Monday, September 30, 2013

Sunday + {Day Thirteen: Paris}

On our last day in Paris, we went to Versailles. It is really far away from Paris (around an hour on the train, at least), but completely worth it! It is one of Gooligan’s favorite places ever. We got there right as it opened.

We snapped a few photos inside, and then Gooligan went to get a free audioguide, while the rest of us headed into the gardens to look for coffee. Just as we stepped outside, a torrential downpour started. It rained and rained and rained. We ducked inside this covering to wait it out and wait for Gooligan.

I even went out into the rain to find Gooligan, but no luck. It turns out that when we leave the main part of the palace, and go into the gardens, we cannot get back inside. Gooligan had to surrender her audioguide to join us outside in the rain.

Miserably we made our way to a nearby café outside of Versailles and ate some breakfast, then regrouped and headed back to Versailles. It had stopped raining by now, but unfortunately a long line had formed. Our passes, unfortunately, did nothing to let us skip the security line.

Luckily the security guard took pity on us and let us cut the line. Personally, I feel like the exit should be marked a little more clearly. If we hadn’t had our passes, and had only bought day tickets, then we would have been out of luck.

Anyway, this time around, we decided to split up. Sarah and Shannon headed to the Hall of Mirrors and then chilled in the café, while Gooligan and I both picked up audioguides and took a long tour around almost the entire palace. I took a million photos of Gooligan and all the rooms.

Then we tracked down Sarah and Shannon and we headed out into the gardens for real this time. It was raining very lightly and we were all tired by this point, so we decided to hop on Le Petit Train, which tours the gardens and lets you off at five different points to explore if you want. Then you just hop on the next train whenever you’re ready and continue.

Since Gooligan really wanted to see Marie Antoinette’s hamlet in the gardens, we disembarked the train there and walked about fifteen minutes out to the absolutely stunning hamlet! It was beautiful. There were several little hamlets, since it was park of a working farm, and she frequently had visitors. After we explored, we headed back to Le Petit Train, since we wanted to see Notre Dame.

We made it back to the city with over an hour to spare, but the guy working the Tower entrance said the stairs had already reached their max capacity for the day so we were out of luck. Disappointing to be sure, but the cathedral was beautiful both inside and outside. We walked around the inside twice, then left to get crepes.

While eating our delicious nutella crepes in the park by the cathedral, we accessed enough free wifi to get a scoop on a good bakery nearby. On our way home, we stopped to pick up a baguette for dinner and croissants for breakfast—accomplishing our goal of having both a croissant and a crepe while in France!

At home, we ate dinner and packed up our bags for our early morning taxi! Booking the taxi itself was a bit of a struggle, since the first taxi tried to charge us about three times the going rate. Finally we connected with the English-speaking operator for a reliable taxi, though, which meant it was time for bed.

We definitely squeezed every ounce out of our time in France, although to tell you the truth, it was not exactly one of my favorite food stops so far.

Saturday + {Day Twelve: Paris}

We had already decided a long time ago to invest in a two-day Paris museum pass. For 39 euro each, we get access to sixty museums and can skip lines at many of them. You can’t see 60 museums in two days, of course, but even just three or four museums makes the pass worth it—especially if it helps you skip any lines, which ours did. It also lets you go to a museum and then leave and go back if you get hungry or accidentally leave (true story).

After a lazy morning (it took us awhile to get our stuff together), we headed off on the metro to find the Louvre. Using a Rick Steves guidebook, we figured out where to buy our passes and also found an entrance to the Louvre where we didn’t have to wait in line at all.

We swung by Mona Lisa, then spent the rest of our time at the Louvre just kind of popping in on whatever exhibits people wanted to see. Gooligan got to see her favorite painting again (of a girl floating in a lake with a halo over her).

I really love statues and even ditched the group for a moment to hike over to a different area to see the statue of Venus on display. While the bodies sculpted are incredible with their realism, what are most impressive to me are the statues with wings; the sculptors’ ability to create these thin detailed wings out of marble is unbelievable.

On our way out of the Louvre, we stopped to take photos by the pyramid. They had these blocks people can stand on and then put their hand out and pretend to touch the top of the pyramid. We each snapped a picture, which took a few minutes, considering that you had to have someone else tell you how to move your hand just right. They are some of my favorite photos of our trip so far, though.

After the Louvre, we popped into the Orsay museum, this amazing collection of Impressionist art, among other things. Shannon loves the impressionists and I am really glad we got to see them!

We stopped to eat dinner and were planning on swinging by Notre Dame, but it closed earlier than we expected. So instead we walked through the park and took pictures of us posing like the various statues we passed. Best impromptu moment of our trip.

Friday + {Day Eleven: Paris}

The good news: our taxi arrived on time! The bad news: apparently it was cash-only. We didn't have any cash, of course, because we were leaving the UK for the EU, so after he dropped us off at St. Pancras train station, Gooligan had to run inside and find an ATM to pay the man. Lesson learned for the future: ask ahead of time if taxi cab takes cards. This will be less of a problem from here on out, though, since we're going to be in the EU and dealing with euros for the rest of our trip.

