Tuesday, November 13, 2007
For the last time, we awoke in Europe and got ready to head back to the United States. Our plan was to be at Paddington Station around 9am in order to get to Heathrow by 9:40 to check in two hours ahead of time. While we were getting ready, I checked American Airlines’ web site to confirm that we still had an on-time departure as well as which terminal at Heathrow we needed to depart the train. According to their website, it was Terminal 4. So Daniel and I headed downstairs and checked out.
The Royal Court Apartments is still a great deal in London. You can get a twin room with a separate room with a TV, kitchenette, and a couch for a reasonable rate. They are in the process of refurbishing the entire complex, and if the reception area is any indication, the place will be stellar. I suspect they will be jacking the rates up, which is unfortunate. Personally, I like the area where we stayed in Phillipe’s apartment, and Jonathan mentioned there is a good hotel called the Tavistock Hotel that is pretty reasonable in the same area. I will have to check it out.
Since we were just a few blocks from the station, we walked down to Paddington and arrived at the train station. We found the Heathrow Express ticket office where they informed us that there is about a 15 minute delay on all lines due to rail work. This didn’t seem to be that bad, as it was still within my comfort zone at the airport. I went ahead and validated the last day on our Britrail passes and we headed for the platform. It was hard to miss the big sign titled “What Terminal” which helps you locate your airline’s check-in counter. I skimmed it over and discovered that American was in fact at Terminal 3. I was sure that the site said Terminal 4, but not wanting to have to retrace our steps, Daniel and I decided to get off the train at Terminal 3.
The train was a few minutes late, but it was a nice smooth uneventful ride to the airport. We found the American check-in lane and was happy to discover that there were not that many people there. I think everyone had checked in already. I was a bit nervous putting my bag on the weigh scale due to the issues we had at LAX, but since I was wearing my jacket and my heavier dress shoes, I made it with no problem. Daniel and I were so happy to finally not have to lug our suitcases around. This whole trip, everyone has been shocked by the size and weight of our bags. I think it is a sign that next time, even if I go away for three weeks, I should invest in a smaller, sturdier bag.
We shopped around at some of the gift shops at the airport. Daniel picked up some things for his friends, and I picked up some food to tide us over. The Pain au chocolate left a lot to be desired. We already miss our Parisian pastries. I did think it was funny that at Heathrow they have one machine to x-ray your bags and then another to x-ray your shoes. A two-step process, which I am sure on busy holidays, makes the whole line crawl. I think I like it better here in the states where you put your shoes on the belt with everything else.
We arrived at the gate (after a 20 minute hike), and got on board the plane. We sat in the exact same seats as we had going over to London, but I felt that this plane was at least a bit cleaner and in better shape than our flight over. Since our plane arrives in LA around 3pm and we left around 6pm coming here, I bet they use the same plane so people traveling to the UK only get 2 hours of cleaning vs. what they can do in the UK.
The flight was pretty uneventful – no major turbulence. I managed to watch Transformers and bits of Hairspray. I enjoyed Transformers, but didn’t really like Hairspray all that much. It was OK until I saw John Travolta in drag and it sort of ruined it for me. He does not make a convincing woman. I also watched a BBC show called Life on Mars about a detective who gets hit by a car in 2006 and wakes up in 1972. I thought it was great and now I have to figure out what happens next. It also stars the guy who played the Master in Series 3 of Doctor Who.
After 11 and a half grueling hours, we arrived at LAX. I am always happy when I fly American into the US at LAX because we get the smaller and cleaner Terminal 4 customs station versus the overcrowded and smelly International Terminal customs. We had to wait in a queue for passport control, but it moved rather quickly compared to the queue for people who are not from the US. We grabbed our bags and after asking a quick question at the exit, we were free to go. Daniel’s brother David was there to greet us and before we knew it, we were in the middle of rush hour traffic.
I finally made it home in the early evening and crashed. It felt so weird to be back at home again, like nothing had happened for the last three weeks. I got a jump start on laundry and then crashed.
This was a great vacation that really helped me recharge my batteries. Despite being gone for three weeks, I felt that with a little bit of laundry done, I could easily stay out for longer if I needed to. Daniel was ready to go home, he had his fill of foreign languages and the poor performance of the dollar. We really traveled well together which I think added to how much fun I had. I hope everyone has enjoyed my trip as much as I have.
