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Last Day in London

31 Jul

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We’ve had an awesome trip and are sad to see it wind down, but as it does, our thoughts turn more and more often to home and all those we’ve missed!  We are looking forward to getting back home with the kids and our friends and family.  This trip has been a welcome respite for both of us, but we are also excited about getting back home.

Today, we got up and ate breakfast, then headed over to the tube station to catch the tube to attend the service at Hillsong Church/London.  It was an awesome experience and we really enjoyed it.  We were able to hear Brian Houston, the founder of the original Hillsong Church in Australia speak at both the morning and evening services.  They have 4 services a day, we attend the 10:30 am service and the 6:00 pm service.

After the morning service, we  caught the tube to another part of town and ate lunch at a restaurant called “Fifteen” owned by Jamie Oliver (You might have seen him on Food Network). This restaurant was unique in that it offered young people a chance to gain work experience.  I found the following information on the internet:

What is Fifteen?
Fifteen is a commercial business with a purpose – a global social enterprise with young people at its heart. Fifteen has three restaurants worldwide – Amsterdam, Cornwall and London – all of which operate a pioneering Apprentice Programme for young people, between the ages of 18 and 24, alongside the day-to-day running of the restaurants.

Where does the name Fifteen come from?
Fifteen is named after the first cohort of 15 young people who joined the London Apprentice Programme in 2002. 

What is its purpose?
Fifteen’s purpose is two-fold: firstly to offer young people, often in need of a break in life, the experience of learning to work in the restaurant business and secondly, for our customers to enjoy fantastic food and knowledgeable customer service. The restaurant is the trading arm of a registered charity, the Jamie Oliver Foundation.

He wasn’t there, as far as we could tell, but the food was delicious.  Since it was our anniversary, we opted for the 4 course meal.  It was a real treat for us!  And it’s a great concept to help disadvantaged kids gain valuable work experience.

After lunch, we caught the tube over to the Kensington/Chelsea area and took a look at the London Science Museum and the Museum of Natural History.  My favorite part was the butterfly house.  It was full of butterflies from all over the world of all different sizes and colors. They were flying all around us, and as we left, we were instructed to check ourselves carefully in a large mirror to make sure we didn’t carry out any passengers on our hair or clothing.   I could have stayed in there much longer, but we had to get back to the church for the evening service.

Hillsong Church meets in the Dominion Theater, which was built in the 1920’s. During the week, it’s the home of the musical, “We will Rock You”  (which was also a good description of Hillsong’s worship service!)  On Sundays, it is the home of Hillsong Church, which underscores the fact that “the church” is not the building that it meets in, but the people.   It’s a cool old building and that in itself was something to see, but add a few thousand people, all worshipping God together and you’ve got a memorable experience.  We really enjoyed being part of the multi-ethnic crowd.

After the evening service, we took the tube back to Victoria Station and looked at some of the shops there.  We were still looking to pick up a couple of last minute souvenirs.  We ate at the restaurant right across the street from our hotel, then walked over to the bakery next door and picked out a chocolate tart and a fresh berry tart to split.  One last splurge before it’s back to the real world tomorrow.  So as I type this, I’m sipping a cup of hot tea and enjoying one last dessert.  I’m gonna need to up the exercise once I get home after this week!

We are so thankful and blessed to have had this week in Europe, and we are especially blessed to be celebrating 30 years of marriage today.   God’s goodness to us has been proven over and over again, and for that we are most thankful!   We’re looking forward to being home tomorrow too!

Love,

Mom/Deb

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…and for God’s sake don’t be late!

30 Jul

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Today was our day to explore the Cotswolds.  I think today was by far one of the most enjoyable days we’ve had (if the number of pictures I took is any indication) (almost 300, but I won’t share them all here)  We enjoyed it immensely!  We started out early because we wanted to have as much time as possible exploring the Cotswold region.  We left our hotel at 6:15 am and headed to the train station to catch an early train.  Our hotel didn’t serve breakfast until 7:00 am on weekends, so we just grabbed a bagel and coffee at the train station and ate it while we were waiting to board the train.  The trip took about 1 1/2 hours, but the scenery was worth the ride.  We had planned to see the Northern part of the Cotswolds, because we’d researched it enough to know that this area is particularly scenic.

The Cotswolds are dotted with little towns with funny names, and laced together by a series of public paths.  The people of this region enjoy their walks, and it was a treat for us as well.  They take great pride in having a very easy to navigate series of trails.  Each little town has a visitor information booth with maps and suggestions on the best trails, depending on your physical stamina and the time you have.

