July 2016
  • Day16

    Day 16: Paris to DC

    July 22, 2016 in France ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    We slept in a little, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, and looking back that was mistake. We thought we would have plenty of time to make a 12:30 flight when we left before 9 but only just. I really wanted to fly out of Orly (it's a smaller and better airport), but the better flight was Charles de Gaulle. You have to take 2 metros, 1 train, and a tram for an hour and 15 minutes before you even get to the terminal. Then you have to check in, then go to border patrol (this was an absolute nightmare) 2 people checking everyone and we were barely moving for 20 minutes, 30 minutes... Our flight was already boarding and we hadn't even made it to security. We wait, everyone's tempers are flaring and people are missing flights right and left. Yelling occurs, police don't care of course, and we're down to the line. A large group of us are going to DC so we do the very thing I hate doing and skip the line (everyone else is, after all this is France). We barely get through and run to security up the stairs, security wants all of my liquids in an actual baggie (who does that anymore?) and they have to search my bag of course. Anyways, we make our flight and the plane takes off 30 minutes late thank goodness (also, if we hadn't skipped the line and been "those guys," we would still be in France). Oh and security had to check my purse and Joel's backpack at the terminal, but didn't want to search my duffle or his carry on- huh? Apparrently only bad things come in small packages. So very French of them. The French do certain things very well; they cook good food, they build beautiful buildings and gardens, and they sometimes make great art and music, but when it comes to efficiency and security, they fail miserably. They seriously need some left brain in that country.

    Anyways......

    For those of you who plan on visiting Paris someday, these are the things that I'd recommend:

    1. Notre Dame early in the morning and walk around the ile de la cite
    2. Louvre (and visit again at night for strolling and pictures)
    3. Night boat cruise from the eiffel tower
    4. L'Ami Jean restaurant (it's expensive, but worth it)
    5. Macarons from everywhere
    6. The flea market on the weekend (so wish we could have done this)
    7. Musee du Cluny
    8. Musee du l'orangerie (just monet's lillies)
    9. Concergerie (if you have time)
    10. Walk to the top of the Arc du Triumphe in the evening
    11. Shopping in the Marais district

    Joel and I set out to fully visit these 3 cities. I don't feel a need to return to them right now, so I think we accomplished what we set out to do. After all, there are many more countries to visit in the world. Also, for the record, this trip cost less than you might think. We didn't penny pinch and it still came in under budget and comparable to our Maine trip a few years back. Traveling overseas these days is within reach for nearly every budget (use an airline travel reward credit card and airbnb and cook your own meals). It's totally doable. The only thing that got in our way was time off so we made time between jobs. Oh crud, jobs. Reality is going to hit me like a ton of bricks in the next couple of days. We've lived longer in Edinburgh, London, and Paris than we have in Roanoke. We were there for 48 hours before we left. One thing I know for sure, I'll appreciate the clean air and ample space more than I would have otherwise.

    Hope my blog has been entertaining and perhaps useful for any future travels you have in mind. Also, I apologize for all of the spelling errors. This app doesn't auto-correct and I write this before going to sleep so I'm not really caring at the time. Now, for the next adventure...

    Peace out cub scout
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  • Day15

