Saturday, December 27, 2014

Off the Mall, Washington DC

We have friends in town and I offered to give them suggestions on some off-the-beaten-path activities to do while here.  They're just on a short stay, so doubt they will take me up on it, but it got me thinking about some of the places we've visited beyond the Smithsonian and typical monuments.

So, here's a list in case someone asks me some time. In no particular order--

--The Anacostia Museum
Actually it is part of the Smithsonian, but away from the National Mall.  It specializes in African American artists.

--The O Street Mansion
Quirky, kitschy place with hidden rooms, hidden doors and EVERYTHING is for sale, if you're interested in paying sky high prices on dollar sotre level items.  The $10 self tour is fun and they have group rates.

--National Museum of the US Navy
If you're into ships and cannons.  Kids can climb up on some of them too. It's at the Navy Yard--former site of NCIS and the front of the bldg they shot for the TV show exterior is there. Check their web site to see what you need to enter the base.

--DAR Museum
Small museum with often-rotated exhibits including a large quilt exhibit and toy collection, I think they also have a room where children can play with replicas of old-timey toys.  My favorite parts are  the "period rooms" furnished as they would be in a certain decade.

--Mexican Cultural Institute
We went a long time ago and there was a room where kids could play with traditional Mexican toys, but that may have been a limited exhibition.  Still the murals are something to see.

--The Postal Museum
Also an SI museum off the Mall. Next to Union Station, which is also nice to see. Lots of hands on stuff.

--National Museum of Health and Medicine
Lots of things in jars, the bullet that killed Abe Lincoln and other odd medical specimens.  Possibly not for the squeemish, but I've definitely seen worse elsewhere (I have a morbid facination with stuff like this).

--National Arboretum and Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

--The Phillips Collection
Small museum exhibited in connected historic houses

--National Geographic Museum
Rotating exhibits, some more interesting than others.  Also check the building behind the main museum, they sometimes have a smaller exhibit in there--also bathrooms and a tiny cafe.

Outside of DC
--Stabler Leadbeater Apothecary, Alexandria
Jar of leeches, need I say more?

--American Visionary Art Musem, Baltimore
Eccentric art collection in two buildings--do both.  The store is a hoot also.

--National Cryptologic Museum, Beltsville, MD
See lots of code-breaking machines and underground RR quilts, etc.

--National Wildlife Visitor Center, Laurel, MD
Nice museum (be aware of taxidermied animals) and hiking trails.  They have a tram tour weekends and for pre-arranged groups.

Add your suggestions in the comments!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Paris--the end of the big trip

Uh....looks like this one never got published.  Here goes!

Paris--the last days of the trip

This was the day we planned to start up our museum passes.  Only Pete and I needed passes, the kids for the most part were eligible for free or very reduced entries but, because of our passes we could still take them with us to the front of the lines.  The only time this was an issue was at the Louvre, where you go through the lobby to get to different wings of the museum and need to show your ticket again and again.  because the kids never got their own tickets, we couldn't split up.  Turns out they decided to stay with us for most of the day anyway, so that didn't bother our plans.

But I'm jumping ahead.

As mentioned in the very first trip post, we were pretty tired out from the Angers trip but were still up fairly early and it wasn't a rushed start to the day, so I ignored that voice that told me to reschedule our plans and take a day off.  Zack hadn't slept well and was pretty draggy for most of the day.  Which was too bad since I think he would have enjoyed things more if he was less tired.

We started out with yet another church visit to Sainte-Chapelle--I know, I know! But it was supposed to be amazing stained glass and a very small church, so 1/2 hour at the most.  Actually, because the church is inside the police offices, the main wait is to get through security.  Museum passes didn't let us skip that, but once inside we didn't need to wait on a second line for tickets. It really is very tiny and only took 10-15 minutes to see the glass--which even ultra bored Zack was impressed with.

Next, back towards Notre Dame to the Crypte.  I loved this and everyone else indulged me. It's a years long dig under Notre Dame down to the original Roman walls that were originally on the site.

We had 12:30pm reservations for the Eiffel Tower, so we jumped onto Metro to head over there in the hopes of getting to go up a bit early.  Rain was expected and we didn't realize that there is an enclosed level at the top, so wanted to avoid rain if we could. We got there and were informed by a rather stern looking woman that we could not get in line until 5 mins before our ticket time.  We browsed the souvenir shops for a while then tried again when Stern Lady had left and were allowed to get in line about 15 mins early.

