London 2018

Rode the Eurostar to London to see the Christmas lights, visit with a friend, and shop.

All goals were met wonderfully.

My approach to Eurostar is to take the standard class over.  It’s a two hour + trip but then with the time change, London being an hour behind Paris, it feels like just an hour jaunt.  And I usually leave quite early so I arrive about  10:30.  Straight to the hotel to check the bags and then head out.

Coming back on Eurostar is different.  I always start out on the reservations page booking a return in the standard class of service.  Then I think about the fact that I leave at 4 and arrive at 7 something and then have to get a cab or Uber to the apartment and realize I will be missing dinner or having to fix something late after having been gone for several days – what will be left in the fridge?  And then my hand moves the mouse over to Standard PREMIER that provides dinner on board.  Click.

The shopping excursion was to my favorite shoe store in Harrow.  OK. So I have wide feet.  Sigh.  They sell the best walking shoes.  This was my fourth time there.  And they didn’t disappoint.  Now that I tango (oh how much fun it is to type those words!), I am getting used to 2.5 inch heels.  My shoe store had a pair of boots with heels!    I tried them on and strode through the store.  Breathing air 2.5 inches higher than you are accustomed to gives you a swagger.  The salesman was a bit surprised.  He said most women who put on heels end up wobbling a bit.  I smiled and said,  “I dance tango on heels like this.”   Oh that was fun to say!  Needless to say, I purchased the boots.

And my other favorite place is Marks & Spencers.  Perhaps I have a soft spot in my heart for them because I recall shopping there with my mom when I was nine years old while we lived in London.   That plays a part, but also, they have clothes I like.  I found a fabulous black downy puffy to the knees coat for cold weather.  It was an awesome purchase.  I have enjoyed it every day since.  My wool coat goes to mid-thigh so while it is warm, my legs get chilled.  The  M&S coat will see much service.

And lights…  Well.   I think I am close to being done with Christmas lights.  And markets.  The lights in London are beautiful.  But they are the same this year.  A bit of “been there, done that.”   Even here in Paris, I went to the marche at La Defense and found myself striding through quite quickly, seen that, bought that, would never want that…..

The best part of my London trip was spending the day with Amanda, my accidental friend who works at The Regent’s Pavilion in Brighton.  We met as I toured the Pavilion in 2015.  Struck up a conversation in the dining room about Regency England.  Became Facebook friends and the rest is history.  Last year I spent 3 days in Brighton.  This year it was my chance to show her London.  Really!  I know that sounds weird, but I know London very well.  Lived there as a kid for 2 years and spent 3 months there while in college.  And have traveled back many times since 2007.  So yes.  I navigated.   We laughed and laughed.  Saw sights.  Churchill museum and War Rooms.  And ended with prime rib and Yorkshire pudding at Simpson’s in the Strand at the Savoy.  So very posh.  Oh.  We really ended the day with me getting her on the tube in the direction of Victoria Station.   I know the transportation system well too.

The worst part of the trip was when I got back to Paris and discovered that I had lost the packet of 5 socks that I had purchased.  The next morning I suddenly remembered I had stuffed them into my new boots for efficient packing.

I lose so many things in the 380 sq ft apartment.  It’s appalling.

LIGHTS!

I love fireworks and Christmas lights!  So when a friend said let’s go to Lyon for the Festival of Lights on Dec 8, 9, 10, I jumped.  But.  It’s not really Christmas.  There are nicely lighted streets.  And a light show on the cathedral like we saw at Chartres, and Orleans.  But most of the rest are art installations. 2016-12-09-20-20-21 Beautiful!  But not Christmas.  And that makes sense because the festival roots are a thanks to Mary for saving the town from a plague.  The residents put lights/candles in the windows.  This was normally in September but I think about 20-30 years ago, someone had the bright idea to move it to December… darker… timing for Christmas didn’t hurt.  One restaurant said that in 2013 they served over 3,500 dinners in one evening!  Yup.  Good for tourism.

The crowds are huge!  But they have crowd control down well.  And after the attacks of Nov 13 and Nice, they have cordoned off the entire downtown!  You get shuffled to the check point – just like cattle going on the cattle cars…  And there were police cars parked at all major intersections – no way was a truck going to drive in like in Nice.  The only time I was a bit unsettled was when we were directed around tiny streets to end up in front of the Cathedral for the light show.  I looked around and thought this would be a great place to be trampled if the crowd freaked.  I quickly put that thought out of my mind, watched, enjoyed and got out as soon as I could.

2016-12-09-13-14-09My first time in Lyons, I was introduced to the Bouchon….  2016-12-09-18-49-57The typical Lyonnais café/restaurant.  And had the most interesting and tasty food – honey cheese!  And pistachio sausage with potato sauce.  Something called pimatele or near that – again cheese and potatoes and sausage.  Miam Miam.

