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London/Paris Trip Report 8/11 to 9/12/2004

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London/Paris Trip Report 8/11 to 9/12/2004

Old Oct 22nd, 2004, 03:35 AM
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London/Paris Trip Report 8/11 to 9/12/2004

Thank you everyone who helped me plan this over the past year! I had a wonderful time and can't wait to go back!!

London:

Day 1 ? I flew from Portland to Dallas on Saturday the 28th of August. I said hi to Nancy on the phone and had my connection to London in 2 hours. This was my first International flight. It was interesting sitting in the waiting area because there were several British families there speaking in their native accent. Listening to small British children talk is especially cute. The flight was on an American 777 and it lasted 8 hours. It really wasn?t too bad, the seats had TV monitors in them and you could watch movies on-demand. The flight left at 6:00pm and flew overnight. Got to London at around 8:00am. This is now Day 2.

Day 2 ? Sunday. Upon arriving at London Gatwick I got the total 3rd degree from their customs agent about why I was coming to England etc, etc. After convincing her that I was not a terrorist, I went to pick up my luggage and it had really been beaten up. I had a Samsonite hard-sided bag that now had 2 huge dents in the side and the handle was nearly bent off. Off I went to catch a train to town. One interesting side note, all the exit signs say "Way Out" instead of "Exit" which makes perfect sense because you are looking for a "Way Out" I thought that was clever. I hit the ATM and got my train ticket to Victoria Station. Upon arrival to Victoria I got a cab to the hotel which was in Mayfair. On the way we stopped for a bunch of guys on horses, they appeared to be the Queens guards but I can?t be sure. I got to the hotel, The Ascott Mayfair, and dropped off my bags. We were originally to stay at 51 Buckingham Gate, which is the designated Exclusive Resorts place in London. We switched to this other place because it was more central to town. It was too early to check in. Dad and Joyce were out for a walk so I had breakfast in the lounge. They have these cool 1 serving coffee machines where you pick out a "cartridge" of the coffee you want and put it in the slot. The machine then brews 1 cup of perfect coffee. Pretty cool. After breakfast I got a paper and waited in the lounge for Dad and Joyce. We met up and went for a walk because the room was still not ready. (smoke coming from Dad?s ears) It was Sunday morning so there wasn?t much going on. There was a nearby park we walked through and then came back shortly. The lady at the desk said they were still "Hoovering the room". So we waited a bit more. We finally got into the room, which was a 2-bedroom apartment. After unpacking and taking showers we began to realize that this was not as nice a place as we expected. The carpets were stained and the water shot sideways out of the plumbing fixtures. In addition, Dad had noticed that there were not the u sual amenities included for Exclusive Resorts guests. I made the suggestion that we call the original place we were going to stay to see if the room was still vacant. We did and it was?.HOORAY! So we packed up and bugged out. We got a cab to 51 Buckingham Gate and discovered it to be much nicer and the staff much more helpful. We got in and unpacked (again) and after we were settled in we headed for the nearest Underground station and bought Tube passes for the week. This is the London subway system, which by the way is the fastest and cheapest way to get around. We got our tickets and headed for Trafalgar Square. We checked out all the plays and musicals that were being shown that week. Then we walked around a bit coming across a street performer in Covent Garden among other things. After this we went back and took naps. After our naps it was dinnertime and we headed out again. We went to a nearby pub for dinner. By the time we were done it was after 9:00pm and we were exhausted from being up for over 24 hours! Time for bed!

