Day Three: Does This Bus Go to the Cemetery?

Have I mentioned my husband planned our trip and each day before we left the hotel, in addition to patching my heels with moleskin, I was asked, “Do you have the itinerary?”

Today’s itinerary would take us on the ten cent tour of Paris via bus 69. Bus 69 has no A/C and we still opted to take it, because Rick Steves said it’s an inexpensive way to see a lot of tourist destinations without taking cabs or the metro. Rick is made of sterner stuff than I, that’s for sure.

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I was seriously miserable and frantically fanning myself with the itinerary. (What do ya’ know? It IS totally useful!)  We’d almost get moving fast enough to feel a breeze through the barely open windows when the bus stopped again to do what buses do – let people off and on.

I will admit, driving through the narrow streets of the little neighborhoods was a different perspective than I’d experienced in the past via cabs. Unfortunately, I think our tour was less successful than Rick’s because we didn’t know where we were exactly and were having to refer to the book (via smart phone) to determine if we were passing anything of interest or not.

Robert took pity on me in the early afternoon and we hopped off to eat at a cafe on a busy street. When is doubt – feed and drink Ann. That’s our motto. Cafe D’arsenal was exactly what I needed. We took our time, ate croque monsieur and had a glass of rosé while watching the world go by on a lazy Friday.

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Oops. Wait. Remember the yellow jacket from Day One?  It found me again. Landing all over my plate and wine glass. Lazy time = over. We jumped back on the bus to reach our destination – Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

We fumbled with the trusty (cough)  Rick Steves app after entering the cemetery. Quite a few other people were there obviously looking for Jim Morrison. I was so distracted by everything else I saw, namely tombs, open tombs, collapsed tombs, tombs with opens doors, tomb doors with so many cobwebs I didn’t stop having invisible spider heeby-jeebies for the next 6 hours – I didn’t care if we found Jim or not. I was more concerned about what might find us.  Why were all these open? Had the inhabitants flown the coop? Robert and I couldn’t resist edging close to a large crack in one concrete structure and peering into it to see if there was anything to see. There wasn’t. Probably all for the best, as I would definitely not have been able to outrun anyone that day.

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(Jim Morrison)

We made our way over to say hello to Oscar Wilde. I was sad to see they’d enclosed his tomb and cleaned the lipstick kisses off of it.  (Although I’m sure the family having to pay to have it cleaned all the time was probably a pain.)

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Back on the bus – and to our new favorite cafe – D’aresenal. It was nearly 5:00 on Friday evening so we made ourselves comfortable and had another glass of rosé. Or two. Then, for some reason, possibly because we scrunched together to open up an additional table for the host, he brought us our check and another glass each. Hiccup.

At this point we decided we were too worn out to go to the Louvre (which was open until 9:45 that night and the next item on the itinerary) and decided we’d better  just get some dinner. We entered Chez Denise – a loud, crowded restaurant and bar and were squeezed in at the end of a long table. Here we experienced our first truly French waiter. We also learned that, unlike in the states, the customer DOES NOT always know best. Robert ordered beef jowl and I ordered cod. I took one bite of that cod and pushed the plate away. It was what I technically call, “Icky.” When the waiter eventually ran out of other people to serve, he returned and looked at my full plate with one raised eyebrow. Robert told him it wasn’t fresh.

The waiter said, “Yes. It’s fresh.”

“No. It is not,” Robert chuckled a bit.

“Yes it is,” Monsieur Waiter snapped. “Where are you from?”

“Texas,” Robert responded. I knew we’d just lost.

“Texas. Harrumph.”

Told you.

He whisked the plated fish away, still proclaiming its freshness. When our l’addition arrived the full price of the week-old cod was proudly displayed. He’s lucky I’d had those three glasses of relaxing, mellow rosé before coming to dinner. And those two glasses with dinner. I’m surprised I didn’t hug him. That would’ve been the final insult, I’m sure.

Day 4 (when Amy (the Countess Magnificent-Joy) & Dave join us for fun and games) AND possibly Day 5 up next!