Zack was not happy that I got him a ticket to go to the top--heights are not his thing, but I assured him that no one has ever accidentally fallen off the tower and that it's even hard to fall off it intentionally.  The fact that the elevators are windowed did not thrill him either. But when it came right down to it, both he and Katie were extremely brave, walked all around the enclosed level and even braved the open air level at the tip top.

And the Tower is truly amazing--but I can't tell you why.  Maybe because I wasn't expecting it to be a big deal, maybe Paris was finally getting to me, I have no idea. But it was romantic, thrilling and very very Paris to me.  I loved it. Get an advance reservation and go.

We were hungry once back down on the ground, but decided to skip the stands  at the Tower since the weather was so chilly and damp.  Instead we headed closer to the Egout, our next stop, to see about a restaurant.  We passed the Quai Branley museum which had a living wall which was extremely cool (and I know wish we had gone to this museum instead of the Egout, but more about that later). Pete's photo didn't turn out, but see here for photos. After seeing many overpriced and too formal places, we stopped at a little bakery.  Turned out to be very average food and above average rude service, but they had some small tables indoors, so we ate there and just left as soon as we could.

Next was the Egout--a tour of the sewers.  No, do not think the romance of Phantom of the Opera, no, not the adventure of Les Miserables--think stinky public works tour.  Then skip it.  Stinky is an understatement.   Unless you're an engineer, then you might like it on a cool day.  It must be hell in the heat of summer!

Next walked over to the Musee Rodin.  It was not high on our list of places to see, but it was closeby and on our passes, so there didn't seem any reason not to go.  Plus the weather had improved making their extensive sculpture gardens very pleasant.  So pleasant that Zack relaxed an took a nap on a bench!

Pete and I were thrilled that there happened to be a Mapplethorpe exhibit.  We knew there was a large exhibit at the Palais Royal but didn't have the energy to try to get to it the night before, so this was a treat we thought we'd miss.  There were a lot of similarities in the poses of Rodin's statues and Mapplethorpe's photo poses. It was extraordinary. 

Also nice that the kids didn't need to have us with them, or go through massive warnings about the content of the exhibit before seeing it.  They just breezed in of their own accord, saw what they wanted and breezed out.

And that was it for the day.

The biggies--Musee d'Orsay and the Louvre.

I didn't expect to like the d'Orsay as much as I did but it was quite wonderful, not very large and very manageable for a morning visit.  We skipped an atrocious line with our passes which was great. The kids wandered on their own and made me anxious about their ability to get places on their own since neither of them found the huge Post-Impressionist wing and didn't get maps.  They claimed not to be able to use the signs because they were in French, but I reminded them that the painter's names are the same regardless and there were signs all over the place.

So, anyway, they saw very little of the museum, but Pete and I enjoyed several wings.  There were even some Toulouse Lautrec, a favorite of mine and which I have rarely seen in person. 

Then--a walk over to the Louvre, which impresses before you even enter due to the sheer size of the place.  There were many dogs and owners on the lawn outside the museum.  Again, all dogs are off the leash, but play nicely and sometimes not as nicely on the grass.  We missed our Toby while we watched them play for a while.

Then into the pyramid (I am not a fan, but I think the rest of the family is) and into the museum again passing up a HUGE line outside of people waiting to get tickets.

I like the inside view of the pyramid better than the outside.

I decided to follow the suggested tour by Rick Steves and it does cover a wide range, but I found it a bit difficult to navigate.  We got up to the Mona Lisa before deciding to stop for lunch. Sadly, Winged Victory, which I have wanted to see at the Louvre since college, is off display for restoration. :(

Pete and I decided it was worth museum prices on food to save the time and walk of finding a place off campus.  The food was quite good and typical museum prices and worth the convenience.  The Louvre is a big walking commitment and we were starving.

Back to the Mona Lisa and its huge crowd.  I didn't feel the need to get right up to it and enjoyed the rest of the room as best I could with the ML mobs in the way.