    Day 15: Paris, France

    July 21, 2016 in France ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Today is a random wandering day. It's our last full day in europe and I feel like I've gotten the hang of things. Growing up not using public transportation is the main hurdle to get over for me when I'm traveling. Overall, I enjoyed riding the tube and the metro is simply a means to an end. It's a maze and extremely smelly and dirty. In London you'd smell BO sometimes, but in Paris it's a societal hazard. Unfortunately I've picked up a cold- doesn't help that we've experienced extreme weather change from Edinburgh to Paris. I'd highly recommend coming in the fall or early spring to have better weather, less people, and less bo :) Even so, it's still been a great trip and I'd consider it a success, especially with us planning it so quickly. Even with the terrorist activity in Nice, you wouldn't know anything happened walking around Paris except the increase in militarized police around public landmarks 2 days after we got here. People live their lives as usual. Today we asked the hotel employees about the famous flea market on the northside of the city (les puces). It's a weekend thing, but I was hoping some of it was open during the week. They said it might be so we decided to try. We took a metro all the way to the outer rim of Paris and find our way there. Mistake. It was a ghost town and extremely dirty and poor. Not a good area to be, especially the route the website told us to go. The flea market would be fantastic, but lesson learned- go on the weekend and go to the porte de clignancourt metro stop, not the one on the website. We get back on the metro and go to the marais neighborhood. It has lots of shopping and independent stores that wind through the streets. We start with the Le BHV which is the Parisian department store and we're the only Americans- love. I purchase a gold eiffel tower without any words on it which has proven difficult. We start popping into shops here and there and I'm astounded with how many stores and bistros there are and with so few tourists. When tourists come we're under the impression that they come for 2-3 days (because our hotel staff is surprised and think it's great we're staying for a whole week). If you come for a short time, you're more likely to visit the few big spots- eiffel tower, louvre, notre dame, champs-elyses, and sacre-couer- and if that's you're only taste of Paris, you'll have a very limited and perhaps bad impression of Paris. I can definitely understand how one could either love or hate this city. We've enjoyed our trip and although I don't see Paris with rose-colored glasses, it's a great city. And that's something you have to keep in mind... it's a city and city's have the best and the worst sorts of people. In strolling a single street, I can begin with hating it, then love it, then feeling relatively indifferent towards it. But I digress.

    Despite walking by so many stores, I've only purchased a little gold eiffel and a 3 scoop lemon, strawberry, mango sorbet. When I'm almost ready to return to our hotel, I spot a perfumerie and try a musk and fall in love. Finally, something to bring home for me that isn't edible. We take the metro back to shower and rest before our night out.

    I had the best dinner of my life tonight. I'd heard about a restaurant through a French cook blogger named Mimi Thorisson called L'Ami Jean (my friend john). It was her favorite restaurant and so I trusted her with my last night in Europe and I'm so glad I did. This experience made the trip. It's a small, unassuming space that isn't at all pretentious or white cloth. They immediately call us the Walker Texas Rangers when we walk in and one of the staff is embarrassed. I think it's cute. It's so small that they have to slide the table out to let you in and you can see and hear the chef (Stephano) cooking and preparing your food with the sous, saute, and pastry chefs. It's loud and lovely with the chef yelling things and clapping his hands when food is ready to go saying ala, ala, ala (let's go!). Our waiter speaks perfect English and we come early (730) once again so he can accomodate Joel's allergies. We get the prix-fix menu (7 courses!) and tuck in.

    1. Cold lobster soup with deliciousness at the bottom (I pop a lactase pill)
    2. Risotto with toasted buckwheat
    3. Quail breast with mushroom cappuccino (favorite)
    4. Rare salmon
    5. Pork and cod
    6. Veal cheek and sweetbreads (trust the chef)
    7. Sheep cheese with black cherry jam (I pop another lactase pill)
    8. Rice pudding with vanilla glace and salted caramel mousse and toastes nuts and a lemon sorbet with candied cumquats and chocolate pudding (wow)

    Seriously, if you love food, eat here and you will have the best dinner of your life. If you don't love food, eat here anyways, and you will by the 2nd course. We enjoyed the interaction, watching the small staff literally run back and forth from the tables and watching the chef kiss babies and give them wooden spoon keepsakes. I could go on.