 

However, nothing rivals London as Queen of 2016-12-14-18-14-55Christmas Lights2016-12-14-17-00-41!  I went over for a day and evening just for the lights.  I recall as a child enjoying the lights in Regent Street – they were huge chandeliers.  This year – angles with wings!  And lights everywhere I turned on all the small posh streets.  Loved it!

Travel Agency Is Me

I think I may be staying in today.  It’s somewhat miserable day – at least the start is.  Who knows? It may turn beautiful in a moment.

But for now, I sit comfortably.  And think ahead a bit apprehensively.

After the busy summer which culminated in my great niece’s visit, I was exhausted.  And slip in there a trip to London, a major effort to coordinate an exhibit hall for the American Church in Paris, and a 4 day stay in London….  Whew.

This past week I have finally felt rested enough to do things again.  Added to my list of medieval sites in Paris that I have visited.  Spent hours in the musee des arts et métiers – science, mechanics, engineering.  Walked places there were new. Saw the American exhibit at L’Orangerie – with American Gothic by Grant Wood even!

And planned.

Going to Budapest in November for 4 days.  This will be my first eastern European visit.  Check – plane, hotel, bus to CDG.  Have to figure out what to do when I get there, but there’s time for that.

Off to Normandy for two nights – to see the Bayeux Tapestry again and visit the D-Day beaches. When I was last there as a kid of 10, I don’t think there was much more than a parking lots.  Now many museums.  We are going on a van tour.  Check – train, hotel, tour.  And staying on Halloween.  Last year I was in Dublin on Halloween.  The Irish actually had a lot of decorations.  Will let you know about the French.

And off to the south of France over Thanksgiving.  Monteplier.  Check – train, car rental…  still debating AirBNB or hotel.

Even to Lyon for an overnight in December to experience the Christmas Light show which is said to be spectacular.

And now suddenly I am trying to fit in another trip to Vaux-le-Vicomte this week!  I went last year on a bus tour.  Well, not a tour but on a bus.  They drive you there and then after lunch to Fontainbleu.   V-l-V is a gorgeous chateau with fabulous grounds and I have wanted to spend more time there.  Just discovered a simple way of getting there but the shuttle bus trips end on November 2.  Yikes.  Have to fit this in to an already busy week.  Thursday I am supposed to be off to Normandy for the day with a French friend.

Organizing skills are essential for living here.

Feels like a boring post – just a list of sightseeing opportunities.  But I feel quite accomplished.  And whenever I can actually book a trip on the train SNCF, or Air France, or even Eurostar, I am excited.  Last year I had so many problems with using a credit card on line.  OK.  Back to the couch to rest up for the rest of this week (the sun is still not out!)

Over the pond…

2016-10-13-10-23-49This is the year of London, apparently.  I went over in September just for a day with a French friend – she told me I was her interpreter!  And when we came back in the evening, she said her brain was about to explode from speaking English all day.  Ha!  That’s how I feel every day in Paris!

hockneyWe went to see the David Hockney Portrait exhibit at the Royal Academy of Art.  And stopped by the Victoria and Albert Museum where we went to the new exhibit Revolution.  Totally unplanned spur of the moment.  It was about the period of 1965-1973… or so…  Mostly US, Britain and some French and German.  It was my life.  And mostly music-centric and revolution – the changes in society.  Kent State.  The Beatles.  Vietnam.  Woodstock.  Even Altamont was mentioned on a sign.  That’s my claim to fame.  The Paris students’ revolt in 68.  Great fun.

And tea at Richoux Tea Room.  I have been there several times and wanted a great experience for my French friend but we were terribly disappointed.  Scones were a bit stale.  But their private blend of tea was delicious – I bought some.  She shopped Whittards for chocolate powder for her husband.  Never heard of it before but quaint.

It was a great preview for my Leave-France-When-My-Visa-Expires Trip that was set for October 10.

That trip was for four nights.  I didn’t have to stay that long – just needed to cross the Schegnen border for an overnight.

On the Visa trip, I stayed at the Mornington Hotel at Lancaster Gate.  It was the best location!  Not on Bayswater Road but back a block so very calm and quiet. And across Bayswater Road is Hyde Park and the Italian Gardens.  It’s a comfortable walk to Marks and Spencers on Oxford Street, a traverse of Hyde Park to get to Harrods, and Portobello Market just to the northwest.  And buses and underground stations handy.

I like traveling alone for the degree of flexibility.  A group of friend went to Berlin last week – they have named themselves the Sisterhood of Traveling Parisiennes.  There were 6 or 8.  Yikes.  I am the Traveling Sisterhood of Me Myself and I.   And in England when I have the urge to be chatty if I am traveling alone, it was simple to start up a conversation with a Brit.  Everyone wanted to know about Trump.