Day 3 ? Monday ? We were staying in "Apartments" so we had all the amenities of home. They were two apartments connected to each other so there were two of everything, kitchen, living room, baths, laundry, etc. There was food ordered ahead of time and we had breakfast there. I discovered the health spa and had a quick workout. By the way, this was the first and last day I went to the gym because we were on our feet walking and climbing each day from the time we got up until the time we went to bed?totally exhausting! I actually lost 2 pounds by the end of the trip! We headed out again for the tube station. Taking the Tube is so much fun! They are always saying to "Mind the Gap" so you don?t fall in the space between the platform and the train. The British accents are the best! Today we went to see Westminster Abbey. There is a small church and then the huge Abbey, we saw them both. It was decided that we would take a guided tour of the Abbey that lasted about an hour and a half. It was very interesting but quickly became mundane. Too long to be lectured to. I like to just walk around and use the audio CD?s at my own pace. A beautiful place and of course, very old. After the Abbey it began raining and we forgot our umbrellas. We went back to get them and headed out again. We walked and walked and finally ended up at the London Eye. This is quite possibly the biggest Ferris wheel in the world. Each car holds about 20 or more people standing up and it takes a half-hour to go all the way around. Great views of the city! By this time my back was killing me because I am not used to being on my feet so much. As a computer Analyst, I do a lot of sitting, so my lower back was in spasm from all the standing and walking. Dad accused be of having a "weak back" which I thought was nonsense because I am at the gym all the time excercising it, but that is apparently not the same as continuous standing and walking. After this we went home and I took a pill and a nap. I woke up feeling much better. We went out for dinner at a place that Dad had been several times before that was very nice, I can?t remember the name now. After dinner I decided to head out on my own and find the nightlife. I had researched a lot before and knew all the hotspots. Addresses in hand, I hopped on the tube and began exploring. This is where it gets tricky, because at any given stop there are several exits that take you to different sides of the street. The place I wanted was on Charing Cross Road. It was dark, and the street signs were hard to see and the maps hard to read. The city being as old as it is is hard to navigate. The streets go every which way. I finally find Charing Cross and begin walking?and walking, and walking. Pretty soon I come into SOHO. This is an urban, artsy, retro part of town where there are lots of cool clubs and restaurants. I finally found the place I was looking for and headed in. There were three levels of clubs in the same place. Remember that this was a Monday night, and it was as busy as any Saturday night in Portland. This place was huge with the main floor probably accommodating 300 or more people. There were huge video movie screens, lazer lights, and fog. They were playing some type of music that sounded like British House. It was very cool, and I met some people that live in London. Donnie was there with his cousins, and they showed me around to some other clubs and after quite a night I returned home for bed.

Day 4 ? Tuesday ? This day I headed out on my own. I took the Tube to Piccadilly Circus. This is a lot like New York Times Square with all these huge tacky electronic billboards on the sides of the buildings. This is near SOHO, so I walked around the perimeter of the neighborhood and then headed into SOHO. This place is so cool I just can?t explain it. All the shops, restaurants, etc have this retro, Goth, urban style about them. I found a Starbucks and had a coffee, just like at home, only they wouldn?t take my Starbucks card! After touring around here I hopped on an open top bus to tour around the city. You can get on and off and they come every 10 minutes all over the city. I ended up going through old London and then got off at St. Paul?s Cathedral. Almost as big as Westminster Abbey, but seemed newer. There is a huge dome that you can walk up to and look down on the church. You can walk up more steps and look outside over the city and even to a higher level that I did not attempt. Too many steps! Walked all the way back down and then down to the basement crypts. Took a look at all the dead folks and then had lunch in "The Crypt Café" Can you imagine? What a place to eat! Anyway it was pretty good and I got back on the bus. I continued on and got off again at Tower Hill. This is where the Tower of London is. Too late for a tour that day, but I checked out the times for another day. Hopped on the tube and went back to my favorite spot?SOHO! I found an Internet café and checked my email. My roommate had paid the rent electronically so I just moved the money over into my checking account?very convenient! Paid a few bills, also sent electronically to my email address, and was on my way again. I can?t remember what happens next, I think I went back home and did laundry. The Europeans use these tiny little machines that are front loading and they wash and dry in the same machine! They are small though so you can only wash a little at a time. Naptime again and then back out for dinner and SOHO for the rest of th e night!

