I'm beginning to lag so here I'll try to catch up some.
The next 3 days were full of activities in Paris. There was also cat who was always sleeping on the stairway to pur room.
The first full day, I spent a good 4.5 hours in the Louvre, which was by far my favorite museum I've ever visited. No surprises there. It really felt like re-taking art history in one afternoon. Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Liberty Leading the People, Seated Scribe, Winged Victory, Code of Hammurabi.
Then I went on a walk down the Champs-Elysees, Paris' grandest boulevard, to the Arc de Triomphe. I went up to the top for some great views. The arch is in the middle of a traffic circle where 12 boulevards merge, so I could see down 12 huge streets all at once.
The next day we ventured to the Palace of Versailles, built by Louis XIV and later, where the French revolutionaries stormed in (unsuccessfully) to capture Louis XV and Marie Antoinette.
You guys, this place was ridiculous. Apparently Louis XIV spent half of France's GDP on the palace the year it was built. So amazing, but you can't really blame the Frenchies for getting angry.
I spent a while in the extremely vast royal gardens and toured the summer homes of some of the Louis's, Napoleon I, and Marie Antoinette. A nice break from the city.
Then in the afternoon, I did the Musee d'Orsay which is known for its great collection of Impressionist art. It was pretty cool. It used to be a train station.
The next day was chapel day: Notre Dame and Saint-Chapelle. Notre Dame was very impressive, with large rosary windows on the interior and of course the flying butresses and intrusive Gothic style. You could also see statues of each of the 12 apostles on top of the church looking out info the city, "ministering" to it.
Sainte-Chapelle is perhaps lesser known around the world, but it is definitely a major site. It was commissioned by Louis IV around 1250 to house the relics of the crucifixion (inc. crown of thorns), which he bought for a big price (2x cost of church) from Turkey I think. Anyway, the crown (original or other) is no longer shown here - but Notre Dame shows it a few days a year. But the Sainte-Chapelle's other claim to fame is its enormous, elaborate stained-glass windows. They were awesome. But I don't have a pic on my phone so go google it. I think they're 30 meters tall! Each depicts a book of the Bible through several small images, like a cartoon strip almost.
That pretty much wraps up Paris. I had some good meals...baked ravioli, quiche lorraine, chocolate mousse, cafe au lait.
Day 1 in Amsterdam we went to the Anne Frank House. It was a very sobering experience, imagining a 14 year-old girl having to hide for 2 years in a small pair of rooms with 7 others and eventually dying in a concentration camp - 1 month before it was liberated. In one video, Anne's friend said the two found each other at the camp one night. Anne, whose sister had recently died in camp, said she just had "nothing left to live for anymore" (her mother had also died). She wasn't aware her dad was still alive and would eventually survive to publish her diary, which had been her dream.
Day 2 in Amsterdam, we went to the Van Gogh museum, which took you his life and his works chronologically. In short, it was fascinating to see how his life events shaped his style and his place in the post-impressionist era. He was a pioneer who took the impressionists' rejection of the realist style to a new level, creating his own personal style. Really enjoyed it.
Next was the Heineken experience - the expected "how to make beer," etc. i got to pour my own pint from the tap anf earned a certificate.
Took the train to Berlin and arrived last night at midnight...more in a few days, but day 1 in Berlin was awesome.