    We walk a block to the eiffel tower and it's glittering it's lights. I'm happy. We do a night boat cruise an hour long (included in our Paris pass), the weather is cool, the buildings are beautifully lit, and Paris out playing on the banks of the Seine. There are picnics, tangos, marengue, and salsas going on the whole way down and back. We metro back and despite sniffling and sneezing, we've ended our trip with a bang.
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  • Day14

    Day 14: Paris, France

    July 20, 2016 in France ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    We got up early(ish), jumped on the metro, and went back to Notre Dame on the Ile de la Cite while the city was still cool and quiet. We were able to walk right in (without showing our pass) because they had an 8 o'clock mass. We looked around the beautiful church which was started in the 1200s and took a couple hundred years to finish! It's the best example of gothic architecture in the world and the stained glass throughout is stunning. This is my favorite church we've seen on this trip. We return to our hotel for breakfast (the best breakfast we could have hoped for in Paris - buttery croissants, sausage, freshly squeezed juice, crepe pancakes, fluffy eggs, apple tart...). We sip our coffee and decide we've had our fill of museums and definitely got our money's worth. We've gone back and forth about visiting Versailles and after I think about it, I'd rather meander the streets shopping and eating than fight the sun and crowds at Versailles. I saw an enormous garden based on Versailles in northern Scotland 4 years ago and had it to myself and am quite happy with that. We decide to go up to Sacre-Couer Basilica on the highest point in Paris north of the city and walk up about 200 or 300 stairs to get to it. It's an interesting church with domes and it looked Turkish to me - like a cross between a mosque and a church. I looked up the architecture and it's considered Romano-Byzantine- aha. We walk down the main steps which was a mistake. The vendors thus far have been relatively harmless, but this time they were in a line so you had to go through them. I don't mind them trying to sell something, but if you touch me, I will hurt you. One of them grabs my arm and I twist out of it and slap his hand hard. He jumps back and says some colorful language. Pickpocketing is an enormous problem here in Paris and a tactic they use is distract you while the other person grabs your wallet. Of course, you don't need to slap them, just hold on to your wallet, but sometimes they need to be gently reminded that it's not ok to grab. My blood boils and I decide I deserve a macaron. We go into Le Petit Musee Du Chocolat and I pick coconut, blackberry, and rose flavors and feel better soon thereafter. We decide to metro down to Boulevard Haussman for some shopping which is similar to London's Oxford street. We peruse a few stores, smell Chanel perfumes you can't smell in the states, and purchase some delicious Mariage Freres Tea. We run into the Palais Garnier (their opera house) and peruse the beautiful gift shop and get a little glimpse into the famed foyer where Phantom of the Opera was inspired (there was an actual lake underneath the building which also inspired the book). We continue back to Champs-Elyses to revisit a couple shops that were closed before, but didn't find anything. We metro back to our area and I pick out a box of macarons from Laduree. No trip to Paris is complete without macarons from this store- after all they invented them. It's beautiful, delicious, and very overpriced. At least I now have a reference point to taste other macarons and decide if it's worth it and it is ;-) We return to our hotel for our usual rest and shower before going back out. Joel wants to find the official Tour de France store so we walk that way bobbing into shops as we go. I see a kitchen store that looks interesting and we go in. It's french cookware meant to be sold to commercial kitchens and I want to buy it all- the copper cookware, the chef knives, the ramekins. I end up with a rolling pin I've been wanting for $6. We have a fun conversation with the employees with the English they know and say bon soir. We find the Tour de France store and they don't have what Joel's looking for, but it takes 3 employees and a couple of customers trying to help us and a brit translating. We're all laughing, especially the brit... it was really comical. Biking brings people together. Something Joel and I noticed during this week was that everyone is quite nice and polite... after you get off the beaten path. The main attractions and stores don't always give you the best impression because they're working with tourists and in service day in and day out, but the random shops further away have all been very pleasant. We grabbed a cheap dinner and went back to our hotel to enjoy a quiet night in.Read more