The train to Paris was lovely. Taking the train is a nicer way to travel than flying: less panic over your bag because Eurostar doesn't have weight restrictions, less security, less hassle in general. Once we got on the train and it started moving, our ears popped from the pressure of going underground. In order to get to Paris from London, we went under the channel!

I slept through most of the train ride—which was actually an hour shorter than I thought it would be due to traveling into the next time zone—and when I woke up we were in Paris!

The Paris’s metro system is quite similar to England’s underground, which we had become quite proficient at, so finding the correct stop was relatively easy. Once we were there, we called our host. His brother came to meet us, walked us to our place, gave us our key, and told us to call him if we had any problems.

Since we were ravenous at this point, we Yelped a place to eat and headed off after a few minutes. The place we ate at—Bistro 31—was delicious. It was also filled with almost exclusively French people. The food was perfect. Gooligan and I split a delicious pasta dish.

After eating, we made our way to the Eiffel tower! Sometimes famous tourist attractions don’t live up to the expectation, but the Eiffel tower is amazing. I can’t believe that it only took a little over two years to build; it’s so huge and the idea of people climbing up so high in the air and building this giant metal structure is incredible.

Anyway, we bought tickets to go all the way to the top. For youth (under 26) it was only 13 euros a person. Not a bad deal at all, considering there are several different observation floors and you can walk all the way around the tower on each of them.

It took a lot of time to see the tower, though; we waited in line for several hours collectively, probably, but it was definitely worth it. The view of the skyline was so beautiful. The only shame, of course, is that by viewing it from the Eiffel tower, the Eiffel tower is missing from the view.

We wanted to go up at night originally, but we originally got in line at four and by the time it was getting dark (around 7:30) we were getting hungry and tired. So we stayed through the beginnings of dusk, saw a few lights around the city from the tower, and then came down. By the time we arrived at the bottom, the entire tower itself was lit up. Beautiful. We stopped to use the bathroom and when we came out, there was a rotating light display that made the tower look like it was sparkling.

Then, happy and content, we made our way home, stopping to pick up some wine. When we arrived home, we discovered that the nearest grocery store was around two miles away. Gooligan and I put our shoes back on and headed out again. Luckily being without a car is fine in Paris: we walked a few blocks to the Metro, hopped on one line, got off it about nine minutes later and walked a few blocks to the store! So convenient.

At home, we dined on salami, Brie, baguette, tomatoes, and wine, while swapping stories about how we met our respective partners. A great end to a great day!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Thursday + {Day Ten: London}

Since we only had one day left in London, we decided to pack in as many of the classic attractions as we could. After another deliciously fat-saturated, protein-heavy breakfast, the four of us headed off boldly for a day full of go, go, going.

At the train station, the man at the ticket booth helpfully informed us that there’s an on-going deal if you buy a train ticket; as long as both you and another person have train tickets, then you can get into a lot of attractions under a two-for-one deal.

Knowing that was fantastic, since London is a pricey city. All-day travel cards (good for any trains in zones 1-6) + any buses are only 8.60 pounds each. Unfortunately, Gooligan and I somehow lost ours immediately, so we had to buy new ones.

The first thing we did when we arrived in London was go the National Gallery. We saw some impressive paintings, but we didn’t linger very long, since there were so many other things we wanted to do. My favorite exhibit was Michael Landy’s Saints Alive. It consisted of these huge interactive pieces of art. You pressed a button, cranked a handle, or stepped on a foot pedal at each statue and it would do something. Each of the statues represented a saint and how they were tortured. I love interactive art and it was a really unique kind of exhibit—and totally free!

After the museum, we decided to split into two groups and meet back in about five hours at Traflagar Square. Gooligan and I went across the River Thames and, after a quick stop by tickets to the London Eye, we stood in line for the London Dungeon.

The London Dungeon is described as “the ultimate thrill-filled journey through London’s murky past.” It’s a sixty-to-ninety minute tour led by actors in costume who discuss important people/events from London’s past. After descending into the dungeon, we started with a boat ride (Henry VIII sending traitors to the Tower), then we stopped at the “City Gate” where a servant who collected waste from the toilets talked to us. Next up was Guy Fawkes. Gooligan was given a letter by one of the actors to carry to the next scene. We met a torturer next, saw a plague house, a terrifying plague doctor who sprayed the audience with “blood” (just water, but it was dark and unexpected!). Then we went to Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop, met Sweeney Todd, were terrified by Jack the Ripper, learned about the gallows, were judged in a court room (Gooligan was found guilty for being an American) and “hanged.” The hanging consisted of one of those rides that go up and then drop you down suddenly. After we were on the ride, the floor folded away unexpectedly so the drop was a lot deeper than I expected and I screamed really loudly.

