Starting in London & surrounds, next exploring Normandy, finally heading to Paris.
  • Day16

    Au Revoir, Europe!

    July 6, 2019 in France ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    Way too hot last night (still 75 degrees at 1am) and I slept poorly. Up by 7am, I quietly packed and organized stuff until the others were up around 8:45am. Relatively easy getting everything tidied and out by 10am. Hunted down an oil painting R and I had seen on the street that Tom was interested in. Already topping 80 degrees at 11am on its way toward another 90-degree day.

    Smooth jaunt to Charles de Gaulle, then we hit the most epic passport control line. Probably 90 minutes of weaving back and forth. Then, security. We are finally off in a Westjet 787 - best flight I've taken in a long time. Slept for several hours, which helped. Flight crew was delightful (didn't expect to feel surprised by unaccented English), meals were actually tasty, and excellent in-flight entertainment.

    Only issue was hitting significant turbulence right after beverage service and I end up with an entire cup of red wine in my lap. Fortunately, I have a pair of pants I had planned to change into at the airport, so I didn't have to sit in it the whole time.

    Three hour layover in Calgary turns into four due to ground halt for lightning. At this point, it feels like 2am and we are all ready to be asleep...
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  • Day15

    Happiest Place on Earth

    July 5, 2019 in France ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    Kids did not entirely figure out we were going to Disneyland until we were there. As our 'eagle eye', L had noted the last stop on our 60-minute journey and suspected where we were heading, but didn't say anything. I told the kids were going outside of Paris to Versailles. R asked what we would see there and I told him a castle. When he asked who the castle was for, I told him a princess. I warned the kids there would be lots of walking and waiting too. Tom videotaped the boys as they figured we confirmed our true destination.

    We arrived about 9:30am - 30 minutes before official open, yet we walked right in and navigated our way to Crush's Coaster in the back of Disney Studios. As many had warned, it is kind of the red-headed step child...more like Universal than a true Disney theme park. That said, there were several good rides.

    The day got off to a slow start. Waited nearly an hour for our first ride on Crush. Went to another thrill ride (RC Racer) with a reasonable line and as we neared the front, it broke down (never to return). Hassled with recalcitrant Fast Pass machines to Tower of Terror, before heading to eat an early lunch at what several reviews said was the best food in the park - US chain, Earl of Sandwich (indeed tasty!) So exactly one ride before we ate...things fortunately picked up after that.

    Headed over to the namesake park to Fast Pass Big Thunder railroad, ride Pirates of the Caribbean, which was delightfully cool. Phantom Manor (aka Haunted Mansion) was a letdown, with the ride pausing three times. R wasn't interested in Star Tours, but the rest of us wanted to and he ended up loving it. Stopped for some gelato - only four euros for three scoops. I am actually surprised at the reasonable cost of quite a few items.

    Jetted back over to Walt Disney Studios to use our Tower of Terror passes (I love a good roller coaster, but can't say I love the big drops) and the Rockin' Aerosmith Coaster (cool music memorabilia!) With three inversions, we all love it, and with virtually no line, we go again. Everyone laughing at our funny blown hair. Unfortunately, we were separated with R & Tom going and L and I left behind. A cast member unexpectedly came over and hands me a Fast Pass so we can all ride again together. On a third time!

    Studio closing for the evening, we head back to Disneyland to hit Big Mountain on Fast Pass (STILL at 50-minute wait for regular line!) Stopped for dinner. With most of the restaurants inexplicably closed by 5pm, those still open are packed and it takes about an hour for very mediocre food.

    Finally do Buzz Lightyear on a Fast Pass, with an 80- to 110-minute wait all day. About to go again and Logan notices that Hyperspace Mountain is open AND only a 15-minute wait - it has been closed and not expected to open for another week. We race over and while they still have work to do on the theming, the ride itself was AWESOME! By the time we exit, others have made the same discovery and line jumped to 35 minutes, so we go back across to Buzz. When we came out, Space Mountain had closed again...fortunate to have done it once anyway

    I had been promising R his favorite treat of cotton candy all day, so he and I hunted down a giant cone of spun sugar and dye just before the evening closing display began. Disney Illumination was a combination of light show projected on the castle (clips of movies & laser lights), music, water jets, pyrotechnics, and fireworks. I thought it was quiet good. Hardly took any photos during the day (too hot!), but took dozens during the show.

    We trudge along with the crowd to the Metro station, pulling out at midnight. Kids are passed out all over the place. L logged 26K steps before midnight. Arrived back at the flat around 1am and after nice cool showers, promptly poured everyone to bed.
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  • Day14

    Space, Science & Technology Day

    July 4, 2019 in France ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    Not much of an Independence Day here. Hope everyone had a good one back home! Last time I was in Europe on 7.4, Jess and I were in Pisa.

    Since neither of our planned locations opened until 10am, we had a leisurely morning, sleeping until 8am and eating crepes on the street. Train, then bus well out of town to the Air & Space Museum at Le Bourget airport. It was neat seeing mostly French planes, with a smattering of foreign planes as well.. The kids enjoyed the simulators and I particularly liked the deconstructed planes, seeing the inside of a 747, Concorde and even Soviet ICBM as you enter, which is a mind blower.

