Starting in London & surrounds, next exploring Normandy, finally heading to Paris.
  • Day11

    First Full Day in Grand Paris

    July 1, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Another long, full day! Left the flat by 9am and walked over to the Louvre. Spent about two hours visiting, mostly in the Denon wing, enjoying sculpture (Greek, Roman & Egyptian) and Italian paintings, including Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa of course. They've made the latter harder to see with a bellied wood railing and then a roped off area, which I understand, but is too bad. The kids seemed to enjoy much of it and we opted to keep it short and sweet and hope to come back to see more in the coming days.

    Decided to trek out to the Arc de Triomphe via Metro, which I saw with Jess, but didn't climb. The rotary traffic is insane with 12 spokes and seeming free-for-all. The eternal flame and war memorials are quite poignant. Up the narrow, spiral staircase of the largest man-made arch in the world we went. A stunning sunny day meant we could see quite a ways. The kids were both very excited for their first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower - funny and cute because they wanted to make sure I saw it.

    We had a casual lunch at an Italian bistro nearby, before strolling down the length of the Champs Élysée (kind of sad to see how many US brands have joined the fray...Foot Locker?!?) to the L'Orangerie museum to check out Monet's water lillies and fellow Impressionists. Fortunately, it is a relatively small museum as we started petering out. Grabbed the Metro back to our neighborhood, a light dinner, and reading.

    Funny note - Logan's blue hair is getting many more stares here than it did in London (where it recieved a ton of compliments)! We've only seen one other person with colorful hair. Tom gets a kick out of watching people's reactions (I hardly notice his hair anymore.)
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  • Day10

    Back to Paris

    June 30, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Woke up tired...having difficult time going to sleep every night. We have an hour to evacuate our flat in Bayeux - much smoother than the same exercise in London. Fuel up 'gazole' and return the rental. Train is a few minutes late - compartments of eight...only two others at first, but pick up the others at subsequent stops.

    Smooth trip into town, but unfortunately, we cannot check into our flat until 15:00...another two hours. Stop at a Yelp-approved creperie near the train station for lunch. The boys had sweet and I had savory - all quite good.

    Grab an Uber with all our gear, figuring to hang out in a nearby park and buying groceries until the gal could meet us with keys. She texts, saying it will be 16:00 instead...crud. I let her know we are heading toward the flat now, will be waiting nearby, and ask if we can meet her to pick up the keys. Suddenly, she says she can meet us there. Very confusing, but I'm grateful all the same.

    Fourth floor walk-up on a quiet courtyard in Le Marais. I knew it would be cozy, because we had several Airbnb reservations cancelled with big-city crackdowns on unlicensed rentals and I had to rebook us in March. Prioritized central location over size and amenities. However, this place is tiny! Rowan and me sleeping on pull-out sofa in living room, while Tom and Logan share a double bed. Worst equipped vacation rental I've ever seen too...no salt & pepper, oil, dish soap, or even extra pillows. Oh well! Hardly spend time at our place, except dinner-time through breakast (usually too exhausted to leave after a full-day of sight-seeing, so we've prioritized lunch.)

    After the train ride, we all want to stretch our legs, so we walk 15 minutes down to the Seine to check out Notre Dame. From the outside, one could hardly tell there had been a massive fire, except for the missing spire. Some scaffolding and wood, but more looks like a renovation. The immediate vicinity is blocked off though, so difficult to see ground level except for the construction entrance to one side (North, I think). So incredibly sad, although still very beautiful...I had been looking forward to showing the boys the gargoyles and chimeras. Told them they'll have to bring their kids!

    We circumnavigated the cathedral and enjoyed checking out the sights, sounds, and people around the river. The City of Love is all decked out for Pride month and starting to gear up for Bastille Day, only two weeks away! The city seems much grittier than I recall...as Tom said, "it's like the whole place needs a good pressure wash." Definitely more homeless people (in London too), as we also have at home. A shocking amount of graffiti, which is upsetting on such beautiful buildings.

