Friday, September 2, 2016

Summer 2016 - Paris, France

We ended up taking the train to France, going under the English Channel. I thought it would be longer under the water but it was only about 20 minutes or so which wasn't bad. The only part I didn't like about the train was the point where it stopped on the tracks for apparently no reason and a local that was riding with us said "This is bad, very bad" He told us that sometimes the trains will be delayed for hours because of strikes or problems. We hear an announcement not to open the doors of the train and the air turned off and it started getting hot and I admit I started panicking a bit. Luckily it was only about 15 or 20 minutes of a delay and then we started slowly moving again and made it to the station with not problem. 

Once we got into the city we took a van taxi to our hotel. Of course we entered the city during rush hour traffic again and it took us a long time to get to our hotel. Everywhere you looked there were beautiful buildings, wrought iron, unique and interesting places to look at. Lots of people were out and enjoying the city. Tons of people in café’s and walking the streets.
Our hotel was down a little street that looked like it was in a theater district. We explored a bit and finally found a place to eat for dinner. I was looking forward to some Parisian patio dining that I’ve always heard about. Most people didn’t want to eat inside the restaurant they all wanted to be out on the patio. The reality of the patio dining is you are cheek to cheek with strangers with no room to breathe, let alone to move and all the tables are for 2 people not 5 so we ate inside instead. Besides the patio also held all the smokers, it was a real possibility that would choking on smoke as you ate your meal. There also wasn’t anything fast or quick (or cheap). So we convinced Jeff to have a sit down, nice Parisian meal. (He would be happy to grab a couple of take away meals to share back in the hotel room) 

The food ended up being delicious and I just hoped Jeff got over the sticker shock enough to enjoy it. I had Salmon with dill sauce. It was cooked very well and I enjoyed it. I notice that they don’t have as much salt in their food, maybe oil and butter but not salt. The flavor is more simple but good. I noticed that Parisians eat lighter, maybe some raw fish over some salad and some fruit and cheese.
Back in our room we tried to relax on wall to wall beds (no room to walk) watching TV stations that we couldn’t understand, unless we wanted to watch more news reports on BBC about Brexit.  Ashley had to sleep between us on our bed but we made it through. I was feeling a little anxious as we heard that Jacob's mission call was coming through. We knew that we were probably going to come home after our trip to have it waiting for him! 

      In the morning Jeff found a café next to our hotel and ordered some omelets to go along with some croissants (to bring back to the hotel room to share). This was the time to sit on the patio! It was quieter, there was more room and it was a peaceful morning with enough people outside to people watch as well. 
        As I observed people in Paris I noticed that the French dress a lot nicer than we do (at least in Paris). There were no Walmart fashion faux pas here. Everyone dressed as if they were going to work or a garden party and even those who were casual looked nice. A lot of women wore skirts and dresses and shirts were most often tucked in and belted. I saw very few overweight people…so no need to hide the muffin tops. I noticed a lot of layering and sweaters and jackets were common though I couldn’t imagine how they could do it in 90 degree weather! Their shoes were not tennis shoes (unless they were running) and women wore flats or heels and only a few wearing sandals. It was interesting to people watch and see who looked to be a true Parisian and who was a tourist like us. Ashley was interested in going to a grocery store while we were there and wanted to see if they had any different food that they don't have here in the states. 

Joel and Virginia and their family had flown in early that morning and met up at our hotel to have a place to drop their bags off. Then we immediately left to go explore the city. The first stop was the Eiffel tower. This was on the kids must-do list for Europe so we wanted to make sure to get to it first. 

We heard that there was a championship soccer match in France and tons of tourists were there for it so it would be crowded that day. We ended up taking the underground there and walked a couple of blocks and there it was! I didn’t realize the Eiffel tower is brown and not black. I guess I always see it in pictures in silhouette. I also thought it was more plain and didn’t imagine it would have curlicues a little bit of ornate (after seeing the rest of Paris I shouldn’t be surprised)

 There was a giant soccer ball fixed to the Eiffel tower and a big screen where I assume people were watching the game that night. As we traveled all over the city soccer was everywhere!

There was one price to go up the stairs and another price to take the elevator up. Everyone opted for the stairs except Jeff, Virginia, Ashley and I. Everyone else made it up the stairs but admitted it was no easy feat, it’s 600 stairs and Jacob said he got quite a quad workout. We only went on the 1st and 2nd floors, but each “floor” was quite far apart from each other. We didn’t end up going all the way to the top but the view from where we were was plenty high.  

The view from the tower...

1st floor

2nd floor

We looked over the city and enjoyed the view and even stood on the glass floor that I admit was a little freaky to watch all the people like ants below you. 

A little freaky looking straight down through the glass. 

Definitely a highlight of the trip. 

Taking a gelato break. Gelato was the best...

