Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I See London, I See France

At this rate, it could be May by the time I get through my description of our one week vacation, so I'm going to take a different approach this time.

On Wednesday, Andreas and I got up at 5:45 am to catch the Eurostar train to get to Paris. Speed story. We...

...walked to the Underground
...rode the train to Kings Cross Station
..bought coffee and muffins
...burned my arm with the coffee
...ran super late for the train
...were forced to trash brand new coffee
...were escorted through security
...ran to the train
...had glorious sleep on the way to Paris
...arrived at Paris Nord

...hiked to Sacre Couer

...passed sleazy shoe vendors on the street
....enjoyed beautiful views of Paris

...ate Nutella crepes...that one deserves a pause.
...walked through quaint streets of gift shops
...ate a delicious baguette sandwich
...walked to the Moulin Rouge

...took the Metro to Notre Dame
...had seriously. tired. feet.
...wandered through the Quartier Latin
...relaxed by the Seine...check out the love locks on the bridge

...ate French fries...in France!
...found free toilets
...walked along the Louvre

...ate apple cinnamon crepes
...endured the pouring rain for far too long
...trudged toward the Arc de Triomphe...note the cloudy skies

...re-energized at Haggan Daaz...vanilla caramel brownie ice cream and Illy coffee. Yes. Please.
...saw the Arc de Triomphe

...walked to the beautiful Eiffel Tower

...rushed to train
...ate snacks for dinner while watching Lost at the hotel

Whew! This post is much like that day - rushed, full, exciting, and probably a bit erratic, but at least we are through Wednesday!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

London Day 2

Tuesday morning we took it slow. We slept in, got ready at our own pace, and headed downstairs to experience our first breakfast at the hotel. When we booked this trip, one of the perks of our package was that breakfast was included, and we were anxious to see what exactly that entailed. I mean, was this going to be a cramped room with a cold cereal bar and a waffle iron? Breakfast totally exceeded our expectations. Waiters served tea, coffee, and toast, and the buffet included a traditional hot English breakfast as well as pastries, cereals, yogurts, fruit, breads, cheeses, meats, and a variety of spreads. The first morning we wanted to try the English breakfast, and I have to say I wasn't all that impressed. It was just too heavy for an early morning meal, especially considering the amount of walking we were doing each day! We were, however, very grateful to have the hotel breakfast available. Quickly getting ready at an early hour to venture out into the drizzly, windy, cold London weather for breakfast just sounded awful.

This picture doesn't really have to do with anything, but it was taken on the street on the way to one of our many destinations, so I figured I would throw it in here at the beginning of the week...

Our first stop of the day was Tate Modern, the city's modern art museum. And guess what? Apparently, Andreas and I do not appreciate most modern art. We wandered around the museum for a while, enjoyed a Pollock or two, blankly stared at a material piece that included ravens pinned to the wall with arrows, and decided we were ready to leave shortly afterward.

Just outside of Tate Modern is the Millennium Bridge, a foot bridge that connects the museum to St. Paul's Cathedral. Fun fact - when the Bridge first opened in 2000, it had a serious wobble that required the bridge to close immediately and not reopen for over a year!

Andreas was convinced we should buy a hot dog from a vendor nearby for a quick snack. We totally should have opted for the roasted peanuts. They smelled waaaay better.

At St. Paul's Cathedral we took a fantastic tour through the Geometric staircase, the cathedral floor, the crypt, and the Quire. Our guide was adorable and passionate and obviously enjoyed his job very much. At one point he asked our group if any of us were Harry Potter fans (he was about to reveal that part of the fourth movie was filmed in the location we were visiting) and I stood there alone with my hand proudly raised :). After the tour we climbed up to the Whispering Gallery and beyond. That was an adventure in itself with 500+ narrow stairs and involved a fair amount of huffing and puffing on my part. The rain and wind at the very top cooled me down in a hurry.

The views of London from the top were incredible. The locals refer to one of the buildings in the background of our picture as 'The Gherkin' due to it's pickle-like shape.

The last thing we did at the Cathedral was attend their Evensong service, during which most of the lesson is sung by the choir.

