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Trip Report Europeannovice European Extravaganza

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We just got back from a great European vacation with one exception which I will explain later. I want to thank all the fodorites who provided great advice--too many of you to name individually so I thank you all at once!

We were a group of 4 people, DH, DS, and Mother in law (MIL) along with myself. We spent 4 nights in Paris and 10 nights in London.

I will break up the trip report into different day segments as it is long. I wrote a diary every other day so I can keep track of what we did etc.

I ordered a wheel chair for MIL for the airport. When we arrived at the Air France terminal, we happened to be on a flight with 26 handicapped people who were on tour to Paris as a group and the airline was short on wheelchairs. They finally provided one for MIL. As you can imagine it took a long time to load each of the people on board and the plane did not close its doors until one hour after scheduled departure because it took extra time to load the group aboard. We left 1 and 1/2 hours late but arrived only 40 minutes late as the plane made up time in the air. Finally, we were in Paris at 7AM the next day. More to continue later.

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    Thanks Avalon--it gives me encouragement. I learned so much from everyone here and now I want to share our experiences so others can learn from us or at least learn from our mistakes too.

    Some background first....

    Prior to my joining and logging into fodor's, I went against the general advice that is usually given here and we did purchase a six day London Pass. It included many of the sites we knew we wanted to see. I purchased three adult with travel and one child pass without travel as son's travel would be free since he is only 10. I purchased at last year's rates with a 10% promotion and also accessed the site from a rebate engine so I received an additional 2% rebate as well. The travel was a seven day travel card with the railroad arrows on it that would allow for 2 for 1 offers under the days out program as well if we needed it. You pay for six travel days and get the seventh day free according to the LP website.

    We used the travel portion extensively by using the many buses, underground and over ground trains. The pass included the train fare to Hampton Court Palace and to Windsor as long as we used Southwest trains from Waterloo for Hampton Court and First Great Western trains from Paddington with a change at Slough for Windsor.

    If we had purchased a separate travel card for each adult person and opted to use the 2 for 1 offers from days out instead of the London pass, yes we would have saved on one adult attraction set of entrance fees but would have to pay for each adult travel pass separately. However, we would not have saved much for the senior and child as we would pay for one adult and the free person would be the child so we would only save half--the child's fare. I only paid half for the pass for the child anyway.

    I agree with Janisj and others that the pass is usually not worth it. For anytime less than the six day pass, it would not be worth it at all as the per day cost is high and requires you to run around like crazy to get your money's worth. However, for us the adult pass cost £ 122 with travel so I figured that divided by six days, as long as we saw attractions and used transport that totaled at least £ 20 a day we would at least break even. In addition, we would get one bonus travel day to use.

    I have to say we did make good use out of the pass but we certainly did rush to take in some things we would have left out if we had to pay separately for them even though we spread it out over multiple days. We also made sure to make time to see the many free museums that are simply outstanding but I will get to each of those later.

    For Paris I purchased the Paris Museum Pass (not the Paris Pass which I knew would be a waste) for three adults as children go free to the museums and monuments. We also purchased 3 adult Paris Visite Cards and one child Paris Visite Card for transportation which included transportation to Versailles. The Paris Museum Pass is absolutely worth the money. We purchased a four day museum pass and a five day travel pass since we needed it for four days and the option was three or five for the travel pass.

    Prior to the trip, I went to the local library and took out the Pimsler set of French I learning tapes so I can learn a bit of basic French. I knew how to say "Hello, how are you, thank you, please, the addition or check please, carafe of water please, do you understand English in my poor rendition of French of course, where is the bathroom, and my son is allergic to nuts". The basics of what I needed. As long as I made the attempt to speak in French, everyone was very polite and friendly and responded in English.

    However, since we had never been outside of an English speaking country before, I was a bit nervous and we hired a gentlement named Daniel Freeman to meet us at the hotel on our first day for an overview tour. He was very reasonably priced. I know the name Michael Osman pops up here quite frequently but I had already engaged with Daniel and he was a very pleasant fellow with a great deal of knowledge as well. More to come later. This is very long as it is.

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    Ha ha, I'm trying to imagine you saying Bonjour comment allez-vous, merci, s'il vous plaît, l'addition s'il vous plaît, une carafe d'eau, comprenez-vous l'anglais malgré ma mauvaise prononciation bien entendu, où sont les toilettes et mon fils est allérgique aux noix all in one breath! :)

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    I can try to say it all in one breath and see if it sounds like a tongue twister!

    I had a lot of practice saying Comprenez-vous l'anglais?
    Ou sont les toilettes? and
    Mon fils est allergique aux noix

    I was too chicken to type the phrases in French for fear I would mispell them, so thank you Kerouac for spelling it all out in French.

    I don't think my pronunciation was all that bad as everyone understood what I was saying. When I asked for a carafe d'eau, I did receive a carafe of tap water and when I asked for van rouge--I did get red wine so the tapes were very useful indeed.

    My son was laughing at me when I was practicing at home and then when we were in Paris, he was impressed with my limited abilities to hold brief conversations in French. He and DH managed to pick up and use some phrases too.

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    Looking forward to all your installments; writing trip reports is time well spent in that it both preserves the memories for you and benefits others who access it on the Forum, so be encouraged! It is a good read and I bet it gets better! (We are leaving for London and parts of the UK in a bit over 16 days! Yay!)

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    Okay here it goes:

    Departure Day--Food on Air France was quite decent for airline food. Seats in coach were not bad. DH and I used the neck pillows that I had purchased prior to the trip while MIL used it by her back and DS just played with it. DS watched Alice in Wonderland and then slept for a couple of hours. I can't sleep on a plane so I just tried to go into a meditative state. MIL and DH were able to snooze.

    Day 1--We were scheduled to land at 6AM but it ended up being closer to 7AM. The wheelchair was waiting for MIL as we exited the plane and we were the first wheelchair before the group of 26 so off to immigration we went. Yay! We were in France. We saw the Sortie signs and knew we were finally on our way. Baggage came down rather quickly--unlike back home.

    We had hired Shuttle-inter and given some of the mixed reviews I read here on the boards I was a little nervous that they might not show up.

    Our back up plan was to take the Roisybus since we had our Paris Visite passes already. I ordered the travel and museum passes through rail europe when I booked the eurostar tickets and they were running a free shipping promotion if you ordered over a certain dollar amount.

    Anyway back up plan not needed. Shuttle-inter was right there holding a sign with our name on it. We were so happy to see that. They came with a van which we needed for the four of us plus our luggage. Three checked bags and four totes as carry-ons.

    It took quite a while to get into Paris given that it was probably rush hour. We stayed at the Hotel du Louvre in the 1st arrondisemont. They ran a family special. Pay for one room at regular price and get the second room at half price. The package also included breakfast everyday except the first day. Of course, when we checked in none of the rooms were ready so we stored our luggage and off we went.

    The hotel is in a great location. Directly across from the Louvre, near the Tuilleries Gardens, and Palais Royal and not far from the Opera. The metro station is at the back door by the restaurant.

    We were hungry and Daniel was not scheduled to meet with us for the day until 9:30AM so we went around the corner of the hotel to a little cafe and had our first Parisian meal. DS ordered an omelette and hot chocolate and the rest of us had espresso with a pain a chocolate. Yummy.

    Back to the hotel at 9:30AM and I saw a man sitting in the lobby chair and asked if he were Daniel. Sure enough--he was there to greet us. We walked over to the Palais Royal and saw the gardens and sculptures. We then proceeded to visit two of the covered shopping arcades--Viviene I believe and one other which I forgot. They are so beautiful.

    We passed by the Pompidou Center and took pictures of the building and water sculptures nearby.

    They say the best thing for jet lag is to stay awake and be out all day local time until a decent hour and that is what we did. We also were so psyched to be there that we did not feel tired at all--not even MIL at least not then. (We exhausted her later).

    From the Pompidou we walked over to a wonderful church (I forgot the name) and Daniel gave us a little tour of it. From there we went on to Notre Dame and saw the huge lines for the tower--a couple of hours wait at least so we opted not to do that with Daniel and we did not make it back to do at all this trip. We did go into Notre Dame and admire its beauty. A young gypsy woman did begin to approach us waving a magazine. Daniel waved her away and said that if we took the magazine she would want money.

    After Notre Dame we walked further into the Marais a bit. We had wanted to see the Carnavalet museum but we didn't get there. We just walked along the outside of the buildings and through the side streets admiring the architecture and layout of the streets.

    We had made lunch reservations for Bourguignon du Marais and Daniel ate with us. I had the signature dish beef bourguignon which was quite good.

    We went back to the hotel for a break and to check in but only one room was ready. So we all went upstairs and rested for a bit. Daniel went home too and met us back by the hotel at 4PM. It was a Friday and the Louvre which was right next to our hotel was open late that night. We arranged for Daniel to give us a three hour tour of the Louvre.

    The Louvre is a massive place. I had my highlights list that I wanted Daniel to help us navigate since there are three main wings Richelieu, Sully and Denon with loads of stairs everywhere and I wanted to see certain things in each wing. We started with the moat and saw some of the Egyptian collection in the Sully wing, moved on to Napoleon's apartments and crown jewels in Richelieu and then of course the big three Mona Lisa, Winged Victory and Venus de Milo at the Denon wing.