We continued through Renaissance, Neo Classicism, Revolutionary seeing mostly paintings and sculptures, and so on through Rick Steves tour.  We each got to see at least a few pieces we liked.  Then we heading to the objects wings of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.  I still love the Middle Ages and they had some very cool objects including crowns, swords and garments--plus a good deal of truly ugly serving pieces.

We were surprised by the number of tapestries in the Renaissance section since we connected those with the Middle Ages but there were a LOT of them.

After the Louvre, Pete and Zack had it and headed back to the room.  Katie and I tried to find one more museum but got all turned around, so when it started raining, we gave up and went back too.

As I went through the plans for the next day I made a terrible discovery.  The catacombs were going to be closed for Ascension Day. Pete and I knew this holiday was coming but checked up on it and read that travelers didn't find it to be a big deal and sights would be open.  I even checked the web site--but not the header on one page.  The catacombs are owned by the church and they do close.

It was 6pm the night before our last day in Paris.  Zack had been asking to see the catacombs every day of the terrible time he was having.  It was the ONLY site he wanted to see.  Closed for the day and closed tomorrow on our last day.

I fell apart.  To this day I still get a knot in my stomach and tears in my eyes.  I could not have felt worse.  When I told him, he was very dejected, but was a good guy about it.

Pete got on the job to find something special for Zack for our last day and came through with flying colors.

Yes, you guessed it, another cathedral!  But this time with the oldest continuously working organ in Europe.  Something like 150 years old and the player wasn't much younger! The organist would do the Mass and then sometimes do more afterwards.  This was expected to be one of those days.

The Mass was interesting and the organ nice, but the concert afterwards was the real treat. Pete and I both received hugs from Zack who adored the playing. Whew. He liked something! Still, someday I want to get him back there to see those catacombs.

Afterwards we walked over to Gertrude Steins famous flat to pay our respects. On the way we saw a plaque that told us that Strindberg had lived in another building. We enjoyed that because of a series of YouTube cartoon on Strindberg we watch.

Then to lunch--because it's all about the food.  Sadly this end of town was extremely quiet and mostly closed down for the holiday.  The restaurants were open, but the one Pete had hoped to eat at didn't work out.  We did find a nice cafe that worked out well.

And that's it as far as I remember.
Too many cathedrals by far.
Pete is no longer allowed to plan subway routes
We need to go again so we can wander more and see fewer sites and have a more relaxed time.
But first I need more time to get over the harrowing flights across the ocean.

So, time to save up again.

Digs at kids during the holidays

I often say that parenting is the hardest job I've ever done.  It has also been the most rewarding, but sometimes the rewards lag behind the work.  I know this.

I also like my alone time. Not as much as some friends and family, but I do need time to myself and appreciate some peace and quiet. I do.

And I have average kids. Sometimes loud. Sometimes VERY LOUD. Sometimes obnoxious and mouthy. Sometimes eye-rolling. Really. I have teenagers not angels living in my house.

But what's with all the FB posts, articles, Tweets and conversations about how damn exhausting everyone's kids are just because they are home from school for a few days? Those of you with healthy typical kids--enough with the kvetching! Do you find everyone at work, on the street, in the stores or at social gatherings a treat right now? Kids are people, having all the emotional ups and downs that everyone has this time of year.

If you didn't want to spend time your kids, why did you have them? If your kids talk back to you, are brats or throw tantrums, maybe take a look at how you participated in getting them that way and work on changing you.

Take a moment to realize that you don't actually get much time with your kids. In a few years they will be holed up in their rooms with the headphones on.  Their friends will be way more important than you are. Then they will be off to their adult lives and you will take even more of a back seat.

So please, consider S-ingTFU. Loud is part of the job. Busy is part of the job. Loss of sleep is part of the job. Arguing, lying, breaking the rules, talking back--it is what they are supposed to be doing.  You're the adult, remember.  You signed up for this.

Do the self care you need to. Ask for the help you need. Get a babysitter and go out on a date with your co-parent or BFF as often as you can. Take care of yourself and please do stand up for yourself when your kids give you shit.

Just stop bitching in public about them, ok? Save it for close friends.  Save it for when you're really having problems figuring out this parenting thing. No it's not easy. It's parenting. Try to enjoy it..

Friday, June 06, 2014

Paris continued

The Paris leg of our London-Paris trip.

