London, Day 10

Thing 1 and I are headed home today, and we’re really excited. I don’t want to make it seem as if we’re excited to go home because we were in any way unhappy with our trip — we saw so much and we had a blast! It’s a matter of it being like what Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz: There’s no place like home.

So there’s a little over seven hours of flight time left on this flight. We are currently over Greenland as I write this. Thing 1 is watching an in-flight cartoons (“Regular Show”) at his seat, having already watched a movie we loaded up onto his iPad. We’ve already been served our meal. Shades are down as people try to sleep, watch something on their seatback, or are playing with their own personal devices. It is 8 p.m. London time, and by rights I should be tired or sleepy. I didn’t sleep especially well last night, in anticipation of traveling today but also because Thing 1 kept stealing covers and hitting me in his sleep. But I am excited to return home, to see my family, and to hand out some of the gifts I picked up for them on our travels. I also prefer to think that I am not tired because I’ve already reverted back to Los Angeles time, where it is currently noon. The only thing that is really aggravating is that there is a trio of French twenty year olds behind me who are, understandably, excited for their first trip to Los Angeles. But the one sitting directly behind me keeps kicking or hitting my seat. To say it is a pain in the captain’s quarters is an understatement.

Thing 1 and I got up today, got ready, did our final packing, and went out for one last errand. We wanted to visit the London Museum of Transport gift shop and pick up a few more cool London Underground items. We still had to get a gift for Ms. Estela and my brother, who was in visiting from Denver. (He is Thing 1’s favorite uncle out of the six he has, and would be picking us up at the airport along with Mr. Rovira and Mr. T. Thing 2 is away at Girl Scout camp, so she will not be welcoming us home.) The Museum wasn’t open yesterday, otherwise we would have gone yesterday. We had just enough time to make it over there when they opened today, look around, make some purchases, have a bite to eat, and then head back to our hotel. Once there, it was cab (as I planned), train, airport … and here I am now.

I should actually try to read something; I picked up some books at the Tower of London and Westminster Palace. But the shades are all down, and it is relatively dark, and I don’t want to bug anyone.

But the next time that annoying passenger behind me kicks my seat (which should be in about a minute or two), I’m reclining my seat!

London, Day 9

Today was a lazy day. Originally, our intention was to go to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter tour outside London. I did not realize, however, that tickets could ONLY be bought in advance online. I thought it was just like Disneyland or Universal Studios, when one simply walks up to the booth and pays for the ticket. When I was doing research online at home, most locations had an option to prepay for a ticket online or pay at the venue that day upon arrival, and I though Harry Potter was like that. None had an “online” only option like Harry Potter did, otherwise I would have for sure bought the tickets. I guess this is an example of me not reading carefully enough, because for this attraction I did not purchase tickets far enough in advance. I was SORELY rankled with myself for possibly letting Thing 1’s hopes down. I tried outside ticket agencies (with some research help from Mr. Rovira from the states) and the concierge at the hotel, all to no avail. We were out of luck. Thing 1 didn’t seem as upset about it as I thought he would be; I think I was more upset. Both of us, it seemed had reached the point at which we were ready to slow down a bit and were tired of visiting two and three attractions per day. So, in the end, it was less of a disappointment than I thought it might be. To make up for my mistake, though, I told Thing 1 we’d go back to the Harry Potter Store at King’s Cross Station and I’d get him items from the store equaling the cost of a ticket to the studio tour we were missing.

So, Thing 1 and I “slept in” and didn’t actually leave our hotel room until nearly 1 p.m. Well, Thing 1 was a sleepyhead; I was up at my usual time and spent some time perusing my usual online news sources. When we finally left, our first stop was to rustle up some lunch. Since we were both desirous of food other than fish and chips, scampi and chips, sausage and mash, pastey, etc., I went online and found something to remind us of home: a Five Guys!

The most expensive Five Guys anywhere is in London!
The most expensive Five Guys anywhere is in London!

Now, Five Guys is no In-N-Out, but it was close enough, so we headed out to where it was located between Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden. It was the most expensive visit to a Five Guys I’ve ever made (£25.75, or $44.19 for just the two of us!), but it was delicious and definitely a proper American hamburger. After eating, we headed to a “funky” part of town: Camden Town. Turns out, it wasn’t so funky. It was very touristy, so after we headed up the High Street and back, we got back on the Underground and headed off to Kimg’s Cross Station and Harry Potter.

For the sensation that Harry Potter is, I expexcted a bigger store, like Disney Store sized. It was really rather small and, of course, packed. Noah settled on getting a wand, some more of “Bott’s Beans” (which are really Jelly Bellies with vile-sounding names), and a great new hoodie.

Thing 1 with his hoodie and wand from the Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 3/4
Thing 1 with his hoodie and wand from the Harry Potter Shop at Platform 9 3/4

Outside the store was a long line of people waiting to get their picture taken in Harry Potter-ish glasses and a scarf next to a sign reading “Platform 9 ¾” (for a fee). Our business being concluded, we next headed off to Paddington Station. This gave us the opportunity to ride the “pink” Hammersmith & City Line, which we hadn’t yet ridden. This is where we were going to buy the Heathrow Express train tickets to get to the airport the next day to come home. It is an quick train with no stops other than Heathrow terminals. We could have ridden a regular tube line but it would have been slower and we would have had to worry about how to get our luggage on and off trains, and in and out of tube stations — and I quite had enough of that in Paris. (Not all tube stations had escalators or elevators “lifts” for riders to use.) I wanted to buy the tickets in advance to ensure I would be ready to go and not feel flustered or stressed trying to get to the airport the next day. We would take a London black cab from our hotel to Paddington, and then the Heathrow Express from there.

Finally, Thing 1 and I left Paddington and walked south to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. This time, we were at the other side of this large park near some fountains.

The fountains at Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park
The fountains at Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park

We found a green, shady spot on a knoll overlooking the fountains and just chilled out for a while. Thing 1 played games on his iPad, and I read an ebook on mine for about an hour. The sky had big grey clouds in it, even though it had been (up to that point) almost the nicest weather we experienced there during our entire visit. I think I saw that a chance of rain was expected the day we were scheduled to leave, so that explained the clouds rolling in. Unfortunately, laying in the grass for an hour triggered a sneezing fit, and so we decided to leave for our hotel.

By this point, though, it was past 6 p.m., and so we found ourselves trying to make our way through the Underground system with all of London’s regular commuters. The Oxford Circus stop, where we needed to change lines to the Victoria line, was amazingly packed with people. Thing 1 and I were having deja vú and flashbacks to the hot, odiferous, and PACKED commutes we experienced on the Paris Métro. I loved everything about the time I spent in London, but I will NOT miss my crowded subway trips, and I am very grateful I have a straight three-mile commute to work!
Thing 1 and I chilled the rest of our night in our hotel room. He played games on the computer and I continued to read my ebook. One more wake-up and we’d be going home!

London, Day 8

Our day started off drizzly again and was only about 62.6˚ — in a word, perfect!

I was loving the weather in England. All we ever get is dry, sunny, and hot. This past winter, we hardly had any rain at all, and only a scant amount. In England, it rained on us almost every day. It was awesome.

I woke up early that morning to blog about some of the other adventures Thing 1 and I had had so far on our trip. We were off to Stonehenge later on in the day so, not only was I blogging, but I was also Yelping and Googling some possible sites to eat an early dinner or a late lunch or shops to visit in Salisbury, the town closest to the stones. I was also catching up on some of the news coming from the States, by visiting some of the online editions of Southern California newspapers.