  • Day13

    Day 13: Paris, France

    July 19, 2016 in France ⋅ ☀️ 34 °C

    We are hot, sweaty, and quickly losing steam today. The sun is brutal and water is hard to come by. We went to the Eiffel Tower first thing and was disappointed to see that most of the park was gated off (assuming this is due to the state of emergency since November) and you need to buy tickets to go up in it which we were never planning on doing. We walk around the perimeter and decide to walk over to Trocadero for a higher vantage point and to get away from the crowds and vendors. It's hot so we take a quick picture and go down to the metro to get to Les Invalides which is a military museum and where Napolean Boneparte built himself a crypt worthy of what he thought he was- a god. The statues of him are taller and fitter than he really was and I find many of his potrayals of himself amusing and show a bit of short man syndrome. We head out across the street to Musee Rodin which is a beautiful house with his sculptures. Most know of just his Thinking Man or The Kiss. Thinking Man was under restoration unfortunately, but the gardens were quite pretty and peaceful, if not too hot. We walked over to Musee d'Orsay which houses mainly impressionist paintings and some sculpture. I like Monet and I'm especially excited to finally see Edgar Degas Blue Dancers and purchase the postcard which has been my ritual in most of the museums. I can tell Joel's tired and over it so I sugest coffee at starbucks (where they speak great English, have AC, familiar drinks, and toilettes- which are hard to come by, too). We decide to go back to the hotel (after being distracted by a few shops) and cool off, shower, and rest. We stay in longer than we intended, but we don't want to be in a dripping sweat again before dinner. We make our way to a restaurant called Sebillion which is close to the business section of Paris on the fringe. This was a recommendation from my father-in-law when he came here 25 years ago on business frequently! They've been here since 1914. Our reservations are for 8pm (normal dinner is 9pm for the French) because we need more help with the menu and don't want to order during their rush. They are friendly, helpful, and have an English menu. Our waiter speaks English and appreciates Joel's attempt to speak some French which sounds good to me. We order their leg of lamb served tableside and it's absolutely divine. The bread, the tuna en croute, the lamb, the buttery mashed potatoes, the bread, the rum pastry, the espresso, and the meringe all very very good (although too much rum for my liking). We are the only Americans in the restaurant and that's always a good sign. The restaurant reminds me of Ratatouille with the booths, the tableside service, the swinging kitchen doors, and waiters with heavy French accents and tuxes is all what you picture France to be. Here, you can forget about the begging refugees, the pickpockets, the vendors, the smelly metro, the smokers, and the snobs, if just for a little while, and pretend that Paris is still a romantic and lovely place to be. I think about the movie Midnight in Paris where I wonder if Paris would have been better in the 50s or if each era wants to believe that the previous one was the golden age. I reminisce on this and then pay the l'addicion. We talk to the owner through a waiter translating and Joel tells him that his father was here 25 years ago and loved it and now we are here. He smiles warmly and gives us 2 postcards of the restaurant pictured in 1914. We get on the metro and return to our hotel to try our best to get a good night's sleep.Read more