    We arrived by the Mona Lisa around 6PM. The bus tours left for the day and the half price evening folks had not yet descended in full force. We basically were able to walk right up to the rope and take as close a picture we can get with the Mona Lisa with no one else in front of us. Amazing.

    We saw many other paintings and sculptures along the way. Daniel knew his way around the museum and we navigated with ease.

    The museum itself is wonderful and amazing. The rest rooms on the other hand are a disaster. I went into one--of course there were only two stalls. One stall was extremely filthy and the other was not much better. When I tried to wash the faucet handle came out of the wall and was in my hand! What a memory to have of the Louvre. It doesn't distract from the gorgeous paintings but still....

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    Cobbie--Yes, when I asked in French they responded in English which was great for me so I didn't have to struggle to understand the response.

    After the Louvre around 7PM, I thought we would all be exhausted which we were, but we were also hungry.

    Daniel was really great--interesting, knowledgable, and personable. He has a website I hope I am allowed to list it without it considered advertising. I have no connection to him other than I found his website and decided to book a couple of tours with him. We were to meet up with him again for a Latin Quarter walk in a couple of days. He was better priced than Paris Muse or Paris walks who mostly do group tours and I thought a private tour would be better so we can go at our own pace and see what interests us.

    We decided to go to the Japanese restaurants near the hotel since they would be cheap and quick. Daniel actually walked us to a place up the block from the Louvre and then departed. The restaurant had fish and chicken on skewers and we settled for that with some warm green tea. Perfect.

    We headed back to the hotel around 8:30PM and low and behold the other room was finally ready. So we grabbed the luggage from MIL's room and tried to go to sleep. MIL said she fell right to sleep. DS did too.

    DH and I on the other hand heard motorcycles racing by with people yelling about until around midnight. To be continued....

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    Are these segments too long? Maybe I should break out each day into separate parts to make an easier read. Let me know.

    Anyway, it helped that it was still light outside until about 10PM and it was great to have been outside walking after arrival and then after a quick rest we did tackle the Louvre with its myriad of steps between the galleries and wings. It is truly a labyrinth of a place and magnificent to see.

    We did read not to do a major museum on arrival day due to jet lag. However, we wanted to go when it was opened late because we were hoping the crowds would be less intense. I think it was considering we walked right up to the Mona Lisa which is one of the most crowded areas of the museum. I think we were too excited to feel jet lag. You certainly can not even attempt to see the Louvre in one day let alone a week but we did manage to cover the highlighted areas we were interested in seeing.

    Day 2-Saturday. First full day in Paris on our own.

    We got up much later than I wanted us to but after breakfast at the hotel we ventured out to Versailles. The hotel catered to an American crowd so while they did offer Baguettes and butter and croissants, they also had hard boiled eggs, cereal, yogurt, fruit. It was a great buffet and included in our room rate.

    We did not walk to the Orsay RER station but rather took the metro from outside the hotel to a few stops before the Orsay stop and transferred to the RER there. I forgot the station we picked up the RER at but it definately was a few stops before reaching Orsay. Anyway we looked for RER C Vicks direction Versailles rive gouche and the train was pretty full. The train ride itself is only approx 30 minutes. I am familiar with commuting one hour and a half one way to work so a 30 minute train ride is nothing. Some people avoid going because they think it is a far trip away from the city but it really is not that far distance wise by train.

    We arrived at the entrance to Versaille close to 11AM and the line to enter the Chateau was just unreal. We tried to ask someone how to access the gardens. We wanted to purchase the garden tickets as the Paris museum pass covers the palace but not the gardens which they charge for when the fountains will be running on the weekends. Some man came running out of the building yelling Droit, Droit, Droit. I know he meant go right but still could not figure out where the garden entrance was until finally we looped around the building only to find a procession of a group blocking the garden entrance as they proceeded to go the chateau for some function.

    Finally the procession cleared, we were able to purchase garden tickets and enter to the sight of the fountains running. Absolutely beautiful.

    We then purchased the train tickets by the chateau to go all the way out to the Petit Palais for Marie Antoinettes hamlet. You must buy the train/tram tickets at the chateau and not at any other stop in between. It was not posted but when some people tried to board the train and offered to pay at a later stop on the way back they were turned away.

    The Petit Palais opens at 12PM and it was after 12 by the time we got there. We grabbed a quick snack by the snack bar over at the Petit Palais too. We walked through the gardens and walked over to the Grand Palais. Then we boarded the train again which passed the Grand Canal and headed back to the chateau.

    It was after 3PM by now and the lines to enter the palace were a lot less although it still was very crowded. We had no energy to deal with the audio tapes so we just wandered from room to room on our own. The paintings on the ceilings and walls are just marvelous. Very little furniture left as I guess it was mostly taken during the revolution. The Hall of Mirrors was extremely crowded so hard to get a good picture with all those folks milling about including ourselves.

    Versailles was good to see once. Bathrooms there were also a fun experience. Huge lines and one lady in attendance determining how many people can enter at any given time. She did let a few ladies use the men's room before letting in more people.

    On the way back we took the RER to the Arc de Triumph after 5PM and caught the tail end of the changing of the guard ceremony and the lighting of the flame. We were told about a handicapped elevator for MIL so we used it instead of climbing all the way up. The elevator takes you to the gift shop landing and then it was just a few more steps up to the top. What a nice view from up there! Of course, DS needed to visit the gift shop on the way down.

    From the Arc, we walked down the Champs de Elysees to the George V metro station. I equate the Champs de Elysees with Chicago's miracle mile. Very crowded indeed and not impressed with the big box stores that you see everywhere in NY, Calif, Chicago etc.

    We took the metro #1 back to the Palais Royal station for dinner at 8PM at the Restaurant du Palais Royal. I had a lamb dish that was excellent. DH and MIL had fish and son had shrimp. All very good. The best dessert was the molten chocolate cake. The chocolate in the center was so decadent and so so good. We walked back to the hotel from there.

    By now we noticed that MIL's ankles were very very swollen so she had to sleep with her legs propped up to reduce the swelling so she can be ready for the next day's adventure.

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    I was wondering if anyone else was reading it. After I type it, I realize how long it is and I only got to day 2. Anyway, more to come later. I will try my best to make it a bit shorter if I can to be more reader friendly.

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    Saw your report a couple of days ago but didn't get a chance to read it until this AM - Great start - really looking forward to the rest. Re "is it too long" - no way.Aslong as it is in paragraphs it is easy to read (It is looooong entries w/o any breaks that are tough)

    I think you made a good analysis of the London Pass - not cost effective for a lot of visitors, but a break even or modest savings in specific situations.

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    Okay to continue then:

    Day 3--Sunday--This time we all got up early and we took the metro over to see Saint Chapelle. We arrived around opening time. There was a very small line as the Palace of Justice was not busy on a weekend so the security line was only for the tourists. We spoke to a student traveling alone from Alaska who was behind us on the line and we swapped stories of what we have seen so far while waiting. The line moved very quickly.

    Once you manage the narrow spiral stairs to the 2nd level, you are treated to an absolutely magnificent display of stained glass . The trip up the steps was a little hairy for MIL and we held up the line going up the steps but we managed to do it and it was truly rewarding. We sat down on one of the available chairs to just admire. Of course, we took pictures too. It really is spectacular and should not be missed.

    While we were there we walked next door to the Conciegerie to see the jail cell where Marie Antoinette stayed waiting for her execution. They show you the difference between a poor man's cell vs. one of means. Interesting enough and included in the Paris museum pass. We did not spend a lot of time there--no pun intended.

    From there we took the RER C to Orsay in order to see the limited collection of impressionist paintings on display temporarily located on the first floor while they renovate upstairs. From the RER station, we approached entrance C which is where people with the museum pass enter and we walked right in by-passing the line. This was definitely a benefit of the museum pass.

    The collection was very nice but I am sure would be better and more extensive when the renovations are complete. A fair selection of Caillebotte, Cezanne, Courbet, Pissaro, a little Degas and some Renoir if memory serves me correctly.

    I loved the setting of the museum in the old railway station and adored the clock. Too bad they do not allow photos anymore.

    We proceeded to go upstairs to The Restaurant for lunch. The Restaurant offers good food and a magnificent setting. We also saw the ball room next door to The Restaurant which was stunning. On our way out, we saw some of the sculptures downstairs and the Picasso exhibit and then left.

    By now it was late afternoon. We walked over to the Musee Rodin and spent a couple of hours wandering around the sculptures and enjoying the gardens. We relaxed for a good hour on a bench in the gardens. It was very serene and peaceful. It really was a great place to rest, relax and re-energize. We even grabbed a small snack at thier cafe prior to leaving.

    You can tell that I am a type A personality because our day was not yet done. Restaurants in Paris don't open until 7:30PM although bistrots I think are open earlier and most folks don't eat until 8 or 9PM. Plus it was still light outside until close to 10PM that time of year.

    From Musee Rodin we walked over to Napolean's tomb and it was around 5PM by then. Napolean's tomb was closing at 5:45PM that day and even though I had a museum pass for the adults, they made me stand on line at the ticket window to get a zero ticket for my son. This process makes no sense to me as kids go in free and don't need a museum pass so why do we have to stand in line just to get a ticket that says he could go in for free?

