Thursday, March 10, 2011

London & Paris 2007 - Our first trip abroad

Okay, so this took me 6 months to get going on, but procrastinating is what I do best...

Kara wanted to do a study abroad in London during the summer of her sophomore year at Texas State.  I thought this sounded like a great idea, as we had never traveled to Europe before and this gave us (me!) a good excuse to go!  I'm not sure that Kara was thrilled with this scenario, but it is all about me (so I have been told many, many times...), so I made the plans and off the four of us went.

London/Paris Trip Report – May 27th  - June 6th, 2007

Sunday, May 27: Left Houston at noon and connected with a flight in Newark, NJ.  Left NJ at 7:30 p.m. and arrived at London Gatwick on:

Monday, May 28: Arrived early 7:00 a.m. London time (2:00 a.m. Texas time).  Took the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station.  Stayed at the Southwark Holiday Inn, which was very near the Waterloo Express where we would be leaving the next day for Paris.  Figured it wasn’t that far, so we trekked with all of our bags to the hotel.  It was cold, cold and rainy.  Not a great first impression.  We did manage to get to our hotel, probably a 15-20 minute walk.  It was too early to check in, but we did manage to take advantage of the breakfast (coffee) that was being served.

 We left our baggage at the hotel and went off to tour around.  We walked along the south bank of the Thames and visited the Globe Theater and then to the London Eye.  We rode the Eye, and then ventured back the opposite direction.  Stopped and had pizza, salad and appetizers at the Gourmet Pizza and then browsed the Tate Museum.            

Headed back to the Holiday Inn to check in our luggage.  It was about 2:00 p.m. London time (8:00 p.m. TX time), so everyone was pretty jet lagged.  Kara wanted to take just a little nap, but it was decided that we just HAD to go look around more, as it was just too early to sleep.  Left the hotel, and it was colder and raining more, as we were just about to give it up until, Yes!, we spotted a nice little pub and decided to just spend our jet-lagged last hours there.  It was the Fuller’s Ale & Die House at the Mad Hatter hotel.  We watched “football” and tried these beers!!:
      London Pride - good
      Discovery – liked the best
      Honey Dew - good
      1845 – pretty good
       ESB (extra special bitter) – pretty bitter!
Could not make it too much longer, and off to the hotel.  Everyone in bed and, more or less, asleep at 6:30 p.m. (12:30 a.m. our time!!)

Tuesday, May 29:
Up and at em' at 5:15 a.m. to get to Waterloo Station to take  the Eurostar to Paris.  Had breakfast at the HI, and then took a cab to Waterloo.

We arrived in Paris at 11:00 a.m. and took the Metro to metro stop and walked a few blocks to our hotel (Hotel Royal du Cardinal).  Checked in and decided to check out the area.  Walked way more than we needed, trying to figure out where we were and where to go…so we headed to Notre Dam.  Bought some not very good sandwiches from a vendor and ate at a park in Notre Dam.  Toured the inside of Notre Dam, then walked to the Louvre, didn’t go in, just walked around the area, it was so very impressive.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées (a necessary wine stop)
Had reservations to meet an evening bike tour (Fat Tire Bike Tours) at the Eiffel Tour, so we walked through the Jardin des Tulleries and then along the Champs des Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe.  Stopped a few places along the way, when we arrived at the Arc, we bought tickets and walked the 282 steps to the stop.  A lovely view and definitely one of the high points (literally!) of Paris.  Left there and continued our walk to the Eiffel Tower.

Made it to the Eiffel Tower, tired and hungry!  Managed to (once again, wonder aimlessly) until we found a restaurant a few blocks away from the Tower.  Had a good dinner and headed back to meet up with the bike tour.

Met with Bronwyn of Fat Bike Tours, walked a few blocks, got our bikes and headed off for the tour.  We really enjoyed this tour.  We bicycled to Notre Dam, through the Louvre, the Ile de la Cite, had Berthillon ice cream, learned about St. Chapelle, the Latin Quarter, Champs-Elysees, Princess Di’s Flame, the Arc and then took a boat cruise along the Seine.  Very informative tour (not to mention that the company is owned by Aggies, so, it had to be fabulous….).  Loved this tour and would definitely do it again.  Kind of wish we had done the day trip too… maybe next time.  Got back to our hotel late, midnight or so.

Wednesday, May 30:
Had a pretty mediocre breakfast at our hotel (bread and croissant w/coffee) then walked to St. Chappelle (long wait – about 45 minutes).  Lovely church with beautiful stained glass, but a small’ish museum that didn’t take us too long to get through).  Went next door to the Concierge museum where they used to keep prisoners.  Very interesting and worth the visit.

 Did our usual wanderings and our usual being indecisive about where to eat.  Found a cute’ish little alley way in St. Germaine, and wandered down it.  Kara picked a restaurant and in we went.  It was greek (Café des Arts) and we had no idea what we were ordering, but it was all good.

  Then walked to the Cluny Museum.  We were a little disappointed that everything was in French (weird, we were in France!!), but were able to semi-figure out what it was all about.  Lots of tapestries and statues.

 Left there and went to the Luxemborg Gardens, then headed back to our hotel with a stop at an internet café.  Stopped at our hotel for a bit, then headed to the Louvre around 6:30 p.m.  We only managed to see one section (Egyptian), but did see the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo and were able to marvel at the beautiful ceilings and saw some amazing paintings.  We left there at 9:30 p.m. seeing only just a tiny fraction of the museum.  Decided to try and find a restaurant that was recommended on the Fodor’s web site that was described as “fun”.   
"Candy, why did you blink!?!?"
 When we got there, there weren’t many people (it was late…), sat down and thought, oh my, we’ll have to leave as it was very expensive (40 euros per person).  Decided it was too late to leave and try to find something else, so we stayed.  The restaurant was in the Il de Cite (Sargent Recruiter).  HUGE amounts of food, wine, appetizer, salad and dessert were all included).  First they brought the wine, then a huge bowl of soup, accompanied by an enormous basket of sausage and bread.  Then came another huge basket full of lettuce, cucumbers, peppers and all kinds of veggies to make your own salad. 