 

 

 

 

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DAY TWO: PRISONERS AT LE JULES VERNE

In honor of Robert’s birthday – we overslept – surprise! Then we got carried away at the breakfast buffet in the hotel and ate too much before heading out to locate the Eiffel Tower, where we had a 1:00 lunch reservation at Le Jules Verne. We’d been to Le Jules Verne during our previous trip four years ago and it had been a highlight of the trip. At that time it was a two star Michelin restaurant. During our absence they had lost a star. We would soon know why.

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Video ascending the Eiffel Tower.

The service and food were impeccable. I totally won the order war.  Robert requested guinea fowl and I ordered lamb.

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It looked as though we were going to have another perfect experience – until something happened.  I can only assume the manager who had been present throughout the early part of our meal waved goodbye to his staff and left for the day because they suddenly forgot they were waiting on us, and instead every table in the restaurant was waiting on them.

Waiting for a refill of water. A refill of wine. A check. Anything.

We are familiar with lengthy meals and taking our time, but truly, service (or lack therof) was obviously how they’d lost that star. The staff hovered between the dining rooms, chatting with each other and ignoring their tables. It was a sour note on what had been such a promising start. A chorus of “l’addition!” rang out when one of the wait staff mistakenly wandered back into the dining room.

Once we paid the bill – or “ransom” as I called it, we descended and walked through the Champ de Mars toward the Musée de l’Armée.

If you have a chance to visit the Musee de l’Armée and it is more than 80 degrees outside, DON’T GO. Not kidding.

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The museum itself is fascinating, especially the medieval weaponry and armor as far as I’m concerned, but we began to realize as we made our way chronologically through the various sections, that air conditioning was non-existent. There are no words for how miserable we were. Wait. Yes there are: Hot, sticky, sweaty, Sweet baby Jesus…

Much like the Germans, we rushed into WWI haphazardly and made straight for WWII heated, offended and destined for disappointment. 

Eventually, we gave up trying to soak up the history and dragged ourselves toward the exit. The last stop of the day was the Dome de Invalides, where we sought Napolean’s tomb.  Here is where my ignorance knew no bounds. We approached an archway to our right, where I began snapping photos of what I thought was the little guy’s tomb. It was impressive indeed.

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Then we realized it wasn’t his. This is one of those times the ability to read French would be really handy. We noticed a good deal of people looking over a railing in the center of the room and made our way over. What did we see?  A freaking ridiculously oversized “tomb.” Seriously. Talk about compensating!

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Note: Napolean lies within six separate coffins. They are made of iron, mahogany, two of lead, ebony, and an outer one of red porphyry. Don’t ask me why. 

After fooling around and taking photos of Robert with the gargantuan repository of Monsieur Bonaparte, we caught a cab back to the hotel, cleaned up, and strolled to a quaint neighborhood café near the market, L’Atelier Du Marché.

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Here, we were having a lovely evening when in came a pack of screeching American women.  Approximately six of them came  in sounding like twice as many. The table behind us, with two men and a woman (all French) turned annoyed eyes on the group and one issued a few sharp, “shhh, shhhh, shhhhh” reprimand.  Surprise!  They didn’t hear – or care.  We went from being able to talk quietly to each other over a relaxed meal to discussing how best to shut them up without bloodshed. We felt it necessary to apologize to the owner and our server on behalf of all Americans. They kindly accepted and assured us most guests were NOT like the ones that were currently spoiling everyone’s evening.

As we exited, Robert stopped at their table and stood staring at them all, shaking his head. I’m sure they missed the subtle hint that they were rude hyenas.

Most rude hyenas do.

Day 3 to come!

 

 

 

ADVENTURES IN FRANCE AGAIN. FINALLY.

I’m going to try to blog each day of the trip to Paris and Versailles for my own sake as much as hopefully someone’s reading pleasure or at the very least, travel-tip assist. Let’s see if I can remember each day over the next week or two it will take me to think back and record. Ha! This should be interesting.