    After receiving my zero ticket, we just had enough time to see it and go downstairs for a little bit.

    We did not have any time for the army museum but glad we got to see Napoleon's tomb at least. Upon leaving we were heading in the direction of the #27 bus to Champs de Mars. The area around the tomb is loaded with small rocks which are hard to walk upon expecially for MIL. I saw a dirt path next to the grass which provided a flat surface and told MIL to walk on that until we can exit the complex. We heard whistles going off but did not realize at first that the whistles were coming from a police officer and were directed at us! At the end of the dirt path he came over to meet us and wanted to yell at us. I tried to explain to him using English and charades that MIL could not walk on the rocks for fear she would fall so I had her walk on the dirt next to the grass. Mind you we were not on the grass. He looked perturbed but waved us away.

    After that little episode, we found the bus stop to proceed over to the Eiffel Tower where we would be having dinner nearby. The bus was extremely hot and crowded. Luckily someone got up to give MIL a seat.

    We walked over to Champ de Mars and took pictures of the Eiffel Tower. It is currently draped over for painting. We had decided before our trip that we intended upon getting up close to seeing the Eiffel Tower but did not want to wait on long lines in order to go up it. I know you can now pre-order tickets on line for a specified time but we chose not to do that this trip. We went up to see the view from the Arc where the Eiffel Tower is in view and thought that was enough this time.

    We were supposed to walk over to Rue Saint Dominique from Champ de Mars for our dinner at Fontaine de Mars. However, we seemed to walk in the wrong direction and after a few blocks I sensed something was wrong. I asked DH to read the map again. Meanwhile I spotted three ticket officers who were handing out parking tickets. I approached one and asked politely in French if she spoke English. She said yes and when I stated where we wanted to go, the second officer came by and said you want the 7th. I said yes and he laughed because we clearly were not in the 7th--I forgot where we ended up but he told us. The first officer was really cute and asked "Do you want to get there by feet?" I loved that phrase and the way she said it. I responded yes, I guess by feet. Anyway we had to double back which MIL was not happy about by now and neither was DS who was quite hungry at that point.

    We managed to find our way by very sore feet and arrived at Fontaine de Mars a bit later than our reservation. Our reservation was for upstairs but no way was MIL going to make it upstairs by feet.

    I asked if we can sit downstairs but they were pretty adamant that the reservation was made for upstairs so we had to stick to upstaris. I pointed out that MIL was not going to make it and I think they could clearly see that for themselves so they offered to take her up via the servants elevator. They even stated that since the bathroom was downstairs, if she needed to go they would let her use their facilities upstairs and that we should just let them know.

    We were seated next to another American family whose last night in Paris was that evening and they were discussing their favorite sites etc. Not trying to eavesdrop but the room was small and we can clearly hear the conversation without trying. There was also a French family next to us who came in a rather large group--8 or 10 folks.

    The food was very good. I remember having a fish dish. Don't recall what everyone else had that evening.

    After dinner I thought we would have to take the metro and transfer because I thought I read on the RATP website that bus #69 which would take us back to our hotel from there either did not run on Sunday or did not run past 8:30PM. Anyway, it was Sunday and it was way past 8:30PM but a bus #69 was right there at the bus stop and we grabbed it so at least the ride back was effortless.

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    I might as well finish the Paris leg of the trip.

    Day 4- We definitely got off to a late start. We slept in and then after breakfast meandered over through the Tuilleries Gardens. We were approached by two gypsy women while we were sitting on the chairs who asked us if we speak English. Both times I waved them off and they were gone.

    We walked over to Musee Orangerie. Here, even though we had a museum pass, we had to wait on the general line anyway because they force you to fork over additional euro for a temporary exhibit whether or not you care to see the temporary exhibit.

    I think we got in around 11:30 or so and our main focus was to see Claude Monet's Water Lillies. They do have beautiful oval rooms to display the masterpieces. It was lovely. We only spent about an hour there but I think that was sufficient.

    We then took the bus over to Pont Neuf to find Place Dauphine where we had lunch at this little place called Rose de France. All four of us ordered the tuna nicoise that was really delicious. It came with hard boiled eggs, little round potatoes, tomatoes, green beans and olives. It was served in a huge bowl. The place was jammed packed.

    We crossed the street to take the Vedettes du Pont Neuf boat ride along the Seine and got there just in time for the boat launch. They were cash only--no credit cards. (StCirq--this time I spelled Vedettes correctly)

    From there we took bus #27 to head over to the Cluny museum at 4PM to meet up with Daniel again for our Latin Quarter tour. We saw the remains of the Roman Baths and the Lady and Unicorn Tapestries--Daniel explained the story of the five senses shown in each tapestry. Absolutely beautiful. The Metropolitan Museum of Art at the Cloisters in NY also has a Lady and the Unicorn set of tapestries but that set tells a different story.

    We passed by the Sorbonne and entered the Pantheon. The pendulum was on display and the art work was stunning. Another great church that should not be missed.

    We were interested in gardens so Daniel took us via bus first to Jardin de Plantes to get a quick look at the medicinal gardens--no time for the Zoo or the museums in the complex as it was closed already--and then via bus back to Jardin de Luxembourg where our tour with him ended. It had threatened to thunder storm that afternoon and parts of the city did get soaked but we enjoyed our garden tours none the less.

    Our last night in Paris and we had to pack for London next morning so we chose a bistrot near the hotel recommended by the concierge the night before. We went to Bistrot Richeleiu. DS and I had French onion soup--our first and only on the trip. DS then had a hamburger, DH and I had fish but MIL had the worst steak imaginable--all gristle and fat. We had ordered steaks in other restaurants--as a matter of fact I think DS had a steak lunch at the Orsay restaurant and it was quite good.

    It was a jammed packed schedule checking off the "must sees" on the list but we all thoroughly enjoyed our time in Paris. Although the schedule was hectic, we did manage to relax in the gardens, sit on the chairs in the Tuilleries, sleep on a bench in Rodin's gardens and really relax and enjoy our meals too. Now that the major sites have been covered, next time we look forward to finding the cheese shops and chocolate shops and just meandering the neighborhoods. Something to look forward to for when we return.

    Next on to exciting adventures in London.....

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    Thanks, Kerouac. We really did enjoy Paris.

    I forgot to mention that I developed an allergic reaction of some sort on my leg. Luckily, Daniel was with us that last day when I asked him to go with me to the pharmacy. Daniel quickly explained the situation to the pharmacist, in French of course, and they immediately gave me a skin cream to purchase that is not sold in the states. My rash cleared right away. We visited many pharmacies in London too as you will here about later.

    Jubilada--It was very charming when she said "by feet". She was so helpful and I thought it was just a cute expression. It was really just the way she said it that was so charming! Luckily for us, she spoke perfect English because my poor rendition of French wasn't going to get us too far. It got us by though.

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    Day 5--London Bound

    After an early breakfast and check out, Shuttle Inter was right on time.

    My biggest fear was dealing with all the luggage going to and from the train station with MIL and DS in tow. At least at the airport, the checked luggage is taken away from you right away and then we only had to deal with obtaining a wheel chair for MIL and the carry-on bags. At the train station, we had no wheel chair and all the luggage.

    The Shuttle Inter driver spoke to what appeared to be a homeless man with a trolley and began loading our luggage on the trolley. He said the man can wheel us through the train station. The man demanded dix euro before moving forward. I bet the trolley's can be obtained for free, right? But, we felt obligated to fork over our last 10 euro that I wanted to use at the station to purchase some food for the train.

    We were scheduled for the 10:15AM train and we ended up arriving early. We found a seat in the priority seating waiting area for MIL and the rest of us stood. Luckily no one chased her away since we purchased second class seats. By the way, the seats in second class were absolutely fine and comfortable.

    Boarding the train with all the luggage was fun. There was a group coordinator for a large group traveling with us in the same car. The coordinator was getting upset that we needed to make a couple of trips up and down to get all the luggage up so she started to take some of our pieces and throw them up the steps! She kept saying we have to board so we can take off. Hurry, Hurry!

    Meanwhile we ended up leaving 20 minutes late because there was luggage in another car blocking the aisle and people didn't move it out of the way. So they kept making an announcement that the train can't leave until car 18 cleared the aisle of luggage. We were in a more forward car so I can say despite the fact we were slow we weren't the ones holding up the train from departing on time.

    We let the group depart first and then we made our couple of trips up and down to get all the luggage down. MIL could not handle her luggage. Once down though, she was able to wheel her luggage with the carry-on strapped to it to the taxi station. At least we made it through for all my worries.

    We decided to split into two groups. DH and DS went in the second cab and MIL and I went in the first one which was painted pink. DH and DS were behind us when we left but somehow they disappeared. DH and DS arrived to the hotel first. DH said it was like Mr. Toad's wild ride. His fare was a full pound cheaper in comparison.

    Check-in at the Renaiisance Chancery Court. I got a fantastic deal including breakfast. I booked it as soon as I saw the deal and never saw the same deal again. The hotel goes for more than double what I paid for two double beds. The rooms are quite large and it is in a very good location right next to the city on one side and covent garden in the other direction. Our room was ready and we gained an hour of time from Paris to London.

