Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bonjour!!! My trip to PARIS & LONDON!

Wow, it finally happened...I got a stamp in my passport!!! (4 actually - 2 from London and 2 from Paris).Sorry it has taken me so long to write about my trip, but better late than never right? :)

My 30th Birthday Trip to London and Paris...
September 3-11, 2008

Well, the trip sorta started off on the wrong foot. When Judi dropped me off at the airport, my suitcase was too heavy. Those 3 extra pounds were going to cost me $50! So I went back out to the car and [rushing] I took out a few items - items that I really needed on my trip....my TENNIS SHOES and SWEATERS. Hmmm...I'm leaving for a trip where I'll be doing lots of walking and I took out the most important pair of shoes. Not smart! And then with the weather being cold and rainy in London and Paris, it wasn't smart to take out all my long sleeved items. Ugh! So that was the start of my trip.

The long flight to London went well. The first leg, to Houston, didn't seem very long. We watched a movie "Notting Hill" which got me in the mood for London. Then came the long flight from Houston to Heathrow. I watched two movies "Maid of Honor" and "Drillbit Taylor" (DT wasn't all that great), and then slept the rest of the flight. my first glimpses of London, from the airplaneThe older man next to me was so sad when we were landing. I finally woke up and he looked at me all sad and said "How did you do it? How did you sleep the whole flight? I tried so hard and couldn't do it." I felt bad for him, but told him that the Dramamine worked good, it kept me from getting motion sick and made me drowsy! :) But I was tired too, and knew I needed to sleep so that when we arrived I would be awake for our day in London. So we exited the plane and I headed towards customs. Of course, my first time traveling International (and by myself for that matter) I would be the one who had trouble at customs. The lady must have been in a bad mood because she hounded me - Beth traveled separate and she was upset that we weren't together, I didn't put my hotel name on my landing card and she asked me 20 questions, she wanted to see my entire trip itinerary (the one that showed our whole sight seeing schedule), then was upset that we were taking the train to Paris instead of flying. Goodness...not a good way to treat someone who is just starting their vacation. Anyway, this is where I got passport stamp #1. Then I finally got through and Beth met me on the other side. We figured out the Metro and hopped on to find our hotel. After walking 3 miles to our hotel (each lugging two suitcases - we didn't pack very smart) we arrived and it wasn't all that nice. If you were a fat person you wouldn't fit through the hallway!!!! Seriously! Our room was dinky, two beds but no room for luggage. You could shower, pee and use the sink all at the same time - the bathroom was that small! (Smaller than a cruise bathroom, and those are tiny!) Anyway, it was only for one night, so we managed. I just figured for $95 it would be nicer than Motel 6 right? Wrong! Oh well. on the subway after our flight...heading towards our hotelour hotel room (the bathroom actually looks bigger in the photo than real life!)So we got settled and then headed out to see London. Unfortunately everything closes early in London and Paris, so by the time we got to our sights we couldn't do any tours :(. Our first stop was Buckingham Palace. The one thing that was a MUST for me to see in London were the guards in red at BP. Well, they weren't there! :( I guess they're only around in the am around 11 or so. We didn't get there till after 3pm. But we took some pictures around the Palace, enjoyed the fountain out in front and then moved on.
sooooo many telephone booths!
like starbucks in america...so are phone booths in london - ON EVERY CORNER!

Buckingham Palace
Me relaxing in London...a short stop between our sight-seeing adventuresNext we saw Big Ben, which was exciting....
and then Westminster Abbey
Then we headed to the River Thames to take a boat "city cruise" down the river. Across the river you could see the London Eye - its huge!! The ride was nice...we enjoyed seeing the sites from the boat. We also went under the London Bridge...pretty cool!The cruise headed towards the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. It was so exciting to get close and see it as we were approaching. I was so excited to take the tour of the Tower and see all the history. Unfortunately they were closing, so I didn't get to. But we decided we would do that when we returned at the end of the week. So we got off the boat, walked around, had lunch at a little cafe in front of the Tower, walked across the bridge, and then headed back towards the boat.After all that, we went back to our hotel room, relaxed for a bit, freshened up, and then went over to the Piccadilly Circus (like Times Square in NYC) and walked around there for a couple hours. We had dinner while over there, met some nice people, saw all the bright signs, the theaters, etc. and then headed back. We enjoyed our nights sleep...for tomorrow came more travel.We woke up, got ready, and headed towards the Metro with all our luggage again. Now I know why people backpack in Europe! Going up and down all the stairs in the Metros are AWFUL when you're lugging two suitcases around! Its very difficult and tiresome! Anyway, we took the Metro to the train station and got on the Eurostar for Paris! This is where I got my passport stamp #2! How exciting!!! The train ride went smoothly. We read through our sight seeing books for awhile, and slept a bit too. It was about a 3 hr. ride (23 of those miles were underwater in the "Chunnel", 150 feet under the seabed...and lasted all of 20 minutes! - crazy!!).