Hopefully, I will be off on another adventure soon!
Monday, November 12, 2007
Today was our last day on the continent and Daniel and I decided to make it a relaxing day. We slept in until almost 9 – I slept in just a bit more as Daniel began to pack. We showered and packed our things and made our way downstairs one last time. Checking out of the hotel, there was some confusion with how much we actually owed, but I had all the paperwork so we were able to clear it up. We left our bags in the hotel and proceeded to head out one last time. We stopped by Pain de Eps one last time. We were trying to figure out our money so we Daniel made sure he got out some more money to make sure we had enough for the pastries, our round trip Metro tickets to Disneyland, and the Taxi ride to Gare Du Nord.
We headed out to Disneyland Paris to catch a few more rides on Space Mountain and do a bit of shopping. We only had about 3.5 hours there, but it was enough to get some last minute snaps of all the Christmas decorations they have put up in the days sine we have been there. We were a bit disappointed that Casey JR and Storybook Land were still closed, I guess there is always next time! We managed to get a bit to eat as we were leaving, though it didn’t agree with Daniel and he was left with an upset stomach for the rest of the day.
With fond adieus, we headed back to the hotel in Paris. When we arrived, I noticed an Airport shuttle sitting out front, and the lady behind the check in desk mentioned to me that it was mine. Now, I had originally ordered a taxi and I had shrugged it off thinking it could not be much more for the shuttle until they told me it was 15 Euros for them to book it and then another 20 Euros each to get to Gare Du Nord. I told them I did not have 55 Euros and I had originally asked for a taxi. After some negotiating in French, the shuttle driver left and the bewildered, but helpful staff at the hotel called me a cab (I am sure they were just disappointed then lost 15 Euros). After an awkward 20 minutes, the cabbie showed up.
Daniel and I had 28 Euros to our name at this time and we were keeping our fingers crossed that it wouldn’t take all of that to get to Gare Du Nord. When we got in the cab we noticed that the meter already said 11.20 Euros. What followed was the most stressful cab ride I have ever taken. We hit a bunch of traffic near Place de Concorde and as we sat there, the meter kept going tick tick tick. In my mind I kept coming up with scenarios: Do we make him stop at 25 Euros and we walk the rest of the way? Do we tell him to wait as one of us runs to get money? Do we make a run for it? Do I try and get money from the ATM as we are sitting in traffic? After 25 minutes of sweating and a fake out as we neared Gare de L’ Est, we made it to Gare Du Nord with the meter reading 26.20 Euros. I was so happy we made it, I gave him all the 28.
After finding the Eurostar check-in, we cleared customs. It was a bit unusual because we went from France to Great Britain in two feet. The French exit authority and the GB greeters were practically on top of each other. I guess since they are moving in two days to St. Pancras International Rail Station, they are winging it until then. Good thing Daniel was next to me to correct me. I was asked by the UK people how long I had been traveling and responded “three months” instead of three weeks. Daniel corrected me and I am sure saved us from a cavity search by the authorities. We got on the train fairly quickly and it was a much more enjoyable experience back to London. The couple across from us slept most of the way and after our brief stop in Ashford, they moved so we got to stretch out for the last 45 minutes.
For the fourth and final time we arrived at London. At Waterloo Station, we changed some of our US cash we had left and our jaws hit the floor. In the time we have been here, 100 US dollars is now worth just about 43 pounds, compared to when we arrived it was 48 pounds. The trip just keeps getting more expensive. I am glad a lot of the hotels were pre-paid.
As we were waiting for a taxi, a very nice Pakistani gentleman approached us and asked us where we were going. He had a car that was waiting for someone who no-showed, and offered to take us to our hotel for 20 pounds. I think we got taken for 5 pounds extra than most cabs, but avoiding the extensive queue was worth it. The cab driver was a bit strange. He spent the entire time talking to his girlfriend/wife on the phone. He sang to her, recited what sounded like poetry, and for the finale, he was making kissing noises as we drove around Hyde Park. Needless to say, he missed our turn to take the hotel and I had to jar him back to reality. He was still trying to have phone make out with his significant other as I was telling him how to get to the hotel. We were staying at the same place I first stayed at in London in 1996 so I had a vague idea of how to get here, and my Google research last night helped as well.