          After the Eiffel tower we took the metro to the park at the Louvre. The Louvre was magnificent. Since we were in a hurry that day we didn’t get to go inside but we got to see the pyramid outside and enjoy some of the atmosphere. 

There were a lot of people enjoying the lawn including some speedo clad sunbathers. I would love to explore the inside some day guess it will be an excursion for a future trip. 

We met some of Joel’s friends for lunch at a creperie and Jacob and I tried a buckwheat pancake with potato, cheese and ham. The rest of the family got burgers at McDonalds across the street, ha ha. They all came back to try the sweet Nutella crepe. I have to say the crepes were just crepes, just like I make at home and were more underwhelming than I thought but the gelato we had exceeded my expectations. Having fresh real macaroons in Paris was also an eye opener…I realized I’ve never had “real” macaroons before but hard, stale tasting imitations compared to what I tasted there. 

On our way walking to lunch we found a bridge with a bunch of locks. Ashley was thrilled and wanted to put one on the bridge. 

Conveniently there was a guy selling them and he would give you a marker to write on it. Ashley was happy even though they are technically considered lovers locks...

We found out that the city is actually cutting off all the locks because they worry that the weight of them are damaging the bridges. As soon as they cut them off people (like us) put them back on. I guess now they are trying to replace the sides of the bridge so people can't attach locks any more. 

View of the Thames

We then went to our other must-do…Notre Dame. It was a spiritual experience walking into this cathedral that I had learned so much about in my Art History and history classes. 

I had read Pillars of the Earth, Hunchback of Notre Dame and studied about gothic architecture and I was actually here inside looking at the immense ceiling made possible by the flying buttresses that were new technology at the times. The ceilings were so high. I felt reverence for the time and sacrifice that was made to build this structure.  

I was glad for my kids to be able to experience it. By this point Jacob and Ashley are sitting on the bench in the church. They had done a lot of walking and had been great not to complain. No one is saying I’m bored and no one had complained once. I was proud of them. 

       At this point in the day the kids were winding down and the Olesons going on no sleep and jet lag decided to check into their hotel. We went back to ours a rested for awhile and then met up in the evening with Joel and Jared at Monmarte on the steps to the Sacred Heart church. Its set on a hill at a dizzying height. 
      We were happy our metro pass worked for the funicular that took us to the top of the hill after walking up 10 or more flights of stairs to get to the street level from the Subway (seriously the deepest Subway ever!) 

We had a crazy good view of the city and could even see the Eiffel tower sparkling in the distance as it got dark. You could hear chattering in all different languages, musicians performing, clinking glasses and the smell of good food. We were invited to eat on the patio of a restaurant in the middle of a square of artists drawing the most amazing portraits of people. No so-so street caricaturists here. They were using pastels, charcoals and more capturing expressions, eyes and unique beauty of each person they were capturing. I was impressed and I'm really bummed I didn't take a picture of it!

We were able to take a peek inside the church before it closed for the evening. 

Loved the gargoyles

             At our restaurant the waiter spouted French to us animatedly and was quite a character even though we couldn’t understand anything he was saying. Hearing French spoken everywhere was interesting. England was easy because we could understand it all. I wish I would have attempted to learn at least a little French. I have to admit it sounded beautiful as people are talking though some people sounded quite nasally. I have to say that people were all very nice to us and a lot of people knew enough English to help us our or at least would try. One of the days there was a nice lady on a walk with her son and their dog having her son practice his English with us that I thought was cute. We had conversations with people on the Subway or in restaurants and everyone was nice. I’m thinking that they are maybe more used to people from all over the world there. Luckily most restaurants had English menus otherwise I would be lost on what to order only recognizing the things I didn’t want like escargot and meat tartar (raw). That last night I had the best duck (confit) and roasted potatoes, onion soup with cheese and crusty bread on top and apple pie. Apple pie wasn’t really apple pie more like a cross between a tart and a cheesecake with some apple in it. One restaurant we ordered a lemonade, it wasn’t lemonade as we know it, it was Sprite. 

That night as we walked back to the metro we could hear people listening to the soccer match, cheering and shouting especially when they ended up beating Germany 2-0. The whole city was celebrating. We could see the Eiffel tower flashing lights (the picture didn't capture it). We got back to our hotel and tons of people were celebrating in the street, lots of them with painted faces with striped of red-white and blue. 

     The next day we ate breakfast (in our room) and then went to the train station to head out to Barcelona where we were going to catch our cruise the next day. As we pointed out the café where Jeff had bought breakfast Taylor looked wistfully at the restaurant with the outside seating and said “I would've liked to eat breakfast there” 

      Ha ha, I learned that Jeff’s impatient style is a little incongruent with the unhurried European style. He asks for the check as soon as we are done and would rather do take-away that sit down and enjoy. Ha ha. Maybe Taylor is a little more like me. 

