Sunday, October 20, 2013
Daughter is letting me use her computer on this beautiful fall afternoon. I am outside on my back deck and I am going to attempt to write about the trip we just took. Pictures will probably come later.
I had traveled to London and Paris as a very young person in 1975 when I was 17 years old. It was a great experience but, like most 17-year-old boys, I was extremely immature and did not have a full appreciation of the things I was seeing and experiencing. I thought one of the coolest things we did was having lunch in a McDonald's on the Champs Ellyses. Pitiful. (There are McDonaldses all over Paris now -- and London, as well as numerous other American chain establishments).
Returning some 38 years later, my perspective had changed a bit!
Wife, Daughter and I arrived in London late on a Friday morning after taking a "red-eye" flight in which we slept hardly a wink. Just couldn't do it. We got to our hotel in the early afternoon and the excitement kept us awake.
One of the things that helped make this trip possible was our Marriott points which Wife and I had been saving for a long time. We had enough for four nights at our hotel in London and it was great -- the Marriott Town Hall, right on the Themes next to the London Eye, the huge ferris wheel-like structure built for London's millenium celebration. Although some Londoners looked on it scoffingly (kind of like the Parisians with the Eiffel Tower in 1899), it has become a permanent landmark and is making money hand over fist.
We could see "the Eye" right out our hotel room window, as well as Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament across the river. It was a stunning view, and all for free! Also included were a lovely breakfast each morning and drinks and appetizers in the late afternoon.
We took a late afternoon nap that first day, then set out for a walk that evening. The next three days we hit it hard seeing the standard London sites -- the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace (including the changing of the guards), Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, Churchill War Rooms, the National Gallery and St. Martin in the Fields. We also rode the London Eye late one afternoon and it was spectacular, with stunning views of the city.
One afternoon the girls shopped and I conducted my own pub tour which I might say was a huge success. The British are proud of their ales and, while enjoying them at room temperature is not the norm for us here in the U.S., it's an easily acquired taste in the delightful atmospheres of these establishments.
We hated to leave London, but by Tuesday morning it was time to move on to our "vacation from our vacation" in the Cotswolds. We took a train back to Heathrow airport and rented a car there.
Here is an unqualified truth: Wife is a better driver than I. That has always been the case. Therefore it made sense for her to at least start as the driver in not only a foreign land but in a land where they drive on the left (wrong) side of the road! And once she started, that was it. I rode in the backseat and lent moral support while Daughter rode in the front passenger seat and served as navigator. (And by the way, she was the driver permanently. I never got near the steering wheel).
Wife did an incredible job, keeping her wits about her and her senses sharp as she drove into the confusing roundabouts and "gave way" (a British term) when it did not seem logical.
We drove first to Bath, about 90 miles west of London, a city where there are natural hot springs and where long ago the aristocrats would travel for the supposed healing powers of said waters. About 200 years ago (or so -- don't hold me to this) it became the "Hollywood of England" and the wealthy and powerful traveled there as a place to see and be seen.
Today it's a beautiful small city where the ancient architecture and beauty has been preserved. Today's citizens of Bath are proud of their city and volunteers conduct free tours daily. We participated in one and it was greatly beneficial.
After a late lunch there it was time for our Cotswolds destination, the charming village of Chipping Campden. We stayed two nights in a Bed and Breakfast there that looked like something out of a coffee table book.
We spent the next day there with a guide who drove us to other villages, and through breathtaking hills and meadows populated by scores of sheep. I can't do justice to the beauty and charm of this lovely area but I can tell you that by the end of this day I was looking at real estate listings to see if I could buy a pub there. Daughter assured me she should would move there with me, get a teaching job and help in the pub in the evenings. (Pragmatic Wife brought us back to reality . . . but I can dream).
On Thursday we bid goodbye, far too soon, to this little piece of heaven, and drove back to London, where we boarded the Eurostar train for the two-hour-and-twenty-minute ride to Paris, part of which goes under the English Channel (through the "chunnel"). This was a non-event. I opened a book, read a few pages and I was in Paris!
Prior to Paris we had enjoyed beautiful weather -- highs in the high 60s, and I even wore shorts one day in London. We had a a few drops of rain in the Cotswolds but not enough to even cause us to open an umbrella.
It was cold in Paris. It had rained before we arrived and a few drops fell on us the first day but, again, hardly enough to notice.
Paris was, in short, magical. The first night we went on a driving tour that ended in front of the Eiffel Tower at 9 p.m., at which time it lit up with flashing lights as it does each hour on the hour. Our driver let us out there and we boarded a river boat that took us up the Seine, by Notre Dame, which was spectacular.
On Friday morning we took a train to Versailles Palace and Gardens, which was breathtakingly beautiful. The crowds there were massive. Although this is considered the "shoulder season" in Europe, I could not have imagined it being any more crowded in London and Paris.
The rest of our time in Paris was spent going to museums and gardens, sitting at charming sidewalk cafes and finding hidden-away streets that made us feel as if we were in a movie. We also went to the top of the Eiffel Tower at sunset and it was spectacular.
Monday morning, 11 days from our departure date, we boarded the plane for home. We were glad to get here but the memories are strong of this wonderful vacation. The time spent with Wife and Daughter is something I'll always cherish.
I'll write a little more about my impressions, and post some photos, in my next post.