Friday, February 24, 2017

Musee D'Orsay, Eiffel Tower

Email from June 28:

We headed straight for the Musee D'Orsey this morning and ate croissants in line. This line was only 20 minutes, so it wasn't too bad. The painting of the girls playing the piano wasn't there this time, though maybe we missed it. For being a much smaller gallery, it's sort of confusing and hard to tell which rooms you've already seen without walking into them all again (which we sort of attempted to do). My favorite part of this museum is, of course, the building that houses it. But again, the crowds were crazy and it was hard to really even experience the backside of the clock tower. Alas. We did see everything there (we think). And overall it's still a more pleasant museum experience than the Louvre. It also covers a time period of art that isn't very well covered by the Louvre.

From there we headed back to the hotel to pack up and check out but keep our bags at the hotel. We rode bikes from the hotel to the Pantheon which took quite a while because they're on opposite ends of town and we had a bit of a tricky time finding the Pantheon. Mainly because of all the one way roads. We would get to a road where we planned to turn and it would need one way the wrong way. So we would go to the next, and it would also go the wrong way. So we go one more, and it's also the wrong way! Eventually we made it there. Hugo, Dumas, Voltaire and many others are buried beneath Foucault's pendulum.

At this point, it was around 4pm and we had only had one croissant each and I was dying, so we bought some bignets off a street vendor and ate them on the Metro on the way to Rue de Grenelle (the place a friend of ours said to eat). There really weren't many cafés there, but we found one. I had a Croque-Madame and Tom had an "Ocean Salad" (with seafood in it, obviously).

We biked from there to the Trocodero to see the Eiffel Tower up close and saw hilarious professional engagement and wedding pictures being taken with the Eiffel tower in the background (again, with a giant football hanging in the middle of it... how romantic).

We took pictures and then took the Metro to the Arc d'Triomphe. There was some military gathering happening under the arch, so we couldn't walk under it, but we walked the loop around it on the opposite side of the street and took pictures. We then walked down the Champs E'Lysee stopping in Sephora to smell all of the "perfumes les enfants" (kid perfumes - a tradition of mine). I remember finding Mulan perfume the first time we went to Paris. This time they had Hello Kitty, Frozen, Playmobile Gene (?), Star Wars, Spiderman, and some Japanese character I didn't know. Our favorite kids fragrance was Star Wars.

Around 8:30pm, we got our bags at the hotel, walked to the airport bus stop, rode to the airport, walked to the hotel shuttle, packed on the shuttle bus to the hotel (Parisians really pack in the metro and busses!), and got here after 10pm. Because we have "status" (thanks to our credit card), we have lounge access, so we went and got the complimentary pastries and fruit and brought them back to our room. Then we're off on our long journey home! We love you all. Thank you for taking such great care of our kids while we've been away. I'm worried they won't even want to see us! :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Notre Dame, Saint Chappell, Louvre

Email from June 27:

We traveled today by bike. Paris has a very elaborate bike sharing program with bikes all over the place. The first 30 minutes is free for each trip and then 1 Euro for the next 30 minutes of the same trip, so it ends up being cheaper than the metro and much more enjoyable. The bike lanes are shared with busses, so it does make for some tight spots sometimes. Also, the Parisians like to honk at everything. It wasn't us, but it does get very nervewracking hearing the honking so much right next to you on the road. But we did survive. Tom says it's not really any different than riding a bike through Phnom Penh, so he's more accustomed to this type of thing.

We rode to Notre Dame this morning and walked through. There was a choir practice happening, so we sat down and listened for a bit. It was nice hearing the choir and organ in the cathedral, but we were a bit taken aback when they started singing Mack Wilberg's arrangement of For the Beauty of the Earth in English! (the queue to go up the towers was ridiculous, so we passed on that).

Then we grabbed a quick brunch as we walked. Tom got a brie, tomato, cucumber sandwich on a baguette and I got a croque-monsieur. As we ate, we walked over to Saint Chappell. They had just cleaned nearly half of the windows last year by removing them pane by pane. So they looked absolutely beautiful and radiant. It's such a tiny church, but so colorful!