After planning for months and months (and years) by my husband Robert, we set out for our second trip to Paris and Versailles. The first leg was a flight from DFW to Chicago; the second, Chicago to Paris. Unlike our first trip four years ago, I found I had no time on the plane for blogging or reading. I have no idea what I did to take up all that time – unless it was eating. And drinking. And that five hour nap. Next thing I knew I was awakened by an announcement that we were less than 90 minutes away from landing. I quickly assessed my priorities and decided watching Pride & Prejudice and Zombies was numero uno.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t made it through more than maybe 45 minutes before I had to shut down and start actually trying to refresh myself in the horrible airplane bathroom. Side note: On the way home I’ve decided I’ll use bottled water to put my contacts in and will brush my teeth at my seat rather than enter that domain again. Seriously. Can a flight attendant put on a plastic glove and maybe just shove all the paper towels that are pouring out of the swinging trash door down into the trash for us all? Take a stick to it, I don’t care. I just know I’m not touching any of it. But I’m not being paid to ensure people’s comfort and well-being like a flight attendant might be. With regard to the lavatories, they’re more bystander than attendant.

Anywho…

From Charles de Gualle Airport we cabbed it to the Renaissance Arc de Triomphe Hotel. Our home for the next 5 nights. The lobby was too trendy for words, with uncomfortable looking chairs made from grocery carts. Or made to look like grocery carts. Because (Heads up!) grocery carts are totally hip. You heard it here first.

The equally trendy and attractive staff was friendly and polite, speaking enough English and us enough French to get by nicely. That means they were fluent and we were capable of saying yes, no and thank you, all with equal enthusiasm. We also seemed to acquire French accents when speaking English. “A” for effort, I suppose. By the end of the trip we were holding conversations with wait staff and salespeople in which we slipped in and out of saying “oui” and “yes” as though we were so bi-lingual we just never knew what language we might speak in. When all else failed, the poorly performed French accent, like Inspector Clouseau, served just as well. (We’re delusional.)
When the room was ready we put a few things up and walked down the Champs Elysees to Tuileries Garden. By the time we got there I had a blister on the back of each heel. So much for the walking boots. We made the decision I needed enough wine Now I know why I’ve worn the brown boots, not the black boots around Cardiff, London, Paris and Versailles over the past 5 years. Madden Girl boots. They were my best travel purchase ever.

We decided to try to numb my heel, or my self pity with wine and cheese so we sat in the garden and ate charcuterie at Cafe des Marronniers until we were delirious. Here began my ongoing relationship with a yellow jacket that stalked me the rest of our time in Paris and on to Versailles. But that’s another story.

As my heel was feeling a tad better and the yellow jacket was becoming more aggressive, we shuffled on to Musee de l’Orangerie because – Monet. The moment I walked into the first cycle of Water Lilies, I welled up. Like four years ago, I tried to get as close as my father would to examine every stroke. Which is why I was reprimanded by the guard. I responded with an enthusiastic, “Merci!”

 

After cabbing it back to the hotel, Robert went to Nicolas (the nearby wine store) while I put my feet up. We had dinner on the balcony looking at the Eiffel Tower and the Arc. (We’re on a first name basis now, the Arc de Triomphe and I.)

Robert can book an amazing hotel room. It’s his super power.

We toasted the first day of our vacation and then…

We slept. Soundly. After all, tomorrow’s itinerary was waiting.  The Eiffel Tower and Le Jules Verne for lunch…

LONDON OBSERVATIONS

It has been almost three weeks since I’ve been back from London. It took me one week to recover from jet lag, which I’ve been told is ridiculous and abnormal. Meh. I’ve been called worse.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reflecting on the many things we experienced whether on purpose or accidentally. There were some things I didn’t share at the time because 1) I was too worn out in the evening to remember everything and 2) I was seriously trying to go to bed at a decent hour and not stay up until after midnight like we did in Wales. See, our routine was, walk, sight-see, eat, sight-see, walk, eat, walk, sight-see, drink, walk, walk, eat, sight-see, drink. As you may have noticed, there wasn’t NEARLY an appropriate level of drinking involved. However, the lack of adult beverages was hardly noticed as the sight-seeing was intoxicating enough. (See what I did there?)

