European Replay – Day Eleven

The last day of our trip, travel day.

We awoke in the hotel adjacent to the terminal, walked over, and ate breakfast in the very large lounge area after we went through security. We picked up a few parting gifts, like a big bag of Cadbury Roundies, some teas, and etc. We boarded our Delta flight to JFK and we had left Europe.

We arrived at JFK and were a bit surprised to have to exit the airport completely to go to the other terminal. We went through security there, got some lunch at Wendy’s and waited for our flight to Orlando. Flying during the day is much nicer than flying at night when you are expected to sleep.

We got to Orlando and had to wait about three hours for our next flight, so we had dinner at the Outback there. It was okay, but it was probably better than that at the time because we needed it. We were really tired at this point and the last flight back to Atlanta was seriously uncomfortable.

Make it though, we did. Our trip was at an end. We thought we had made it through unscathed until we went to return our mascot to our son, and realized we had lost it on the very last day. We know it made it out of London, but it must have been left when we got off the plane at JFK. We unfortunately never saw it again, even after sending messages to Delta, TSA, and JFK lost and found. My wife was inconsolable, but thankfully our son understood and was happy to have us back at least.

It was an amazing trip, one that I will never forget. It may have been a day or two too long, but also the miserableness of Versailles may have played a part as well. I’m glad we didn’t try to do the Rome to London itinerary. We are already looking forward to our next trip, and we got our kids passports during this one year anniversary so they can come as well.

European Replay – Day Ten

Our last full day in Europe, unfortunately. We made sure our things were packed up, but we were allowed to keep our suitcases in the apartment while we went to Atelier des Lumieres. This is basically an old warehouse/plant that shows digital imagery on the walls and floor. The images can move around in whole and in part – meaning that the entire image can pan, or parts of the images can be put in motion.

In 2019 this facility had a Vincent Van Gogh exhibit, with two additional sets of artwork exhibited. One was Japanese art, and I honestly don’t remember the other one. So in this exhibit you had the major artworks of Van Gogh digitized, set to music, and exhibited all around you. It was amazing to see this artwork come to life in this way, and I’d recommend this type of artwork exhibit to anyone.

We took the Metro to the nearest station, got some breakfast while we waited (pain au chocolat is brilliant), and took in the exhibit. After, we had a bit of time before we needed to pick up our stuff so we went back to Ile Saint-Louis and got a crepe and enjoyed it on Pont Saint-Louis and just took in the environment.

Our time in Paris had come to an end, so we grabbed our bags, took the Metro to Gare du Nord once again, and boarded the Eurostar for London. Our trip home would be the next morning, and everything I heard said you didn’t want to be taking the train back and trying to fly out on the same day unless it was a late flight.

We sped through the French countryside again exceeding 180mph, went under the English Channel and arrived in the late afternoon in London. We attempted to hit the Harry Potter store in Kings Cross, but the line was absolutely obscene – we thought it was for pictures, but it was the line to just get in the store. We debated hanging around in town to get some dinner, but decided to end our trip experience early, take the train to Heathrow, and eat dinner at the hotel.

We were decidedly exhausted at this point. We went to bed at a reasonable time, having watched our last bit of BBC/Dave for the trip.

European Replay – Day Nine

Rain. Cold. Miserable.

That was our day at Versailles. But first, the Metro drama.

We entered the Metro again at Saint-Michel Notre-Dame, so we could catch the RER to Versailles. Now, I had heard horror stories of the French police catching tourists out for not having their tickets for the duration of their trip. Unlike say the Underground, the Metro largely uses paper tickets that are also required for you to exit the station. So, hold onto them. The police will go after obvious tourists and check for them, and it’s a pretty hefty fine if you can’t produce.

So, what happens shortly after we enter the station? We lose a ticket. So I had to exit using my ticket, and buy two new ones. This also meant we missed our original train, so we had to do some juggling there to catch a couple of different ones. But it all worked out.

