London Dungeon, London Eye, & the Aquarium…Or how to make the most of your last day in London

Well, it’s Sunday.  Our last day in London…boo!!  We thoroughly enjoyed the BPL game between West Ham and Manchester City even though the final results were not to our liking (The end result was a draw, but I won’t tell you which way I wanted it to go…Premier League allegiance is more polarizing that any political race we have going on!), seeing a game at Boleyn Ground in its final season was amazing and I am so glad we were able to get that worked out because it was one of the coolest things I have ever seen as a soccer player/fan/mom.

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So Sunday we hop on the tube and head to the London Dungeon.  These tickets were not part of the London Pass, but you can still pre-purchase tickets on-line so you do not have to stand in line…you may have noticed I have issues with lines (really I have patience issues, but we’ll blame the lines for now!).  I purchased a three attraction ticket.  That meant I could choose from the Dungeon, the London Eye, the London Aquarium, the Shrek Experience or Madame Tussauds.  Neither of us was particularly interested in Shrek, but I would have been fine with any of the other attractions. Jarod decided on the Eye, the Dungeon and the Aquarium so that is what we did.

We started at the London Dungeon.  When I visited the London Dungeon 20 or so years ago, it was kind of a little hole in the wall.  Not many people knew about it so it was rarely crowded, and you could just wander around the exhibition on your own at your own pace.  It has changed a bit in 20 years…

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Now it is massive, with queues, set tour times and a guide.  Once again, no pictures are allowed during the tour, but the history was fun, the actors engaging and at the end…free drinks in their tavern!!

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After this, we headed to the London Eye where we encountered our first real crowds of the entire trip…we also encountered the news that the Eye was currently out of order and our options were to come back later, or get our money refunded.  We decided to use our aquarium tickets and then check back to see if it was working later in the day.  The Aquarium was pretty cool…its hard when you grow up in DC and spend plenty of time at the Aquarium in Baltimore, MD, one of the greatest in the world.  But this one was cool too…maybe I just love aquariums!

They have lots of sharks!!  They also have tons of other really cool fish…and penguins…and crabs…and penguins…and weird sea snake things…and penguins!!

After the Aquarium, we went back to see if the Eye was up and running and sure enough it was so we got in line (the longest line we faced – about 20 minutes) and got in the car to see London from the top of the world.

It was somewhat overcast, but the sun was trying to peek through which made for some pretty awesome views!  It is said on a clear day, you can see all the way to Windsor Castle, but not today…ah well, another time.

Just in case you ever find yourself in line to get in one of the cars of the London Eye be aware…do not call it a ferris wheel, apparently its sensitive about that.  It is a cantilevered observation wheel.  Apparently, if its a ferris wheel, its not the tallest in the world but as a cantilevered observation wheel, it holds the record.  I am not sure who might come in second, or even if there is more than one, but now you know.

After our leisurely rotation around, we decided to grab some lunch at the Slug & Lettuce, a pub chain that has decent food and a pretty good selection of drinks.  After lunch, we decided to take a cruise down the Thames.  This was another included attraction on the London Pass and it would take us from the Eye to the Tower Bridge.  It was nearing sunset so it was an absolutely stunning trip.

After we arrived at the Tower Bridge wharf and got off, we decided to just wander around and enjoy the final night.  It was an unseasonably mild night for January so we strolled along with no real intended direction.

And my favorite picture maybe of the entire trip was taken on this walk.

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We headed back towards the hotel and had our second dinner of the trip at the Angus Steakhouse.  Our first one was so amazing, we hoped for a repeat performance, but alas it was not to be this time.  You can see my review of that trip here.

Monday morning brought our last tube ride, then the train back to the airport.  Gatwick was super easy to get through and we had several hours of just sitting around waiting.  Our flight to Iceland was uneventful, however Jarod did get pulled in for a random passport check, which was kind of a hassle, but not the end of the world.

We arrived back in Baltimore with little fuss and here is where American Airlines took over our travel…and it wasn’t for the better.  Our flight from BWI to Philly was delayed so we missed our connection back to Charlotte and had to get a hotel for the night and try again in the morning…we eventually did get home and unpacked.  Overall it was an amazing trip and I am so glad we were able to spend the time together before he leaves for college in the Fall.  We have one more big trip together as a family this summer and it is several cities that are on my bucket list…lots of planning to do!

