In the old Looney Toons cartoons, Bugs Bunny often jokes about “forgetting to take that left turn at Albuquerque” to explain why he may have ended up in the location he did. The Roviras weren’t driving through Albuquerque on this stretch of our road trip, and we weren’t exactly “lost,” even though it may have felt like it at the time. It seems there’s always an “off the beaten track” adventure we get ourselves into on one of our road trips, and this time I was behind the wheel. (Mr. Rovira was behind the wheel in 2011 when we last had an adventure we wouldn’t soon forget.)
Leaving Moab was uneventful. There wasn’t much to see between Moab and the Colorado-Utah state line. Once we made it into Colorado, the scenery improved dramatically. The Colorado River (they have rivers with water in them here!) paralleled the interstate for much of the journey. The rolling hills of western Colorado were a brilliant green. We stopped in Eagle, Colorado, for a gas top-off and some ice cream to stretch our legs a bit before heading through the Rockies and into Denver.
Our GPS said that it would be about two hours before we arrived in Denver. We hopped back into the car after first stopping off at the post office so Thing 2 could mail a postcard to her friend back home. We started climbing in elevation; there was still snow on the Rockies next to the interstate as we drove past, which was awesome to see considering it is JUNE. We made it to Continental Divide in the Eisenhower Tunnel, and then began to descend in elevation. That’s when all the roadwork started.
We understand that the road repair season here in Colorado probably isn’t what it is in California. They have inclement weather which prevents repairs at other parts of the year, but really? Stopping traffic every three to five miles on an interstate during the middle of the day? At least California roadwork is accomplished in the middle of the night a lot of the time. Since I was driving, I and the other drivers would have to slow down to about 40 mph and merge into either the right or the left lane. Often times, traffic slowed to a complete stop as we inched by in the open lane while the road workers re-striped the lanes on the other side or repaired the guard rails. Then we’d see signs telling us the road work has ended and “thank you for your courtesy” signaling to us that we could speed up. So we did, only to have to slow down again five miles up the road for another project. It got really frustrating. Then, at exit 234, traffic stopped completely. Just stopped. After nearly twenty minutes, we had moved not even a mile. That’s when we started looking for a way around the traffic. Our GPS system will do that for us, so we decided to try it.
It directed us to exit the freeway and head north on a road that supposedly led to other towns, such as Alice. Then, we would continue heading east before finally rejoining the I-70. At first, all was well. We headed northbound up an (albeit) empty road. Alongside were mailboxes for homes so it was definitely well-traveled, just not full of traffic. Then our GPS alerted us that we would be taking a right at the next intersection. I prepared to veer right, although we came to a stop when we realized that the road we were directed to take was a dirt road.
Having no other alternative but to go back and rejoin the (stopped) interstate, we decided to carry on. The speed limit was 20 mph on the dirt road, but we figured that was still faster than we were moving on the interstate, so it was a win.
At this point, I should stop and say Mr. Rovira started making jokes GALORE at my expense. For four years I have never let him forget the last road trip we took to Louisiana and the freaky side trip he took us on after we stopped for gas outside of Needles. I’ll post the recap I wrote of that when we get home and link it to this one. But in a nutshell, we ended up on old Route 66, which was completely deserted, at 12:30 in the morning, passing little white crosses periodically on the side of the road, going up and down mountain switchbacks at 10 mph. We also killed some hawk that had swooped down onto the highway to pick up a critter to eat, but our headlights temporarily stunned it and we hit it. Eventually we ended up back on Interstate 40, but not after experiencing some seriously Psycho moments. We laugh about it now.