The day I couldn’t say got much better. The line to get into Versailles was absolutely massive, and it was raining. And we only brought one umbrella, because it was only overcast in Paris. So we hit the gardens first, hoping the line would reduce. (Spoiler: it did not)

The gardens were nice, and it would have been orders of magnitude more enjoyable in good weather. We didn’t explore maybe five percent of the grounds, just the things closest to the buildings. We never even got to the chateaus which are basically mini palaces. You can rent carts and bikes, and I think even boats.

We ate some food outside in the Brasserie De La Girandole and just did manage to stay dry while we did. Versailles is expensive, and we were losing endurance. The rain and the length of the trip were making this day pretty miserable.

Then we went inside the palace and it got worse.

The line to get in was horrible, and we were getting soaked for at least ninety minutes. I was getting more soaked, making sure my wife was as covered as possible. We did finally get in, and we were happy to be inside even to just start getting dry. But there was absolutely too many people to make the experience enjoyable.

Without assigning blame to an entire nationality or race, without doubt the group of people who most contributed to the misery were the groups of Chinese tourists. They were pushy, they were loud, they did whatever they pleased, and it didn’t matter if you were trying to look at anything or move with the crowd. As a result, Versailles was the thing my wife wanted to see the most in France and it was the least enjoyable experience. We saw things, but we couldn’t really see much of anything at ground level. Simply too many people. They need a reservation system, a timed system, anything would be an improvement. We went on the shoulder season, but I’m not sure there could have been more people in the building.

As a result we left earlier than we had originally planned. We walked back through the rain to the train station in town and back to Paris. We explored the Ile Saint-Louis (the smaller island), got some macarons, tried to get ice cream, and eventually settled on dinner from a small store, premade wraps, chips, and soft drinks. I think we were both ready for the day to be over and the trip to wrap up by this point. We did walk by Shakespeare and Company while we wandered, but were too wet and miserable to go in.

We ended the day by watching some French TV. I can’t say I recommend it. Perhaps if I knew more French, but most of it was news or dubbed 80s American shows.

European Replay – Day Eight

We woke up, finished packing our stuff, and hopped on the tube to Kings Cross. After we got off the tube we walked next door to St. Pancras and got our travel documents in order. We were on the mid-morning train to Paris on the Eurostar.

I had yet to have a bacon sandwich while I was in London, but thankfully the Pret in the train station obliged. We had breakfast while we waited to board. Then the escalators up to the platform opened up and we boarded our train. It had been a goal of this trip to travel at least some distance on a real train, and while we did board trains from Slough to London and London to Hampton Court, this was a big boy train that would travel to another country.

The Eurostar train seats are about as comfortable as plane seats, at least the standard ones. We opted to sit forward so that my wife wouldn’t get motion sickness. She ended up closing her eyes anyway, as she does. It was awesome seeing the countryside of SE England before we approached the Folkestone tunnel entrance.

Then, the tunnel. I mean, it’s a dark tunnel with no cell signal and the train’s wifi isn’t great. So nothing much happened there. Then you enter into the sunlight at Peuplingues, France. If you were on the car train, this is where you would disembark. But on the train to Paris, you keep going at speeds exceeding 160mph. I think we got up to 180mph in France, but you are speed limited a bit more in England, particularly as you get closer to London.

Even better than the English countryside was the French. It really is pretty rural in northern France, at least along the Eurostar route. I saw a couple of old-style windmills and a few modern ones. Some French farmhouses and tons of land.

Shortly we arrived at Gare du Nord, and for the first time in both of our lives were in a country that did not speak English primarily. While England was always my primary goal to visit, I’m not sure if I could have considered the trip a success without this. We got some Euros from an ATM at the station then boarded the RER for the city center.

We emerged into the daylight at Saint-Michel Notre-Dame station and immediately Notre-Dame de Paris towered over us. It had been damaged by the fire a few months previous, unfortunately, but still stood. We would not be able to see the beauty inside but at least the exterior was out of danger.

Our rented flat was actually on this island, Ile de la Cite, just a few hundred feet from the Notre-Dame grounds. We met the owner, who was a very pleasant guy and his flat was amazing. This was our daytime view.

