Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Europe Part 4: Paris

Day 12-July 9. Today was mostly a travel day. We drove from Canterbury back to London, and then turned in the rental car, much to Mike’s delight. He didn’t really enjoy his wrong side of the road driving experience, but it allowed us the freedom of movement outside London so that was really nice. We then took the Eurostar train from London to Paris. It’s a pretty impressive deal. It was delayed, but once it got going it’s a pretty slick way to travel. Our train was going 295km/hr! It goes through the Chunnel for 54km of this journey, so nothing to see during that stretch—but pretty awesome that you can go through the Channel under the sea this way—and the rest of the countryside was pretty scenic. By time we arrived, waited for a taxi, took the taxi to the hotel, checked in, and lost an hour to time change, there wasn’t much of the day left by time we arrived, but we did take a walk around. The area around our hotel is jewelry central, and I mean names like Dior, Chanel, Bulgari, Piaget, etc...Rolex is the cheap brand on the block here. We had dinner at a nice street cafe that was way too crowded. And, we discovered a major problem for us is that everyone smokes here. It’s very socially acceptable here, which is too bad since the sidewalk cafes are otherwise pretty nice. It was pretty annoying to have people on both sides of us puffing away, but the food helped as it was quite good, so that improved my outlook.

Day 13-July 10. Today, we took a bus tour around the city, then went to see the Eiffel Tower, followed by a trip to Notre Dame. The bus was a good way to see the main sights like the Arc d' Triomphe, the Opera, and the National Academy, and The Eiffel Tower is pretty cool. We didn’t go up inside as we weren’t prepared and didn’t purchase tickets ahead. 

The lines were about 3 hours long for us non-ticket holders, so we skipped that in favor of Notre Dame. Here we walked through the oldest Cathedral in Europe. It’s pretty cool, in terms of large size, gargoyles, etc...but I liked both Westminster and Canterbury Cathedrals better. I was surprised by how dark Notre Dame is inside. The gargoyles on the outside are pretty cool and fun to look at though. 

Then, we let Jackson go on a couple carnival rides at a little temporary carnival set up along the banks of the Seine. He picked a little water ride, which Mike went on with him, and they both came out pretty wet! 

So, after that, we took a refresh break at the hotel and then went to dinner. Tonight is the France vs Belgium semi-finals game at the World Cup. We had to laugh when we got to the square and saw that several nice restaurants had moved their tables outside to the plaza and set up big screen TVs so we dined alfresco with most of the neighborhood while watching the first part of the match. It was amazing to see the square fill up with all the fans, cheering, singing the French National Anthem, the collective gasps, cheers, and protests of the group. Outside the restaurants patio, there were probably another 100 people just standing in the street watching the TVS as well as the 100 or more packed into the restaurant, and the 200 at the restaurant across the plaza, and everyone glued to TVs set up outside. The excitement was quite infectious, but we had to head back to the hotel for Jack’s bedtime before the game got too far in. Now Mike's watching it on TV in our hotel room, but it’s just not the same feel as it was down on the street!

Day 14-July 11. Today's goal, the Lovre. We had to wait in line almost an hour to get in but talk about a giant museum! 
 It was a little harder than I expected because I somehow hadn't processed that all the plaques and labels for the exhibits were going to be in French, which we can't read, of course.  We purchased an audio guide, but you'd go into a room and maybe 1-2 of the items out of 10-20 would have an audio guide description about it.  I am a person who reads the information posted in museums and it drove me crazy not to be able to! That said, it's still an amazing museum. It's huge!  We saw the Monna Lisa, of course, and several other paintings by famous artists...Rafael, Da Vinci, etc...They also have great Ancient Rome, Greece, Iran, Egypt, etc...collections, some very cool statuary, and of course seeing the opulence of the old Palais and the set up of Louise IV and Napoleon makes you realize just what lead up to the revolution. 

Jackson was ready to go after about 1.5 hours. He got a little bored, but there's so much to see that we were there about 5 hours and still skipped whole swaths of things. He's gotten really into drawing on this trip, which has been very helpful to give him something to do. He brings a pencil and paper to most places and will choose buildings or artifacts to sketch while we look around. I'll have to scan a few of his drawings in! 
 One side bonus was a one point we decided to step out onto an outside terrace at the top of the Lovre to buy a drink and a snack. While we were out there, all of a sudden all these plane are flying overhead....military jets and planes of every kind and size, in groups of 3-4 at a time.  All told, in about 10 minutes, we were buzzed by 32 planes. Jackson thought that was pretty cool too.  
After we left the Lovre, we wandered back toward our hotel and checked out the Galleries Lafayette, a Paris designer shopping mall, which was interesting to see, but a little overwhelming so we left pretty quickly.  We had dinner at another cafe, and then took Jackson to the Lindt chocolate store for a quick treat before heading back to the hotel and bed. 

Day 15-July 12.  We spent the morning at the Musee d'Orsay, an art museum focusing on a limited time period around the turn of the century to 1914.  The Impressionist wing was pretty impressive, with whole walls of paintings by Monet, Degas, Manet, Renoir, and of course Van Gogh. I've discovered there's another painting in the series that I like better than A Starry Night, in the second picture.

They also had a very interesting statuary collection, and it's all house in the old Paris train station, so it's a pretty amazing building as well with these big clock faces you can look out through into the city.

  Other areas of the museum were less interesting. The modern decorative arts and furniture of the early 20th century was pretty ugly, in my non-expert opinion.  After this, we had some lunch, took a long walk to catch a boat, and then took a riverboat cruise along the Seine. 

