17 October 2011

Guess What This Is

During the Montmarte walking tour, Pauline pointed out this unique concept.

Do you know what it is?

A few clues:

During the 1800's someone noticed the people of Paris drank more wine than any other liquid and decided this really wasn't in the city's best interest.

We pay big money for something that is available naturally in the city.

Horses needed to be kept away from these for sanitation.

Comments??? Anyone???

15 October 2011

Discover Walks Montmarte

This was my third trip to Paris.  While I was familiar with many of the famous landmarks and had perused the Louvre and D'Orsay museums, this trip I made many new discoveries thanks to Discover Walks.

Missy and I spent Saturday morning at the humongous Les Puces flea market, having written down the time and location for the Discover Walk "just in case," and as luck would have it checked our watches and noted we had just enough time to catch the Metro and meet the tour... that was meeting at the top of the Metro stairs in front of the famous Moulin Rouge!  How convenient was that!?!

Discover Walks are tours led by indigenous Parisians who share not only the popularly known history of the city, but little known facts interspersed with their own personal history. It's a simple business model; meet a guide wearing a hot pink vest at a time-certain in front of an easy-to-find landmark, take the tour and tip your guide at the end based on your value of the tour.

Make no mistake about it, these guides are professionals.  Some are college students, others history or city planning graduates, and one of my favorites, a former professional ballet dancer who is writing a book and giving tours to support himself.  They are required to be certified by the city to be a tour guide but the tour is all their own.

The Moulin Rouge - world's most famous cabaret.
The first Discover Walk tour we took was with Pauline, an adorable college student, who lead us around Montmarte, sharing history and legends about the popular artists' hang-out of the early 1900's.  Pauline started the tour by doing a little demonstration of the can-can dance made famous at the Moulin Rouge then went on to show us photos of some of the caberet's most notorious patrons and featured acts.
Can-can dance instructions
She proceeded to lead us through the beautiful Montmarte, pointing out houses where painters we all knew, Dali, van Gogh, Picasso, had lived and worked.
Walking through Montmarte
She shared legends about other resident's great tragedies and triumphs, explained why a certain alley was called "fog alley, " and lead us all the way to Sacre Coure telling us why she believed it was built with magic stones as a child.
One of Paris' most famous tragedies said to live in a cursed house.  Can you guess what legend says you must rub to be sure you break the curse from staying with you?

Sacre Coure
The tour took a couple of hours, a little longer than the pre-stated time, but I think all of us would have stayed for another hour or two to listen to the lovely Pauline.   We inquired and learned that the guides share 50% of their tips with the Discover Walks organization to help pay for website maintenance, advertising and other administrative costs.  Most walking tours charge 12-15€ so we tried to tip at least that much, agreeing if we could, we would have tipped much more.  It was worth every penny.

14 October 2011

Money and Travel

Prior to leaving for Europe I called my bank about buying some Euros to line my pocket before leaving the U.S.

They shared with me that the best way to do this was to actually wait until the plane landed and then go to an ATM with my bank card and withdraw currency.  This works especially well for me because my bank has agreements with almost every ATM company and reimburses fees associated with using an ATM.  My bank offered the most favorable exchange rate for local currency using the ATM method.
Another thing to note is the use of coins as single and two euro denominations.  I know I take for granted intuitively knowing our American coin denominations, reflecting on first grade education.  It's the most startling when you count your change and it feels like you're being shorted because there is no "one" euro paper bill.  Be sure to check and know if you're handing a one or two euro coin to pay for something.

Also, the 10 and 20 cent coins are very close in size.  This will be important to know when you're trying to read the coins without glasses to give the nice lady guarding the public bathroom door her 40 cents.  Not to worry, should you get it wrong she will chase you down to let you know.  For what it's worth these bathrooms are always tidy and well stocked with toilet paper and soap, in my experience, so it's worth the 40 cents.

It also merits understanding how your credit card converts the price of purchases you charge.  My last trip I did not have a strong grasp of this (in addition to my weak mental money conversion skills) and ended up paying more fees for using my credit card and higher exchange rates than I expected.  This trip I purposely used a credit card that had no fees for currency exchange.  Occasionally you will be asked if you prefer your charges in Euros or Dollars.  Always choose the local currency; using the offer to convert to dollars has additional fees attached that may be hidden.

As for converting prices mentally when making purchases, it is a moving target.  Generally speaking it seemed that if I added about 30% to the price I was in the general vicinity of an item's cost in dollars.  After a while I just started thinking in Euros and thus fooled myself into believing things were less expensive than they were.  Fortunately I'm a deep discount shopper anyway so this didn't hurt me, but if you are a shop-a-holic at home there are a ton of apps you can download on your phone to help do the conversion and most store clerks are helpful as well.

