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Trip Report Paris, Normandy & London with our Granddaughter (June 2004)

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I had posted a TR of our 2011 France trip with our younger granddaughter and in the interest of grandparent fairness (all coming from me), I have tried to put together a report from my old notes from our 2004 France trip with our older granddaughter and post it for her to read. I had posted a very brief report in 2004 but wanted to expand it to be similar to the 2011 report. We had so much fun on both trips and it was a lot of fun re-living this one 8 years later and remembering the little details that made it so special.

My wife (B for Bebe) and I took our 13 year old granddaughter (T for Taylor) to Paris, Normandy & London in June and had a fantastic, wonderful time. Several years earlier when she was about 6 years old, T had watched the Olsen twins “Passport to Paris” movie and told us that she wanted to go to Paris. B and I agreed that it would be a fun and educational thing to do so we decided when she was 12 or 13, we would take her to Paris. Unbelievably the years had flown by and it was now time to make good on the promise.


Planning/Researching/Reservations

In January, we picked a two week period of time in June to fly in to CDG and out of Gatwick. My brother (who is in the Air Force) and his family were living just outside London in Beaconsfield so we decided to spend the last few days staying at his house. I used frequent flyer miles for the tickets and relatively easily I was able to get direct flights both ways for the times I wanted. I had been researching apartments for our week in Paris so once the flights were locked in, I sent a deposit to Ken at ParisByHeart in CA for an apartment on Rue du Bac. It seemed a little strange to send a deposit to California for an apartment in Paris but everything worked out just fine (including promptly getting the deposit back after the trip).

We downloaded passport forms for T and filled them out. A week or so later, we all took the forms to the Post Office expecting the usual Post Office hassle but we were completely finished within 30 minutes of entering the building. Amazing! T and I then had a nice time spending the day together starting with a good breakfast!

I began to research hotels in Normandy (we originally thought we wanted to stay a couple of nights near the D-Day sites and a night in Honfleur). We also thought it would be fun to take a ferry across the English Channel and catch a train to London. After doing some research, we eventually decided to stay two nights near Bayeux and one night in Etretat, then drop our rental car off at Calais and catch the Eurostar taking it through the chunnel to London. We also decided that when we left Paris, we would take a train to Rennes, rent a car, drive to and tour Mont St Michel on our way to our hotel near Bayeux.

By the end of January after a lot of faxing back and forth, we had reservations at the Chateau de Sully near Bayeux and at the Dormy House in Etretat. Friends of ours had stayed at the Chateau de Sully and recommended it to us. We thought the Dormy House looked great on the internet so we decided to stay there our last night in France. We had a car reserved from Hertz, picking it up at the train station in Rennes and dropping it off at the train station in Calais. We decided to buy our train tickets once we were in Paris so all our reservations were complete.

In April, we started taking French lessons from one of our neighbors. Maria is from Colombia in South America but she speaks several languages and we all thought it would be fun to get together and learn French – and it was fun (more so for B and I than T because we enjoyed a few glasses of wine while we were learning). We joked about speaking French with a Colombian accent but we met several times and had a great time learning some very basic things. I had printed out the menu from the restaurant at one of the hotels we were staying at and Maria helped us write the English words on the menu so we would know what we were ordering. I think we had more good times at these “classes” than actual learning French because it seemed we could not remember a thing once we were in Paris. Oh well – the lessons were fun if not useful. In May, I sent the remainder of the payment for the apartment to Ken in California again. Everything was set.


Fri (Overnight Flight):

B and I worked Friday morning and came home around lunch time to finish some last minute packing. B had a rolling suitcase, a carryon and a large over-the-shoulder strap purse. T had a rolling suitcase and a carryon. I had a rolling suitcase, a carryon and a backpack. T and her Mom met us at home and we left for the airport at 3:15. T had gone to a nail shop to get a special manicure for the trip and she had them give her French nails – very cute! T’s last name is French and we were going to France so French nails seemed very appropriate.

What is normally a 30 minute ride to the airport took an hour and 15 minutes – luckily we had left early because Atlanta traffic can be crazy. We said our goodbyes to T’s Mom as she dropped us off at the Departures area. Unbelievably, once we were inside the airport, we checked in and made it through security in only 15 minutes. We stopped for a quick sandwich and a farewell glass of wine at the little bar in Terminal E that B and I always stop at before going to Europe. The plane left on time and we had an uneventful flight on Delta from Atlanta to CDG. I think I saw half of the Starsky and Hutch movie and half of the Welcome to Mooseport movie.


Sat (Day 1 - Settle in to apartment, first visit to Eiffel Tower, boat ride on Seine, an interesting welcome to Paris):

I arrived fairly rested after a reasonable amount of sleep on the flight thanks to ambien (I’m a real believer in ambien for overnight flights). We gave T some Benadryl (which did not work very well) and B was reluctant to take any ambien as long as T was awake so neither T or B got as much sleep as I did. All our baggage came right away and we were through customs very quickly.

I had a phone number to call to let our apartment greeter know we had arrived so we went in search of a pay phone. I had called all our credit card companies twice to let them know we were going to France but when I tried to use my AMEX to pay for the call, the charge was denied. I finally was able to get a VISA to work and it was all set up. It took several phone calls to AMEX once we were at the apartment to get AMEX to allow charges again – I was not real happy with AMEX – why go through the hassle of calling in advance if they are going to ignore it.

We went to the relatively short taxi line and took a taxi to our apartment on Rue du Bac. Traffic was terrible and it took a little over an hour to get to the apartment. We took turns taking the tiny elevator up the two floors to where our apartment was. The apartment was exactly what we had hoped for. It was quite big, was very nicely furnished and had a lot of character (high ceilings, huge old windows with views of two nice courtyards, neat old fireplace, interesting crown molding etc). It even had some uneven, creaky wooden floors that T wasn’t too sure about at first but she got used to them very quickly. The half bath had what has to be the world’s smallest sink in it.

It was probably just our imagination but we felt like local Parisians in this apartment. We took a really neat picture of T from our bedroom window while she was looking out her bedroom window onto the back courtyard. We met Laura who showed us how to use the dishwasher, washer, drier etc. We prefer apartments to hotels for a variety of reasons but mainly for the extra space and the kitchen. This apartment happened to have three bedrooms even though we only needed two. We chose it because the pictures that were on the internet looked good and we hoped it would be an interesting place – it was perfect for us.

We unpacked, walked around, got the feel of the neighborhood (which we liked a lot) and had a huge, fantastic lunch at Cafe Varenne. B and I tried to order several different things on the menu but they were all “finished” so we all three had steak and fries that were really delicious (I’m sure the fact that it was our first meal in Paris had nothing to do with it – HA!!). I’m not sure what we did but our waiter took exceptionally great care of us and even handed me a book of matches as we left. This waiter pops up several times in our adventure – more about him later.

As I am writing this in 2012, I just discovered that Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) has an apartment only a couple of blocks away from the one we stayed at and she loves Café Varenne and Eric the waiter. T happened to be watching The Food Network and saw her Postcards from Paris show where Ina talks about the Café Varenne and actually cooks an omelet using a recipe from there. T sent me a text about it and I was able to record it so the next time T is home from college we can watch it together. Pretty cool!

Somehow while we were unpacking, we figured out T did not have a suitable pair of jeans so we went to Bon Marche hoping to find a pair. Wow!!! We could not find anything for under $150-$200. We decided to try looking somewhere else later. We then went grocery shopping in the food section of Bon Marche. What a fantastic place! We bought several of the normal items we would need at the apartment as well as some other interesting foods we wanted to try. We took everything back to the apartment and since none of us were tired we decided to go to the Eiffel Tower.

