Spring Vacation VII
A Tale of Two Cities
by Jeffrey Scott Duly, Age 43
This one is going to seem like a rerun, but one that you haven't seen in a while so you aren't quite sure if you've seen it before or not. I have been to both London and Paris twice before and have taken photos. But for the previous London visits I had my old camera and pictures were taken on film rather than being digital. Also, I tried to avoid too many duplicate photos, but given that there were a lot of things we saw I had already seen it was sometimes unavoidable. The last few overseas trips have been solo efforts. This one was with my sister (Karen), her husband (Mike) and their son (Geoffrey). Actually, this was their trip. Somehow they let me horn in on it. Below is the usual stuff about what was seen and what I thought about it. And as with previous efforts you can skip all that and simply click here for the photos. I know you are going to anyway and not read all the stuff below, so just go ahead. See if I care.
Prologue: I didn't even try to counteract jetlag this time. Every scheme I had previously tried had failed. I did take a sleep aid with dinner on the flight. That may have helped. I got my standard periodic fits of not-too-deep sleep, but it's better than nothing. The only movie I particularly wanted to watch on the flight over was Burn After Reading. I generally like Coen Brothers comedies, but this one didn't do much for me at all. Oh well, they can't all be gems. I had pot roast for dinner and the breakfast that soon followed was a croissant. The flight got into Gatwick Airport on time and there was very little problem getting through immigration and customs. That was good and bad. The good is that we got through about a half hour early. The bad thing is that I had actually allowed an extra fifteen minutes to the already scheduled forty-five minutes after landing when the car service I hired was supposed to pick us up. But he got there a little early too, so we didn't have to wait too terribly long.
Saturday, 14 March (Day 1): Our step-sister Cathy and her husband Nigel were kind enough to put us up for our stay in London. They live in Carshalton, which is a borough of Greater London called Sutton. We arrived earlier than I had told them we would, but they were awake and ready to welcome us to their home. We really only had one thing to do that day. I had gotten tickets to the Brentford-Wycombe soccer match. It was a Coca-Cola League Two (fourth division) game, but one between the top two teams in the league. And the 3-3 goalfest that resulted was quite a match. It was a good result for the home-standing Brentford side because they maintained their seven point lead on Wycombe in the league table.
I discovered that it was going to be cheaper to buy Disneyland Paris tickets from a U.K. outlet than in the U.S. or in France, so we visited a Disney Store in a mall in Hammersmith. Unfortunately they were out of them because they were changing in a couple of months and they had exhausted their current supply without getting some more. No problem. I knew there was another Disney Store at Covent Garden and at the very least we could buy some online and print our tickets.
Sunday, 15 March (Day 2): On Sunday we were just going to run around London, so that's what we did. There are two train stations close to the house, but the one we used most was the Carshalton Station. It is the Southern Railway company that operates from the Carshalton stations to Victoria Station in London. Cathy tagged along on our trip into town. We started out by going to Westminster for some quick touristy photos of Big Ben, the London Eye and the surrounding area. They we walked through St. James's Park, past Buckingham Palace and though a bit of Green Park. Then it was a tube ride to Covent Garden. We got DLP rickets at the Disney Store there and visited the shop at the London Transportation Museum for some souvenirs. I wanted to get a coffee mug to replace the old one I got there ten years earlier. By then it is was time for lunch. We all agreed that Chinese would be good, so Cathy led us to Gerard Place in Chinatown. We lunched at the Harbour City Restaurant where we had some delicious crispy duck. I'd never had it before and if I ever see it on a menu again I would get it again. That's some good stuff.
After lunch our party divided. Cathy headed back to the house with Mike while Karen, Geoffrey and I continued on. There weren't too many things I definitely wanted to see or do on this trip, but one of them was to see some Beatles landmarks in London. Granted there aren't too many, but there are a few. This would be a walking-intensive afternoon. From Chinatown we walked through Leicester Square to Piccadilly Circus. From there it was up Regent Street and then over to Savile Row where there are a lot of fancy men's clothing shops. It was at 3 Savile Row where the former offices of Apple Records was located. While that in and of itself might not seem that interesting, it was on top of that building where the Beatles played their brief rooftop concert for the Let It Be film. After continuing north we arrived at Marylebone Station and Boston Place. In the opening sequence of A Hard Day's Night, the Beatles ran from screaming fans down Boston Place and into Marylebone Station where they caught the train. It was kind of neat waking the sidewalk in Boston Place where the Beatles actually walked 45 years before. Hey, I thought it was cool. Then we walked farther north to Abbey Road and the Abbey Road Studios and the famous crosswalk from the cover of the Abbey Road album. By then it was time to get back to the house for dinner, so a quick walk back through Regents Park and down Baker Street got us back on the tube and eventually back on the train down to Carshalton. Cathy was cooking a ham, but she was kind enough to grill some chicken in a pan for me. (Thanks, Cathy.)