  • Day12

    Day 12: Paris, France

    July 18, 2016 in France ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    Today we had a later start than we would have liked. It feels like we've been traveling for weeks and our bodies are tired and losing stamina. The sun didn't set in Scotland until 10:20 and it rose at 4:45 so we feel like zombies in the morning. Now that we're in Paris with AC, blackout curtains, and a comfortable bed, all we want to do is sleep, but we want to see everything, too. The good thing is that everything is closer in Paris than it was in London. Paris may be sprawling, but the main attractions and neighborhoods (or arrondissements) are incredibly close and the metro stops are very close together if you need to use them at all. Some other differences between the metro and tube is that the tube was used by everyone (businessmen, tourists, locals) where the metro seems to mainly be poorer to average locals and some tourists. Paris' boulevards are much wider (thanks to Napoleon) and therefore driving is possible where in London it was not. Today we walked to Ile de la Cite where Paris began in the 50s AD. It's a fairly small island in the middle of the Seine next to Ile de St. Louis. On the Cite there are several iconic places including St. Chapelle church (didn't tour), Conciergerie (where it was first a palace then a prison especially during the French Revolution where Marie Antoinette stayed) and of course Notre Dame. Notre Dame is the most visited monument in France (that's what the brochure said) and is stunning with it's 2 towers, rose windows, flying buttresses, and is the best example of gothic architecture standing. We took some pictures, but with the heat and long line, we decided we'd try early another morning. We walked across the bridge to the Latin Quarter (oldest quarter with iconic Haussmannian architecture) to Shakespeare and Company bookstore. This little independent bookstore is famous for the people who frequented it like Fitzgerald and Hemingway during the 20s. It was opened by an American and houses all English books. I bought a Madeline in Paris book and received their official stamp in the front cover. We then went to the Musee de Cluny. This is a medieval museum in a monastery most well-known for the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry ("I've come to see the tapestries" keeps running through my mind) which is shrouded in mystery since it's unlike anything else made at the time. Nice museum with few people. The building itself was really neat with it's gothic medieval architecture. We then walked to Jardin du Luxembourg and had a salad and cold tea and people watched. This is probably the most famous garden in France where people come to lay in the grass, eat, and let their poor cooped up city children run around. Kids also rent little sail boats to put in the murky fountain in front of the palace. We then walk to the Pantheon where King Louis XV built a secular building to the Saint Genevieve and where thousands are buried in the crypt below with lots of famous French people (like Rousseau, Voltaire, Hugo, Dumas, Braille, etc.). I found it amusing that the godless were buried here because they couldn't be buried in a church. After cooling off there, we headed back to the island, grabbed a chocolate crepe made fresh, jumped on the metro and headed back to the hotel to shower, cool off, and give our feet a rest. Some side remarks: I read in several places that everyone under the age of 35 knew English- that is so untrue. Except those at front desks, I'd say most do not know English here. They may know a few words, but they cannot carry on a conversation or understand anything specific. I'm totally blown away. I didn't learn French before we came here, so we've been going off Joel's high school French and it's saved us several times already ordering food, maneuvering the streets, and reading placards (which are all in French even in the museums). The children at church didn't know English (and their grandmother is American) and a teenager at church last night began in English and switched to French when he got too frustrated. Anyways... After our rest, we made our way down Champs-Elyses where they are getting ready for the tour de France next week. We decide to grab a cheap and healthy dinner at Pret-a-manger because last night's dinner was super annoying with our waiter not understanding Joel explaining allergies so he gave him more potatoes, not no potatoes. Sometimes our French is better than their English- and that's bad. We decide we're going to do 2 nice dinners with reservations and pre-explain the allergies and do pret the other nights. After dinner we walk to the Arc du Triumphe (walked under the street to get to it) and then used our fast pass to walk right by the line again. Joel thinks we're going to save ourself an entire day of waiting when this is all over. We walked the 200 or so steps to the top and we got an awesome view of the entire city as the sun sets. Everything is so close- you can see the modern downtown to the west, the eiffel tower to the south, the champs-elyses and the ferris wheel to the east and sacre-couer church NE. Totally worth it. We walk down and walk the other side of the boulevard until we want to take the metro the rest of the way to the Louvre to take some awesome night pictures. We're super tired and go back to the hotel to rest our weary little legs.Read more

  • Day11

    Day 11: Paris, France

    July 17, 2016 in France ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    We woke up to a fabulous breakfast of anything you could want. We're definitely being spoiled especially after staying at some bad ones recently in DC. After a really awesome breakfast we got ready to tackle the Louvre. We walked over and couldn't believe that our pass actually walked us straight in with everyone waiting. There are 3 wings and a total of 8 miles of museum. It's huge. We started on the top floor where no one was with 17th century french paintings and then worked our way down the 3 floors. We saw most of the museum (of course, not in great detail) and after visiting the British Museum, it was nice not to be crowded because there's so much space in the Louvre. You can also tell the difference between a paying museum and a free one. My favorite was the Winged Victory sculpture-- stunning. We saw the Mona Lisa- she's only famous because she was stolen and lost for 2 years. It's a cool picture, but it's unfortunate everyone comes here to see her when there's so much else to see. After the museum, we had a picnic lunch in the Tuileries Garden and walked to the musee de l'orangerie which is impressionist and post-impressionist. I didn't much like the downstairs, but I did like Monet's Water Lillies. We walked back to the hotel to clean up and make our way to church on the northwest side of the city for their English service. It was really good to worship with Christians especially in a city like Paris. If you're ever in Paris, you should worship with them. They get lots of visitors and it's really encouraging to know that there are Christians, however few, everywhere in the world. We had dinner (I had the duck- it's the price of chicken back home) and then made our way back to the hotel and crashed.Read more