Though Thing 1 and I had bought our tickets to Salisbury the night before on our way back to the hotel, we didn’t quite know how we were going to manage getting to Stonehenge itself. The visitor center is located about ten miles away from the train station at which we would be arriving. There was a bus that took tourists arriving at the train station to the visitor center, but when I checked online to purchase tickets for the fare, it said that one needed to make reservations twenty-four hours in advance. (The fare included admittance to Stonehenge and the visitor center.) I had no idea if they had enough tickets available for the bus to the site, or if they even sold them at the train station or if they could ONLY be purchased in advance. So that, obviously, wasn’t going to work for us. Next, I visited the official Stonehenge site, and it said that “only a limited amount of tickets” are set aside for same-day visitors! Obviously, I didn’t research that one carefully enough. So, even when I got to Salisbury on the train, and let’s say I managed to get a seat on the bus to the visitor’s center, there was no guarantee once we arrived there that we could even get tickets to go inside. Would our trip out to Salisbury be for nothing? I hoped not. We set off. By the time we set off on the train, the sun was peeking through grey skies.

I just want to say, too, that I found it curious that the U. K. is on the metric system, but some things are still measured in miles rather than kilometers. It was about 88 miles from our hotel to Stonehenge, about the same distance from Fullerton to San Diego (for comparison).

It was a nice trip by train. Thing 1 played games on his iPad as we rolled through the English countryside. I watched every mile of the scenery pass by in a blur. I found it all very beautiful, and so very different from the drought-tolerant landscaping prevalent in Southern California. It turns out that we could get tickets on the bus to Stonehenge right there in the train station. They could be purchased on site. We quickly walked to the line to purchase tickets so that we got there before the bulk of the tourist passengers on the train got there, too. A bus was leaving in about ten minutes, so we lucked out on the timing. Our fare also paid for our entrance to Stonehenge, so we never needed to worry about arriving there and not being able to see the site because the visitor’s center had run out of tickets. We were in! After we boarded the bus, I relaxed, knowing we were off to see a great and wondrous landmark. It was a sure thing now.

The bus pulled out and began its way to Stonehenge. It made its way slowly through the narrow streets of Salisbury. It was a very picturesque town — quaint and cute. Salisbury is also famous because its cathedral contains one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta from 1215. Before I knew for certain that we would be able to see Stonehenge, I reasoned that, at the very least, we would be able to visit the cathedral and see the Magna Carta. Okay, so it’s true we already saw a copy at the British Library, but . . . it’s the Magna Carta! We could see another one . . . it is such an important document. But I digress . . .

So the bus pulled out of the station and passed through Salisbury’s center. Soon, though, we were in the rolling hills surrounding the town. I saw a polo field — which we just don’t have here in California. The only polo field I know of in Southern California is outside of Santa Barbara. It just isn’t a popular sport here. I was amazed that people were actually trying to doze or sleep on the bus! How could they close their eyes to the beauty and the sights of this country? They were all tourists like me, and I just couldn’t comprehend how they didn’t want to take it all in.

Stonehenge is pretty impressive. Today, tourists are not allowed close enough to the stones to actually touch them or walk among them. (Unless you’re Barack Obama. A few weeks after we were there, he visited, and he got to go into the inner circle.) It is still amazing to see them, though. At the visitor center, they had a replica of a stone in the courtyard that tourists could stand next to, in order to gauge their true size in comparison to themselves.

This is a replica megalith in the visitor center courtyard with Thing 1 standing in front for reference.
This is a replica megalith in the visitor center courtyard with Thing 1 standing in front for reference.

It was cloudy and blustery, but it never rained. The clouds and blustery wind provided a dramatic backdrop to the stones, and Thing 1 and I sat for a while on the manicured grass surrounding them just looking at them and taking it all in.

Stonehenge . . . we made it!
Stonehenge . . . we made it!

The visitor center had displays pertaining to the people who lived in the area at the time Stonehenge was arranged, as well as theories as to how they built it.

Selfie with Thing 1 at Stonehenge!
Selfie with Thing 1 at Stonehenge!
Thing 1 with the stones in the background.
Thing 1 with the stones in the background.

Our visit concluded, we boarded the bus at the visitor’s center to begin our trip back to Salisbury and, ultimately, back to London. In Salisbury, Thing 1 wanted to stop at a Subway to get a sandwich to eat before getting on the train. We sure were eating a lot of sandwiches! I was partial to the Pret A Manger chain that was all over London. Thing 1 just isn’t a foodie like I am. Stomach full, Thing 1 had no interest in browsing through the rest of the town, and I wasn’t going to push him, so we made it back to the train station. It turns out the we had just missed a train, so we needed to wait an hour until the next one arrive. It was actually nice to just sit, read, and people watch for a bit. Eventually we made it back to Waterloo Station in London, took a bus to a stop near our hotel, and called it a day. Another item crossed off my list of things to see!

London, Day 7

I know I’m going out of order here, but . . . here goes:

Today dawned brightly sunny, actually — a change from the cloudy, drizzly weather we had been experiencing for the past few days. We didn’t need to fight our way on to any train cars first off, since our destination was right in our own neighborhood: Westminster Palace. This is where the Houses of Parliament are — the House of Commons and the House of Lords — and the famous Big Ben clock (also known as the Elizabeth Tower).

Big Ben at Westminster Palace
Big Ben at Westminster Palace

We got up just a bit earlier than usual since our tour started at 9 a.m., and directions on our tickets required us to be there at the Cromwell Green entrance gate at 8:40. Noah and I set off, grabbed a bagel and a baguette for breakfast on the run, and made it to our line to wait to be led inside. (I also got a Tropicana OJ to drink. It was “Smooth, Without Bits” which made me chuckle — that means without pulp, just the way I like it. The cashier also dropped Thing 1’s bagel, so he got another one. [He wanted me to add that.]) The streets were nice and quiet since it was so early on a Saturday morning.

Once we entered the palace, we were put through a security screening and given special lanyards to wear with visitors passes on them. We were directed to the great hall, where we met our guide. The hall is used on occasion when a visiting head of state addresses Parliament, or when someone important lies in state preceding a funeral.

Marker noting the location of Winston Churchill's casket as he lay in state after his death.
Marker noting the location of Winston Churchill’s casket as he lay in state after his death.
Markers noting the location of King George VI's casket as it lay in state after his death, and the casket of his queen, Elizabeth, several decades later. (She was the current Queen Elizabeth's mother.)
Markers noting the location of King George VI’s casket as it lay in state after his death, and the casket of his queen, Elizabeth, several decades later. (She was the current Queen Elizabeth’s mother.)

Anyway, our guide was a cheerful woman who had been a guide at the palace for twelve years. She was dressed sort of how I would dress: a dress worn with leggings and flats, and she even had purple-magenta hair! (Rather than having highlights in certain sections of her hair like mine, hers was an overall weave throughout her hair. My first impression was, “Oh! Just like Keeping Up Appearances [an old BBC show], here’s an older English woman with purple hair! But, really, she’s more than likely just a funky, cool grandma type.) She took us first into one of the House of Commons committee rooms, where smaller discussions of policy are held, but no votes taken. The chairs were upholstered in a lime green leather, which had the Houses of Parliament symbol on them, green being the color associated with the Commons. Here we were allowed to sit a bit while she gave us some history behind the palace, including how it isn’t that old of a building. Construction started early during the reign of Queen Victoria, after the earlier Palace of Westminster (home to kings up to Henry VIII) burned down. So, it is actually “newer” than our own U. S. Capitol Building in Washington, D. C.! Queen Victoria never intended that it be used as a palace to live in, nor was it ever used as a church, despite all the stained glass. That’s what Westminster Abbey was for, literally right across the street!