Monday, 16 March (Day 3): Monday was kind of an easy day. The one thing we actually wanted to accomplish this day was a test run to St. Pancras International Station to find out how long it would take the next day to catch our train to Paris. We discovered we would get there with only a minute or two to spare before check-in time closed, so our plans changed the next day accordingly. Nigel was off from work on Monday, so it was his turn to put up with his Yank visitors. We took a drive around Sutton and the neighboring county of Surrey. We got some lunch at an old pub in Caterham called The Fox. (Strongbow on tap!) After returning to the house I took a walk along the High Street in the village of Carshalton and through the nearby park.
It was on this day that I started to notice that I might have been coming down with a little bit of an illness, perhaps contracted on the flight. My throat was a little sore, which is usually a precursor for sinus blockage to come. But it was a fairly mild cold and my sister brought some Sudafed, so it wasn't too bad for the most part and didn't ruin the trip. Well, except for one evening, which was to come later on.
Tuesday, 17 March (Day 4): So that we wouldn't be cutting it too close getting to St. Pancras on time like we did on our test run, we decided to take an earlier train from the Carshalton Beeches Station to Victoria and then the Underground to King's Cross, which is a tube station adjacent to St. Pancras. That worked just fine. The trip through the Channel Tunnel and across the French countryside was fairly uneventful. The first thing we needed to do was check-in at the hotel, the Hotel du Printemps in the XIIe arrondissement. It is very near the Place de la Nation and the Metropolitan and RER station there. As we got there before check-in time, only one room was ready. So we dumped the luggage and headed out into the city.
The first sight we would see would be Sacre Coeur and Montmartre. We had a bit of lunch at a little place at the base of Montmartre with a view of the cathedral at the top of the hill. I had the chicken sandwich on a baguette, a poulet something or other in French, and a peach tea. Nestea peach tea is a rather popular beverage over there for some reason. We then took the funicular up the hill to the Sacre Coeur. After wandering around Montmartre a bit and back down the other side of the hill, he hopped the Metro back to the hotel to check into the other room and then to the catacombs. Unfortunately the catacombs close at 4:00 p.m. We got there at about 4:01. So we jumped back on the Metro to a station near the cathedral of Notre Dame. After walking around inside the cathedral for a while we walked up the Seine toward the Louvre. It was closed on Tuesday so we couldn't go in, but I've been there before and have seen whatever little I really wanted to see there anyway. After dinner at a place near the Louvre called Le Royal, we took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower to see it lit up at night. That was enough for the day, so we went back to the hotel for a decent night's sleep before Disneyland Paris the next day.
Wednesday, 18 March (Day 5): The parks at Disneyland Paris didn't open until 10:00 a.m., so we really didn't need to get there too early. But we did get there around 9:00 or so and got some breakfast at the McDonald's in the Disney Village and walked around one of the hotels for a little bit before the parks opened. I had been to DLP before, so there wasn't going to be much that was new to me, but there were a couple of new attractions that had been built since my last visit. Both are in the Disney Studios park, the Tower of Tower and Crush's Coaster. The Tower of Terror is pretty much like the ones at the U.S. parks. Crush's Coaster was pretty good. It is an indoor coaster where the car spins a bit as it rides along the track. You are supposed to be accompanying Crush on a trip in the East Australian Current like in the movie Finding Nemo. There was actually a third new attraction, Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, but that was down for refurbishment. Other than those two new attractions, everything else was the same as my previous visit. I had a Mickey burger in Fantasyland for lunch. The burger wasn't Mickey-shaped, just the bun. Rather than eat dinner at the park, we grabbed some food at the Quick near the hotel.
