Tuesday, August 14, 2007

London & Paris trip, part 2

Once I got on the plane I was immediately served my choice of wine, water or OJ. While the people in coach were still jockying for overhead storage space the flight attendants were offing me a hot towel to "refresh" myself. Then once we got in the air I was served more wine and warmed nuts. My seat was equivalent to a Lazy Boy and everyone got their own comforter, pillow, Bose Noise Reducing headphones and a package of personal items one might need during an 11 hour flight. My wine glass was never empty and the flight attendance always called me by name. It was a nice even flight. I got to watch 3 TV shows that I love; “How I met your mother”, “Two and a half Men”, “The Office” and I finally got to see "Disturbia". They were showing one of the "Bourne" movies but now I can’t remember which one. I could never manage to tune in when it started and when watching movies with a lot of twists and turns and espionage it's always a good idea to watch it from the very beginning.

I left LAX on Monday evening and I arrived in London Tuesday afternoon. I wasted a huge chunk of time trying to find my suitcase at the wrong carousel, but because I was in the wrong place I did get to watch an Iranian/Iraqi man get arrested and taken away in handcuffs. While I was at that luggage carousel I was reminded of the Middle Eastern trend to avoid bathing at all cost. I do not know how they can stand it. The smell was enough to knock me over.
Once I found my suitcase I caught one of their cute little taxi cabs and just took in the sights of the 45 minute trip to the flat where I would be staying. When I told the cabbie where I wanted to go he asked me if I knew if the flat was on the north, south, east or west end of the square. I wondered what part of my valley girl accent made him think that I was familiar enough with London to know east from west.See this car coming towards us? In the U.S. it would swerve and pass us on the left, but in London it swerves and passes us on the right. Every time that happened it would make me wince and gasp. I'm sure I was annoying the taxi driver so I just stopped looking out of the front window.

My guy, (sorry for continually referring to my guy as "my guy". Don't forget, he's in the Witness Protection Program. asfarasyouknow.) was at the flat when I arrived which was a good thing because I didn’t have a key. There was a bit of worry that he wouldn’t be able to get out of the office in time but it all worked out perfectly. We were supposed to go see “Wicked” but my host could hardly keep his eyes opened. He insisted that he would be fine and he encouraged me to take a shower and get ready. When I got out of the shower he was sound asleep, snoring, on the couch so I just curled up next to him and let him sleep. When he woke up he couldn’t believe that I let him sleep but he was thankful because he was still tired. We ordered “carry out” Chinese food, ate it and went to bed. He had to go to work the next day so I planned out my day while he slept. It is so hard to get in to the groove with the time change. The last time I was there I honestly spent every late night hour watching television while he slept. Even thought I really didn't go to sleep I got up early. He walked to work and I went off wandering about to points unknown. I walked to the local grocery store and bought my mom her favorite souvenir; “Happy Hippo Snacks”. They are like filo dough stuffed with chocolate hazelnut fluff. They are really yummy. I was going to buy her as many as I could carry however they only had 2 packages left. This would be like an American grocery store running out of Twinkies. The. Nerve. After the grocery store I went to Starbucks and meandered around the local part of town. I went in to a couple of thrift stores, (one of my favorite past times…) and I found a matted "Classic Pooh" drawing. The picture is about twice as large as a postage stamp and the matting is like 12 x 12. It’s a drawing of Tigger pouncing on top of something. It is adorable. I took my stuff back to the flat and then resumed my journey. I found a couple of really nice stores, (think Nordstrom) and I spent a couple of hours trying on clothes. It took me a while to figure out what size I wear in European sizes. Although I’m a size 8 in American sizes I’m like a 14 in Europe. By the time I figured out the whole size thing I was starving and decided to stop shopping and find something to eat and thus I didn’t buy any new clothes. After that I took a taxi to the Tower of London only to find out that they stop letting people inside at 3:00. It was 2:30 when I got there so I missed out on getting to go inside but I spent a couple of hours walking around the tower and walking across the Tower Bridge. It simply amazes me that things that were constructed so many years ago are still standing. They didn’t have the machinery or the computers back then that we have now and the workmanship is perfect. They have withstood everything that Mother Nature and war can throw at them and they still stand tall.
This is the front of the Tower of London

Side view of the Tower of London. On this side of the tower they have drained the water out of the moat and have planted grass.