One of the reasons that this area has maintained its small village charm is because it’s not readily accessible by public transportation.  Only one of the towns has a rail station, and that is Morton-on-the-Marsh (I told you the names were funny)  We had to do a lot of calculating of train and bus schedules to make sure we knew exactly when we needed to head back in order to catch the train back into London.  We also had to decide which bus would take us to the little towns we wanted to see.   (There’s a funny story about that, but more on that later)

From Morton-on-the-Marsh, we would catch a bus to Stow-in-wold.  We arrived at Morton-on-the-Marsh at about 8:45 and walked to the town from the train station (since it wasn’t time for the bus to arrive yet).  The information center hadn’t opened yet, so we did some exploring of the shops and bought a box of blueberries from a little grocery/butcher shop to snack on while we waited.  Once the information center opened, we bought a trail map and headed  back to the bus stop.

The bus pulled in right on time and we bought a day-pass from the driver (just 6 pounds) that would give us all day access in case we wanted to explore a larger part of the region by bus.  The driver explained to us that this was our best value since we’d require a trip back to the train station and the separate fares would add up to more than 6 pounds anyway.  The bus dropped us off at Stow-on-the- Wold right in the center of town beside the big old church.  It was completely surrounded by a town square with all kinds of little shops.  There were lots of little places to eat, to have tea, little shops of all sorts, it was just beautiful!  We consulted the map and got our bearings and were ready to start on our way.  As we left the the town square, we passed a bakery/cheese shop and couldn’t resist going in to buy a baguette and a chunk of cheese to take with us on our hike.  The featured cheese of the week (they made their own) was a Gloucestershire double cheddar.  We told the clerk we’d like a piece of it, and she sat the cheese wheel up on a board and cut a nice wedge off of it with a wire.  We also purchased a fruit scone and a couple of bottles of water.

The trail led us on a route out of town, alongside a creek, through fields of wildflowers, cows, sheep, and horses.  It wound around houses and through people’s back yards and farms, over little stone bridges and through gates.  The trail was very well marked and we also had a commentary about where to turn or which gate to walk through.  It was absolutely beautiful and we couldn’t believe our eyes every time we’d rounded another corner.  This trail was about 4 miles long.  The path of the trail took us from the town of Stow-on-the-Wold to the little village of Bourton-on-the-Water.  These are really the names of these towns, I’m not making this up!

We were ready for lunch after this walk, and found a cute little place called the Rose Tree Restuarant. right on the banks of the little Eye River that runs through the center of town.  The Rotary Club was sponsoring a rubber duckie race so there were many people in the downtown area, enjoying the beautiful weather and the duckie races.  The river is very clean and shallow and children were wading and splashing and having a great time.

Jimmy went for fish and chips again, and I had a shrimp, crab, and avocado salad.  I had hot tea with mine and have really gotten into hot tea.  Of course it’s cool enough here to drink it every day.  Not so much back home!

We decided to visit the information center in this little town and pick another trail to hike after lunch.  We did another 4 mile walk that consisted of a loop beginning and ending in the town center right where we had our lunch.  This trail began at Bourton-on-the-Water to Upper Slaughter and returned to Bourton through Lower Slaughter.  This trail was just as beautiful and picturesque as the one we’d done before lunch.  We stopped at the old mill beside the river near the end and got an ice cream cone.  The shop owners were very nice and the ice cream was delicious.  They made it there and we really enjoyed it after our long walk.  I chose butter crunch ice cream  and Jimmy picked a flavor that neither of us had ever heard of.  It was called brown bread.  The owner told us that we needed to try it if we’d never had it before.  It tasted just like a grainy bread crumbled up into ice cream and re-frozen.  It sounds terrible but it was actually very good.

We finished our walk and got back to where we’d started in the town center and once again consulted the bus stop timetable to make sure we were in the right location for the bus we needed.  There were only two possibilities on busses so we knew we had a 50% chance of getting the right one when we needed it.  We waited just a few minutes, and before long the bus came.  It was the same one that we had ridden from the train station earlier in the day.  The bus driver remembered us and said we could catch the bus on the opposite side of the street, she still had one more route to run, but that we’d be able to get on when it came back through in about 20 minutes.  We were all done with what we’d planned to do in that little town, and since we’d bought the all day bus pass and had to wait anyway, we thought we’d just go ahead and hop on the bus and ride with her to the next stop, being able to see more of the region while we waited.  We asked her if that would be okay, and she said sure, if you want to do that, just hop on.

She wove in and out of the little streets and headed to the next town, where she picked up a few folks and a few got off.  After about 20 minutes or so of this, Jimmy said, “I just had a thought, she is not the only bus driver in this town”.  I didn’t know exactly what his point was, but I agreed that he was probably right, I didn’t really see where he was going with this line of thinking, but oh well. . . (I haven’t been married for 30 years without learning a thing or two!)  Then he said,” We are headed in the opposite direction of where we need to be, she thinks we just want to ride and we are going to miss the bus for our train. She must have meant that we’d be catching a different bus in 20 minutes to take us back to the train station and we thought she was talking about the bus she was driving!”  I got a sick feeling in my stomach at that point, but I still thought there was a chance that at any moment, she’d turn down a street and we’d see that we were back to where we needed to be.  Instead, she pulled into a little town we didn’t recognize, everybody got off and she came back to where we were sitting and said okay folks, this is the end of this line.  I think I sat there for a second with my mouth open and Jimmy said, “well is there a bus we can catch back to the train station where you picked us up this morning?”  She said, “You want to go back there?”  We both said, yes and explained how we’d thought we were riding with her on a short trip and then heading back to the station.  It was all a misunderstanding.  She thought we were staying somewhere in the area and wanted to do some more sight-seeing on our all day bus ticket, we thought we were just taking the scenic route to the train station.  She felt really bad for us and said well you can tell everyone that a crazy Irish woman took you on a wild ride while you were here.

