Epilogue

Below is the last journal entry recording the events of the trip Carolyn and I took to England and France in July of 2006. It was written on the transatlantic flight coming home, and covers some final thoughts about the journey:

Friday, July 28, 2006 airborne over England on British Airways

An interesting morning. Our alarm didn’t go off at 7:00 (there was no clock, but the TV had an alarm), but Carolyn woke up at 7:05 (we had lined up a wakeup call at 7:30 just in case). We got ready, grabbed our luggage, and headed downstairs to the restaurant in Kensington Close for breakfast.

We had a nice English buffet breakfast. (The pilot just announced that we’re now over Wales. That took no time at all!) We had hash browns, eggs, I had a vegetarian sausage, fruit, coffee, tea, juice, and stuff like that. It was pretty good.

We ate quickly, pressed for time, and walked a few blocks up the sidewalk to the High Street Kensington Tube station. We took it to Earl’s Court, then got on the Piccadilly line, which took us to where we caught the shuttle bus for Terminal 4 at Heathrow Airport.

When we got there, we had to wait in a long, very slow-moving line for over an hour. We were getting concerned about making our flight, since we didn’t get our boarding passes and our luggage checked in until 10:15–and our flight’s departure time was 10:55! They rushed everyone on Flight 0217 to Dulles to get checked in, and we made it to Gate 3 about two minutes before they started boarding. I had just enough time to stop at a little store near the terminal to get drinks, a snack, and a couple small gifts for people.

We waited for the boarding line to go down before joining it, as we were exhausted from hauling our luggage. When we finally got up to board, they upgraded us to 18E & 18F. We didn’t know just what this meant, but when we boarded, we discovered (a pleasant surprise) that we had been moved to first class! Neither of us had ever flown first class before–British Airways calls it “Club World.” All the stress of cutting it so close had some hidden benefits!

So we’re sitting in what Carolyn calls “dentist chairs.” They’re these big automatic recliner-type seats that are in the center of the plane, at the front. It’s definitely a whole lot different from coach! There is plenty of elbow room and plenty of space to stretch my legs; in fact, we’ve got foot rests! Our seats are right next to each other, and we have privacy dividers on either side of us. It’s almost like it’s just the two of us in our own little section. Nice. Instead of giving us cellophane bags with a night mask and a toothbrush, they gave us a travel kit with all kinds of stuff. And rather than giving us a prepackaged box of food, they gave us a menu with an assortment of various fancy foods. A flight attendant just came up to me and addressed me as “Mr. Hyde,” then took my order. I’m getting some salmon dish as an appetizer (“starter”) and some kind of king prawn (like shrimp) dish with Indian spices as a main dish. Carolyn ordered an artichoke salad for an appetizer and a chicken salad for the main course. They’re moving a bar-on-wheels up the aisles. A fancy “larder”–snacks–with food and drinks is open throughout the flight.

Carolyn is playing with all the gadget stuff around her. I just looked over and she was playing a video game on her TV. She was playing with all the buttons on her remote control and one of them flashed a spotlight on her from above, making her jump. It was pretty funny.

There are a number of things we observed in England & France that I didn’t write in here with the daily entries:

