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 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 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 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.

LONDON, HERE WE COME!

It’s the time of year again when our hearts long for far away places. Places where no one expects us to work. Places where the only question someone asks us is, “Straight up or on the rocks?”

My friend Sandy and I are dragging ourselves to the finish line of what will be approximately 8 straight months of work without a vacation in order to experience 10 days of vacation in London. At this point, it can’t come fast enough. In my excitement, I may just kiss the terrazzo floor of terminal D at DFW Airport good bye.

Heck, who am I kidding? I could be headed on a bus tour of drainage ditches and I’d be happily waving goodbye.

Luckily, London is WAY better than what I would settle for.

calendar

As we approach the 4 week countdown, I start to wonder what I’m going to wear and how much to pack.  Then, I promise myself I won’t overpack again this year. I will be smart. I will be savvy.

I will be standing in the rain wondering why I didn’t bring a raincoat.  (Hello?  It’s England.)

rainy day

Anyway, we have devised what equates to a brilliant plan of action. And by WE, I mean Sandy. I am the one who pays scandalously little attention to the planning portion, then shows up and is surprised by what we’re doing, or irritated that it’s on the agenda for 7 AM.  It’s called passive aggressive tourism. Luckily, Sandy knows if she just hands me a glass of wine, I’ll recover instantly and tag merrily along. After all, her plans are typically without flaw.  Except that ONE TIME IN WALES WHEN SHE DIDN’T LET ME EAT UNTIL 3:00 IN THE AFTERNOON. But I’m over that and I trust her completely.  (Note to self: pack peanut butter crackers.)

We (Sandy) have some tours scheduled via guide. Other sites we will venture to on our own. As we tend to do, we also have set aside time to do absolutely nothing but wander about. We are hoping to be able to worm our way around the crowds of August, which are infamous. Knowing our luck, things could go either way. It will either be a case of perfect timing and we will slip in and out of the palaces and museums like a couple of crocs through the Everglades, or we will spend each day elbow to elbow with that most dreaded of living creatures – the tourist.  (Nevermind that we’re tourists too. We prefer to consider ourselves favored and charming guests.) That’s why we intend to enter each palace with a royal wave and perhaps a “Ta Dah!”

There are (of course) plans afoot to attend a performance at the Globe.  I believe the official “stalking of the actors” occurs immediately afterward at The Swan.

swan

Also on the agenda are visits to Avebury, Glastonbury and Stonehenge, which should do much to slake our mystical and Arthurian thirsts. Hampton Court, The Tower, Kensington, etc. will be must-sees as well. I will NOT be happy unless I see a ghost of either Henry VIII or Katherine Parr. Preferably both. Together. Chasing each other through the halls.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be delving into the tours planned and other attractions in a bit more detail. That way I may actually KNOW what I’m in for, rather than guessing.

Until then, another day, another few inches toward the finish line.

FRANCE FINIS

We made it through Versailles on the morning of Day 9. The crowds were little better. This time we did find a much shorter audio guide line, so grabbed the little phone-type device and headed into the clump of people in the history of Versailles rooms. We quickly figured out that if you waited until the audio device recording for each room stopped and you let the crowd move on en masse, you could time your viewings of each room between the group ahead and the group behind, thus minimizing the “herd” sensation. This time I took only a couple of photos and concentrated on the history.

Somehow, almost as we were exiting, we came upon another area of rooms we had not viewed before. They seemed to be a bit off the main path and not clearly marked, so they were much less crowded. We still are unable to get past the size of the palace, and can’t keep from wondering what people DID there all day. Roam around the hundreds of rooms? Stroll the gardens? Write letters? Eat? I would have put on roller skates and gone sailing down the vast corridors, around and around until I was hopelessly lost.

With a final goodbye to the palace, we tripped down the hill and back to the hotel to collect our luggage and check out. At this point, we were headed back to Paris, to Charles Gaulles Airport where we were booked at a hotel for the evening, in hopes of boarding our 8:00 a.m. flight to Frankfurt, then home. We were a little concerned because Lufthansa had already held two days of strikes, and was planning a third for Friday. Our departure was set for Thursday, and Robert prepared me for a potential “surprise” strike day that might mean we were trapped in Paris or Frankfurt. Plus, we were using “miles” for our business class seating which meant we could be bumped to make room for someone else if they decided to evacuate before the planned strike occurred the following day.

