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.