  • Day10

    Day 10: London to Paris

    July 16, 2016 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    We made breakfast and watched the news as usual trying to keep in touch with the things that are happening around us. Since we've been here Wimbledon has seen local Andy Murray win, Euro cup occurred in Paris, tour de france continues, a new prime minister was quite suddenly installed at downing street, a terrorist attack occured in Nice, a coup was stopped in Istanbul, and we're only 10 days in. We're thankful for an uneventful trip so far and hope some of the changes will be positive. We seem to be on the cusp of major change, but it's hard to say what that change is exactly. Life goes on and we will continue to enjoy ourselves. For our last London site we visit the British Library next to the train station. The building itself is quite boring contrasting with the beautiful victorian gothic St. Pancras train station. What's spectacular about the library is what it contains. I knew it held a copy of the magna carta, old Bible manuscripts (which were neat to see) but I was more fascinated with it's copies of Jane Austen's hand-written Persuasion, Handel's Messiah, and Henry the 8's love letter to Anne Bolyn. It is well worth a quick look in. We went back to our flat to grab our bags and make our way to the station. Our flat was nice and served it's purpose, but we're definitely looking forward to more comfortable accomodations in Paris. We went to the top floor of the international station which was renovated in the late 90s after suffering great damage from bombings during the second world war. We enjoyed a coffee and relaxed in a great little spot away from the crowds (Benugo espresso bar) before our departure on a high speed train to Paris. The train and station are incredibly nice. The train is super comfortable... jealous. I love traveling by train and wish we could travel like this in the states instead of flying. It's above ground most of the way, but does go under the chunnel for about 20 minutes. It travels from London to Paris in 2 hours and 20 minutes so you can't beat that. We get off and make our way to the underground metro. It's instantly easier to navigate than the tube. It's great learning the tube first (english and a little complicated in my opinion) and then learning the metro. The metro uses numbers and their signage is much better than London. In just a couple minutes from leaving the train, we arrive to pick up our 5 day pass for unlimited metro and bus use and a fast pass into more than 50 museums called the Paris Visite card. To me, time is money and I didn't fly all this way to wait in lines. We then walk a block to our hotel (Hotel Saint Honore) which is right next to the Louvre. We originally used our reward points for free plane tickets, but when we needed to cancel that trip we used the points towards our hotel for 6 nights free in an awesome hotel. What better place than Paris to be comfortable? Our polite and funny bell hop takes us to our room and thankfully Joel exchanged our last pounds into euros to have something to give him. Whew! We relax for a bit before finding dinner. We happen upon a nice bistro and eat a light and healthy meal - Joel has the chicken Picatta and I have a very healthy portion of Salmon Tartare. Suddenly I feel like I'm actually on vacation. Up until now, it's been too crazy to actually relax because the energy that is in Edinburgh and London is palpable. Paris is completely different. Less people, less tourists, warmer weather, and happier people that are living at a slower pace. After dinner we walk to the Louvre and through Tuileries garden back to our hotel for a shower, chocolate (it's an essential part of my nightly routine), and plan for the Louvre tomorrow.Read more