  • In England, it’s hard to find anything cold during the summer. Air conditioning is rare, and some places that do have it barely turn it on, so you sweat a lot anyway. The drinks are always warm–even the ones that they pull out of a fridge. The only way to get a cold drink, it seems, is to ask for ice. Ice cream is the only thing we encountered that was consistently cold.
  • Restaurants close early in London. If you don’t eat by 5:00 p.m., you might not eat at all. This seems pretty peculiar in such a huge international city. To eat later, we had to go to the Theatre District–where the restaurants stay open later to accommodate the theatre crowd–or go to Simply Food at the Waterloo station and get pre-made food to go, or “take away.”
  • The toilets are weird. You have to flush many of them at least twice in order to actually flush. The toilet in our room we had to pump several times to get it to flush. By the way, apparently in English-speaking Europe, the word “toilet” refers not to the toilet, but to the whole bathroom.
  • It was weird hearing the British news cover American events from a British slant. They are very condescending toward the American government; of course, American officials contributed to this by saying and doing dumb things. For instance, a British reporter asked an American official how the U.S. can say it wants a ceasefire in Lebanon and Israel, but meanwhile be shipping weapons to Israel for the war. The man had a dumb look for a minute, then said, “All I have to say is that we want a ceasefire.” They also regularly bust on President Bush and Condoleeza Rice.
  • In the U.S. a lot of people wear jerseys from football, baseball, basketball, or hockey; in Europe, they wear jerseys from their favorite soccer (“football”) teams.
  • The woman at the bed & breakfast where we stayed, Monica, must be a C-type personality. When she cleaned our room each day, she neatly folded and stacked our stuff. One day I found my tube of toothpaste in a mug in the shower. She folded whatever clothes were out; it was really funny–after our first day there, that night Carolyn couldn’t find her sleep clothes. She finally gave up and decided to just go to bed. Lo and behold, when she stuck her hand under her pillow, there were her sleep clothes, neatly folded up! Each day they were folded and “hidden” somewhere different, until finally Carolyn started keeping them inside her suitcase so she wouldn’t have to search for them each night. The woman also neatly stacked whatever papers and books were lying around, and she arranged into orderly piles things like change, receipts, etc. It was pretty funny!
  • People smoke everywhere. Every pack of cigarettes is sold with a label warning that smoking kills you, yet tons of people smoke, even in the train stations. It seems like the Tube and other trains were the only places where people weren’t smoking.
  • England has flowers everywhere. No matter where you go, there are beautiful flowers. City or country, mansion estate or high rise apartment, there are bright, colorful flowers. They seem to be indefinitely in bloom. Maybe this is why my allergies flared up for a few days (something that has never happened before in July), but it sure does make it a beautiful and scenic country. The people there are really into flowers and gardens! Carolyn took lots of pictures of them.
  • This time of year, it’s not dark very long at all in London. I wonder if this is because they’re further north than we are. The sun didn’t seem to go down until about 10:00 p.m., and it returned with a vengeance six hours later. One day, Carolyn saw on the news weather report that the sun came up at 4:15 a.m. I wonder if this means that their days are really short in the winter.
  • We never missed having a car. Public transportation and a pair of shoes will get you anywhere. We did a whole lot more walking than most people probably do there. We walked so much partly because we used public transportation, partly because a lot of times we didn’t know where we were going and had to walk around to figure it out, and mostly because we greatly enjoyed exploring by foot. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to discover that we walked between 30-40 miles during our 10-day trip.
  • Europeans are not fat like Americans. We almost never saw any overweight people–when we did, they usually turned out to be Americans. There weren’t many skinny people, either; the vast majority seemed to be a normal, healthy size.
  • The drivers in London are crazy. They’ll gladly run over any pedestrians whenever given the opportunity. The worst ones are the guys in suits riding motorcycles and mopeds. They try to get you–I think they’re disappointed when they miss. All the drivers go fast through the city, never even slowing down to go around corners. We got to experience this firsthand when we took a taxi from the bed & breakfast to Waterloo. It was quite a ride!
  • Europe uses Celsius measures for temperature rather than Fahrenheit. So when we were in London and Paris the past two nights, we had no idea what temperature to set the AC to. But we didn’t care–we were just glad to have AC! So we set it near the lowest temperature we could, which seemed to work pretty well.
  • Yesterday on our way up the Eiffel Tower, Carolyn made a new little baby friend. I heard her saying in her playing-with-babies voice, “I got you! I got you!” I turned to look, and she and this little baby were playing with each other. It was really cute.

This is cool–they just brought us dessert. I had a tiram-something, with a box of chocolates and some coffee.

  • Apparently the concept of eating crushed red pepper on pizza is an American thing. Last night at Ristorante Tina, I asked our waitress about it and got a puzzled expression in response. Instead, she brought me a bottle of oil with red peppers in it. It was pretty good and did spice up the pizza a little bit.
  • Gas bills just shot up here, too. It’s in all the headlines. Rates are rising 50%. Gas prices for cars were much, much, much higher than in the U.S., but they have a great public transportation system, and they also have Smart Cars, these teeny tiny things that are smart when it comes to gas mileage but not so smart if they got into an accident.

  • God answered many, many, many prayers on this trip. I prayed constantly that we would make all our connections–by car, bus, boat, plane, and train–and even with all our traveling, we never missed a single one!!! And this Club World business really tops it off! We also never lost anything (until yesterday’s umbrella) and didn’t have anything stolen. I prayed a lot about things like places accepting credit cards, not getting sick, making it to places (like Carolyn’s tea at Harrod’s) on time, staying safe, getting up on time without alarm clocks, etc. God has answered 100%! We even spent much less than I thought we would, by at least a thousand bucks. God is so good. He helped Carolyn and I to get along great through the whole trip. And we did every single thing we had planned–and then some! This vacation was such a gift from the Lord, easily the best vacation I’ve ever had. I can’t believe how much we saw and did. Thank You, Lord Jesus!