We wanted to get right over to the Louvre to make sure we had sufficient time, so we walked over there right after Saint Chappell, but the Euro 2016 crowds are really starting to get in our way! The line just to get in was over 2 hours long. The line for e-tickets was non-existent, so Tom and I had the brilliant idea of riding back to the hotel and printing off e-tickets. The whole process of doing so took just an hour and we got to ride all over the city on bikes while the losers all waited in line!

The Louvre is exhausting. We spent nearly 3 hours walking around the Louvre. We saw everything we wanted to see (both Vermeers were there this time!) and then couldn't walk another foot! We ate at a little café about a block away (that was clearly for tourists, but the food was alright and it was close so we could stop walking when it started to rain). Then, we rode over to a patisserie that was well-reviewed and took home 4 things. They got a bit jumbled on the ride home, but we ate them all while we watched Italy beat Spain on TV in our room. As it's raining on and off today and our feet are shot, we're staying in and will probably watch the England/Iceland game.

Monday, February 20, 2017


Email from June 26:

We left Edinburgh this morning. We walked past the castle, grabbed a bite of food for the road, and boarded the bus to the airport. We found, upon arrival, our flight had been delayed a bit. So, we had giant hot chocolates (mugs with two handles!) and hung out. I took the opportunity to be sorted by the sorting hat on Pottermore. I was sorted into Hufflepuff which I was livid about, but then immediately after that, I lost my boarding pass and had to go find it (I did), so I'm at peace with the sorting. Tom, of course is Gryffindor.

We arrived in Paris around 3:30pm. We took the bus from the airport to the city and walked a few blocks to our hotel. It is pretty nice, but the room is pretty small (with an oddly large bathroom nearly the same size as the room. Then we headed out to Montmartre. We hiked up to the Sacre Coeur and caught the end of a Sunday service in the basilique. It was nice to see the church lit up inside for the service, and there was a nice long organ postlude.

It was really crowded up there, but we've realized everything here is so crowded because of the Euro 2016 going on. It's crazy! We walked around the area and then took the Metro to Notre Dame.

We walked across the bridge and ate some dinner crepes and dessert crepes in the Latin Quarter. Then we walked and walked and walked to get to the Eiffel Tower. I looked forward to sitting in the grass in front of it, but we found HUGE barracades of police cars and security. We realized the whole area had been turned into the "Fan Zone" filled with food booths and lots of TVs showing the games. We walked in and were frisked twice and had our bags checked twice. Security was unreal. And then there were giant TVs all over with the biggest one, which must have been 50 feet tall, right in front of the Eiffel Tower. Everyone was wearing a flag of lots of different countries. It was very festive and we stayed and watched the Hungary/Belgium game for a bit before heading home. We just got in around 11pm.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


Email from June 25:

Today was spent entirely in Edinburgh and this is our last night in the UK. We got up, walked down the road to see the Greyfriar's Bobby statue, and then spent nearly an hour looking around the National Museum of Scotland. There was tons to see, but we spent all of our time in the Scotland wing learning about early Scotland. Then we met up with friend, Brandon, and his wife (she's Scottish) for brunch close to the museum. Tom got a traditional Scottish breakfast (basically the same as English except with haggis in place of black pudding). His haggis was actually really good (I've only had gross, soggy haggis, so it surprised me that I liked it).

We walked up to the castle from there and waited in a long line to get our tickets. Our timing was actually quite good as we heard the one o'clock cannon in line just before we got our tickets and walked into the castle as everyone was walking out that had waited to see the cannon fire. So it really wasn't that crowded inside the castle. We did everything inside the castle (except go inside Margaret's chapel as there was a wedding there) and then started walking down the mile. They've already put most of the risers up for the military tattoo, so the view of the castle from the royal mile was completely blocked.

We walked in and out of shops on the Royal Mile for a while. We walked through some textile shops and saw all the clan tartan patterns. We went into St. Giles's Cathedral to see how Scottish cathedrals compare to English ones. This one apparently was originally built in the late 1200s in the Romanesque style, then after a partial fire was added to the Gothic style. So it was an interesting mixture of styles and didn't follow the conventional layout. Then we went into a small church that is now used as a market like a Pike Place Market or a Saturday market. We saw the original Greyfriar's bobby statue and the dog's collar in the Edinburgh museum on the royal mile. When we got out, we realized it was 4:15pm and the national gallery closed at 5, so we raced over to it and ran through (seeing the Vermeer... the only one he did on a biblical theme... and found some more Canaletto, which is still one of our favorites). From there, we walked by the Scott monument and up Calton hill for views of the castle and city. We could see Holyrood palace and the parliament building from up there.