A late start day in our schedule and much needed, but sadly didn't work for Zack.  This apartment was smaller than the London flat, which had 3 bedrooms with window shades in all of them.  This one had two bedroom and a comfy couch in the living room--but no shades in the living room so Zack was up by 5am with the sun.  The kids had decided to switch off each night with the bedroom, but after Katie slept on the sofa one night, she declared that she loved it and spent the rest of the trip sleeping there--which was good since the sun did not wake her.

We looked around the neighborhood a bit more, hitting the brasserie--supposedly the best in Paris for a baguette and croissant. Then back to the apartment for some more lazing around and eating.

Notre Dame seemed like a nice easy trip for the day and we headed out on the Metro. I have ti say, it was smaller than I expected and compared to Westminster, but it was lovely. The line we a bit long, but Pete offered to stand in it while the kids and I walked around the outside.  It was a strange weather day--cool in the shade and warmish in the sun but not raining, so we felt lucky.  It is very damp inside all of these stone buildings though.

We took advantage of the sun being out to walk along the Seine and saw the bridge with all the locks.  Couples put a padlock on the rails and then throw the key into the river.  There's a bridge in London where people have started to do the same thing, but nothing to this scale.

We crossed the river to go to Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore where American expats used to gather in the 20s and 30s. Katie tried out the resident piano and she and Zack browsed around the shop while Pete and I enjoyed sitting on some steps across the small street.

Lunch and a long walk to the Latin Quarter.  On the way, we passed a shop with the most beautiful meringues that we promised ourselves we'd come back for.

We found a nice little creperie for lunch--savory then sweet with a drink for only 5 Euros, a bargain!

Retracing our steps, we stopped at a game store and then to pick out two meringues, banana and black raspberry, I think. So sugary and so wonderful.

Yes! Those brightly colored poufs in the window are for eating.
I remembered that I wanted to see the Deportation Memorial back behind Notre Dame. A simple, powerful memorial and garden.  Glad we went.

And that was it for our plans for the day.  It was going to be an early day on Saturday (Chartres) and we wanted more time to relax.

I think Pete and I hit the grocery store this night too, but not sure.  I didn't enjoy this one as much as we enjoyed the Waitrose, but it's hard to beat Jammie Dodgers and Jelly Babies.

Chartres on the TER trains.  The fact that some trains in France and England are state owned and some are privatized makes figuring out which lines to use pretty complicated.  More complicated in French.  Additionally, sometimes you can get to the same place on more than one line at different prices.  The TER is slower (more like an Amtrak) than the TJV, but cheaper by a lot, so that was our choice for this trip.

I mentioned in the last post, that if I had our itinerary to do over again, I would skip Chartres but still it was a beautiful cathedral and has Malcolm Miller, an English tour guide who has done tours in English at Chartres for 57 years.  He knows a LOT and is wonderfully quirky.  The down side for me is that he specializes in the stained glass which is not my main interest, but it was really informative and he did eventually talk about the statues. Pete, on the other hand, was enthralled and the kids fell somewhere in between.

The weather was fairly awful.  Very chilly and either outright rainy or very damp at best.

We got to the town and headed directly to the cathedral to look around and nail down details on Malcolm's tour.  Then, since Katie was hungry we found a cafe for some snacks and hot drinks until the tour at noon.  Good timing since the skies opened up for the heaviest rains of the day.

There were about 40 of us on the tour, but since it is done mostly seated and there are headphones to hear Malcolm through, it wasn't an issue. Pete, who had been decidedly cranky in the morning, was in a much better mood afterwards so it was good that the tour worked out.

At the end of the tour the sun peeked out a bit so we took advantage of it to walk around the town.  Felt like we were walking through Beauty and the Beast. Tiny little streets and houses.  One major difference between Paris and London was that for the most part, London seemed like any big city we had ever been to and even Stratford seemed somehow familiar, but Paris was decidedly European to us. It didn't seem at all like American cities or towns.  It was thrilling.

Another look at the cathedral and lunch at an unremarkable cafe that didn't serve us anything memorable.

Then back on the train back to Paris.

A totally "off" day and France's Mother's Day.  Asked around for what everyone wanted to do after a late and lazy morning.  I requested we go get crepes next door for mother's day brunch and then each could do whatever they wanted with the rest of the day.