Thursday, 19 March (Day 6): This was our final day in Paris, so we checked out of the hotel early and took our luggage to the Gare du Nord station and stored it in a locker for the day. I didn't know how smoothly our day was going to go on the 19th. There was some general strike scheduled that day that affected mostly the transit system. I was able to glean from the television coverage the day before and that morning that the Metro was going to run mostly normal and the RER would have a reduced schedule. So from the Gare du Nord we went back to Montmartre so that we could get some souvenirs that we saw on Tuesday. The funicular was closed for maintenance, so we had to walk up the 250+ steps to the top. After that bit of shopping we went to the Champs-Élysées to see the Arc de Triomphe and then to the Catacombs of Paris which we just missed on Tuesday. I had been down in the tunnels before, but there was a part that they had opened since my last time down there, so there was even something new for me to see in there.
We still had a lot of time before our Eurostar train back to the U.K., so we returned to the Eiffel Tower for a daylight visit. After a few more photos at the famous old tower we went to visit the Musée d'Orsay to see some art and get some lunch. As it turns out we weren't really affected much at all by the "jour de grieves" as the strike day was called, except a half-hour wait at an RER station to catch a train to the Musée d'Orsay. We kind of needed to wait because the Metro doesn't have a station near the museum and we didn't particularly want to walk. But we had plenty of time to waste waiting for the train. As luck would have it, the floor where the impressionist works are at the museum was closed. Unfortunately that is also where the cafe where we planned to eat was located. So after walking around the museum for a bit, we got a late lunch at a nearby brasserie called Paris Orsay. There was little left to do at that point so we just went to the Gare du Nord and waited to check in for our return trip back to London.
Friday, 20 March (Day 7): We really had no plan for the day except for a tour of the BBC Television Studios that afternoon, so we took a morning train into London and tried to see a few of the remaining things we kind of mentioned wanting to see before we left. That included Westminster Abbey, but they wanted something like £12 to get in so I didn't want to spend that kind of money just to go inside a church. My traveling companions had already been inside, so they didn't miss anything. It would have been neat to see the burial place of many famous people inside, but that's okay. Instead we went inside adjacent St. Margaret's which was free to go into. We then wandered toward the Horse Guards past Downing Street (which is closed off to the public) and got the tube at Trafalgar Square to go to Harrods. We browsed the departments of the very famous and very expensive department store for a while before heading in the direction of White City and the BBC. On the route we had to go through the High Street Kensington Station, so we got off there and took a short walk to Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace. The palace is one of the royal residences and where the practically sainted Princess Diana lived until her death. The final stop for the day was the BBC Television Studio tour, which was the other thing (after the Beatles sights) that I really wanted to do while on the trip. Cathy joined us for the tour. Unfortunately I started to work on a headache toward the end of the tour that turned rather bad on the train trip out of town that evening. It seemed to be sinus-related and I didn't have a Sudafed or Advil on me. We were going to go straight to an Italian restaurant in Sutton, but my headache was so bad that I got off at Carshalton to go to the house to take a Sudafed and a couple of Advil. Cathy had to text the directions to the restaurant to me. After popping some pills I caught a local bus to Sutton and met everyone at the restaurant.
Saturday, 21 March (Day 8): On Friday, Cathy called to arrange a car back to the airport on Saturday with a company that she and Nigel have used before. It picked us up on time and got us to Gatwick with plenty of time before the flight. That was good because Karen and Mike's carry-on luggage was just slightly longer than the allowed measurement. It wasn't a problem from Atlanta to London, but they were made to check their bags. The flight back was also uneventful. The movie I watched on the way was Slumdog Millionaire. That's a good one. Lunch was a hot meal. I had the cottage pie. We landed about a half-hour early, which made sense. The flight was scheduled to be about 9 1/2 hours which is longer than it has ever taken on a flight back from London before. I think they must have fudged the flight estimate a little for some reason. Even though we had to wait a little while for the checked luggage, it didn't take that long for that and to get through immigration.
Epilogue: I remembered upon our arrival in Paris just how dirty the city is. It is also a beautiful city. I suppose it is kind of like being in love with a beautiful woman who is a bit of a slob. But overall is was a good trip, even though a lot of the territory was already explored on previous trips. It was good to see Cathy and Nigel again and I am very appreciative that they let our bunch invade their home for a few days. We told them if they ever come to Nashville they have a place to crash. Two places to chose from, actually.
BACK TO THE PHOTOS INDEX TO THE PHOTOS