We walked back through new town, old town, the royal mile, and back into the Grassmarket area below the castle and ate at Howie's on Victoria street (a recommendation from the Scottish Peter that stood by us two weeks ago at Trooping the Colour). We started our meal with "haggis, neeps, and tatties" which was haggis, mashed potatoes, and mashed sweet potatoes. It was all really good together. Like a fancy shepherd's pie. Then we ate dinner (I had spaghetti with prosciutto and veggies and Tom had a Scotch lamb roast) and had another Banoffee Pie for dessert. This one was better than the last one we had, but Tom's is still better.

Wales beat Northern Ireland today in Euro 2016, so that was exciting. In the end, it was just one goal and the Irish guy was the one to accidentally bump it in while trying to block it. Whoops.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

North to Scotland

Email from June 24:

Well the big news this morning is that Britain has voted to leave the EU and Cameron has said he will resign in the autumn. Everyone seems to be a bit shocked it actually happened. Scotland, Northern Ireland, and London were all pro-stay with rural England and Wales favoring the leave campaign. The young people were primarily "in" and the older were "out." At one point on the radio, he had a student on and an older lady on asking them questions about the outcome. At one point, they just stared yelling at each other. He said: "Pause a moment. Ladies. Pause a moment. You mustn't speak across one another." When it was clear he had lost control, he said: "I think I'll play One Direction" and he put on a song. It was hilarious.

The couple we stayed with last night were just the most adorable. He is a big music guy from Ireland. He apparently plays the organ, runs a Church choir, and when we were eating breakfast, he heard a song on the classical station he was listening to and said: "That's a lovely tune. I can't remember the name of it. I think it's Elgar." Then he got up, turned it off, and by memory sat down and played it on the piano. His wife said he recently had a large seizure and his memory isn't the same anymore. He finally figured out it was indeed Elgar and what the title was. They cooked us a large and proper English breakfast with black pudding, tomato, beans, mushrooms, toast, eggs, sausage, bacon, fruit, pastries, and OJ. They pride themselves on feeding well enough "it should last you until dinner." They also remarked on the way we ate our toast with jam and marmalade before the rest of breakfast. Apparently the English would only eat sweet toast after the main course, and they don't mix sweet with savory for breakfast.

We decided we'd run down to Northallerton after all and hope for the best. So, we ended up going to the records office. I found microfilm of the images I wanted, printed them off, and we drove North again.

Tom decided he'd rather go to Durham cathedral than Hadrian's wall, so on the way back up, we stopped there. Our hosts explained that it was a Norman cathedral started in 1093, and that he had got to play the organ there once. After visiting several Gothic cathedrals that had been built on the same sites as older cathedrals, we were interested to see what an old Norman Romanesque style cathedral would look like. After having visited a few Gothic cathedrals, we could appreciate what we learned in college humanities about the difference between Gothic and Romanesque styles. The columns are thicker and the windows are smaller, and overall the design is more simple. But there were things about it we liked better than the Gothic style. The columns had nice designs carved in them, and some used alternating types of stone to make patterns. It was still quite grand despite being much less ornate than the Gothic style. (Photos weren't allowed inside.)

We drove from Durham to the Angel of the North statue, which I've wanted to see in person since seeing a collage of pictures of it on Peter's bedroom wall in high school. It was very cool and I enjoyed it, but it wasn't nearly as tall as I thought it was. It's made of steel to celebrate the old steel industry in the area, and so it has a natural rust color.

The rest of the day was driving to Edinburgh. The satnav gave us some sort of rubbish directions so it took much longer than it should have to get out of Newcastle. We turned the car in twenty minutes late, but they didn't mention it. Congrats to Tom who successfully drove all through the UK without a single ding on the car! Then we found our place to stay, had a mixup where we didn't know how to get in, finally got internet and messaged her and got the code and now we're in our lovely flat in Edinburgh enjoying the show Upstart Crow which is a comedy show about Shakespeare. It's hilarious!

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