July 2014 archive

Paris — Day 4

We began the morning with a 5 am wake-up call for a 7:30 train to Paris. I was so excited to leave for Paris, I couldn’t get to sleep the night before. I took French courses in both high school and college. They were required by my alma mater and none of them came easily for me. Some practical application has finally occurred — 12 years later. So anywhoo, Joe was really looking forward to the Eurostar experience as evidenced by his previous post. I enjoyed breakfast on the train — une crossiant et un cafe au lait.

After arriving in Paris, we experienced some shennanigans, which I’ll explain more later. We enjoyed a nice lunch at a cafe near the hotel. Then, we rode the metro over to the Eiffel Tower. While we had planned to hike to the top, we got in the wrong line for stair tickets and ended up taking the elevator all the way to the summit. The views were the best I’ve ever seen. Admittedly, my sights were set kind of low — I was prepared to be underwhelmed and to wonder whether or not this was really any different than looking out an airplane window. It certainly was! I loved it, Joe loved it, everyone loved it! Unhappy campers were nary in sight at the Tower d’Effiel! We spent much of the evening at the tower, snacking and people watching and waiting for the sun to set — after dusk, the tower has a 5 minute light show every hour, on the hour. Seeing the tower sparkle really was impressive and worth the wait.

Now, for some necessary debunking of Paris myths:
Myth 1: Everybody speaks English. Ummm, c’nest pas correct. All the folks I interacted with today seem to know about as much English as I know French. Yesterday, I phoned the hotel to confirm my reservation. After greeting the staff in French, I requested that he speak English. We were clearly not on the same page because he told me I would need to pick up my hotel key at a cafe down the street. After arriving at said cafe, I found out that they only give out keys after 9 pm (it was around noon). Not a big deal at all — but it’s just not as simple of an exchange as I was led to expect. Phrases and noun conjugations have been coming back to me which proved helpful when purchasing metro tickets, eating in a restaurant, checking into our hotel, and asking for directions. I was relieved that people seemed pleased that I attempted to communicate in their primary dialect. Those who I presume were able attempted to return the favor.
Myth 2: Paris is dirty. Ummm, encore, c’nest pas correct. I’ve traveled to some dirty places — this is not one of them.

Now, for an unanticipated non-myth that completely caught me off guard.
1. Non-myth: Some people in Paris are pretty hard up. At the train station, we were approached by a young woman, carrying a baby and an empty bottle. She asked if we could spare any change for formula. A few minutes later, a teenager came up to us in the metro ticket line, told us that those tickets were only for buses and that he could take us to the right line. The next thing we know, he is trying to trick us into paying for a re-load on his Navigo (metro) card. We almost fell for this — ugh. We were approached by multiple people later in the day begging for change. And finally, at the Eiffel Tower, we observed a gang of Champagne sellers who got busted by the cops. This made me kind of sad — there were a lot of couples taking advantage of their sales as they waited for the light show and the police made such a big show out of busting them all. I understand they aren’t an upstanding liquor licensed operation, but I felt for them, nonethless.

I wasn’t really expecting to observe or experience all of this in less than one day. France is a first-world country, no?

Alrighty, it’s after 1am here, so I should head to bed. We are sleeping with our 3rd floor balcony door open to the world tonight. The balcony is a little scary — pretty sure the height of the railing does not meet a regulatory standard — it’s just above knee level. And yet, I love going up there; I just hold on the rail/ wall for dear life.

London – Day 3

Good evening.  Here marks the end of our  third day in London.  We started out the day with breakfast at the cafe next door to our hotel.  They have the best blueberry muffin with a gooey blueberry center.  I also got a flat white coffee — not sure what this really means, but it was good.  Joe had a chocolate twist, which looks like a chocolate crossaint.   

London is currently hosting a James Bond exhibition, Bond in Motion, the largest showcase of James Bond cars in the world.  Joe is a big James Bond fan, so we went to check it out.  Movie clips showcasing the cars were all projected on the walls near the displays which really added to the experience.  Some movie memorabilia and story boards were mixed in amongst the cars as well. Movie making is certainly an interesting looking process.

Next up, we hit up the British Museum.  This venue is thought to have the most encompassing synapsis of human civilization on record.  It showcases artifacts like the Rosetta Stone, mummies, and the remains of many ancients civilizations including the Aztecs, Mesopotamians, and the American Indians. Some of the exhibits cataloged the development of a specific topic like timepieces and medicine.  One of my favorite displays showed  the health of two humans, one male and one female, as demonstrated by every pill  that they ever took. The display held thousands of pills from birth to death, along with photos from the individuals’ lives — vacations, injuries they sustained, weddings, graduations, babies being born, and finally, their funerals  The whole thing reminded me of what people say about the moment before death — being able to see your life flash before your eyes.  The milestones mixed in with the inconsequential — the pills you swallow.  Fascinating and unexpected from this particular museum.