So on we went. The further we went, though, the narrower and more “rustic” the road became. I had to slow down to a stop and inch over boulders sticking half up out of the ground. Mr. Rovira was afraid that if I went too quickly over the boulders it would pitch the car over and down the hillside. (Some tall pines would have probably have stopped our roll. But then, making it out of the car perched precariously in the trees and back to “civilization” to get help would have been dicey.) It was about this point that I looked up to the GPS screen and realized that we weren’t “registering” on a road anymore. The green line that were were supposed to be following was off to the left of where we actually were. What did that mean? Did I take a wrong turn? Was this road, in fact, not in use any more? We had no choice but to bump along because we couldn’t turn around. There was no room. Woe to us should another car have come along in the opposite direction. Mr. Rovira was making jokes, so we were laughing a lot in the midst of our real concern for where we were.
Finally we made it back to a more “paved” dirt road, which (interestingly) took us past some old, abandoned mining equipment and buildings and into a town named Central City. From there we traveled on the Central City Parkway and back to the I-70. We made it down the pass and into Denver, only to hit stopped traffic AGAIN. More road work. Finally, knowing that there was no possibility of getting “lost” on a deserted road like we did before, we got off the freeway and traveled to our hotel via city streets. All in all, what should have taken us two hours (from Eagle to Denver) took us four. To say we were all frustrated and “losing it” by the time we were nearly at the hotel was an understatement. Mr. T, in particular, was extremely wound up.
After a quick shower, we headed over to Uncle JM’s and out to a delicious pizza dinner. While in the restaurant, we got to watch a heavy summer downpour drench the Denver area. (Apparently, they’ve been getting thunderstorms in the evenings around 5 p.m. each night for three weeks.) We got some laundry done at Uncle JM’s and played some video games while it dried. Then it came time to go back to our hotel and go to bed. That’s a whole other post that I’ll write about next.
So were on the fourth day of our road trip. We spent the weekend in Las Vegas, and then yesterday we drove to Moab. This morning, we got up WAY early (for vacation!) and hiked out to the “Delicate Arch” at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. Below is a little wrap up our our experiences so far:
Vegas — It started off AWESOMELY at the House of Blues Foundation Room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. We dropped off the kiddos at Uncle Walt’s house for some cousin fun while the adults had a chance to hang out at the balcony of the Foundation Room at, like, the 72nd floor (or something) of the Mandalay Bay hotel. (I never usually get to go to things like this; thanks, Uncle Larry!)
From there, some of the adults (including Mr. Rovira) went to go see the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. (Not me, because I’m not that old, and I have no idea who that band is or what songs they sing.) Others of us went down into the casino. My niece, Ms. A, had never been gambling before, so Fairy Godmother Aunt Jennifer (not me, I’m Aunt Jenny) and Uncle Steve showed her how it was done as my other niece, Ms. M, and I watched. Then Mr. Rovira came back to pick me up to go back to Uncle Walt’s and pick up our kids, after which we checked into our hotel room.
The next day, Mr. Rovira and I took the kids to the Paris Hotel and Casino for a real Vegas buffet breakfast. We wanted to go to that hotel because that’s the hotel at which we got married. On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at the iconic Las Vegas sign for a touristy pic, before hopping into our bathing suits to spend a couple of hours at our hotel’s lazy river pool.
That was awesomely relaxing, until some rude Australian boys showed up. 🙁 We went back to the hotel room for naps before we had to get ready for Uncle Walt and Aunt Joy’s big party.
Mr. T was the HIT of the party. It was a combination wedding vow renewal and retirement party. He danced the night away and had lots of fun with his cousins in the photo booth.
Waking up the next morning, we packed up and went to have some breakfast with Uncle Walt and Aunt Joy before hitting the road to Moab. The trip to Moab was about a six and a half hour trip, and we made stops along the way in St. George (for In-N-Out lunch!) and Richfield for gas. We got rained on outside of St. George, which was awesome, as it cleaned off our car of bugs!
Moab — We woke the kids up EARLY to go to Arches National Park. We wanted to see the “Delicate Arch” relatively tourist-free, and especially when it was a cool part of the day. When we set out, it was 55˚F — perfect! We got to the park so early, in fact, there was no one manning the ticket booth, so we got to enter the park without paying the $10 auto fee. There were only a few families at the arch when we got there, so Mr. T, Mr. Rovira, and Thing 1 were able to go stand under the arch and take a picture all by themselves. Mr. T was a trooper getting all the way to the top.