Apparently this is the gate the traitors were brought through.

I personally know of many of people who should use this entrance..

This cobblestone road is between the Tower of London and the river. It is very difficult to walk on especially if you are wearing really cute pink flip flops and have an enormous blister on both of your ring toes.

This sign was posted across the street from the Tower of London

"DEADMANS HOLE".... I cut the top of the sign off



The Tower Bridge. I walked across this bridge and then since there is nothing of any note on the other side, I turned around and walked right back.

This was a statue at the Tower of London. I have no idea of it's significance. Naked with a cape instead of naked with a hat like his buddies throughout Europe.

Italian Iron Mortar with my initials on it.



When I got back to the flat I was given the choice of 6 different places to eat and I chose to go to the restaurant that Michael Caine owns called "Shepards". I was told that it was very English and quite posh. We got all dressed up and walked to the restaurant. The wine was sooooo good, and the food, as he said, was very English. I had some kind of wild mushroom ravioli. It was that night that I discovered that I don’t like wild mushrooms. (I hope no one noticed me separating the mushrooms from the inside of the ravioli.) I also had a salad that had avocados on it. Avocados are hard to find over there so I was elated to see it on the menu. Due to the fact that I ate so little I was basically trashed when it was time to walk home. A lot of the streets are cobblestone and that made the walk a little more difficult. Thank God I was wearing flat shoes! Fortunately the walk and the fresh air helped me to sober up.
Door way to "Shepards".

Exterior sign.

Michael Caine's picture on the menu of his restaurant.


The next day I got up at 3:00 in the morning London time. My body still thought it was 7:00 pm California time. Let me be the first to tell you that even with cable there is nothing on TV in London at 3:00 am. At about 8:00 I set out on my walking tour again. I walked to Buckingham Palace.

This was a geranium garden across the street from the front of Buckingham Palace.
Don't think about jumping over the wall to get inside the yard of Buckingham Palace.

I found the front of the palace about 3 minutes after the changing of the guard ceremony.

These were the only two palace guards I got to see.

I didn’t realize that they only open the Palace during certain times of the year and I was lucky enough to be there at the right time. I have never been inside a palace before but it was everything I thought a palace should be. The opulent lighting and the swooping stair cases and the art and the statuary…(they had a thing for “naked with hats” statuary back in the days of yore..) I saw hundred of royal items but the things that stick out in my memory are as follows..I saw the 2nd largest diamond in the world. It was just a little smaller than my fist. I saw crowns that were bedazzled with every type of jewel known to man kind. I saw scepters and broaches, medallions and ornaments. Some were many hundreds of years old. I went in to the Queen’s Gallery and took an audio tour. The audio tour was nice because there was nothing posted anywhere stating the name of the painting or the painter. Sadly the public was not allowed to take pictures or video inside the palace but I did take a picture as soon as I got outside in to the back yard.
This is me right outside the back door of Buckingham Palace. Notice how red my face is due the the lack of air conditioning.

The tour finishes in the backyard of the palace. It must be nice to have a back yard that rivals Central Park in size. I don’t know why but I never thought the Queen would require such a large back yard. There is a forest and a lake back there. I’m sure there were acres and acres behind the forest that I couldn't even see from my vantage point.







I took a side tour of the Queens Royal Mews. (Mews=horse stable) I had no idea that the Queen needed so many different carriages. She even has one that is made out of gold. It was very bright and shiny and it is only used for very special occasions. I believe the Queen Mother rode in it at her golden jubilee. I saw the carriage Lady Diana rode to her wedding and I do not know how her dress ever fit inside of it.
The Golden Carriage






Picture of a picture of Princess Diana in the wedding carriage

The real wedding carriage


Various other carriages. Apparently a queen can't have too many carriages.



Royal horse named "Melbourne". The Queen personally picks out names for all of the horses in her stable.



These next few pictures are of a huge monument that is directly across the street from the palace. This is what the guards get to look at hour after hour.

This scary face was on the shield of a statue in the monument across the street from the palace.