Please comment with your conversion tips as they may be the most helpful thing to know when traveling abroad.

First Day in Paris

Four weeks ago this morning I was waking up for my first full day of my European adventure.  I was staying in the lovely Marriott Rive Gauche thanks to my buddy's contribution of Marriott points (thank you Greg!) so that his wife and I might enjoy one less expense on our trip.  I generally stay in quaint boutique hotels that charge less than 100 € per night, so I definitely felt like I was living large.
Evening view from Marriott Rive Gauche 15th Floor room.
One thing that always confounds me is the more expensive the hotel, the less that is included.  Not to worry, Greg had Gold status and we were treated to free Wi-Fi and Executive lounge privileges.  Here's the kicker, with the Executive Lounge privileges, we had a wonderful breakfast, usually scrambled eggs, bacon, pastries and all the soda (Missy) and coffee (me) you could drink, AND half of the time we ate our evening meal and drank copious amounts of wine during the lounge's "tea time" thus saving us loads of money.

For those of you in the know about the ebbs and flows of my personal finances who were questioning how I could afford to take a trip right now, there's part one of your answer!  The other part was I was able to schedule a portrait commission in the Netherlands that made it a working vacation.

Le Car Rouge bus tour
One of the first things I like to do when seeing a new city is take a guided bus tour.  Usually over the course of a couple of hours you can see a city's tourist attractions, and better plan what you would like to look at more closely.

Drive-by Shot from tour bus.

TRAVEL TIP:  I have used the touring company Viator previously and in the name of thinking ahead we purchased our tickets for the "hop-on hop-off" bus online.  This was completely unnecessary as you can purchase the tickets for this from the bus driver.  Viator only offered a two day pass and while this sounded good, we, in fact, only used the pass for one day.  After half the tour, we did our first "hop-off" and then completed the circuit later that afternoon.

With the metro system and very easy walking, you would not elect to use the bus as your transportation between destinations after you planned your touring locations.

Drive-by Shot from tour bus.

Net/Net:  Do take a guided bus tour of popular attractions and listen to the information:  Don't buy a two day pass through an online tour company, purchase from the bus driver.  Viator has some excellent offers, but this isn't one of them.
Drive-by Shot from tour bus.

10 September 2011

iTech Tips

I kind of resent the book titles that end in "for Dummies" or "for Idiots" because I can be self deprecating enough with a book insinuating I might be less intelligent than I am.

Prime example, I've had my iPhone for several months now.  My mobile phone stopped working when we were dealing with the accident and my dear hubby was able to pick up an iPhone 3 quickly so that I could stay connected.  Completely distracted by more important things at the time and too lazy as they calmed down, I never really investigated the ins and outs of best practices when using my iTechnology.

This week I was teaching a class and one student asked another "have you been turning off your applications on your iPhone when you're not using them?" and then showed him how to do that.  I just stood back and watched and then gave it try when I returned home, feeling silly that I never bother to learn this little battery saving trick.  It applies to all the i's - iPhone and iPad and iPod, and because I don't want anyone else to ever feel "stupid" for not knowing, this is how you do it.

This button on your iTech product is called the "home button."

If you press it two times quickly, the current screen will slide up a row and a new row of icons will be displayed.  These icons represent what is currently running in the background of your iProduct.

row of icons
Using your finger, double tap on an icon you want to turn off will cause it to do that cute little jiggle icons on your iTech products do to allow you to delete them or move them around on your screen.  In that bottom row they will have a little red circle with a minus sign in the upper left corner of each icon.

fuzzy because they are jiggling
Tap one time with your finger and it will turn off that application running in the background.

tap minus sign to turn off application
Doing this regularly will make your iTech product run much more efficiently, including extending time between the need to recharge your battery!  How cool is that.

Conversely, if you are in the middle of using one application and need to switch to another, when you want to return to the previous application double click on the home key so that the row of open applications appears and single tap on the application to return it to open on your screen.

09 September 2011

Packing Lite

This is my fourth journey overseas and I'm getting really good at packing light.  I'm going to be traveling for three weeks and I'm only taking ONE carry on bag and a purse and THAT's IT!

There are a lot of reasons I'm committed to this:

1. When traveling in Europe there's no guarantee you will have an elevator or escalator and you may be faced with lugging your bags up tons of stairs.

2.  There is NOTHING I own that is going to impress anyone overseas, so why try?  I go for flexibility, layering and most of all, comfort.

3.  I hate checking luggage and avoid it as often as possible.  Within Europe you frequently HAVE to check your luggage, but they are very strict on weight.  One trip my mother and I bought wine and ended up paying so much for the weight overage we could have bought the wine at home cheaper.