  • Day9

    Day 9: London, England

    July 15, 2016 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Today is our last full day in London and Joel's enthusuatic to see as much as we can. We first stopped back at Westminster to see 10 Downing street, but you can only see from a distance- no Theresa May spotting this time. We walk over to the imperial war museum's Churchill War Rooms and toured the underground bunkers where he led the majority of World War 2 and learned a lot about his life I never knew. I was unsure if we were going to do this since it's pretty expensive, but Joel was really interested and it ended up being pretty good. It was bigger than I expected and it put an interesting perspective on the war. We crossed Westminster bridge dodging through the hoards of people to grab lunch at Pret a Manger under the London Eye. Love Pret. Cheap, healthy, quick, and delicious. We need these to have an option in between Starbucks and Panera. We walked with our coffee along the south bank with it's street performers, runners, tourists, and business people. We turned right to walk through the old Borough Market which is a bustling food market with lots of great produce, meats, cheeses, lunches, coffees, etc. After quickly perusing we walked to The Shard which is the tallest building in London and for modern architecture quite nice. You can go to the top for £30- no thanks. We then continue our walk through a maze of streets to the Bermondsey Market with antiques mainly consisting of silver and peruse, but most are closing up by 3. We turn to go back to the shard where the London Bridge underground is and take it all around the city to Camden Town Market on the NW part of London. This is an interesting place and I'm having a hard time deciding what word to use for this neighborhood- perhaps eclectic or maybe international. It's the strangest mixture of trendy, goth, punk, and artsy. There are perhaps hundreds of vendors of everything you can imagine. Most of it's kitchy and trash, with a few nice artsy vendors, but it's the food you want to go here for. Every kind of food from every kind of cuisine seems to represented from jamaican, ethiopian, british, gluten free, vegetarian, israeli, indian, american, cuban, venezuelan, chinese, italian, french, it's all here for very reasonable prices. I sample what's offered, but decide to wait for an actual dinner later. We return to our flat to rest and plan the night. We decide to return to knightsbridge to complete the circle around London by visiting Harrods. Ah, Harrods. What an extraordinary place. Harrods is the sort of place that will make your jaw drop in awe at it's opulence and also make you gag with the absolute ridiculousness of it all. I'm glad I saw it, but it was my least favorite place in all of London that we visited. It's such an attraction to tourists that it feels anything, but British. In fact much of London feels unbritish, but this section especially. We did get some traditional British grub at a restaurant called The Bunch of Grapes down the road then grabbed some chocolate tarts on the way back before jumping on the tube for the last time (exactly £0 left on my oyster card!). As Joel said leaving the tube: "Goodnight tube. Goodnight knightsbridge. Goodnight smelly people. Goodnight escalator." Joel and I are always discussing what it would be like to live in the place we're visiting- and it's really hard to say whether I could put up with the tourists and foreigners and smokers for long. It's a wonderfully varied city with so much to see and do and I feel we've accomplished what we set out to do. Next up... Paris.Read more