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After the last sight-seeing of the day, Sandy goes to the room to download photos around 9:00 p.m. while I trip into the hotel bar, order a LARGE glass of wine and take it outside where I sit with my iPad and enjoy the 70 degree weather and British accents. It never fails to take until midnight to finish our personally assigned tasks. Why don’t we just put our tasks aside and enjoy ourselves? Because we are insane. Not “diagnostically” insane, but just bad enough to be detectable under close observation. For instance: Sandy was taking a picture of me, yet SOMEHOW the picture appears to be one of clotted cream and jam with me in the background. She apologized profusely while laughing hysterically.

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Since I am predisposed to point out adorable flaws everywhere I visit, I’ll begin with the inability of anyone in London to agree which side of the sidewalk to walk on. It should follow the rules of driving, I would think, but instead, it’s just random. Masses of people coming at you from every direction, determined to not move one inch to the left or right. It was like cattle. Dumb cattle. Dumb cattle that move in groups and suddenly stop in front of you, making everyone behind them smack right into each other so they can look at a map. Amy tells me this is because everyone in London (especially while we were there) was from a different country, so they just walk wherever they want.

Listen up touristy people: Walk or drive in the traffic pattern of the country you’re in. Not where you came from. My toes were so sore from releve-ing and contretemps-ing around people I felt like I’d danced the lead in Swan Lake while simultaneously participating in the Snake River salmon run.

Also, while I’m at it… STOP LOOKING AT YOUR PHONE. (Not you, the people walking down the street in London.)

You’d think the darn thing was a slot machine about to pay off. I’m from the U.S. and even WE do not have that many people walking the streets paying no attention to anything but their phones. We save that sort of undivided attention to electronic devices until it’s safe. Like when we’re driving 70 miles per hour in our cars and eating a Whopper. Walking around with your face in your cell phone is just dangerous. Possibly because it makes me want to punch you.

Another observation. The service at lunch and dinner was great. Mostly. In some cases, the pre-established addition of 12.5% as the tip included on a diner’s check MAY have discouraged the wait staff from exceeding expectations. Bad choice, considering they had two Americans who are used to tipping 20% just to keep U.S. wait staff from spitting in their drinks.

Last observation: YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO WANTS YOUR PICTURE TAKEN IN FRONT OF SOMETHING. Take your picture. Take two. Then, for the love of GOD and all that’s holy, MOVE!!!!

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That is all. For now.

LONDON DAY EIGHT: THE SHOPPING CURSE

On our last day, we really felt the pressure to accomplish some of the things we hadn’t yet. Therefore, we set off to the Borough Market, which was closed the first time we tried, in order to get the infamous grilled cheese sandwich.

And oh, what a sandwich it was. The cook dumped in mounds of cheese into a container, then would take the bread and scoop huge amounts onto it, and press it in a panini type grill. At one point, he would add the combination of red onion and leeks. He eventually wrapped it in tissue paper and handed to us, as our eyes bulged from their sockets. Heart attack on bread.

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We had to take pictures, because that’s the kind of dorks we are. Plus, we wanted to make everyone crave our sandwiches. Success.

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We browsed the market, which is amazing. It’s crowded, but smells and tastes like heaven.

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Luckily, Sandy spotted a Prosecco booth and I was able to take a bubblicious time out.

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Afterward, we hopped on the Tube and arrived at Selfridge’s. Because we like the TV Show, and Jeremy Piven. After purchasing some surprises for my husband, we hopped back on the subway for Harrod’s. There we purchased more surprises and fought through crowds that make the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade look tame. These excursions cost me dearly. Not financially, but mentally. I despise crowds AND shopping, so it was the perfect storm for me to totally lose it. Somehow, I managed to not freak out and Sandy realized the imperative was to get me to the hotel for a drink to calm my nerves. Sandy is very smart.

After a small glass of wine, we decided to knock out one more item on the to-do list and hit Trafalgar Square. Guess what? A million people were there.