I bought this bag a few years ago because it was the right size to carry on but looked different than most carry-on bags so I'd be less likely to unzip in my hotel room only to find it full of someone else's belongings.  A whole new meaning to the question "did you pack your bag yourself?"

You can't see it in the picture, but this is a roller bag, and with the exception of rolling over cobblestones, it works very well.  There is a zipper about six inches from the bottom that opens into an easy access flat area.  When I'm traveling with my computer, it fits perfectly in this space and is super easy to remove at security without exposing my packed delicates to the rest of the line.  I'm only taking my iPad this trip so I will likely put the two pair of shoes I'll take with me in the lower space, wedging in socks and jammies for a tight fit.

I use those handy dandy squeeze-the-air out compressed packing bags (or "squishy bags" as I like to call them) to put my clothes in the top part of the bag.  I pretty much only take knits and denim, so these bags work great.
photo borrowed from Amazon
Throughout my journey I reorganize the bags to contain only dirty laundry, or only what I need for the one night stay-over somewhere.  My last trip I hand-washed laundry on the fly. This time I should have access to laundry facilities; either way, much easier than carrying too much luggage.

Packing light takes a bit of planning.  Last week I pulled a hanging rack out of the laundry room and started placing items on it to look at and decide what's necessary and what to leave home.  I packed for a shorter trip without the rack once and ended up leaving the two dresses I sat out for the ceremonies we were attending on the chair in my bedroom!  Note to self, don't change the routine.
All of this should fit in my carry-on luggage with the help of the above squishy bags.

I really didn't intend on only taking black, gray, white and denim, but that was the most readily available for purchase and mixing and matching.  The weather will be all over the place, from chilly to hot, so layering is key.  Furthermore, almost everything I'm taking is either older or if purchased new, very inexpensive (like, $15 or under) from the TJ Maxx or Ross.  I do this on purpose so if I acquire something new on my travels I can discard something I brought with no regrets.

I always take an extra duffle bag that is folded and zipped down to the size of a pack of playing cards JUST in case I get carried away with purchases and need the extra room to carry them home.  I've yet to unzip it.

I don't take a hair dryer and make-up and toiletries are put in ziplock bags for easy wedging (and pulling out at the security line when necessary).

While packing light is adverse to the norm in the U.S., making it work while abroad, particularly when traveling alone, really simplifies life for the above mentioned reasons as well as limiting choices so that it's actually easier to get dressed and start enjoying the day.

Six days and counting!

08 September 2011

Cool New Art Ideas

I've always been fascinated with computers.  In high school I was the lone female in the BASIC computer class offered through the AV department, taught on T100's.  We saved our work on cassette tapes at the end of a session.

I doubt my 18-year-old remembers life before computers.  I was expecting her when I read about this exciting new resource, "the internet."  I asked around, focusing on my favorite geeky neighbors, if anyone had access to this new information pool; no one did.

And now I use the computer to do everything, include create art.  Even more exciting, today when I did a Google search for "kaleidoscope" my Youtube video came up on the first page. Not sure how as the viewing numbers are still single digits, but I'll take it!

There are two types of "digital art," computer generated and user driven traditional emulation.  Most of the time the computer generated art is based on vectors, or numeric algorithms that create paths, fills and strokes.  Flash and Illustrator are vector driven programs.  I prefer pixel driven digital art.  Pixels are tiny colored dots, or really squares, lined up to created a picture.  I think of them of little pools of paint.  Working with pixels in Corel Painter is more intuitive and feels more natural if you come from a traditional painting background.

I've been using Photoshop and Corel Painter (both registered trademark names) for many years.  The learning curve for Painter was steeper, but in the long run it has been far superior for painting intuitively in a traditional manner.  That's not to say that there aren't some great tools included that I only wish I had in my wet painting studio.

I bought my first digital camera about ten years ago.  A creature of habit I still had my prints done at a retail kiosk and I remember a conversation I had one day with the clerk about how cool it would be if you could somehow create a kaleidoscope from an interesting image.

Corel did a major overhaul of Painter this year and released in June a significantly different, and I think much improved (and I loved the old one) product.  As a fun addition it includes a plug-in that will create a kaleidoscope based on what you draw in a section of the pie shaped grid it provides for you.


I made this little video just for fun while I was figuring out how to use screen capture software to make videos.  I honestly don't know for certain how this kaleidoscope tool is driven, it almost seems like it has a vector based influence while I push the pixels.  Best of both worlds?  My vision for future use is as part of larger painting, almost as if doing a virtual collage and incorporating a kaleidoscope creation.  In the mean time enjoy the visual curiosity.