    After a quick lunch we walked over to the British Museum which is only a ten minute walk from that hotel. We saw the Parthenon Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, some Asyrian stones, the chessman, the Portland Vase, the Sutton Hoo, the Lindow man and the statue of Ramses. We entered into the Great Court. What an absolutely fantastic museum. Very very crowded but a fantastic place to visit! We went back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner and the concert I booked for later.

    I had made dinner reservations at the The Clerkenwell Dining Room. The owner emailed to me prior to our trip to say that the place closed but that they have moved our reservation over to The Chancery and would honor the 25% discount I had found on line. When we arrived we were treated to complimentary champagne. The food was excellent. DH, DS and I had the salmon appetizer and lamb for the main. MIL had something else. All the food was very very good. It was a short walk from the hotel.

    We would have loved to linger but during my research for this trip, I came across the City of London Festival where different musical and dance events were taking place throughout the city that week we were there. Haydn's Creation was going to be played with a full chorus and orchestra in St Paul's Cathedral that Tuesday evening. The ticket prices ranged from 5 pounds to 45 pounds or something like that so you can chose your price range.

    After a wonderful meal, we left to grab the 242 bus over to St Paul. We did arrive a few minutes after the concert began and at first they did not want to seat us. However, I explained we had aisle seats toward the back anyway so we would not be disturbing anyone and my MIL at that point looked like she was about to faint due to our rushing so they seated us. I was perplexed because about 10 minutes later they seated another family who did have to disturb some folks in getting to their seats so I don't understand why they wanted to give us a hard time. The concert itself was wonderful and of course, the beautiful setting was just surreal. It was a great ending to another full day. After the concert we stopped by a Sainsbury local to pick up some water bottles and then took the bus #25 back to the hotel.

    Prior to the trip I had visited both the RATP for Paris and London Transport sites so many times in order to use their journey planners to get directions from here to there. We tried to use mostly buses so MIL would have less steps to worry about. Hence you will notice that we did make good use of the bus system and sometimes the tube or metro in Paris but mostly stuck to the buses.

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    Just curious to know about the luggage trolley's at Gare de Nord. Were they available for free or for less than the extortion fee we paid the man who wreaked of alcohol? This way I will know for next time.

    Day 6--First Full Day in London

    Since we got back to the hotel around 11PM the night before from the concert, we got up pretty late the next day and knew we were not going to attempt to tackle the Tower of London that day.

    We took bus #25 back to St Paul to take in more than we could during the concert. We did not join a tour. MIL sat in the pews while the three of us climbed the whispering, stone and golden galleries. The views from the top are definitely worth the effort of the climb. It was cloudy and windy that morning but still the views were marvelous even with the clouds hovering over. There are very wide steps up to the whispering gallery. It gets narrower and narrower for the stone and then the metal stairs for the golden.

    After our climbing adventure we crossed the millenium bridge to get a great view of St Paul from there and to go over to see the Shakespeare Globe Theater Exhibition. I really enjoyed the exhibition.--They were practicing for a show so we did not see the Globe Theater up close but the exhibition was still worth while.

    We ate lunch at the Swan cafe. They have a fancier restaurant upstairs but for us the cafe was fine for lunch. I then began to complain about my feet hurting. I had worn my Merrell slip ons the day before to tour around rather than my ecco lace ups and I think they were too wide for me and caused me to have two huge blisters on the same foot. It made walking very difficult that day.

    We popped in the lobby of the Tate Modern but we did not see any exhibition on the ground floor. We decided instead of viewing the Tate to walk back across the bridge and head over to the newly remodeled Museum of London. We will save the Tate for next time.

    We spent a little over 2 hours in the Musuem of London. I think they do a wonderful job of showing the history of London. It starts upstairs with pre-historic times and then moves on to the various periods in history--the Roman period, the medieval period, the Tudor and Stuart period. The museum does a fantastic job in explaining the great fire of 1666 and the possible reasons for the fire. The artifacts in the museum are just fantastic.

    You then move on to the newly renovated area downstairs which has a recreated Victorian village, the stage coach, and various other artifacts and displays as we enter the more modern ages. I loved the Selfridge's lift. The musuem is a real gem and should be on everyone's agenda.

    Upon leaving, my feet were really hurting by now and we searched along Cannon Street for a pharmacy. Luckily there is a Boots nearby. I asked the pharmacist what I can do and she recommended Compspeed to place over the blisters but she was all out. I asked if she had moleskin as I recall Texasbookworm recommending everyone take that along but that pharmacy did not have that either.

    In search of the next boots which luckily was not too far away. This one had Compspeed underfoot. It is a plaster like material that goes over the blister to protect it. What a life saver. It still hurt but I was able to walk a little better. I don't recall seeing this product in any pharmacy back home but it is manufactured by Johnson and Johnson--just not sold in my area.

    We took bus #15 this time over to Trafalgar Square where I had dinner reservations over by Browns--the chain restaurant not the hotel. It was very crowded and noisy offering a lively fun atmosphere. The food was quite good too.

    A few odd things I noticed in London. Most of the time the bathrooms are down a set of spiral stairs--at least in the places we went you went down a set of spiral stairs and not straight stairs. The other interesting thing is that each toilet had its own unique flush mechanism. Some you pull from the wall, others you push, one was a lever on the floor. Back in the states, the flusher is on the toilet itself and it does not vary very much.

    Although we could walk back from Browns restaurant to our hotel, this time my feet were not going to make it never mind MIL's. Leicester Square station was right around the corner so we just took that over to Holborn which was quick. The stations are very very steep. We finally took our first tube ride!

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    hi e'novice,

    great report which i have only just found having been en vacance in France myself for the last 2 weeks or so. you certainly packed a lot into your paris stay - I was quite breathless at times just reading it. good points about the museum and transport passes - on our recent 48 hour trip we didn't and I felt that it was an error at the time; your report has just served to prove that. oh well - an excuse to go back!

    looking forward to more,

    regards, ann

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    Wonderful report. Thank you for taking so much time with it.
    Love the details about toilets!!!!
    Museum of London is now on definite to-do list for next time in London (and i just got back). You make it sound fantastic. Thanks for giving another reason to go again to this great city.

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    Annhig--Thanks. We knew it would be a pretty hectic schedule since we wanted to see so much in so little time. It is hard to cram everything in in just two weeks! Impossible really but we wanted to do the best we could. Wish we would get more time off like they do in Australia and Europe. Then we can tackle things at a more leisurely pace. We all need a caribbean vacation now just to recover and relax!

    CaliNurse--the Museum of London was a real gem of a little museum. They do pack a lot into the space.

    I couldn't resist reporting about the toilets. In the states, they are just boring--all the same with the same mechanisms. In Europe many were unique.

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    >.I couldn't resist reporting about the toilets. In the states, they are just boring--all the same with the same mechanisms<<

    That explains a TV documentary I saw years ago, which followed a tour guide on a coach tour of Europe, where the clientele was mostly American, one of whom gave a running commentary at each stop on the different flush mechanisms she'd discovered. It can be a bit perplexing at times, I agree.

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    Hi europeannovice,

    Love your report on Paris! I've been to Paris with my husband once before & we couldn't go to Versailles - we always said we'd go next time.

    I know your son is 10, but my son will be 4 1/2 when we visit Paris over New Years...if Versailles is open, would you suggest it with my son?


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    PatrickLondon--interesting about the documentary!

    Psy_dr--Unless your 4 1/2 year old loves gardens, I don't think your son would be too thrilled with Versailles. The gardens and large outdoor areas and paths are really really nice especially when the fountains are running.

    On the other hand, the chateau is usually very very crowded and each room has magnificent art work on the walls and ceilings but even my 10 year old was not amused after seeing the first few rooms. Beautiful opulence for adults to view but doesn't have the same effect for a child. The Hall of Mirrors was a hall of people everywhere when we were there. It helps to understand the history a bit also to really appreciate it all.

    I just noticed though that you will be going in January. I am not sure about the gardens that time of year. Certainly, the fountains won't be running. The crowds certainly should be a lot thinner. If you always wanted to go then go. It is only a quick 30 minute train ride from Paris and you don't have to spend all day there.

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    Just a write:

    << We walked over to Musee Orangerie. Here, even though we had a museum pass, we had to wait on the general line anyway because they force you to fork over additional euro for a temporary exhibit whether or not you care to see the temporary exhibit. >>

    We just got back from Europe. In case it helps anyone else: There *is* a separate line and entrance at the Musee Orangerie for Paris Museum don't have to stand in the general line outside. Once you get in, however, you still have to go over to the cashier and pay the extra amount for the special exhibit. When we were there, that line was very short and took only a few moments.

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    For the Orsay museum you show them the pass and walk right in-by passing any line.

    For Musee Orangerie, there were two lines outside side by side--passholder and general now that I remember correctly. They made the pass holders wait while they let in a group from the general line first. We stood outside for a good 20 minutes. Even after we were let into the building, they made us wait on the general cashier line to pay for the temporary exhibit. So they get an extra 1.5 euro per person whether or not you care to see the temporary exhibit.

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    We were even joking about the point of the pass with the others in the passholder line, since the timing was such they made us wait while it was time for a group from the general line to go in. It wasn't until we went in and had to wait again for the cashier that the rationale for the line to begin with was not so much crowd control as it was to obtain extra fees.

    Moving along..