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I became punch drunk and decided you all needed this joke.

Guess what?

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Chicken butt.

Sorry.

We ate a scrumptious dinner and retired to our rooms where we began packing for our return trip. Our greatest regret is that we never made it into a museum. Sandy wanted to see the Rosetta Stone. I guess another trip is in the future, with less of the Royal Tour, as Sandy calls it, and more theatre and museums.

We shall return.

Thanks, London. It was incredible!

P.S. We overheard two different women today shout, “S#!t!!” And neither of them was me!!!

Win.

See y’all soon!

LONDON DAY SIX: WAR AND PEACE

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I’m proud to say we once again braved the Tube and ended up exactly where we were going. Kensington Palace. This was the childhood home of Queen Victoria and the home of William and Mary. Currently, it also plays host to the Fashion Rules exhibit, which traces the history of the clothing worn by Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and Princess Diana.

The presentations are beautifully arranged and when we arrived around 11:30, there was not but a small crowd in the rooms. Following are some of my favorite pieces. All I need is a World War to eliminate bread and sugar from my diet and I might achieve a waist this size as well. If I remove a rib or two.

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Meanwhile, the other rooms are dedicated to two sad stories. One is that of Queen Anne, who lost 17 babies. She finally gave birth to a boy, William, who though rumored to be quite frail, danced and danced at his 11th birthday party. Hours later, he went into a troubled sleep from which he never awoke. Anne was broken hearted and went to her death years later knowing the monarchy would pass into the hands of a distant relative. It landed (after much passing of laws to surpass approximately 50 others) with her second cousin George I. He was 41 when he discovered he was in line for the throne.

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This exhibit was titled Anne’s 18 hopes.

The second tragic story is that of Queen Victoria. She was madly in love with Albert. They were married and had a veritable gaggle of children (9)! Unfortunately, Albert died rather young, at 42, leaving Victoria mourning for the rest of her life. There were even calls for her to abdicate the throne if she couldn’t snap out of it. She wore official mourning until she passed away 40 years later. They appear to be the first royals to be truly in love.

We stepped out of the gloomy story and into the garden where we were nearly blinded by the beautiful flowers. A couple of photos are below.

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After a short trip back to the hotel to catch our breath, we decided to fast forward to World War II. The Churchill War Rooms were a startling look at underground headquarters for the core of the the British Government during WWII. How these people lived and worked, day in and day out without sunlight, without knowledge of what exactly was going on outside, is astonishing. It’s like a land-locked submarine. There were signs announcing the weather. Warm and fine, etc. We became completely enthralled with the history of Churchill and had to rush the last of the War Museum before closing. The map room is on view, complete with a graffiti version of Hitler drawn on one map, and Churchill’s bedroom, where he reportedly spent only three nights, aside from his daily hour long naps that broke up his 18-hour work days.

We may have to return to the gift shops, where I found wartime slogan magnets and posters with helpful hints like, Eat Less Bread. There was also a modern take on the Keep Calm theme that directed, Sod Calm and Get Angry.

Strange. that’s exactly my tourism philosophy.

Meanwhile, strange spottings today: one was apparently what UK buddy, Dave, refers to as a hen party. The other is a look-alike of the week. A muscular Ben Kingsley.

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LONDON DAY FIVE: THE WORLD’S A STAGE

UPDATE 1:

Sorry – I am updating with photos and more details as I get a chance. This is going to be short and sweet. I’ll add details later as it is WAY past my bedtime and we have a huge day tomorrow.

This morning, or more like noonish, we went to Buckingham Palace. State Rooms, Mews, and Gallery. Photography was only allowed outside the palace and in the gallery, so I don’t have a LOT to share, but here are a few. Loved the mews. I intend to travel by carriage from now on. My favorite was the Scottish carriage, although the Aussie version has automatic windows and a heater.

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After fighting our way through the gift shop, (chaos), we grabbed a bite to eat near The Globe and went to see The Tempest. It was absolutely breathtaking! We leaned our sore bodies against the back wall and got swept away. I’d have been even MORE swept away if the 12-year-old boy next to me wasn’t texting and tossing his plastic water bottle up in the air.