Overall, the London Dungeon was perfect. It was especially great because we saved almost 25 pounds by having the two-for-one pass.

After the Dungeon, we stopped to get a chili bowl and ate outside. It was a beautiful day; very clear and warm but there was a gentle breeze, too, so it wasn’t too hot.

When we were done eating, Gooligan and I walked over to the Globe Theatre. We were thinking about going on a tour, but as it turned out there was actually a show going on, so the tour was truncated. We decided to skip it (but took pictures of the beautiful outside!) and caught a bus to the Tower of London.

Originally we decided not to do the Tower of London because it was a lot of money and we weren’t sure if it was worth it, but with the two-for-one pass it worked out to be under 10 pounds each. Completely worth it. We saw some more dungeons and torture devices, the Crown Jewels, a lot of the really amazing scepters and swords used in ceremonies, and an exhibit about the Royal animals that were kept at the Tower of London until the attacks became too numerous and they were transferred to the newly built zoo instead.

After the Tower, we met back up with the whole group and went to the Eye. We timed it right and practically walked right on. One full rotation takes a half hour. It was beautiful to see the city from up high! We had planned to go to Big Ben, but we were all a little tired of running around by then and had to get up early for a taxi. The Eye provided us with an incredible view of Big Ben anyway.

We stopped for dinner at this perfect Italian restaurant. Buffalo was their specialty, but we didn’t get any. Instead, we had a delicious super-thin crust pizza and split a hazelnut donut for dessert.

As we walked back to the Underground, we saw a lot of cute shops. I wish we had more time in London, but we packed in as much as we could and had a great time!

Once we were back in Enfield, we stopped at the grocery store to buy some snacks and use up the rest of our pounds. Then we confirmed our cab, packed our bags, said goodbye to our lovely host Rita, signed her guestbook, and hit the hay for… three and a half hours of sleep!

Today was probably the best day yet!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wednesday + {Day Nine: London}

This morning, Rita fed us the "typical English breakfast" promised on her profile on Airbnb. Gooligan and I were unprepared, to say the least. Round one was cereal, jam, orange juice, tea, and toast. Round two was sausage, bacon, an egg, a piece of English muffin, a another piece of regular toast--all of which was fried in butter. Round three was more toast.

After breakfast, we talked to Rita a lot and Gooligan helped her change the duvet covers to prepare for Sarah and Shannon's arrival. Then we watched the news while we waited for them to call.

The moment they called, we leapt into the car and sped over to the train station to meet them. It's so exciting to see Shannon and Sarah after having planned this trip for so long together!

After giving them a few moments to settle in, we took the underground to Piccadilly Circus (a part of London really close to a lot of museums/statues/monuments, etc.) and found a delightful restaurant to eat at. Pretty great food and reasonably priced.

Gooligan and I split another salad/sandwich comb and the sandwich was so delicious, with avocado and really thick mozzarella cheese.

After dinner, we called it an early night and headed home to get some rest, since we have a lot we want to pack into our last day in England! The good news is that I think Gooligan and I understand the underground system now!

Tuesday + {Day Eight: Dublin + London, With an Unexpected Stop in Wales}

I woke up so quickly this morning that I hit my head on the wall. Hard. I was stressed about missing our taxi. In fact, I had a completely realistic dream that we had done that very thing. But thankfully it was just a dream.

We spent around twelve hours in transit today. Our taxi that we booked online never showed and we didn't have time to wait around for it, so we started to walk to the fancy hotel across the street. Our plan was to ask them to call us a cab, but then we saw several in the street. We flagged one down and got a ride to the bus station, where we caught our shuttle to the ferry.

The ferry was amazing! It was huge. There was a movie theater, three restaurants, a gift shop, and a child's playground. Gooligan and I just sort of collapsed and slept most of the trip. 

After the three and a half hour ferry ride (which dropped us off in Wales, to our surprise!) we took two trains to get to London. Probably another three or four hours in total.

We stopped in London to meet up with Liz my best friend from fourth grade! It was so surreal to see each other again after almost twelve years. I feel so lucky to have been able to meet up, since we had such a narrow window in which to do it. But it was really great to see Liz again after so long. Luckily with the internet, it's a lot easier to keep in touch with people. Hopefully one day she can come to the States and we can host her and show her around Seattle.

After dinner, since we each had some time until our next trains, we went over to King's Cross and all took photos at the Harry Potter statue. It was fantastic. Gooligan was so excited.

Then Liz helped us figure out how to get to our Airbnb. When we arrived, our host, Rita, offered us tea and muffins even though we were stuffed and it was already nine at night.

We met two of Rita's other guests--Americans from Michigan--who had a similar experience as us with Ryanair.

Just after the water boiled, the lights went out! We sat around in the candle-lit dark, sipping our tea and talking to Rita and one of her other guests.

Then, luckily, the lights came back on, just in time for bed. After all of our (mis)adventures in Dublin, we already love London. Our trip is looking up!
Blog Template by Delicious Design Studio