Day 5 ? Wednesday ? Today I went to The Tower of London. This was apparently the main prison in Old London. I went first thing so there wouldn?t be any crowds. This is also where they keep the Crown Jewels. Very interesting, and very ostentatious. You can see the crowns they wore all the way back several centuries. Some of the crowns were so heavy that at one point the Queen refused to wear it. After the Jewel House I took a guided tour of the grounds and chambers, and then they let you wander on your own. When I was done here I headed To Harrods Department Store. I had always heard it was great but I really wasn?t prepared. The place is very big and very grand. Each department is a store within a store. For example, when you go into the Men?s Designer section and see Prada, it?s like walking into THAT store. They have it all, and it goes on forever! Amazing! I found a cool shirt that I liked and then went to the café to have some lunch. After that I went to see the Dodi and Diana memorial by the Egyptian escalators. I went to the Food Halls and picked up some Harrods Lager for my boss for boss?s day. Funny story about this later? I can?t remember what happens next, I am recalling all this detail with the help of a stack of receipts. I arranged all my receipts in date order to help me remember what I did on which day. So far so good! The next receipt is for dinner that night so I must have gone home and taken my disco nap. Incidentally, I had come home late the night before and left that morning early before Dad and Joyce got up. They weren?t sure if I came home that night and then read in the paper where the tube was closed because someone was run over by the train! They were a little freaked, but not too much because they saw that my bed had been slept in. Dad and Joyce would go to a play each night and then a late dinner after that. I?m not into the play thing so much so I would go off on my own. I went out to dinner that night at a café in SOHO on Old Compton Street. The Tube closes at midnight so you eit her have to get a cab home, about 7 pounds, or take a night bus if you are out late.

Day 6 ? Thursday ? Today was Joyce?s Birthday! I spent the day with Dad and Joyce. We had breakfast together and then decided to do the London Walking tour of Mayfair. From the hotel we walked by Buckingham Palace through Green Park and to the walking tour. This was all about the history of the Mayfair area. After this we walked through the fancy shopping area of town. We stopped for lunch after finally finding a place. I guess rich folks don?t eat much when they shop! After lunch we walked some more and Dad and Joyce went to check on the plays. I went back to the hotel and took a Jacuzzi at the health club. I met a nice couple that were there on a weekend getaway from the country. One thing I noticed about European spas is that they are not as hot as ours. The water is lukewarm.

After this I went back to the room and Dad and Joyce had returned. I took Joyce out to Tea at Harrods for her Birthday and Dad caught up on his emails. After Tea, we looked around Harrods some more and then came back to the room. We took our naps and then headed out for the night.

Day 7 ? Friday - Today I took the train To Hampton Court Palace. It is about a half-hour train ride from town. This is where King Henry VIII and King William III lived. Very impressive gardens. I met some college girls that asked me to take their picture by the gardens. There was a big emphasis on the kitchen areas of the Palace. There were a lot of people around in the day and they had these huge multi room kitchens where all the food was prepared. The pictures are on my website. I can re-send the link if you didn?t get it. I did the self-paced audio tour, which was great, because I could skip the boring parts. I then did the tours of the King and Queens apartments. All very interesting. This took about half the day. There was a boat that goes back to town through a series of Locks that sounded fun but it took 3 hours as opposed to the ? hour train trip. I decided to save time and take the train back. After getting back to town I found another Internet café and checked my email again. My next receipts are for dinner so I can?t remember what happens next. Went out that night as usual in SOHO. Tonight I made another friend. His name was Lorenzo. He is Spanish and he is the Supervisor of men?s shoes at Harrods. I should have met him BEFORE I went shopping. We went to several places together and he showed me some places I hadn?t been. It?s always fun to go out with a local because they know places you would have probably missed otherwise. Another great end to another great day!