And there’s our trip. A few tidbits I thought I should add:

  • About two weeks after we flew out of Heathrow Airport in London to return home, law enforcement officials intercepted an attempted terrorist attack on U.S.-bound flights out of Heathrow. It was kind of creepy, having just been there. It also made me feel very grateful for the people who serve so diligently in that office.
  • After we looked through all our pictures, we learned a lesson about taking pictures on trips like this. We got photos of all the touristy things, but we missed the more personal touches. Next time we do something like this, we want to be sure to get pictures of things like the places we stayed, the restaurants where we ate, the train stations we frequented, the people, etc.
  • Carolyn took a couple hundred pictures of flowers, at her mom’s request. I’ve not linked to most of them simply because there are so many of them, plus I don’t remember where most of them are. But they are some of the most impressive pictures she took.

London at night, taken on a walking bridge over the River Thames.  Standing there when this picture was taken was one of those moments when it hit me just how cool this whole experience was, and I was in awe, thinking, “I can’t believe I’m actually getting to do all this….”

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Published in: on July 3, 2007 at 8:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Day 10: Eiffel Tower and Palace of Versailles

Below is the tenth journal entry recording the events of the trip Carolyn and I took to England and France in July of 2006. Day 10 was the last full day of our adventure:

Thursday, July 27, 2006 Paris, France EuroStar

This morning we woke up at about 8:00–fortunately, because we didn’t have an alarm clock in the room. Our room was great!–AC, a freezer, automatic blinds… it was so nice! We got packed up and left our luggage at the hotel, then walked to the Eiffel Tower. It was about four blocks or so (a very rough estimate) and we waited in line for only about 10 minutes. It was 11 euro each to get to the top. It was so much bigger than I’d realized–the base alone looked big enough to squeeze the Notre Dame Cathedral underneath it. It was 95 feet high… to the first floor. When we got to the very top, it was dizzyingly high. It made the Cathedral at Notre Dame look like a one-story building. I thought you could see Paris from the cathedral’s bell tower; from the top of the Eiffel Tower, it almost seemed like we could see the curve of the earth! We walked around up there for a little while, just enjoying the awesomeness of it. Eventually we took the elevator down to the second floor, where we walked around for a few minutes before taking the steps down to the first floor. This one-floor journey was adventurous enough to leave me feeling kind of sick, so we took the elevator down to the ground. From there we took the train to the Palace of Versailles.

Oh yeah–first thing this morning after leaving the hotel we stopped at that place on the corner again for quiche. It was delicious as before.

When we arrived at the train station in Versailles, it was a short walk of just a couple blocks to the palace. (This EuroStar train is shaky, making it hard to write!) The buildings in Paris are huge, generally much, much bigger than the ones in London, and this palace was no exception. It was just ridiculously enormous, much like the Louvre (though the Louvre is bigger than the Versailles Palace).

The palace was more crowded than most other places we’ve been. We took the English audio tour. (Like many other places we visited in England and France, it was also offered in Russian, Dutch, Italian, Chinese, Spanish, and, of course, French. Oh yeah, also Japanese. German is also available some places.) The palace was incredible, as I expected. There was a very impressive chapel, and we got to see a lot of the private and public rooms used by the kings and queens of France.

We saw King Louis XIV’s bedroom, where he died in 1715. We saw the room with the balcony where the royal family was forced to appear before a riotous public in October 1789. There was the astonishing and extremely fancy Hall of Mirrors, half of which was fully restored (the other half will be restored in coming years). It was in this hall that the famous Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919. Strangely, this hugely historic event was mentioned only once, and that only in passing. We saw the queens’ bedroom where Louis XV & XVII (I think those are the right Louis’) were born, and the wife of Louis XIV died. We saw the small hallway off the back of this room where Marie Antoinette fled from the rioters in the French Revolution on October 6, 1789. We saw the guards’ antechamber near this room. On that October day in 1789, rioters stormed the palace and mortally wounded the chief officer (the king’s bodyguard), who ran into this antechamber, shouted, “Save the queen!,” and died (this apparently is what prompted her to flee down that hallway).