 The entrées were very good, which was accompanied by an assortment of cheeses and more bread.  Because we hadn’t had enough to eat, this was followed by some lovely desserts.  Perhaps a bottle or 6 of wine was also consumed.  We did indeed have a lot of “fun” and managed to leave there at midnight (with looks of relief that we were finally leaving from the staff…) very full, a bit tipsy, and walked back to our hotel.

Thursday, May 31:
Woke up about 8:30’ish and left the hotel for the train station.  Bought tickets for the 10:30 train to Versailles.
Toured Versailles, the houses, gardens and Marie Antoinette’s hamlet.  Lovely, lovely trip and we really enjoyed it all.  We were disappointed that the fountains were not running and that there was a bit of construction, but loved it and would definitely do it again.  Had some Panini’s in the park and walked and walked and walked.

 Left Versailles about 5 p.m. and returned to the Latin Quarter.  Stopped and had a beer at a neighborhood bar outside and waited till the rain let up before we headed out of there.  We managed to walk a few blocks before it started really raining, so ran into the nearest restaurant (Café Paris) across from Notre Dam and had a great dinner.  We shared a cheese plate, salad plate and toasted sandwich.  Headed back to the hotel for our first early night!

Friday, June 1st:
Up early’ish (8:30 a.m.) and off to Notre Dam for an early climb.  Got there at 8:15 only to find that it opens at 10 a.m..  Off to a boulangerie and found some mmm mmm mighty fine pastries.  Lovely.  Went back to the cathedral and stood on line for 45 minutes before we got to climb up.  The view from the top with the gargoyles we decided was worth the wait.

Left there and took the metro to the catacombs.  Did that tour, but it was not liked by everyone.  I was glad we went, Briana could have missed it, the rest of us were glad we went, so we could say we did it!  Keeping to our usual plan, we debated about where to eat forever, and then got some swell lunch goodies from a nearby patisserie (mmm), ate it at the park near the catacombs and then headed back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and head back to London's Waterloo Station.

Before we left, we absolutely had to hit up the creperie across the street from our hotel for just one more nutella/banana crepe.  The best thing, ever….

Arrived back to London and decided to take a cab to the flat that we had rented for the rest of the week.  Best decision ever….  Flat is just ok, in a not bad area.  Could walk to store for groceries and not too, too far from tube stops.  Bought pizza and salad for dinner and had an early night in.

 Saturday, June 2:
Up and out around 9’ish.  Off to the internet café for coffee and internet.  Headed to the mobile phone place to get Kara set up for cell service.

Bought some lunch at local grocery store and head to Holland Park to wander around and have lunch. We  walked around Kensington and Kensington Park for a while, and found out for sure that Cingular sucks.

Back to flat to get Kara off to AIU.  Took the metro to Bond St, walked to Kara’s check in spot, got keys and then walked again to find Kara’s flat (mentioning this because we had heavy bulky luggage that we were schlepping, not knowing where we were going and somewhat cranky that it was a bit of a distance!).  Checked her in and left her there with the most insecure feelings I’ve ever had…

We wandered around Oxford Street and had wine and brushetta at a little restaurant near Oxford.  Headed back to the flat, bought some groceries and made a pasta dish for dinner.  Watched TV and went to bed by 10:30.  Briana and I wandered around looking for a phone so that we could make sure that all was well with Kara.  A very nice young gentlemen lent us his phone to call her and all was well with her, and we were very impressed with the kindness of Londoners!

Sunday, June 3
Left the flat around 10’ish and headed to the internet café.  Had coffee and browsed around the area.  We   took the metro to Victoria Station and purchased Big Red Bus Tickets and did the Tour.  Fabulous idea, as this was the first tourist thing we did that did not have miles and miles of walking..

Got off at Trafalgar Square, had lunch (great sandwiches & chips) and ate it in the park.

Back on the BRB to the London Tower, toured there until about 4:30’ish.  Did the gaslight walking tour from from 6-8 pm, which stopped at 3 pubs (this made it semi-worthwhile) and had dinner at the 3rd stop which was Penderals Oak), had a couple of burgers, fries and beer, so all was well.

Back on the metro and headed back to our flat @10:30 p.m.

Monday, June 4:
We decided that we would head off to Portobello Road and wander through the markets and check out that area.  Strangely, as we were walking aimlessly, we looked across the street and there was Kara on her way to work!  It was funny to see her like that, we had no idea where she would be working, so it was a nice surprise for all of us. 

We spent a bit of time with her, she showed us where she was working and then we went our separate way.

We also went to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard, along with a few hundred other people!

Last dinner with Kara before we left London

We did meet with her again at the British Museum and had dinner again before we were going to leave London and head back to the U.S.

Tuesday, June 5:
Checked out of our flat and went wandering through Hyde Park, saw the Diana Memorial Fountain, and also walked through Kensington Gardens.

In the late afternoon, we headed to Vic Station, to Gatwick Express and checked into the Hilton Gatwick.

Wed, June 6:
Had a ridiculously overpriced breakfast at the hotel, after a nice restful evening and scooted to the airport for a noon flight.

It is hard to believe that we took this trip almost 4 years ago (and that it has taken me this long to get around to it!!!).  It's been so fun to go through all of this now though and has brought back such great memories.  I wish we could do it all over again!!
Perhaps I will get to our 2008 trip of London in Paris before another year goes by...

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