Moving on, we went to the hallway and steps that the Queen walks up when she comes to Westminster Palace for the State Opening of Parliament each year. (I show my students a video clip of this each year, so it was awesome to be standing in the exact location and seeing it for myself.) We then “followed” the path she would take if we were her and preparing to enter the House of Lords. She first goes into a Robing Room, and here she puts on her crown (which we saw in the Tower of London) and her red cloak. She spends about ten to fifteen minutes in here. It has high ceilings and is covered with paintings detailing scenes from the tales of King Arthur. There are also wooden reliefs of Arthurian scenes carved in English Oak below the paintings. Our guide told us that Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, headed an arts commission that decorated the palace. Each room had different themes, and the theme for this room was chosen because the Arthurian legends were some of Victoria’s favorites. Also, the paintings all illustrate some value like Honesty or Bravery, which he thought a monarch might like to be reminded of before entering the House of Peers and going “on stage” and playing his or her role. (I could not take pictures of any of this, as photography was prohibited.)

From there, the Queen moves into a large room, which is sort of like a House of Lords “lounge” room. It is large, and it has seats and tables set aside for peers to sit in to take a break from the actual House Chamber. They could catch up on reading in here before a vote, for example, or network with other peers. All of these seats and tablecloths are in red, as that is the color of the House of Lords. (We were not allowed to sit in these seats.) The art included in this room was of paintings done of the monarchs at the time of their coronation, so there was a lovely portrait of the current Queen in her youth on the wall next to one of her father, King George VI. This is also the room that functions as a sort of “receiving line” room for those lucky enough to be invited to an opening of Parliament.

From there, the Queen enters one more room before actually entering into the House of Lords. I loved the art theme of this room, as the theme was The Tudors — Henry VIII and his relations. There were paintings on the wall there of him, his six wives, his children, his cousins, his grand-nephew, James (who would succeed his second daughter, Elizabeth, as monarch), and more. These paintings were all completed by students, believe it or not, back in the day, not famous painters. The students had to research what his or her subject looked like according to primary source documents of the time, and create the painting based on that.

Then it was time to enter the House of Lords. The seating is “adversarial” which means that opposing sides face each other rather than sitting in the round or in a horseshoe shape. Again, the benches that lords (aka peers) sit at is upholstered in red leather, and there are not enough for all of them. (For larger sessions, or when a head of state is visiting, the hall where we entered is readied to hold a larger capacity.) There is an upper viewing gallery, which peers may also sit in when finding a seat down below is difficult. The chair that the Queen sits in is present in the room, as is the one her heir sits in, which today is Prince Charles. Prince Philip’s chair wasn’t there, but he sits in one slightly (ever so slightly) smaller than the Queen’s and right next to her at State Openings. From her seat, the Queen reads her speech, which was never actually written by her. The Prime Minister (and his party) writes it, and she must read it exactly as it is written. Exactly! She is not allowed to skim ahead and skip over the parts she personally doesn’t agree with!

Interestingly, from where the Queen sits, it is possible to look directly through the building to the opposite end (providing all doors are open) to where the Speaker of the House of Commons sits in the Commons chamber. This was done very intentionally, I believe, and it is very symbolic. Because, as important as she is, the Queen has no power. She is a ceremonial figurehead, and the real running of the country takes place in the House of Commons. She may not even enter the House of Commons, nor any member of her family. Police (considered agents of the monarch) who provide security at the palace, are not even allowed to enter the Commons chamber while they are in session.  The Commons has a special Sergeant at Arms who, with others, provides security. It may appear that the Commons and the Lords are in opposition to each other — and the layout of the building might suggest this — but they also both work together to run the country.

It was time to switch the focus of our tour, then, to the Commons. When the Queen is situated in her chair, she nods to a man waiting in the central hall between the two chambers — called the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, or just Black Rod — and this indicates to him that it is time to summon the House of Commons to the House of Lords to hear the reading of her speech. (Just a few of the elected MPs [Members of Parliament] can actually fit into the space allotted to them at the back of the House of Lords, and they are expected to stand. The Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition party are always at least two of those there for the reading of the speech. According to our guide, the rest veer off and out into one of the numerous bars or pubs in the area for a celebratory drink.)

Anyway, as Black Rod makes his way to the House of Commons chamber, the door is actually slammed shut in his face. It is a ceremonial snubbing of the House of Lords, to show that, for all of the grandeur that is in the House of Lords (including the monarch), it is really the Commons that runs the show. He raps on the door three times with his black rod. We could really see the indentation in the door from years and years of this happening! It was awesome as, once again, I show this to my students, so to see the actual divot in the door was amazing. (This was one of Thing 1’s favorite things to see, too.) The door opens, and he delivers the Queen’s summons to join she and the other peers in the House of Lords; the MPs then shamble on over making a raucous noise as they go, until they enter the other chamber to hear the speech.

The House of Commons is also set up in an adversarial style, with the majority party always sitting to the Speaker’s right hand. The opposition party sits to his left. The major leaders from each side always sit in the first row of benches; members with less seniority, or from minority parties, sit in the benches behind and are called “back benchers.” There is a large table in the middle, on which are two boxes, called dispatch boxes, with microphones in front of them. When the prime minister (or the opposition leader) gets up to speak, he or she may lean on the box as s sort of podium. In the middle of both boxes, at the end of the table, there is usually a large gold mace. Sessions can not be held unless the mace is there. (It was not there when we visited, of course, because it was Saturday, and there were no scheduled sessions.) The mace is a symbol that the monarch has given up his or her power to the Commons. If it is not present, business cannot take place. It is the only essence of the monarch allowed. As with the Lords chamber, there is a viewing gallery in the back, and anyone may come to watch debate taking place. There’s much less room available, though, than is available in our capitol building for constituents.

From there our tour ended and, because we started earlier than most mornings, we had a lot of time to spend before museums and shops closed at six. We went back to the hotel to figure out what we wanted to do and how to get there. I used the Yelp and CityMapper apps to help us with this. We finally settled upon a place near the National Gallery called The Lord Moon of the Mall (crazy name!), which was close to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. When we got there it was packed, and one needed to pounce upon a table as soon as one saw a table open up. It just so happened that another duo wanted a table at the same time as Thing 1 and I, so we ended up sharing. The couple that we shared the table with were Sicilian, and one spoke more English than the other. In English pubs, once one secures a table, the next step is to head to the bar to actually place the order and get drinks. Don’t wait for a server to come around to take the order. I told the bartender which table we were sitting at (No. 55), and our food arrived pretty quickly after. Noah ordered a “classic hot dog” which was really more like a large sausage in a bun calling itself a hot dog. But Noah was happy with it and ate nearly every bit of it. I ordered a typical English meal (sausage and mash, which is mashed potatoes with some sausages on top, gravy, and green peas).

Thing 1's "classic" hot dog, which was really a large sausage calling itself a hot dog.
Thing 1’s “classic” hot dog, which was really a large sausage calling itself a hot dog.
My "bangers and mash" which was actually pretty good! (Sausages with mashed potatoes, gravy, and peas.)
My “bangers and mash” which was actually pretty good! (Sausages with mashed potatoes, gravy, and peas.)

We had nice conversation over our meal with the Sicilians and then we parted ways. Noah and I headed off to the National Gallery so that I could view a few choice paintings.

Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, dedicated to Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, the victor of the Battle of Trafalgar, fought against the French (and Spanish) during the Napoleonic Wars. It was a victory for the English, but Nelson was shot and died shortly after the win.
Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, dedicated to Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, the victor of the Battle of Trafalgar, fought against the French (and Spanish) during the Napoleonic Wars. It was a victory for the English, but Nelson was shot and died shortly after the win.
Thing 1 and I at Trafalgar Square, which is directly in front of the National Gallery.
Thing 1 and I at Trafalgar Square, which is directly in front of the National Gallery.

The National Gallery is nowhere near as large as the Louvre, thankfully. They have The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck, which I talk about in my history class when we get to discussing Northern Renaissance artists. I got to see it in person, along with Van Gogh’s sunflowers and a painting by Seurat. I think I’ve decided Seurat is my favorite painter. My favorite of his, Sunday Afternoon at the Grand Jatté, is in Chicago, but similar paintings with scenes and the style nnsimilar to that one were at both the National Gallery and at the art museums we visited in Paris. Thing 1 was NOT excited to visit another gallery, but he humored me so I could see these great ones.

Our final stop of the day was the Museum of London. We hopped on the Number 23 bus, drove past St. Paul’s Cathedral, and headed toward the museum. This museum told the history of just London, from its pre-Roman settlements, clear through to the 20th and 21st centuries. We had to speed through the very ending section of the museum in order to visit the gift shop, which was closing shortly. Thing 1 got a Mind The Gap London Underground t–shirt and I got an umbrella with a map of the Underground on it. (I don’t have my own umbrella at home, and supposedly we’re going to have a wet winter with El Niño? Who knows, but I’m ready!) I love the Underground logo. It’s simple, moddish, and overall esthetically pleasing to me.

Since we had a big lunch, neither of us was hungry. We stopped by the train station (Waterloo) to buy the train tickets we’d need to get ourselves out to Stonehenge. That is our destination for Sunday, 13 July. It is necessary to take a train to Salisbury, and then take a bus to the Stonehenge visitors site, which is approximately 10 miles outside of town. Train tickets were some of the most expensive so far! It cost £56 (about $95.86) round trip, on a Sunday (off-peak). Even the tickets to Canterbury (almost same distance) cost only £26 (about $44.51). I didn’t ask why. The ticket sellers have been less than cheery here. Not mean or rude, really, but just not chirpy. I imagine they get sick of dealing with stupid questions from myriads of tourists like me. There must be some good reason. That settled, we hit the McDonald’s for a soft serve cone, jumped on the 507 bus, and headed back to the hotel — another successful day! (Which, by the way was our warmest this week with a whopping high of 80.6 F, or 27 C.)

London, Day 2 (Part 1)

Though we were tired, Thing 1 and I could not dawdle when we woke up for Day 2 of our time in England. Today, we were going to spend a little bit more of a relaxed day with dear friends of my aunt’s, Ms. Sue and Mr. Tony. But, we had a train to catch and a time that we were due to arrive in Guildford, Surrey, and I didn’t want to be late!

I got up and began to get ready while Thing 1 was a slug and wouldn’t get out of bed. I watched the BBC’s version of  “Good Morning America” or the “Today” show while I got ready. Just as they do morning traffic in Los Angeles, and tell viewers which freeways are already congested or are suffering from a “sig alert” because of an accident, the BBC gives updates on whether or not all of the Underground trains are running on time. They also gave an update of train service in the Chunnel . . . and it was down. There were delays (and some routes were just plain cancelled) due to a broken down train. It made me SO HAPPY we did not experience that on our way to London just two days previous. That would have stressed me out. I was SO READY to be in England, and to have been told that I couldn’t get there as I had planned . . . ugh.

So once Thing 1 and I got done getting ready, I sent an email to Ms. Sue and Mr. Tony to let them know we were on our way. Though I had a mobile number at which I could reach them, I hadn’t yet had success calling from my U. S. phone to a French or English number. Even when I was in Paris and tried calling home to Mr. Rovira’s U. S. phone, I didn’t have success. I didn’t want them to get to the Guildford station too early! To get started on our journey, Thing 1 and I needed to head to London Waterloo station. Like Kings Cross or Victoria station, this is a large hub that caters to rail, underground, and busses. It was south of our hotel, about a mile across the Thames River. Thing 1 and I hopped on a bus at Horseferry Road and went across the Lambeth Bridge to the station. This was our first red double-decker bus ride! 🙂 Since we didn’t need to go far, we didn’t actually go on to the upper level . . . next time, perhaps.

We would be traveling on the first off-peak  train to Guildford, about 30 miles southwest of London. Even though Thing 1 and I were not traveling during the peak morning commute hours, Waterloo Station was still plenty busy. It is one of the busiest in London and in Europe (in the top 20, I read). We headed to the ticket counter to purchase our tickets and then headed to the platform concourse area to look for our train and the platform from which we would embark. It is a big difference to be at Waterloo Station where there are 19 platforms, as compared to our Fullerton train station where there are only two! I was worried we would get on the wrong train; we checked and double-checked, and for good measure we asked someone who was standing nearby just to be sure we were going to get on the correct one. I had not seen Ms. Sue or Mr. Tony for more than 25 years, so I wanted to make a good impression by being on time in the right spot — not by being a featherbrained tourist who couldn’t make heads or tails of a train schedule. The train ride itself was pleasant; I don’t get a lot of opportunities to ride the train here in the U. S. We have cars, so we use those as our primary form of transportation. I did spend some of the time on the train attempting to figure out how to call a U. K. number from my U. S. phone just to try to keep Ms. Sue updated. As we passed through towns on our way to Guildford, my service sometimes worked and sometimes dropped out, so it made trying to send a text or a call somewhat frustrating. I finally managed to send a successful text when we were one station out from Guildford.

We got off the train and made our way to the entrance of the rail station. I was on the lookout for friends I had not seen since I was about Thing 1’s age: 12 or 13. I was hoping none of us had changed so much we would be unrecognizable; luckily, that was not the case. Ms. Sue and Mr. Tony looked just as I remembered them! Mr. Tony was kind enough to put the washing that Thing 1 and I brought along with us into the car, while Ms. Sue took Thing 1 and I on a small walk through Guildford to see a few key sights. Mr. Tony was going to meet up with us at a bridge that crossed the River Wey. Guildford has a connection to Lewis Carroll, of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland literary fame. Near the station in a leafy party is some statuary to commemorate Alice and the rabbit that makes up a big part of the plot of the book. In one part of the park is a statue of Alice and her sister reading;

Alice and her sister, reading, as depicted in Alice in Wonderland, the novel by Lewis Carroll.
Alice and her sister, reading, as depicted in Alice in Wonderland, the novel by Lewis Carroll.

a few feet away is a small statue of a rabbit seemingly jumping into a rabbit hole.

The rabbit jumping down the hole!
The rabbit jumping down the hole!

Lewis Carroll died in Guildford, at a home he bought for some of his spinster sisters, and he is also buried in Guildford. By this point, Mr. Tony had met up with us and we continued to walk through Guildford some more. We made our way closer to the ruins of Guildford Castle and the home that Carroll bought for his sisters.

The house that Lewis Carroll bought for several of his sisters to live in. They never married and he helped support them, as was the custom of a male relative at the time.
The house that Lewis Carroll bought for several of his sisters to live in. They never married and he helped support them, as was the custom of a male relative at the time.

In a small park, within sight of the house (privately owned today), is another statue with reference to  Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. This one depicts Alice actually moving through a looking glass.

Alice . . . Through the Looking Glass
Alice . . . Through the Looking Glass
Another view of Alice
Another view of Alice
The front view of Alice, going through the looking glass.
The front view of Alice, going through the looking glass.