 

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Tower of London, Tower Bridge Experience and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater

Friday! Our week here is winding down. Today we woke up “early” to get to the Tower of London before the hoards of tourists (there were never “hoards of tourists” but I could never seem to shake my assumption that there would be!). We did need to top up our pre purchased Oyster Travel Card today but I loved, loved, loved having those cards mailed to me in the States so they were ready to use immediately on landing at Gatwick.

I also purchased The London Pass prior to the trip.  It offers admission to many attractions in and around London.  Visit their website here.  You will have to decide for yourself if you think you can get your monies worth, I will tell you that without question, I did.  In addition, we went to several attractions that we never would have with out the pass, but since they were free, we wandered in and loved them!  Two of them this day alone.  We had planned on several hours at the Tower of London, and then the Tower Bridge.  We ended up doing so much more, all because of the Pass.

Upon arrival at the Tower of London, we stopped at the cafe to get some traditional scones with clotted cream and jam.  Also coffee.  And coffee.

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Clotted cream is one of those things that you can only really get in the UK, and ever since I tasted it for the first time on a Virgin Atlantic Airline trip, I dream about it.  I know that there are places in the U.S. that sell it, but somehow its just not the same.

We then wandered around the Tower of London.  We had, of course, just missed the Yeoman Warder tour so we decided to just wing it with the map we had been given at admission.  If you can swing it, the Warder tours are supposed to be amazing!

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We saw everything on the map.  There were no crowds, the weather was nice enough for January and we were on no schedule so we really just wandered from place to place.  This was the first time I had seen the Crown Jewels as when I had been here before, the line to get into that particular area was unbelievable and we decided against it.  No pictures allowed there, but we took plenty of the rest of the Tower.

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The White Tower

 

We did eventually find a Yeoman!  OD thinks that they are sharp dressers and is still bugging me to get a cape and hat!

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More Tower

It was drizzly a little but not super cold so we took our time wandering the grounds of the Tower.  When we had seen it all, we headed out and towards the Tower Bridge to cross the River Thames.  Our London Pass cards granted us “Fast Track Entry” access to the Tower Bridge Exhibition which was a bonus as there was actually a line at the entrance…like ten people long, but still a line, and I got to skip right by!!

We headed up in the elevator and landed in a room with a movie playing the history of the Bridge, kind of interesting, but its on a loop so if you don’t catch it at the beginning, you sit through it all then have to watch the beginning over again.  So we skipped it, mostly.

We walked across the new glass floor, looking down at the River Thames 138 feet below us.

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We were able to look out over London from atop the Bridge, but it was kind of overcast so no really good pictures.  I really enjoyed the display along both sides of the Bridge, “Great Bridges of the World,” 40 of the most amazing bridges in the world…really cool even if you are not huge into engineering.  We then went down under the Bridge to view the original bridge lifting machinery.  Again, cool even for non-gearheads!

Then, after a quick stop at Starbucks for wifi, we decided to walk over to the Shakespeare Museum and see if we could get in a tour there before dinner…this was again something that was included in our London Pass.

On our way over, we saw a banner for something called the London Bridge Experience, the London Tombs.

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It was a small door under an overpass so even the entrance looked spooky, but since we had no real time schedule and it was included in our London Pass, we decided to check it out.  There is no photography allowed inside and truth be told, I wouldn’t post any pictures regardless!  It was kind of scary!  The history provided by the cast members is fantastic and overall I loved that we did this, but if you have young children it might not be for you.  My 13 year old would have been fine, but my 4 year old would probably be scarred for life!  This was really more of what I remembered The London Dungeon to be like…more on how its changed (and my opinion on that) on Sunday’s tour.  Still, it was free and a fun little history lesson on the darker side of London’s past.

From there, walking to the Globe theater we saw some pretty cool little churches, pirate ships, prisons, all sorts of stuff!  That walk through Southwark is really cool!

But we finally made it to the original site of the Globe Theater, which is now a parking lot…

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…but we continued on to the museum and got signed up for the next available tour.  We met our tour guide and we immediately loved him.  This is one of those places where a good group and a talented guide can really make a difference and with our guide being top notch, this ended up being one of our favorite stops of the trip!