At least on this trip, being solo made it easier to make decisions.  So I woke up on Tuesday and switched everything to go that day to the exhibit of the Queen’s Fashion at Windsor so I could also see the Changing of the Guard there and see it in London on Wednesday.  No matter that my Windsor ticket on line was purchased for Wednesday.

I have been to London enough in recent years to easily navigate the rail system.  No problems with the Windsor ticket date (I must admit I folded it over…).  2016-10-13-18-37-09In theatre, I never worked much with costumes so I continually surprise myself with how much I enjoy these fashion shows – from Balenciaga and Gauthier and de la Renta at the De Young in SF to these in London.  And the show was in a set of rooms that are closed during the summer (the Queen uses them, I guess – although I thought most of the summer she was in Scotland.  Who knows?) Anyway, beautiful rooms.

And why did I find two posters of labyrinths in the Underground?

And then a late but great pub lunch before going back to London.  Except two hours later, it wasn’t so great – food poisoning.  I think the lettuce was the culprit.  But I survived the evening (thanks to Sugar Pops).

2016-10-12-11-10-31And Wednesday caught the Changing of the Guard – but in different places.  The guard and a band start at St James Palace and march down to Buckingham Palace.  2016-10-12-11-11-57The guard that day were RAF so very normal blue/grey uniforms.  I ended up with a walking tour and learned a great deal – gave her a 2 pound tip after.  Seemed the polite thing to do when we separated.  I wasn’t going to crash the entire tour!  Then I marched myself over to the other side of St James Park to Wellington Barracks.  This is where the other guard and band start out from.  They all meet at 2016-10-12-11-27-03-2Buckingham Palace and take quite a bit of time to inspect, give report, and change.  The band plays on. Frankly, I got bored the last time I watched it from there – well, the action is all behind the Palace gates.  So Wellington Barracks gave a new perspective.  2016-10-12-12-55-12Then off to the Horse Guards to see how the two horses and guards were faring.  Quite well.

Other highlights… and low lights…  The Silver Vaults!  Oh it sounded delicious.  Old bank vaults turned into stores.  Well, ok, it’s in the basement.  The doors are vault doors and quite thick.  But my goodness, I had my fill of silver by the second shop.  I mean, how many tea sets, letter openers, and silverware can you see?  Even if Liberace bought his candelabras there. Far too much for me.  However, it’s a place now checked off my list.

2016-10-13-12-45-31Also, back to the Victoria & Albert for their Underwear exhibit – more clothes from the 1700 til now.  And even this fig leaf… that, seriously, was made specially to cover up a statue when Queen Victoria came by to visit…  Really!

 

 

2016-10-13-10-12-30

I found the statue of Peter Pan in Hyde Park.  2016-10-13-10-10-41You can wave your phone at a sign and Peter Pan actually calls your phone and talks to you for quite a while.

Wondering if this will be a long distance charge?

 

2016-10-14-11-50-44After walking through a delightful and colourful neighourhood, I made it back to Portobello Market after 30… 40 plus years.  It was a weekday so it wasn’t too crowded.  And not very impressive either.  Lots of antiques.  Some silver.  Arts and crafts.  I bought a small magnifying glass I thought would be good for my bag.  Only 6 pounds.  Sigh.  Two blocks down – identical for 3 pounds.  Oh well.2016-10-14-12-21-10

2016-10-14-12-58-30Holland Park was a new discovery.  I was searching for Kyoto Gardens – sounded wonderful and maybe a bit of meditation.  It was wonderful.  And everyone else agreed with me.  Too many noisy tourists to have any meaningful meditation.  But the walk there and back through Holland Park was delightful.  It’s like a forest!  OK.  It IS a forest – in the middle of London.

2016-10-13-19-04-04And then there was the THEATRE.  I was able to get a ticket for No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter.  (I forgot in the rush and excitement that I really don’t care for Pinter.)  The two stars: Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.  Sir Ian had the bigger part – he was on stage almost… well, the entire time.  They were both marvelous; it was a treat to see them.  But it was still Pinter…

I scored three pair of shoes at specialty shop in the London suburbs that I found online.  (I have a wide foot and orthotics…  This is a challenge in France where all the petit ladies have tiny narrow feet!)  They shipped two pair which arrived before I did!  It is amazing how fast you can go through walking shoes when you walk 6 miles a day.  (Last year I had to wear actual hiking boots for 5 months – doctor’s orders – arch and tendon injury.  I actually walked holes into the soles!)

And lastly, I was so happy to be back to French cuisine!  English food is NOT my cup of tea.  Even though their tea is my cuppa…  I even had a dinner at an Italian restaurant that just wasn’t very good.  Miam Miam to Paris!

I enjoyed London more these past two visits than I have for a while.  I realized how much I know my way around.  Makes it feel homier.