Luck was with us, and our flight crew had a good laugh at us when Robert greeted them with a relieved, “Boy, are we glad to see you.”

“You were expecting someone else?” the male flight attendant asked.

We explained our concern and they were all too happy to assure us we would make it home today. They were going from Frankfurt on to Latvia and had plans to spend the next 24 hours there. 

Without incident, we made our way through “customs” at Frankfurt and on to our D/FW flight. Lufthansa flight attendants are the absolute best. They were friendly, helpful, friendly… they seemed to enjoy their work and took pains to make us comfortable. At one point I was feeling a bit blue, as you tend to at the end of a vacation when returning to the real world. On one hand you miss home and your family and friends, but on the other, you have had a wonderful experience and are sad to have it end.

Plus, the white wines I had been offered with my in flight “lunch” were AWFUL. I was sinking into  a pit of despair, knowing I was at the tail end of my French adventure and was now trapped for my 10 final hours with mediocre to poor wine (as far as my taste buds ran) when the flight attendant told me he happened to have a bottle of something different. (They were transitioning and often change the white wines out after a few flights, I suppose.) He poured me a glass of Chateau de Rully Premier Cru, 2007. As he passed it by Robert, my nose began a happy dance. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. Creamy, smooth, vanilla and toast… Heaven.  I must have looked absolutely transported, because when next the flight attendant passed, Robert’s overhead bag was open on the seat and my new best friend slipped a bottle into it and winked at us.

As Robert drifted in and out of sleep and I watched Hysteria, Big Bang Theory, Sex and the City,  some terrible show called Enlightened, and The Avengers, we would chat a bit about the trip. Some thoughts on France:

1. We both agreed, when sitting in the crowded brasseries or restaurants, you are in such close proximity to your table-neighbors that you can hear every word of their conversations. Sitting between two such tables of people rattling on in French gives you the feeling you’ve just been dropped into the middle of a foreign film. I kept looking for subtitles to go along with the drama or laughter I heard on either side. Whether they left first, or we did, it felt as though we were walking out in the middle of a movie, or it was walking out on us – and we would never know how it turned out.   

2. France (Paris and Versailles, at least, in my experience) is no place to be physically challenged. We stumbled up and down cobblestone hills, dusty streets with steep curbs, construction zones, narrow walkways wide enough for only single file, metro stations with stairs that I swear were put there for no reason whatsoever. We climbed monuments and up and down steps at museums. Some of these places had elevators – most of which were out-of-order. At one point I turned to Robert and said, I’m glad we did this now, because I don’t see me surviving all this if we’d waited another 10 – 15 years. If I did make it through the trip at that point, once home, I’d be bed ridden for two weeks.

3. No offense, but the wayfinding signage in France is a disaster. I don’t know how to explain it, except to say there is no reason why two adults who are somewhat intelligent cannot find their way to an airport gate or out of a metro station. An arrow pointing diagonally upward and to the right should mean you veer to the right or that you go upstairs and to the right. Such is not the case. An arrow pointing to the right at a 45 degree angle should mean turn right, not “go upstairs here.”  I felt like a mouse in a maze.

4. The euro is pretty money.

5. We debated for about five days whether we loved the European license plates or thought they were silly. We settled on silly. (We were fooled briefly because they were European, which made us assume they were cool.)  

6. I don’t understand how they can wedge their tiny cars into tinier parking spots (and I heard more than a few crunches as people’s bumpers met with others’) and yet have no dents in their vehicles. I swear there is no way you could get a car out of a space without hitting the cars both in front and in back of you. All I could picture was the scene from the  Austin Powers movie when he’s trying to turn the golf cart around.  Yet, when standing at the traffic circles, I never saw a single dented car. I see them everywhere here. Maybe there’s a government program in France that fixes dents?

I think that’s about it for the France diaries. We got home safely to a very happy dog, did laundry for three days and have since satisfied our cravings for hamburgers, Mexican food and Chinese food.  I miss my morning croissant and cheese, and have returned to being a coffee drinker, rather than enjoying a less aggressive English Breakfast tea.

Au revoir, Paris and Versailles! We’ll always have these memories. And photos.