The discussions about digital art have changed over the years.  I submitted a body of work to the federal copyright office in the early 2000's and actually received a call from an indignant representative of the office saying "So what did you do, just scan some photos and press a button on the computer?"   While that was not my process and I laughed and said "I wish!" and gave her a few details about the complexity of the digital painting process, this was a sentiment resounded many times over the years.  I don't hear that question anymore, more often it's "can you show me how to do this?" and the explanation is more education than defensive.

Now I can easily say "It's just another tool for artist.  And like any other art tool, some will use it better than others and after a while we will be able to distinguish who has a mastery of skill and who just pushes a single button on the computer."

Questions, comments and intelligent discussion about this baby genre of art are welcome.

06 September 2011

I'm Writing a Novel

I read somewhere that the feeling you get from discussing a new concept before you attempt to execute it often discourages people from following through, to bringing the concept to fruition.

Tell someone you're going to write a song and feel their heightened excitement as they ask you questions about your idea and you've achieved the "feeling" of achievement as IF you had completed the task.  Having that "feeling" is enough to stop the creative flow.

I'm taking a risk here.

I'm writing a novel.  It's been in my head for a few years now based on an observation I've had about human nature, materialism and the merging of the two thoughts "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" and "never judge another until you have walked in their shoes."

I am a reader, sometimes reading three or four books a week, many at the same time.  I read several newspapers and e-zines daily.  It has come to my attention that we are in a significant time of change in the world as information becomes available to those previously excluded by virtue of geography or other significant obstacles.

If you watch the series Mad Men, it's interesting to hear the scripted comments of the 1960's that are repeated today, but have expanded meanings.  Then, advertising was the driving force alerting people that they wanted more than they had.  Today, I would say it's reality television as lifestyles that really do not reflect what is typical for most people show what the extremes of consumerism can be.

Store Front in Venice
One of the main themes of my novel is how people can have the same things, but their reasons for having them and their feelings about these things will be vastly different based on their root values.  Not a condemnation of any perspective, just an awakening that there are many perspectives even about the same things.

So there I've done it.  I'm sharing what I plan to do at risk of feeling satisfied enough with the sharing that I will fail to complete the whole story.

Facebook ~ Helps you be Lucky!

My husband and I have long believed the definition of lucky is preparedness meeting opportunity.

Last year I was "friended" by a guy who was a little bit more than an acquaintance from my high school days in the midwest.  Turns out he lived about ten miles away as the crow flies, here in Georgia.  As we prepared to venture back to the midwest for our 26th (not a typo) year class reunion we decided, via Facebook, we should meet for dinner with our spouses.

There is something really fun about hanging out with people who understand where you came from.  We both live very differently than we were raised, but you can't change your roots.  Since that dinner date we have created a great friendship and enjoy spending time together as couples and I've also adopted his wife as one of my closest friends.

She is Missy.  The friend who invited me to join her in Paris.

Last spring I received an apologetic private note on Facebook from a gentleman asking if I was the daughter of my parents, high school friends of his.  He currently lives in Amsterdam.  I was in the middle of dealing with the accident so I didn't respond right away.

After she returned from a gathering of high school friends I thought to ask my mother who this fella was and should I respond to his inquiry.  She emphatically said yes, I would probably enjoy chatting with him, my aunt had been corresponding with him for some time.   And while we have never met face to face, because of common friends, and again, a common history by virtue of being raised in rural Indiana, we are looking forward to meeting when I extend my European journey by a week to visit Amsterdam.

Thus, participation on Facebook has manifested some serious luck for me, if you abide by the definition preparedness meeting opportunity that is.

Ten Days and Counting

I'm on the ten day countdown to landing in Paris and starting my second "Love, Eat, Create" journey (thank you Elizabeth Gilbert).  In 2009 I took my first one, a solo trip to Italy and Slovenia with the intent of figuring out who I was artistically and regrouping following a rough 2008.  I came back renewed and full of energy that lead to, literally, people begging me to show my art.

Trieste Italy - Adriatic Sea

Early this summer I decided I needed to do it again.  My youngest was preparing to leave for college, mostly recovered from the accident and I was going to go from constantly "on call" to being faced with letting go and letting her grow.

Money was tight and art sales were down, with not much expectation for change in this arena, but I put it "out there" that I was going to Europe.  Didn't know how I was going to get there, what I was going to do while there or when, but I was definitely heading overseas in the fall.

Then out of the blue, sometime last June, my friend Missy called and said she had just heard on Clark Howard's radio show that British Airways was offering a round trip ticket overseas for signing up for their credit card.  She went on to say that while her husband had no interest in seeing Paris, he did have a slew of Marriott points we could use to stay there and would I please go with her!

One thing lead to another I am heading overseas again.

Half the battle is knowing what you want.  The other half is believing you can decide what that is, not worry about how it's going to happen, and accept it when it does.  Manifestation?

Living life well.