We finally arrived and before I could give the guy a tip, he took the 20 pounds and got back in the car, I guess he had some work to finish with his sig other. After 11 and one half years, I was back where it all started for me in London. The lobby has been redone and they now have a new Royal Bar. I talked to the bartender and she told me it just opened last week and they just finished most of the remodeling of the reception area. Upstairs, the rooms look like they have new floors, but for the most part they still have the same patterned wallpaper and worn hallway carpeting. Our bathroom even has some tiles missing. Daniel and I were so used to the cramped Paris hotel, we completely missed the living room with couch, taco bed, and kitchenette. I was surprised that we ended up with a 1-bedroom apartment, I was expecting the studio. Perhaps we got a good upgrade.
At any rate, it was a nice way to end our 3-week odyssey in Europe. Before heading to bed, we made a quick stroll towards Paddington Station to scope out where we needed to go with our luggage in the AM. I am glad the station is really close so we can roll out of bed and get on the express train to Heathrow. Wee grabbed a quick bite to eat and did some souvenir shopping before calling it a night.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
It is Remembrance Day in France and we set out at 9:30 to meet Jonathan at the queue for the Tour Eiffel. At the time, we had no idea it was Remembrance Day until we had a look at the Arc de Triomphe from the top of the tower and noticed that the circle around it was blocked off and there were military people everywhere. It was the first time to the top for Daniel and Jonathan and they both enjoyed it. The wind was very strong on the top observation platform and you could feel the tower sway. We then headed for the second floor for some more snaps of key locations and then Jonathan suggested we take the stairs to the first floor.
I don’t actually recall ever being to the first floor of the tower, only the second and third floors. Hoofing it down, we ascended to the first floor in no time. It was actually quite humorous to see people huffing and puffing as they climbed. Personally, I think it is a rip off to use the stairs because for 3.80 more Euros you can take the elevator to the first and second floors. The big difference is the queue. If you take the stairs, you can start climbing right away. If you take the elevator you have to wait up to an hour. We got their right as they were letting people buy tickets so we did not have to wait too long.
The first floor actually has some neat exhibits, souvenirs shops, and a cinema that shows a quick history in pictures and movies of the tower. Translation can be expensive and they let the pictures speak for themselves, except on the rare occasion like when they showed a clip from Superman 2. Daniel was disappointed there was no clip of A View to a Kill. The three of us then headed for the ground level. By then we had spent two and a half hours on the tower, which we all thought was getting our moneys worth.
Jonathan had suggested that we take a Seine River Cruise so we scampered down to the riverbank below the Tour Eiffel and hopped on a boat. The day started out nice, but the wind was still blowing and clouds were swirling so I had a hunch the weather would turn on us. The cruise lasted about an hour and we went past the Czar Nicolas III bridge, the Musee de Orsay, Palace Concorde, the Louvre, the Latin Quarter, and Notre Dame among other sights. The narration was a bit cheesy, but I did get to hear the can-can as well as the ever popular “I love Paris in the Springtime”. At the end of the ride Jonathan bought the souvenir photo of the three of us which he promises to scan and give me a copy.
Famished, we headed back to the Latin Quarter to get something to eat. We decided on the White House, which was far below what we had the night before. We never got our water and they gave me a cheap dessert instead of the fancy one I got with my menu set. To make up for it, we headed towards where we ate the night before and I took a photo of the restaurant and then proceeded to get another Sugar and Butter Crepe that I had so enjoyed the night before. After a bit of more shopping and browsing and picking up a sandwich for Jonathan to eat on the train from uber-swanky bakery Paul, we got on the RER for a quick trip to the Arc de Triomphe to take some photos. As we were getting ready to leave the RER station, I had the great idea that we should go out to La Defense to take a photo there, since we had to come back to Arc de Triomphe to walk Jonathan back to his apartment. While we were on the train, we realized none of us had tickets that would allow us to get to Defense, so when we arrived, we jumped back on the train back to the Arc de Triomphe. It was like getting stuck in that traffic circle in the UK.
When we finally came up to the air, it was pouring rain. It only lasted for a bit and then trailed off into a light mist. We took some snaps in front of the monument and then crossed under into the center of it. We saw that their were grandstands and soldiers still around from the AM celebrations for Remembrance Day. I took some cool shots of the Champs del Elysais as well as the Avenue de La Grand Armee.