As far as the house is concerned, Mr. Tony intimated that historians and conservationists hope that when it comes up for sale again, it can be bought and made into a museum for all to enjoy.

We continued on to see a bit more of Guildford (and more of Surrey!) . . . more about that in the next post!

London, Day 1

The alarm went off on my iPhone urging Thing 1 and I to wake up, but I put it into “snooze” mode for a bit because we just weren’t quite ready to get up. After about two cycles through “snooze” I finally got up to get ready, turning on the television as I dried my hair and put on some make up. (There was no point to turning on the TV in France because we wouldn’t have understood a thing that was said.) In London, that was a different story; that and Thing 1 thought I was joking when I said the channels are named “BBC 1,” “BBC 2,” “BBC 3,” and so on. He could see that I wasn’t joking. Eventually I told Thing 1 to get up and start getting dressed, too, because today we were off to be time travelers!

What do I mean? Our first stop was to head to Greenwich, the site of the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian, 0˚ longitude — the point at which the world is divided into a western and an eastern hemisphere. It is along the Prime Meridian line that Thing 1 and I could be in the past (the western hemisphere), the future (the eastern hemisphere), and the present all at the same time. How cool was that! First things first . . . we had to get travel tickets for our trips on London’s Underground, busses, and trains.

We headed off to the nearest Underground station, which was Pimlico, about a half-mile away from our hotel. On the way we passed the Tate Britain, an art museum. There was a sign — that I didn’t read too carefully — that had “Pimlico and a ½“ on it. I assumed it meant that the station was ½ kilometer away, but Thing 1 (who was proving to be a much better navigator than I was), said, “It is only ½ mile, Mom!”

ME: “No, they use metric measurements here so it probably is only ½ kilometer away!”

THING 1: “No, Mom, it says ½ mile!”

ME: “Oh, so it does!”

(Interestingly, though the English use metric measurements for temperature, they use Imperial measurements for distances. I never figured out why.)

So we walked on toward Pimlico, but instead of taking a left to cross the street where we should have to get to the station, we got distracted and continued to walk straight. Eventually we found ourselves at an even bigger station, Victoria. Victoria Station is a major Underground, Rail, and bus transportation center. It was PACKED, or so I thought. It was a Sunday; I wondered what it would be like when we visited later on during the week when regular work commuters would be buzzing in and out. Since I knew that my credit card wouldn’t work in one of the self-serve kiosks, we got in line to actually purchase what we needed from a real, live person. I ended up getting an Oyster card and, because it was cheaper for Thing 1 to get a daily Travelcard, I got him two of those to last the next few days. (We would be getting the London Pass in a few days, which provided skip-the-line admission to the most popular London tourist spots and travel for each of those days). The Oyster card was like a credit card, and I merely had to “tap” it or “slap” it on the Underground turnstile as I entered a station and to tap it or slap it upon leaving a station. The proper fare would be automatically deducted from the amount I had pre-paid onto the card. And, once I reached £7.70 for the day it would “top off,” not charging me any more that day, regardless of how often I got on the Tube or a bus.

We took the Tube from Victoria to the Tower Hill stop. From there, we had to transfer from the Tube to the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). We would travel on the DLR from Tower Hill to the Cutty Sark stop in order to reach Greenwich. It was pleasant, and we got to see more of London than we would have had we been below ground.

After getting off at the proper exit, we began our walk to the Royal Observatory. Our guidebook estimated it was a twenty minute walk through the town of Greenwich and the park surrounding the observatory to get to the Prime Meridian. Everything was well-marked, so we knew exactly how to get there. Here’s the other thing that Thing 1 and I were noticing about London: There are signs everywhere telling visitors how far away a sight is (or a Tube stop) both in mileage and minutes, and in which direction. There is always a Transport for London (TfL) worker at the turnstile to help with any problems someone may have as they make his or her way through the turnstile. I would have loved for someone to be at the turnstile in Paris when I first ran in to problems getting to our hotel from the airport, when Thing 1 and I were separated for a tense five or ten minutes. There was always a manned ticket counter to purchase tickets or to ask questions. I much preferred traveling public transport in London compared to Paris. That, and the Tube cars were so much cleaner!

We passed a store with souvenir-ish items that I thought we could revisit on the way back to the Tube station on our way back to London. I had to start thinking of small trinkets we could bring back home to Mr. T, Thing 2, and our other close family. Walking on, we passed the National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House. We also observed that outside of these landmarks, filming of something was occurring. Power cables criss-crossed the ground, parts of the sites were fenced off, there were catering trucks about, big filming lights set up . . . we didn’t see any famous actors or actresses, but it was clear this was a high-budget operation. Greenwich Park itself is huge, and people (families, couples, singletons) were enjoying the mild weather and sunshine.

The Royal Observatory (as seen from the Queen's House and National Maritime Museum).
The Royal Observatory (as seen from the Queen’s House and National Maritime Museum).

The Royal Observatory sat atop a hill, its distinctive weather vane clearly visible in the distance.

The distinctive weather vane atop the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
The distinctive weather vane atop the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

The guidebook informed us that the observatory sat at the top of a steep hill. It was steep — it reminded me of the hill I have to ascend at the end of my run on the trails that surround Fullerton. I HATE that hill . . . why did I have to face one like it on my vacation? But I wanted my picture at the Prime Meridian, so up we went. (What does not kill me makes me stronger, eh?)

Thing 1 and I paid for our admission and went first to the Meridian Courtyard to get in line to take our pictures along the Prime Meridian. As I waited in line, Thing 1 explored some of the exhibits in the buildings that surrounded the courtyard. Meanwhile, I watched various tourists take their pictures along the meridian line with one foot in the western hemisphere and one foot in the eastern one. Boring! When Thing 1 came back to wait with me in line, I told him that he had to do something campy and fun with his pose, to be different. When our time finally arrived, he took my words to heart by lying on the ground across the meridian line.

Thing 1 and his cheeky pose at the Prime Meridian line at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
Thing 1 and his cheeky pose at the Prime Meridian line at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

This amused the rest of the tourists that were in line behind us, so much so that many of them ended up taking photos of Thing 1 in addition to the ones they would take of themselves. A very nice family from Italy in line behind us took photos of both Thing 1 and I together, too.

Thing 1 in a more traditional photo at the Prime Meridian.
Thing 1 in a more traditional photo at the Prime Meridian.

By the time we were finished with our photos, Thing 1 went back looking at some of the exhibits and my attention was caught by an actor in 18th century period dress putting on a small performance in the center of the courtyard. He was telling the story of the longitude problem — how difficult it was to calculate it and how it was such a big problem in history that the monarch sponsored a contest to solve it. At one point, he called out to the crowd, “And does anyone know who finally solved the problem?”

I did! I yelled out, “John Harrison!” and the actor congratulated me on my smarts, bid me take a bow (so I did), and continued on with the tale. Another American tourist looked over at me and state/asked, “You’re a teacher, huh?” to which I replied that I was. Yes, I am a smarty pants when it comes to things like this.

After my moment of glory, Thing 1 and I finished looking at the exhibits before exiting the observatory and heading back down the hill into Greenwich Park. As we made our way through the park we saw a dachshund-walking club; there were about twelve to fifteen dogs walking through the park with their owners. (They are called “sausage” dogs there.) There was one lone lab mix that was tailing the group and along for the walk.

The Queen's House and the park in Greenwich, as seen from the Royal Observatory. One can see London in the background.
The Queen’s House and the park in Greenwich, as seen from the Royal Observatory. One can see London in the background.