    Stopped at the tourism office to purchase our Museum Passes (kids are free!) Next, we bought groceries from the corner store, cooked up cheese tortellini to eat with an amazing crusty baguette and pain au chocolate (ridiculous at $1/each and oh, so delicious!)

    It is so hot, despite the thermometer saying it's *only* in the high 70s, we all have a tough time falling asleep.
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  • Day9

    D-Day - Part Deux

    June 29, 2019 in France ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Last night, the US women played France in the soccer World Cup quarterfinal game. Ironically, USA played Spain in La Havre (not far from Normandy) while we were in London and played yesterday in Paris. We are somehow, just one step behind. The match didn't start until 9pm and the kids were trying to sleep, so I followed the match on Twitter. They won! Immediately went online to see how much tickets are for the semi-final match against England on Tuesday in Lyon (a 2-hr train ride from Paris). Four tickets were running $1,400-1,700...ouch! That isn't happening. However, a single ticket was only ~$200 after taxes and fees...not too bad. I decide to spring for it and stayed up until 2am figuring out train and accommodation. Could have done better if well rested, but I am going and excited!!

    Also, meant that I started the day tired. Meh. Already over 70 degrees at 8am. Unbelievably topped out at 97 in Bayeux today. Being closer to the coast with a small breeze helped some, but it was still bloody hot!

    Arrived at the American Cemetary before 9:30am to a virtually empty parking lot. Didn't stay that way for long. Like many places we've visited, there have been major improvements since over the past two decades. A small, but well done visitor center and a new overlook above Omaha have been added. We spent about two hours soaking in the solemnity and surprising peacefulness of the place. While still very moving, I recalled feeling an overwhelming sadness last time. Perhaps because I was more focused on curating my kids' understanding and experience. I am hopeful they will want to bring their own children here someday to appreciate the awesome sacrifices made by previous generations, destructiveness of war, and importance of pursuing peace and justice.

    Toward the end of our time at the gravesite, my flip flop strap popped! (Note to self - flip flops aren't proper sightseeing attire, even in almost 100 degree temps!) Did NOT want to waste 30 minutes driving back to the flat for different footwear so I dove into my first air kit to MacGyver a solution with dental floss...proud to say it held successfully the entire day!

    Headed down the road to Pointe du Hoc. A tiny visitor center and plaza looked virtually brand new. Jessica and I were only one day in Normandy and didn't get outside Bayeux, so it has been neat seeing new areas. We walked the hour loop to the point to see where US Army Rangers scaled 90 foot cliffs under withering German assault to capture gun emplacements and suffering massive casualties. The pillboxes, craters, sheer walls, and views over Utah and Omaha are impressive. By the time we returned to our vehicle, the heat was oppressive.

    Agreeing we've all seen enough batteries, we skipped a couple of spots. If it were just Tom and me, we'd have gone to another, but the kids are understandably museumed-out. Instead, we head to Sainte-Mére-Eglise toward Cherbourg, where US Paratroopers landed (two on top of and stuck on the church roof). Grab burgers at a place with shady outdoor seating on the church square, followed by some refreshing gelato, which we enjoyed on the delightfully cool grass under a tree. Rowan and I in tank tops have pink shoulders, despite sunscreen...

    The heat is really zapping us and we decide to head back to Bayeux around 3pm. At my insistence, we stopped at La Cambe, the German cemetary. Boys are full of righteous indignation as to why we would go to a cemetary "full of Nazis"...a great opportunity for some important conversations. The contrast is stark - small, flat headstones, most buried two to a grave, many anonymous "two German soldiers," close together, and few embellishments, despite twice the death toll. There's a small, old, unmanned visitor center, with a modest amount of information. As they say, "history belongs to the victors." The message around reconciliation is strong and I'm glad the kids have an image.

    With a 'real feel' of 99 degrees, we retreat to our closed up and concrete apartment, which has stayed reasonably cool. I'm ready for a siesta and take a 2-hour nap. Light dinner of leftovers, packing, and bedtime reading.
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  • Day8

    Heatwave!!