    Day 7--To The Tower and Beyond!

    That morning we got up very early in order to catch the #25 bus for the 40 minute or so ride over to Tower Hill. We arrived just at opening time 9AM and saw them open the gate. What a treat.

    Janisj, Texasbookworm and IowaRedhead among others--You were all so right. The tower is a great complex and to fully enjoy it, you need to allocate at least 4 hours. We were there 4 1/2 hours from 9 to 1:30 and we did not go into every tower.

    We did go immediately to the crown jewels--which was spectacular. We had the opportunity to ride the conveyer belt again as it was fairly empty. However, there was a group tour there already huddled over one of the crown displays.

    We also went into the Beauchamp Tower and Tower Green prior to joining the first Yeoman Warder's tour of the day. The tour was a lot of fun. By then there was a pretty sizable group but they speak very loudly and clearly so it was not a problem if you were in the back.

    After the Warder tour, we went into the White Tower and my son loved the display of arms and armor. That was one of his favorite things--I know it is in the top 5. We spent a good hour in there alone.

    With the London Pass we were entitled to either 20% off at the Armories Cafe or buy 2 adult and 2 kids meals for £ 20. The lunch choices were really good and nutritious. We had roasted chicken and potatoes.

    Next to the cafe they have a museum which was also interesting. We also did the Wall walk, saw some Ravens and saw the Martin Tower prior to leaving. MIL could not climb the spiral stairs at the Martin Tower so she waited patiently for us.

    It was a week day and while crowded, it was not at all mobbed.

    Since my feet were killing me at that point and MIL wanted to rest, DH and DS went off to check out the Tower Bridge Exhibition since we had the London Pass. MIL and I found a bench by the waterfront and sat until they returned.

    They said the view was okay but they liked the view better from St Paul and they said we did not miss much. I think that is the opinion of most people, that the Tower Bridge Experience is not worth the money but since it was included in the pass, they got to see it.

    The City Cruise boat launch also on the LP was right nearby so after they met up with us again, we proceeded to the boat. Just at that moment the Tower Bridge opened up to let a ship through. It was great. When I looked at the Tower Bridge schedule prior to our departure, nothing was scheduled to open for the dates we were going to be there so I was surprised.

    The boat had a school group on it, so it was very noisy downstairs. We left MIL downstairs so she wouldn't have to climb and we climbed up to the top where at least you could hear the commentator and get a better view over to Westminster.

    The view of Parliament and Big Ben was truly breathtaking. Yes, we know Big Ben is the name of the bell not the clock--but we Yanks call the Clock Tower Big Ben anyway:) How do you make those smiley faces?

    Upon arriving at Westminster we had to ask a police officer how to find the Cabinet War Rooms because we were a bit lost.

    I loved the Cabinet War Rooms too. We arrived slightly after 3:30 and we stayed a little over two hours close to closing time. The way the rooms are preserved just as they left it during World War II and the room with the maps were just amazing. My favorite part was the Churchill Museum within the War Rooms. I loved reading about his life and the presentation of the material with the boards and the timeline on the table were superb.

    We then walked across Westminster Bridge which was right there close to the Cabinet War Rooms and went over to the London Eye. MIL not wanting to do it, found another bench.

    The ticket line at that time during early evening was very short. We practically walked right up to the ticket counter. We only waited about 20 minutes to board the capsule once we had tickets in hand--enough time for DS to have an ice cream and finish before boarding. Another opportunity for a great view of London. A very slow moving ride--you hardly notice you are moving but the views are very good. Our capsule had a little more than a dozen people in it.

    Once landed again, we walked along the South Bank because I had made dinner reservations for Oxo Tower Brasserie. The Brasserie was more casual than the Restaurant and a bit cheaper too but also offering some great views. The Brasserie was extremely popular and crowded. The food was pretty good. The Risotto dishes and lobster were very good.

    After dinner we walked over to the Waterloo bus stop for any of the buses that stop there bus #59, 1, 168 etc. which took us right back to Holborn in just a few minutes.

    I have to admit after typing it, that that was a full day. Next day, off to a later start.

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    Sorry you had that experience at the Orangerie. When we were there earlier this month, there was a huge queue for general admission, but we walked almost straight in as Paris museum passholders. And there was little to no line at the cashier to pay the extra admission fee.

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    By the way, about the extra 15-year-old daughter asked me the same question, "Why do you have to pay extra fees if you don't want to see the special exhibit?" I answered her with a simple "That's just how it's done here"...and a relieved smile crossed the cashier's face. (I'm sure she'd heard the question far too many times.) I didn't have a problem with it. It was only a small amount, and I figured it went to support the museum's efforts.

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    It's bad form to follow up myself, I know. I slept on it and remembered that we, too, had somewhat of a wait in the passholder line. It was frustrating at the time, but it obviously didn't stick with me -- partly because the general admission queue was so very long. But we had no wait at the cashier.

    Back to reading about your travels!

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    Beeswing--When we arrived, the line for general was slightly longer than passholder. We took it in good stride and was joking with the other pass holders that they let in a big group from the general line just when we arrived at the passholder front line. Of course, they have to let in people from the general group in order to keep things moving. We were just upset that once we were let into the building, we had to wait again for the cashier. I understand it was a nominal fee but it was the idea of an extra fee--I would suggest just build it into the admission fee to begin with.

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    I forgot to mention at the Tower of London, we did indeed make time to stop by the gift shop so DS can stock up on his knights and horse collection. They have more than one gift shop in the complex and DS loved the one we went into--hard decisions to make when you are presented with so many knights etc.

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    Day 8--London Walks and More

    After a very full day the day before, we got up a little later and took it easy in the morning. We arrived at 10:45AM to the Green Park Station to join the Royal London and Westminster Abbey tour with London Walks.

    The tour guide was Tom Hooper. He is a funny, witty, wise and very knowledgeable guide. Tom had a wealth of information to share. He led the group of approximately 60 folks through Green Park and St James Park to the absolutely perfect spot to view the changing of the guards. We got clear pictures right by the curb as the guards passed by in front of us without any obstruction of view. It was great:)

    We then moved on as a group to Westminster Abbey but here we had to break up into three separate groups as the Abbey only allows groups of 26 max. to enter. We entered through a side cloister entrance so we didn't have to wait on line. We received a very good narration of specific areas within the Abbey including the coronation area and poet's corner etc. The Abbey was a marvelous site to see although the crowds were pretty thick again unlike at St Paul where you had a lot more room to navigate about and enjoy your surroundings.

    After this tour, DH and DS separated from MIL and myself. They went off to tour around separately and ended up going to the Benjamin Franklin Exhibition on Craven St. which was on the LP. DS did a research project in school recently about Ben Franklin so it was great for him to see the house. In addition to acting as the first ambasador of sorts between the colonies and Great Britain, I think this is the house where he performed most of his scientific experiments.

    MIL and I meanwhile ventured off to the Embankmnent tube to join Margaret also from London Walks for the National Gallery tour. Her Scottish accent is so wonderful. She was very knowledgeable indeed not only about the paintings themselves but about the painters and the various styles they used and how some of the painters influenced the others. Our group was about 15 folks. The National Gallery itself sponsors free tours but their tour appeared to have approx. 30-40 people on it--we passed by one when we were with Margaret. Also, having the LP we paid a discount on the London Walks tour.

    We covered a lot of different paintings starting with the Wilton Diptych and moving on almost chronologically to the Doge Leonardo Loredan, Titan's Bachus and Ariadne, Rembrandt's self portrait, The Hay Wain by Constable among many others as well. Everyone had a clear view of the paintings and sometimes MIL even got to sit on the bench and still see and hear the presentation. It was a little art history tour.

    Margaret did not get to show the group the Vemeer's Young Woman Standing at a Virginal because the National Gallery tour was there at the time. However, at the end of the tour I asked her to point me back to it and she said there were actually two at the Gallery and showed us both. We then saw the impressionist collection on our own.

    I have to say that I absolutely loved the two London Walks we went on and wished we had time to join more of them. Something for next time:) The guides are very well versed in the materials they are to cover and they are fun to be with.

    DH and DS met us in the lobby at our specified meeting time. We got to enjoy the art and we didn't bore them with it since they did not share the same interests while they went off to do something interesting to them. That worked out great.

    Together we went across the street to St Martin in the Fields Church to the Brass Rubbing Center. Each LP allowed a free brass rubbing so DS did three and I did one--I couldn't let him do all of them:) They all came out great--even mine surprisingly enough. I have to purchase a frame to put at least one of his favortie works on display.

    On Fridays, the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery are open late so after our brass rubbing techniques were tried out, we went back across the street to the National Portrait Gallery.

    I thought I read somewhere that the NPG has portraits of the Harry Potter actors. When I inquired of a staff person, she said they do have them but just not on display.

    I think we covered one floor and we didn't see much else of the National Portrait Gallery because DS spotted a free drop in art class that he wanted to attend.

    The teacher was having everyone sketch the sculptures that were in the room in fun ways. First do it by looking at the sculpture. Then re-do it by closing your eyes and just drawing it out. Use your left hand if you were right handed. Use two pencils--one in each hand and draw each side that way. Some folks sketches were phenomenal. Some people are really talented artists.