Now we’re back in the hotel room, chilling out a bit and planning the rest of our day. The kids are chomping at the bit to go to the pool. We’re researching options for how to spend the rest of the day. Unfortunately, Moab seems to be a pretty expensive place! A one-hour trip on the jet boat on the Colorado River is $55 per person — kinda steep for us. Plus, Mr. T doesn’t weigh enough to go on the boat, nor is he old enough to go on the boat to begin with . . . or zip lining . . . etc. So, we’ll walk the main drag, get some frozen yogurt, go to the pool, not necessarily in that order. 🙂
But you would barely know it by the looks of the weather.
Summer vacation officially started at 11:44 on Thursday last week (May 28), but the mornings have been so socked in with overcast and gloom that it is hard to get motivated to do anything. Instead, I want to snuggle up in my bed and keep reading the news and browse Facebook.
It didn’t help that I started off summer vacation with a cold. I was cleaning out my classroom on Wednesday. I was sneezing a lot, and my eyes were watering, but I thought it was just because the classroom was dusty. However, then my throat started to hurt, which doesn’t normally happen with allergies. I went home and slept as best as I could, and I showed up for the last day of school (Thursday) feeling miserable. I went to the pharmacy to get some better over-the-counter cold medicine, took that, stayed in bed on Friday and most of Saturday, and I feel better. But I still just want to stay in bed. I should go running.
Yesterday, Mr. T and I did go for a walk. I wanted to try out my new GPS heart rate monitor running watch. We certainly weren’t running, but I was keen to see how the GPS worked. We walked from our house to the Sunny Hills Post Office to mail two thank-you cards, a 3.26 mile round trip. The watch worked great, and I’m going to take it with us on our road trip. That was one thing that I did do while I was relaxing in bed — plan our summer road trip to seven different states.
Yep, you read correctly . . . we’re going to visit seven different states in the next three weeks. We starting off by heading to Las Vegas, Nevada. Mr. Rovira’s oldest brother lives outside of Las Vegas, he and his wife recently retired, and they are celebrating, too, their tenth wedding anniversary. So, they’re throwing a party for the whole family. Mr. Rovira’s family is HUGE (he is one of eight children, who all have children), and though not all siblings and cousins will be there, it will still be quite a fiesta. We’re starting off in the House of Blues Foundation Room on Friday (tonight) evening, and having a big shindig on Saturday. On Sunday, the Fullerton Roviras (us) will pull out from Vegas and head northeast toward Moab, Utah. Arches National Park is in Moab, Utah, home of the “Delicate Arch” which is featured prominently in vacation videos promoting Utah.
I hiked to it with my dad a couple of years ago when we took a road trip to Denver to deliver my brother some furniture shortly after he moved. It is only about a three-mile walk . . . but the first half of it is uphill.
And this is why I am excited to take my GPS watch. I want to see the net elevation gain total, see my heart rate as I ascended, track our speed. (With Mr. T, I can assure you we won’t be traveling quickly.) When I get done with a run, or walk (as the case may be), I just hook up my watch to my computer and the stats all download for me to examine and study.
We’re going to spend about a day and a half in Moab, long enough to do our hike and rest afterwards. Then we’re going to get on the road again to travel to Denver, Colorado. It is about a five to six hour drive from Moab to Denver. We’re going to be staying in Denver for two full days visiting with my brother before we move on again, this time toward the southeast. Our ultimate destination is New Orleans, Louisiana, where Mr. Rovira’s other brothers and cousins live. We’re going to travel east out of Denver and into Kansas. We’re going to stay the night in Wichita, Kansas, drive south through Oklahoma into Dallas, Texas, and drive from Dallas to Louisiana. I am looking forward to some barbecue in Texas. It is the best.