She told us that the bus we were on would have to park where it was for about 40 minutes, but would leave from there and head back through all the little towns back to the train station as its last stop.  She said if all went well, we should make it in time to catch the train.  We figured we’d only have about 5 minutes to get to the train platform and catch the train or we’d have to wait an hour and a half for the next train.  She said, go get you some hot tea to enjoy, then come back to the bus stop over there (she pointed to show us exactly where we needed to stand) and for God’s sake don’t be late!  Jimmy looked down at his watch as if to synchronize it, and said, Okay! and hopped off the bus with a purposeful stride toward the tea shop. I was a little slower, still trying to process all that had just happened, and as I exited the bus, she said to me, “Is your husband in the military?”  I said no ma’am, I’m not sure why she asked that, but I thought it was funny.

So we dutifully walked down the street and found a little tea shop.  I ordered hot tea again and Jimmy ordered a cappucino.  The server brought out our drinks, and we sat at a table by the window and enjoyed our extended stay in the area.  Jimmy’s cappucino came with a piece of biscotti and I decided I’d ask if I could get an order to enjoy with my hot tea.  I went back up to the counter and asked if I could please have an order of biscotti.  The man just looked at me and asked me to repeat.  I said, could I please have an order of biscotti?  He said, you’ll have to explain that ma’am, I’ve never heard that word before.  I said, you know, the crunchy little cookie you gave my husband with his coffee?  He said, Oh, you mean a biscuit!  Sure! and he reached into a jar and pulled out a “biscuit” and handed it to me.

We finished our drinks and walked back to the bus stop and stood exactly where the driver had instructed us to stand.  We were there plenty early, just to be sure.  At the time she indicated, she rolled up and we stepped forward.  She smiled and I said, ” here we are, your favorite passengers!”  I guess she’d been thinking about our predicament and asked us again what time our train would leave.  We told her, and she said, that’ll be close but I think we can do it.  We started on our way and there were only one or two other passengers on the bus besides us.  When the last one exited, she began to talk to us more, getting to know us.  We told her about our trip and about our anniversary.  She had been married herself for 38 years and her husband was in the R.A.F.  They lived on an R.A.F. base.  She drove this bus from 6:30 am-7:30 pm 6 days a week.  She said to Jimmy, “so if you aren’t in the military, what do you do?”  Jimmy explained and she told us more about herself and her family.  (From Northern Ireland, been in England for 30 years, two daughters, three grandchildren.)

Once she let off the last passenger besides us, I had no doubt we’d make it on time.  She literally whizzed through the rest of her stops, paused for half a second and would giggle and say, “well, no one here to catch the bus, let’s go”, then she would floor-board it,  taking off like a flash.  She was really tickled with the whole thing.  We were on her last route of the day and her last stop would be our train station so she made it in record time!!  When we pulled into the train station, Jimmy said, “I think we have about 15 minutes to spare, thank you so much for getting us here.  I’m sure we’ll be able to catch our train!”  She said, “I’m just glad there were no cops around!”  We both thanked her profusely and left with another great memory of our time in England.

We made the train just fine, and had a nice trip back to London.  By the time we switched from the train to the tube and made it over to our little “neighborhood” where our hotel is located, it was 10:00 pm, so we went to Prezzo to eat our dinner.  We knew they served until 11:00 pm.  I had the salad I had before (with the goat cheese, artichoke hearts, etc.) and Jimmy had their pizza for which they are famous.  Got to get to bed!  It’s 1:50 am here.  Love you all,

Mom/Deb

To Bath and Back…

29 Jul

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Today was a bit slower paced, and it was a welcome change.  After breakfast, (I finally took pictures of the breakfast we’ve been enjoying every morning) we headed over to the train station to catch the outbound train to Bath.  We wanted to see the 2000 year old Roman Baths (another world heritage site).  It was a very cool and over cast today, but still no real rain.  I’d say the high was in the mid 60’s.  I kept my jacket on all day and it felt good!

The train trip took about an hour or so, and the scenery once again was beautiful.  The countryside really is delightful and we’ve enjoyed seeing it on our train journeys.  We exited the train station in Bath and walked through the streets, looking into some of the shops.  We toured the baths and decided to eat lunch in the historic pump room that has been a gathering place for Bath’s citizens for many years.  I think Jane Austen attended parties held in the Pump Room when she lived in Bath.  (Sarah will correct me if I’m wrong)  Since it was such a cool day, we both decided on the soup and sandwich.  It was cream of broccoli soup with a roast beef and  English mustard sandwich served with “skinny fries”.  I decided to go entirely English and have hot tea with mine.  It really hit the spot on this cold day.