    Next, we took a bus down to the Science museum, munching snacks along the way. There were exhibits on high speed rail, robotics, Argonaut sub, a small aquarium, and more. Upon leaving , we look the Metro back into town. The kids and Tom went back to the burger place they ate at while I was in Lyon. I didn't feel like a burger, so I headed back to our flat for a battery backup to charge my dead phone and I grabbed something quick at a falafel place across from our place.

    Quickly jetted down to the river to see Sainte Chappelle, one of the places I really wanted to revisit before we left. Only 30 minutes before close, there is a long line. Fortunately, the last hurrah with the Museum Pass allows me to skip the entire line and I'm inside in only five minutes. Having been before, I skipped everything other than the stained glass, which is unbelievably gorgeous. I took a number of photos, which really can't to it justice, before heading back to rejoin the three guys.

    R predictably enamoured with the Lego store. I purchase a womens national team jersey at the Nike Store - had I known, I would have visited before heading to the match! Tom went off to unsuccessfully look for clothes, while L headed back to our place to relax.

    Afterward, R and I headed back down toward the river to hit tourist shops in search for the perfect Paris had for him - his third of the trip, one for each stop. Finally found one. My feet are killing me, it is hot, and I'm exhausted. R has been jonesing to ride one if the electric Lime scooters, so I grab one and we manage to balance together all the way back to our area. He rides it solo half a block and back, shortening the entire way.

    At long last, we are back. I shower and browbeat the kids into packing stuff up. They don't understand why since we have a 'whole entire day'more and keep asking what we're doing tomorrow. Little do you know, kids!!
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  • Day13

    Busy Day!

    July 3, 2019 in France ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    After a late evening (not done with dinner of burgers until 9:45pm), boys were up and at the Catacombs early. Good things too because the lines built quickly - only 200 people allowed at a time. They got in on the first wave and enjoyed it. R wasn't sure about the 'creepy' factor, but liked the bones. L 'doesn't know', which is a pretty typical answer for our teen. Tom liked the designs people made with the bones.

    I met up with the three of them at the Pantheon, having stopped into a cute little patisserie and bought some beignet-type of egg pastry with sugar on top. I shared these with them to rave reviews. Must find more!

    We toured the Pantheon in about an hour (could have spent longer, but everyone was hungry). Walked to a yummy Lebanese place for shawarma wraps, falafel, and baklava. Small, take-away spot, so we walked five minutes across Pont Neuf (the oldest bridge in Paris) and ate on a bench in a park on the tip of the island containing Notre Dame and Sainte Chappelle. It was lovely watching the activity on the river, where it divided around the island.

    After lunch, we walked to the O'rsay Museum. About a 10-minute Fast Track queue and we were inside. It wasn't as stellar as I recall. The Impressionists were more broken up and many of the best Van Gogh and a bunch of the Monet money to be on loan or is storage. Still nice. I particularly liked the Rodin and other sculptures.

    After O'rsay, we treated to gelato (I had a refreshing lemon granita). Then we started heading back to our flat. I peeled off to go look for artwork and R joined me. I found a copper etched print of the backside of Notre Dame - my favorite view. Then back to our flat for a light dinner, relaxation, and an earlier bedtime.

    So. Much. Walking. My Fitbit apparently died Monday, so I've been relying on L's. We haven't had a day below 20K since! Feet, ankles, knees, and hips are all tired and sore.
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  • Day13

    Au Revoir, Lyon

    July 3, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Alarm went off too early...difficult time unwinding after an exciting match. Quickly got ready, had a few brief minutes with my gracious hosts, and off I went back to the tram station. A light rain fell last night and the air is blissfully dry and a pleasant 73 degrees.

    A direct shot to the train station (except that I mistakenly got off early and waited for a different jam packed tram), no thanks to Google, who seems to think there's no public transit options in Lyon...

    Met several teen girls from DC on the tram who had convinced their families to take them to the quarterfinals through finals matches.

    Wish I had an opportunity to explore Lyon a bit. Honestly, nothing remarkable that I was able to see during my brief stint here. The architecture I saw is almost entirely modern. Tried to at least find a postcard at the train station, to no avail.

    With the heat, I have struggled to stay hydrated, and I forgot to fill my water bottle before I left. (Hate buying bottled water, if avoidable!)

    Uneventful train ride. Chatted with a family of five from Minnesota who traveled to the match. Mostly relaxed and researched tips for making the most of our Disney experience on Friday! ;-)

    Enjoyed a leisurely 30-minute stroll in perfect weather along the Seine, past the Sorbonne, to the Pantheon, to meet my family!

