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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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 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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ESTROPACOLYPSE vs. LONDON

I am rapidly approaching full panic mode. Sandy and I leave for London in 16 days. 16.

That’s barely enough time for the two panic attacks I’m anticipating.

And just to add to the fun and excitement, I am, of course, undergoing yet another ailment of some sort. (As soon as one thing gets fixed, another falls apart.)

I call it estropacolypse.

Without TMI, I have been on estrogen replacement for a few years and apparently my body has decided it no longer wants to absorb it. Therefore, I had a huge amount of estrogen floating in my blood stream just hanging out and doing nothing for me at all. Kind of like Anne Hathaway.

Unless you count the headaches, trouble sleeping, teeth grinding, hot flashes and emotional rollercoaster. And by a “huge amount” I mean more than a pregnant woman has in her first trimester. Woo hoo! Good times.

Now the level is back to almost nil and we have started a gel application instead of a pill. I have no idea what the blood count is, but I am not feeling particularly splendid. More blood work is in the works.

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At this point, if I get to London and don’t have hot flashes or want to strangle people who get in my way any more than I’m usually tempted to do, we’ll call it a win. Otherwise, we may have an international incident on our hands.

Meanwhile, Sandy has been booking even more London entertainment. We are now attending the Harry Potter Tour at the Warner Bros. Studio, London. Not on my original plan, but once it was proposed I couldn’t say no. Now we’ve even convinced our London cohorts, Dave and Amy, to go with us. (You’ll remember Dave and Amy from “A Joy-ous Occasion“)

According to the website, these are some of the things we’ll do:

• Step inside and discover the actual Great Hall.
Yes, please.

• Explore Dumbledore’s office and discover never-before-seen treasures.
NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN TREASURES. Right on.

• Step onto the famous cobbles of Diagon Alley, featuring the shop fronts of Ollivander’s wand shop, Flourish and Blotts, the Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Gringott’s Wizarding Bank and Eeylop’s Owl Emporium.
YES! I am coming home with an OWL, people!

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Because that would be the greatest souvenir ever.

Except for maybe a falcon.

Or a dragon.

Hey, I may have trouble regulating my internal temperature gauge, but I’m still just an overgrown kid.

An overgrown kid with an OWL.

BOO-YAH.