    I am somehow deprived or devoid of any artistic talent and my sketches were so hideous that even the teacher was holding back laughter. DS and DH held their own and did a good job! MIL gave up on the first try so she just watched in amusement. DS was having so much fun he did not want to leave for dinner but after an hour and a half of drawing, it was time to go. Makes great souvenirs--at least DH and DS's, certainly not mine.

    Close by in proximity we had reservations for J. Sheekey. This restaurant often comes highly recommended by most folks and I must say I agree with the recommendations. Yes, it is a pricey place but the fish is excellent.

    I was surprised though when the famous salmon fish cake was not on the menu. The waiter told me that after 12 years they decided it was time to take it off the menu but if someone asked for it they would make it. So make it for me, they did. It was delicious. The others each had a different fish and everyone raved about their dish.

    Back to another tube ride at Leicester Square to return to the hotel.

    Next up--Palaces and Gardens. I am more than half way through with this extremely long report.

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    PatrickLondon--The art class we just happened upon and DS was really intrigued.

    Day 9--Hampton Court Palace and Kew Gardens

    Early Saturday morning we took bus #1 to Waterloo station for the Southwest trains to Hampton Court Palace. We arrived at HCP a few minutes prior to opening time so we watched them open the gate.

    I loved loved loved Hampton Court Palace! I enjoyed Hampton Court Palace better than Versailles and Windsor. At Versailles, the crowds were so thick in the Chateau that you could not really enjoy the fantastic art in each room because you were jostled by so many other people either on a group tour or just passing you by with the headsets. At Hampton Court, you were able to really appreciate all the rooms at leisure with very few others hovering about. Hampton Court Palace was much more fun than Windsor too especially for DS. We ended up spending most of the day at HCP.

    We even took pictures with "King Henry and Lady Katherine". First, we saw Young Henry's story. Then we went to the Tudor Kitchens and they were setting up for their kitchen demonstrations that they perform the first weekend of every month. DS was able to light the tinder box which is what they used in Henry's time to light the fire for the kitchen. The "kitchen staff" were so friendly and explained everything from the outfits they wore in those times to the spices used and the meats served. They told DS to come back a little while later to turn the spigot as they were preparing mutton and he could help to cook it.

    We thoroughly enjoyed the gardens--they are magnificent! DS was watchful of the clock for the first time in history and in the middle of us viewing one of the gardens, he said we have to run back to the kitchen because it is time. He was running off ahead of us. He made it to be the first of the day to turn the mutton at the large fire pit. What a great picture.

    Back to the gardens some more and then on to William and Mary's apartments and of course to the star of the show--Henry's state apartments. We even saw the Georgian state apartments. We were having so much fun, we forgot it was time to eat.

    After touring all the apartments in the main grounds, we walked over to the Tiltyard Cafe around 2PM for a late lunch. The Tiltyard was also on the London Pass where you get 20% off. Why not, we were there anyway and again just like at the Tower of London the food was good.

    After lunch we walked through the rose garden but that was past its peak and then we did the maze. Thanks to Sassy-cat we had a peak at the map of the maze and I guess because of that we were in and out of the maze after reaching the center and going back to the beginning in less than 20 minutes.

    We were at Hampton Court from 9-3:30PM. We were going to head back into London and do Kew Gardens on Sunday like so many wise fodorites suggested we do to split the two up on separate days. However, the weather forecast for that Sunday was rain and we knew we wanted to see Kew. I remember FlannerUK stating that Kew was more a museum of trees and plants rather than a gorgeous landscaped English garden. From that description I didn't expect it to be like Butchart Gardens in Victoria Canada or Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, CA which it clearly is not. Plus we knew Kew was open until 7:30PM that evening so we would at least see it for a couple of hours. The last reason is that bus #R68 was right in front of us as we exited HCP so we could all sit down for a while instead of having to walk another five minutes back to the train station. A chance to rest our sore and my blistered feet for an hour. So, we all hopped on the bus and took the leisurely hour long ride to the Kew retail park.

    We actually had to ask someone once we got off the bus how to get to Kew and it was a 15 minute walk from the retail park through a residential area. We arrived around 4:45PM and the greenhouses close at 5:30PM but the gardens are open until 7:30PM. We knew we only had time for one greenhouse so we chose the Prince of Wales Greenhouse with the orchids and butterflies. It was very pretty but I have seen a larger orchid collection at flower shows and other botanical gardens. The butterflies were cute and roaming about. Butterflies are always great to see. I can't speak to the other greenhouses. We will have to come back another time at a more reasonable hour to view them.

    We did enjoy the outside grounds and we wandered over to the rock garden which was quite impressive. The azaela area was past its peak as it flowers in the spring so we saw beautiful green grounds but not much in the way of flowers in that area--just wrong time of year for that. I am sure they are wonderful in the spring.

    On a side note, as far as beautiful landscaped gardens even in summer I highly recommend Butchart Gardens in Victoria Canada and my all time favorite in the states Huntington Library, Art Collection and Botanical Gardens in Pasadena CA. Huntington is a real treat--the cactus garden is like a disneyland for plants--so many different varieties some flowering. The way they are arranged is just great and that is just the cactus garden. The Chinese garden which just opened a few years ago is so wonderful--words can't adequately describe it. The art gallery in Huntington has many Gainsboroughs too. It is a real gem.

    Back to London. At around 7PM we took the district line and transferred at Hammersmith to the Piccadilly line to Covent Garden for our 8PM dinner at 32 Great Queen Street. We had the excellent lamb dinner that they recommend for groups of 4-5 people. Thanks Cholmondley-Warner and FlannerUK for recommending the place. DH and I had a pint and we all really enjoyed the food. It was an easy walk back to the hotel.

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    Janisj--glad you and the others are enjoying the report. We thank you for the advice on making sure we allow enough time for the Tower and HCP because both really do need a lot of time to do them justice. We loved them both.

    Ideally we would have liked to have more time at Kew but we enjoyed what little we saw. It is more the greenhouses that are of importance there. Whereas, at Butchart and Huntington the landscaping is truly wonderful. Along with Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver--spectacular places. I don't know if you ever went down toward Pasadena ( a good long drive down from northern CA) but Huntington is really worth the trip down. Not only are there wonderful gardens 10 or 11 different themes--Desert and Chinese are simply outstanding but the art work in the mansion is also world class. I am glad FlannerUK provided the description he did of Kew because it was accurate and we were not expecting the likes of Butchart at Kew.

    We did make a mistake in going to Kensington Palace but that report is forthcoming. We were in the area and since we had the LP, we did it. That turned out to be a big mistake in more ways than one. I'll get to it later.

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    Day 10-Windsor and Afternoon Tea

    It ended up being very cloudy, cool and windy on Sunday but no rain that day although it was predicted the day before. It was so cool in the morning in fact we had to run up and get our jackets. It wasn't even that early in the morning because we got up late after Saturday's adventures. I would say it was around 11AM. We wanted to wait to go to Windsor until after the hordes of bus tours have arrived and left since it is usually their first stop of the day.

    We took bus #7 to Paddington Station National Rail. Of course, Waterloo was closer to our hotel but we could travel to Windsor for "free" since we had the London Pass and transportation to and from along with admission was included in the price we paid for the pass.

    Paddington Station was different in look and appeal than Waterloo or St Pancras where we had arrived via eurostar. We changed at Slough--an industrial place. There was another family doing the same thing and we chatted with them while we waited for the Windsor train to appear. They had seen a concert at the Royal Albert Hall the night before and said how great it was.

    The castle is very impressive as the train approaches and becomes even more impressive the closer you get as you walk the short distance to the entrance. I showed the guard at the front gate the pass but he said we would have to wait on the line which looped all around the gate of the castle. It was a pretty fast moving line though. When we entered by the gate, I saw multiple ticket stations and one of them was labeled pre-purchased tickets or passes so we went on that shorter line. Once they validated the pass, we then proceeded to security. It was like visiting the White House in Washington D.C.

    Once past security there were two lines--one very long line for the Queen Mary's Doll House and State Apartments and one shorter line for the State Apartments only. We went to the Castle line first and then looped around to the doll house line later hoping the line would be shorter by then.

    They don't let you see many rooms--just a good sampling of rooms. We enjoyed the room where you see the shields of honor. After the state apartments we did loop around for the line for the doll house which was still long but not as long as before. MIL really wanted to see the doll house. It is one big massive doll house!

    If you like miniature furniture and miniature rooms, the Art Institue of Chicago--one of my favorite places which I have visited has a series of miniatures representing different periods of time in European history from the 13th century to the present and American history from inception to the present. Those are fabulous to see if anyone gets a chance to go to Chicago.

    As I mentioned before, Windsor was nice to see, especially the outside, but just was not my favorite place. The town was very cute and we did a bit of browsing before heading back to London. I bought some chocolate--which ended up being our very nutritious lunch.

    We got back to Paddington station around 3PM. What I found odd was not once either coming or going did a conductor stop by to ask for a ticket. We just walked out.

    We walked over to the Lancaster Gate entrance of Kensington Gardens to find the Peter Pan statue. We walked by the Italian gardens and right next to Peter Pan is the bird sanctuary which DS loved. We did discover quite a few different bird species there. As it was a Sunday, Kensington Gardens was filled with people. DS did not want to leave the bird area so we stayed until it was time for our afternoon tea.