 We headed back to the hotel early after this to do some packing, and then went out for a last dinner in Paris.  We have a super early morning flight to London tomorrow followed by a waiting period and then a 10 hour flight from London to Seattle. Not excited about that part. Our trip is coming to an end.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Europe Part 3: Literary Tour of English towns

Europe Part 3: Literary Tour of English Towns.
AKA: Bath for Austen, Stratord-upon-Avon for Shakespeare, and Canterbury for Chaucer.

Day 8-July 5. We have rented a car and are driving down to Bath this morning. Mike is very nervous about this! It is weird to be driving on the left and sitting on the right. The traffic in London is terrible and it took nearly an hour just to get out of the city. Now, we are driving through the countryside, which is much better and some very pretty rolling hills along the way...

Bath is a great little city. We arrived around 12:30, checked into our hotel and found a place to park. Then, Mike and Jack went off to a leisurely pizza lunch while I spent an hour at the Jane Austen Centre.
 I know it makes me a nerd, but it is thrilling to see the streets, pump rooms, and churches of her novels and to know I’m walking the same places she would have! So cool. Then we spent another hour touring the Roman Baths, which far exceeded expectations. This is a world heritage site, and very well done with audio guides and interesting exhibits. It’s pretty impressive that this hot springs produces a 1,000,000 liters of water every day, and much of the 2,000 year old plumbing still works. They had amazingly complex systems to pipe in water, heat different areas to different temperatures, etc..

 Then, we went through Bath Abbey, sat in the square while Jack had some honeycomb ice cream (yummy! Why don’t we have this flavor in the US?) and listened to a variety of street musicians, a soprano singing opera first followed by a guy with a guitar singing contemporary hits and doing it well, before taking a walk around the river and town. We ended the day with a good fish and chips British dinner at the Scallop Shell before returning to the hotel.

Day 9-July 6. We arrived in Stratford upon Avon at about 10:00am, so we had most of a day to explore. It’s a pretty small town, with not much to do except learn about Shakespeare. We toured the house he was born in, his house, and his daughter Susanna’s house, as well as going to Holy Trinity Church where he’s buried. The grave is in a prominent place inside the church, but otherwise unremarkable as far as ornamentation. It was interesting for me, but less so to Mike and Jackson.

 In addition, we wandered through a few shops and Jackson bought himself a geode crystal. After dinner (Terrible, unfortunately!), Mike and Jack went off to do some laundry and hang out at the hotel while I went by myself to the Royal Shakespeare Company to see Macbeth. I bought the ticket just this morning. It was a restricted view ticket in a back corner of the theater but all they had. I tried to get tickets 6 weeks ago online and it was sold out, so I’ll take what I can get. The production was interesting with modern costumes and props but all Shakespearean language. I would have preferred traditional costumes perhaps, but the actors were really good. You could tell they really understood the words and could put the right inflection and emotions to them, rather than just having memorized them, which you sometimes get with Shakespeare. I enjoyed it very much.

Day 10-July 7. Today we drove from Stratford to Canterbury, with a stop at Leeds Castle. Leeds Castle is one of the largest in Europe. It was a favorite. The grounds are extensive and beautifully gardened, with geese, ducks, and swans adding to the fun. 

They have a great maze built out of hedges, and we all know how much Jackson likes mazes. 

They also had a falconry exhibit with owls and falcons we could watch in a demonstration. And, they had a playground, which Jack liked. We had lunch and explored outside, then went inside. 

The Castle is very large, and complete with a moat surrounding it. It’s has been a royal seat as well as a private home to Lady Braille and her family for many years. It was fun to see all the furnishings and the different time periods represented. The , we drove on to Canterbury. We arrived fairly late in the afternoon, but had time to walk around the old town and then have some dinner (pizza to Jack’s delight).

Day 11-July 8. In Canterbury,the downtown area is old, and the streets are narrow. We walked around a lot, then visited the Roman Museum to learn about an ancient invasion, the town they built on the site, and to view an excavated town house ruins they discovered below the city. It was an interesting, if small, stop. Then we visited the Canterbury Cathedral, the oldest church in England, and still the Head of the Church of England to this day. They were just finishing the service, so we got to hear their choir sing as well, which was a remarkable bonus. The church holds the remains of several famous kings, Edward the Black Prince, and also Thomas Beckett, famously murdered in the Cathedral at the order of Henry VIII. It’s a beautiful old church with many amazing stone sculptures and stained glass windows. Part of the outside and inside were scaffolded for repairs, but I suppose that’s to be expected with buildings that are 1000 years or older in places. Again, fascinating to see all the layers of history, with graves from the 1300s next to a modern art installation, next to a memorial honoring soldiers who fought in WWI or II, next to a Baptismal font dating from the 1000s AD. 

Then, we had a traditional Roast Sunday lunch at our hotel, complete with beef, roasted potatoes and root vegetables, and even Yorkshire pudding (which I don’t get the big deal about, by the by; it's okay but not exciting). After lunch, we walked out to see the ruins of St. Augustine’s, a large Abbey and monastery that was closed in 1500s when Henry VIII forced all Catholic monasteries to close and took possession as the head of the new Church of England. The site has also uncovered older and additional layers of Norman construction, and the graves of several early Anglo-Saxon kings and a early archbishops. 

After this, we had a light dinner, after our big lunch, and headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow we are heading back to London to return the rental car and catch the train to Paris. Jackson has been impatiently waiting to get to France; he’s excited because they speak another language and mostly because he has a classmate who’s from France and has therefore talked about it to him at school.

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