After spending the entire afternoon at St. Paul's, we were famished and exhausted. We stopped at Pizza Express for bruschetta and pizza before heading back to the hotel. Once home, we realized the train tickets we had purchased to visit Paris the next day required that we print them online before presenting them at the station. We begged the receptionist to print our tickets at the front desk, and she kindly obliged us since the hotel hadn't opened their office amenities to customers yet. With that minor detail taken care of, we decided to take a walk around Westminster at night. Probably not our brightest idea. Granted, it was beautiful, but we had a lot to take care of before catching our train at 7:30 the next morning.

That night was pure chaos. We got back to the hotel, cleaned up, and only then started planning our day in Paris. We had a general idea of things we knew we wanted to see (the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, duh), but we didn't really know what all Paris had to offer and we certainly weren't familiar with the lay of the land. We spent the next few hours hurriedly considering friends' suggestions, travel site recommendations, blogs, Google maps, Metro prices, train times, potential weather, what to pack, and shoe options. We knew we were up late, but didn't actually realize how bad it was until our neighbors started knocking on the wall for us to quiet down. Woops! We had a trip to plan! After getting everything sorted out we finally got to bed, but of course it took both of us forever to fall asleep. We had a million thoughts, concerns, and ideas racing through our heads and I'm not sure either of us ended up getting more than four hours of sleep. We did make it to our train the next morning, but just barely...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

London Day 1

Call me old fashioned, but I definitely have some paranoia regarding blogging about vacation while still on vacation. So, now that we are back in town, we are so excited to share some highlights of our adventure with you!

Lucky for us, the tube runs all the way to Heathrow Airport, so getting to the hotel wasn't difficult. Well, not too difficult. Getting two massive suitcases, a carry-on suitcase, a backpack, a purse, our coats, and ourselves onto the train was slightly awkward. At one point I was actually buried underneath our luggage to accommodate other passengers who were determined to sit through our journey into town. This was the intro to Lesson #1: London is FULL of tourists. The tube, the streets, the sites, the shops...are all buzzing with people.

When we arrived at Park Plaza before 10am, we were worried whether they would be able to accommodate us that early. Amazingly, they had a room prepared and we were able to unload and clean up. Here's our hotel in the middle of downtown Westminster (picture taken from the London Eye, so it's a bit hazy):

Hello Wedgewood china mugs.

Hello modern, beautiful bathroom.

Hello crazy model looking over our room (that's the closet).

We embraced the opportunity to explore our hotel, unload our baggage, organize our room, and freshen up after the long flight. After a brief rest, we set out for our first day on the town. Our hotel sits just to one side of Westminster bridge...

..which also is home to Big Ben and the London Eye...

...and Parliament.

Needless to say, we were introduced to quite a few famous places right off the bat. Several vendors were selling snacks on the bridge, and we thought it might be nice to eat something. This led us into Lesson #2: London loves cash. Granted, vendors accepting cash only didn't come as much of a surprise, but as we continued on our search for lunch we realized that many establishments did not accept credit cards. We finally found a cozy, crowded pub that accepted plastic and enjoyed a traditional British meal - fish and chips! It was very good and seemed a much better option than steak and kidney pudding. I know, I'm sure you think I'm close-minded, but that just sounds awful!

We decided to spend our first afternoon on a double decker bus tour. That way we could get a feel for the city and sights. We saw a few sites that we actually didn't return to later - London Bridge, Tower Bridge, City Hall, and the Tower of London. We would have loved to have seen everything up close, but we just didn't have the time! On the tour we experienced our first London rain, which is why we don't really have any pictures from that day. Taking pictures in an open-roofed, moving vehicle while it's raining was just a little more than we could handle on the first day, but we had fun nonetheless and our guide was entertaining.

After the bus ride, we wandered through Piccadilly Circus to Chinatown. We passed a few mom and pop shops that looked promising for dinner, but again...we had no cash with us (refer to Lesson #2)! It worked out for the best because we ended up eating delicious pad thai at a restaurant further down the road.

It was a long day, and after dinner we were ready to kick back and relax. We headed back to the hotel for a movie and some much needed sleep!