We ate lunch late — around 2:30 in St. James’ square, a park with a small italian restaurant.  The food was fresh and delicious.  Next, we hopped back on the Tube to head over the British Library.  The library is a regular operating library where people go to study and borrow materials. However, they also have a special collection that is displayed in a museum on the first floor.  There were several amazing pieces — pages of Beethoven, Mozart, and Handel’s composition, parts of Leonardo and Michangelo’s notebooks, the Gutenberg Bible, hand written samples from Charles Dickens and Sylvia Plath, letters form Galileo and Winston Churchill.  My favorite piece was a scrap of Beatle’s memorabilia — the lyrics to “A Hard Day’s Night” written on the back of a one year old child’s birthday card.

After the library tour, we headed back over to Covent Garden where we had a picnic and observed a few so-so street performers. We shopped a little and then started walking back to the hotel.  On the walk home, we stopped on the River Thame ‘beach’ (sand hauled in by city every summer) and enjoyed a snack from a Mexican food truck.  

We’re headed out early tomorrow morning so we packed up our stuff as best we could and phoned our hotel in France to confirm our reservation.  I was pleased that the person who answered spoke some English at my request.  Apparently we have to pick up our room key at a cafe since the hotel desk does not open until 1 pm and we’ll be arriving around 11 am.  We’ll see how this goes.

London – Day 2

Well hello everyone! It was a great day in London! Last night, we turned in around 7:30 PM. Both of us woke up around midnight thinking it was morning. We’re staying in the basement of a hotel, so between the lack of windows and the jetlag, it’s understandable how one might get a little confused. We went back to sleep and I woke up again around 8:30 am — ready for a our first full day in the city.

We started out by hopping back on the bus tour we started yesterday. The Original Tour offers a 24 hour hop-on hop-off ticket on a red double decker bus. This once-over, lightly tour allows you to see a lot and learn a little. It also comes with a free boat cruise and a few free walking tours. We took advantage of the city cruise on the river Thames around lunch time. After that, we went back to the hotel to change. The Missourian in me did not trust that it would be as cold as the weather forecast predicted here. Yesterday, it was in the high 50’s and today, it warmed up enough around noon to put a dress on — yay!

Next, we went on the tour of Westminster Abbey. This ancient church, initially build in the 11th century offered an amazing amount of ornate architecture. It also houses of the graves of many famous folk including British royals (Bloody Mary!), famous scientists (Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton), many famous literary folks (Geoffrey Chaucer and Charles Dickens) and last but not least, a great composer, Handel — (you know him from the Hallelujah chorus). It amazed me how unprotected the building is from the public and yet I observed hardly and vandalism.

Around 3;30, we were pretty hungry. We went to The Feathers pub, located a few blocks from the Abbey. You can order food at most of London’s pubs by walking up to the bar. I ordered a Brie fondue appetizer to start, followed by my favorite meal in all the world — macaroni and cheese. I ate all of my food AND part of Joe’s food too– he got a chesseburger and chips with coleslaw. I’m not normally a big fan of coleslaw — but this version was made with basil AND dill — yum!

Next, Joe convinced me that we should go to check out Buckingham Palace. For whatever reason, this wasn’t on my list of things I hoped to see, but after seeing it, I’m not sure why. Viewing the font of the palace, I was reminded of a trip to the White House in 8th grade. Unlike DC, there weren’t any protesters or otherwise crazy folk parked out in front of the palace — just a happy crowd who were apt to cheer on command. We saw a bride a groom walk out in front of the palace and the crowd hooted and hollered in celebration. Along with the gauards who were marching back and forth, the palace was certain a site to be seen.

After the palace, our energy was running low. Given that shopping isn’t a very strenuous task, we decided to hit up Herrod’s, London’s luxury department store. While I didn’t get a picture since it was starting to rain, the exterior of the building is quite impressive with a small cathedral dome to boot. Inside, there are many luxury items — I looked at a purse that was on clearance for 900 pounds, marked down from 1,875 pounds. In the basement of the store, there’s a somewhat creepy shrine to the late princess Diana and her lover. It houses a dirty wine glass that she drank out of the night before she died as well as her engagement ring. Aside from pictures of the couple, there is a bronze statue of them touching a flying bird. I believe the store’s owner at the time of Dianna’s death was her lovers father.

On the way home, we hit up a grocery store. For whatever reason, I’ve been really fascinated by all the grocery areas we’ve been in over the last two days. There are so many products that look good enough to try.

We’re back home in the hotel now and getting ready to turn in for the night. We’re staying at Tune hotel Westminster. Pretty sure this room is tiner than every room we’ve ever had on a cruise ship! Two people can hardly stand up in here! But it’s a great location, just a few blocks from the London Eye and Big Ben. And it looks pretty new, so nothing too dirty-loking. No window in here though — not so sure about London’s fire codes? I also don’t have much confidence in the ambulances — they are motorcycles– I”m really uncertain of how or why this is okay! But anywho — the world is a wonder to me, and I am loving the opportunity to see this this special bit of it!

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