We walked the 2 blocks to the Bac Metro station, bought our first of many carnets of tickets and took our first Metro ride in Paris to the Eiffel Tower. What an incredible view it is as you walk up the open lawn area of the Champ de Mars towards the Tower. It just seemed unbelievable that we were really in Paris France standing next to the Eiffel Tower! We took a lot of pictures and decided to take a Bateaux Parisiens boat ride on the Seine. Even though it rained off and on (and we were going back and forth from inside to outside), we really enjoyed the ride and as we were nearing Notre Dame, we saw several young college-age guys lining up on the left bank. All of a sudden, they turned around and about 10 of them mooned our boat. It was actually quite funny – what a welcome to Paris!

After the boat ride, we found a little café and grabbed a mediocre dinner of sandwiches and crepes. We looked up and saw it was 10 PM and we were all still awake – not bad for our first day in Paris with no naps. We then took the Metro back to our apartment and went to bed - an excellent first day in Paris!

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    Sun (Day 2 – Soaked floors, Notre Dame, lost in a Metro station, Arc de Triomphe, a wild and crazy celebration on the Champs-Elysees):

    Up very late (about 11 AM) and had the usual amount of trouble that we always have almost anywhere in Europe trying to figure out how to get a cup of coffee made and showers taken. These two tasks should not be that hard but we struggle with them (at least initially) in almost every place we stay. The coffee maker was a coffee press and it took us a while to get it figured out – but we eventually were successful and ended up with something that tasted very similar to coffee.

    B and T were first in the showers (the apartment had a walk-in shower and a bath tub shower – both with hand-held shower heads and both with minimal doors to block the water) and I kept hearing lots of laughter coming from the bathroom. When it was finally my turn and I walked in to the bathroom, the floor was completely soaked. Somehow both B and T had a very hard time controlling the hand-held shower so water was everywhere (I was afraid it might even drip through to the apartment below). We eventually had to use every towel we had to mop up the floor.

    While B finished getting ready, T and I went outside to check the weather and decided to go in search of a bakery for fresh breakfast baguette/pastry/croissants to bring back. We had a really fun time getting directions from a guy we saw carrying a fresh baguette - he spoke no English and we spoke no French. We stopped him and pointed at the baguette. He held up two fingers, pointed the direction we needed to go, then motioned to the right. So we went two blocks (T said “more bread coming” as we met another guy with 2 baguettes), turned right and “voila” a bakery appeared. This became a morning ritual for T and I to go out for a breakfast baguette and pastry while B finished getting ready.

    We decided to take the Metro to Notre Dame (the Metro is so easy to use even for us newbies). Wow, it was hard to believe we were really at the “real” Notre Dame. We took a ton of pictures outside then toured the Church. We then waited in line for about an hour and climbed the 389 steps to the top. Incredible! At the gift shop on the way up, we started the tradition of buying T a charm for her bracelet whenever we could at the famous sites. We took a lot more pictures of us, the gargoyles and the view. Fantastic and well worth the climb is all I can say.

    We had a nice lunch at a little café near Notre Dame. We ordered sandwiches (T and I had ham, B had cold chicken) and when they were served, we asked for some mayonnaise to put on them. Well, they brought a least a half a jar and when I looked on the bill, there was a charge for $1.50 for it. Ouch! We wanted to see Sainte-Chapelle but it closed for the day just as we walked up so we decided to go back to the apartment.

    Believe it or not, we got lost inside the St-Michel train station and a very nice French woman helped us. Everyone in Paris was extremely nice to us everywhere we went. Anyway, we never did figure out how to find the train we wanted (what did I just say a few minutes ago about how easy the Metro was?) so we just left and walked a couple of blocks to the next station and easily caught the train “home” (which is how we felt about our apartment).

    We relaxed a little at the apartment (T and I played some cards and I won HA!!!!) before taking the Metro to the Place de la Concorde and walking up the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. Yet again it was hard to believe we were really in Paris on the Champs-Elysees looking at the famous traffic circle that goes around the Arc de Triomphe. We used the tunnel to cross the street, found the elevator and just as we got to the top of the Arc, the light show on the Eiffel Tower began. Beautiful! B took a picture of T and I with the Eiffel Tower in the background that is one of my all time favorites. I took a really good one of T and B too. We stopped in the gift shop on the way down and bought another charm for T. We had a very late dinner sitting outside at the Café Roma restaurant (really good pizza and pasta) on the Champs-Elysees.

    As we were eating, we heard and saw a huge commotion on the Champs Elysees (horns honking, people hanging out of cars shouting and waving flags). It turns out we were in the middle of an incredibly wild celebration by the Portuguese soccer fans for their victory over Spain in the Euro Cup tournament. As we left to go home, we saw the police gathering to try to control the crowd that was getting vey unruly. Finally got home and to bed at about 12:45 – an excellent second day in Paris!


    Mon (Day 3 – Sacre-Coeur, Sainte-Chapelle, people watching from Café de Flore, some very stinky cheese):

    Alarm went off at 7 – up at 7:30. T & I went for more fresh pastry for breakfast. It was much easier to get a cup of coffee made now that we had it figured out. We took the Metro to Abesses and could not get the elevator to work so we climbed LOTS of steps to get out of the station. We walked toward the Basilica (past a blue jean store that was closed) and rode the funicular up to the top. We enjoyed the fantastic view, toured the Basilica and walked to the Place de Tertre. Several guys approached us as we were walking wanting to draw a sketch but we had T's portrait done by a guy with a little booth in the Place de Tertre. He pulled his hair back in a ponytail before he started and it took about 30 minutes. B & I had a cappuccino while we waited and we were all very satisfied with the sketch. We bought a cardboard tube to carry it in and that worked very well to get it back home safe and sound.

    We walked back to Abesses station (the blue jean store was still closed), figured out the elevator, took it down to the tracks and went to Place de la Concorde. It’s hard to believe how many people lost their heads right at this very spot! We took some really neat pictures of us and the beautiful fountains here. We then wandered around the Tuileries Gardens and the Louvre area taking lots of pictures before deciding it was time for lunch. As we left the Louvre area, I was wrong and B was right about which direction we had to go.

    We came to the Samaritaine Dept Store and decided the menu at the roof-top restaurant was more than we wanted to eat so we chose to eat at their sandwich shop instead. We sat at some bar stools facing a window and for a few minutes thought we were looking at the Seine but it turned out we were looking at a big mirror with a view of the Seine. Very weird. After eating, we looked in La Samaritaine for jeans for T but found none for less than $150. T did find some extremely bright colored toe socks that she just couldn’t live without.

    We then we went to St Chappelle and really loved the incredibly beautiful stained glass windows. We also really liked the downstairs part of St Chappelle. We had some undercooked crepes from a very busy street vendor before wandering toward the St Germaine des Pres church. Somewhere along the way we found a Claire’s (where of course we stopped for a few minutes – no 13 year old can pass up a Claire’s). We also found a store where we finally bought some white jeans for 39 Euros. We walked past a band that was playing outdoors and the lead singer had one of the weirdest, gravelly voices I have ever heard. His voice was just a little spooky. Maybe this colored our impression but we did not like this area of Paris very much at all.

    We then toured the St Germain des Pres church. It was about this time T said she wasn't going to church for a month when she got back home. We wanted to stop for a drink at La Deux Magots but there was a very loud band playing right next to it so we went on to the Café de Flore instead. We sat outside facing the street and had some wine and what T said was the strongest cappuccino in France. We had a great time giggling while we were people-watching. We made a game of looking for the weirdest people. At one point we were laughing so hard that T sounded just like a hyena. We decided the bathrooms here were some of the nicest that we had seen in Paris. We also thought that some of the people we saw seated inside could very well be real philosophers. It was a very enjoyable experience at the Café de Flore.

    We walked back towards our apartment on Rue de Grenelle looking for an apartment we had thought about renting for the week – but we never did find it. As we walked past Rue Varenne, we saw the street was blocked and they had metal detectors set up that people had to go through before walking towards the Hotel Matignon. We figured Jacques was having a party and for some reason, we were not invited. Hmmm!