First you wander through some history of the Theater. They have models of what London looked like at the time, and what the actual Theater looked like, they also have costume and prop rooms set up to see what the actors would be wearing/using on stage.  Then we get to the stage and the seats.

There were no sets, the actors had to create the scene just with costume and word.  The roof is open and since there was no electricity in Shakespeare’s day, that meant that all shows were performed in the daytime, rain or shine.  In the rain, only those seated under the roof would stay dry, if you were a groundling (the cheapest admission, no seating, you just stood in that big area in front of the stage) you got wet.  Audience participation was expected, boos, cheers, cat calls, etc. were all par for the course.  After our tour, we crossed back over the Thames on the Millennium Bridge, a steel suspension bridge for pedestrians.  London sure is pretty at sunset!

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So that was our day, courtesy of the London Pass.  On Saturday, we have just one thing on the agenda…Premier League Football!!! West Ham vs. Manchester City to be exact.  This is Soccer Mom Travels after all! No pictures or cool stories, although we had an absolute blast!!  We will start back up on Sunday, our final day in London and another super busy day:  London Dungeon, London Aquarium and the London Eye!

London Day 3 – Royal London Tour, Gordon Ramsay, and Les Miserables

So its Thursday in London…back in Charlotte school is getting cancelled due to an ice storm, but here in London, it is in the 60’s and sunny!

We are meeting up with Nick from Free London Walking Tours again today for a tour called “Royal London & Changing of the Guard.”  The website warns that in the winter months, the Changing of the Guard does not happen every day, but you can check the schedule on-line to make sure you are going to be able to see it if you want to.

That morning we decided to try the included breakfast at our hotel…and at least there was coffee!!  So if there was one small complete fail at the St. David’s Hotel it was the breakfast.  It was hot and plentiful so if that is your only requirement you will be completely satisfied.  It is not gourmet.  There are only two choices…English or Continental.  The English has eggs (done your way), bacon (English style rasher), baked beans, grilled veggies, and toast.  I love me a good rasher of bacon, so that part was good, and its hard (though not impossible) to mess up toast, but the rest was really not to my liking at all.  It was edible but not tasty.  I still LOVE the hotel and I would gladly stay there on any trip to London, just next time I will order Continental!

Moving on, we head to the Underground to catch the train to Westminster, but there was some sort of hold up on the line and we ended up waiting a long time for a train.  That made us late to Westminster, probably around 10:45…15 minutes late.  There was no green umbrella in site so we walked up the street one way, did not see any sort of group moving around, so we headed the other way…and found Nick!!!  Fortunately for us, Nick wears a giant bear skin hat, like the Russian kind, not the Royal Guard kind…like this:

And that is what I spotted walking down the street with a small group.  We very quickly caught up with them and apologized for being late.  I am not sure if Nick wears this big hat during the summer months, but I hope so!  It’s a great way to pick him out of the crowd!  The group had only made it as far as Big Ben…or more specifically, the clock tower that houses Big Ben.

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Nick gave us little tidbits of information as we walked around this area.  This is a really busy, crowded area compared to what we had seen so far, but it is a very business-y area so lots of folks going to and from work.  In the middle of January, the touristy areas are really not that busy, but I guess folk still gotta work!

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The Victoria Tower at the Palace of Westminster.  Now the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, collectively the Houses of Parliament.  Big Ben is housed int the Elizabeth Tower, at the other corner.  There is one more tower in the middle, but I didn’t get a picture of it.  Nick must not have had any cool stories about it.

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This is St. Margaret’s Church.  It stands in between Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.  The Houses of Parliament is what is housed in the Palace of Westminster these days.  The bell tower on the Palace of Westminster houses Big Ben.  There…Now you know!  I am standing on the same corner to take all of the above pictures, just stand in one place and take pictures all around you, that’s how awesome London is!

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10 Downing Street.  Affectionately known simply as “Number 10” this is where the Executive Branch headquarters and where the Prime Minister officially resides.  I learned that George Downing, who owned part of the building, was a notorious spy for Oliver Cromwell back in the day.  Now, I know you are thinking that surely someone of such fine upstanding character would build solid, well crafted homes…you’d be wrong of course.  The fronts of the houses were nothing more than facades with painted on stones!  Churchill later lamented the homes of the “profiteering contractor whose name they bear.”