On the train on the way to Versailles, there was a dude going car-to-car playing the accordion for money. I’d never seen that before. He seemed pretty good.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Versailles was the gardens. I’ve never seen anything like it! It was incredible: neatly trimmed rows of trees, close-cropped hedges in vast, fancy patterns, and beautiful, brightly colored flowers all over the place. There were several fountains and tons of white statues. It was on at least a couple different stories and sloped down away from behind the palace. It just went on and on forever–we walked a great distance but never even came close to the end. We never even got within sight of Marie Antoinette’s estate, which adjoins the palace grounds. The place was so incredibly vast and expansive that we were able to take a private walk despite the huge crowd that fanned out over the grounds.

London, England Kensington Very Late

The train was so shaky it made me sick to write, so I had to stop. So here we are back in London, at the Kensington Close, room 574–way, way, way down at the end.

So anyway, we left Versailles around 6:00 p.m. and took the train back near the Eiffel Tower. We walked around, visited Rue Cler with its street markets–Carolyn got a yummy chocolate crepe there–then ended up eating at Ristorante Tina, the Italian place where we got pizza last night. I got the same pizza, but this time hot and with parmesan and some kind of red pepper oil with it. Carolyn got spaghetti. I tried some of it, and it was so tasty… zesty… possibly the best I’ve ever had! Then we picked up our luggage and took the metro to Gare du Nord to catch our train. It was easily the most crowded subway I’ve ever been on. We were packed so tight that we couldn’t hold onto the poles while we stood; instead, we were held in place by bodies.

Carrying this ridiculously heavy and bulky luggage is the most grueling undertaking I’ve had since Parris Island in 1993. I’ve probably sweated ten gallons today.

Thus concludes our European excursion to England and France. I’ll wrap up the account tomorrow.

Published in: on June 26, 2007 at 8:48 am  Comments (2)  

Day 9: The Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Seine

Here’s an updated version of last week’s post about our England & France trip last summer. This one’s got the pictures:

Below is the ninth journal entry recording the events of the trip Carolyn and I took to England and France in July of 2006:

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 Paris, France

We got up this morning in London at 4:00 a.m., having showered before going to bed. So we were ready right at 4:30, and our taxi was there right on time. The city was still mostly dark as he whipped around one corner after another until we arrived at Waterloo. We checked in and didn’t have to wait long at all until we boarded the EuroStar. I’m sure it was less than an hour en route before I fell asleep, not waking until we weren’t far from Paris Nord. It was weird waking up and not even knowing what country we were in. I saw the time and it threw me off–I didn’t realize that Paris is an hour ahead of London. So we’re now 6 hours ahead of Eastern Shore Time (isn’t that what EST stands for?).

We arrived at about 9:30 a.m. Paris time, and it was weird getting off the train and walking into the subway station, where all the signs were in French. Carolyn got in line and bought “ten tickets,” because that’s what the people in front of her got! Paris’ subway is in zones, and a ticket gets you one way in the city’s zone (or something like that).

The weather here is oppressively hot, and the luggage I packed was extremely heavy and doesn’t have a handle designed for that kind of weight. So it was very grueling and painful getting the luggage to the hotel–when we finally figured out how to get here. I must’ve sweated about four gallons on the subway, not to mention the walk. We took the metro from Gare du Nord to Strasbourg Saint-Denis, then switched lines to come to Ecole Militaire. From there it’s a short two-block walk to Hotel Relais-Bosquet, on Rue de Champ de Mars.

We came to our room–the check-in guy spoke fluent English!–which is really nice. And best of all, it has AC!!! Woo hoo!!! We bought two-day museum passes and cruise tour tickets for 90 Euro, then left the hotel. We stopped at a cafe around the corner for quiche, which was very tasty. It was kind of funny, because we pointed at what we wanted to order, then discovered the girl working the counter spoke English (she sounded like she was from New York). We ate on a sidewalk bench, then took the metro to the Louvre Museum.

The Louvre is bigger than a lot of towns. We covered a lot of ground and saw some incredible stuff: the Mona Lisa and other Leonardo paintings, some Michelangelo paintings, some amazing French crown jewels covered in diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and sapphires, the Code of Hammurabi, some other ancient stuff from Moab and Assyria and Babylon, and that glass pyramid thing. We saw a lot of other things that were really cool and historically significant, like a statue of a headless angel and some ancient Greek and Roman stuff, and a ton of paintings, but unfortunately we couldn’t read any of it because it was all in French.