    June 28, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Whew, it is hot!! Almost all of Europe appears to be under heat advisories. Southern France hit an all-time record today at 115 (45.9 C)! We are fortunate to be in Normandy because Paris was 5 degrees hotter at 91 today...although tomorrow, we're scheduled to be the same at a scorching 95. Not quite like the desert heat we experienced a couple of years ago in the SW US! :-/

    Hard time getting going this AM with the lost hour and very comfy beds. We have two bedrooms, a sofa bed in the living room, and a sleeping mat on the floor, so we are blessedly able to spread out a bit.

    Started with the neat museum in Bayeux dedicated to the Battle of Normandy. Several neat tanks out front, 25-minute video, and special exhibit set up for the 75th anniversary. Ended up spending over two hours. Then off to Pegasus Bridge, where the battle started with British gliders capturing two strategic bridges. We took some photos, walked across the new replica bridge, and looked at the memorials, before retreating to the cool of our vehicle.

    Headed to the Melville battery next. They're in the process of significant upgrades at the sight. It was disgustingly hot, but we still enjoyed checking out a C47, underground batteries, well done exhibits (although need more English translation) and reading about the British parateoopers' struggle to successfully get the guns out of commission in advance of the D-Day landing at Sword. The bunkers were nice and cool, but finally we couldn't stand it anymore and we hit the road with AC blasting and guzzling water.

    Stopped briefly at Sword beach, which was gorgeous and lively with folks enjoying a respite from the heat. A wonderful breeze was very welcome. As we drove along, I would read passages from a really good Time Life book about the history and importance of the battle and what we were seeing and passing. Starving, we swung into a grocery store along the way and picked up pre-made sandwiches for a very late lunch to munch on the way.

    We wound along the coast, only able to glimpse Juno. Would have loved to stop, but wanted to ensure we had time at Arromanches before they closed for the day. We popped into a 360-degree video shown across nine screens on the 100 days of Normandy. Footage from US, British, French, and German sources, plus music, all woven into a mesmerizing story that required no narration. Overlooking both Gold and Omaha beaches, the remaining Phoenix caissons were incredibly impressive. Another brand new memorial for the anniversary with ghost-like metal figures made from welded washers was very powerful. The only snafu was realizing that my glasses fell out of my pack. Retracing my steps, I hear a crunch under the tire of a vehicle...yup, found 'em! :-/

    Finally, we swung through the battery at Longues-sur-mer to see the German guns and massive concrete structures still standing, seemingly hardly touched by the intervening years. Rowan particularly enjoyed climbing on and around the artillery pieces and rolling down the hill, over and over! (The exuberance of our youthful and irrepressible 'monkey' helped keep the day from feeling oppressively heavy.) A neat temporary installation described the work archeologists are doing here (and along the entire Atlantic Wall).

    Knowing they would be putting a lot of effort into what is realistically the final major anniversary for the dwindling numbers of veterans, this type of 'extras' is exactly why we came this summer.

    Returning to our flat, we had dessert, cold drinks, cool shower, and then simply relaxed. Whew, another long day in a long line of long days! We are now exactly at the half-way point on our trip...one week behind us and another week ahead. Feels like we've been gone forever and I also know our remaining time with race by all too quickly...
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  • Day7

    Goodbye, Grand Britannia!

    June 27, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Alarm rudely going off too early, but necessary to make our 8:30am train from Saint Pancras. Though we were nearly entirely packed and I thought we had lots of time, we still ended up scrambling at the end. Grabbed an Uber to navigate us through early rush hour traffic.

    Wound through ticketing, security, exit control, and French customs. We had only a few minutes before boarding - glad I didn't go for my normal 'by the skin of our teeth' routine or it would have been really stressful!

    Left precisely on time for an uneventful trip to Paris in only about two hours. I'd forgotten how much my ears popped going through the Chunnel.

    Then it hits me...we left our iPad at our flat in London! :-( I text with our Airbnb hostess. The cleaners found it. She is willing to mail it to us. I do some Google searches and find a post office near our flat in Paris that she can send it General Delivery...fingers crossed!