After Buckingham Palace I walked back to the flat and packed for our trip to Paris. It didn’t take me long to pack since I didn’t have a whole lot of clothes to pick from. Oh, yeah, before I left for my jaunt to Buckingham Palace I decided to wash all of my socks and underwear and bras. It was only after my guy got home that he told me that there is no heating element in the dryer. It has a centrifugal force cycle that gets the majority of the water out of the clothes but then they have to be hung out to dry completely. I decided that I could pack damp chonies and just ask to use a dryer when we got to the Hilton, but I couldn’t head out to Paris sans bra. (Lest we forget, without my bra I have only one boob.) Anyway…no matter what I did I couldn’t get the washing machine door to open. It was locked tight. I fiddled around and pushed buttons and it would not open. He did the same thing but in his button pushing haste he turned the wash cycle on again. (He has a maid and thus he’s never personally operated the washing machine.) He continued pushing buttons but it would not stop and the door would not open. I told him that I could certainly buy new undies in Paris but we’d be pretty hard pressed to run across a mastectomy bra store so we had no choice but to wait for the wash cycle to finish. That would also give him time to read the washing machine manual and figure out how to get the stupid door open. When the wash cycle was finished, he figured out how to open the door and I had the brilliant idea that I could help to dry my clothes by ironing them. I ironed them through a bath towel and while they were nice and warm when I put them on they were far from dry. So off I went to my 2nd foreign country wearing wet chonies and a wet bra.
We took a taxi to the train station and caught the Eurostar to Paris.
As soon as the train got moving we were served crusty bread, cheese, wine and salad. I don't know if I was starving or what but this was the best snack ever! They also served dinner but it contained meat so I just stuck with the bread and cheese. I was so busy eating that I didn’t really realize that the train was in an underwater tunnel. The entire train ride was just a tad over two hours but when we got out of the tunnel it was dark and I couldn’t see the landscape. We took a taxi to the Hilton and it was a thrill and a half once I got my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. It was breath taking. The lights twinkled on an off and so it looked like a gigantic Christmas tree. The Paris Hilton is about ½ of a city block away from the tower and we could see it perfectly from our suite. We checked in to the hotel and dropped off our stuff then went in to the bar to have more wine. The bartender looked and sounded like an older version of Gerard Depardieu. He offered us Napa Valley wine but we told him we wanted the local stuff. I don’t remember what kind we wound up drinking but it was wonderful. After we finished our wine we walked the ½ block to the Eiffel Tower. I couldn't believe I was actually standing under the Eiffel Tower. This was such a dream come true. It was such a surreal moment that I felt like spinning and dancing ala Marlo Thomas in the "That Girl!" opening montage. It was 1:30 in the morning and there were still 100’s of people milling about. Most of the people looked like students. They were sitting in clumps under the tower just taking it all in. I wonder if I would have appreciated getting to see the Eiffel Tower when I was a teenager as much as I did seeing it at my age??
When we got back to the hotel the concierge told us about the Executive Lounge. Another secret perk to going first class. There is a room that was just a miniature version of the Executive Lounge at the airport. We had breakfast there the next morning, and then we had drinks and snacks there later on in the evening. (All for free.) If you sat in the right seat you could see the Eiffel Tower.
After breakfast we went back over to the tower and attempted to stand in one of the 4 lines, that each had approximately a zillion people in them, to the elevator that takes you to the top. After a couple of minutes I told my guy that even though I wanted to go to the top of the tower…we were only going to be in Paris for 1 full day and I didn’t want to waste a couple of precious hours standing in a line. So we got out of the line and caught a taxi and went to the Louvre. I wasn’t prepared for the enormity of this place. It goes on and on and on.There were other additional wings that I didn't photograph.



The piece of art I wanted to see the most was the “Mona Lisa” so we tried to walk directly to the room in which she resides. There are no signs written in English but luckily there were Xeroxed pictures of her with arrows throughout the museum. The crowd inside the museum was insane. It was wall to wall people and as people do in museums…they were standing still absorbing as much of the art as they possibly could. I would have done the same thing if I were not following my guy in an apparent foot race to the “Mona Lisa”. We went through room after room, down long, long, long hallways…some rooms were air conditioned but most were not. I was wearing flip flop sandals and every time we hit a room with wooden floors I thought I was going to slip and break my neck. After about 45 minutes of running through the Louvre we decided that we were lost and that we had obviously passed the room we were looking for. Because my guy is a man he simply can not ask for directions so we pretty much went in circles for the next 20 minutes. We finally found a map that someone had discarded and once we figured out where we were and where we needed to be it took us another 15 minutes to get there. Once we got to the proper room I discovered that it was worth everything we had gone through to get there. We had to squeeze through the crowd to get to a point where we could see the picture but it was awesome. I thought it would be bigger, much bigger as a matter of fact. Due to a velvet rope divider we were only able to get within about 20 feet of the picture but with my zoom lens on my camera I was able to see it very clearly. I couldn’t believe that I was actually looking at the "Mona Lisa".