We’re spending a week in Louisiana. While there, Thing 1 and Mr. Rovira (and maybe Mr. T) will go fishing (or shrimping). One of the best things to do in Louisiana is have a shrimp and crab boil. It is hard to describe but totally delicious. It requires fresh shrimp and crab, ears of corn, potatoes, celery chunks, seasonings, and a big outdoor stockpot to cook it in. Then, to serve, you set out a bunch of newspaper on a table in the backyard, all sit down, drain the shrimp and fixings, and dump it all out on the table. It is THE BEST.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.)
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;
a few feet away is a small statue of a rabbit seemingly jumping into a rabbit 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.
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.
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!
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 muchbetter 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 sat atop a hill, its distinctive weather vane clearly visible in the distance.
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.
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.
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.
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).
We also took pictures with Johnny Depp,
George Clooney, and 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.
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,
and Harry, Camilla, and Prince Charles. I took photos of Henry VIII,
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.
As we went further into the museum, we were able to take our pictures next to famous artists and scholars like Albert Einstein,
and Vincent Van Gogh,
as well as musicians like 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,
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.
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).
So . . . Saturday (our last day in Paris) dawned drippy and drizzly. Our plan was to visit the cathedral of Notre Dame, the Conciergerie, and the Sainte Chapelle. We got started a bit late (for us), but a little bit earlier than Notre Dame actually opened. I wanted to be sure to get there before the crowds.
We didn’t have to take the RER lines at all to get there, which was a relief. We arrived, exited the Métro station, and got a little turned around. The Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie were easy to spot from the Métro station; both were across the street. Finding Notre Dame was a little bit tougher. It is actually located on an island in the middle of the Seine known as the Île-de-la-Cité. We could see the tops of the towers, but actually finding our way through somewhat winding streets was a little tougher. That, and the towers would sometimes be obscured by the other buildings in the way, but we eventually made it there. At the plaza in front of the cathedral, we stopped for a bit to take a picture of the entire front with the circular stained glass window (the western façade).
It is quite beautiful! There was a minimal line to enter the church, which we entered.
Inside, it was hushed and dim, but not completely silent. There were many tourists in there, and we had to get out of the way for a tour group to pass us, but then Thing 1 and I found a couple of seats to sit at for a bit and just take it all in. There was currently no service that we would be interrupting. We sat in the center of the church (the nave) for a bit, before getting up to tour the perimeter of the church. Along the sides of the church, the entire way around, are small chaplets, usually devoted to a saint of some sort. There was also a statue about halfway through the church to the left of the altar devoted to St. Joan of Arc,
made a saint in 1920, and one of the patron saints of France. Since I discuss Joan a bit towards the end of the year when I cover the Hundred Years War, it was nice to see her. (We had also seen a painting of her at Versailles in the Hall of Battles, and I was able to tell Thing 1 a bit about her for reference.) The stained glass was so beautiful that it is hard to put into words to describe.
Despite the cloudy day outside, there was enough light coming through the windows that the cobalt blues and greens showed up vividly. The stained glass depicted scenes from the Bible and various saints and Biblical figures. Long ago, before most people were literate, monks and priests would have used these scenes to teach parishioners their faith. Each chaplet contained some stained glass windows, and most chaplets also had a rack of candles set up, for the saying of prayers. Thing 1 and I chose to light a candle for our family and our prayers at a chaplet for Mary (for a €5 donation).
After exploring the rest of the church, Thing 1 and I popped back outside. I was thrilled we had come early because, despite the drizzle, the line to get into the church had lengthened considerably! It spanned the length of the plaza and began to wrap around on itself. We walked around the plaza a bit, taking a snap of the large statute of Charlemagne in front and to the left of the entrance of the cathedral.
(I teach about Charlemagne, too, and there are lots of statues of him around France. He is important to France for several reasons, and I saw statues and paintings of him at Versailles, too.) I had to “stage” this photo carefully because someone thought it would be funny to put a white broom tucked into the statue with Charlemagne, and I didn’t want it to appear in my pictures! Taking a photo head-on partially obscured the broom, so I was content.