    We took a much needed break at the apartment (we watched some really bad French TV shows) before deciding to go to Bon Marche to buy food and eat in that night. We had a hard time figuring out what to get but ended up with cheese, bread, ham, turkey, mayo, water, wine, apples and ice cream. As we unwrapped the muenster cheese, it was VERY stinky. We had lots of laughs at dinner and listened to some opera music until T had enough and we had to switch it to the FR-SUI soccer match.

    After dinner we had an adventure trying to get the towels started in the washer and getting the dishwasher started – but we finally succeeded at both tasks. We eventually started the towels drying in the combo washer/dryer unit and went to bed, an excellent third day in Paris!

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    Tue (Day 4 – Orsay, Rodin, Invalides, a nice walk along the Seine):

    Alarm went off at 6:30 – up at 7. Checked on the towels we had put in the dryer last night and they were still completely soaked. We had to reset the dryer and dry them one at a time. Since it was raining we decided not to go to Versailles and we were finally ready and left on the short walk to the Orsay at about 10:30. This time I was right and B was wrong about which way we had to go to get to the Orsay! We went to the much shorter museum pass line. Some weird guy from Northern California was in line behind us but he did not have a museum pass. He asked us to find his wife and tell her he would be late. It was very weird but he somehow got through OK and thankfully we never saw him again. We made it through security and picked up some audioguides quite easily.

    After walking around and enjoying the bottom area for a while, we took the escalator up to the fifth floor. We had a very nice lunch of lasagna for T, a cheese selection for B and quiche for me at the café behind the big clock. We meant to order a half bottle of white wine but ended up with a full bottle. Oh well, you gotta do what you gotta do (you can’t offend the wine gods when they do things like this) so we ended up drinking it all. We poured a little in T’s Sprite for her to try and she hated it. She went to get a bottle of water and it took her forever to get back. She met a couple of guys from California who remembered seeing her get her portrait sketched at Montmartre the day before and spent some time chatting with them. A few minutes longer and we would have sent out the search party (me). We had debated about what age T should be when we took her to Paris – and this little adventure with the California boys told me we had timed it just about right. The last thing I wanted was for her to meet some guy and wave goodbye to us as she rode off on a scooter with him. I think in another year that scene could have very well happened. Oh well, luckily it didn’t!!

    After lunch we went out on the terrace that had some really nice views overlooking the Seine and the Louvre. We then began to tour the Impressionist paintings room by room. T was getting bored with her grandparents so we made a game of her going a room ahead of us and picking out her favorite painting. When we got to that room, she would show us the one she picked and tell us why, then she would go on to the next room while B and I looked at the rest of the paintings. This seemed to work very well for us and we really enjoyed our visit.

    After the Orsay, we stopped by the apartment and changed in to cooler clothes before we headed towards the Invalides. We really liked this area and took several pictures of the neat buildings (one of them being the Italian Embassy) on some of the side streets. As we were walking, we came to the Rodin museum and decided to stop in for a quick look. The museum pass makes this kind of thing very easy to do. Had I done more research I would have made sure the Rodin would have been on our itinerary but just stumbling upon it and finding all the amazing sculptures was a nice surprise. We really enjoyed the museum although some of it is very bizarre to see with your 13 year old granddaughter. B said Rodin had to be high on something to come up with some of his sculptures.

    After leaving the Rodin, we stopped at a corner café for a couple of glasses of wine and cappuccino that T rated better than the strong one she had at the Café de Flore. We noticed a very strange gas station area where the gas pumps were actually right beside the street. We then walked to the Invalides and quickly toured the army museum before going in to the area where Napoleon’s Tomb is in the middle under the dome. We really liked all the neat alcoves with different crypts in them. My favorite was a black and white marble tomb (for someone named Lyautey) with light blue and white stained glass windows. I told B that when I died she could buy one of these alcoves and bury me here and design it to be something like Lyautey’s alcove. She said no way. As we left, we saw the very beautiful Church of the Soldiers.

    We then walked to the Alexander III Bridge (which we thought was the most beautiful bridge ever) and took lots of pictures. We walked down the right bank of the Seine past all the neat house boats – each picking our favorite. T liked a traditional white one, mine was a modern black one with really cool chairs and B liked them all. We came to the Solferino Bridge (with steps you can see through as you walk up them) and relaxed on the benches of this pedestrian only bridge for a while. This little walk along the Seine is one of my favorite memories of Paris.

    We decided to find a place to eat and B said no more ham sandwiches. We found a cafe that had trout and sole on the menu but it turned out they were both “finished” for the day. T and B had steak and fries, I had bad chicken. As we ate, we had a lot of fun trying to find the most fashionably dressed person. We left to find a dessert to eat at home and came to a bakery with lots of great choices. As we were paying, a young couple from Panama City FL came in and the girl was very happy to find someone that spoke English. She kept saying over and over that she had drunk a lot of wine – and we certainly believed her.

    On our way home, we stopped at a flower shop and bought a nice bouquet of fresh flowers just as they were closing. As we walked past the Café Varenne, our waiter saw us and he ran out and shook my hand. We put the flowers in a vase, ate our dessert and decided we wanted a cappuccino nightcap. I needed to get money from an ATM so T and I went to do that while B relaxed. T decided to wear her bright multi-colored toe socks she had bought at La Samaritaine. We joked that Jacque’s police would become the fashion police and arrest her for such an outrageous look. We again had to walk past the Cafe Varenne but this time the waiter only waved at us as we walked past.

    We had a cappuccino at a neat little café right beside our apartment. We then went back to the apartment and found we had to empty a HUGE tray full of water to get the dryer to work again. We played some cards, I caught up on my journal and we went to bed – an excellent fourth day in Paris!


    Wed (Day 5 – A cold and windy day at Versailles, barely survived the row boat experience, a very nice dinner):

    Alarm went off at 6:00 – B up at 6:15, me at 6:45 and T at 7:15. Breakfast of a fresh baguette and pastry T and I bought at the bakery we found the night before which was just around the corner from our apartment. We put a load of white clothes in to wash and left for the Orsay RER station to go to Versailles. I thought we had to take the C line to Versailles but the ticket agent said to take the A line. I was pretty confused until a very nice lady explained how to read the display and we saw a “Vick” train was due to leave in 30 minutes. However very soon, another train arrived that looked like a Vick train to Versailles. I decided to get on and as we headed toward the train, the same lady found us and told us that this train would get us there – so we got on – not really sure if it was right or not.

    It turned out it took us exactly where we needed to go. As we walked towards the Chateau, it was very windy and very cold. We figured out how to get in with our museum passes and were amazed by all the large groups and the crowds. We finally made our way to the Hall of Mirrors and we were SO disappointed – it was under renovation and only a very tiny part of it was open. B especially had really been looking forward to seeing the Hall of Mirrors and she was extremely disappointed – but there’s nothing you can do about it so we saw what we could and went on.

    We really enjoyed the tour and after finishing, went in to the gardens (an extra 3 Euro charge). It started to rain but quit before we could even get our umbrellas out of the backpack. We found a café built in the old stables and there were some really neat lights in the old horse manger. Lunch was good – T had pizza, B had pigeon and foie gras, I had camembert and I can’t remember what else. We had lots of laughs about the kids taking the toppings off their pizza with the people from Boston next to us. The Mom jokingly threatened to send her girl to immersion school to learn French if she didn’t stop acting up. But we all had a fun time.

    After eating, it was still cold and VERY windy but T wanted to ride in the row boats. My first clue should have been that there were dozens of row boats for rent and only one was on the lake (4 Japanese college kids were having a very hard time figuring out how to row). But I have some experience in row boats and thought how hard can it be? Big mistake! The way I describe it is we took our life in our hands for the 5 minutes we tried to get around in that row boat. The wind was so strong I could barely steer and water blew on us every time I lifted the oar out of the water. There were actually white caps on the lake (at least that is what I remember). Now I knew why the other boat was having such a hard time. And to top it off, T was roaring with laughter at my difficulties. B (who was safe and sound on shore – smart lady) captured several good pics of us – me trying to keep us alive and T laughing like crazy. Oh well, we survived and it is a funny story now.