At this exact same time I had arranged a bit of an anniversary surprise. I got in touch with Yanique who runs myparisianlife.com. I purchased a Welcome to Paris bag that had some cheeses, fresh bread, preserves, and some wine. We had a nice picnic lunch right on the point of the smaller island you can see in the pic above. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Some of the cheese was nice. The stinkier ones I could do without.

With nothing planned for the rest of the day we bought tickets for the Batobus, thinking we could do a bit of exploring above ground. We took the boat to Place de la Concorde, where we saw the second Cleopatra’s Needle of our trip. (The third is in NYC.)

You could just see the Arc de Triomphe down the Champs-Elysees. You would normally turn around and see the Louvre, but construction barriers were up. We headed back to the Seine.

We caught the next Batobus and saw up close and personal the star attraction, the Tour Eiffel.

We were getting hungry at this point so we decided to try and find some food, and this made my wife nervous. She knows almost no French, and my French lessons over the summer didn’t really do much for me. I could greet people and do some very broken phrases, but I was always hoping to turn the conversation to English.

Anyway, we took another Batobus back down the river and got off near the Louvre so we could at least see the glass pyramid.

We walked down the main street next to the river back towards our flat hoping to find some dinner. What we found instead was a climate protest. This was extremely cool to see.

After we walked among the protestors we found a nice restaurant near our rental that gave us a pretty nice view while we ate. Outside on the sidewalk, naturally.

After we ate we retired, and were greeted with the view at night.

Unfortunately the next day would not be that fun.

European Replay – Day Seven

Our last full day in London, unfortunately. This has already been the greatest trip of my life and we had one more day to soak it all in. 

Because we did not make the West Ham match yesterday, we took the tube to Stratford and hit up the team shop at the stadium. I bought a couple of t-shirts and got a reusable bag. I need to make another order soon for a couple of masks. It is a massive complex, and sits next to a large shopping mall called Westgate Stratford. Here we ate lunch and did a little looking around. 

That was pretty much our day. We made our way back to the flat and ate some leftover food we had from our various shopping trips. Then I went back to the pub for a couple more pints of London Lager. It was supremely cool to walk home buzzed and not have to worry about a DUI or an Uber or anything. We need more neighborhood bars here. 

Our bags are pretty much packed tonight to leave in the morning. 

European Replay – Day Six

Our time in London is drawing gradually to a close. On this day we walked to Kensington Olympia station and took the Overground to Clapham Junction train station. Here we took the train to Hampton Court Station and saw the palace most famously occupied by Henry VIII. The train station is on the south side of the river, but you only need to cross the bridge and you have arrived.

This is a much bigger castle/palace than Windsor, and is closer to London along the River Thames. We actually only ended up seeing the palace itself and the close-in grounds, apparently the actual historical grounds are absolutely massive. There’s a ton of history here, and we enjoyed this much more than Windsor for that fact.

We had lunch in the cafeteria and it was actually very good. We walked around the grounds and towards dinner time we arrived back in London. The goal was to see the West Ham (my team) vs Crystal Palace match, but the kickoff was changed and I couldn’t end up going. So instead we headed back towards Earls Court and found some excellent Indian food at Masala Zone.

To walk it off we wandered around a bit and found the Earls Court Tardis, then walked over to Holland Park. The old Halcyon Hotel was where they filmed a small portion of The Saint (1997). This was the movie that kicked off my love for England and Europe in general. I’m a full on Europhile at this point, so I had to get a picture.

After this we hit up yet another small grocery store and headed back to the flat.

 

European Replay – Day Five

Today was truly a day for history as it started out at the British Museum. We hopped on the tube and emerged at Tottenham Court Road and walked our way to the museum. There was a long line to get in, however a nice security guard pointed to the rear entrance, and we were one of the few to take the chance. It was a great tip. We got in without delay and explored the museum for hours.

This is an absolutely massive place, filled with millions of items. There’s always a question of appropriateness of displaying items taken from conquered lands, so I won’t get into that here. The things we saw were amazing, from the Rosetta Stone to a full Roman building facade. There was so much that I saw I hardly remember any of it.