Alongside of Notre Dame runs the Seine River, and in between the cathedral and the river is a small park that runs the length of the church. It extends behind the cathedral and is named Square Jean XXIII. Thing 1 and I ambled along, taking pictures of the side and the back (eastern façade) of the church. We could clearly see flying buttresses at the back of the church,
used by engineers of the time (medieval era) to help support the weight of such a tall-ceilinged nave with thin walls. Toward the back of the Square Jean XXIII is a road, and Thing 1 and I discovered that it led to the “Bridge of Love” we had been looking for a few days earlier. I was thrilled I could take some photos of it for my dad. The bridge is actually named the Pont de l’Archevêché, and its metal grating has been covered (and then some) by padlocks.
Couples come to Paris — to this bridge! — and symbolically commit (make a grand gesture, if you will) to their relationship by attaching a lock with their names on it to the bridge and then throwing away the key into the Seine below. (Street vendors nearby sell locks for anywhere from €5 to €10.) Some locks are bike locks, antique looking ones, or ones that look like the locks my students use on their gym basket at school.
There are locks upon locks upon locks. Many in Paris don’t actually approve of the act, as the keys rust in the Seine down below, and sometimes parts of the siding of the bridge collapse under the weight of the locks. Indeed, one section of ironwork on the bridge was missing, plywood bolted together where grating once was, and on the plywood was painted “Make love, not locks!” Incidentally, Thing 1 and I also saw locks bolted to the caging on the Eiffel Tower when we visited earlier in the week. Throwing the keys off the tower would be very dangerous, indeed, to the people below, so I wondered what people did with those.
I also learned that the Pont de l’Archevêché was just one of the bridges in Paris to receive this dubious “locking” honor. Another bridge to suffer the locks is the Pont des Arts. A recent L. A. Times article detailed a collapse of part of the parapet of the bridge due to the weight of the locks. According to Wikipedia (so take this with a grain of salt),
In recent years, many tourist couples have taken to attaching padlocks (love locks) with their first names written or engraved on them to the railing or the grate on the side of the bridge, then throwing the key into the Seine river below, as a romantic gesture. This gesture is said to represent a couple’s committed love.The City of Paris has not yet adopted a definitive policy on how to deal with this new fad. The French police have been known to patrol this bridge to stop keys from being thrown into the river.
In March 2014, two American women living in Paris launched an online no-love-locks campaign to remove the padlocks from the bridge. They say that the bridge became physically damaged by the weight of the locks (93 metric tons of metal), by the rust that passes onto the River Seine and by the environmental damage to the river from the keys that are thrown in and rusting. The campaign received more than 1600 signatures in one month.
There are locks upon locks upon locks . . . upon locks upon locks . . . you get the idea.
Earlier in the week I promised Thing 1 I would take him to a great ice cream place I read about nearby on the second of the islands in the Seine, called Île Saint-Louis. It is called Berthillon. We walked the very charming Rue de Saint Louis en l’Île looking for the shop. Once we found it, we went inside and Thing 1 got some vanilla ice cream while I got a mushroom and cheese omelette with some salad and pommes frites.
(I didn’t ask for the fries; they just came with it.) The ice cream truly was as good as the guidebook made it out to be. And after that, we went back up the street stopping in a few of the shops to look for little gifts we could bring home to our loved ones. There was an amazing marionette shop with truly awesome marionettes in the window, but we stopped instead in a shop where I got a gift for Auntie Susu. We also visited a candy shop to get some caramels to take home to share with family after our shared Sunday dinners and two peppermint suckers for Thing 1 and I. Next stop was the Conciergerie.
The Conciergerie served as a prison of sorts during the French Revolution. It is very old, construction having started in the 1300s. Various kings made their home there throughout its history because originally it was a palace (the Palais de la Cité), and then later became known as the Palais de Justice. We entered into a great, dimly lit hall that at one time had housed guards and arms, the Hall of Guards.