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Overall, the day was marked by the fact that Sandy was even more short-tempered than I with other tourists. New candidates for most obnoxious? Russia.

We even managed to find our way back to the Tube and to our hotel without incident. Thanks, Amy and Dave for that!

Cheers!

LONDON DAY FOUR: MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR

Exhaustion hit last night, so when some sort of alarm went off at 1:45 AM that quickly turned off again, I couldn’t be bothered. Like a cat in a bath, Sandy instantly levitated from the bed, evidently concerned about fire or some such and kept talking to me and waking me back up until I asked her to look out the window and see if people were exiting the hotel. When she reported in the negative I sank back to unconsciousness without a worry. Today we discovered an alarm in the kitchen went off, but all was fine. Which is good, because I wasn’t going ANYWHERE at 1:45 AM. Somehow in the hub-bub, our clock alarm became unset, so, had we not ordered a breakfast delivery for 7:45, we would not have awoken until the call from our delightful tour guide, Jannine.

Breaking all records for showering, make-up and hair styling, Sandy and I staggered into the back seat of the van and fell prey to the soothing tones of what can best be described as a blonde Emma Thompson. I could swear our guide sounded just like her in “Love Actually.” I just hope she introduces us to her brother, the Hugh Grant look-alike.

Our tour today was laid out in a sort of triangle. We headed for the first stop, Avebury. The village of Avebury has a ring of standing stones running right through it. Many are missing, but small pedestal type rocks mark the places where they are missing. Here, unlike Stonehenge, we are able to touch the stones. A large ditch surrounds the inner circle. These are Neolithic ruins, and the process for raising them involved a great deal of ingenuity. Also unlike Stonehenge, these stones are not shaped to specifics. They are more organic looking, as if boulders rose to stand at attention. One third of their length is buried in the ground.

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As we left the field and made our way out the gate, Sandy took a misstep. By the time I whipped around, it appeared she had tumbled head over arse down the three stone steps. I have since been informed she merely SLID. There was no flipping involved. Although slightly damaged, she bounced to her feet and carried on. Bully for Sandy! I could not have recovered with quite the aplomb.

Next stop was Glastonbury, reputed burial ground of King Arthur and Guinevere. On the way there, Jannine pointed out the hedgerows lining either side of the road and told us many are being destroyed to take advantage of as much planting field as possible. There is actually a group now named “Save the Hedgerows.” I envisioned Hugh Grant earnestly speaking to me on the telly saying, “Join me and Save the Hedgerows.” I’m in, Hugh, I’m in.

At Glastonbury we visited the thorn tree, reputedly from the crucifixion of Christ that Joseph of Aramathea planted when he stuck his staff in the ground. (Joseph was an uncle of Jesus’ and helped him carry the cross.) According to legend, the tree weeps blood at Christmas. This is confirmed by a friend of our tour guide, who claims to have a cutting. How said cutting was acquired has not been answered.

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We also saw the spot where the bodies of Arthur and Guinevere were found. The woman had long flaxen hair, but when the priests touched it, it turned to dust. They moved the remains to another spot near the high alter, where a marker sits today.

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Next, we ventured on to Stonehenge. Approximately a jillion people were in line. Buses unloaded hordes of Japanese tourists and elderlies. Jannine skipped ahead to speak with the ticket agents, purchased two passes for Sandy and me, and we happily pushed our ways through the jumble to enter the walkway that leads to the stones, no doubt cutting half an hour off our time.

Awesome is the only word to describe this mystery. TV, movies and photos do not reveal the amazing sensation of being in the presence of the stones. Every angle reveals a new perspective that must be photographed. The stones are aligned so on the day of the summer solstice and winter solstice, the sun is perfectly aligned with the structure. Jannine said the people who constructed it must have watched for two years. They are fitted together like giant Legos, with knobs on the standing stones allowing the cup of the top stones to seat. Also, the stones used were not from this area. each portion of England has very distinct strata layers and within a fifty mile radius, you could have villages and fences made of gray stone, cream colored stone, chalk, etc. These stones, which weighed tons, came from Wales and another location approximately 50 miles from the site. Why haul stone from such a distance when they could use local stone? Who knows. However, you can tell why people are not allowed to tough them anymore. The green lichen are visible on the upper most part of the stones, but are non-existent on the lower 2/3rd.