After lunch, we toured the town some more, did some shopping then later in the afternoon, right before boarding the train for the return trip, we got a cup of coffee at a little street side cafe.  Once we got back to London, we took the tube over to the Hyde Park area.  We had walked through St. James Park earlier in the week, but really wanted to see the huge Hyde Park.  One of the water events for the 2012 Olympics will occur on the Serpentine Lake.  We walked through the gardens of Kensington Palace (the Palace itself is  being remodeled, but the gardens are open).  They had a delightful “love secrets” display in the gardens.  The arbor was hung with clear red acrylic balls of all different sizes (similar to Christmas ornaments) and inside each ball was written a love secret.  We enjoyed reading them.

We walked for a very long time in Hyde Park, it is massive and we still didn’t see it all but we did get to see a good deal of it.  We headed back to the tube station and waited for the next train for awhile, but they were having major delays and ending up taking the train we were waiting on out of service, so we had to exit the train and begin the walk to the next tube station to get back to our hotel.  There were so many people trying to find alternate tube rides, that we could barely walk.  We decided to just find a place to eat near where we were, and wait until the crowd cleared out some before venturing on to the next tube station.  We walked up and down a couple of streets before coming to a restaurant called “Rhodes”.  We took a look at the menu they had posted outside the building, and it looked tempting so we decided to eat there.  We were in for an unexpected surprise!  They seated us and brought out a little cup of ice that had two perfect radish halves, 2 celery sticks, and two pieces of what I thought was cabbage but turned out to be fennel.  It was served with a little dip of some kind.  We didn’t know if we were supposed to eat it or if it was just a table decoration at first.  It was very unique looking and we hadn’t ordered it!  I finally decided to take a bite, figuring if I’d done the wrong thing, no one there knew me anyway!  It was very tasty.

We then made our dinner order.  I chose pasta with courgettes (didn’t know what that was, but thought I’d give it a try.  It’s zucchini!) and shrimp.  Jimmy ordered the rib eye.  We both chose a different salad.  It was all delicious!  When she served our salads, I realized we had eaten the veggies and dip and I hadn’t taken a picture!  Our waitress was so sweet (I think she was Swedish), Jimmy explained to her that we are taking pictures of our food while on our trip, and that I forgot to take a picture of the first course before we ate it.  She said, “when someone else comes in and is seated, I will bring you their vegetables and you snap a quick picture then I will take it away”. (This was said with a thick Swedish accent)  She giggled and said, “I think that is so nice that you take pictures of your food”.  In a few minutes, here she came with another saucer of crudites (I think that is the official term) and said, you need to take the picture, quick!  I snapped a quick photo and she whisked it away.  I wondered if she might have gotten in trouble if anyone noticed her doing that!

We decided to go all out and order dessert (for the second time today!)  I had the chocolate truffle cake with fresh mint ice cream and Jimmy had the vanilla parfait with strawberry shortcake.  We both had coffee and ended the evening on a very sweet note.  By the time we were done, the tube lines had cleared and we made it back to our hotel, discussing what we need to see tomorrow.

Love you all!

Mom/Deb

Winchester, Afternoon Tea, and a Concert

28 Jul

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What a great combination for a very enjoyable day!  We decided to sleep in a little this morning since we had such an early day yesterday.  We ate breakfast then caught the tube to the train station for our trip to Winchester.  It was about an hour by train and once again it was a feast for the eyes!  The weather is gorgeous today (and has been every day so far).  Still hasn’t rained in London and the sun was out, but the temperature today was only about 76 degrees (one of the warmer days we’ve had).

Once we arrived in Winchester, we asked for directions to the town centre.  Sarah had told us about a walk through the town and knew we would enjoy it.  We made our way through the beautiful little town and looked into some of the shops.  Before we started our walk, we decided to eat an early lunch since we had reservations for an afternoon tea back in London at 4:30 pm.  Jimmy had been wanting to try fish and chips and we found a pub near where our walk would begin.  Pubs are not bars!  They are neighborhood restaurants, usually owned by a family and run as a family business.  They do sell alcohol if you want it, but they don’t push it and many people eat in pubs and don’t drink.  It’s a place where you often find families eating.  We both ordered fish and chips (which are traditionally served with green peas).  It was good and fortified us for the walk ahead.

The John Keats walk starts in the town centre and weaves through the little streets, past some very old buildings,  past the house that Jane Austen died in, and past the cathedral where Jane Austen is buried.  It follows the path through town, past Winchester college, then leaves town and goes into the countryside.  The path then follows along a beautiful sparkling clear stream through a region called the water meadows.  It was absolutely gorgeous and what a gorgeous day for a walk.  When we got to the end of the walk, we cut back into town and followed the streets back to the train station.  I took lots of pictures and would love to go back to Winchester some time in the future to spend more time exploring this quaint little town.