From there we viewed various cells, some delegated to poor prisoners (pistole) or very poor prisoners (oubliettes) who would have only been given straw to sleep on, and others reserved for the aristocracy, complete with a bed, table, and some other creature comforts. (This did cost them.) We saw a reconstructed cell in the area Marie Antoinette had been held before she was taken off to the guillotine to be beheaded.
(The Conciergerie had been modified since her internment there, and historians have tried to recreate as accurately as possible the conditions of her room and her cell.)
The chapel of the old Palais de la Cité, the Sainte Chapelle, was our next stop before heading back to our hotel. The Sainte Chapelle is an amazing church with breathtaking stained glass windows. It was consecrated in 1248, and originally commissioned by King Louis IX to house holy relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns and parts of the True Cross. There are actually two chapels inside, one on the lower level and the amazingly beautiful one on an upper level. The upper level chapel is accessible via a very narrow circular staircase, and it is the one that contains all of the stained glass.
The stained glass, as with other medieval churches, retells scenes from the Bible from both the Old Testament and New Testament, depicting moments from Jesus’s life and the life of John the Baptist, in particular. The chapel and its glass was damaged during the French Revolution but, despite this, nearly two-thirds of the glass is original. When we visited, there was scaffolding set up for restoration work. Twenty-first century pollution and large numbers of visitors throughout the ages have taken their toll. Despite this, it was awesome to see. As with Notre Dame, its being a dismal and dreary day did not dampen the impact of the glass in the chapel. Colors still appeared vivid and sharp.
Alas, we had to keep to a schedule, though, and it was time to head back to the hotel to pick up our bags. We were going to take a taxi from the hotel to the Gare du Nord, which is the big train station that the Eurostar uses. Supposedly, it is the busiest train station in Europe. That is where we were going to catch the “Chunnel” train to London. It is a high-speed train, reaching speeds of up to 186 mph! We were looking forward to our trip, if anything because we knew we would be entering a country where we spoke the language! There is something very comforting in that.
We arrived at the station, made our way to the Eurostar ticket kiosks, and I prepared to enter in our reservation information while Thing 1 found a restroom to use. I had a momentary panic because I couldn’t find my email from Eurostar (or a printed copy of it in my bags) with my reservation number on it. Without the reservation number, I could not print out our tickets. I tried putting the credit card I used to secure the reservation into the kiosk, but I knew it probably wouldn’t work because of my previous experience with trying to purchase Métro tickets with a U. S. credit card. I thought, “It’s Eurostar, not regular Paris Métro . . . it might work?” But it didn’t. Meanwhile, Thing 1 came back without having used the restroom because it cost a few Euros to even get into the restroom, which he didn’t have in his pocket. I began to tear my suitcase apart looking for the paper email, which I found, thankfully, but not before I started breaking out into another stress sweat. I entered in our reservation number, printed out our tickets, and then proceeded to visiting the immigration services for both the French and the British governments. Having gotten our next stamps in our passports, Thing 1 and I proceeded to the Eurostar waiting area of the station. In this part of the station, Thing 1 was able to use a restroom for free (yay!) and we caught a bit of the Tour de France on television, which had just started that day in England. We had a short wait before we boarded our train, which was so much nicer than traveling in a cramped Métro train! There were assigned seats, nice and roomy, with outlets near them for charging our devices. We were served a nice meal, most of which Thing 1 did not eat because he was so picky.
Most of the Chunnel train route is in France. It is only for a small amount of time that the train is actually under the English channel (about 10 to 15 minutes?), and then the rest of the route travels through the English countryside until it gets to St. Pancras International station in London. The French countryside is full of rolling fields and small villages. It looked as if various grains were being grown or had recently been harvested. Some of the fields were green, and some were golden, and the weather had cleared a bit to become dry and sunny, with large cotton clouds in the sky. Before we entered the channel tunnel, there was a small announcement on the train, and then a few minutes later, the lights went on as the outside became black. We emerged into the English countryside, which was just as rolling and beautiful, if a bit more green. It wasn’t much longer after that when the train pulled into the station in London. We grabbed our bags, got off the train, and emerged into the very busy St. Pancras International.