    We walked around the gardens some more and really liked everything. Thinking it would be less crowded, we decided to run through the chateau again but it was only slightly less crowded. We easily caught the train back to Paris. We stopped at the ticket office in the Orsay train station and bought our tickets to Rennes and our tickets from Calais to London from a very helpful lady clerk. We then walked home and relaxed for a bit. B and I went out in search of some wine and the first store only had very expensive bottles. We found another store with more reasonable prices, bought a couple of bottles and went back to the apartment to relax a while and dress for dinner. It took T and B about 10 tries to finally decide on their outfits – WOMEN!

    A friend had recommended a small restaurant (there were only about 15 tables) on Rue L ‘Exposition. We had no trouble walking to and finding it. We looked at the menu on display and it looked iffy but we decided to try it anyway. As soon as we sat down the waitress asked if we would like an English menu and that really helped. We can tell what a dish is but it’s how it is prepared that we cannot master in French. T had stuffed ravioli, beef with mushrooms and onions, fries, strawberry ice cream with whipped cream and a cappuccino. B had a hot goat cheese salad, white fish in bacon with broccoli, potatoes, an apple ice cream dessert and cappuccino. I had a morel mushroom pasta dish, ostrich filet with potato cake and carrots, chocolate mousse and a cappuccino. The highlight though was a woman and her dog that were seated at one of the tables across the room from us. The dog had her own chair and food. Too Parisian…. And so much fun!

    We walked past our neighbor Jacque’s house on the way home. The girls felt that the walk home was much longer than the walk there but we finally got home. We had the TV on while B and T relaxed and I caught my journal up. At one point both B and T looked at each other and said “Did you see that?” There was a bath soap commercial showing a woman’s back from the waist up while she was in the shower – just like you see all the time in the USA. Well, during the commercial, she turned around to face the camera and there was frontal nudity involved. B and T were so shocked that they didn’t even say anything until the commercial was over – so I didn’t get to see it. I never did see anything like this on TV and I began to question whether it really happened. HA! We finally went to bed – an excellent fifth day in Paris!

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    Thanks to both of you for the nice words! We had a great time on both trips. Here are a few pictures from 2004. I apologize for the quality on some of the ones I scanned in with my old scanner. The trip was so long ago that one of our cameras was a 35mm. LOL!!!

    https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/sredir?uname=jkelly183&target=ALBUM&id=5530553329409429249&authkey=Gv1sRgCPaFgPn1opL_Kw&feat=email

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    Thu (Day 6 – Louvre, search for fries-to-go on Champs Elysees, Luxembourg Gardens, fun dinner at Café Varenne, up the Eiffel Tower at night):

    Up at 8, T and I did our normal bakery run. We decided to go to the Louvre today and take a day trip to Rouen Friday. We walked to the Bac Metro, changed at Concorde and arrived at the Louvre. Amazingly there was no line to get in and we saw the inverted pyramid. Once inside, we found an English tour would start in 30 minutes so we bought the tickets and shopped until time for the tour which left from Salon 3. We picked up our individual headsets that made it easy to hear the guide speaking even when it is crowded and loud. We had an English lady (she reminded me of Katherine Hepburn) who gave us a very good tour. We saw Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, the Mona Lisa and many other fantastic things in the hour and a half guided tour. We went back again on our own to see Mona and it was not quite as crowded as the first time. We saw the Carravaggio’s again before heading to the sculpture rooms in the Richelieu wing which we really enjoyed (took a ton of really good pictures). We left out the top near the big pyramid and we really enjoyed our time in the Louvre.

    B thought she remembered a place selling French fries to go somewhere on the Champs Elysees so we went in search of some fries. We walked all the way up to the FDR Metro stop but did not find anything. We went in to a Gap store to look for a pair of blue jeans (to go with the white ones we bought earlier) for T but no luck. We stopped at a random café for fries but unbelievably they did not have any on the menu on display out front so we did not go in. We kept looking for fries as we walked but never saw any so we took the Metro to the Luxembourg Gardens area.

    As we walked out of the Metro station, the first café we saw had fries so we stopped and were seated. We aren’t sure what we did wrong but the waiter seemed very mad and would not look at us. B went to the bathroom and it turned out to be our first one with the “hole in the floor”. We all took a turn having a look at the “toilet” which gave us a good laugh. I'm sure we didn't laugh all the time in Paris but thinking back we sure had quite a few laughs. The bathroom was very nasty (this one did not even have the footprints – just a hole). After seeing the nasty condition of the bathroom, we were in no mood to deal with a nasty waiter too, so we left right away. We walked around the gardens for a while and saw they were setting up for an outdoor performance of La Boheme but we did not even try to get tickets. I’m not sure why (maybe we weren’t in the right places or we were not in the right mood) but we were not impressed with Luxembourg Gardens.

    We hopped on the Metro and headed back to our apartment. As we passed the Café Varenne, T went in by herself to see if she could find out how late they were open today and tomorrow. She talked to our waiter from the first day (who spoke no English) and came back very proud of herself. She found out they were open until 12 tonight and 8 tomorrow night. She said she did a lot of pointing and thank god he at least knew numbers in English. We went home to rest before dinner. We watched Angels de Choc (Charlie’s Angels), a show called Un, Dos, Trois and a bit of ER, all in French.

    That night, we had dinner at our favorite Cafe Varenne again. We had more laughs as our waiter (we began to think of him as our own personal waiter) had to act out the type of dish on the menu for us because T wanted beef but it was "finished" for the day. He pointed to an item on the menu and said something in French. When we did not understand, he flapped his arms, jerked his head back and forth and went "coo coo' to describe the pigeon which T refused to try. He then pointed at another item and walked around saying "baa baa" which she also refused. I can't remember what she finally ordered (I think she ended up with the “baa”) but we had a blast trying to figure out all the different dishes he acted out for us.

    After dinner, we took the Metro toward the Eiffel Tower but the station I wanted to get out at was closed – we had to go one farther. As we walked toward the Eiffel Tower, we saw a McDonald’s. B promised T some fries if she went up the Eiffel Tower (T does not like heights very much) and T agreed. It was a very beautiful walk in the Champ de Mars towards the Tower and they were having some kind of event to try to help get the 2012 Olympics for Paris. We stood in line and went up to the middle level. It was very cold and windy. It was nice but not as impressive as we had hoped it would be. IMO it is much better to go up in the daylight than at night but we didn’t know that at the time. We bought a charm in the gift shop and came down.

    We wanted to take a night time boat ride on the Seine but they were already finished for the day by the time we checked. We walked all the way back to the McDonalds where T had a Sprite and some fries and was very happy. McDonalds was very crowded and most of the people were young and dressed VERY weird. One girl had a very short skirt on and had it pulled down so low in the front you could see way more than you should have. We finally took the metro back to the apartment and went to bed around 1 AM. An excellent sixth day in Paris!


    Fri (Day 7 – Last day in Paris, Trying to day-trip to Rouen, Hop on/hop off bus tour, Champs Elysees farewell):

    Up late (about 8:30) and I went for breakfast pastry by myself. We decided to take a day trip to Rouen so we took the Metro to Gare St Lazarre to buy tickets. The person in line in front of us seemed to be having major problems but eventually it was our turn. When we tried to explain what we wanted to do, the agent called for someone to take us to another counter. We followed the other person all around the station, up an escalator to the outside (T thought they were kicking us out) then back inside to another counter with a short line of people. The impression we got was even though we had read in several places that day trips to Rouen should be easy, the train people thought we were crazy to try it. We decided if we were having this much trouble we were not meant to go to Rouen so we left the station.