We had a nice lunch at the very modern middle of the museum which has a cafe and shops. We were plenty tired at this point, even from a mental aspect as much as physical. The long walking spells over the last few days were catching up to us. We left the museum after lunch, and explored a bit of the surrounding area before we went back to Kensington.

We got back on the tube and headed to Kensington Palace so that we could indulge in some high tea at the Palace Pavilion. This was a very nice, calm experience as well. We sat outside in the cool autumn air, had some nice black tea and some sandwiches and scones. I came to very much appreciate raspberry and creme on a scone, and consider it perhaps the best treat I had there. After all, I can get pretty much anything I want in terms of chocolate or crisps here now.

After tea we wandered a bit more, having been temporarily refreshed. We went south in front of the palace (which is smaller than you would expect) then east around the Round Pond. We meandered south and came across the Albert Memorial, which is simply stunning. I was able to catch a great picture in the sunset as we walked further east.

We went north on W Carriage driver over the Serpentine, then walked along it and exited Hyde Park at the Albert Gate, and along Knightsbridge again and picked up the same bus we picked up after Harrods the day before.

We wanted to hit up an actual supermarket while we were here, so we took the bus over to the Tesco Superstore near Earls Court. It was fun to see all the different things that wasn’t available to us, and it was particularly amusing to see the American section. We picked up a few more things, but not a ton considering we would be heading to Paris in a few days.

European Replay – Day Four

On this day we did more exploring, less structured in what we did. There was always a plan to hit certain sights, but we weren’t held to a specific order or pattern. Today we decided to take the tube to Westminster station and see Elizabeth Tower and the Houses of Parliament.

Unfortunately it was in the middle of a four year restoration project that isn’t due to be completed until sometime in 2021. This was the one clock face still visible, and Big Ben doesn’t ring except for certain situations. We decided to cross Westminster Bridge and get some breakfast at Pret.

After this we crossed back over and explored Parliament Square and the adjacent Westminster Abbey.

Above is the east entrance, below is the north entrance.

We did the self-guided tour inside that showed all the famous people buried within. It was well worth the time spent to see inside and out. Highly recommended.

After Westminster Abbey, we went back to Whitehall Street and headed north. Here we saw most of the big government buildings and the entrance to Downing Street. We saw the Centotaph, the entrance to the Horse Guards Parade. We had free entrance to Banqueting House via our pass, so we spent some time inside there. It was interesting, but I would not say compelling.

We diverted down a couple of side streets to explore and came across Ben Franklin’s house randomly.

After this it was time to get some lunch. Pleased with our experience at Borough Market we headed to Covent Garden Market. We were expecting more of the same, but this was much more commercial. We tried to eat locally, however the sit down restaurant was absurdly expensive and we decided to just eat at Shake Shack. Ironically, this was the first time I had ever eaten at this American restaurant chain. It was really good, so no complaints there.

After lunch it was time to explore further, so we headed down a small side street to Embankment and found one of the three Cleopatra needles. Also, the requisite red phone box.

We then crossed under the train bridge into Charing Cross, up Northumberland Ave and found Trafalgar Square. Here is the National Gallery, Nelson’s Column, and the Admiralty Arch.

From there we went along Pall Mall to Waterloo Place where we saw the statue to Florence Nightingale, which my wife appreciated as she is a nurse. We walked north on Waterloo until we found Piccadilly Circus.

We were getting a bit tired at this point, so we started wandering down Piccadilly to Green Park, where we made a diagonal approach to the Victoria Memorial and Buckingham Palace.

From there we went up Constitution Hill through the Wellington Arch, down Knightsbridge and toured a bit of Harrods. We should have left this for another day as we were supremely tired at this point.

Somehow we still had enough energy to hop on a bus back around to our flat where we finally experienced an English pub – The Elephant & Castle. I had some good London Lager and some fish and chips. It was a great day capped off my some great food and drink.

 

 

 

European Replay – Day Three

We didn’t quite get the early start we wanted, but we were still out the door at a reasonable time. We hopped on the Circle Line at Kensington High Street and emerged at Tower Hill, across the road from the Tower of London.