It was time to walk Jonathan back to get his stuff so he could head back to Geneva. We hiked up to his room on the top floor and immediately were jealous of his view of the Tour Eiffel out his window. He was able to lie in bed and just watch it all night. I do not think Daniel will ever let me live it down that we are staying so close to the Tour Eiffel, but cannot see it due to the buildings across the street. I think if we were on the top floor we would have seen it. Oh well, maybe next time.
After packing his stuff, we all walked into the Metro system, us heading for the hotel and Jonathan heading for Geneva. We met up with his intern friend from the WHO, and he went on to the Champs de Elysais. We hugged Jonathan goodbye and hopefully I will get to go on a trip with him. We talked about maybe Argentina or maybe even Spain and the south of France. I sure hope it is not three years before we see each other again.
Daniel and I stocked up on pastries and drinks at our favorite bakery, Pian d’ Epis, just before they closed for the night and then headed back to the hotel for an early night. Tomorrow we are sleeping in, and then after checkout we have a few hours to kill in Paris before our train back to London. We plan on meeting Nathan one more time in London and then our three week odyssey comes to an end on Tuesday.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
The alarm went off way too early after the night of song and dance. With the theme song from the Moulin Rouge still echoing in my head, We headed downstairs to meet Jonathan. He had trekked all the way from his apartment to our hotel to meet us.
We grabbed some Parisian Pastries and headed off to the catacombs of Paris. My first thought was that it was a rip off since it was just a underground maze of old limestone. Then I came across the actual crypt. It was a sight to behold. All those bones and skulls lying neatly stacked everywhere. It went on for blocks and blocks and was a bit creepy. One lady even gave up due to claustrophobia. Certain parts were no flash photo zones out of respect. Personally, I think they just wanted to sell more guidebooks. At any rate, I enjoyed this piece of history. Doing some checking, I discovered there are actually a lot more than this one catacomb, but sadly they are not open to the public. It is weird that there are people who will go into the unopened ones and just hang out and watch movies. When we reached the top of the spirals, I was out of breath, probably due to too many Pain au chocolats.
The three of us then set out for Monmartre and Sacre Coeur. It is one of the highest points in Paris, and worth the climb. Be careful, there are some people on the steps who will try and wrap these string things around your arm and get money from you. Jonathan pointed it out to us, and like a game of capture the flag, we looked for gaps and made a run for the top. After a few snaps, we wandered down some neat little side streets in the Abbesses neighborhood. It was just a short walk from Monmartre and before long we had seen it all. This was the Paris I have always wanted to visit. It just seemed more like a movie set than the Paris I am used to seeing.
We then hit the Marais for some shopping and walking and shopping and walking, stopping briefly at a cafe for some drinks and relaxation. We then headed to one of the big department stores to check out CDs and DVDs, but alas no Jarre concerts that I am missing. It was time to eat, so we headed to the Latin Quarter near Notre Dame and wandered the streets as Jonathan tried to find this area of restaurants that he had seen on one of his last trips. We ended up in this great place called Le Bistro Saint Andre which had Steak and Fries with dessert for only 14 euros. The food was good and the price was right. We topped it off with a crepe, and then headed back towards Tour Eiffel.
We toyed with the idea of going to the top at night, but there was still a 30 min queue for the elevator and no one wanted to pay 4 euros to hike the stairs. We made plans to meet in the queue at 9am tomorrow and then go to the very top. I think we will also try and do a Seine boat tour before Jonathan heads back to Geneva. It was great seeing Jonathan again!
One last note, at dinner I made Jonathan count his countries. Turns out he has been to 48 countries according to the Travel Century Club. That puts him double my count and more than a dozen more than Nathan. Looks like we have some work to catch up!
Friday, November 9, 2007
After being worn out for the past few days, Daniel and I tried to sleep in a bit again and got a late start. We headed out to Tour Eiffel and found the queue to get up into the tower was over an hour long. Not wanting to waste precious time with it, we were satisfied with some snaps of the overall tower and then decided to do some serious museum time. I wanted to see the Musee Orsay where the famous impressionist paintings can be found, but we decided to forgo it and head into the mother-ship of all museums – the Louvre.
