Sunday, January 31, 2010

The trip: Part 14 (Back to London)

Day 14
Our time in Paris was too short, but we were excited to continue the adventure. So we said goodbye to Ile Saint-Louis and hopped on the train to London.

The Chunnel is an amazing system. It was so fast and convenient. We went through Customs at Gare du Nord, took a little snooze through the tunnel and woke up in London.

We had to walk all over Kensington looking for our hotel, especially after a well-meaning Londoner pointed us in the opposite direction.

The first thing we wanted to do was return to the Houses of Parliament. We realized that we had not gotten a photo of us in front of Big Ben, which seemed like a real necessity on any trip to London.

Our next stop was Westminster Abbey. We were famished by that point, but inexplicably there were no restaurants or shops anywhere near the Abbey. We wound up buying gigantic bags of crisps from the snack cart outside. Surprisingly satisfying.

No photography is allowed inside the Abbey, which is a bummer because the place is really impressive and filled with artwork and the graves of various amazing people, such as Elizabeth I, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

We did manage to snag one photo in the cloisters.

We ate the rest of our crisps on the walk over to Buckingham Palace. We didn't especially want to go in (and we were too late), but we thought we might as well stop by. The Union flag flying out front supposedly means Her Majesty wasn't in there anyway.

We saw these guys out front and thought, "We should've done that!"

It started to rain while we were on our way to Trafalgar Square. It was a really neat area, but we didn't hang around long. We just ducked into the National Gallery portico and snapped a photo or two.

We ate dinner at Pizza Express, which we'd been wanting to try since we got there. It's a pizza chain with white tablecloths and wine glasses. And it was my idea of the perfect pizza. And the salad, wine and dessert were also fabulous.

To make the most of our last night in London, we hit the West End to see "La Cage aux Folles." And the fabulosity continued! So fun, great musical numbers, surrounded by gays — what could be better?

Day 15
We had to get up pre-dawn to make our flight, and we felt like we were making good time when we got on the Tube. There was just one problem. Heathrow is really big. In fact, it has three Tube stops. So, um, which one should we take?

See, it would have been super if there were a poster in the train listing the airlines and terminals. But the only poster in the train said that you had to call Heathrow to find out your terminal. And you couldn't call from the train. How convenient.

We decided to follow the lead of another American couple who were on their way home. They were wrong. We wound up at a terminal so far away from the one we needed that we had to take another train back to it. We had a few tense moments as we waited and waited for the train to move. But we eventually made the flight, narrowly.

The flight itself was uneventful. Except for getting to see Greenland.

So that was the trip. It was an unbelievable trip.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The trip: Part 13 (More Paris)

Day 13
We headed out early and stopped for a croissant and café crème at a little cafe near our hotel. We sat outside next to two other American women who had apparently come to that cafe every morning that week and ordered Coke for breakfast. How embarrassing.

Our first stop was Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the largest in the city and supposedly the most-visited in the world. It was old and atmospheric and lovely, with big above-ground tombs and cobblestone paths.

Among the famous buried there are Frederic Chopin:

Jim Morrison:

Marcel Proust:

And the one we really came to see, Oscar Wilde:

Those are kiss prints. We unfortunately forgot to bring our lipstick.

The epitaph on the back of the monument is from his “Ballad of Reading Gaol”:

And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.

Then we headed for the Eiffel Tower. We stopped in a little shop and bought some pastry/sandwich things and had a delicious picnic on a park bench.

The crowd at the tower was unbelievable. We had thought about going up in it, but when we saw this line? No.

But the tower itself was very beautiful, and bigger than I expected. Unfortunately, the area around it is full of souvenir vultures. We were accosted dozens of times by men selling plastic Eiffel Tower figurines and keychains. It was much more pleasant from a bit of a distance.

We were doing really well on time, so we hopped on the train to Versailles!

Holy crap, it was huge! It was like its own little city. And everything was gilt.

It made Hampton Court look like a hunting lodge. This is Marie Antoinette’s bed:

We rode the train back to Paris and headed back to Ile Saint-Louis for the famous Berthillon ice cream. On the way, though, we passed by Shakespeare and Co.

And a very gothic-looking Notre Dame.

The ice cream was fantastic. As we were eating our cones, we wandered over to a cute little neighborhood greengrocer. We were admiring the fruits and veg when the grocer lady came over and said, “Pardon!” and gestured gravely at a microscopic drip of ice cream that had escaped from our cones onto the floor. We were duly shamed and wiped up the drip with a napkin and made a quick exit. While clucking about the bitchiness of French shopkeepers.

We ate dinner at a little restaurant directly across from Notre Dame. We had French onion soup and pasta.

Then we walked back to the Eiffel Tower to see the night view. We were met with a gigantic crowd being held back by a dozen police officers. But we couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on. So we just stood there in the crowd, waiting for something to happen. Anyway, it looked neat.

We were just turning to leave when a gasp went up from the crowd, and we turned around to see the tower twinkling and flashing. Fun. Still not sure what the cops were doing.

Then we walked over to the Arc de Triomphe. As we were walking, a guy came up from the Metro and asked me directions in French. I mumbled an apologetic “je ne sais pas” and kept walking. So then we tried to figure out what he had just asked us.

Me: “I thought he said something about trois.”

Kim: “A stranger wouldn’t usually use toi to someone on the street.”

Me: “Not toi. Trois.”

Kim: “Oh, trois!”

And we were giggling about this when the guy came up behind us and passed by, saying something that indicated he had figured it out. No thanks to us.

Then we risked our lives by dashing through traffic at the Arc de Triomphe, and strolled down the Champs-Élysées on our way back to the hotel.