At the train station waiting for our train to Spain there was a piano for anyone to play. Of course Jacob and Taylor took a turn. Taylor got some applause and some head bouncing as he played Bohemian Rhapsody. Jacob had a lady come to speak to him and say a lot of things in French that he didn’t understand, then he said…”Merci” Taylor said a little boy was going around pretending to shoot people and when he “shot” Jacob he played dead and fell on top of the piano and people took notice and started to laugh. 

Heading out to Barcelona...

Heading to Barcelona..The train ride was 6 hours long. Flying past the French country side I watched out the window the steep roofed farm houses, the green fields, windmills like they have in Palm Springs and the chateaus like you see in the movies. There are a lot of sheep and cows and round, rolled bales of hay. It startles me a little every time we pass another train. We are going almost 300km an hour! All the announcements are in French and I can’t understand a word. Hoping they are announcing something important. Once they switch to Spanish I learn they are just talking about taking your belongings with you and minding the gap when you get off the train. OK.

     In France I had to get used to crowded subway cars, elevators and train stations with no air-conditioning. There were some hot, stuffy experiences and I had to learn to get used to it. Luckily our hotel room had air. I was grateful for breezes when I got them. 

     I also learned that in Europe they write the number 1 somewhat like a cursive l. We realized this the hard way when we were trying to find our hotel room and we couldn’t figure out what number we were looking at. Sevens are crossed. Periods are used for commas in prices and vice versa. The clock is a 24 hour clock (like the military) and they write their dates with the day first and then the month. At first I thought Jeff bought our train tickets for the wrong day and we were stressed all night until Jeff woke up the next morning and called the train station and realized it was because it was listing the day before the month and we weren’t used to it. I was just glad it was my error and not theirs!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Summer 2016 - London, England

Our long awaited trip to Europe finally had come...

Some excerpts from my journal:

We flew out on July 3rd I fielded 3 phone calls of Maddie getting out of the yard. The fireworks were freaking her out and somehow the gate wasn’t closed all the way.  As the plane door was closing David (who was staying at the house) came home and took Maddie from the nice stranger that had brought her back. Luckily she didn’t run away any more while we were gone.

We got to London about 3:00 local time. We flew Virgin-Atlantic and loved it. We got 2 meals, individual entertainment with lots of free movies, blankets, pillows, headphones and a comfort pack of earplugs, tooth brush and toothpaste and even socks. Nice flight. 

At first our phone didn’t work in London and the promised car from our hotel was nowhere to be found. Jeff finally got the phone working and called the hotel and they didn't have anything down about a car. We lugged our bags to the underground or the tube (Subway) and took it into the center of town. We didn’t realize that it was an express and we ended up paying something like 20 pounds a person which was crazy. Then we lugged our suitcases up to the street where we ended up getting a cab the rest of the way to our hotel. We would’ve probably been better off getting a cab at the beginning, ha ha.  

In the end it took 3 hours to get to our hotel, it didn’t help that we were trying to get there in rush hour traffic. 

We were staying right on the Thames river in the Dockyards. 

There was a ferry that took us to Canary Warf every few minutes. We checked in and explored the warf and ended up eating dinner at a great Italian restaurant. Good food and glad to finally be in London. We even had someone wish us a Happy 4th of July knowing that we were Americans (that was nice). We had no problem getting to sleep that first night since we had been traveling for so long. 

Our hotel had a great free breakfast. We skipped the blood sausage but I did have the eggs with beans and bacon on the side. I never considered eating pork and beans with eggs! There bacon was more like a round slice of ham, but when eaten all together it tasted pretty good. 

This was our marathon day to see London as much as we could. We took the Ferry over to Canary Warf and then took the underground to Westminster and came out at the parliament building and big Ben (which is so named for the bell in it, not the clock). We were in awe as we were coming up and seeing it all as we came up to the street level. Amazing!

We walked across the bridge spanning the Thames and went to the London Eye (formerly called the millennium wheel). I noticed that people had put locks on parts of the bridge…I would come to find out that is a “thing” now and I could see other places where people had put locks in random places when they could. 

The view was great and we could see all over London. The ride was smooth and just long enough that you weren’t bored. Here is what the capsule looked like. They had to use new technology to engineer the glass to get it curved enough so riders have an unobstructed view. 

Our view of the parliament building and Big Ben.

This was Kings Cross Station. Supposedly all of London is measure starting at the cross that is outside of this train station. 

One of the newer buildings was "the Shard" I guess it had a good lookout and a restaurant on top. I thought our view was good enough and beside the older buildings are what interested me most. 

Us in the eye

And our view down the Thames...