We stopped in quickly at the touristy store to get Mr. T a gift. He really loves die-cast cars, so we ended up getting him a red double-decker bus, and a traditional black London cab. I stuffed it in my backpack as we walked into the DLR station to make our way back to London. Our next stop was very touristy — Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.

Yes, I know they have one near us in Hollywood. They even have one in Las Vegas and in San Francisco. (I haven’t been to any of them.) But the location in London is the original, so how could we pass it up? Our tickets were timed, so as long as we arrived between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. (or 16:30 and 17:00, since they use 24-hour time over there), we were in! (For the record, we arrived at 16:45.) I was unprepared for just how close visitors could get to the wax models. I knew we would be able to look at them; I didn’t know we could touch them and pose with them! This was going to be fun.

The first room is all Hollywood stars with flash strobes going off, as if we were walking the red carpet. The majority of stars on display are English, with a few Americans thrown in, as well as Bollywood stars, too. Thing 1 took his picture with Helen Mirren and I took my picture with Colin Firth (the best Mr. Darcy in my opinion).

Me with Mr. Darcy!
Me with Mr. Darcy!

We also took pictures with Johnny Depp,

Acting cool with Johnny Depp!
Acting cool with Johnny Depp!

George Clooney, and Morgan Freeman

Thing 1 with Morgan Freeman
Thing 1 with Morgan Freeman

before moving on into another part of the museum. Thing 1 snapped my picture with the current James Bond Daniel Craig and I snapped his picture with Arnold Schwartzenegger as Terminator.

We took this pic of Thing 1 with John "The Duke" Wayne for Daddy.
We took this pic of Thing 1 with John “The Duke” Wayne for Daddy.

As we progressed through the museum, we encountered famous athletes like Tiger Woods and David Beckham. (Beckham was in the museum twice, as a matter of fact.) There was, of course, a whole wing devoted to royalty, so I made sure to have my picture taken with Princess Diana, the Queen Mum,

Me with the Queen Mum!
Me with the Queen Mum!
Queen Elizabeth II's mom, also named Elizabeth, and referred to affectionately as the Queen Mum.
Queen Elizabeth II’s mom, also named Elizabeth, and referred to affectionately as the Queen Mum.

and Harry, Camilla, and Prince Charles. I took photos of Henry VIII,

King Henry VIII, father of Queen Elizabeth I.
King Henry VIII, father of Queen Elizabeth I.

Queen Elizabeth I, and Queen Mary. (As for how Madame Tussaud’s was able to create these models, they must have had to rely on historical accounts of their appearances. For today’s modern wax models, the process to create the wax figure is extremely precise and exacting. I saw a whole documentary on it once.) The museum charged to have one’s picture taken with the Queen, Prince Phillip, Prince William, and Kate, so we passed on that, but I was able to take a great photo of the four of them by themselves before other tourists entered in the scene for their shot.

The current queen, Queen Elizabeth II.
The current queen, Queen Elizabeth II.

As we went further into the museum, we were able to take our pictures next to famous artists and scholars like Albert Einstein,

Thing 1 perplexed by Einstein's equations . . .
Thing 1 perplexed by Einstein’s equations . . .

Isaac Newton,

Studying a prism with Isaac Newton!
Studying a prism with Isaac Newton!

and Vincent Van Gogh,

Thing 1 getting cheeky with the wax figure of Vincent Van Gogh.
Thing 1 getting cheeky with the wax figure of Vincent Van Gogh.

as well as musicians like The Beatles,

Thing 1 with the Beatles!
Me with the Beatles!

Lady Gaga, and more. We saw Justin Bieber there, so we took a picture of him but mocking him (because he’s a punk and an idiot). They did have a section of the museum set up with wax figures of world leaders, like the current British Prime Minister David Cameron. Also there were Angela Merkel (Germany), Vladimir Putin (Russia), and François Hollande (France). I took Thing 1’s picture next to Barack Obama,

Visiting the Oval Office (in London) and sitting on President Obama's desk!
Visiting the Oval Office (in London) and sitting on President Obama’s desk!

but we both agreed that Barack Obama really didn’t look like Barack Obama. Most of the other wax statues though were indescribably real looking. The museum also had world leaders that have passed, including Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., President John F. Kennedy, and Winston Churchill. The museum even had a Marvel Comics section, a little multi-sensory show, and a small ride giving visitors a history of London. All in all, it was an awesome way to spend a few hours!

It was Sunday, though, and when we came out we were hungry for a good meal. Sundays in England (for a lot of people) mean a roast, gravy, peas, potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding. I wanted that traditional Sunday experience, or as close to it as I could get. Before we left the hotel for the day, I researched a few places to eat. I settled on a place called The Albany, which was not too far from Madame Tussaud’s. We sat down at a table, since no one was there acting as host or hostess and telling people where to sit. And we sat. We sat some more. No one was coming to our table. (I am used to the American tradition of a server coming to your table to take your order, but that wasn’t how it was done in London pubs.) I asked Thing 1 what he wanted, and then I went up to the bar to order our food and drinks. Thing 1 ordered fried chicken with onion rings and lemonade. I ordered my traditional Sunday roast dinner and a good ale. The music was awesome, our food was delicious and everything I wanted. I was a very happy camper.

Our Sunday dinner in London . . . delicious!
Our Sunday dinner in London . . . delicious!

Thing 1 and I were beginning to suspect, though, that lemonade in London (and Paris) isn’t what lemonade is in the U. S. — it is actually just 7-Up. I was sure this would be just one of many cultural differences we’d observe during our time here.

Our first full day in London was awesome! There was so much left to see, though, in the days ahead. Tomorrow, we were going to spend a day with old friends, Ms. Sue and Mr. Tony, and get to see a bit of England outside of The Big Smoke (London).

Getting to Paris, Part 2

Installment 2

So it is 3 a.m. in the morning here in Paris, and I’ve been awake since about 1 a.m. In California, it is only about 6 p.m., so maybe (after a nap) that’s why I am wide awake. Or maybe I’m still thrilled and excited to be here and can’t wait to get started on my day. I did make a good effort to lie still and try to go back to sleep, but I finally gave up.(Thing 1 is sleeping soundly, though.) I was going to try to read up on some of the locations we were going to visit today, but the wifi here is spotty, and my iPad mini doesn’t seem to want to “join” it as easily as my iPhone, but I don’t want to read on my iPhone. (sigh) First World Problems, I know. Hence, I am catching up on my writing.

Anyway, getting to our connecting flight and going through that security checkpoint at Heathrow once we landed was very easy. Once we were through the checkpoint, we had a bit of time to kill before the flight information for our flight to Paris was put on the board. I got Thing 1 and I sandwiches at Starbucks, some water, and a hot chocolate for Thing 1. We leisurely ate it and people watched.

Our flight to Paris was noneventful, thank God! We got to see the northern coast of France and the countryside outside of Paris before we landed.

The English coastline from our plane window
The English coastline from our plane window
The French coastline from our plane window
The French coastline from our plane window

As we landed, we got to see the Eiffel Tower! It is so amazing to see it in person after seeing pictures of it my entire life. Likewise, the same was true when we were landing in London. We flew in over London from the east, so we could see the Thames, as it wound it’s way through the city. From above, we could see major sights like Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. We will be staying very close to that when we make our way back to London on Saturday evening.

So, once we landed, the next milestone to encounter was to discover whether or not our luggage actually made it all the way from home. And . . . it did! We grabbed it, proceeded to get our passports stamped (woo hoo!), and then continued from there on to customs. I was very disappointed (I guess?) to find there was no one present to rifle through my luggage and ask me questions. I’ve read about this happening and taking hours, but no one even checked our luggage tags. Oh well! I know we’re lucky not to have had to be put through the trouble, but I feel somewhat deprived of a “traditional” touristy experience.