Downing never lived in any of these houses, and Number 10 was part of three houses eventually combined to make up the modern building that now bears the name.

 

We then moved to the changing of the guard at the Horse Guards.  That is different than the changing of the Palace Guard, but no less formal and steeped in tradition.  Plus, you can get so much closer!  And Horses!!!

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This was really, really cool and you can see how close we were to the action.  Much closer than the Palace Changing of the Guards.  From Whitehall, all you see is the building and the arches where the mounted guards are stationed, but as you walk through the building, it opens to Parade Grounds where the formal changing ceremony takes place.  Beyond that is St. James’s Park and in fact, this building is the unofficial entrance to St. James’s Palace which I’m guessing is somewhere in that HUGE park!  We did eventually find it…just be patient!

Next up was Buckingham Palace for the “real” Changing of the Guard.  As you may be able to see, even in January the crowds to watch this were several people deep against the fence.  A very helpful thing to know is that in the winter, they do not do a formal changing of the guards every day, there is a schedule posted with the dates and times on several London websites, so if you are going in January, look it up.  Not that it is etched in stone, mind you.  According to the Buckingham Palace website, there was supposed to be a Changing ceremony on the day that we were there, but we waited 15 mins or so and it never happened so onward and upward!

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See?? I told you we would find it.  St. James’s Palace, the back side.  As it turns out, this was my favorite stop of the “Royal” sights.  I LOVE the history of the Tudors and this palace was built by Henry VIII as an escape from formal court life.  And he build all sorts of fun escape things into it.

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See the Murder Holes at the top??  Where an archer could hide and shoot you while you waited to come it?  That would certainly put a more final twist on my “No Soliciting” sign!  Also, on this side of the Palace there was an underground tunnel for Henry to use.  Where did it lead you ask?

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It lead here…a wine shop!  Any wonder I love Henry Tudor!!!  Granted this particular store has changed hands in the past 400 plus years, but according to Nick, it was a place for the King to slip out and drink unnoticed by eyes in the Palace.  Do you think I can dig a tunnel to my closest wine shop?  I’d probably have to get HOA approval first, right?

We then moved on to see some of the shops that sell to folks above my pay grade.  You know, “If you have to ask…” and all that.  Shopping is not my favorite thing, although it is certainly cool to see how the other half live!  Soon enough we were at Trafalger Square, where our tour was to end.  We hopped on the Metro to head back to the hotel to freshen up for our night in West End London!!

We had dinner reservations at Gordon Ramsay’s Heddon Street Kitchen and tickets to see Les Miserables at the Queens Theater after that so we were really looking forward to this night and it did not disappoint!

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Our trip was the week after the Great David Bowie passed away, and Heddon Street is famous for being the location where the album cover for Rise and Fall was shot.  This impromptu tribute was silent and beautiful in the middle of busy London.

Dinner at Heddon Street was AWESOME!!  The restaurant is in a cute little courtyard and has what looks to be a nice patio area for outdoor dining. We sat inside as it was January and the atmosphere was very cozy and comfortable. We were early for a dinner since we needed to be at the theater so we kind of had a merry-go-round of servers as more arrived for their shift, however we never felt neglected, someone always checked on us and made sure we had everything we needed. We had baked scallops and flatbread as appetizers and both were very tasty. For entrees we had the short rib burger and the roast pork belly and both were very good. The Mac & Cheese side dish was my favorite thing EVER!  I should have gotten the entree portion!  For dessert, we had the dark chocolate tart and ice cream bar. Both very good.

Next up was Les Miserables at  the Queens Theater.  I had gotten really great seats and I was super excited to see my favorite show of all time…so much so I almost got hit by a car, then rammed into some poor guy as I was lamenting my near miss!  The Queen’s Theater is lovely and our seats were spectacular.  I always feel a little bad for the people sitting near me because I’m gonna sing, and I’m gonna cry.  I have started apologizing before the show, it’s just easier.
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The show was SPECTACULAR and we left teary eyed, and singing songs…all the way back to the hotel where we gratefully fell into bed to rest up for more awesome things!  Next up…Tower of London, Shakespeare Museum, Tower Bridge and the Curse of the Raven!!