Zack had had enough of being a tourist and voted to stay home on his own at the apartment. I wanted to walk the Champs Elysees.  Pete and Katie decided to come along too.  We started at the Arc de Triomphe and then walked down towards the Tuilleries. And walked.  And walked.  I didn't realize that most of the street was devoted to high-end stores and not until the very far away end you get to the historical section of the street.  So, sadly, by the time we reached the park we were pooped and ready to head home.  Plus, I missed Zack and wanted to have dinner with him.

High end car dealerships along the way too.
Can't seem to rotate this, but it's the obelisk at the Tuileries entrance.

And the fountain across from it

 But we did have a good time, enjoyed one of the only sunny days in Paris and were able to buy our Museum Passes at the Arc to use later in the week. 

Angers (ahn-jay) to see the Chateau. Still stuck in the middle ages, but it is a castle, drawbridge and all.  We also were taking the high-speed TJV train, a dream of Pete's.  Again 180 mph and taking us about 250 miles outside of Paris. It's amazing how quickly the landscape turns rural.

Unfortunately, we didn't find out that most of the museums in Angers are closed on Mondays and also most of the restaurants, so we had allotted too much time before our return train.  But, again the weather was reasonable, so we weren't stuck all day in the rain.  It was chilly, but we'd all dressed better and were very comfortable.

Zack, Pete and I took the audio tours, Katie again preferred to wander on her own.  There was a chapel, main house, battlements we could walk along the tops of, an even older area dating back to the 1000's, huge tapestries and an area they have excavated.

After the tour, we scouted out someplace for lunch, which turned out to be fantastic.  You guessed it--crepes! But truly wonderful.

We then explored the old section of the town, the cathedral, which was open and lovely, walked along the outside battlements of the chateau where there was a lovely rose garden and then the modern section of the town. Some of the battlement walls were part of the historic site, but some are just part of the town and have private houses along them.

We walked back to the train station early and enjoyed a sit on the grass outside until it was time to go.

That's it for today.  Will finish up the trip with the next post.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

London-Paris and 16 year olds

Let's start by saying that having 16 year olds is freaking me out.  Not the kids themselves, mind you, just the fact of it.  Yes, you've heard it before--because it's true--That Went By Fast and it's hard to keep myself from going over and over and over all the things I would do differently if I had it to do all again. Sure, there are a lot of things I'd do differently but why waste time on that when there's today to screw up ;-)

This was THE BIG TRIP.  It's been in the works in various forms for about 20 years, but for the last 7-10 years it has been the trip we would take when the kids were about 16 years old.  In the past 2 years it's been the trip we would take for their 16th birthday.

Again--a lot of things I would do differently.
  1. ideally this would have been better as two week-long trips, but that wasn't possible with airfares as they are.
  2. fewer cathedrals.  Although Chartres was lovely, and possibly was the cathedral to see "if you see only one cathedral in France," it in fact was one of at least 5 cathedrals we saw on this trip and really at least one too many.  A palace (even crowded Versailles) would have been a better addition to our list of sites.
  3. there was a bit of an effort put into trying to keep the itinerary loose to suit our mood on any given day.  Nice and needed, but played out as a lack of planning overall.  For some reason, I could never get my head around how to organize everything we wanted to do into logical groupings, Pete is not good at this and our styles clashed in the planning phase. Generally this is something I do about a week or two before leaving on a trip, but between family emergencies and work, this wasn't possible.
  4. I still need to learn the lesson of giving up the day's plans when I get that little feeling we should.  We planned to use our Paris museum passes on Tuesday and Wednesday, but even though I had a feeling Tuesday morning that we should sleep in instead, we went ahead with the early day.  This backfired a bit that day, but also let us in for unexpected closings on Thursday that were a big disappointment to Zack and me.
  5. on that note-do not underestimate the impact of Catholic holidays in Paris.  Major sites are open, but many smaller sites are closed and so are many businesses. Montparnasse was a ghost town and I now have to figure out how Zack and I will see the Paris catacombs someday as they were closed and it was our last day.
  6. Check to see what weekday museums are closed in each city you visit.  Tuesdays in Paris, but Mondays in Angers...
  7. sit everyone (or at least all the adults) down for a talk when things are not working or you're angry.  Say all the unreasonable, unfair and petty things rolling around your head and be willing to have a big fight about it.  Believe me, it's worth it.  It gets it up and out in the open so you can work together to get things moving in the right direction.  I waited until several days in and then again almost at the end.  Things got better and could have sooner if I had spoken up sooner.
  8. remember that Liz doesn't do well on the red eye.
On with the day to day--
This will look familiar to those who followed me on FB during the trip, but I can put up the pictures now.