After the Louvre, we came out under the arch, toward the Eiffel Tower. At this point I thought I was just going to die from heat and dehydration. The sun was blazing down with a fury, with no shade in sight. We made our way across the Seine River to a sidewalk cafe. The waiter was funny–he said something to us in French, then English, so Carolyn said, “What’s that?” He thought she said, “What’s up?,” so he said–in his French accent–“What’s up? What’s up!,” the second one drawn out like in the old commercial, American style. Later he approached us with a carafe of cold water, which we had requested. He showed it to us, and then burst into a string of French as he poured it into our glasses. We were both thinking the same thing–wondering what he was doing since he knew we didn’t speak French (we’d asked for English menus)–when he quickly explained, “That’s the age of this fine wine.” Funny guy. (He reminded me of the funny beefeater who led us around the Tower of London–at one point he [the beefeater] asked all the Americans in the groups: “Are you here on holiday, or to learn the language?”) We got two different kinds of ham sandwiches–one was good and one was nasty–and drank two carafes of water. Then we headed to the nearby Cathedral of Notre Dame.

We took pictures from the outside, then waited in line for the tower tour. Meanwhile I bought postcards at a little shop across the street and drank my first Perrier in France… from a can.

The tour of Notre Dame was awesome. We climbed up 400-plus steps, saw some places mentioned in Victor Hugo’s famous novel set on the site, and finally reached the bell tower with the nearly-500-year-old bell. It was so cool! Then we took the winding spiral staircase even higher, to the very top. Right in front of us were the cathedral’s famous gargoyles; down below us was the river; and spreading for miles all around was the great city of Paris.

When we came back down (the climb up nearly did us in, with the horrible heat; the descent made us dizzy), we walked around inside. How blessed we are to be able to tour Westminster Abbey in London one day, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris the next day! Notre Dame wasn’t as intricately ornate and crowded with monuments and tombs as Westminster Abbey, but I think it was grander. It makes Westminster look almost cluttered. It has by far the most amazing, beautiful, stunning stained glass windows I’ve ever seen. Huge ones in grand patterns, all over the place. Very fancy altar. Huge vaulted ceilings. It was incredible. And unlike St. George’s Chapel and Westminster Abbey, we were permitted to take pictures inside, though I’m sure photographs could never do the place justice.

We took the subway back here to the hotel to cool down, get watered up, and rest before the cruise tour. But first we stopped at a local market and bought lemonade for Carolyn, Perrier, a French Diet Coke for John Coleman, some milk, and a small bottle of French champagne for my parents.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006 Paris, France Part II

The crown jewels we saw earlier were those of Louis XV and Josephine.

So after resting and writing earlier, we went past the Eiffel Tower to take a tour cruise on the Seine with Bateaux Parisiens. We made the 9:30 p.m. boat. It lasted about an hour and we had a great time. Not long after we set off, a really big storm moved in. It was so cool! As we moved along the river with Paris flowing by around us, the wind began blowing everything around. Lightning illuminated all the enormous historical buildings, and rain pelted the boat. It was a little unnerving, but lots of fun, and exciting. The Eiffel Tower is really something to see when it’s lit up at night–especially when it’s in the middle of a barrage of lightning! Unfortunately we couldn’t get a picture of it during the storm because of the rain. After the cruise tour we walked through the pouring rain back toward the room, stopping nearby for a pizza to go–or “take away”–from a local pizza place. Fortunately, the restaurants in Paris seem to be open much later than the ones in London! I took a much needed shower, then Carolyn and I ate the pizza here in the room–with Perrier from Paris!

Now it’s past time for bed yet again, and another busy day planned for tomorrow.

Published in: on June 25, 2007 at 2:59 pm  Comments (2)  

Doh!

Aw man, I just discovered that I totally forgot to put pictures in this morning’s post about our first day in Paris.  I’ll work on that this week and re-post it.

Published in: on June 19, 2007 at 10:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Day 8: Westminster Abbey… And A Nice English Tea

Below is the eighth journal entry recording the events of the trip Carolyn and I took to England and France in July of 2006:

Tuesday, July 25, 2006 London, England

This morning we got up and took the Tube to Westminster, where we toured Westminster Abbey. I would have to possess the combined talent of all the poets memorialized there in Poets Corner to even try to describe the abbey. It’s over 1,000 years old and every king and queen of England from William the Conqueror on–38 in all (two kings were not coronated ceremonially)–has been crowned in the same spot in Westminster Abbey. Many state funerals have been held there as well, such as Queen Elizabeth II’s mother and Princess Diana. Heavy historical stuff. It was like St. George’s Chapel at Windsor magnified many times over. Tons of kings and queens and prime ministers, and many other famous people, are buried there. It’s got to be the most ornate place on the planet. The high, vaulted ceilings are like nothing I could ever have imagined.