One could spend years inside (and that is just trying to get in or out of the place or trying to get to the toilets), but I like to just take a few hours to get to the highlights. The only other time I was in the Louvre was in 1990 with my good friend Kris on our high school graduation trip. This trip really instilled the traveling bug in me (although at the time I was a bit overwhelmed by it all). One of my favorite memories with Kris was wandering around the museum with one of the chaperones of the trip. It was then we saw the Mona Lisa, the code of Hammurabi, and other famous works of art. In fact, in one of my old photo albums there is a photo of the Code of Hammurabi and not much else from the Louvre. So as Daniel and I made our highlights tour around the museum, I made sure to visit those select paintings that brought back memories of 1990.
One thing I noticed, was that in the 17 years since I visited, some places look completely different, reorganized, and modernized. On the other hand, there are some rooms where it looks like nothing has changed since my previous visit. Daniel enjoyed seeing some great works of art, as did I, and we spent some time taking photos of Venus de Milo as well as some other famous pieces, including the famous Napoleon crowning himself painting by Jaques-Louis David.
After the Louvre, we headed off to Notre Dame for a quick photo op and visit to the cathedral. Not too much excitement there so we then headed off to the catacombs. Now, the catacombs have always fascinated me and it has been on my list of things to do in Paris for a long time. If you are not familiar, the catacombs were old abandoned limestone quarries underneath Paris where after a pandemic of disease and a shortage of space, they moved thousands of dead bodies in the late 1700s and early 1800s. They are mentioned in a lot of literature and have always been something I wanted to see. Unfortunately, Daniel and I arrived right at 1605, 5 minutes too late to see them. We will have to try again later.
We then headed back to the hotel for some rest and relaxation. With Jonathan arriving this evening, we decided to go to the Moulin Rouge and the show doesn’t start until after 11pm, so I know we will be out late. We relaxed for a bit and then headed out to do some shopping at Printemps. When we arrived, we discovered it was way overpriced and didn’t spend much time there. On a suggestion by Daniel, we headed to C and A. I have never heard of them, but we discovered that they were pretty inexpensive (for Paris) and proceeded to do some good shopping. I picked up some socks, a sweater, and an extra set of underwear to get me through the last 5 days of the trip. Daniel also scored some stuff to get him to the end of the trip as well as a neat shoulder bag.
Armed with our purchases, we headed back again to the hotel to change. We then had to turn around and get to the Moulin Rouge. After some metro-ing and some walking we arrived at the world famous cabaret theater. There was a huge line out front so we jumped in it and waited for Jonathan. Happily, he arrived before the line began to move. I did notice a huge number of Asian tourists disembarking from a tour bus and making a dash inside. Before too long, we were in our seats and ready to go. We got a bottle and a half of champagne to split between us, and since Daniel does not drink it, Jonathan and I had a great time drinking it.
The show at the Moulin Rouge was very cabaret and Vegas. It reminded me of a Charo concert I saw at the Venetian. It consisted of 4 musical acts divided by acrobats, magicians, and a ventriloquist. Overall, there were elaborate sets and costumes and it was a spectacle to behold. Speaking of costumes, someone had warned me that the MR was full of topless women. Actually only about one-third were topless and the rest kept their shirts on. Just thought you wanted to know.
A bit tipsy from the champagne, we parted ways and Daniel and I hailed a cab back to the hotel. It was a great night, and tomorrow we are off to have a day with Jonathan on the town.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Today was kickback day. Daniel and I slept in until 10 am and then headed out to the parks for a leisurely day of riding attractions and shopping. Of course, no trip to Paris would be complete without some sort of mysterious downtime of the Metro system. Today, it was the RER system which was shut down between Opera and Nation stations, which meant in order to get to Disneyland, we had to go via the regular Metro line after backtracking to Franklin Roosevelt Station. It meant instead of arriving at the parks at noon, we ended up there after 1pm. We met up with Tom who gave us a CD of photos from yesterday’s fun and excitement. We again thanked Tom and then headed out to Walt Disney Studios.
I wanted to make sure I went on a few attractions that were there in 2002 that I missed: Armageddon and Anamagique. Armageddon started out great but just sort of ended after a bunch of explosions. I think if they had a bit where you saw your video mixed in with the special effects it would have made it a great attraction. Anamagique was a cool theater show with characters and black light puppeteers. It reminded me of Mickey’s Philharmagic but with live characters vs. 3D animation.