    Back out of the gardens to the Central tube line to Bond Street for Claridges Afternoon Tea. I loved the Chihuly glass chandelier.

    I informed our waiter of DS food allergy and they promptly prepared a plate just for him. They provided a wonderful selection of finger sandwiches--cucumber, salmon, ham, egg, and chicken. Each was scrumptious. They re-filled our plates too. Since we hadn't eat any lunch we gorged ourselves on the sandwiches. The tea was excellent too. You are provided with a tea menu from which to choose.

    After sandwiches, then part II is served which are the scones and clotted cream--they have a special cream they serve. I love scones. Yummy! I wanted to box those up and take them home. If that was not enough then the final desserts are presented. Again they prepared a special plate for DS with no nuts. The setting and service were fabulous. We rolled out of there.

    As we were walking back to the hotel, early for us, MIL almost fell on her face. I grabbed her arm to prevent her fall and she luckily landed against the wall instead of going down. I still have the bruises on my arm to prove I blocked her fall. It was hard for her though this trip because everywhere in Europe there are cobblestones--especially at Versailles and the Tower of London etc. We just tried to walk very slowly and I made her buy good walking shoes. She tripped though when the ground was flat--I guess she was being extra careful on the cobblestones but on a flat surface you sometimes mistakenly feel more secure.

    That was one of the many things I worried about prior to the trip because the year before we took her with us to the Intrepid Air and Space Museum in NY and she did trip over herself on the sidewalk and took a flying leap landing face first on the ground. She was all bloody and we of course ended up in the emergency room with her. She had a broken nose and a broken wrist. We were trying to be so careful on this trip to avoid an emergency room visit--which we ended up doing anyway but not for MIL this time. To be continued...

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    I wish we could adjust our typing after we submit. I should have said we go for "free" as long as we go to Paddington Station and transfer at Slough. We would have to pay extra if went to Waterloo station which made no sense to do.

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    Day 11--Day of Mistakes

    We were debating to do the Imperial War Museum and the London Zoo that day or something else and the zoo. We wanted to do the zoo in the late afternoon because we wanted to be near Primrose Hill where we had reservations for Lemonia--rated the best Greek (Cypriot) food in London and we wanted to give it a try. We read mixed reviews about the zoo and knew it was a small city zoo. DS was mostly interested in the bug pavilion and the zoo was included on the London Pass.

    We decided to do the Victoria and Albert Musuem that morning instead. After the near miss with MIL the day before, we did not want to separate and have DH and DS go to Natural History by themselves. MIL really wanted to see V&A. We saw the Rapheal cartoons, the dress collection, the British Galleries and the spectacular jewelery collection. They had some interactive displays for kids and DS had a good time desigining his own shields. He must have emailed home about 10 different designs. The computer said we could go up to the 5th floor to print out the designs but when we went up there they told us they no longer do that. You just email it to yourselves only. Anyway, while we were up there briefly we saw miles and miles of glass display cases covering ceramics and glass. I wish I could spend a couple of hours just viewing those but we refrained.

    After the V&A, we were walking over toward Kensington Gardens south side vs. the north side we covered the other day. We stopped by a Barclay's ATM machine since we had a BofA card and wanted to avoid the extra bank fee if you use a partner bank. We had no problems using the ATM machine at Paribas in Paris or at previous Barclay's machines on this trip until this day. DH made his selection and then he was waiting patiently for the money to come out. However, at this particular machine the money comes out at the bottom and when I noticed the money was sitting there I told DH to grab it but it was too late! The money got sucked back into the machine. I am thinking now that maybe that machine was handicapped accessible and that is why the cash came out below where it would normally. Do they have such machines in London? We had to call BofA and they said that we could not do anything for 24 hours. We asked them to credit our account for the money we never received. We couldn't believe we waited too long before we noticed the money and that it went back into the machine before we could grab it. Mistake #1.

    We continued on our way and did see the Albert Memorial. We attempted to visit the Royal Albert Hall but was told there were no tours that day. We then decided to take bus #10 over to Kensington Palace despite the bad reviews we read on trip advisor and on this forum because we were close enough to it and it was included on the pass we had.

    Before entering the Palace we stopped by the Orangery at Kensington Gardens for lunch. Three of us had soup, tea and scones. DS only insisted he wanted shrimp cocktail and nothing else. I tried to convince him actually to order something else but he was insisting that was the only thing he wanted to eat. When it came, it had a glob of a mayo type dressing on it that looked gross. He said he didn't like it. He didn't say it tasted bad just that he didn't like it. I should have returned the dish and ordered him something else. I don't know why I didn't do that. Instead, I told him to remove the mayo glob which he tried to do and he proceeded to eat the shrimp. Bad mistake.

    After lunch we went into Kensington Palace and boy was it hokey and a big waste of time. They try to make it interactive for the kids by pretending and talking to the kids but it was rather lame. We spent a total of 30-45 minutes there.

    From there I think we took two buses over to the zoo. I know one of the buses was #274. We arrived at 4:30PM just when the last entry is allowed and when we walked over to the ticket window, the guy at the desk proceeded to close the gate right on DH's head. DH got a bump on his head to the amusement of the ticket guy who let us in while laughing at what he had done. We didn't find it amusing.

    We knew we wouldn't have time to see many animals but we were there mainly to see the bugs. We did see some birds and monkey's on the way in and out of the zoo. The zoo closed at 5:30 so we had ample time to view the insects as well as the animals along the way.

    After the brief visit at the zoo, we walked through Prim Rose Park to Lemonia for dinner. We all ate the same foods--we shared all the dishes amongst ourselves and it was quite good. We took bus #168 back to the hotel.

    Next day--the effects from the DS lunch kicks in.

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    Oh Noooo - I think we all know what's coming [up] now.

    I'm sure you have the sympathies of us all, but mine particularly - DS got a dose of ??&*$%** at the beginning of our recent holiday in France and very nasty it was too. we spent ages trying to work out what it was, but there was nothing that just he had eaten, though he did have a lot of something that the rest of us ate very little of.

    then later in the trip, DH got a milder dose and again, we couldn't pin down what had caused it. [not my cooking, thank goodness].

    you can't blame yourself - how often do these things happen when there are no nasty consequences? more often than you think - we just don't remember them.

    keep it coming...i think.

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    Thanks Annhig. I was blaming myself for not sending the dish back. It was the only thing different that he ate that the rest of us did not.

    Here it was not actually until Day 13 that we made the hospital visit with him though.

    Day 12 DS the Trooper

    DS woke up with a headache and stomach pains. At first we did not have a clue what was going on with him other than he said he didn't feel right. He did not want any breakfast so he only had some tea. We originally planned to go to Greenwich that day but scrapped it for the Imperial War Museum instead which is closer. We had tickets to Oliver later that evening.

    He went to the bathroom at the hotel before us leaving for the museum. When we got to the museum he had to go again which was unusual for him. We spent about 5 hours at the musuem. Unfortunately some of that time was spent visitng the bathroom with DS multiple times.

    Despite his discomfort, we all really did enjoy the IWM. They do a wonderful job with the trenches exhibit for kids. We also saw the Ministry of Food exhibit discussing how they rationed the food during WWII. The section dedicated to the Holocaust was very moving and really well done depicting such a depressing aspect of hisotry.

    After DS's third visit to the bathroom, I started to think about what he ate differently from us that would cause this and the only thing was that shrimp cocktail at the Orangery. I am glad he removed most of the mayo from the shrimp prior to eating or I suspect his situation could have been a lot worse. I think the mayo dressing probably sat outside too long before being served.

    Of all nights, we had tickets to see Oliver that evening. I asked DS how he was doing and if he wanted to go back to the hotel rather than sit through the play. He was so much looking forward to Oliver--we were reading the book prior to our trip that he was a real trooper and wanted to see it.

    Needless to say DS did not eat much lunch at all because he could not retain it. Luckily it was only come out one end and not both. We had experience with that too.

    We proceeded to Cote where we had dinner reservations which is a French restaurant right across from the theater. I chose it for convenience to the theater and because of fodorite recommendations. The food was fabulous. Except of course DS just could not eat anything. We made sure he drank to prevent dehydration.

    DS went to the bathroom at the restaurant, before the show Oliver began, at intermission and of course he had to go again 10 minutes before the show ended. He was so enjoying the play. The people playing Faigon and the artful dodger were excellent. The lead Oliver was very cute and the settings were fantastic. DS and DH missed the last ten minutes because they had to run out and DS was so disappointed and upset that the show was over when he came out of the bathroom. I explained to him the ending but of course it is not the same thing as seeing it for yourself.

    Luckily we were within walking distance back to the hotel. I noticed that DS felt hot too. He was now also running a fever. I gave him some motrin but did not want to give him anti diarrhea medicine because I did not want to keep the poisons in him.

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    Sorry fot the typos--it is late.

    I meant to write history not hisotry.

    I also meant it was coming out of one end and not both. We had experience with both ends when he had rotovirus as a five year old as well as other times too. Those times were truly awful. This was unpleasant--at least at the beginning of the day but it kept coming as the day wore on even though he ate nothing and I got very worried when he began to develop a fever too.

    Not to keep you in suspense...