We got the audio tour guides to help us along, and went around the place in about 2 1/2 hours. It was so cool to see the place where 38 of England’s kings and queens have been crowned, even William I! We saw the tombs (I’m sure I’ll forget some) of: Edward I (1239-1307), Henry III (1207-1272–he spent the equivalent of 17 million pounds, roughly $30 million, on the abbey), Elizabeth I (this was amazing!), Mary I (buried next to Elizabeth–ironic considering their disputes during life), Oliver Cromwell (at least he was buried there for two years before being dug up to be hanged and decapitated), Queen Anne Nevill (wife of Richard III, daughter of the “Kingmaker” Richard, Earl of Warwick; her dates were 1456-1485), poets Geoffrey Chaucer and John Dryden, composer Handel, 19th-century missionary David Livingstone, Isaac Newton (who had a big monument), James I (no monument–just barely marked with a small black slab–not sure why), and Charles Darwin, who also had a big monument near Newton’s. Wow!

You’re not allowed to take pictures inside Westminster Abbey.  So when we got outside, Carolyn turned around and took the above picture of the inside, but she was technically outside!  If you look closely, you can see a monument to Isaac Newton on the left and one to Charles Darwin on the right.

The effigies on the tombs of Elizabeth I and Henry VII were made from death masks, so it’s actually what they looked like! We also saw effigies for many other monarchs in the museum there.

By the way, William I was crowned there on December 25, 1066.

Near the former tomb of Cromwell, there was a hole still in the wall from the German bombing raids of World War II. It is now covered with glass.

Another really cool thing was a coronation chair first used by Edward I in 1308–and used to seat every monarch since as they are crowned! It’s a 700-year-old wooden throne, scratched up from years of not being protected from the public.

We visited a very old cloister used by the monks at the abbey until 1559, when Henry VIII terrorized the clergy. We saw the monks’ chapter house, used until Henry VIII took it. Its stained glass windows were destroyed by the Nazi bombs of WWII, but have since been replaced. The ancient floor is original, as are the remnants of old paintings along the circular wall. The entrance to the Pyx chamber has a heavy oak door from 1090! The room was used to store royal treasures and state documents.

The museum there said that a church has been on the site of Westminster Abbey since as far back as at least the 8th century! Amazingly, the museum contained a 4th-century, Christian, Romano-British sarcophagus, still in very good shape considering its age. It has a cross carved on the top. There were also fragments of some Roman thing dating from the 1st to 4th century A.D., complete with the official Roman stamp. The museum also had many ornamental and symbolic items used in coronations throughout the centuries. Outside these rooms were more grave markers, including one for 26 monks who died of the “Black Death” in 1348.

Near the exit, there hung an American Congressional Medal of Honor, commemorating an unidentified British soldier, killed in World War I, whose remains are buried there.

After leaving Westminster Abbey, we ate a quick lunch at a cafe nearby, toward the cathedral, called Ponti’s. I had an excellent tuna and cheese sandwich, one of the best I’ve ever had. We traded in some travelers checks for pounds and Euro, then made a mad dash for Madame Tussaud’s famous wax museum, taking the Tube there. Unfortunately, there was a very long line there and we were pressed for time because we wanted to make it to tea, so we weren’t able to visit the museum. Instead we walked up Baker Street and took a picture of a door at 221B, the fictitious residence of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Then we visited nearby Regent’s Park, which was great. Again it was land seized by Henry VIII, who turned it into hunting grounds. A century later the woods there were cleared to pay for troops. Now it’s a really beautiful park, the kind you’d only find in England: beautiful, beautiful, remarkably beautiful flower arrangements–especially roses of every kind imaginable and then some–all over the place. There were spacious green lawns, walking bridges to smaller gardens with waterfalls, meandering walkways, a stream with people rowing slowly through the park, a variety of ducks and other birds, and big fancy gates. Carolyn really enjoyed this park and took a lot of pictures of flowers.

Then we looked at a map and discovered that Abbey Road, the famous namesake of the Beatles’ album, was nearby. Actually, the road we’re staying on, Belsize Road, intersects Abbey Road and is not far from the site where the picture on the cover of Abbey Road was taken! Carolyn got a couple pictures of me strutting across the same famous crosswalk which the Beatles crossed on the album cover. She was so embarrassed, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity! We went to the nearest Tube station, St. John’s Wood, and bought Abbey Road souvenirs for Christopher and Dylan.