on the subway in Londonon the EurostarI'M IN PARIS!The Train Station in Paris
Paris, Day 1:
We arrived in Paris and immediately headed for the Metro. We took it to our stop and started the hunt for our apartment we had rented for the week. Well, after a couple hours taking the wrong streets, asking for directions and not being understood, standing in the rain freezing, along with our two suitcases (each)...we finally found it. The landlord had waiting for 5 hours for us and left us a note on the door. Just as we were to enter the building, he showed up. He took us up and showed us around. The place was pretty small, but it was cute. And much nicer than the hotel in London!!! So we paid him, settled in, and then headed out for sightseeing. the front of our apartment building (the blue door) the staircase to the aptthe living room/bedroom (Beth and I had to share that bed the whole week!!!)the kitchen

Since it was already pretty late, from being lost and all, we just stayed close to our apartment that night. We walked the streets by our apt., saw all the little food stands (that are everywhere) and decided to eat. It was about 5pm and we hadn't eaten anything at all that day. So our first food in Paris was a crepe and a cheese sandwich (both really good). My first bite of anything in France was a crepe with Nutella - super yummy!the little food stands that are everywherethe food served at ALL of themour first food in Paris!

We ate, and then continued walking around. We saw the Pompidou (a museum that we never went into), some fountains,the Pompidouand then we arrived at Notre Dame. How awesome is Notre Dame!!! I think that was my favorite sight in Paris! When we got there a Mass was in session. So we entered and enjoyed listening to everyone singing in French. I took some pictures inside of what they had going on in there...can you see the Eiffel in the distance? that was my first sighting!Notre Dame... Sitting out in front of Notre Dame people watching

After our long day, we headed back to the apt. On the way we did a little souvenir shopping and I bought a few things.

Paris, Day 2:
Ok, so waking up to enjoy a nice shower and finding out that you have no hot water, no lukewarm water...only ICE COLD WATER is a real bummer! Just one more thing to add to the list of downers on the trip. (we emailed the landlord and he checked on it...i guess the waterheater was broke and they couldn't fix it till we left because they would have to tear down a wall to get it down from the ceiling. Very disappointing...a week of freezing showers did not sound appealing! But he did give a little bit of a refund.) I shivered and gasped for breath many times during the shower and finally finished. We got all ready and headed out to see Paris!

First on our list of sights today was the St. Ouen Flea Market...the WORLD'S LARGEST FLEA MARKET! I was sooooooooo excited for this! You know me, Miss Thrifty! :) We rode the Metro, and found it without too much trouble. It wasn't the best area to be in...it reminded me of a mix between Canal St. in NYC and Mexico. Men on the streets trying to sell knock-offs, etc. But we walked the streets of the "market" where they were lined with opened doors into stores, "treasures" on tables out on the street, and then the rest was like a swap meet...newer items: clothes, shoes, etc. We didn't stay there long, just walked a few streets, saw what it had to offer, and left empty handed. Oh yea, and we watched this man making crepes...he totally looked 'french' :)After the Flea Market, we headed out to the Musee d'Orsay (museum). What a great museum this was! We got to see Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne...so amazing!!! I think this was my favorite museum from the whole trip. After the Musee d'Orsay, we decided to take the Batobus (hop-on/hop-off boat along the River Sienne) around the city. While we were waiting for it to arrive, we took a few pictures. Little did we know that in the background was the Louvre-heehee :) Artist, the Louvre in the background
Next was the Louvre. Unfortunately we didn't have a whole lot of time to left before closing (since everything closes early in Europe - around 5ish), so we hurried inside to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa! I was really excited about this...but shocked when I saw her, to see how small the painting really was. Still, I took quite a few pictures. We were also able to walk around for about 45 min. or so, and then we headed out...at their closing time.After the Louvre, we hopped back on the Batobus and took it towards the Eiffel Tower! Finally, it was time for the Eiffel! :) It was pretty exciting coming upon it while taking the boat down the river. It was HUGE! We got off the boat, and headed towards the tower. Wow! Amazing! Standing underneath the tower you feel so small...tiny! There were crowds of people walking around, standing in lines, looking up, eating, all sorts of happenings. Because of the extremely long lines to go up the tower and the time of day, we decided not to do the tour that night. So we just walked around, got some sausage & fries (their type of hot dog is sausage and it had no bun), and found a spot to sit and people watch, while having a view of the Eiffel Tower. It was a great night! We took fun pictures, we got rained on while sitting on the ground people-watching, we were the photographers for other tourists, we were models for tourists who wanted our picture because we were cute with our umbrellas-heehee, and we just had a nice time hanging out together...and experiencing the sight of an amazing wonder! We later walked across the bridge and over to the Tracadero where we took photos of the Eiffel all lit up! - Then we headed back to the apartment for the night.lost in the subway
Paris, Day 3:
Today was full of tours...Notre Dame, Conciergerie, Sainte Chapelle, and the Archeological Crypt. But first on the list was touring Notre Dame (going up in the towers). Ok, can I just tell you how tired I was seeing stairs! And this place had over 300 steps on a winding staircase that seemed neverending! I was seriously getting dizzy going up those steps! But it was all worth it! The view of the city from up there was amazing!! In my opinion, it was the best view period! Plus we got to see all the gargoils and things up there, and the bell in the tower! So cool!feeding the birds in front of Notre Dame...it tickled!!!side view of Notre Dame