 

 

 

Wow Airlines, A Week in London and a Day Trip to Paris! Part 3

Its Paris Day!!!!

So if you have read any of my previous posts, you may have grasped that Paris is my favorite city in the world (of the ones I have see so far.  I do have a couple of bucket list trips coming up, so we will see after that!).  That being said, since we were so close anyway I had to plan a trip to show Jarod the sights.  The earliest Eurostar train I could get from London was 7:01am and we were told to be there 45 minutes early to check in through customs.  Since we still were not acclimated to London time, getting up at 5am to take the subway to St. Pancras train station was not as hard as it might have been otherwise.  Still, we got to the train station right at 6:15am, officially “left” the United Kingdom, walked 10 feet and officially “entered” France.  The lines were long but moved quickly and as soon as we were through security and customs we walked right on our train and sat down.  This was, however, January.  Not a typically busy tourist time, so if you are making this trip at other times, your mileage may vary.

We had standard carriage seats, no first class on this trip, but they were adequate for what we needed.  Plus, it was only a 2 hour train ride, in the dark, very early in the morning.  It was fine.  The darkness meant that we did not see the presumed picturesque country side passing by on the English side of the Channel Tunnel (Chunnel), nor did we even notice when we entered the famed crossing.  On exiting the tunnel in Calais, morning had broken but the fog was so thick we saw barely anything of the French countryside except the very unwelcome sight of snow covered land.  The fog did eventually clear as we got closer to Paris, as did the snow on the ground.  I knew that it would be chilly, it is January after all, but I was hoping for clear, which I got…eventually.

So we arrive at Gare du Nord at 10:15am (2 hour train ride plus 1 hour time change) and we now have until 8:30pm until we need to be back at the train station to allow 45 minutes before our 9:15pm train back to London.  So, can you see all the highlights of Paris on foot in 10 hours?  Yes, you can…mostly.  And you can’t really go inside any of them for too long, but you can see them all and get some great exercise along the way!  Here is a Google Maps snapshot of my planned path, with the major places I wanted to hit.  I did make some adjustments to this, but followed it pretty closely.  The big gaps from the top to the bottom and back up again, we hopped on the Metro, everything else, we walked.

Paris Walk

So from Gare du Nord, we headed to Boulevard de Clichy to see Moulin Rouge.

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We then headed up to Place Saint-Pierre to catch the Funiculaire to ride up to Sacre Coeur.

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It was still a bit foggy so the beautiful view of Paris at your feet that I so wanted Jarod to see was not happening, but as you can see behind Sacre Coeur the sky was beginning to turn a beautiful blue as the morning fog cleared.  We were just too early to catch that site…and we had to keep moving, moving, moving!

So we hopped on the Metro and rode down to Hotel de Ville.  We came up out of the metro and immediately Jarod was caught up in the magic of Paris architecture.  I could tell that he was going to love this city as much as I do!

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We walked across Pont d’Arcole to Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Far Soft

And stood in Awe.

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We then wound our way around Ile de la Cite and crossed back to the Right Bank on Pont Neuf.  If you have read any of my previous Paris trips, you will know that there had been some issues with the “Locks of Love” attached to Pont des Arts and the French government was going to remove all of the locks in order to maintain the structural integrity of the bridge (a positive thing!). However, the people so love the locks that instead of just getting rid of them, they were moved to Pont Neuf, a much more robust bridge, where there is less worry about the bridge collapsing under the weight of all the locks.  This has also created the opportunity for enterprising folks to set up lock selling stands all over the bridge (not a positive thing.).

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We then stopped and got some coffee and Pain au Chocolat at a cafe along Quai du Louvre.  We entered the Louvre at Perrault’s Colonnade, which is my favorite way to enter as the architecture is stunning and you are able to almost picture, in the Cour Carree, how this area was used originally.  Then you walk through the archway and are faced with the iconic glass pyramid.

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The terrorist attacks in Paris had not happened all that long before our trip and the increase in police presence was most notable here.

We wandered the grounds here, peeked in the windows of the Hall of Statues then made our way to the marble arch that marks the entrance to Jardin des Tuileries.

