Starting in London & surrounds, next exploring Normandy, finally heading to Paris.
  • Day1

    Arrived Gatwick

    June 21, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Departed Sea-Tac on a 787-9 Dreamliner. The blue-haired one is indeed ours...hard to recognize L, he's grown up so much - now towering 2.5" over his mama and wearing size 11 shoes! He was excited to fly the new Boeing model.

    On the bus to the plane, we ran into Kiki, one of my fellow Vietnam chaperones and Evergreen teacher, on her way to honeymoon in Dublin. Small world!

    Smooth flight. No one slept more than 90 minutes on our 9-hour non-stop into Gatwick. Videos and games entertained the kids & Tom, while I completed 9:10 virtual puzzles in-flight. Two more minutes and would have had the 10th! ;-)
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  • Day2

    First Day in London!

    June 22, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Despite an 'overnight' flight and all feeling tired, we were determined to power through the day to help adjust our internal clocks better.

    After a quick 30-minute express train from Gatwick to Victoria Station, we grabbed a delicious breakfast at a nearby cafe. Pancakes for the kids and eggs on toast for the parentals (smashed avocado for me....mmm!) That helped perk everyone up.

    Our warm-hearted R observed a homeless man on the corner and requested to give him money. I reminded him that it was better to provide food over cash, so without missing a bear, he headed off to present him an apple (and unbeknownst to us, a few USD as well). Proud mama!

    I pre-arranged a "hop-on, hop-off" double-decker tour bus - low key, yet out and about, to get our bearings and give the kids ideas of what they wanted to come back and see. We started part of the loop on the way to our flat in West Kensington, then grabbed an Uber the rest of the way. Worked perfectly as the cleaners were there, so we could drop our bags. Dragged everyone back to finish the loop around Hyde Park and then after an interminable wait, switched onto the main downtown London loop.

    Frankly an excruciating experience. Top deck was full, bottom deck was hot and tough to see/listen to what we were passing. Finally grabbed seats up top, which was WAY better! Traffic was awful, so lots of stationary observation time. We finally had enough and hopped off for the last time.

    Navigated our way back to the flat. via the Tube. The little one and I peeled off to hit the Tesco supermarket to obtain provisions. Tom & L were exhausted and headed to relax. We returned with backpacks full to find them both passed out. R and I enjoyed a take & bake pizza. L surfaced around 7:30pm, scarfed a couple of slices and crashed again. We all were comatose not much past 8pm and I had the first solid night sleep (9.5 hours) in three nights. Heavenly!
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  • Day3

    Happy 15th Birthday!!!

    June 23, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Our eldest baby celebrated his big 1-5 here in London! L had the privilege of (mostly) selecting the itinerary and meals for the day.

    Despite all sleeping well, we moved slowly in the AM. Poached eggs, toast & fruit, and off we went.

    Rented (Santander) bicycles. Stands all over the city and only 2 pound per day each, unlimited use as long as under 30-minute increments. Fantastic way to see the city! Not cooped up in a vehicle nor stuck in traffic, way more efficient than walking, and while the tube is fun, we loved the fresh air, exercise, and ability to stop anytime the mood struck to check something out or snap a photo. Only problem is that we noticed they drive on the wrong side of the road!!

    The architecture in London is breathtaking!! Mind blowing that the city started 2,000 years ago. Our tour guide yesterday referenced a building built in 1880 as 'new'...older than almost anything in Seattle, it sure provides perspective!

    Our first stop was the London Eye. I scored 2-for-1 skip-the-line tickets, although the queue wasn't terrible. It was a nice experience. Next, we took a river cruise from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge. The tour guide was funny and informative.

    Traditional fish & chips for lunch right next to the Tower of London. I call L our "walking stomach" and he is excited to eat his way through Europe! Lots of texts starting to pop through wishing him a happy 15th. Now dubbed "bird boy" due to a fateful autocorrect on his uncle's text...given his 5' 9.5" frame carrying 120# (fully clothed after a big meal), the moniker may stick! :-D

    We wandered around the tower. Too late in the day for a Harry Potter tour, we biked over to the Ben Franklin House (one of my requests). While quite interesting in it's own right (80% original, dating back to the 1700s!), the boys and I are descended from Franklin, which made it extra special!

    Pooped out, we finally pedaled our way back to the flat for lasagna and ice cream, singing to L and then heading to bed.

    Our Airbnb is nice, although definite quirks in an older building. Top flat of 3-floor walkup. Two small bedrooms, 1 beautifully remodeled bath, small living room, combined kitchen & dining, and skylights, it is spacious compared to any hotel rooms in London. Nice to have a kitchen and bit of elbow room!
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  • Day4

    Day 3 in London

    June 24, 2019 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Starting to feel normal in this time zone and navigating the city from the left side of the road. We scooted out to hit the changing of the guard at Buckingham - R's fervent request. With a few rain drops, we were concerned it would be canceled, but fortunately the show indeed went on.

    Just made it in time to predictably huge crowds. Tom was able to heft the solid squirt onto his shoulders to see and take copious video and still shots. Bands played an array of show and movie tunes - Greatest Showman, Hairspray, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and more.

    R and I then positioned ourselves on the outer facing fence to watch them process. Met a lovely mother & daughter from Atlanta. They invited R to get in front of them for a front-row view. He was thrilled! (Cannot believe they do this daily!)

    We pedaled over to the Churchill War Rooms. I was clever and purchased on annual membership, which will save us 20+ pounds because we also plan to tour the HRH Belfast Wednesday AND allowed us to skip past the priority line (the regular line was over an hour wait). Super fascinating!! Not only learning more about WWII from the British perspective and seeing their strategy & leadership location in an underground bunker, but also the life and times of Churchill himself. We spent north of two hours there - basically until the boys were dragging Tom and me out!

    We pedaled over to SOHO for some fantastic burgers and pints of London brewed beer at the Brewdog pub (loved the Punk IPA!). Tom and I enjoyed vegan Beyond burgers - my first. Very filling, yet not heavy, like beef patties can be. Stuffed, we headed up to Kings Cross to see Platform 9 3/4 from Harry Potter lore. Unfortunately, there was an hour long queue to have a photo with the trolly cart. However, we were satisfied with just a photo of the sign and cart.

    Back to the bike stand, we wound our way through Piccadilly (I became directionally challenged, so Tom took over navigating) back toward the West End / Covent Garden area for some excellent gelato at Gelupo. Finally, a long, slow pedal back to the flat. Proud of how the not quite 11yo has been able to keep up, keep safe on the roads, and not an ounce of complaining!

    Over the past three days, my Fitbit has tallied nearly 60K steps and 10 hours of biking! Sleeping well tonight!!
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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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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