After riding a few of our favorites again, namely Crush and Rock and Rollercoaster avec Aerosmith, we headed over to Disneyland Park. We again dashed around the park in the remaining hours we had. The parks close early this time of year and Disneyland Park closed at 7pm. Basically we would dart to a ride and then look in some shops and then repeat. As the park closed, we headed towards Main Street USA to do some last minute shopping and I picked up some magnets and pins. At park closing, they had an Illuminations event where there was a character song and dance in the hub and then they did some dazzling light effects on the castle.
As a nightcap, we headed to Disney Village to get some dinner. I couldn’t believe how expensive some of the places were. For example a steak was over 40 Euros (approx 60 dollars) and a hamburger and fries at another place was 30 Euros. We settled on the New York Deli which while still pricier than the McDonald’s (the largest in Europe) was a lot less crowded and had better food.
A quick check of the Disney Store in the village and then it was back to Paris to our hotel. Thankfully, there were no further problems with the trains. Tomorrow we are back in Tourist Mode.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Up before the sun, Daniel and I navigated the Paris Metro and RER systems and headed out to Parcs Disneyland. We were there to meet Tom, a member of the DLRP cast who I met two years ago as they were training on Buzz Lightyear. Tom had promised to show me around the parks when I made it to Paris, so after exchanging some emails, the date was set.
We arrived right at 8am despite a delay of 5 minutes at one RER station. The thing that frustrates me about Paris is that when something happens to the transit system and you are a tourist with little or no French knowledge, you are out of the loop and know nothing about what is happening. For being one of the premiere cities of the world, they could do a little to improve their services for tourists. Another big gripe is that every ticket agent knew enough English until I needed help at which they then decided that they didn’t know it. I guess I am partially to blame since this is my sixth trip to France and I still know very little French.
Tom immediately whisked us into the park where we were able to see areas with no people and some with just a handful of people. He took us on a whirlwind tour through Star Tours (for Daniel), Space Mountain, Buzz, Peter Pan, Pirates, Indy, Phantom Manor, and Big Thunder. Those of you familiar with my site know that I have this deep found love for Disneyland Paris and it was great to see it from an insiders point of view. We were privileged to see some backstage areas as well, including some of the cast facilities.
We then moved over to Walt Disney Studios Paris where we were shown the newest land Toon Studios as well as some of the placemaking projects for the park. Along the way, we even spotted Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, taking a tour. Tom also showed us around the new Tower of Terror attraction which opens in January, and I think the public will be impressed with all that is going into and around the attraction. Sorry folks, no spoilers here, just a quick rundown of what we did. We wrapped up our day with a ride on the Rock and Rollercoaster, Lights, Moteurs, Action, and finally Cinemagique. That leaves Animagique and the new Cars ride as the only WDSP attraction I have not seen. By the way, the new Crush Coaster is awesome!
To end the night, Tom took us to the Fantasia Bar at the Disneyland Hotel for a drink. I cannot say enough about how amazing the day was and how great it was for Tom to take time out of his busy schedule to take us all around the resort and to share his insights on the Resort. For me, it was an amazing day that I will not soon forget.
Exhausted, Daniel and I looked around the Disney Village and took note of some cool things we might pick up before we go home. It was then time to take the RER back the 17 stops to Paris. We decided to stay on for an extra stop so we could walk the Champs de Elysais to get a quick bite to eat. What better place to get something quick than Quick? After downing our meal and leaving to avoid the scary beggar, we headed back to our hotel to crash.
We need to get some more Chocolate croissants since we enjoyed them at one of the backstage cafes. Before we head out tomorrow, we will need to find a bakery in the Rue Cler that sells them. If all goes according to plan, we are going to sleep in for a bit and then head back to the Resort to enjoy it at a leisurely pace and do some serious souvenir shopping. Friday is shaping up to be the Touristy day in Paris with museums and Eiffel Towers galore.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Today Daniel and I traveled from Edinburgh, Scotland to Paris, France aboard two trains. The first train left at 8am from Edinburgh Waverly station. It took us a little over four hours to get to London Kings Cross Station. The only thing notable was the fact there was this guy who looked a lot like Dick Cheney who kept walking up and down the aisle. I felt like he was glaring at me every time he did it too. I think that poor couple was from Kalamazoo, MI and was having way too much fun on the train.