Next was the Archeological Crypt...Then the Conciergerie, where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned...her celland then Sainte Chapelle - beautifully crafted - amazing!...We also had fun taking pictures out in front of the justice building, I put the camera on the ground and used the timer...I got my exercise running back and forth resetting it, and the guards were watching us too, so that was interesting! But we were having fun giggling and stuff...heehee :)We then started walking around near those sites we had just seen and decided to have lunch at a little cafe across the river from Notre Dame. We enjoyed some sandwiches and Cafe Au Laits while people watching and enjoying the beautiful scenery. I also took the opportunity to write out my postcards to my family. But, before leaving I thought I should use the restroom. Hmmmm, not good...the toilet situation was interesting and there was no way I was going to use it - you had to squat into a hole! Nope, no thank you! I held it (all day)!back view of Notre Dame....the view we had from the cafe where we had lunchwritting my postcardsthe toilet situation- not good! out in front of our cafe on the bridge heading over to the backside of Notre Dame a bright and colorful old lady on the street in Paris

Next we headed over to Shakespeare's Bookstore...where many famous writers used to go to - WRITE :)Beth checking out all the bookshis office
Paris, Day 4:
Today was the day of our morning tour going up in the Eiffel Tower! The line was definitely shorter than the other day when we were there...and it went fast. We got on the elevator to to the TOP and I was enjoying looking out the windows at the city until we got higher, and higher...and then I started not to feel so good, so I had to look at the floor of the elevator till we arrived on the top floor. We got out and were 'inside'...there were windows to look out in case you didn't want to go outside. We wanted to go outside. So we walked out and had a look around. Everything looked so small looking down at the street. We were super high up! We took tons of pictures, but unfortunately it was overcast and we didn't get the best shots. We spent about an hour up there, walking on the top floor, the 2nd floor, and the 1st floor...and then we took the stairs down from the 1st floor to street level. I was glad to be back on solid ground! :)waiting in line to get in the elevatorlooking over the side...that's a long drop!can you see the arc de triomphe in the distance?the crowded top floor
me on the top floor the Arc de Triomphe
one of the stars that hung on the EiffelView of Tracadero from the Eiffel Tower

We then headed over to Tracadero across the bridge. I wanted to take some photos of the statues over there with the Eiffel in the background. While there, Beth and I each ate these yummy waffles topped with bananas and Nutella! Mmmmm Mmmmm good! :)Next was the Rue Cler, a street that I was told to go down. Well, I guess this street is usually busy with people, fruit stands, cafes, cute shops, etc. Its in the tour book of a street to visit. Unfortunately we went down the wrong day. After arriving and noticing there were only a handful of people there, we looked in the tour book and read that we were to avoid that street on Mondays as everything is closed. Well shoot! That was the day we were there! Bummer! Oh well, we still enjoyed walking down the street and Beth bought some fruit and a baguette.Then we were off to see the Arc de Triomphe! I didn't expect it to be as large as it was...and boy it was large! Before doing the tour inside, Beth and I had lots of fun and laughs taking some pictures across the street.After our playful behavior, we took the tunnel under the busy street over to the Arc. We took another staircase (my legs were so tired) up to the top. The view of the Eiffel from there was nice because we were pretty close. So we enjoyed taking more city photos.Then we headed down the street from the Arc called the Champs Elysees...very ritzy! We saw a Mc Cafe (Mc Donalds) and went into the Louis Vuitton store that was HUGE and super crowded so we left. We continued down the street and then hopped on the subway and headed towards Montemartre.Mc Cafe