This is what Mona gets to look at 24/7:


After we got our fill of Mona I told my guy I wanted to go see "Winged Victory" & Venus De Milo". We took our time finding them and they were both amazing. Venus had her own room just like Mona. You know how us girls like our privacy.

It was just like looking in a mirror. (NOT!)

"Winged Victory" was at the top of a marble stair case and in the middle of a hallway.

They are both right out there in the open. Someone could easily damage them and amazingly enough they remain in tact.

Here is one of the "naked with hats" sculptures I referred to earlier:



Our next plan was to see the exhibition of Napoleon’s apartment and we soon discovered that it was as well hidden as the “Mona Lisa”. We ran around for an hour trying to find it. I finally said that I'd like to stop for a minute and got something to drink so we could regroup and get our bearings. We went to a snack bar and ordered two Perriers and we were served 2 Peligrinos. We pointed out that we ordered Perriers and with that the cashier threw the receipt at us and yelled at her helper who then grabbed 1 Perrier from the cupboard and yanked 1 Peligrino away from us. We started to tell the counter lady that she had now gotten our order half right but we decided that her next move would probably have been to break one of the bottles over our head so we walked away with our 1 Perrier and 1 Peligrino and resumed our search for Napoleon’s apartment. When we finally found it I was blown away to find that it was a huge exhibit. When I hear the word "apartment" I think of small housing units. This exhibit had 3 drawing rooms, several libraries, many bedrooms, many conservatories and a dining room that was bigger than the train car we rode in to get there.

So, first off...here are Mr. Bonaparte and his woman:


And here is their lair of love:




This is a childs bed:









We could have easily spent two more days in there and still wouldn’t have seen everything but day light was burning and there was more of Paris to be seen. We jumped in to a taxi and took it to the Champs Elysee.







Little did I know that the Arch De Triomphe was on the Champs Elysee so I got to see both at the same time.







My guy sat at a sidewalk bistro and had an iced tea while I shopped. The prices in the stores were insane. The American dollar is close to worthless in Europe so once you calculate the amount of American money to the Euro…you are paying over double the amount listed on the item, thus my shopping trip was very brief. We took a taxi back to the hotel and took a much needed nap. I slept pretty much for the first time since I’d gotten to Europe. My guy got up and took a shower and got ready for dinner. He woke me up and told me that he was going to run down and talk to the concierge and find a nice place to eat. I got up and got in to the shower. There was no window or fan in the bathroom so I left the door open. After I got out of the shower and was drying off I heard the front door open. I said, “I hope that’s you…” Silence. “Is that you?”, I said..and the next thing I know I was standing in my birthday suit face to face with the maid. I tried to grab a towel off of the rack but it might as well have been macramed on to the rack. While I was doing this the maid just stood there frozen. I finally asked her, “What do you need?”, and she said, “Do you want zee tun down sooveece?” “No”, I said. “Were fine”. Then as she still stood there frozen and I wrestled with the towel she said, “Chocolat?”, as she held out her hand with chocolate candies in them. “No, really, we’re good.” I told her as I finally managed to get the towel off of the rack and get it wrapped around me. The maid finally snapped to and made a hasty exit. When I went out to the living room I found she had left us a handful of "chocolat" as an apparent peace offering!