We bought bottled water and a cookie from a lady that lived along the walking trail.  She sold baked goods, sandwiches, snacks and drinks right out of her kitchen window since the trail ran right alongside her house.  She was so friendly (all the locals we’ve met so far are exceptionally warm and friendly) and asked us about our visit so far and about what we had planned for the next few days.  The white chocolate raspberry cookie that we bought from her was delicious.  She kept her kitchen window open (there are no flies here!!!) and you just walk up to the window and ring a little bell for her to come.

We made it back to the train station with about 15 minutes to spare before our train was to depart for London.  We were sitting on the bench, enjoying the nice cool breeze, the low humidity and the high of only 76 degrees.  We were talking about how nice the weather had been and how much we were enjoying the cool temperatures.  The temperatures here remind me of the fall temperatures at home.  As we were commenting on the pleasant weather, we heard this announcement come across the Public Address system at the train station.  “This is an extreme heat notice.  Please be aware of the extreme heat today and be advised that persons should carry bottled water with them onto the trains.  If you are feeling ill, please seek assistance immediately from station personnel.  Please do not board the train if you are feeling ill from the heat.  This could cause unnecessary delays in receiving treatment. ”   We looked at each other and said, Are they kidding?  It’s 76 degrees!  Heck, I’ve mowed the yard for hours at a time in the blazing hot sun with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees with 98% humidity or more!  This is nothing!  We got a big laugh out of it.  We said if they think this is hot, they should come to Kentucky, we’ll show them what hot really  is!

We got back to London, cleaned up real quick, changed our clothes and caught the tube over to the Langham Hotel for our afternoon tea.  What a delight that was!  I think we should definitely adopt the practice of afternoon tea in America!  It took about an hour and a half to enjoy all the delights they brought out to us.  After picking the tea we wanted (we went for Earl Grey since that was the only one we knew anything about!) they started bringing out the delicacies.  The first item was a little panecotta with some type of tart glaze on top.  It was delicious.  Next they brought out a selection of sandwiches all on different types of breads.  There were cucumber and cream cheese which was my favorite, chicken with rocket (or arugula), tuna, egg salad, and salmon with some delicious  type of spread.  After that came the warm scones (two kinds) and then a selection of four different desserts.  We thought that was it, but then they brought us each a little fresh berry tart as the finale.  It was so relaxing and so enjoyable.  They kept the tea coming and every time we’d drink our cups down, they’d come around and go through the process of pouring us more.  They would get out a little strainer, prop it on our cups and pour the tea out of the pot through the strainer, straining out the leaves as the tea poured through.  I think this would be a big hit in the US!

We left there and took the tube to St. Martin in the Fields Church, where we had tickets for a classical music concert by the famous Belmont Ensemble of London.  It was held in the beautiful, historic St. Martin in the Fields Church by candlelight.  The concert consisted of pieces by Handel, Bach, and Vivaldi.  The concert ended at about 9:30 pm, so we caught the tube back to our hotel.  As we exited the train station, we spotted a McDonald’s and decided to both get a cheeseburger and fries.  Nothing like a good ole hamburger and fries to end the day!

I’ve Seen Paris…and that’ll do for quite some time.

28 Jul

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Our Paris day started early with a car that picked us up from the hotel at 5:00 am.  This day trip was the only part of our Europe trip that was an organized tour.  We thought this would be the best course since we don’t speak French and only had one day to navigate the huge city of Paris.  It’s funny that we would be sitting in the lobby of our hotel at 5:00 am and walk out the door and get into the car of the first man that walked in and said “James?”  I think tourists could be very easy targets for someone that had ulterior motives!  Anyway, all turned out well and after stopping at another hotel and picking up a group there, our little tour was ready to depart.

The driver dropped us off at the international train station to board the Eurostar.  We’d become familiar with the other trains, but the Eurostar is a high-speed train that travels 150 mph, travels under the English Channel through a tunnel and is able to make the trip from London to Paris in just under 2 – 1/2 hours.   We arrived in Paris and our tour guide Michael was waiting for us there.

First on the agenda was a tour of the city’s major sites, then a stop at the Eiffel Tower.  Before we exited the bus, our guide warned us that we should be aware of pick-pockets, people selling cheap trinkets (they were everywhere and could be very insistent) and of people pretending to be deaf asking you to sign a clip-board.  Once they had your signature, they would ask for a donation stating that they represented a deaf organization. If that felt the donation was too small, they would then say they had a minimum donation amount of:_____.   He told us that there is no such organization in Paris, and that we should just say no and move on.