    It took a few minutes to figure out exactly where we were but quickly saw we were right next to the Opera Garnier. We tried to tour it but the auditorium was closed to tours for the day. So far for the day we were zero for two in our attempts to do anything. When all else fails – you can always shop so we went in to the Galleries Lafayette Department store – really neat store. We then went outside to the sidewalk sales where T bought a pair of Converse tennis shoes for 15 Euro.

    We then decided to take a ride on a double-decker hop on/hop off bus (the Rouge Line). It turned out the audio part was not good but it was very relaxing to just ride around and look at Paris. We hopped off at Notre Dame and had lunch at the same place we did earlier in the week. We walked over to the Isle St Louis for some Bertillon’s ice cream. B and I liked ours but T’s chocolate had oranges in it which she did not like. We walked back towards Notre Dame where B and I had a crepe and T had a chocolate ice cream cone she liked. I guess eating a bunch of food was how we wanted to spend our last day in Paris - we had a big lunch (with fries), ice cream and crepes. We hopped back on the bus, rode it to the Orsay stop and walked home from there.

    We spent some time packing for our early train to Rennes the next morning (I also ordered a taxi to pick us up at 7:30 AM) then we decided to go back to the Champs Elysees for our last dinner in Paris at the same restaurant we had eaten at before (Café Roma). This time Greece had won their soccer game and their fans were celebrating in the streets again but it was very mild compared to the Portuguese celebration the last time. T enjoyed a margheritta pizza before we headed back to the apartment, finished packing and went to bed. An excellent last day in Paris!

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    Thanks irish. We joked a lot about how outrageous they were - but she loved them and that's what counts. I pretty much have everything already written in Microsoft Word but just have to check and edit a day or two at a time and post it here. Hope to have more later today.

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    Sat (Day 8 – Train to Rennes, Mont Saint Michel, Sully):

    Up early and finished last minute packing. We had to calculate our gas/electricity usage and leave money for it (it was a very tiny amount). The taxi picked us up right on time at 7:30 from our apartment and we were at the train station (Gare Montparnasse) by 8. We had 1st class tickets to Rennes and we really enjoyed the train ride – we found our seats and stowed our luggage quite easily and it was only a couple of hours until we arrived at Rennes. During the train ride, T taught me how to play a card game called Speed. It was weird how our ears popped when we went through tunnels at a very high speed.

    When we got to Rennes, we finally found the Hertz counter where I had reserved a midsize stick shift car. For some unknown reason, they upgraded us to an automatic BMW 320d for free. When T heard this she was very happy (she loved this car!!!), and so was I. We almost got lost but finally found the car (it was about a block away from the counter and we were not given very good directions). We discovered it also had a GPS system in it. Another cheer except it did not have a user manual (which would have been in French anyway) and it was programmed to speak French. We took a few wrong turns trying to get out of Rennes but eventually made it out.

    Our first stop was Mont Saint Michel on the way to our hotel near Bayeux. I was a little worried about leaving our luggage in the car at the parking lot while we were in Mont Saint Michel but with the big BMW we were able to get all of our luggage in the trunk. What an incredible place! We walked to the top and really enjoyed the view. We had lunch at one of the restaurants there and had a fantastic plate of mussels (we counted over a hundred). We thought it was well worth the effort to visit Mont Saint Michel.

    Then on to Chateau de Sully (friends had stayed here before and highly recommended it). We also highly recommend it. T loved the place as soon as we turned down the long entrance lane. We unpacked, laughed about the silly shower with no door and strolled around the grounds for a while. We took a short drive to the beach at Port-en-Bessin before having dinner at some little restaurant.

    B noticed that T was not able to see very much from the back seat so being the wonderful B that she is, she traded places with T. Somewhere in here T figured out how to get the GPS reprogrammed to English and she was our navigator for the rest of our stay in Normandy. That GPS made a world of difference!!! Usually trying to read maps and figure out road signs or street names is incredibly hard but with the GPS, it was not even an issue. T just programmed in our destination and the rest was a breeze. Well almost a breeze. Every now and then I would miss a turn or something and it kept saying something like “at the next available place, turn around to get back on the route”. If I didn’t turn around soon, it would say the dreaded “recalculating” and come up with a different route. We eventually made it back to the Chateau and bed. An excellent first day in Sully!


    Sun (Day 9 – Caen Memorial, St Mere Eglise, a terrible lunch, American Cemetery and Omaha Beach, Pointe-du-Hoc, a nice dinner):

    We had breakfast at the Chateau (not very good) but we made reservations for dinner at the restaurant anyway. Then we went on to Caen (using the GPS) to the Caen Memorial. I highly recommend doing this first when visiting Normandy- it gives a great overview of the area and the history. T was very disturbed by the holocaust portion of the Memorial which is very well done. We walked around the gardens for a while and took a lot of very nice pictures. We bought some good tour maps at the Memorial gift shop and planned our day.

    We started at St-Mere-Eglise where the parachutist was caught on the Church steeple all night during the D-Day invasion. We liked the church and the little town a lot and decided to have lunch there. At the first place we went in, the waiter would not wait on us – he said there was no service. We went to a second place and were seated but no one ever came over to take our order so we left. Finally at the third place we were able to get food but it was horrible. Our lunch experience was not good and we wasted a lot of time trying to get food.

    Then we went to the incredibly beautiful American cemetery at Omaha Beach. It was a very moving experience for all of us. I didn't know if T would appreciate the history but she was very moved by it. We hiked down to the beach where it is now so beautiful it is hard to imagine the things that happened there 60 years ago.

    Next we went to Pointe-du-Hoc where bomb craters and German bunkers are still there. We saw the cliffs the troops had to scale on D-Day. Just like Omaha Beach, it is so beautiful there now that you just can’t believe all the horrible things that happened there during the D-Day invasion.

    We then went back to the chateau to swim (the water was freezing cold even though the pool was inside a glass enclosure – T swam and I watched) and relax a bit before dinner. We had a very good dinner at the chateau's restaurant. We all had appetizers of chilled cauliflower soup with hazelnut oil and prosciutto with melon. B had cod for an entrée – T and I split a huge steak. B and I then had a nice selection of cheese. Finally we had dessert (T had strawberries, B had something with lots of chocolate and I had something called chicken milk and French toast – yes really - that was what it was called). T and I had lots of laughs talking about things she could get demerits for and other things that could wipe out the demerits. After our expensive dinner, T and I played some billiards before calling it a day. An excellent second day in Sully!

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    Mon (Day 10 – Bayeux Cathedral and Tapestry, Longues-sur-Mer, Honfleur, a funny toilet story, Etretat):

    B and I left T to watch some TV in the room at the chateau while we went in to Bayeux to tour the Cathedral and see the Tapestry - T had done fantastic so far and we didn't want to push it by making her go to ANOTHER church. Both the Cathedral and the Tapestry were very interesting and just incredible. We then stopped at McDonalds for a to go coffee, went back to the chateau, checked out, picked up T and had breakfast at McDonalds before going in to the center of Bayeux to show T the neat little streets.

    We then went to Longues-sur-Mer to see the four German gun batteries. What an amazing and beautiful sight. From there we headed to Honfleur. I am probably in the minority here but we were slightly disappointed in Honfleur. Yes it was very pretty and well worth seeing but I am very glad we did not plan to spend the night there. We took a small boat tour of the harbor – the guy spoke only French and his daughter spoke a little English – but it was a very pretty boat ride on a very pretty day. We toured the wooden church and the bell tower and decided to have lunch.

    We sat outside at one of the restaurants on the harbor and had a very nice lunch. T had to use the bathroom and when she came back she had a funny look on her face. It’s kind of hard to describe but the toilet was located just off the stairwell in a tiny room. It also turns out the men’s urinal was pretty much out in the open and T had to walk right past it to get to the ladies room. Unfortunately for her it was occupied so she had to walk right past a guy going to the bathroom –not something she is used to doing. As we were leaving the restaurant, a guy with a big dog walked by and the dog took a huge poop right in the middle of the sidewalk. The guy waited for the dog to finish, then just walked away. Enough with the bathroom and poop stories!