Day 8 ? Saturday ? This was our last full day in London. Boo Hoo! Today we all went to a Matinee together and saw Mamma Mia! It is a very popular musical/play going on now. We really enjoyed this and were happy we went. I can?t remember what else happened today except that I went out again tonight with Lorenzo. He took me to this place in SOHO called Café Espana. It is a family run Spanish café. The meal was the best I had all week and well worth the long wait. Saturday nights in London are a mess. There were so many people out that the streets were packed. The queues to get into the clubs were very long and then it was way to crowded to enjoy yourself. There are so many people in the streets that they set up portable public urinals out in the open where the guys just walk up and wizz. Unbelievable. Wait ti?ll you hear what they do in Paris! I decided to turn in early tonight, as I don?t like crowds.

Paris:

Day 9 ? Sunday - We got up and packed then we were off to Victoria Station to catch the Eurostar Train to Paris. This is the train that goes under the English Channel. It is also a fast train, reportedly reaching speeds up to 180 miles an hour. We were in First Class and it was a smooth ride. There were 4 seats facing each other with a table in the middle to eat and play cards. The train was not full so there were empty seats as well. They served a nice meal and complimentary drinks and before we knew it we were in Paris. The trip took about 3 hours. Once we get to Paris we collect the bags and get a taxi to the hotel, The Raphael. The hotel was just a block from the Arc De Triomph and several more blocks from the Eiffel Tower. The building was old and decorated very "French". The staff was very formal as well. The rooms we had were very nice, two joined together. I think my room was bigger than the first floor of my house! The ceilings were high with lots of windows and "space" to move around. After unpacking I took a walk to find the ATM. We need Euros here, not Pounds like in England. There was an ATM just down the block and a Metro station just outside the door, very convenient! We took a walk to the Eiffel Tower before dinner and took some good pictures. We went to dinner from there to a nice restaurant, Joyce and I sampled the Crème Broulet for dessert.

Day 10 ? Monday -Today I acclimated myself to the neighborhood. We were near the Champs Elysses. I walked up one side and down the other. What a beautiful street! Tons of shops and restaurants and lots of people. The weather is nice. I see a man with a large video camera shooting a runway model strutting down the street. She is all decked out in new shoes, skirt, bag, etc. and will probably end up on TV someplace?interesting. If I am not mistaken, I think this is the day that we all went out together and toured The Notre Dame. This is the most amazing Cathedral I have ever seen! It is so huge and it was just cleaned. The stained glass is amazing. I got some good shots of the building and the windows as well. After this we walked over to St. Chappelle, but the line was long so we decided to go another day. We walked along the Seine and I found a painting of the Eiffel Tower that I liked being sold by a street vendor, just like you see in the movies, for 12 Euros. We stopped at a sidewalk café for lunch and people watched. I was ready to head back after lunch and I stopped in a department store. I wanted to find some G Star jeans like the ones Lorenzo had in London. They were 125 Euros, a bit more that I wanted to spend on jeans. He must have used his discount at Harrods! After this I went back to the hotel for a nap before dinner. This is an interesting story. I went out for dinner on my own to the Marais. I found a place to have a beer before dinner and went in. I asked for the beer menu and the guy says "1 bier coming up" and just pours one. I didn?t get to choose. The place is nice but not as friendly as the places in London. I went on to a café for dinner and the meal was OK but not great. When I was ready to pay, the guy says my credit card transaction was "not possible" in his rudest and most abrupt French accent. I waited for him to come back and I tried another card. This one was also declined. He was even ruder this time. I pointed out that the people next to me were able to use their card no problem and he said this was because "they are French" What a jerk! I pay in cash thinking someone has run up fraudulent charges on my cards. After checking this I learned that I still had plenty of credit and no fraud charges. I eventually learned that the machines they use are wireless and they sometimes lose the connection to the host. Actually, this happened a lot all week, and they would try again and it would work. After dinner I went to the restroom in the basement of the café and guess what?a porcelain hole in the ground. I thought they only have these in China. Thank goodness I only need to go #1. When I was done I pushed the button and water was spraying from all directions, I thought I was going down the drain!