We ended up buying a membership which also allowed us to visit other castles on our trip for not much more than the regular entrance fee. The grounds themselves were very nice, and we got a couple of nice tours from the Beefeaters. We of course got to see the Crown Jewels, and while they were nice, I wouldn’t say they were a star attraction for me. It was interesting to see all the table settings over the years and various other ornaments that royalty wore. It was also pretty cool to see a 11th and 12th century tower in the same field of vision as a 21st one.

We had a nice little lunch in their cafe and then it was time to start exploring the city. I wanted to walk across Tower Bridge, but we had to backtrack significantly to do so. As such, we walked along the north side of the river for awhile and saw some excellent sights as per the header pic.

We crossed over London Bridge and hit up Borough Market. What a fantastic experience that was, with all the local food and merchandise on offer. I had a Scotch Egg, which was delicious, and I think I also tried something else that escapes me at the moment. I will never in my life ever pass up a good Scotch Egg after that one. Just a flavor bomb.

After this early dinner experience we wandered along the south embankment and saw the Globe Theatre. Not the same one as Shakespeare’s, but still fairly ancient and cool to see.

We wrapped up our short day by walking across the Millenium Bridge (famous for being destroyed in a Harry Potter movie) and walking up to see the exterior of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

We headed home on the Central Line and had an early night, I think. The evenings kind of run together a bit, and I’m trying to piece together which nights we had dinner where. We’ll call this one complete.

 

European Replay – Day Two

As we got closer to our destination, it was awesome looking out the window at the landscape below. The broken fields of hedgerows was unmistakably European. Our descent into Heathrow had us make a series of tight turns south of London and I could occasionally catch a glimpse of the skyline. I unfortunately didn’t see much I recognized, but I was able to pick out the Battersea Power Station.

We landed at Heathrow without incident and was able to get through immigration with no issue. It was a bit disappointing that we did not get stamps on our passports, but that’s not why we were here. We took an Uber from the airport to Eton, seeing some local roads in the process. My wife fell asleep, but I was entirely too excited.

We were dropped off in front of a shop on Eton High Street where we would stow our bags for the afternoon. A pleasant little shop, I wish I lived somewhere that I could visit one regularly. Our tourism vacation officially kicked off as we crossed Windsor Bridge and saw the ramparts of Windsor Castle.

The castle itself was pretty cool, but I’ll be perfectly honest I don’t remember that much of it. We had a great tour guide that took us through the grounds and told us lots of cool things while it spit some rain (the only time it did so during the day on the England part of our trip). We really didn’t get to see much if any of the inside as I recall, but that might have been our fault. We were also a bit tired and hungry. So after we had our fill of the castle we wandered into Windsor to find some lunch.

Lacking imagination, we settled on a place called Bill’s where my wife had a burger and I think I had eggs benedict. It was very good, and settled us down enough where we could get through the rest of the day to when our flat opened up for occupation. After lunch we got some pounds out of the ATM, retrieved our bags from the shop (and got a couple snacks for the train ride in), and came back to the Windsor and Eton Central station. It was a short ride to Slough, where we switched trains into Paddington Station. We then took the tube to Kensington High Street. We did see an amusing game of swan rodeo as we were leaving Eton.

Our rented flat was right across the street from Kensington Town Hall. It was a great location, although the particular street was a tad busy. Thankfully we didn’t have to worry about parking. We had designs about renting a car and driving into the country, but it didn’t happen this trip.

It was a small flat, but that’s just what we wanted. After settling in, we decided that the best thing to do on our first night was to walk the couple of blocks to the Sainsbury’s Local. There we found some pasta we could cook, and a few more goodies. Here was the first I learned to appreciate good milk chocolate from Cadbury’s.

With that, we settled in for an early evening and watched some British TV. Having already been a huge fan of classics like Top Gear, Monty Python, Ab Fab, Are You Being Served? I was looking forward to some current stuff. We did find Taskmaster, Would I Lie To You?, and a couple of others that we have brought back to our kids for them to enjoy.

I touched British soil, I rode two trains and the tube…it was a great day.