    Paris was a sweltering 95 degrees by the time we arrived. We were greeted by college kids giving out free mini cans of alcohol-free, yet ice cold Heineken. Yes, please! Decided not to mess with Metro to transfer from Gare du Nord to Saint Lazare with the heat and all of our gear, relying on another Uber instead. Enjoyed gelato at the other train station, with plenty of time to loiter around before our platform number is posted.

    Upon boarding, we had the amusement of figuring out seats that were non-consecutive, appearing to have little rhyme or reason. Our seats, next to one another were 21, 23, 24 & 28, with 22, 25, 27, and 30 across from us. Then we sat. And sat. The conductor came on and made an announcement. In French only. The kind English women next to us translated that we would be delayed while they cleared a person off the track. Huh?!? A while later, another announcement. I look over and the ladies said another 15 minutes. We're now 30 minutes behind schedule. Not that we have to be anywhere by a particular time, but it's hot, despite the AC. After an HOUR beyond our scheduled departure time, we are finally off to Caen. Having managed only six hours sleep last night, I snooze on the trip over.

    Arrived at our stop and disembark to find another French city in the grips of the European heatwave. Fortunately, the rental agency is immediately across the street from the train station. Easy to get our car, but it is cooler on the street than it is in the rental office. Armed with a confusing little map, we attempt to navigate the two blocks to find the car park (along with other lost rental company souls with inadequate maps of their own). We have a white, manual transmission, diesel Jeep something or other. At this point, I don't care, as long as there is AC...

    Easy 45-minute drive to the adorable town of Bayeux - where Jessica and I stayed 22 years prior when backpacking through Europe. It has definitely grown up and seems more cosmopolitan, despite Wikipedia saying the population is essentily unchanged for 40 years.

    We find our flat - very different, but equally charming from our London one. Light and airy, with great cross ventilation, overlooking tennis courts. Fortunately, it is cooling off and tolerable now.

    Tom, Rowan, and I walk half a mile to the grocery store to stretch our legs after sitting all day, while Logan tried to work out a tech issue on his phone and the wifi in the flat. SO different than the British groceries. Trying to decipher signs in French and navigate aisles was challenging (how come Europeans don't refrigerate their eggs??) Eventually, we had provisions for an easy dinner, breakfast, drinks, etc. and back we went.

    Dinner, shower off the sweat, and then off to sleep, which was difficult, having lost an hour on the time zone change.
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  • Day6

    Last Day in London

    June 26, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    Woke to a cool, grey morning on the early side. Again trying to get ahead of the crowds to see the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London - almost a 45-minute bike ride from our flat. Per usual, we were right on schedule...which means an hour behind when I wanted to arrive.

    However, queues were modest and we beelined to the jewels in the farthest section and walked right in. They were spectacular, although I kind of thought they had more than just the coronation items and perhaps additional tiaras, jewelry, and baubles. The key part of the exhibit moves you along on a conveyer, which was clever. Walking out, there was easily a 30-minute line to enter the exhibit and the lines built during our time.

    Exiting, a Beefeater was finishing up a tour, sharing about some of the famous executions they held at the Tower, plus some info about the Yeoman Warders themselves. He kindly answered questions and I wish we'd taken a photo with him.

    We spent around three hours and found the 1,000 years of history fascinating! Rowan predictably enjoyed the armour, Logan said the jewels were his favorite, Tom perhaps unsurprisingly liked the torture devices, and my favorite were the prisoners' wall carvings and inscriptions. I took hundreds of photos, it was so beautiful and interesting. We all enjoyed it immensely and learned a ton!

    Next, we walked across the Tower Bridge, grabbed bikes, and pedaled to a nearby Indian restaurant for a late lunch. (Sure glad I packed snacks to keep the grumpies at bay!) The food was excellent, although quite different than what we eat at home. Sun burning through and the day starting to warm up, although still windy.