I had promised Thing 1 a shopping trip to the Harry Potter Store at Platform 9 ¾, which is in Kings Cross Station, located right next to St. Pancras. We wheeled our suitcases over to Kings Cross and began to look for the store. It is located (duh!) right between platforms 9 and 10 in the station. The thing about the large London stations is that they are a place to shop and eat as much as travel. Kings Cross had nice shops in it like a Kiehl’s store and a Starbucks, as well as an American Apparel and a Boots, which is sort of like a CVS or a Walgreen’s. We found the Harry Potter store, but my heart dropped when I first saw the Platform 9 ¾ sign because there was a huge line beside it. I said, “Thing 1, I think that is the line to get into the store!” Thing 1 grimaced a bit, but then it became clear that it was just a line to take a picture next to the Platform 9 ¾ sign! Fans dressed up in a scarf and Harry Potter-ish glasses, stood next to a pile of luggage, and had their picture taken (for a fee, we discovered, when we entered the store). To the left of the line a bit, tucked behind a column, was the actual store itself which did not have a line to enter — though it was packed.
I waited outside with our suitcases while Thing 1 went inside to look around and make a small purchase of Bott’s Beans (really Jelly Bellies with icky sounding names).
Finally, it was time to make our way to our hotel. It was now nearly 7:30 p.m., and we were getting tired and anxious to get settled. We made our way out to the front of the station to hail a London black cab. Though Kings Cross Station has an Underground station beneath the rail station, there was NO WAY I was going to get on a tube train with heavy suitcases after our crazy experience in the Paris Métro with said luggage. Our hotel was only a 15 minute trip via cab from Kings Cross, so off we went.
Most Americans do not have an appreciation of the training that is necessary to become a licensed London black cab driver. I wouldn’t have either, had I not seen a small documentary on the subject about three weeks before we left for our trip. On average, it takes more than two and a half years for a driver to master “The Knowledge,” which is all of London’s streets, sights, hotels, restaurants, and clubs and where they are located. London drivers are required to not only know the layout of the city down to the most minute details, but also to know the shortest, most economical route from one point to another. (Click on this article from The Telegraph for an explanation.) I asked our driver (once we got settled in our cab) about his experience, and he admitted that it took him two years and nine months to master The Knowledge and pass his test to obtain his license. When drivers are going through their training, it is highly encouraged to obtain a scooter and drive around the city with a map on a clipboard strapped to the front of the scooter so as to more intimately learn and personally visualize where everything is. He said that he absolutely did that. He asked us where we were from, and perked up when we mentioned Los Angeles. He asked us about the weather, and we said that it wasn’t that hot when we left, but that it would certainly be heating up upon our return in July and the start of school again in August. We said that it regularly got up to 98˚ or 100˚ in August and September, but he looked puzzled until I realized that he didn’t have any reference for what that meant since the English use metric measurements for temperature. A quick consultation with the conversion app on my phone, and I threw out 35˚ and 38˚ and he “got” it. He apologized for their weather, but I replied that compared to our temperatures, theirs were great. I hate hot weather, so experiencing a nice 22 or 23˚ (about 72˚ F) was a treat. We traveled past Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, and Westminster Palace on our way to our hotel.
We got checked in, got settled a bit, and went down to the lounge below to get Thing 1 a personal pizza to eat for a late dinner (and me a relaxing drink!). Our hotel room was nice and spacious with a great view.
Across the street from our hotel was the Burberry headquarters and we could see the tower for Westminster Palace peeking behind that. There was construction going on directly across the street from us, but it caused no excess noise or disruption. We were located just a few doors down from the Tate Britain, and not far from the Thames River. Thing 1 and I tucked ourselves into bed . . . we had a busy day tomorrow. On our agenda: Greenwich (and the Prime Meridian line) and Madame Tussaud’s (for some touristy fun).