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After snapping a ridiculous amount of photos and remarking on the way the clouds in England make us strangely happy, we left for the hotel. Our assumption about the clouds is that we see so few in Texas in Summer they seem romantic and mystical now.

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To entertain us on the way back, I asked about tourist behavior. Having experienced a number of obnoxious tourists at the site, I tried to get our guide to reveal the worst country of origin in her experience. As I determined, Germans are among them, as are the Italians.

Told ya’ so.

Tomorrow we go to “Buck House,” Buckingham Palace, and on the The Globe to see The Tempest. I look forward to viewing a play by Shakespeare in the exact manner Elizabeth I would have viewed it. Unless I fall asleep, which is possible.

By the way, if you visit, make sure you get a blue badge guide. They are certified by the government. Apparently around 1,000 apply each year and they are weeded down to 200, many of whom speak multiple languages. They are graded on knowledge, entertainment, and presentation ability. It is well worth it to get a good one and maximize your experience. Sandy and I were lucky enough to be able to book ours for a private tour, but group tours are available as well.

LONDON DAY THREE: HARRY POTTER AND THE EMPTY MARKET

The A/C in our room was fixed last night, which resulted in us huddled in our respective beds and suffering temperatures equivalent to a meat locker. We buried ourselves under every blanket available, afraid to touch the controls lest we spend another night in the 5th circle of hell. Sandy caved in during the wee hours and raised the thermostat, claiming her lips were turning blue. Eventually, we thawed and awoke at 9:00 to a slightly chilled, but overall more pleasant atmosphere.

After quick showers and an attempt to erase the puffiness under our jet-lagged eyes, we met Dave and Amy on the verandah and headed to the Tube for a trip to the Borough Market, home of the much coveted and even more craved grilled cheese sandwich. I even opted out of coffee, knowing the market would be bustling with vendors.

Half an hour later, to Sandy’s crushing dismay, our little tribe arrived to find the market closed on Sunday. While it made for excellent photography of the structure, it did little for our stomachs.

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We walked along the wharf, crowded with people, eyeballing various restaurants, but the chain variety didn’t tempt us until I became sullen and cross, at which time a pizza place arose like a mirage and we dove in, hoping to appease my hunger and brighten our moods with an infusion of bread and cheese.

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After strolling until I thought my feet were bleeding, we returned to the hotel, packed up Amy and Dave, and headed back out to make our 5:00 reservations for the Warner Bros. Studio Tour – Harry Potter. This was a Sandy treat. I have to say, as an HP fan, that it was extraordinary. I’d have enjoyed it more if my feet and legs weren’t screaming at me to get off them, but it was wonderful all the same.

I am including a few pics, although Sandy has the majority. During the tour you learn how the film was shot, how much was green screen, and what was digitally created versus real. We saw the Common Room of Gryffindor, the Main Hall, the Weasley’s home and the Ministry of Magic. Also, you could jump on a broom and ride in front of the green screen as if you were playing Quidditch. Believe it or not, I did not do this, but I did enjoy watching the kids who did.

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We saw masks and amazing elevations and architectural drawings of Hogwarts and the village. At the end of the tour, you enter a giant room that has lights changing from dawn, to midday, dusk, and night over a large scale replica model of Hogwarts. It was breathtaking. The amount of work that went into the model was beyond impressive. In fact, it was a near religious experience.

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Of course, we had the usual Ann disturbances of OTHER PEOPLE, who often didn’t realize how close they came to being smacked and told to wait their turn, but overall, everyone survived unscathed.

Amy and Dave dropped us at the train, and we managed to find our way back to the hotel without incident, unless you count the reenactment of French Connection our cabbie performed through back alleys when he became annoyed with another cabbie and tried to beat him to the next intersection.