    Day 13--Emergency Room Visit

    Upon waking up, DS still felt like he had a fever and he had to wake up a few times in the night too. I called the front desk, explained the situation to them about my DS not feeling well, and asked if there was a doctor available. The front desk manager actually suggested that we should go to the emergency room instead because if they have to treat him or prescribe something that it was better to do it there rather than seeing a physician. They recommeded we go to the University College Hospital.

    Per my previous thread concerning emergency room visits, they quickly took DS in and the doctor said we did the right thing by coming in to the children's ward because he wanted to check the appendix given the symptons of fever and stomach cramps, etc.. Once that was ruled out we all suspected food poisoning. The doctor said of course that it had to run its course but he prescribed a paracetomol rather than motrin which he thought would be too harsh on DS's stomach. He said it would take a day or so to feel better and sent us back to the hotel.

    Back to the hotel for DS to do nothing but rest in the room and recover.

    We had planned on going to Oxford with London Walks that day. We will have to go another time. I love the folks at London Walks and was emailing to Mary a lot to gather so much information prior to the trip. They are very pleasant to deal with and we very much enjoyed all the walks we went on with them. Oh well something to look forward to next time. At that moment the most impportatnt thing was to get DS well.

    MIL and DS stayed in the room the rest of the day so DS could sleep. MIL needed the rest too by the way.

    DH and I ventured out to the John Soane Museum around the corner. A school group was given the tour and a guide was discussing each panel of Hogarth's Rake's Progress. Interesting the way she described the panels to the children. The house is really eclectic and what a collection he had.

    We also walked over to the Courtauld Gallery and I did enjoy the impressionist paintings there. We then went back to the room too.

    By evening DS was beginning to feel a little better and the fever had worn off. DH and I went out to a pasta place and brought back plain pasta no sauce for DS and brought back food for the rest of us to eat in the room. DS was finally able to eat a little bit. Yay, the road to recovery.

    Next, our grand finale which was a whirlwind day. We were so grateful DS felt a little better and we did not have to cancel it. It was MIL's dream to visit Bath and since this was her once in a lifetime trip having never traveled abroad before and realizing she probably won't be able to make it back it was good for her to see it.

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    phew, EEN, glad that's over. sometimes I think that those episodes are worse for the onlookers than for the sufferers, who just suffer, whereas you have all the worrying to do as well.

    you did all the right things, AND got to Oliver!

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    We weren't sure about getting to Oliver as the day progressed for him. Thank goodness he tried to clear away most of the mayo dressing so the impact was bad but not severe. I am glad he did get to see most of the show and that his bathroom episodes coincided with the right timing for the most part (before the show and intermission). Too bad for him about the ending of the show.

    He really did not want to go back to the hotel that day and wanted to perservere despite his feeling really lousy by the end of the day. We didn't think it was a virus at all because we suspected the food right away and usually viruses with my DS come out from both ends as we have experienced with him in the past. Trying not to sound too gross.

    I'll explain the tour we took a bit later but for the next day I took extra provisions for DS which we needed to use. He still had to visit the bathrooms many times but not as bad as that Tuesday. Wednesday he rested the whole day after the emergency room visit but it really wasn't until Thursday evening that he felt really well again and thank goodness because we flew back home on Friday!

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    Meant to also say:

    I agree with you that it is bad for the onlooker too because you want to do something to make them feel better but are pretty helpless.

    Sorry to hear about your DS and DH experiences in France. Hopefully it did not impinge upon the trip too much.

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    Sorry to hear about your DS and DH experiences in France. Hopefully it did not impinge upon the trip too much.>>

    "fortunately", DS's collywobbles co-incided with the beginning of our trip when we were trying to aclimatise to the very hot weather, and spent a lot of time indoors, or driving round fairly aimlessly in the car just to enjoy the airconditioning, or swimming in the local school's pool which was thankfully open to the public.

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    Day 14--Grand Finale--Final Installment Whirlwind Day Stonehenge, Bath, Lacock, and Avebury

    Okay I think I scared everyone away with our gross talk but things happen.

    MIL really really wanted to see Bath. It was her first trip abroad and she thinks it may be her last trip abroad due to age and health. DH really wanted to see Stonehenge. DS wanted to see Lacock because scenes from Harry Potter were filmed in their cloisters. We were too chicken to rent a car. I investigated all the major bus tours Premium, EvansEvans, Anderson, etc. and they all wanted a lot of money for 4 people and wouldn't cover all of what we wanted to see. It would require two separate bus trips to see all the above.

    I found Luxury Vacations UK on the internet and spoke to the owner Andrew Stevens. We decided it would be more economical, convenient, and relaxing to arrange this privately for the day. Andrew was originally scheduled to be our guide but he could not make it so he sent Kevin instead. We weren't sure if we were going to have to cancel because of DS. He ate a banana and toast and he said he felt better in the morning so off we went. We left the hotel a little before 7AM to get in a full day. We did this to arrive at Stonehenge at opening time.

    Kevin was a very professional tour guide and he was fun to be around. We enjoyed our conversations with him and the MPV was immaculate and spacious. Kevin gave us a lecture enroute to Stonehenge and we discussed the thoughts as to its origins and purpose. Kevin was very friendly and patient with having to make frequent stops for DS to still use the bathroom on several occassions. DS was still not 100% better.

    We all were fascinated by Stonehenge. We next went to visit Salisbury Cathedral which houses one of four remaining Magna Carta. Another really spectacular cathedral and we did see quite a few on our trip in both Paris and London. We stopped for a quick bite across from the Cathedral at a little cafe. I think it was owned by the museum across the street. More tea for DS and the rest of us had a quick meal. Very charming little place.

    The ride along the Salisbury Plains is breath taking. We drove another hour to arrive at Bath. Of course, ideally you would want to spend a couple of days at Bath to soak in the atmosphere. We had between 1-2 hours but in that time we packed in many things. We saw Bath Abbey from the outside. Graduation processions were going on that day so we saw many students in their caps and gowns with their parents all taking pictures by the Abbey. We did visit the inside of the Roman Baths and took the audio tour. The Roman Baths are well worth seeing for yourselves. Before we left Bath, Kevin drove us by the Circle and Royal Crescent and the Pultney Bridge. The Georgian architecture is truly remarkable. We will need to come back again for a more relaxing visit and to get to see the museums at Bath.

    From there on to Lacock so DS could at least see the Cloisters. We arrived just in time to make it in for the last entry of the day. Another beautiful place. There was a small museum within Lacock Abbey about the person who invented the camera and they had some early editions of cameras on display.

    Kevin had told us about the white chalk horse carvings in the ground that seems to be prevalent in the Wiltshire area and showed us some pictures in a magazine. Then we drove by one of them and I actually got to take a picture of it. Wow!

    We made a brief stop at Sillsbury Hill too.

    Then for the final stop of the day--Avebury. We got to go out and touch the stones! It is a much larger complex than Stonehenge and it is free. MIL stayed in the van--she was exhausted. The three of us ventured out and mingled with the sheep in the fields--watch where you step! We climbed the hill and the views are really breath taking. We also got to drive by some thatched roof cottages. Kevin was nice enough to stop in an area so we could take some great photos of the cottages.

    We didn't get back to the hotel until late evening. Thank goodness pizza express was across the street from the hotel and I think the only thing open at that time too. DS had plain pasta--we were taking no chances since we had to fly out the next morning. The Pizza was good.

    It truly was a whirlwind day but we got to see a glimpse of everything we wanted to see. It was a great highlight of our trip.

    Can't wait to go back to see the things we wanted to see but missed--Oxford, the Cotswolds, Greenwich, shopping, etc. etc. There is so much to see in London and the surrounding areas. Makes you look forward to the next time!

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    I'm still here, and enjoying your trip with you.

    there was a discussion recently about hiring a driver and car for a day, with very differing views as to cost. would you mind posting how much the day wuith Kevin cost you?

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    Annhig--I can say that the price was comparable to taking two bus tours for four people. I don't remember the exact price offhand.

    I also forgot to mention in my ending that we would love to go back to Paris too--next time not to check off items on a list but rather just to enjoy the city and to shop and eat!

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    'novice - that's very helpful.

    on a previous thread we had a number of opinions about how much such a day would cost, ranging from the "it's quite cheap" to "it'll be exhorbitant", but no-one who'd done one. it sounds as if it compared very reasonably with the cost of an organised trip, when you take account of the freedom it gave you, what you packed in, and the fact there were 5 of you sharing the cost.

    and your DS might not have been terribily welcome on a coach!

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    Annhig--Absolutely:) We could not have done any bus tour that day in DS's condition. This way the driver stopped when we needed to and we went off to the next venture when we were ready. No absolute set time as on a bus that has to stick to the schedule. It certainly wasn't cheap but you summed it up quite well! I wouldn't recommend it for just two people as the cost per person would be very steep but for a family group it was reasonbable for what we covered. We covered a lot of ground that day.

    You take so much time in planning and then it flies by so quickly!

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    Great report. I can empathize with your son. I had some grilled salmon with horseradish sauce at Loch Fyne Oyster Bar in Scotland in '07 that caused some sort of bacterial problem that, by the time we got to Edinburgh a few days later, left me feeling like I needed to go all the time. I, too, ended up staying in bed one day while the rest of my party went out and did some stuff (however, it was the rainiest day of our trip, so I didn't miss much).

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