;)

By far I took the most photos of the gargoyles. I felt like I had to take a picture of every singe one! They were each distinct and unique. I can't wait to show you more.

Yes, there aren't a lot of suckers who would take in a 4th (or 3rd) kitty and then go through what we've gone through with him. I like to think it's some kind of prep for human babies, no matter how small.

Totally understand about being busy. Glad you found a resolution. We're heaing out either the 29th or 30th. Coming up soon....

I'm STILL trying to catch up on rest. I don't think that'll happen though until we are settled, literally, in our next location.

You took the hint. ;)
I would love to go back with Deano as part of a longer trip. There was more stuff in Paris I wanted to do, but I also would love to spend more time in the countryside, see Italy, Greece, too much to do!

See my comment to you above. Keeping fingers crossed.

spants said...

magnetbabe - I just got internet at home right before your last post. I was reading on my BlackBerry. The browser didn't always agree with Blogger's commenting system. So, no comments for awhile.

Dave & Marty said...

Hi Nat! ... Geb forwarded a link to your blog, and I had great fun reliving some of my own trips as I read about yours. (I'm jealous of your side trip to Paris, though ... despite my millions of travel miles, Paris was never on the list!).
I have to admit to a tear or two watching your movie of Frankenkitty pre-surgery, and you definitely did the right thing ... animals seem to manage the loss of a limb much better than humans.
Hope we'll get chance to see you on your next trip north ... pool is closing Oct 2nd, so we're giving the cabana boy a rest until May ...
Lots of love ... Marty & Dave

magnetbabe said...

No matter, welcome back and I'm enjoying your political blogging.

dave & marty!!!
Welcome! I was pleasantly surprised you stopped by. I really hope you get to see Paris one of these days, you would absolutely love it. And the wine! The wine was awesome. I'll definitely make a point to see you guys next time I'm in town (not before the pool closes though, shoot!). I can't wait to see how you two will spoil your grandson, who will be arriving so shortly!