London – Transcontinental Hop
It’s a profoundly daunting feeling, setting off for a trip to Europe, not only because I know I’ve spent the last month or two organizing it, but also because it’s Europe, so I’ve been planning it, in essence, for most of my life. I’m normally a person who will freely profess to taking a ‘low expectation approach’ to life–traveling may be the one thing I set my bar fairly high for.
Nonetheless, we set-off without a hitch, having successfully completed 3 pay periods worth of payroll for an office the morning of our flight. The flight was fine, if not unremarkable, which I suppose is generally a plus when taking transport. I’m quite content to not have a journey punctuated by remarkable bits of flame and destruction. Upon arriving at Gatwick Airport, I was pleasantly surprised to find people to be helpful and accommodating, going out of their way to organize train travel (due to a broken lift at the station to which we were headed). The train into downtown was even held for a few minutes so we could board with Tina. All the cabs are also wheelchair accessible, which is fantastic, and are relatively painless to get into. We ran into a bit of a hitch upon arriving at the hotel..well, a bit of a step. Thankfully, David was able to help T pop it, which was a relief. The room was fabulously spacious, with one of the best bathrooms (from a wheelchair point of view); although, it was somewhat lacking in usefully-placed outlets. Though knackered, we thought that visiting the British Museum (as it was walking distance) would be a good way to kick things off. There were absolute hordes of people, likely because we chose one of the most popular exhibits–mummies. The 9-hour flight was also catching up with T and David (he actually fell asleep in the lobby while waiting for T), so we decided to head back.
After a nap, David and I decided to explore London’s tube in the evening. Other than being rather warm, it was efficient, with plenty of stations to make things convenient. There’s nothing like taking the Tube for 10 minutes and coming out to walk along the Thames and see Big Ben lit up beautifully. Vancouver’s a pretty city to be sure, but we really don’t have anything comparable. We wandered into an area near Charing Cross station, following the sound of a random drum band who was making its way along a pedestrian street. They were vigorous and fun, inciting people to dance in the street! We ended up having a few drinks in a proper English pub, the Princess of Walkes, before calling it a night.
London – Museosaurus
We woke up somewhat late, jet-lag playing havoc with some people’s sleep. I’m not sure why I’ve never really had a problem with jet lag. I go to bed in another country and wake-up 7 or 8 hours later. My body just doesn’t really know what time it is back home I suppose. We had the English breakfast provided y the hotel and embarked on our day. Buses are really quite good–clean, accessible and provide a great way of seeing the city. It was so exciting to drive through town–Piccadilly Circus, by Hyde Park–and just marvel at the gorgeous architecture. It was a little surreal. Hadn’t really felt like I was in London until I got a chance to see the city.
Out first stop was the Natural History Museum, housed in a fantastically impressive building, with lofty ceilings and pretty stonework. The contents of the museum were also entertaining; nothing like giant dinosaur skeletons to kick start the day. Mind you, the masses of children in all their screaming glory weren’t endaring me to the prospect of procreation, but they became ignorable. Stopped in for lunch at a Thai restaurant nearby (so we could report back of course). The meal was fine, and I was surprised to find our servers were Thai. It was entertaining to listen to them bitch in Thai about some particularly irritating customers.
Our next museum was right next door, the Victoria & Albert Museum, which ended being one of our favourites in London. A similarly gorgeous building that housed art and artifacts from a wide range of areas (Persia, SE Asia, Japan, Korea, Britain, Europe) as well as varying time periods. Perhaps most impressive was the cast works collection, which had casts of some truly impressive pieces. We just don’t produce works like that anymore. Not to say that the man hours going into pieces these days aren’t te same, just the the final product doesn’t send the same kidn of spine-tingling wave of awe and dumbfoundedness over you. We covered a respectable chunk of the museum but were quickly burning out, so we headed back.