Then we hustled over to the Tube at Harrod’s, the famous store near the Knightsbridge station. We went to the second-from-the-top floor (the 4th, I think) and went to the Georgian Restaurant (or something like that) for a traditional English tea. This was very high on Carolyn’s list of things to do in England! So we enjoyed a nice tea with the weird accompanying dainty stuff. It was nice, but I’m afraid it wasn’t as elegant as she was hoping for.

We went up to Abbey Road again and followed it up to Belsize, where we returned to our room. First I went up the street to the Swiss Cottage Tube station to check on departure times for tomorrow morning. They don’t start in time for us to catch our 5:30 a.m. ride across the Chunnel, so our hosts–Arnold & Monica–called for a cab to pick us up at 4:30 a.m.

Tomorrow–Paris, France!

Published in: on June 12, 2007 at 8:24 am  Comments (4)  

Day 7: Windsor Castle & Downtown London at Night

Below is the seventh journal entry recording the events of the trip Carolyn and I took to England and France in July of 2006:

Monday, July 24, 2006 London, England

Today was one of the most interesting days we’ve had so far. We took the train this morning to Windsor, where we toured Windsor Castle. They had a free hand-held audio tour guide, which was very helpful. The castle is still an active residence of the queen; she spends weekends and holiday there. Like the other two castles we’ve visited–Warwick and the Tower of London–it was begun by William the Conqueror.

Windsor Castle was very different from the others in another way, too: it got us much closer to the kings and queens of England’s history. We visited the state rooms, which were incredible. Even the movies couldn’t do it justice: fancy, decorative, historical swords, shields, guns, artwork, uniforms, crowns–all elegantly displayed. The fanciest chandeliers I’ve ever seen decorated all the rooms, and the whole place could’ve doubled as an art museum–it had the personal, private collections of kings and queens. The state apartments had personal items that had belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte. There was also the morbid display of the bullet that killed Admiral Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Oh, before I forget–we saw an amazing doll house that belonged to Queen Mary. There was also an exhibit of artwork and photography, the highlight of which was several drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, including a sketch of the apostle Philip which was his practice (so to speak) for his famous Last Supper painting. It was so cool to see these up close! He had a drawing of a nude male, and there was a quote with him saying that you have to be modest when portraying male parts, or else you end up with “a sack of nuts rather than a human figure.” There were also some very interesting photos of Queen Elizabeth II from babyhood through this year. Oh yeah, Carolyn leaned on a display case and set off the alarm. It was pretty funny.

We went through the state room of Charles II, complete with his artwork, which had been his father’s. There were old paintings (done in person with the subjects present) of many monarchs. It was really interesting to see in these pictures the family resemblance of James I, Charles I, and Charles II. There were also paintings of Charles II from early childhood on, and it was like looking at photos of someone as they grew up.

We saw Charles II’s queen’s receiving chambers, complete with her painted on the ceiling.

One of the most impressive parts were the rooms dealing with the Knights of the Order of the Garter. They were plastered with shields, armor, coats-of-arms, and a commemorative throne/chair in honor of Edward III founding the charter in 1350. It was from the early 19th century. This is a room where the queen has fancy state banquets. This is also the area of the castle damaged by a fire 14 years ago. We saw the room where the queen officially knights people into the order. One thing that was kind of funny was a suit of armor worn by Henry VIII when he started getting fat, and you could tell its wearer was pudgy–the breastplate had a big gut! The armor dates from 1540.

We watched the changing of the guard, which was pretty cool.

Then we visited St. George’s Chapel, which was absolutely fascinating–by far the most ornate place I’ve ever seen. It was begun in 1475 by Edward IV and finished 53 years later in the reign of Henry VII, in 1528. We saw here the tombs of kings and queens, including Elizabeth II’s parents, King George VI & Elizabeth. We saw the burial sites of Edward IV (reigned 1461-83), Henry VIII, Jane Seymour (one of his wives), and Charles I. These last three were all marked on a stone placed there in 1837 by William IV. We also saw there the tombs of Henry VI (1422-71), as well as Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.

It was pretty interesting getting to see the tomb of Giles Tomson, one of the scholars who translated the King James Version of the Bible. Also on display there were a first edition of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan from 1651 and a book from 1529 that was owned by Henry VIII’s first wife, Katharine of Aragon.

As we were leaving the chapel, we saw a pair of red wooden doors that the queen uses when she visits the chapel–they date from 1240! Also on the way out was an old porch with part of a painting on a wall–a face from the 13th century, which they think might be Henry III. There were also extremely elaborate tombs in a marble room for the son and grandson of Queen Victoria.