Ok, so Montemartre is what I thought all of Paris would look like. It is so quaint! There were little cobblestone streets with artists and cafes. When we first got there we went down this street that the tour book said had discounted items (souveniers). We walked through a few shops but it was so crowded down there...

Then we arrived at the end of the street and you had an amazing view of the Sacre Cour. I bought a hot dog (sausage but it had a bun this time) and ate it on the steps in front of the chapel. There were tons of people sitting out there, enjoying the sunshine that we finally had that day. After relaxing for a bit, we hiked up all the steps to the top and there was a musician playing some cover songs out there and people were sitting around listening...there was also this 'statue' that wasn't really a statue...this guy was all painted and would come to life and make faces and play a flute. It was fun to watch!Then we headed down the cute streets of Montemartre...my favorite little area of Paris! We walked the cute little streets, took some photos, I got myself some yummy gelato, and we enjoyed the music from a man playing the accordian about 20 feet from me playing 'La Vie En Rose' - it was wonderful!!! I finally felt like I was in Paris, like you see in the movies! :) I loved it! eating my gelatoWe had been on this walking tour the whole time while in Montemartre (from Rick Steve's tour book - super good book by the way)...we continued on and saw Picasso's studio, Renoir's house (well, we only saw his window), Van Gogh's house (I was falling over as I was taking a picture of his door - see pic below), the cafe where they filmed the movie "Amelie", and a few other stops along the way.Picasso's StudioRenoir's house (window)Van Gogh's House (I was falling)the cafe where 'Amelie' was filmed

Lastly was the Moulin Rouge. So its not like the movie, that's for sure! And its on a real crummy street! We took some photos and then moved along. We didn't want to be there at dark...but unfortunately it was already starting to get dark out. We got back to our apartment safe and sound and were done sight-seeing for the day.
boys mooning in front of the Moulin Rouge...Beth just happened to be sitting right next to them - funny!

Paris, Day 5:
We woke up and got all ready and headed out to the Metro to go to Versailles - where Marie Antoinette lived. Versailles was a ways out of Paris and took [I think] an hour to get there. We arrived and had a beautiful sunny day there. We walked through the main palace and then walked the grounds, gardens, and down by the water. The gardens were beautiful! I enjoyed that more than the palace. We also sat by the water for awhile, just relaxing and enjoying the nice weather. The fish were jumping like crazy and were very friendly...they must be used to people feeding them. Then we continued to wander the grounds and came to the Queen's House, which was beautiful inside too!After that we ventured even further out to the 'Hamlet' where Marie Antoinette had a little city built for her and her friends to live. Very pretty out there!!As we were heading back to leave, it started to rain. We were not dressed for that type of weather today, but we managed. We got back on the train and headed back to Paris. We were trying to hurry because it was already getting kind of late and we wanted to make sure to see two more places before they closed...it was our last full day in Paris! First We went to the Rodin Museum to see 'The Thinker'. We were able to walk through that smaller museum and see everything before heading out.Then we walked across the street over to Napolean's Tomb! Wow, that was pretty neat! The place was huge and it was all just for his dead body. Pretty crazy! After that we headed out...realizing after a half hour that we were walking in the total wrong direction, we decided to stop and have dinner at this little Cafe. It was a nicer cafe and we were finally able to have a sit-down meal that didn't include a sandwich! (which had been every other meal on the trip). I finally had a meal of substance...a steak and french fries! Oh, it was like heaven!!After dinner we were pretty exhausted. This trip had worn us out. So we headed back to our aprartment. We ended up FINALLY finding a market (after a week of not finding one) and bought some baguettes and snack foods for our train the next day (going back to London) and then took them back up to the apt. We had fun taking some photos together too....