Picked up groceries, snacks and beer, which was staggeringly cheap compared to Vancouver. David, somewhat amusingly, created a little beer-cooling system in the sink (in lieu of a fridge). After a quick nap, D and I headed out again to check-out the town. We tubed back to Piccadilly Circus, which was alive with people (a nice surprise for a Sunday Night). It kind of reminded me of a less gaudy Times Square. We wandered through there to Leicester Square and, kind of accidentally, stumbled across London’s Chinatown–a little seedy and small. As I had become hungry, we were in search of food, a surprisingly difficult task at nearly 11pm on a Sunday. We wandered into Soho, but still no food (lots of places serving booze though). We finally were recommended to a place called Little Italy. It was absolutely fantastic food, though rather steep. But, when in London! We were actually not terribly tired when were returned to the hotel, so we ended up watching 3 1-hour episodes of Top Gear (a fantastic British car show) on D’s laptop until 4am. Not the brightest move perhaps, but it’s Top Gear–it’s like candy and really addictive.
London – Little of this, Little of Tate
Not surprisingly, it was a bit of a late start the next morning. T had had problems sleeping, so was tired, deciding to stay in and write. D and I tubed down to the London Eye area (largely cause I mistakenly thought it was closer to the Tate Modern). We ended up taking the Tate Boat, which runs between the two Tate museums, the Eye and Tower Bridge. The Tate Modern is an immense, converted power plant. Not the most attractive building, but it had some interestingg collections. D and I decided to pay for an Urban Street photography exhibition–a worthwhile choice. Photographs have always been particularly gripping for me, more so than say an obtuse piece of plastic hanging from a string. I was delighted to find that they had pieces dating back to the 1890s. After we’d had our fill, we took a walk and snapped some photos of St. Paul’s Cathedral, before hopping back on the boat. Seeing a city by boat is a really excellent way to do it–you see a different side of the city.
We got off at the Tower of London and walkedacross Tower Bridge–an impressive structure, though D was skeptical that it hadn’t been rebuilt since the war. After we had our fill of the former trappings of many an alleged traitor, we tubed over to Covent Garden. Unfortunately, we managed to hit rush hour, so it was a bit of a tight squeeze on the Tube. I had wanted to try and get in a little shopping, but we just missed opening hours. We did sit and listen to a nice guitarist in the market and do a little meditating to the tune of guitar notes and rainfall.
London had graced us with familiar weather–rain. We decided to grab some dinner in a fabulously charming restaurant above a pub, White lion. D tried some traditional British fare–a game pie–with 5 types of game (partridge, pheasant, pigeon, venison and rabbit!). It was a meal right up his alley to be sure.
London – Lazing about Bloomsbury
The day started out with an ambitious plan–we tackled the British Museum again. Unfortunately, we managed to pick the day that seemingly every school in London hadchosen as ‘field trip day’. Masses and masses of school groups were abound in all their annoying glory. While we did get to see great pieces, like the Rosetta Stone (an essential for any linguist) and some beautiful Greek and Roman sculptures, the crowds and perhapsa little bit of wrong-side-of-the-bedness had put most of us on edge. We decided to forego our other stops and head back to the hotel, figuring a nap would do some good. I had wanted to get some shopping in, but did laundry while folks were napping, which took longer than I expected.
I had met a pair of British chaps during my travels in the south of Thailand. I had contacted Jon to meet up for dinner or drinks, so we settled on meeting at Leicester Square in front of ticket stations. Unfortunately, a steady drizzle and our running a little had perhaps fried my thinking, so we waited at Leicester Square at a big ticket kiosk for about half an hour with no sight of Jon. We assumed there’d been a mix-up and decided to find food. Thankfully, Jon managed to find us down the street about to go into an Italian restaurant. Apparently, he’d been waiting at Leicester Underground by the tickets, which, ironically, I’d thought about checking but T and D didn’t think was right. In any case, we had fortuitously found each other and headed off for noodles (well, across the street).
Jon was a big fan of a Japanese chain called Wagamama; however, this location had stairs and a rather dubious-looking lift, which, in the end, no one could get working. We hiked in the drizzle to the other location down the street. This place had a proper elevator, but, ironically enough, a giant step to get into the building. D was able to pop T high enough thankfully. We had a tasty dinner and entertaining conversation.