    Refueled, we toured the Tower Bridge which was really neat. We were fortunate to perfectly time our visit for the bridge to lift for a boat, so we strategically positioned ourselves mid-span on the glass above (installed only four years ago) and got some good video and photos. Seeing the old engine room was very interesting too.

    From there, we walked over to the HMS Belfast, which played a role during WWII, including D-Day, and a decade beyond Korea, before being decommissioned. We unfortunately only had an hour before closing, but we were quickly able to see almost the entire ship. Really needed another 30-60 minutes more to do it proper justice. The good news was that being late in the day, we had the ship nearly to ourselves. We split up, with Tom and Logan heading one way and Rowan and I heading another. The squirt was most interested in the turrets, pushing every button, trying every single phone, a d flipping every. last. switch. he could find. It was fun!

    Worn out, we started the long jaunt home, with a final souvenir stop near the Eye to add more press/squish pennies to their collection. We literally ran out of time on our bike rental, so ended up grabbing an Uber from Hyde park for the last bit. With 25K steps, I was not sad to skip 13 more minutes of biking!

    Tried to eat up leftovers for dinner and got packed up for an early morning ahead. Excited for France, but sad to say goodbye to London (particularly as it felt like we were getting it down!)

    Our only real issue was today while biking. Early in the day, I was a complete klutz and managed to take a spill from a stationary position (reminiscent to my dive into the rice paddy in Vietnam!), with several gorgeous bruises to show for it, plus pretty stiff and sore by the end of the day. More seriously, Tom took a glancing blow from a taxi and badly twisted his ankle (long story!)...he is okay, but it was scary and we are lucky it wasn't worse.

    Rowan has taken nearly 700 photos and has kept up every bit during the trip, bouncing along like Tigger most of the time. No more bickering and teasing between the boys than normal too. Both kids have been super engaged and curious in what we've been seeing. I'm excited for the rest of the trip!
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  • Day5

    Stonehenge & Windsor

    June 25, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Awoke to a peaceful morning, with the air refreshed from an overnight rain and birds chirping gaily. I relaxed with a cup of tea, enjoying a cool breeze and quiet flat, listening to the sounds of London starting its day.

    Prodded the boys to get a move on for our nearly two hour trip, so we could beat the crowds at Stonehenge. Already on 'vacation time', we were an hour behind my 'schedule', but all went smoothly. Biked to Paddington to pick up our rental car - a Citroen Cactus (huh?!) Tom navigated traffic on manual transmission, mostly remembering to stay on the left side of the road, while I navigated the route. Nice to spend a day outside the city!

    I read to the kids about Stonehenge along the way and we spotted megaliths from the highway before we arrived - anticipation mounting (at least for me!) It was a place I'd thought to skip as being horribly touristy and just looking at a bunch of rocks (says the daughter of a geologist!), however, I'm glad we went. The fact that ancient stone-age peoples 4,000-6,000 years ago moved 20-30 TON rocks 150+ miles away is mindblowing. Like Chichen Itza, they are perfectly aligned to capture summer and winter solstice. So cool!

    After a light lunch of cheese, crackers & apples, we headed back toward London, for a mid-afternoon tour of Windsor Castle, arriving after the tour bus hoards had virtually vanished. Really impressive and beautiful structure. Neat to hear about 700 years of history, some of the interesting royals who lived and died there, and a bit about the modern monarchy. Each of us enjoyed a different aspect of the site - indeed something for everyone. No sign of Harry, Meghan, or Archie though! ;-)

    Departing the castle grounds at closing time, we walked down the hill for a yummy Greek tapas-style dinner and gelato next door, before driving back to the Paddington Station car park to drop off the Catcus. Besides a couple of wrong turns resulting in scenic re-routes, it was an incident-free day! We got very lucky - forecasts were for showers and beyond a few drops while at Windsor, we remained dry. Sun even poked out toward the end of the day!

    A quick 15-minute pedal and we're back at our flat for shower and bed. Only 16K steps today and one more (full) day left to explore London! :-/
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