    We had a very difficult time figuring out how to pay at the unmanned booth so the gate would open and we could get out of the parking lot – someone had to actually walk up and help but we finally headed to Etretat. I somehow missed a turn that the GPS told me to take and we ended up on some back roads for a while before getting back on the right track.

    After we checked in, we found our room and the view from the balcony was just amazing. We unpacked and went down to have a drink on the very lovely grass veranda with just an incredible view of the water and the cliffs. Later, we walked down to the beach and walked on the rocks over by the cliffs. We took a bunch of great pictures.

    We decided to have dinner at one of the beach front restaurants. T had another steak, B had scrimps (shrimps with the heads and feet and tails still attached) and I ordered an assortment of crabs which turned out to be 5 small blue crabs. Oh well, the setting was terrific if the food was not. As we walked back to the room, I had to borrow a cork screw from the front desk to open a bottle of wine I bought at a gas station on the way here. The wine ended up tasting quite good and T had to return the cork screw to the front desk.

    We decided to drive to the top of the cliff beside the little church for some awesome views. We went back to the hotel and waited for it to get dark so we could see the cliffs lit at night. Well it doesn't get dark until sometime after 11:15 at this time of the year so we drank a lot of wine (B and I that is) and got fairly silly listening to the VERY LOUD seagulls. We joked about the sea gulls flying in and knocking over a Coke can on to B’s head. I said it would only ding her, not hurt her. We also joked about the sea gulls flying in, knocking over the wine, drinking it and stealing our passports. Very silly stuff!!! At one point I had to go to the car for something and I told T to guard the passports with her life. I had forgotten something in the room and when I opened the door to get it, T jumped up, hollered “The Passports” ran over and saved them. Very silly stuff!!! It finally got dark and it was worth the wait – we saw the very pretty lights on the cliffs and went to bed.

    It was like being on two different vacations when comparing Paris to Normandy. We thoroughly enjoyed both but we laughed a lot in Paris and not much in Normandy (other than this last night in the Dormy House). We LOVED the Dormy House and said we would really like to come back someday. Both B and T said that even though they really liked the Chateau de Sully, they wished we had spent 2 nights at the Dormy House and only 1 in Sully. An excellent only night in Etretat!

    In 2006, B and I were in the Museo Nacional Reina Sofia in Madrid where we saw a painting by Salvadore Dali of his sister at a window. We remembered taking a very similar picture of T at the window of our hotel in Etretat just before we left and after returning home and finding it, we think they are very similar.

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    Tue (Day 11 – Drive to Calais, condemned toilets at train station, scary wait to go through Chunnel, arrive in London, just missed a rail strike):

    Up early, packed and had a very good breakfast at the hotel. We checked out and headed for Calais. I had called Hertz to see exactly where to drop the car off (there was no Hertz location at the Calais train station). I had been given directions to go to exit 15 and look for signs to Gare TGV. As we passed exit 11, we saw Gare TGV signs but decided to try her instructions – bad move!!! Exit 15 was nowhere near anything so we finally found our way to the actual Hertz location and they gave us good directions to the train station and proper instructions of how to drop the car off there. We parked the car, put the keys in the AutoEurope box and went in to the very tiny station.

    The first thing we had to do was use the bathrooms but they were blocked off and there were signs up saying they were condemned. It was sort of unnerving to know we were about to get on a train to go through a tunnel under the English Channel from a train station where the toilets were condemned. We had a beer while we waited about thirty minutes for the EuroStar counter to open. I know it was fairly early in the day but a beer seemed in order at this point. Once the EuroStar counter opened, we lined up to have our passports checked before we could go in and wait by the tracks. The lady checking the passports asked us a lot of questions but finally let us through. Luckily the bathrooms in the EuroStar part of the station were not condemned and we were able to use them – which made me feel a little better about going under the Channel.

    The train arrived in about 5 minutes and we boarded, found our seats, stowed our luggage and settled in for the ride to London. The train left the station, went about a half mile and stopped in the middle of nowhere. After about a half hour, a voice over the loudspeaker said they were having technical difficulties in the tunnel. I spent the time catching up my journal and watching a little kid walk up and down the aisle saying hello to everyone and showing off his Pringles and juice, then saying goodbye and walking away. I think he repeated this about 25 times.

    The train started again after about an hour delay. The explanation for the delay was a false fire alarm in the tunnel. It was very anti-climatic to go through the Chunnel – you could see absolutely nothing but darkness out the windows. We then had an uneventful ride through the tunnel, through the English country side and in to Waterloo station. The line was very long to get out of the station and we immediately saw my brother and his daughter as we came through. It was an easy walk to his car but it took about 2 hours to drive to his house in Beaconsfield – traffic was terrible.

    We chatted for a while and had a nice home-cooked pork chop meal with all the fixings. T was ready to ditch her grand-parents and hang with her cousins (girls her own age). My brother said we were very lucky because the rail workers were going to go on strike that day but decided not to at the last minute. If they had, we would have had to take a ferry to Dover and my brother would have had to drive there to pick us up. As it turned out, the tube (Metro) workers did go on strike that evening at 6:30 for 24 hours. It caused absolute chaos in the city and affected our plans for the next day. We went to bed at about 1 AM, very happy to have made it to my brother’s house – an excellent first day in England!

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    Wed (Day 12 – Stonehenge, shopping at the PX, a couple of pubs):

    Up very late. The girls slept in the living room under three white comforters that looked like three huge snow banks (no heads or arms or anything was sticking out – just big white blobs). After having some home-made pancakes for breakfast, I took my first electric shower. I guess the water pressure is so bad they have to somehow attach an electric pump to the shower to get it to come out in enough quantity to take a shower. It seems weird to hit an electric switch before getting in the shower. The house my brother rented is in a residential area of Beaconsfield and it is apparently a quite expensive neighborhood. It is a four bedroom 2 bath house (very small rooms for American standards) and is on the market for well over a million dollars. It does have a nice back yard where they have set up the only basketball hoop in the neighborhood.

    We did not want to attempt going in to London because of the strike so we headed for Stonehenge. I was in the front seat and every time we came to a roundabout, I pretty much freaked out because I could not get used to going around it the wrong way. One of my brother’s cars has the steering wheel on the left, the other car has the steering wheel on the right. Talk about confusing – but I guess if he can fly a fighter jet he can figure out how to drive on the left side of the road. Thank goodness I didn’t have to drive – there was a lot of traffic and it was moving fast – I would have had about 10 wrecks before we would have made it a mile down the road. After about an hour and a half drive, all of a sudden Stonehenge just appeared right beside the road. What an amazing place.

    Surprisingly to me, it was not crowded at all. Somehow the damp, cold, dreary weather was very fitting for visiting Stonehenge. It was such a great experience to see something you have heard of all your life. We walked around it a couple of times and took a lot of pictures. It is hard to imagine that those rocks were moved there so long ago and set up in that circular pattern. How the heck did they do it? We had some hot chocolate and delicious apple scones before leaving.

    We stopped at the PX for a few things on the way home. We needed an empty bag to pack all the gifts/souvenirs/books etc we had bought to take home. My brother had to buy supplies for the old fashioned 4th of July party the Americans were throwing for the other NATO personnel the next day at the Colonel’s Club on the base. He was in charge of the baked beans so we bought a LOT of baked beans. We also bought a few cases of beer and some wine.

    For dinner we decided to go to the Royal Standard Pub (supposedly the oldest free standing pub in England – now that’s old!!). The food was excellent – and so was the beer. B had salmon in a kind of pastry. T had a steak and fries (I think I see a pattern here). I had a lamb dish. So much for the food in England not being good – it was outstanding!

    After dinner the four adults walked to another pub (The White Heart) for a couple of pints. The layout of the pub was quite interesting – nothing like an American bar at all. In Atlanta the bars are open until 4 AM so we were quite surprised when they gave us last call at sometime before 11. We had to hurry and finish our pints because they kicked us out the door at 11:15.