Arriving at Kings Cross, we posed for a photo at the location of Platform 9 3/4 – where the Hogwarts Express leaves the beginning of each trip. There is even a partial trolly in the wall for effect. We managed to navigate the Tube with our huge bags and end up at Waterloo station with only slight bag trauma in the tube. Coming off of the tube, I noticed that the top handle of my bag is now missing one screw and another is on its way out. It seems this will be the last trip of the mondo bag. Time to get a new one.
Check in for the Eurostar was a bit chaotic with the tons of school kids from France running all over the place. We waited for about an hour in the lounge until it was time to depart. We enjoyed a Snickers for Daniel and a Dark Chocolate Kit Kat for me which seems to be our snack when we are pressed for time.
The train to Paris was uneventful save for a few crazy French passengers who spent the whole trip talking and talking and talking. We were in seats that faced another two gentlemen. One seemed to give me the booboojeebies. I think he was having a bad day. It also seems that Daniel and I are doomed to ride backwards on all of our trains.
Once in Paris, we waited in the Taxi queue and then landed a taxi to our hotel. I had to show him where on the map the hotel was, but we made it despite the crazy central Paris traffic. The hotel has been upgraded since I stayed here 8 years ago. It is very chic. One thing that was weird, when we checked in, we had to wait for the guy to show up (he ran out for some food). Then, when he took my reservation paper, he looked me up in the computer and then made me a key card. He then showed me the elevator. No paperwork to sign or anything.
Daniel and I had to go up one at a time in the elevator and made it to our room. Its a bit small but typical Paris. We went out and grabbed some dinner and scoped out the Metro tickets for tomorrow. Its up early for us tomorrow so I will upload the photos with the Day 16 photos tomorrow night. Tomorrow we are off to Disneyland Paris to meet up with some people I trained back in 2005 at Disneyland. It promises to be a fun filled exciting day.
Monday, November 5, 2007
Today I got up early to return our beloved Mercedes B150. I cannot say enough about how much I enjoyed driving this car with its comfortable seats. I think it could have used a turbo or a slightly larger engine to tackle all of the hills that we drove over, but overall it is a great car. Just the fact we were able to fit all of our bags in the boot was amazing. I found the Europcar with little difficulty and after it was all checked out, they gave me the OK. They called me a cab and I made it back to the hotel in about 20 minutes. The entire time this cab driver was listening to a CD of his friends and kept asking me if he thought his friend was a great singer or not. I just agreed and tried not to think about the fact it was 7am on a Monday.
Coming back to the hotel, we decided to get some more sleep since the next few days are going to be really hectic. By the time we set out, it was around noon. We walked down to the main train station to get our seat reservations for the train to London tomorrow. It was a bit of a queue in the travel office, but after some initial confusion we got our seats. Hopefully, this will turn out better than our train trip to Cardiff. The reservation agent suggested we take an earlier train to London at 8am to give us three hours between trains, just in case of any difficulty. I was concerned that this might eliminate our chance at our pre-paid breakfast at the hotel and I made a note to ask when we got back.
Before heading up to the castle, we went to the Mercat Tour company and purchased tickets for the Haunted Underground Experience as featured on Living TV’s Most Haunted. Daniel and I are big fans and since we missed out on seeing the Most Haunted Live event we were glad we got to do something haunted. From there, we walked up the hill to the Edinburgh Castle. It is actually an amazing castle sitting on one of the volcanic crags. The highlight for me was seeing the Scottish Crown Jewels as well as an exhibit on the history of the Royal Scots. One disadvantage to being on the top of the hill is the chilly strong breezes one gets. At this point Daniel wanted to get his coat so we walked down the hill back to the hotel, browsing through some shops along the way.
We did not have much time back at the hotel before our tour started, but I was able to confirm we had time for breakfast in the morning (6:30!) and I made arrangements for a cab to meet us at 7:15. It was then time to walk back up the hill to the tour meeting place at the Mercat Cross.