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We walked the length of Tuileries and arrived at Place de la Concorde.  I love this area.  It is easily one of my favorite places to sit and get an espresso or glass of wine and just watch.  There is always something happening here, I’ve seen fashion shows, photo shoots, weddings, celebrity sightings, any number of interesting things.  This is also where, more than anywhere else in Paris, I invariably encounter gypsies.  It has happened so many times to me at this point I can pretty much pick them out of the crowd and simply avoid them.  In January, however, it did not seem so many were around.

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The Luxor Obelisk…and a weird thing they are building in the background.

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The Fontain des Fleuves…frozen solid.  One of the coolest things I have ever seen!  We hung here a while, just watching all the activity, but then had to move, move, move!!!

We crossed the Seine to the Left Bank on the Pont de la Concorde and headed towards the Hotel National des Invalides and Napoleon’s Tomb.  As per the norm, there was a protest going on right outside the Museum of Military History so we wandered around the back way.  There was a checkpoint with a metal detector at the entrance that was not there before, but we went through easily and were waved on past by the armed…yet super friendly…guards.

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We walked the grounds there for a while, then crossed back over the Seine on Pont Alexandre III, a truly impressive bridge that brings you to the roadway right in between the Grand Palais and Petit Palais.  From there we walked up Avenue des Champs-Elysees, stopping every now and then to peek at some high end stores along the way!

We eventually made it to the Arc de Triomphe.  We were actually ahead of schedule so we decided to go up to the top and see the city from there.  Until we got in line to get tickets and were informed that the elevator was broken and we would need to walk up to the top if we wanted to go there.  Needless to say, we decided we were already walking enough for the day, so we decided against it.

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After that, we walked down Avenue Marceau, across the Pont de l’Alma and over to the Eiffel Tower.  I wanted to be over near the Eiffel Tower towards the end of the day hoping that we would be able to see it after dark and all lit up which we did…eventually!

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Can you tell I’m tired!!!

By now it was close to 5pm and all we had had to eat was that Pain au Chocolat waaaayyyyy back at Notre Dame so Jarod was getting hungry.  I was hoping we could hold out a little while longer, but he can get crabby when he’s hungry…must get that from his father!  I had already picked out which restaurant I wanted for him to have his first dinner in Paris so we headed towards the Trocadero to eat at Cafe Le Malakoff.  If you have read about any of my previous trips to Paris, this may sound familiar, this will be the third time I have eaten here on three separate trips to Paris.  What can I say, I like it.

And so did Jarod!!  Every thing he ate was declared “the Best Ever.” He had escargot, Steak Frites with Bearnaise sauce for both the steak and the frites, cause that’s how we roll!  Then Profiteroles for dessert.  A sip or two of my wine, and a cup of true French coffee to end the meal.  I had one of the prix fixe menus which included Gratinee a l’oignon (French onion soup…but since we were in France…just onion soup!!), a filet with Bearnaise and Coupe Dame blanche (vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and almonds) for dessert.  It was a fantastic meal and I am so glad we were able to have dinner there.

After dinner, the sun had set, so back to the Eiffel Tower to see it all lit up!

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Since we had some extra time, we hopped on the Metro up to the Opera National de Paris.  This stop was not on the map, but we love Phantom of the Opera so since we had the time, it was nice to see the opera house it was loosely set in.

 

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Then back on the metro to head back to Gare du Nord.  We were still early for our train, but after more than 10 miles of walking (and a bit of shopping in the train station for chocolates and skin products), it was nice to just sit.  As it was on our trip to Paris, the train ride home was mostly in the dark and we arrived back in London at 10:40pm to do nothing more than make our way back to the hotel and crash!  It was an amazing whirlwind day in Paris and I am so glad we pulled it off.  We did miss some things, but that is all the more reason to return!

Tomorrow…We join back up with Nick at Free London Walking Tours for the Royal London Tour with the Changing of the Guard.

Wow Airlines, A Week in London and a Day Trip to Paris! Part 2

So now we are in London…it’s Tuesday around lunchtime but my body thinks its 6am and I pulled an all-nighter (just an FYI – I haven’t purposely pulled an “all-nighter” since 1997).  We stayed in the St. David’s hotel in Paddington.  Just a 3 minute walk from the underground station.   We had a twin room with en-suite bathroom.  They offer several variations of rooms at different levels but I am kinda picky about not using the hall bath, so this one worked for us.  Its not large, but everything worked and since all we were doing was storing our luggage, sleeping and showering it suited us just fine.