Afterwards we took a Big Bus tour around the city. We decided to use the Hop-On/ Hop-Off bus to see the rest of London that day. Kind of a Good idea/bad idea. 

Our first stop was Buckingham Palace. It was surreal to actually be there with all the other tourists that were there too.

The iconic guards...this is through the gate because apparently no-body was allowed near them.

An interesting statue that we saw on the route. 

When we went back to catch the bus we waited a while…no bus….then we were directed to walk a few blocks to a hotel and wait for the bus. Then it ended up being another block down and we caught it.

I guess there was a strike from the teachers and so part of the city was closed down. We stayed on the bus until we got back to Westminster and then ditched the bus (Buses in traffic are not too fun). The good thing was our bus had a live guide that told us about things but he had a strong accent and you had to really listen hard to understand him. It was interesting to see the house of Benedict Arnold where he lived the rest of his days as an American patriot even as we will always remember him as a traitor. We saw the original Hard Rock Café that started with a rock star wanting to reserve his table by hanging up his guitar above it.  Other singers did the same and the first Hard Rock Café was born. 

Our bus tickets also got us a one way trip down the Thames that would take us to the tower of London which was the last must-do thing that we were going to do that day. The boat tour talked about the modern and historic buildings that we passed. The poem that talks about the London Bridge falling down was true. The London Bridge that is there today is like the 4th one that they’ve had. They’ve all gotten burned down and the last one before was sinking so they sold it. They said that an American bought it and brought it to America thinking it was the Tower bridge instead (which supposedly wasn’t true when I researched it). We’ve seen it in Lake Havasu now we were traveling under the real London Bridge in London. 

This is the iconic Tower Bridge.

The London Bridge wasn't nearly as interesting and was just a flat bridge that spanned the river.

When we got to the tower of London (which was actually a compound inside of a wall in my opinion) we realized we only had an hour until it closed and we were encouraged to do it another time. We didn’t know if we would be able to come back and we had already bought the tickets so we decided to just do it quick. We walked in and thought we would do the highlights. We ended up seeing the crown jewels, the armory and the bloody tower. 

We ended up doing a speed walk through and at least got to see the highlights.

. I was surprised that some of the people we talked to later had never even seen the crown jewels. The jewels and royal paraphernalia were fabulous, over the top and excessive in every way. There was a large jewel in one of the crowns from India and I guess they really want it back…I’m thinking that it won’t happen.

We weren't allowed to take pictures of the crown jewels but I grabbed a couple of pictures off the internet.

The bloody tower had claustrophobic, steep stairs that I almost didn’t go up until I saw my children at the top and realized I wouldn’t have to be on them for too long. I found out quickly that the buildings, hotel rooms, elevators, stairs and many other things in Europe are much more cramped and small than I am used to and I had to work on not feeling claustrophobic more than once on our trip! There was a sad story of two princes that were heir to the throne that disappeared one night. One was 12 and one was 10. It is rumored that their uncle who was eventually crowned King ordered them killed but they were never found. Years later a workman renovating the tower found a box containing the skeletons of two boys believed to be the missing princes. Sad. 

The armory had all sorts of historical armor for both man and horse.

 The most interesting was the armor for King Henry the 8th which was obviously trying hard to protect his “family jewels”. 

One of the other interesting things about the tower were the ravens that live there. There is a legend that says there always has to be at least 6 ravens living at the tower or it would fall and all of England with it. So there is actually a raven master and 9 ravens (some to spare) that are kept in cages at night and let out during the day. They are fed raw meat, biscuits soaked in blood and an egg once a week. In the wild ravens live 10 to 12 years but they had one that lived 45 years named Jim Crow. 

That night Taylor and I explored a park that was across the street from our hotel. Once we explored past the playground we found that there were trails that kept going and going. It ended up being a wildlife preserve made when they filled in sections of the dockyards that used to be used for transporting lumber. It was great and we even saw a few fairly large foxes that let us get pretty close to them and seemed to be pretty used to people. The next morning we enjoyed breakfast and then all went back over to the park for a little bit before it was time to head over to the train to go to Paris.

Things I noticed in London

·         The window boxes full of flowers are more breathtaking than they are in paintings. I kept wondering how they kept the flowers looking so good especially the ones that were in such inaccessible places!

·         Our sign says “Exit” – theirs says “Way Out” and shows a person running

·         We say “elevator” – they say “lift”, We say “line” they say “que”,

·         In Europe not many restaurants are truly fast food but some will say “take away” which means they will have a way for you to bring the food with you. Take away is a cheaper price rather than sitting at a table which will usually have an upcharge.

·         When Jeff was in Italy there wasn’t really fast food chains but now all over Europe we saw plenty of Subways, McDonalds, KFC and Burger Kings and of course some knock off fast food places.

·         I loved the little gardens that were everywhere, courtyards and potted plants and topiaries.