London – Royalty and Royally Weird
We awoke to an ambitious plan–a lengthy list of sights and museums to hit, as it was our last night in London. We hopped on a bus and headed for Trafalgar Square–though it was a trifle awkward, as we managed to get on the bus with another wheelchair passenger. Thankfully, the weather had cooperated with my planning and cleared to beautiful blue skies and warm sunshine. We stopped and got some snaps of the National Gallery, though we unfortunately didn’t have enough time to go in. We wandered down a pretentiously long road (the flag poles had crowns on top!) to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. The actual event itself wasn’t terribly awe-inspiring, and most of it happened behind crownd-laden gates. But it was nice to see the palace with guards in their beaver hats marching past. From there, we strolled through St. James’ Park, past Westminster Abbey and Big Ben and over to the County Hall Gallery.
The London Aquarium was, not surprisingly, filled with children; however, halls were wide enough to not be completely annoying. Their shark tank was impressive, with 4 types of shark inhabiting it. Fun shark fact: a shark fetus will eat the other contenders for birth while in the uterus. Crazy! We then moved next door, after a brief coffee/ice cream reprieve, to see te Dali Universe. Now I’ve always been a massive of Dali, and this exhibit was no exception. It contained mostly drawings and some watercolours, as well as sculptures. Dali, suffice it to say, was seriously messed up. Apparently his father had left out a book venereal diseases when he was a child to discourage promiscuity. It had the intended effect, while also seriously warping his mind. Nonetheless, it was neat to walk through, and I ended up buying a Dali book, finally.
We’d successfully managed most of our list, and, with a couple hours to kill before our reservation on the London Eye, we sat and people-watched by the Thames to the tune of several intermingling melodies of street performers. The London Eye was impressive if not trippily high (135 metres above the ground at the highest). It provided suitably gorgeous views of the city. David being David was of course fascinated by the mechanical workings of it (I think it’s mostly because it’s really a giant bike wheel, and he is drawn to all things bike), though he did conclude that it would be an awesome movie action sequence to have the Eye blow-up and roll down the Thames. After the Eye, we were sufficiently hungry, but Tina’s battery was worryingly low, so we headed back and had Italian at the same place as the first night.
London > Paris – To the City of Love!
David woke me just before 5am to say goodbye, which was all too brief before he was gone, off for Tuebingen and TAG+. T and I puttered and packed for our journey to Paris. London bid us a partin gift of a beautiful day along with the most atrocious amount of plumber’s crack from our cab driver trying to get the ramp down. <shudder> We boarded the Eurostar train without a hitch, and actually found they had one of the best ramps to load T onto the train (this large, 2-tiered contraption..quite impressive). Trains are so lovely–they’re (usually) so calming and scenic, just relax with some music and the world passing by. We were both impressed with the ride–excellent service and very comfortable (they fed us!). We both accidentally slept through our trip through the Chunnel and was rather disappointed to have missed it. Thankfully, before we left I’d had the presence of mind to realize that my ill-conceived plan of transporting our bags via metro to the hotel first and then going back to get T, to then go by bus was a royal pain in the derriere, so I’d ordered a wheelchair cab. He met us at the gate, and it was smooth sailing to the hotel.
I was pleased to find a stepless entrance to our hotel, as well as a big enough elevator. The doors were a bit cumbersome, though. Our room was pleasantly furnished and surprisingly spacious (for a Paris hotel). Unfortunately, they’re refurbishing the building, so there was annoyingly loud construction going on outside. We decided to venture out to get a feel for the area. Place Vendome, right around the corner, was delightfully pretentious, housing the Ritz and various high-end jewellers. Traffic was a little insane as were the crowds on the already narrow streets. Apparently a strike was going on, so the police had blocked off areas. It’s always a little overwhelming to be in a foreign city where you don’t speak the language, but I think it’s even more nervewracking as I was also worried about T. We managed to find the Louvre, though it’d be hard to miss. Such a fantastically gorgeous structure! I was amazed at the whole area: ornate buildings with cafes and fashionable shops at the bottom.
Paris was suitably overwhelming that we decided to head back along the Seine to the hotel. We ended up overshooting our turn-off a bit (largely due to my lame map-reading skills), but wandered into Place de la Concorde, which was even more fabulously ostentatious than Place Vendome. There’s a giant obelisk in the centre, if that’s any indicator, and lots of shiny gold statues. We managed to meander our way back to the hotel, and, after a little Top Gear, called it a night.