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This is the room. All of it. I am standing at the door. The only part you can’t see is the wall with the faux fireplace and the 18″ TV hanging in the corner. The absolute only complaint is the lack of a closet or dresser to store clothes. There is just the hanging bar and the shelves that you see in the corner. Still, it was a great value for London and I would stay there again in a heartbeat!

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And the bathroom. Again, all of it.

We were both tired and hungry, but I knew that we shouldn’t sleep, that would just throw our body clocks more out of whack, so we decided to go on a walking tour that I had read about on-line.  This was a free guided walking tour. I used Free London Walking Tours after doing a bunch of reading on Trip Advisor. There are several tour companies that you can use, but I can absolutely recommend Nick and his group, he was fantastic!! No reservations needed, each tour has a meeting place on the website, always by a tube stop. You just show up and look for the green umbrella and join the tour!

We got there early and just walked into the first pub we saw to get some food. Pubs in London are different than in the US, for the most part you don’t need to wait to be seated, just grab a table where you see one. Decide what you would like to eat/drink, then head up to the bar to place your order…and pay for it there, before you get your food. Let the bartender know where your sitting and take your drinks. A server will bring your food when it’s ready. It’s an efficient process, but it takes a little getting used to if you’re an American!


After a traditional fish & chips and a pint, we still had a bit of time before the tour so we headed to Starbucks for some much needed caffeine! We then wandered over to the meeting spot and sure enough, Nick was there with his green umbrella.  There were a few others there waiting and eventually we ended up with a group of about 10 people.  There was quite a mix, two youngish (late teens, early 20’s) guys from Argentina, a 20 something single girl from Italy, a family of 3 from Seattle and an older (late 40ish) British couple.

This particular tour started at the Monument to the Great Fire of London.  This monument is 202 feet tall and it happens to be exactly 202 feet from the spot where the fire started on Pudding Lane.  Fun Fact: there was originally an inscription on one of the sides blaming the French Catholics for starting the fire, but in 1830 that line was removed.

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We then walked up Lovat Lane.  An old cobblestone road that still has its medieval character.  Another fun fact: Here is where you can see how the “loo” got its name:  In the early days of hygiene, people would just throw the contents of their chamber pots out the window onto the street below.  As a “courtesy,” they would yell out “Garde a l’eau!” The British anglicized that to “Gardy-loo” and eventually just “loo.”  There…now you know!

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See the little trough in the center?  That helped everything get on down the hill to the Thames.

We meandered our way through this part of London with Nick pointing out some really cool tidbits and buildings.  A living wall:

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The old posts used to help horse drawn carriages turn the corners:

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Leadenhall Market…Otherwise known as the entrance to Diagon Alley!

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The Royal Exchange.  This is where Royal Proclamations are read by the criers.  We were asked not to take pictures as we walked through the building but currently it is filled with high end boutiques, restaurants and services.  In the past it has been home to such institutions as Lloyd’s of London.

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We saw St. Mary-le-Bow…in order to claim Cockney heritage, you must have been born within earshot of the bells in this tower.  There has been a church on this site since Saxon times and is regarded as the second most important church in the City of London, after St. Paul’s…we’ll get there too…hold your horses!!

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We saw St. Bartholomew-the-Great, the oldest church in London:

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And finally to the Golden Boy of Pye Corner, where the Great Fire of London was finally contained after destroying over 13,000 homes, 87 churches, 44 company halls, but surprisingly few actual lives if history is to be believed…only 16.

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From there, we moved to St. Paul’s Cathedral where our tour ended.  I learned so much from this tour and I would certainly recommend it to anyone travelling to London.  The tip given at the end is well worth what you get out of it!  In case you missed it, the website is here:  http://freelondonwalkingtours.com/tour/fire-pestilence-and-plague

St. Paul’s at dusk.

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After the tour ended, we headed back to our room to crash finally!!! Tomorrow we are catching the Eurostar to Paris and we have to be at the train station at 6am!!!