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!

 

 

 

 

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…

IS IT COLD IN HERE OR AM I OLD?

Last weekend we were invited to the opera by my in-laws. This is a big, once a year event in which they treat us to amazing seats AND spring for dinner at the Meyerson Symphony Center next door to the Winspear Opera House.This annual tradition has become one of my favorite things about Fall. This year, the performance was Carmen.

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Having never seen this particular opera before, I was shocked, SHOCKED to discover the music was familiar to me. How familiar? As familiar as the classic movie, Bad News Bears.

I had long suspected any pretense to class or high culture I possessed had come from the Merry Melodies cartoons and specifically, Bugs Bunny. Turns out I was right. “Gilligan’s Island” once featured a performance of Hamlet that made use of the famous “Toreador” aria, as well. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ll know it as soon as you hear it. This song has currently replaced “Roar” by Katy Perry as the song that haunts me day and night.

Anyway, the only unpleasant thing about attending the opera at the Winspear is the super-powered air conditioning. I mean, they must think they’re countering heatwaves from the depths of hell. Where we were sitting, and I assume it is the same throughout, there are round vents under each and every seat. These round vents create an arctic environment that comes within maybe 2 degrees of causing hypothermia.

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Everyone makes fun of women and our sensitivity to cooler temperatures as we get older, despite whatever hot flashes come with the territory. Well, I know for a FACT it was truly cold in the Winspear because even Robert confessed to his feet being ice cube-like. By intermission, my upper half was draped in my pashmina and the lower half wrapped in Robert’s suit coat. I could barely resist the urge to put my frozen, goose bumpy legs into the sleeves and wear the thing like bad pants. I had visions of recreating the scene from Star Wars where Hans cuts open the tauntaun to stay warm in the blizzard.

By the time I got home that night I had to put on a thick pair of soft, fuzzy socks, climb under the comforter, and pull the artificial bear skin throw over me. I slept that way all night and NEVER felt warm. Robert swears the house was 77 degrees, so I can only assume my blood had actually turned to an icy mixture similar to a frozen margarita, which took all night to melt.

The next time we attend the opera, we have fool-proof plans. Feel free to steal our ideas. One, bring several paper plates and a roll of duct tape. Put the plate over the vent under your chairs and the chairs in front of you. Tape in place to seal.

Two, along with the paper plate and duct tape, pack some hiking socks. Men may survive with their dress shoes and socks, but a woman in evening wear and God forbid, a strappy sandal, will lose her toes to frostbite.

Three, bring a flask of whiskey or scotch, because even if you block all four seats in your immediate area and wear your comfy socks, you will still be cold and need something to heat your blood and make you care less about losing your toes.

If none of these precautions work, you should have a St. Bernard on call. Not only will he bring booze, maybe he’ll sit in your lap for warmth.

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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 SEVEN: THE DISAPPEARING POST

Oh my GOODNESS! I was just glancing back through the London posts to try to remember what we did when. There is NO POST FOR DAY SEVEN! WTF?? I KNOW I wrote about Day 7. It was all about Hampton Court. The all day adventure. Then, the return to the pub (our home away from home) and the late night stroll to Westminster Bridge. This is totally ringing a bell for me, but I see no trace of it on the iPad, or on my laptop. If you read it and it somehow became deleted, then please ignore. Then again, this version may be vastly different from the original. After all, it’s been weeks since we did whatever it was we did.

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Let’s see. Since we were obviously on the Royal Tour, what with all the castles we’d been in, we HAD to hit Hampton Court. Plus, it’s where Henry VIII lived and where he ordered Catherine Howard’s head to be removed from her body. Like those Barbie doll heads little girls have that you can apply make-up and hairstyles to.

Anywhoo, this was about a 45 minute trip to Hampton Court via Tube and train. We had NO IDEA Hampton Court was as large as it was. OR that it had way too many people living in it at different times. Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII, William and Mary… There would have been plenty of room for all of them at once, really. The tour was possibly my favorite. No doubt due to Henry. Being in his chapel and knowing that people still worship there today was mind-blowing. Seeing the painting of his family I’d only seen in books was pretty amazing as well. Although if I had been his current wife at the time (which I THINK was Catherine?) I’d have been pretty ticked off that he put his late wife in the painting instead of me.)

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Throughout the tour, in my head, I kept saying, “Henry? Henry? Are you here? Come on, just one little sign. Pretty please?” He is obviously STILL not an accommodating monarch. I had zero goosebumps or shadow visions.

The gardens were gorgeous as well, but my feet weighed about 20 pounds each so I shuffled more than sauntered. Too late, we saw a horse-drawn carriage circling ahead of us as it took the SMART people on a tour of the garden.

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In the evening, we became desperate and daring as time was running out. Sandy wanted photos of Westminster Abbey at night and had convinced me that a ride on the Eye might be the perfect ending to Day 7. One out of two. She took some beautiful shots of Westminster from across the bridge. I took some iPhone images so as to not feel left out.

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We approached the EYE after that, but it was not accepting riders. It must have been under repair because lots of men were standing around looking at it and scratching their chins. Hey, I may be from out-of-town, but I know what it looks like when a man is hard at work. No matter where he’s from.

And thus ended Day 7. At least, as far as I can remember. I’m sure it also involved a glass of wine, a struggle with the iPad and a feeble attempt to stream photos from my iPhone to the iPad.

Someday I’ll figure out all this technology that is supposed to save us so much time but keeps me awake until after midnight while on vacation. (And then loses my post somehow.)

Now, back to real life and temperatures of 105 degrees.

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.