    We walked home under a full moon, really enjoying the walk along a very interesting street. It seemed pretty weird for a couple brothers from a farm in Iowa and their wives to be walking down a street in a suburb of London after spending the day at Stonehenge and a couple of real English pubs. Went to bed as soon as we got home – an excellent second day in England!

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    Thu (Day 13 – Windsor Castle, 4th of July party, some fish and chips):

    Up at a reasonable time and my brother and I went to get pastry for breakfast. He parked and stayed in the car while I went in for the pastry. When I came back to the car, I went around to the passenger side and was very surprised to see my brother sitting there – I was thinking he’s crazy if he thinks I’m going to drive back. Then it dawned on me, he was in the driver’s seat – I had just automatically gone to the right side of the car thinking it was the passenger side. He told me that as he watched me walking to the car he was thinking – you’re going to the wrong side – and he just laughed when I opened the door and saw him sitting there. I’ve only driven on the left side of the road once (St John’s in the US Virgin Islands) and every intersection was an adventure.

    We left for Windsor Castle (only 30 minutes away). What an incredible place. We started at St Georges Chapel and really enjoyed it. Then we took several silly pictures of the girls standing next to one of the guards who stood absolutely still, no matter how silly we were. Then all of a sudden, a group of guards showed up and starting doing some maneuvers. I had my camera on video and was capturing the whole thing. Suddenly, they started walking right towards me and the commander yelled at me to make way for the Queen’s Guard. I scrambled to get out of the way as they walked on. We then toured the rest of the castle seeing some incredible things. After we finished, we headed back to Beaconsfield.

    We cooked the beans and went to the party. It turned out to be a lot of fun talking to a variety of NATO nationalities. I met my brother’s boss (from Holland), his boss (from Wyoming – I count that as a foreign country - LOL), Benny (a Brit buddy of my brother) and his daughter and a guy named Irish from America. Try keeping all that straight after a few beers. They had some very spicy sausage dogs as well as other traditional American food. It seemed very strange to be celebrating America’s independence from Britain while we were in Britain. We made a few jokes at Benny’s expense but no more wars were started. They had planned on about 60 people but over 100 showed up. The kids played, the adults ate and drank beer – it was a fun afternoon.

    We went home and rested for a while before deciding to get some take out fish and chips for dinner. Hey when you’re in England you have to have fish and chips served in brown paper bags right? They were delicious – and HUGE. The kids had chicken nuggets and said they were good too. We watched some English news for a while, then went to bed – an excellent third day in England!

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    Thanks irish. It was harder than I thought it was going to be to try to remember the details of our trip 8 years later. We really had a great time but I wish I would have kept better notes about the little things that happened. Now I know better!!

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    Fri (Day 14 – London!!! Double decker bus in the rain, boat ride on the Thames, London Tower, a quick dinner, Fantastic Les Miserables):

    We had hoped to be out by 10 but didn’t actually leave until 11:45. Took the train to Marleyboro Station and grabbed a quick lunch. We then took the Metro to downtown. My sister-in-law had bought tickets for the hop on/off Big Red Bus so we found the ticket office, picked up the tickets and as we waited for the bus, it started to rain – hey we’re in England right? They handed out rain ponchos and even though there were only 8 of us I took about 12 ponchos (thank goodness I did).

    When the bus arrived, the rain had let up a little so we decided to ride on the upper deck. We saw a lot of the famous London places (Harrod’s, the Prime Minister’s residence and Saville Row to name a few) and it eventually started to rain pretty hard. We put on our ponchos and somehow I stayed dry and B got soaked. My brother stayed dry until he stood up to let the rest of our group go downstairs, then he got soaked too. For some crazy reason, our bus pulled over and they told us we had to switch buses. Oh boy – we got the craziest tour guide ever. She kept saying over and over to make sure we put our rain ponchos on or we would get piles. We rode for a while and I decided we needed a plan so I went towards the stairs to go down and talk to the rest of our group. The crazy tour guide asked me what I was doing and when I told her, she said over the loudspeaker “does Lori have a plan?” Nuts!!!

    We ended up getting off at Westminster Abbey and the London Eye. We walked across the bridge to the Abbey and stood in line for a while waiting to get in. We decided it would take too long (we had tickets to Les Miserables) so we got out of line, took a few pictures of the kids and Big Ben, then headed for the boat cruise that was part of the Big Red Bus package. We started out sitting outside but it looked like rain so we moved inside. It turned out to be quite comfortable and we had some snacks, hot chocolate and coffee as we rode down the Thames in the rain.

    We got off at the Tower of London and toured it. What a neat and historic place. We saw the crown jewels (WOW), learned the stories about the Beefeaters and the crows, toured several of the towers and museums and ended up in the gift shop (of course). Some of our group shopped and the rest of us were freezing outside while we waited for them. They finally finished and we caught the tube to Trafalgar Square. We then walked toward the West End passing St Paul’s cathedral and St Martin in the Fields Church. For downtown London on a Friday afternoon, it was surprisingly uncrowded.

    We stopped at an Italian restaurant at 6:45 and the play started at 7:30. Is there any way in the world we could get seated, order, get served, eat and make it to the theatre in 45 minutes? Of course there was! It was probably the most unbelievable meal I’ve had in Europe but we did all that and made it to the theatre and our seats by 7:28. It was a MIRACLE! My brother’s Brit friend Benny told me at the party the day before that I should at least learn the plot before going - but there was no need. It was FANTASTIC! After it was over, we bought some T-shirts in the gift shop and walked to the Metro.

    We took the Metro to the train station. We then got lucky and caught an express train to Beaconsfield. From there it was only a short 5 minute walk to the house. We all sat up talking and laughing and being very silly until about 1:30. We then said our goodbyes (we had to leave early in the morning) and went to bed – an excellent last day in England!

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    Sat (Day 15 – Flight home):

    Up at 6 and took our last electric shower. As we left, we saw Katie’s hand move a little in a feeble attempt at a wave from under the covers and Cassie actually woke up to say goodbye. My poor brother had to drive us to Gatwick which was quite a bit farther away from his house than Heathrow. I’m not sure I could have gotten frequent flyer tickets from Heathrow but I sure wish I would have looked. We were at the airport by 8:45 and through security by 9.

    Boarding didn’t start until 10 so we had breakfast and then B & T went shopping. It was a long way to the gate and once we were there, we only waited a few minutes before we were able to board. It was a very uneventful flight (my favorite kind) and we arrived in Atlanta at 3:05. Fairly long lines at customs but not bad. We claimed and then re-checked our luggage. For some strange reason, instead of riding the train back to the main terminal, they had a bus for us and we were able to bypass the security check. T’s Mom met us at baggage claim and we had a small scare when one of our bags did not show up with the others - but it finally came out. We then had an easy drive home.

    We went through everything we brought back and gave T all her stuff. We sat around and had some lively chattering about our trip before T left to go home. B and I went to her sister’s house to pick up our little dog Singa who was very happy to see us. We picked up some KFC on the way home, ate it and went to bed at about 9:45, an excellent 2 week vacation!

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    Going round to the "wrong" side of the car - I did that to a taxi-driver in Florida the first time I went to the US and compounded the insult (from his point of view) by automatically putting on my seat-belt (it had just become compulsory in the UK).

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    Too funny! It's amazing to me how many little things we do automatically. Like I said, the only driving I've done on the left side was at St John's in the Virgin Islands. The roads were practically deserted and I still had to really concentrate at every turn to figure out which lane to turn in to.

    If I were living in London this summer, I think I would stay off the roads during the Olympics. I'm sure there will be lots of people renting cars that are used to driving on the right side so it will be a madhouse on the roads - especially at roundabouts which most Americans don't understand anyway. Good Luck!

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    So happy to see this, John, as I loved last summer's report :D
    I'm taking my daughter to London and Paris this summer - (ended up giving up on Etretat and Normandy beaches this trip.)
    I'm going to print this out and really enjoy it!