Very bumpy flight overnight with no sleep for k, z and me. Glad I had taken Dramamine, since flights have been giving me motion sickness in the past few years. Had hoped it would make me drowsy enough to sleep but nope! Watched Gravity, which masked the bumpiness a bit actually.  Don't remember what else I watched, but there were a lot of choices and they also fed us twice, so the time went by. No more red eye flights in my future unless my doctor can give me something to knock me out.
We looked a lot like the walking dead on Friday, but did manage to find the flat and deal with transit passes thanks to a more awake Pete. We grabbed lunch at Wagamama (wicked expensive and the food was only so-so) and then shopped for supplies at the Waitrose grocery and settled into our flat for a while.

I'd read that the first night is a good time to see Big Ben and the Eye lit up, so we took a bus from our corner over that way and walked along the Thames for a while. We then walked over to Piccadilly Circus to browse a bit and hit a diner for dinner. 

The British Museum and a meet up with friends for lunch and shopping at Forbidden Planet! We did the one hour tour at the British Museum which took us 3-4 hours. You can see that HERE.

We went over to the museum via Kings Cross, so stopped at platform 9 3/4 on our way.  Toured the museum for about an hour, then met up with Robyn, Abby and Ezra out front.  Hit a pub for fish and chips.  Wonderful! Our first good meal in London.

No pictures from Forbidden Planet, but you can see more about it HERE.  It's the ultimate fandom store. 

Back to the museum to finish up--hit the Rosetta Stone as our feet gave out.  The guys were pretty tired on the Tube home.

Rested up a bit and then went to see a friend of Pete's via the London Overground train, which we could also catch at Shepherd's Bush. Pete went to college with JP and the families had never met.  The kids all got along and I thoroughly enjoyed Jon's wife Susan.  We talked and talked over pizza at Pizza Express.  Don't laugh, the pizza was terrific, go there if you're in London.

We had plans to see Pete's aunt and cousins in Crouch End and Camden Market was nearby so we took a long bus ride from our door to Camden.  Really long. Camden Market was ok, but not as fun as we hoped it would be.  It would have been better for a lunch visit as there were a lot of interesting food stands but the shopping was mostly tourist tees and trinkets.  Katie did pick up a nice watch on a chain to wear around her neck.  There was a cool store with lots of old sewing machines in the windows and we liked walking along the canal.
Katie tries on a deer stalker hat, getting her Sherlock on.

A short tube ride to Crouch End to meet Pete's family.  We had a nice visit and good pizza.  On the way back to the tube, we made a quick side trip to the "Ally Pally" for an excellent view of London (and the tower Dr Who climbs in the Idiot's Lantern episode).  It's also the site of the first BBC broadcast.

Dr Who tower

Stratford upon Avon and Shakespeare all day.
Despite the original forecast, the weather was fantastic. In fact, we had nice warm weather for almost all of our London stay.  

I had been to Stratford when I went to London in high school, but I barely remembered anything about that trip in general and Stratford specifically.  I did remember The Dirty Duck/Black Swan pub and we planned for lunch there.

It was a quaint fun village in full bloom so the gardens were beautiful. I remain impressed that this is a real town, not a created historical town like Williamsburg or Bethpage, which have many houses that were moved to a spot. That you can walk right in through that door from 1242 and get your fingers all over it.

It was a mostly fun day with a bit of strife at lunch, when the pub didn't look as familiar to me as I thought it would.  It all worked out when we nabbed a table out front in the great weather and wonderful view of the river. 

Wished we had more time to add a tour of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.  Next time!

Lazy evening. Dinner at the flat? Played around with the TV and found a game show (after QI which we knew already) called-Connections maybe?, so hard.  Would never survive on US TV.  But another night we found the dumbest game show ever too, so that made us feel better.