Our next stop at the airport was a tourist desk. It was manned by a gentleman named Laurent who spoke English and was very helpful to me in procuring my Paris Museum Pass, and tickets on the train & Métro to the area of Paris in which our hotel is located. Most everyone took the same route we did into Paris. I was worried that we would be bugging other riders lugging around our suitcases, but so many other riders had them, too, that I felt at ease where that was concerned. We did have trouble, though, once we had to change lines. We needed to transfer on to the RER B line, and we needed to proceed through a “sortie” with our ticket and luggage. Thing 1 put his ticket through, it popped up validated, and he went through the turnstile with his suitcase. I tried the same thing, and . . . it wouldn’t let me pass! I got panicked knowing that Thing 1 was on one side of the turnstile, and I was on another. I frantically looked around, and found another kiosk to possibly purchase another ticket and try to get through the turnstile again. I tried initiating a purchase of another ticket, but even though I chose for the machine to assist me in English, the keypad instructions to complete the purchase were in French. I tried to reason out what the instructions were saying, but each time it denied my purchase attempt. I tried three times, each time with a different credit card for the purchase. I don’t know if it denied my purchase attempts because my credit cards prevented the purchase, thinking it was a fraud attempt (even though I notified them before I left that I would be traveling), or if my U. S. credit card was incompatible with the more sophisticated European systems. Probably it was the latter.

Anyway, I started to get anxious knowing Thing 1 was waiting for me. Looking around, I also saw no one manning the station who could assist me! I could have purchased tickets using Euros, which I did have in my wallet, but the kiosk wanted coin Euros and I only had paper Euros. I started sweating and growing a little more panicked, when finally an attendant (who spoke English) showed up who helped me. Yes! Thing 1 and I proceeded to transfer to the next line. It was VERY crowded and NOT air conditioned. And not everyone wore deodorant, and so I contined to sweat, packed in like a sardine with Thing 1 on our Métro train. We traveled a ways down the line closer to the heart of the city. It got a little less crowded as we got closer to the stop we needed. We got off and needed to transfer to one more line. This meant passing through another “sortie” and instantly I grew nervous again. Just like last time, Thing 1 got through with no issues and I was stranded on the other side feeling chagrined and frustrated. I insterted my ticket through the kiosk twice before it inexplicably opened up. Thing 1 yelled at me to go through, so I did, but then we were able to get help at a manned desk on the other side as this station was a huge hub. I did NOT want that to happen again! (We were still dripping in sweat, too.)

Finally, we reached our last stop, the one near our hotel. There were no escalators at this stop so we had to lug our luggage upstairs, causing us to sweat even more. We managed to get to the street, orient ourselves, and walk about a quarter of a mile to our hotel. Check in was swift! We got in the TINY elevator, made it to our room, connected with wifi to let our loved ones know we were settled, and then proceeded to take showers to wash the sweat away. Despite it being nearly 9:45 p.m., it was only JUST beginning to get dark. We knew we needed to get to bed, though, so we enjoyed the view outside our room for just a bit before getting into bed for the night.

A panoramic photo of the view outside our hotel room window. There was a nice park down below!
A panoramic photo of the view outside our hotel room window. There was a nice park down below!

We needed to be up bright and early to visit the Eiffel Tower in the morning. Also on tap for Thursday included getting a “Paris Visitte” Métro pass to make traveling a lot less frustrating, the Musée de l’Armée (including the tomb of Napoleon), the Musée d’Orsay, and (possibly) the Arc de Triomphe. I had originally hoped to vist the Arc de Triomphe once we got settled at our hotel, since it stays open until 11 p.m., but we were just too sweaty and feeling gross to make it happen. So, we’ll get to it soon.

Nevertheless, we are thrilled to be here! I’ll check back in soon!

Getting to Paris, Part 1

Well, this has been a freakin’ long flight. We’ve got just under two hours to go, and I am getting antsy to land. Currently, Thing 1 and I are flying over the North Atlantic, due south of Reykjavik, Iceland.

Our flight trajectory
Our flight trajectory

Our flight path has taken us northeast from LAX, past Las Vegas and Denver, up through the eastern coast of Canada. Then, we contined northeast until we were roughly even with the southern tip of Greenland, before veering slightly to the southeast toward Ireland and, eventually, London. We hit uncomfortable turbulance over the Rockies . . . well, uncomfortable for me. I prefer none! Then, Thing 1 and I managed to sleep a bit until we found ourselves over Canada. (And there again, some even worse turbulance, at least to me.) Since then, we’ve been awake most of the flight. He and I have never been very good car sleepers, unlike Mr. Rovira and Thing 2, so we’ve not had an easy time of catching some ZZZs. The shades are all drawn on the airplane, even though it is currently bright, bright daylight outside. (As I started this, it was only a quarter to four Los Angeles time, so I think they’re trying to give people as much time to sleep as possible before we go shades up again.)

Thing 1 has enjoyed the first plane ride (that he can remember) so far. He loaded up a bunch of movies onto his iPad before we left, so he’s been keeping himself occupied with watching those, plus playing games. There’s a plug right at each seat, so he’s been able to play to his heart’s content without having to worry about trying to conserve his battery.

Thing 1 and his iPad
Thing 1 and his iPad

We were served a meal soon after lift-off, which he enjoyed. I booked us a window seat when we checked in, so he was able to watch the land disappear below us as we took off, watching things become smaller and smaller. He enjoyed the feeling of extreme speed as we tore off down the run way and eventually became aloft. I was having so much fun observing HIS observations, that I forgot to really be nervous myself, which I usually am at lift-off.

Getting some currency for our trip!
Getting some currency for our trip!
Arrival at LAX for our travel!
Arrival at LAX for our travel!
Waiting to board at LAX
Waiting to board at LAX

Getting through security and eventually boarding the plane was surprisingly hassle free. Thing 1 was a bit bewildered by having to take off his shoes in the security check, saying, “It’s not like I have a gun in my shoe!” I had to tell him that: (1) He shouldn’t even utter such things audibly in an airport, and (2) That, even though I knew HE didn’t have such a thing, someone DID once, and that’s why we’ve taken shoes off ever since at security checkpoints. (I wore my Dansko clogs specifically for that reason on this flight, aside from the fact that they are comfy and I can stand in them all day at school and feel great.) The only unusual thing is that they are doing construction at LAX on a new terminal (who knew? not us!), so after we reached our gate, we had to be shuttled to a remote gate to actually get on our plane. We had to show our passports every step of the way, which is cool for a new passport holder like me. I had no idea that they had as much land as they did at LAX to develop into more terminals and runway space. Suffice to say, I saw parts of LAX that I didn’t know existed.

So, in about one hour and twenty-eight minutes, when we pull into our gate at Heathrow, we’ll have a chance to get off and walk a bit to stretch our legs. Since we are actually heading to Paris before coming back to London, we need to make our way from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5 to catch the next flight. That flight is a quick British Airways hop over to Paris. It is slotted to be about one hour, fifteen minutes, but that includes time pushing back and pulling into gates, so the airtime will be less. I imagine it will be somewhat like what a flight to Las Vegas is for Southern Californians. We’ll be landing at the smaller of the two airports that service Paris, Orly. Then, it’s get a Paris Museum Pass in the terminal, get through customs, ride the Métro to our hotel, and get settled. When all is said and done, that might be 8:00 or 8:30 p.m. Paris time, which is about 11 or 11:30 a.m. Los Angeles time. Since it will be close to bedtime in Paris, Thing 1 and I can simply hit the sack to catch up on the sleep we didn’t get on the way over and fight jet lag. IF, however, the excitement of being here is strong enough, we might fit in a trip to the Arc de Triomphe at nightfall before bed. (Sunset is much later here because we are at a higher latitude than Fullerton.)