There were huge crowds at the Eiffel Tower, but we were able to get through fairly quickly with the group passes we were given.  We then boarded the lift (not elevator as in the US) to take us up to the viewing decks.  It really was  a beautiful view. We stayed up there for quite some time.   I took lots of pictures and then Jimmy and I decided to walk down the stairs instead of riding the lift back down.  From platform to platform is 324 steps (according to our guide) and we walked down two platforms, so by the time we got to the bottom, we were certainly feeling it!

We were instructed to meet back up with the group and our guide at the pier on the Siene River (at the base of the tower) to board a boat for a river cruise.  By the time we navigated through the throngs of people, we only had about 10 minutes to spare before we had to board the boat.  We hadn’t eaten lunch, so we stopped at the first food booth we came to in order to grab a quick lunch.  At first it appeared that they were primarily selling hotdogs and hamburgers!  I told Jimmy it would be a shame to come all the way to Paris and have to eat a hot dog for lunch! (He said a hotdog sounded pretty good to him, but I wasn’t about to go for that!)  As we got closer to the food cases, we saw that they also had paninis, so we each ordered a panini, and bought a little pouch of things that looked like donut holes sprinkled with sugar.  (I at least  hoped the donut holes  were French, I think paninis are Italian!)

We ate on the boat and enjoyed seeing the city from the river.  It sprinkled for about 5 minutes or so while we were on the boat, but we were under a clear glass roof so we didn’t get wet.  Once we finished the cruise, it was back on the bus and to the Louvre Museum.

The Louvre is a massive place and since our time was limited, we plotted out our course to see the most famous exhibits first.  We started with the Mona Lisa, located her on the map and made our way to the room she was in.  The closer we got, the more crowded it became.  I can now say that I’ve seen that famous painting with my own eyes, but don’t totally understand why all the fuss.  It’s a small painting, relatively speaking, and we weren’t able to get very close at all, because people were wedged in front of it shoulder to shoulder several deep.  So though we started our tour of the Louvre trying to find the Mona Lisa, the rest of our time there was spent trying to avoid her!  Every time we’d turn a corner and see a sign with a directional arrow pointing toward the Mona Lisa, we’d jokingly say we didn’t want to go anywhere near her and turn in the opposite direction.

You could spend days in that museum and still not finish seeing it all.  We enjoyed the great paintings, especially the exhibit displaying Christian art, and were able to see many famous sculptures as well.  I think we covered a great deal of ground given the time we had.  We never stopped, trying to get as much in as possible.

At 6:00 pm, we met back up with the group, headed out to the bus and traveled back to the train station.  The trip should have been a short one, given the few miles we had to travel (I doubt it was even 2 or 3 miles total) but the traffic was horrific!  We crept along in the bus just inching toward our destination.  I noticed that there are apparently no rules when it comes to the traffic in Paris.  This is especially true at  intersections.  The roads are just jammed with cars and busses, and zipping in and out of traffic between the cars and busses are motorcycles and bicycles.  I don’t know how some of them have survived as long as they have.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  It’s bad enough on the straight aways, but in the intersections, it’s each man for himself.  There is no clear way to cross an intersection.  Drivers don’t yield the right of way and there could be any number of cars all trying to wedge their way in from every direction.  It appears that the car that’s the least concerned about having to visit a body shop is the one that finally gets across.  Sometimes they would pull out and go around each other, sometimes they’d have a face-off and just honk til someone gave in and backed up.  And the whole time bicycles and motorcycles are darting in and out between the stalled cars.  I saw a woman just jump out of the back seat of a car and run off!  Guess she was late for an appointment and knew she’d never get out of the gridlock.  It was crazy!

It took so long to get to the train station, we didn’t have time to eat before leaving Paris, so we waited until we got back to London and ate at a restaurant near the train station called Prezzo.  It was really good!  We weren’t sure they would still be serving since it was about 10:20 pm before we got in, but they were and the food was great.

I guess everyone should see Paris if given the opportunity, but I think one visit will do me for quite some time.  I’m sure the city has much to offer, but I think I’d enjoy the French countryside (which was beautiful out the windows of the Eurostar) much more on my next visit.

Two World Heritage Sites in One Day!

27 Jul

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Tuesday was another full day (I think I keep saying that!)  After breakfast, we walked down to the tube station (just a couple of blocks from our hotel) and caught the tube out to the Tower of London.  We were there when it opened, so once again we were able to beat the throngs of people that tend to arrive at these types of sites mid-morning.  We really enjoyed the history and being able to see all the old buildings.  Especially entertaining was our guided tour by one of the Yeoman Warders (“Beefeaters”).  As part of their conditions of employment, they live on site, so the Tower of London is actually a small little community in and of itself.  They have two churches, a doctor, a pub, etc.  We were able to tour one of the churches, the one our guide attended.  It is the burial place of a number of famous people, three of which were wives of Henry the VIII.  We also saw the site where some of the wives (and others) were beheaded. It was a great time of history and also to see the crown jewels, which are housed here.   The Tower of London was the first world heritage site we saw that day, the other was to come later in the day.  As we left the Tower of London, we stopped at a street side stand and bought a couple of delicious sandwiches at Paul’s, two bottles of water, and two chocolate eclairs!  We took these with us to eat on the boat as we cruised down the Thames.