We ate a late dinner at the bar and are retiring in order to be semi-awake for our tour to the mythical stones of Avebury, Glastonbury and Stonehenge tomorrow, via our charming private tour guide. There should be much to report regarding the history of these locations. Apparently, to be rated with a blue badge, you must pass tests regarding these locations. I plan to know everything about them to tomorrow evening.

Special thanks to Amy and Dave for showing us around and making the first days of our trip so enjoyable. And for putting up with our vagaries. Everyone should have tour guides as patient and kind as these two.

LONDON DAY TWO: THE TOWER

Sandy and I were tired enough last night to go to sleep in a room that was approximately 80 degrees last night. Not exaggerating. Dave and Amy were expected by 9:30 AM to join us on a trip to The Tower. They were also responsible for deciding what sort of Tube tickets we needed for the week. After purchasing a 6 day Oyster card we made our way to The Tower, where much to our admiration of Rick Steves there was not a line to enter. Apparently being first or last to enter is the primo goal. Amy was in charge of the map, and our first destination was the Tower Jewels. Unfortunately, no cameras were allowed, so I have no photos of the crowns,p acceptors, swords and orbs that had us bouncing up and down on or toes and Dave requesting that Amy not hold up her engagement ring/ wedding and to make a comparison. This was sage advice as some of the stones were 150 carats. What we wanted to know sort was how much some of these items weighed. We finally came across a plaque that told us one of the crowns weighed 5 lbs.

After our first trek down the living sidewalk past the jewels, Amy pulled aside a Beefeater who explained which crowns were used for what to this day and which crowns Charles and Camilla would wear. We were relieved to hear the crown for the Princess of Wales was actually kept in Wales, and that out of respect, Camilla would not wear it. After breathing a sigh of relief, we made the circle and went past the jewels again as Amy recited all her new found information.

We visited the Torture chamber, the Salt Tower and the gift shop, of course. Amy was a game hostess and posed for us in several of the displays.

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We hopped onto the tail end of a Beefeater tour and entered the chapel, where seated on the pews, we heard the tragic stories of Lady Jane Grey, Anne Boleyn, and Catherine Howard, all of whom were beheaded and buried under the alter of the chapel. Once back outside, I approached the green, where the executions took place, and photographed the memorial. By some miracle, everyone moved out of my way and I snapped a shot, but you’ll notice a pair of pink tennis shoes in the frame. I prefer to think that was a playful symbol of Lady Jane, executed at age 16 and Queen for 9 days.

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We skipped the White Tower in lieu of a cheeseburger along the South Bank, but will definitely try to return later this week.

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After lunch, we made our way across Tower Bridge and back the The Tube to locate Fortnum & Mason, where we had reservations for tea, thanks to Amy. We shopped a bit and picked up some souvenirs, tried on some fascinators, and then went to tea, realizing we should not have eaten so much at lunch.

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Tea lasted about 2.5 hours. The host became our friend the moment the cameras came out to photograph everything. “Is this your first visit here?” Christopher asked. “What gave us away?” The camera laden Amy and Sandy asked.

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After tea, we walked through St. James park back to the hotel for a quick refresher and on to the local pub. (Many of which were closed on Saturday night because we are in somewhat of a diplomatic district.)

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We finally found The Sanctuary open and piled into a booth to enjoy a pint or two before returning to the hotel it’s a promise to meet in the owning, but it too early. We have plans to find the Borough market and attain cheese sandwiches by noon. A worthy goal, in my mind.

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While we were gone, housekeeping noticed the sweltering condition of our room, which led me to believe I was having constant hot flashes. The situation has been corrected and we now sleep in a refrigerator. Sandy says she will not adjust the thermostat, even if she has to buy a cost and hat. Freezing is preferred to our humid sleep of last night.

Thanks to our companions today, it feels as though we are quite at home here. Instead of a frustrating day of finding our way around, it was quite leisurely and the company was just what one would wish. We are quite lucky, I dare say, to have Amy and Dave willing accomplices to our escape.

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