Leaving Paris....Going Back to London
So I was excited and looking forward to getting back to London. I was done with Paris...I had seen the sights and was ready to go back to another English speaking country! :) That morning we got up early, finished packing up and cleaning the apartment, and had breakfast at a little cafe across from where we were staying. The lady there wasn't very friendly and was frustrated that we weren't speaking French. Then this nice man showed up and translated for us...ended up I think he owned the place. He was super nice. Anyway, we had our breakfast and then went on our way. The train back to London was fun. Beth and I sat across from each other this time and had a table where we could lay all our food out. We snacked pretty much the whole trip and listened in on the conversation next to us...this couple was breaking up and it was like watching a soap opera! It was great! Well, sad for them, great for us! :) We arrived back in London and found our hotel room...got settled and immediately headed out. I wanted to make sure to do the tour in the Tower of London this time! Well I must have the worst luck because we got there and they were only open for another half hour. Since it was pricey and we wouldn't have been able to see anything much, we didn't do it. I was so disappointed! We sat around for a bit, took a few more pictures and then took the Metro back to the hotel. eating french fries in front of the Tower of London...they cheered me up! :) heeheeOur hotel was so much nicer than anything we had stayed in all week, I wish we could've stayed in there longer! Anyway, my stomach wasn't doing so good...actually I was pretty sick. So we laid around for a couple hours till I felt better. Then we headed out to Hyde Park, which was directly across the street from our hotel. I'm a Hyde, so I had to visit the park! It was kinda getting dark so I didn't get the best pictures...but at least I got a couple! (oops, just realized that the others are still on my camera - I will add them soon)

Then we took the Metro to Notting Hill. We didn't go to the right area...like in the movie, but we did go down Portobello Road. Beth ate at this cute little pizza place (I still wasn't feeling well, so I didn't eat) that had a VW Bug in the window with pizzas displayed on it - kinda cute!After our long and tiring trip, we were pooped! We went back to the hotel room. Beth went to bed, while I stayed up till almost 2am trying to upload all my photos to snapfish.com. Unfortunately it was so slow that I only got one day uploaded...well that and I took a TON of pictures! So I gave up and went to bed.

Flying Home....God Bless America!
I had some really nice men help me with my luggage in the Metro in London. The people there were so nice! Much nicer than Paris! Anyway, I made it on the Metro safely and on time. Unfortunately I didn't know that I was supposed to find out what terminal I was leaving from at the airport. I saw a sign on the train that said I could text my flight number and they would send back the terminal. So I asked this cute boy sitting next to me if he would help out. He was so awesome! He figured out exactly where I needed to go. I would've been lost without him! I also met this really nice lady who sat across from me who had just gotten back from Africa. We chatted about our travel stories on the way to the airport. I was the first to get off...I had to change trains and get on another one that would take me to the terminal I needed. I arrived at the airport two hours before my flight (it took me an hour to get there - yuck!) and checked in. The flight home was ok. I didn't get to sleep - not sure why I couldn't this time. I watched a few movies instead. As we were preparing to land in Houston, someone sprayed perfume! OH MY GOODNESS...what an idiot! Who does that in an enclosed space with circulating air? I was having a hard time breathing, as I'm semi-allergic to perfumes. The people sitting next to me were super nice trying to find something I could take to help. We ended up talking the rest of the flight and then all the way through customs. I was lucky to meet nice people while I was traveling alone! From Houston to Ontario I sat next to this man who was a super talker! I just wanted to sleep and he just wanted to talk. So I talked for a bit and then put on my headphones and started a movie. He left me alone after that. I felt kinda bad, but I was so tired that I wasn't in the mood to turn sideways and hold a conversation. I think he understood...because when I woke up after the whole flight he was like "wow, you must have been tired, you slept the whole way". Yep, he understood :) We exited the plane, I found my luggage, and Mr. Matlock picked me up :) I was glad to be back in town! He took me home...I was really looking forward to my own bed, seeing my dog and kitty, and sleeping the whole next day! Unfortunately my electricity had been turned off while I was gone and so I couldn't stay there (that's a whole other story). So I stayed the night at the Matlock's and slept in there. Oh, the next day was so nice...Just to have my own bed was so wonderful...to be with family and friends again...to be able to speak my native language....GOD BLESS AMERICA!!! I had a great trip, but I'm glad to be home again!

I wish I could post all my pictures from the trip...but I took over 1600, so I don't think you'd appreciate the length of the blog at that point! haha :) Anyway, I'm sure I'll have them on snapfish if anyone is interested in seeing them all. Just email me and I'll send you the link.

Well, thanks for bearing with me and reading through this blog...it was a long one, but hopefully an interesting one. It was a fun trip, a great 30th birthday, and an experience (both good and bad) I will always remember!