Day 11 ? Tuesday ? Today I bought a two-day ticket for the Open Top Bus. I also bought a 3-day museum pass. For about 36 Euros you buy a 3 day pass that gets you into all the museums and monuments with no waiting in the queue. I took the bus around most of the South part of the city, there are 3 or 4 routes. This is a great way to get a feel for what you might like to see the rest of the week. I saw where the Louvre was, the Eiffel Tower, Tuleries, and a bunch of other places. After a couple hours of this I got off and had lunch on The Champs Elysses. I got a baguette sandwich and some coffee and ate outdoors on the sidewalk. A great place to watch people. After this I decided to walk back to the hotel and on the way stopped in some shops. It is very interesting to see the French women shopping and see how they are dressed and how they act. It?s all very glamorous, but a little too uppity for me. After a nap back at the hotel, I see Dad and Joyce for cocktails and then we headed out for dinner. I think I went on my own again tonight.

Day 12 ? Wednesday ? Today I went to the Louvre Museum. All the reports were correct, it is VERY BIG. I went first thing so I could see the Mona Lisa without a huge crowd. I did see her and it was pretty cool, she has her own room now because of the crowd she draws. The Winged Victory was on the way to The Mona Lisa. This was neat too, but it is missing the head. The other parts of the museum I wanted to see were the Egyptian and the Greco Roman sections. This all took about three hours and when I was done I couldn?t find my way out! Tomorrow I go to Versailles!

Day 13 ? Thursday ? Today I took the train out to Versailles. This was probably the hilight of my trip to France. This palace was the biggest fanciest, grandest place I have ever seen in person or in pictures. The gardens and fountains may be even more impressive. To see the whole thing would take the entire day, perhaps longer. I decided on the guided tour of the Kings and Queens apartments and the Opera House. I even got to sneak a peek at the Chapel. I would highly recommend this tour for a first time visit. A great overview of the palace without spending the whole day. The detail that you see in each of the rooms is amazing. The ceilings are painted like pictures, there is very ornate gold and woodwork everywhere like works of art. There is a website for Versailles that you can visit with lots of pictures. I think the Opera House and the Chapel were the two most amazing things there. These rooms were so beautiful I couldn?t get over it. The details of the architecture and the level of grandeur were stupendous! After the indoor tour I went on a separate garden tour that was self guided. Again, the level of detail and beauty here is just too much, an emotionally moving experience to see all this. Along the gardens you see life-size statues reminding me of those in Greece/Rome. In the middle of the gardens are these huge fountains and pools that go down in levels. Back in the day the fountains ran hydraulically because there was no electricity, I think they still do. After I walked around the gardens I went back to the top fountain that overlooks the whole garden area and just sat on the steps. I sat there for a while and just soaked it all in.

Tonight for dinner we go to the Musee de Orsay museum for dinner with Dad?s Alumni Group. This was very interesting. It is an impressionist museum in an old train station. Very cool the way it is all laid out. After the personal guided tour just for our group we had dinner there in a room that looked like one of the rooms at Versailles with all the detail, statues, etc. This was a very long day and I was glad to get to bed.

Day 14 ? Friday ? This was our last day at The Raphael. Dad and Joyce were off to Lyon and I was staying in Paris for another two days. I got a cab to the new hotel that was in the Latin Quarter (5th District) I got settled and checked in and then went out to explore the neighborhood. Not far away was the Pantheon. This was some sort of shrine with a lot of crypts. A very beautiful monument. Another place I went today was the Rodin Museum. This was a really cool place. The museum is mostly of sculpture and it is in an old mansion. There is a garden area with more sculpture and a little café where I had lunch. After this I found an Internet Café to check my email, a challenge because the French keyboard has the letters all scrambled around.