Started with a run for me, not a common site in London I guess. I garnered a few stares and one man who stood right in front of me.  I turned off the main street and found a nice neighborhood park.  Lots of dog walkers out and all dogs seem to be off the leash.  We missed our Toby every time we saw a cute little dog. :(

After everyone else was up and dressed we visited the Tower of London.  I know it was on the itinerary when I went back in '83, but I didn't remember a thing about it and I know we weren't able to see the Crown Jewels.  I got severe eye rolls when I told the kids that we should take the tour but I was vindicated when our guide was funny and gruesome as well as informative.

Then lots of climbing of towers.  They must have been in fantastic shape back then. 

Zack caught enjoying himself

Tower Bridge, which we didn't climb

The ravens of legend
We liked the buses
 We took a river taxi to high tea with a friend that Pete toured England with several years ago. It was great to see Charlie and tea was fab with sandwiches, scones and sweets and a pot of tea for each of us.

After saying our goodbyes to Charlie, we went back over to Piccadilly Circus to visit Hamley's toy store with 5 floors of toys and a candy store.
There were a lot of Legos.

While heading back to the flat, I mentioned it might be a good night for a curry, which Pete had wanted us to see.  Sadly, we ended up in a typical Indian restaurant rather than the kind curry place  he had been talking about, the food was good, but far too spicy for Zack.

And our last full day in London.

Westminster Abbey, I did the entire thing with all of the audio tour. Zack skipped around. Katie skipped the tour and meandered on her own. Pete took his time then skipped to the end when he'd had enough. Lost Zack for a few minutes. No casualties.  This was mostly for me as I love cathedrals and graveyards and it was a thrill. THIS was my favorite grave.

Grabbed a quick lunch at Pret A Manger, which you see all over town (and can also find in DC). Next on to far off Upton Park to the Who Shop. Over priced but fun to browse shop. Inexpensive "museum" where we got some fun pictures. Friendly well informed staff.

Back to Shepherd's Bush to the grocery to pick up some dinner and lunch items and to the flat to rest and get laundry and packing done. We were too tired to be night owls this trip.


Sweet 16!!
So where else for breakfast than Speedy's and then a visit to 221B Baker Street? (Bone up on your Sherlock if you are not following this.)

There is a museum at the actual 221B--it's not really the door right next to Speedy's--and Katie and Zack spent a good hour there while Pete and I stroll over to Regent's Park.  There was a hard but brief rain while we were there, but a large tree helped us out.

 We saw many goslings and one baby swan. All nicely fuzzy.

We headed back to the flat to finish packing and tidying before catching the Eurostar to Paris. As we headed out the door to the Tube station we got our first real London rain and it was not kidding--torrential! But we were out of it pretty quickly and into the mass transit system for the rest of the day.

The Eurostar is very fast (180mph) and very comfy.  It's under the channel for about 20 minutes and it was less unnerving than I expected it to be. Wicked expensive, but still cheaper than flying and an easy trip.

The Metro was harder to manage than the Tube system.  For the Tube, Pete and I had week-long passes that covered the buses and trains and the kids had discount student passes that let them ride the bus for free and the train for 75p.

The Metro uses carne, little tickets you buy in 10 packs, and had to be doled out as we went along.  It's also dirtier, the people are more pushy and there is graffiti everywhere (and I don't mean street art--I mean graffiti).  And, like most of Paris, it smells. So not as fun to get around.

Our apartment was at the foot of Sacre Coeur and a walk up a steep hill.  Then up a winding 27 steps.  The apartment was darling.  Perfect and well stocked with goodies  by our host.  The neighborhood, not as darling.  Particularly filthy.  But a nice cafe right across the street helped a lot and two of the best brasseries right down the block.  So, we made the best of it.

Once we settled in for a bit, we headed up the stairs to Sacre Coeur for a wonderful view of Paris and the amazing church itself.  It is worth the visit, just ignore all the beer drinkers and bottles. Really.

Back down to the cafe for dinner.  I had crepes and did so every day but one for the rest of the trip. Yummmmm.  All of the food, everywhere was great.  Care is taken even by the smallest food stand.

Once more up the hill to see the lights of Paris and it was magical.  The Eiffel Tower looked just as I hoped it would.  It truly was a sight I will never forget and exactly how I wanted to spend my first night in Paris. 

More on Paris in my next post.