Our tour guide was William and he had a great sense of humor and was a very engaging guide who, as we made our way to the Blair Street Vaults explained some of the history of Edinburgh and the vaults. It was then time to descend below grade. Once I got a whiff of the vaults, I knew there was an uneasy feeling in there. I think it probably is due to the staleness of the air, but you do get an eerie sense. We walked through several vaults and William told us some great stories of what has been seen and what has actually happened on previous tours. At one point in a hallway, I could have sworn I heard footsteps or clomping above me, but alas there was nothing above me to make that sound. I took some photos in the rooms and managed to capture some Orbs and light anomalies, but I did not see anything unusual. We did get to play with some EMF meters and mine did in fact go bonkers in a few spots where the spirits roam. I wish our group was smaller for I think the size (18) diminished our chances of seeing anything.
The weirdest thing to happen was that as we were leaving one of the rooms both Daniel and I heard voices as if someone started to say something but stopped. When we turned around there was nothing there. I also wish we could have explored on our own or at least kept it quiet for 10 minutes or so to see if we had heard anything. All in all, it was a cool tour and I recommend if anyone comes to Edinburgh to check out a tour.
After the tour, it was time to get back to the hotel to rest and get ready for bed. We stopped and had pizza for dinner, which seems to be developing into our last meal before we leave a city tradition.
Tomorrow is mainly a travel day – 4 hours on a train to London and then another 3 plus to Paris. I am also not sure of the Internet situation in Paris, so I might need to spread the updates out and send a couple at once. One week left which is funny because usually at this stage I am ready to come home, but we are having so much fun we don’t want it to end.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Determined to get to the breakfast buffet, it was up again with the alarm and quick showers to get downstairs. Not too impressed with the buffet at the Palace Hotel, but it was neat that they made toast and delivered it to the table in this neat little holder. The rest of the buffet was the usual assortment of fried and scrambled eggs, back bacon, sausage, and of course haggis. There was also a nice assortment of breads, rolls, and cereal for the taking.
We were of course under the impression that our room came with breakfast, but upon checkout we discovered a nice charge on our bill for breakfast. It made me glad that I we missed it the first day. Not wanting to be lost without a clue, before we checked out we used the free Internet to get directions to Balmoral Castle and then directions from there to our hotel in Edinburgh. Our weakness while driving has been finding hotels in the cities once we arrive, so I was determined not to let it happened again.
It was a pleasant 90-mile drive to Balmoral Castle. We took a direct, but through the countryside, route that took us up by ski resorts, farms (complete with sheep snacking on the side of the road completely oblivious to cars passing by), and wonderful lush landscape. I even let Daniel try driving, but after 10 minutes he gave up because he was tired of me squirming in the passenger seat. We arrived at Balmoral, but were disappointed since they only give tours on Saturdays in the autumn and we missed it by a day. I did manage to take some photos of the gates of the estate and then we made our way back down the road.
Before we knew it we were approaching Edinburgh via the Forth Road Bridge, a nice suspension bridge across the bay. It runs parallel to the famous iron bridge used for the railroads and it was a spectacular site despite the drizzle. Heading into the city center confident with our directions, we again got turned around and hopelessly on the wrong side of the city. I decided to pull into the Holiday Inn Express and ask for directions. The nice lady showed me the fact that it really wasn’t very far and as a matter of fact we had passed it on the way to Holiday Inn.
Our hotel didn’t have a spot for our beloved B150, but we found a spot on the street right across from the hotel. We have to move it before 8am tomorrow which works out because that is when the Europcar agency opens. This Hilton is way above the one in Blackpool and is very nice. They recently renovated the first floor and fortunately our room is on the first floor. Just like the other hotel, the internet is for pay only so access will be limited until we get to Paris.
We set off to walk around Edinburgh to find a place to eat and ended up settling on TGI Fridays since most other places were closed. The service was OK, but our food took forever to get to our table. After almost 90 minutes in the restaurant, we finally got to leave and head back to the hotel. Since I have to get up early in the am to return the car it was a quick night for me. Of course, I have planned to do that for the last couple of night, but have ended up watching TV until late. But tonight, I will make sure I am off early.
Tomorrow, we are going up to Edinburgh Castle and some of the other sights. We would like to do one of the hunted tours. There is even a group that features a “as seen on Most Haunted” picture in their ad, so I think that is the one we will do. Tomorrow is also Guy Fawkes Night so we need to see where the big pyro exhibit will be at tomorrow night. One last thing, we need to make train reservations for our trip to London to meet the Eurostar.