  • Day9

    Day 8: London, England

    July 15, 2016 in the United Kingdom ⋅ 🌙 13 °C

    Today was a busy day and I'm having a hard time remembering everything we did and in what order. We started by taking the Picadilly line to South Kensington to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum of art and design. The museum was much bigger than I was expecting so we only did a small section of Europe (lots of clothing, furniture, art) and then the medieval section which was super fascinating with it's relics, sculpture, and tempera art, and lastly the enormous Raphael paintings. We left much unseen there to make our way to our reserved time for tea. We walk through Kensington Gardens to the palace and literally right next to the palace is a tea house called The Orangery where we had our afternoon tea. I didn't realize until afterwards that it was Joel's first afternoon tea so I walked him through the history and etiquette before we left which was very amusing to him. It's a great place to have tea because it's got a great view of the gardens and of Kensington Palace, a good tea, and isn't too stuffy (the big places are Fortnum and Mason and the Ritz which I'm sure are great but more expensive and not as laid back). After that we walked through Hyde Park which put us out on Oxford Street where we started our shopping excursions. We went to the big department stores (Marks and Spencer, Selfridges, House of Fraser) looking for trinkets and a china tea cup and saucer but with no luck. I ended up with 2 travel size spray deodorants from Boots that you can only buy full size in the states right now. Determined that deodorant wouldn't be the only thing I'd bring home from London we decided to wander more. We meander down Bond street which has the most exclusive and expensive brands in the world- I only recognize about 1/3 of the brands. We turn a bit left to meander down Burlington Arcade where the boutiques are even more expensive with watches and jewelry and tailors. There are security guards at every store entrance and pictures are strictly prohibited (but I got one before I knew that... Promise). We got an Americano at Richloux's before going down Picadilly Arcade where I found a perfume brand that's not in the states that I've been keen on called Killian. The attendant and I talk a while about various perfumes and what I'm looking for and I look back to see a comical face on Joel as if I've been speaking a different language for the past 5 minutes. I'm tempted, but not sold so we keep moving. We go back to Fortnum and Mason to pick out a box of chocolates to munch on tonight and some more tea to bring home after sampling and smelling several. Then we happen upon a little vendor market on Picadilly next to the St James Church and Joel finds some really unique stamps to add to his seal collection. The stamp owner went out of his way to explain different techniques to emboss the stamp and the history behind each symbol, super nice man. Next up was a bookstore called Waterstones where I broke down and bought The Tales of Beedle the Bard Harry Potter book- it was too stinkin' perfect not to. After that we visit the Nespresso store which allows you to taste whichever espresso you want and we both enjoy a free decaf espresso. I've had my eye on the new Vertuo Line and wanted Joel to approve it, so I was relieved that he loved it. We made our way into Carnaby Market which is a tangle of restaurants, shops, and events of all sorts. We really enjoyed talking with some of the shop owners here too. Something that really surprised both of us is how friendly and engaging everyone is here. They want to ask you which state you're from or talk about politics or current events. You'd think they'd be tired of tourists, but that hasn't been our experience so far. We walk and shop until my feet and hungry stomach can't take it anymore and return via the underground to our flat to make dinner and plan for our last day in London. I'm really taking to London. Once you get the hang of the tube and looking the opposite way for traffic, it's really an incredibly fun place.Read more

  • Day7

    Day 7: London, England

    July 13, 2016 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    We started our day taking the tube to the museum of London and looking through the history of the city. It was a really nice museum save the groups of middle schoolers we had to dodge through. We walked down through the streets to see the busy business section and passed by the Royal Stock Market. I got distracted with a perfume shop -Penhaligions- which you can't find in the states. As usual, the shopkeeper asked where I was from. I say the states, but they want to know the state, which I think I've said a different state every time cause I don't really have a home now. We then walked passed old Bond Street and then to the Victorian covered market Leadenhall where we had lunch and watched all the busy businessmen pass us by. I realized more people were looking at me than usual and caught on that I was using my hands to eat my pizza and they use their forks and knives to cut it up and eat with a fork. They don't pre-cut your pizza for you but they did give us a pizza cutter because they knew we were Americans. As hard as you might try, it's so difficult not to automatically be spotted as an American and that's not a bad thing, just a reminder that our cultures are still very different. They looked on at me with curiosity and I proudly stuffed my face with the extreme efficiency of a folded slice of pizza. We jumped back on the tube at Liverpool to the flat to change into warmer clothing before going back out to tube to the south bank to grab a coffee, see the Tate Modern building before jumping on the circular river cruise on the Thames from Bankside Pier. It was a 50 minute tour on the top of a cruise boat that took us to Westminster and then over to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. It's a great way to see all the main sites from the comfort of a boat. We got off the boat and walked across Millenium foot bridge to St. Paul's cathedral for their evensong service at 5 which unbeknownest to us at the time was a special service done once a year with the patron of the church Duchess of Gloucester in attendance. We stayed for it's whole service which is Anglican with their all-boys choir. It was quite lovely hearing them sing and even more interesting hearing their sermon and seeing their rituals. After that we went back to our flat for dinner, laundry and to watch the BBC news with Theresa May becoming the new Prime Minister today with David Cameron resigning after the UK voted to leave the EU.Read more