Our original plan had been to finish the Tower of London then catch the tube back over to the Westminster Pier and take a boat cruise out to Kew Gardens.  The only problem was that when we arrived at the pier we were about 10 minutes too late, and didn’t really have enough time to wait for the next boat.  But in London there’s always a Plan B!  We decided to take the tube out to Kew Gardens ( a quicker route anyway, but not nearly as scenic!)   We were very near the Churchill War Room Museum at this point, and since we had that on our list for later in the day, knew we’d save time by fitting it in here.  (Also, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to do some “guy” stuff after dragging Jimmy through the dress exhibit yesterday) So we walked across the street to St. James Park, found a bench, and ate the sandwiches we’d bought.  St. James Park is beautiful with lots of massive sycamore trees, a lake, and a maze of walking trails throughout.  There are beautiful flower beds everywhere and there were lots of people enjoying a day in the park.

The Churchill War Rooms were very interesting.  All remains as it was when it was used as an underground bunker for Churchill and his cabinet during the war.  I think it was a welcome relief for Jimmy!  I had to take some preemptive measures since we have an afternoon tea scheduled for later in the week!

Once we were done with that, we caught the tube out to Kew, home of the Queen’s Botanical Gardens.  It was a nice ride out there, and we loved the little village of Kew.  When we exited the train station, we walked down shady cobbled streets lined with small shops, restaurants, and historic homes.  There were no crowds, just a nice little village.  We stopped at the first coffee shop we came to and bought a cappucino, then strolled on down to the gardens.

Kew Gardens is about 10 miles outside of London and contains over 300 acres of plantings.  We really enjoyed the gardens.  It is the other world heritage site that we saw that day.  The oldest tree in the gardens is a Chestnut that was planted in the 1700s.  Our kids will definitely think we are nerds, but we could have spent more time out there.  It was beautiful and so relaxing after the rush of the city!  We did some exploring on our own, then took a tour which gave us a good overview of the different regions of the gardens, then walked back through the village and caught the train back to London.

We got back to our hotel with about 15 minutes to spare before we needed to leave and find something to eat before our play.  We had ordered tickets to Wicked before we left the States.  We got cleaned up real quick, changed clothes and walked across the street to eat at a restaurant called Giraffe.  We only had about  1 hour until showtime but the server assured us we could get in and out before our show started.  The Apollo Theater is only about two blocks from our hotel, so we had an easy walk.

Jimmy ordered the Salmon on Rissoto and I had a veggie flatbread pizza.  They were both delicious!  We finished our meal and headed down the street to see the play.  It was a great production.  The live orchestra, the singing, the choreography, costumes, sets, everything make it a special treat.  We really enjoyed ourselves.  We got in very late and had an early call to leave for Paris, so we went straight to bed.  Can’t believe our time here is almost half  over.  Still so much we haven’t seen! But we’re looking forward to seeing everyone real soon.

Love to all,

Mom/Deb

I Saw “THE” Dress!

25 Jul

[slideshow]“]After a good night’s sleep, we hit the ground running for our first full day in London.  After a big English breakfast which included a much expanded version of the breakfasts we’d enjoyed in Scotland, we began our day.

We had many of the same breakfast items, apparently traditional all over the UK such as fresh fruit of all kinds, natural yogurt (similar to what we’d call Greek but not as thick and not sweetened) fruit compote (to ladle over the yogurt I think) muesli, cereals, granola, porridge, prosciutto, other cold meats, a selection of international cheeses, fruit juice, pastries, white and brown toast, etc.  But what was different here was that they also offered a line of hot foods.  On that line were fat sausage links (not really what we’d think of as breakfast sausage), bacon (which looked and tasted very similar to what we’d refer to as “city” ham) scrambled eggs, fried eggs, baked tomatoes (tomato halves sprinkled with seasoning and baked) and baked beans which were served alongside the scrambled eggs!  I wasn’t expecting that one!

Our first item of business was to join a bus tour of the major tourist sites that was included with the price of our hotel room.  We soon learned that the tour buses are not the most efficient way to move around in the city.  It is so crowded this time of the year.  You truly can make better time by walking.  We’d already arranged with the tour guide to leave the tour mid-way through since we’d booked tickets to Buckingham Palace online and wanted to be sure to make it in time to start our tour there.  So we hopped off the bus at Westminster Abbey and walked the rest of the way to Buckingham Palace.  We were both glad to be able to get out of the bus gracefully!  They are probably still stopped at a red light somewhere waiting for the traffic to clear.