Day 15 ? Saturday ? Today I went to Montmartre to see the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre. It was a long ride on the Metro and then I got off on the wrong stop. There is a convenient station right below the steps to the church but I took another one and ended up walking around and up the steep streets until I finally found it. It is on a hillcrest and overlooks Paris with some great views. On the way from there I stop at another department store. They want 100 Euros for a pair of Levis; I laugh because we can get theme here at Mervyns for $28.00.

Day 16- Sunday ? It?s time to head home. I got up early and got packed so I would be ready to check out. I went down to breakfast and took a last walk around the neighborhood. I went back to Notre Dame one last time. When I went in they were saying Mass and tourists were still walking through. It was very grand and dramatic to hear the pipe organ booming throughout that cavernous place. I took one last look at the stained glass, especially the rose windows; those were the most amazing. Came back out and headed back to the hotel. I checked out and hopped on the train to Charles De Gaulle Airport. There were two B trains in that direction and I got on the wrong one. I had to get off, go back, and get on the right one. Still time left to catch the plane. After finally getting into the airport I was given the 3rd degree again about why I was there etc. They wanted proof of my business there like hotel receipts which I had none. I explained that I had been traveling with relatives. She asked me where they were and I said they went on to Lyon. She said "it must be nice" and I said "yes it was". I found my gate and took a seat. I had an hour left to wait. I had a satchel with 4 Harrods Lager beers in it. I decided to crack one open and it exploded and sprayed all over the place. It sounded like a bomb I and was afraid they were going to apprehend me. Nobody even blinked and I drank my warm beer. I took the rest home to my Boss for Bosses day and he loved it. Finally on the plane home, it was a 10-hour flight to Dallas then another 4.5 to Portland including being stuck on the tarmac with mechanical problems. 15 hours on planes this day!

Cole is offline  
Old Oct 22nd, 2004, 03:36 AM
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Woops, the dates were supposed to be 8/28 to 9/12...hehe
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Old Oct 22nd, 2004, 03:55 AM
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You certainly haven't spared us any details.

As a point of information, The Queen never refused to wear any crown, in fact she chose to wear the crown worn by her father at his coronation despite the fact that it was heavier.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2004, 05:44 AM
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I LOVED this report! You sounded like you had so much fun. Hope you come back soon.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2004, 09:06 AM
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Cole, Thanks so much! It was fun seeing some of the places I have visted through your younger eyes.

You mention an URL for your pictures?

Keith
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Old Oct 22nd, 2004, 09:15 AM
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Cole, thanks for a fun report. What was the name of the second hotel in Paris you stayed in (Latin Quarter)?
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Old Oct 22nd, 2004, 10:20 AM
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Cole:

Nice to read. This might sound picky, but it's Soho. Just the "S" is uppercase.

It's been Soho since at least the 16th century (before then it was something like "that ****ing bog just outside town"). There are the usual dozen or ten hokey explanations of how it got its name.

None, though, have any connection with the decision of the good people of New York, never slow to pinch an idea from someone else, to make a pun on the original Soho when in the mid 20th century they called the area South of their Houston SoHo.

Neither of the expensive bohemian bits of the world's two greatest cities is called SOHO, though.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2004, 10:13 PM
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Thank you everyone for the kind remarks. I can email a link to my pictures if you want to send me a request to [email protected]. For some reason the cut/paste wasn't working for the URL.

I fell in love with London, and was not expecting it to be all that it was, I am glad because I like pleasant surprises! There is so much I did not get a chance to see that I look forward to coming back to very soon.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2004, 10:22 PM
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The place I stayed in the Latin Quarter in Paris was The Hotel du College de France. It is on Rue Thenard on a fairly quiet street. One side of the building is next to a busy cafe. I had a room on the interior that faced the atrium. It was small, clean, fairly quiet, but warm, no A/C. There was a fan that made it just bearable. Friendly staff and good breakfast.
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