My guy and I walked down the street and found a really nice bistro with sidewalk seating. There was piano music coming from inside.
It was not the restaurant the concierge had recommended but it was where I wanted to eat so we got a little table on the sidewalk. My guy had told me that the evening meal is an event in France and no one is ever in a hurry. This was made very clear by the fact that the waitress took her own sweet time to come to take our order even though we were the only ones there. She was as sweet and nice as she could be and she did everything she could to help us even though she didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak French. It took a little bit of pointing and sign language but she finally figured out that I didn’t want any meat and that I didn’t know how to order. She said, “I take care of you.”, and she did. She brought me a small loaf of crusty bread, a wedge of white cheese, olive tampinade, and sautéed veggies. It was so yummy I could have eaten 10 servings! The waitress decided that I hadn’t had enough to eat so she brought me a plate of French fries. I haven’t had a French fry since 3/10/05 but these fries looked so good that I tried one and the next thing I knew they were all gone. We had a very nice bottle of French Bordeaux with dinner and then I ordered a diet Coke, then we had sorbet for desert. After desert I had coffee so at one point I had 4 beverages, (including water) in front of me. I wouldn’t let her take any of them away and I drank each and every one of them.
During dinner the piano music played lightly in the back ground, the weather was at a perfect 78 degrees and I just loved every minute of it. The piano player happened to play “Ain’t She Sweet” which was one of my dad’s favorite songs. It made me feel like my dad just kind of dropped by to say “Bon jour, mon aimee…”

After dinner we paid the Eiffel Tower one last visit and then we went up to our room and packed up our things. We had to leave the hotel at 6:00 AM in order to catch our train back to London. WE both snoozed on the train but one of seemed to snooze a little deeper than everyone else. This was made evident by the fact that I was listening to my iPod and I could still very clearly hear my partner snoring. The other people on the train were very kind about it as none of them shot us hard looks or asked us to be quiet.

After we got back to the flat I unpacked our suitcase and put everything in my suitcase then got in to another taxi and headed out to Heathrow and catch my plane back home. On the highway I saw several of these cars but it was too difficult to take a picture of them because we were all moving too fast.

They are about 1/2 of the size of a Volkswagon. I'm not sure if they run on gas or are electric but I can't help but think that they get really good gas mileage.

I got to go in to the Executive Lounge at Heathrow. This one was hidden in the labrinth of hallways but at least the door was clearly marked unlike it's American counterpart.


Once again I was able to sit and read expensive fashion magizines and eat and drink whatever I felt like eating and drinking.
The flight home was a quick one. After all I had only gotten a total of about 10 hours of sleep all week and I had consumed enough wine to sink a sizable battle ship. The video machine on the plane didn't work so there was nothing to watch and I didn't want to be rude and be the only one on the entire plane with their light on so that I could read my book. I slept off an on for the entire flight. In business class if you are asleep when they serve the food they don't wake you up because you can request your food when you are awake and ready to eat.
At LAX I had to wait and wait for my luggage to get taken off of the plane and wouldn't you know it...the luggage carosel that we were assigned to was also being used by the middle eastern contingent. I'm sorry to say that even though they were coming to America none of them had yet to subscribe to our traditional bathing schedule. After almost 1 hour my suitcase finally arrived and I headed off to stand in the line at the customs department. I was fortunate that my suitcase took so long to show up because by the time I got there most of the line had dissipated. My driver was waiting for me with a sign that had my name on it. I wanted to ask him if I could have it but then he would have known that I was not the jaded, seasoned world traveler that he thought I was and Lord knows I was not going to burst his bubble. (not that he would have figured this out when he dropped me off in a mobile home park or anything....)

I would love to say that I went right in and unpacked and disbursed all of the souviners that I brought for everyone but if I said that....I'd be a liar.

Home again, home again, jiggity jig!

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4 Comments:

Anonymous s t a c i said...

What fun! Kind of a whirlwind trip, but it sounds like you had a good time!

Those cars are called Smart Cars. The company that makes them is actually a conglomeration between Swatch (the watches) and BMW. They run on gas...just not very much gas.

:)

5:10 AM  
Anonymous Mother said...

I feel like I was there, too! Great story....I wish I could have gotten all your pictures...a lot of them didn't open but I remembered some you had shown me. What a trip of a lifetime....You certainly had a wonderful time....Next time take more undies.

12:35 AM  
Anonymous Joan Smith said...

Your mom is right - as usual. I was right there with you in London (at least I've been there) and jealously reading every word and looking at pictures of Paris. Going there is my dream, but alas, it will probably never happen. At least I can live vicariously, and I thank you for that.
Keep up the good work.
Joan

1:36 PM  
Blogger Margaret said...

WE need more kitty stories!!!

And thanks for the shoe advice. Actually the first fancy pair I bought I had thought would be OK but I am going to end up wearing them around the house. Nothing better than pajama boxers, an old t-shirt and fancy heels, right??

5:59 PM  

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