    More photos from the match, since I have none from Lyon itself...
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  • Day12

    Match Day

    July 2, 2019 in France ⋅ ☁️ 25 °C

    Hot and humid in Lyon at 86 degrees and real feel closer to 90. Took a bit to figure out logistics for public transit - Google Maps was of zero help. Bought a 24-hour pass so as not to deal with tickets while bleary-eyed tomorrow AM. Eventually figured it out and found it easiest to follow the masses wearing red, white & blue. Gloriously, the SNCF was running special air conditioned buses non-stop to the stadium. Took that, then grabbed an Uber to the Airbnb.

    Easy enough to get settled. Very nice family. The dad, Jakob, speaks quite good English and showed me around. The mom, Nicole, spoke little
    They have two teen sons. Clean and tidy and will suit just fine. About 10 minutes later, I'm off to the stadium! Metro is right around the corner, so I don't need Google, which is good since it insists there's no way to use public transit to the match.

    I arrive at the correct station and follow along the crowd. Notice a place advertising hotdogs and beer with other American fans. Figure it will be cheaper and likely better food than inside the stadium, so I decide to stop. Good thing because no beer is sold inside! Apparently, FIFA failed to secure an alcohol sponsor. SMH. Funny looking dog in a baguette, with frites and a large beer. I eat and drink as I continue toward the stadium. Looking everywhere for gear, but I'm not seeing any. Figure there will be some inside and head on in, along with 53,512 of my closest friends. No gear, only generic FIFA stuff that's pretty boring, and I'm dressed head-to-toe in black (those who know me well realize I have a gear problem and tend to go overboard with 'flair')...oh, well! The fans are all fantastic and I have lovely conversations with several of them.

    Find my seat and it is fantastic! Right in front of the FIFA/VIP seats, where the lady in front of me recognizes Brandi Chastain, Julie Foudy, and several more ladies from the 1999 winning USWNT! French folks to be left who kept to themselves. A nice father/daughter who drove in from Geneva, who promised they were neutral. I quipped "Switzerland is always neutral" and they laughed (yet then cheered on England!) In front of me were a group of 30-something Americans from the Bay Area, one of whom is wearing a bald eagle costume and had to be roasting!

    The ladies come onto the field to AC/DCs Thunderstruck and I estimate the fan base is 2/3 US (or else 50% louder, which is entirely possible!) Match begins and USA goes up 1-0 five minutes in. UK events it up pretty quickly. Finally, the US get a goal at the 32' mark and despite a nail biter of a game, with a PK and a UK goal nullified for offsides on review, 2-1 remained the final score. They women looked good and I look forward to watching the final when we return home!

    After the match, a (mostly) ebullient crowd and I mosey out toward the tram station. Temp is still 81! Realize that my Airbnb farther out of the city is a good thing because everyone is heading into town and fewer are going my direction. I feel fine on my own, although the block and a half walk to my place was slightly nerve-wracking as I believe I was being followed down a dark, empty pathway by some teens who were part of a raucous group. Fortunately, I'm only three houses up, so I douse my light and quietly slip inside before they see where I went.

    Back at my flat right at midnight, a nice cool shower was refreshing. It's finally starting to cool off a little and there's thunder and lighting in the distance, so here's hoping for a nice cooling rain!
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  • Day12

    Tour Eiffel

    July 2, 2019 in France ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    Woke at 8am to a bright, clear day and on the road by 9am. Took Metro to the Eiffel Tower (after exchanging our tickets that I wiped being next to my credit card).

    All of us were pretty excited and loved seeing the structure in person. Sold out of pre-purchased tickets, so we waited in a relatively short queue and then started climbing stairs. I went more slowly than the others, focusing on how my physical therapist coached me, to not irritate my knee (especially after climbing Arc de Triomphe yesterday) and I'm in less good shape. Great work out, up 674 steps!

    The views were stunning! Perfect day with a nice breeze. We beat much of the crowds, but still busy. Walked 360 around the first level and then up to the top level. Tons of photos. About 1pm before we spiraled back down - much easier than up! ;-)

    R excitedly spotted koi fish in the pond at the bottom. Walked along the Champ du Mars, continuing to snap photos. A short ways away, we stopped at a bakery for chicken curry baguettes and pasteries.

    Wandered along with no real destination. Ended up at Invalides, where Tom and the kids decided to check out the military museum. I said my goodbyes and headed to Gare de Lyon to catch my train. Easy to get there once I found the Metro station and very nice trip - only two hours by TGV.

    Will update more once I know that the boys did...

    Don't know all the details yet, but apparently, when the guys got back to our building, Tom walked up while the boys took the tiny elevator. I gather R jumped up and down and the thing stopped (key to flat on L's pocket of course!). Tom texted me after they were unable to get it going again. I texted Airbnb. Airbnb called an elevator technician since no one was answering the number on the elevator that Tom tried numerous times. This is all going on while I'm on the train and trying to navigate to my Airbnb in Lyon. Finally, as I am walking up to the stadium, more than two hours into this whole ordeal, Tom texts that the kids are out of the elevator and they're going to eat. Serves the little one right, although I feel bad for L being stuck there with him...will see if they find it amusing by the time I get back to them tomorrow. Certainly memorable!
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