Buckingham Palace was really enjoyable.  Once inside, we toured the state rooms, got to see some really great art from the Queen’s collection, got to see the official wedding photos of William and Kate and actually see the rooms where the photos were taken, where they had the post-wedding dinner and reception, and many other interesting items.  It was a real treat.  The highlight of the tour though (and I’m only speaking for myself here, not Jimmy) was I got to see Kate’s wedding dress, shoes, earrings, and replicas of the bouquet, and wedding cake.  The dress is really beautiful.  The display included a short video with the seamstress, Sarah Burton,  describing the steps that were taken in designing and sewing the dress.  Apparently the soon to be princess doesn’t just choose lace because she likes it, or choose flowers for her bouquet because they are her favorites, every item is selected because of it’s symbolism or because of its ties to Great Britain.  There’s quite a lot of thought that goes into all this!  Judging by the dress, I’d say Kate probably wears about a size 4 or 6 and I’d guess her shoe size to be a 7.  The earrings (commissioned by her parents for the occasion) were beautiful glittery diamonds with little acorns (of all things) dangling in the center.  The acorn symbolized the new coat of arms for the Middleton family. (Guess they moved up in the world when she got engaged to the Prince!)  I really enjoyed the exhibit of the wedding dress, but the Queen didn’t.  She saw it for the first time over the weekend when she and Katherine toured it together before it opened to the public.  (It just opened on July 23)  The Queen apparently thought the display was ghastly and that the whole thing looked creepy with the veil floating over the headless body.    She used the words horrible and horrid to describe the display.  It appeared the mannequin’s lack of a head may have perturbed the Queen, who added: ‘It’s made to look very creepy.’   LOL!  I’ll bet that was an uncomfortable moment for Kate!

The tour of the Palace ended with a walk through the garden, then back to the hustle and bustle of the real world.  We walked in the direction of the tube station (what we would call the subway) and stopped for lunch at Pizza Express.  Jimmy ordered cannelloni and I ordered from the under 500 calorie menu.  Mine was a pizza that had the middle cut out and salad inserted.  It was really good and too filling for me to eat it all.  I have a hard time believing it was under 500 calories!  But we are definitely walking off our meals!  We caught the tube over to the British Museum and did a quick look at the galleries.  We got to see the Rosetta Stone, Cleopatra’s mummy, a statue from Easter Island and lots of other really old stuff!  It’s mind-boggling really to consider how much history we viewed today.

We finished at the British Museum, walked back to the tube station and rode over to Westminster Abbey to attend the 5:00 pm Evensong service.  We got in line and as we moved forward to the entrance, we could see that some folks were being turned away.  We made our way to the front and were asked by the attendant, “What is your business here today?”  We answered, “We’d like to attend the Evensong service please”.  They smiled at us and said “Good!  come on in.”  Guess the people in front of us answered the wrong way!  It was an awesome experience to be ushered into that great cathedral!  I walked along the same path that took Kate to the altar to marry William.  In fact, when we were seated, we were in the very center of the church (it actually forms a cross) and we were right at the center where all four arms of the cross intersect.  The architecture is magnificent.  The history is mind-boggling.  In the “bulletin” we were given, it told how there has been a worship service to God every day in Westminster Abbey for over 1000 years.  We walked along the same path and over the same marble floor that so many before us had walked.  The service was mostly sung, with a short passage read from the old testament, then from the new testament with psalms and hymns in between.  There were a couple of responsive readings and times when we sat, and times when we stood.  I couldn’t help but compare this great cathedral to the little church in Edinburgh that met in an old theater that we had visited just the day before.  I hope (and feel certain) that there are sincere believers with a pure devotion to God in both places!  I’m so glad we got to experience both worship services.

After the service, we hopped onto the tube and went to the train station to catch a train to Brighton.  Brighton is a seaside resort about an hour south of London.  It has continued to be great weather.  Still no rain!  The train was pretty full so we were unable to sit together, but sat across the aisle from each other.  I said beside an older retired gentleman that I really enjoyed talking to.  He was headed back home after being in London for a cricket match that had lasted 5 days!  He was in a jolly good mood because England had beat India.  He explained cricket to me, showed me the score card in his pocket, explained how the game could go on for so many days.  I told him we had extra innings in baseball, but had never known it to go into additional days!  We talked until he exited the train at his home.  I’ve so enjoyed meeting the local people!  This man had lead a very interesting life and I really enjoyed getting to know him. He and his wife, now that they are both retired, spend a good bit of time traveling and they are exploring the Far East on their recent trips.   When he left, he shook my hand and told me how enjoyable his trip had been, then he told Jimmy, “I really enjoyed meeting your wife”.  So nice.

We arrived in Brighton and did a good bit of walking around to see the waterfront and the town.  We walked along several little streets with little row houses that were so cute and neat as a pin.  Apparently, Brighton is a really popular place this time of year with students on “holiday”.  It was very similar to Miami Beach during spring break (places we usually avoid!)  but we enjoyed seeing it and the train ride was beautiful.  Train travel is a great way to see the countryside.  We ate a light dinner and took the train back into London.  Another big day tomorrow…

Love to you all,

Deb/Mom