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    lantana - it's nice to hear from you again. I hope you like this report - we had a really great time on this trip too. I've been wondering if you were still planning a trip with your daughter this summer - I'm glad to hear you are. London and Paris will be great - you can always go to the other places on your next trip, right???

    How is your planning coming along? July will be here before we know it. I think I saw where you have decided on your London hotel - sounds like it should be perfect. I can't wait to read about your adventures and see your pictures when you get back. I know you will have a great time.

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    Oh - I've just loved this! I can't tell you how much I appreciate you taking the time to write all of this and share it. It's amazing that you remember so many details so long after the trip, although I realize you were keeping a journal.
    I'm going to go back and re-read your report from last summer. So interesting to compare the trips. I love that your routine w/ both granddaughters was to make a pâtisserie/boulangerie run each morning!
    I laughed out loud at several funny stories, such as the wild row-boat ride at Versailles :D (and I hated to read of the Hall of Mirrors disappointment). You didn't go to Versailles on last summer's trip, did you? I'll find out when I re-read your report ;)

    Thanks for asking about my trip :) Planning is coming along. I need to really buckle down, now, though. Have booked flights, hotels, Eurostar London-Paris, and tickets to Highclere Castle. (we are big "Downton Abbey" fans and I thought, "what the heck - why not?")

    Thanks again!

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    lantana - thanks for all the nice comments - we really had a great time on each trip. And even though there were a lot of similarities, they each seemed different. I guess different kids, different places to stay and us being 7 years older made them different, but in a good way. We did make it back to see the Hall of Mirrors last year and it was just as spectacular as we hoped it would be. B really enjoyed it (and so did the rest of us).

    I have to admit I did not know anything about Downtown Abbey but after reading about it, I'm going to have to see if I can watch the show. Highclere Castle looks fanatstic - should be fun to visit. It sounds like you have most of your trip booked - is your daughter getting excited? What is she looking most forward to?

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    Hi John - I did go back and read your '11 report and saw that you had indeed returned to Versailles (and I was reminded of your gd's obsessive photographing of the flowers, LOL). So glad you all enjoyed it and that B got to see the Hall of Mirrors this time.

    I hope you will watch DA. It's really wonderful! I'm afraid they've taken the episodes off pbs.org but I know they're available on iTunes for $2.99 each.

    I do have most of our trip booked but need to work on specific itineraries for both London and Paris. Like you, I LOVE the planning - but it sure can be overwhelming.

    My daughter is very much looking forward to our trip (let's hope so, right?!) but, just like my husband, she really doesn't enjoy the planning or discussing of trips. Boohoo for me :(
    She's really interested in Marie Antoinette (has read several books on her and has studied the French Revolution) and I think we'll spend an entire day at Versailles and really try our best to see everything.
    She's also just finished reading The DaVinci Code and is now begging to go to the Louvre, hehe. I told her that was in the plans already, as there were a few things there I wanted her to see, such as the Mona Lisa and Nike of Samothrace ;) plus a couple of Vermeers.

    As for London, she is over the moon. Quite an Anglophile and a Royal-watcher :) Due to the Olympics, Buckingham Palace will not be open to the public while we're there but we're making a day trip to Windsor Castle. We're both really excited about that!

    My mother is meeting us for our week in Paris (she grew up there, actually, in Saint-Germain). We are very lucky in that we have several good friends who live in Paris and will be spoiling us with their knowledge and enthusiasm. We'll be able to split up more easily this way, too, as my mother (much as she'd like to experience it w/ her gd, would simply not be able to walk around Versailles for hours. She can stay in Paris with friends instead.

    More info than you were probably looking for, but there it is :)

    Are you currently planning a trip to Italy?

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    Sounds like you have a fantastic trip planned. Just like you, no one else in my family gets as excited about the planning part as I do. Also like you, whenever I start writing anything about visiting Europe I tend to probably put down more than I intended to - but I can't help it. I know you will have a great time.

    Yes, we are going to Italy in mid-May. We are spending a few days each in Milan, Venice, Bellagio and an agriturismo near Asti in the Piedmont area. Can't wait!!!!

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    So funny about being the lone planning fanatics in our respective families. It's half the fun for me for sure.

    How wonderful that you have such an amazing trip coming up in May. Of the cities/towns you're visiting, I've only been to Venice. Ahhhh. Enjoy. I'll look very forward to that TR!

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    John and Lantana, I too am the planner for trips with friends and family and find planning is half the fun. I don't mind being the planner as I get to decide where to go. Whenever I ask if anyone has requests, they all say, "You plan. I can't visualize and You always find great places." (My nephews as kids were the exception. They each gave me one big "please do!"and then left it to me to fit the route. They also figured out how to check out pamphlets in tourist offices and find some quirky little places off the beaten path.)

    John, your writing is such that you can never put in too many deatils. Always thought provoking, interesting or amusing. Love your trip reports and also really enjoy the photos. I'll be looking forward to your trip report from Italy. Have a wonderful time!

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    Hooameye - thanks for the info - It just makes sense it would be for heating not water pressure - duh - what was I thinking???? BTW I really like your screen name.

    lantana - Ahh Venice. Here is a link to the place we will be staying at in Venice. Can't wait!!!

    http://www.cabonvicini.com/eng/location.html

    Irishface - Thanks so much. I enjoy reading other trip reports and we had such a good time that I thought I would try to contribute something that might spark an idea or two for others taking their kids or grandkids.

    For the first time ever we are travelling with another couple on this trip to Italy. It turns out the husband likes to plan as much as the three of us do. I have a separate folder for our Italy emails and so far I have about 300 saved that went back and forth between us. It's a lot of fun sharing the excitement as we figure things out. I'm sure our trip will be filled with silly stuff (and I'm sure at least several gallons - if not barrels - of red wine will be consumed) but I think we will have a great time.

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    Irishface - ITA about the planning. I want to go where I want to go ;)
    And sounds like you've raised your nephews "right".

    Oh my goodness, John, the photos of Ca' Bonvicini made me swoon! Hehe. It looks exquisite! I hope you're saving it for last b/c I doubt anything else will compare!
    How fun that you're going with another couple - and it's nice that you're enjoying sharing the planning with someone. You must be really well-suited b/c in that situation I tend to have real control issues :D
    What a wonderful time you're going to have. I REALLY can't wait to read your report/s!

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    lantana - Venice is actually the second of our four stops on this trip. I hope the B&B is as nice as it looks! I'm really looking forward to the places we are staying in Bellagio and Piedmont too. I was surprised at how nice it is to have someone else help plan the trip (thought I might have control issues too - but not so). My friend is actually the one that found Ca' Bonvicini. Only 39 days until we leave!!!!

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    Hi John, stumbled across your post here from a google search (currently researching for my honeymoon next year).

    I am a bit of a foodie and wondered if you might know what the name of the restaurant was on Rue L ‘Exposition? It sounds delicious!

    I'm also thinking of staying in that same area as you did in Paris, would you recommend it?

    Thanks!
    ashleigh (from Australia)

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    Hi Ashleigh, What a nice surprise to see this old thread pop up again. Congratulations on your upcoming wedding. The name of the restaurant in 2004 was Restaurant La Serre at 29 Rue de L'Exposition. I believe the owner's names were Marie-Alice and Philippe. However during our visit to Paris in 2011, we found the name of the restaurant now at that address is La Billebaude. We did not eat there in 2011 so I have no idea what it is like. Sorry! There are plenty of Paris food experts on this forum - I'm sure you will find lots of good advice if you can spend some time reading and searching through the various threads.

    Regarding the area, in 2004 we stayed on Rue de Bac in the 6th and in 2011 we stayed on Rue Sedillot in the 7th. We really liked both locations - I don't think you can go wrong with either one. Again, congrats on your wedding and I know you will have a great time on your honeymoon in Paris!

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