Keep reading and I’ll let you know how getting through customas was, and what we decided to do upon our arrival!

What have YOU been doing with your time this summer?

I’ve been doing lots of things!

First, I gave up Diet Coke. Former students, you know there was the Big Gulp full of Diet Coke sitting on my desk in the morning . . . for the first week of summer, when I was out and about doing errands, I would stop in a get a fill-up. But then after one week . . . starting the second full week of summer vacation, I haven’t had a drop to drink. So for three full weeks I’ve been drinking water. water. water. Oh, and more water.

It is good that I am drinking all this water because I’ve started jogging again after ten years. Last week I jogged 15 miles on the trails around my house. The week before that I jogged 12 miles. Mrs. Olivolo is my running partner and “coach” and I couldn’t ask for a better person to help me get back into running. She’s enthusiastic and pushes me when I want to stop and walk. She commends me when I go farther than I’ve gone before. We tried to run today, but my leg cramped up WAY painfully, so I’ve been icing it and stretching it today. Tomorrow I’ll do a better warm-up, and then we’ll try for our usual three miles.

I’ve read some books, and taken lots of naps. 🙂

Also, we are having a new driveway put in at our house.

This is the "footprint" of where our new driveway will go.
This is the “footprint” of where our new driveway will go.

As many of you know, I am off to Paris and London this summer, and I have spent many hours at the computer planning my itinerary for my vacation. I am SO EXCITED, as I am ashamed to say I have never been out of the country before. Today, Thing 1 and I went to exchange some of his money he’s been saving for some Euros and British Pounds. He’s known for a year that I am taking him, so he’s been recycling bottles and cans. He managed to earn about $300 from doing that, so he changed all of it in today to currency he can use while we are overseas.

Euros and British Pounds and our passports are ready!
Euros and British Pounds and our passports are ready!

Being the Type A person that I am, I meticulously plotted the locations we’re going to visit onto an iCal calendar that I shared with Thing 1. When creating an event, it is possible to also link URLs, attachments, and other notes to the event. So, for each of our stops, I linked the website to the event, input the address of the location, and added other notes (like best Tube or Metro stop to use to get there). This way, Thing 1 could read about all of the sites we’re going to visit. (This is in addition to what I’ve already told him, of course.) Here’s where were going to go:

  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Eiffel Tower
  • Musée de l’Armée (which contains Napoleon’s tomb)
  • Musée d’Orsay
  • Palace of Versailles
  • Musée de Louvre (where the Mona Lisa is!)
  • Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris
  • Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle
  • Sacre Coeur
  • A Chunnel Trip!
  • The Royal Observatory at Greenwich (to see the Prime Meridian line!)
  • Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum
  • The Tower of London and the Tower Bridge
  • HMS Belfast & Churchill War Rooms
  • Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace, and Hyde Park
  • The George Inn (which is in Southwark, close to where Geoffrey Chaucer’s pilgrims to Canterbury Cathedral set out upon the journey)
  • Canterbury Cathedral
  • The British Library (to see a Gutenberg Bible! the Magna Carta! and more!) and The British Museum (the Rosetta Stone!)
  • Houses of Parliament at Westminster Palace (and Big Ben)
  • The National Gallery and Trafalgar Square
  • Stonehenge
  • The Harry Pottery Studio Tour (especially for Thing 1)

Phew! We’ll be busy! I’ll be posting pics and wrap ups of the places we’ve visited while we’re away. Keep checking back to vicariously travel along with us!

Hope you are having a wonderful summer — I am!
Mrs Rovira

It’s Been a While Since I Posted . . .

. . . so I’ll play hooky from grading and doing school-related tasks to make a posting about some random things.

First, I hope everyone’s vacation was relaxing! It is so NICE not to have to live according to a bell. It is so NICE to get to wake up at 7:30, get Mr. T some breakfast, and then go right back upstairs to read in bed. And watch as many French movies as I want on Netflix. And binge-watch all of this upcoming season’s episodes of Downton Abbey before anyone else watches them on U. S. television. (I promise I won’t tell what happens!) And . . . vacations are so NICE!

Alright, so next on my random-thoughts post, can I just say how NICE it is to go out to dinner? Any time I don’t have to think of what to make for dinner nor have to actually cook it? Well, that’s just NICE!

photo 2

We went to Wahoo’s tonight. It’s cheap and quick, but not necessarily fast. There’s Thing 1, Thing 2, and Mr. T acting silly for the camera after we got done eating. We always seem to get the same thing: an appetizer of cheese nachos with guacamole and sour cream on the side; bean and cheese burritos for the kids; a one-mild-chicken-taco-with-black-beans-and-white-rice dinner for me, and something for Mr. Rovira. He’s more adventurous than I am. I always get the SAME THING every time we go. He changes things up a bit. This is the same for every restaurant we go to. I order the SAME THING. No matter where we go, I have my favorites on every menu and I do not deviate. That’s just me. I know what makes me happy, and I do not want to try something new, only to find that I didn’t like it, leading to disappointment. That’s not NICE!

Next, it’s candy heart time again! Just like rainbow sprinkles (see a previous post on this), I *LOVE* candy hearts. I don’t know why. Perhaps because they are multi-colored just like candy hearts are? (And here’s a fun fact: did you know that in other parts of the country, the sprinkles are called “jimmies”? You learn something new every day!) In any case, I am very particular about which brand I prefer. As far as I am concerned, THE brand to buy is Brachs. Do NOT buy the Sweethearts brand. They are tart. Candy hearts should not taste like raspberries or green apples. No no no no no no no. I bought two packages tonight at Ralph’s on the way home from Wahoo’s. We’ve already opened up and dipped into one of them at home. Yep, that’s how we roll.

candy hearts

Lastly, did you know I get to go to London this summer? I’m THRILLED! Thing 1 and I are going to go. It is a long story why just he and I are going, but we are. Over vacation, we went to the post office to file the paperwork to get our passports. I’ve never had a passport before. It came in the mail today! It is so cool to have one. I took a picture of myself with my passport:

photo 1

Interspersed among the pages of the passport are quotes from important American documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, and the “Star Spangled Banner,” our national anthem. I’m excited to see some of the history-related things I’ve been talking to students about for so long. I get to see them in person! Thing 1 got a London guidebook for Christmas, and we’ve been starting to make a list of things we definitely want to see while we are there. On the top of my list is the Tower of London, the British Museum, Buckingham Palace, and the Houses of Parliament. We’ll probably also take the Chunnel to Paris for either a day or spend the night and come back the next day. IT. WILL. BE. AWESOME.

Okay, well, tomorrow is Friday, which means I will have to find something cool to download from You Tube to watch for our “Viral Video Viernes” treat. We could watch Part II of Marcel the Shell, but I found a few other things that have piqued** my interest . . . so we’ll see!

I’m also going to bed early tonight. I’ve stayed up until 11 or later each night this week, which is brutal when one gets up at 5 each morning. I usually need about 9 hours of sleep to feel great, and I am definitely not getting it. At least I can make up some sleep on our three day weekend. That will be NICE.

**piqued = vocabulary word from Lesson 11! 🙂

So enough about me . . . what random thoughts have been floating around in your head?