A couple oddities: the gift shop (where we bought several souvenirs and gifts) sold a set of stuffed ornaments, consisting of Henry VIII and all six of his wives. Also, directly across the street from this amazing medieval castle is, of all things, a McDonald’s.

We walked the streets of Windsor and bought several more gifts and souvenirs. Then we had lunch at a pub called the Highlander, where we sat outside on a rather bumpy cobblestone street.

After some yummy ice cream, we took the train back to Waterloo and brought the Tube back to our room. We took a bathroom break, dropped off the stuff we bought and my carrying bag, and took the Underground to Westminster.

We took pictures of Westminster Cathedral and then headed east toward the river. We saw (from the outside) Westminster Abbey, the clock tower with Big Ben, and Parliament. Impressive buildings! We also saw there a small church where John Milton worshiped.

We crossed the Westminster Bridge and got tickets for the London Eye, which is like a giant slow motion Ferris wheel. I don’t remember exactly how high it goes, but it was high enough to see beyond London in every direction. At one point, I looked out across the river and could see Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and Hyde Park all at once, barely having to even move my eyes at all. It was great! I can’t even describe the view from up there as the sun began its descent in the west. It was one of many moments during this trip where I’ve been struck with the realization that I am having the experience of a lifetime on this vacation!

After we got back on the ground, we walked east along the Thames River as night settled onto the city. It was amazing. The city skyline and the flowing river were stunning, beautiful–and the people were very interesting. There were lots of street performers along the river walkway: a costumed girl singing and playing a portable piano, a violin-bassoon duet, several guitarists, and our favorite: a guy dressed like a silver-gray statue–totally decked out in this solid color from the hat on his head to the platform he stood on. He stood perfectly still, somehow not even blinking. He was completely motionless until someone dropped money in his cup, at which point he moved in a mechanical-mannequin-like way to shake their hand and pose for a picture with them. It was very impressive and entertaining. We’d never seen anything like it! The guy was really good at it. Further on there was another guy doing the same thing, but he looked like a gold statue. He followed us with his eyes as we walked by–it was pretty funny! Both of them were dressed like 16th-century dudes, complete with fancy goatees. There was some lady doing something similar to these two guys, but we couldn’t tell what she was supposed to be–she didn’t look like a statue, she just looked weird.

We had a really enjoyable walk up the river, with a great view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, designed by Christopher Wren, lit up against the night sky. We passed a busy skateboarding area, which was pretty cool, and lots of restaurants. Finally we came to the Globe Theatre, which is an exact replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, even near the site where the original theatre burned down. We went inside to get some brochures, but I don’t think we’ll make it to a show. It was really neat, though.

We crossed the Millennium Bridge over the Thames River, not too far parallel to the Tower Bridge, stopping for a little while just to enjoy the incredible view and the cool night breeze.

Finally we took the Tube back to the Waterloo Station, where we again shopped for dinner food at Simply Food. I got a cheese and tomato sandwich with some smoked salmon to put on it, and two pints of milk. Carolyn got what she said was the best vanilla yogurt she’s ever had, some lemonade, and a Caesar Chicken Wrap. Our train was delayed, so it was about midnight by the time we alighted at Swiss Cottage and arrived back here at 37 Belsize Road. Now it’s really late!

Published in: on June 5, 2007 at 8:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Day 6: Stonehenge

Below is the sixth journal entry recording the events of the trip Carolyn and I took to England and France in July of 2006:

Sunday, July 23, 2006 London, England

This morning we slept in until about 9:00, giving us both some much needed rest. I tried to find a church to go to (on the Internet before we left, and as we walked around here), but was unable to find one that wasn’t all cathedraly.

So we took the Jubilee line down to Waterloo, where we took a train out to Salisbury. We hopped on a bus for the 20-30 minute ride out to Stonehenge. It was very cool to see it in person. The bus lets you out across the street, where you pay an admission fee and walk through a short underground tunnel to Stonehenge. There’s a roped-off circle around the stones, so you can walk all the way around it. It’s set in the middle of some low-lying green hills, with farms and sheep nearby. It really made me wonder what could have motivated those ancient people to go to such great effort to construct Stonehenge. That’d be funny if God just made it to mystify people.

We hung out on the grass near the stones while we waited for our bus. When it came, we took it back to Salisbury and walked around the town. Part of it is cityish-looking with traffic and lots of shops; the other side is absolutely beautiful, with green parks, a river with walking bridges, flowers everywhere, and an enormous, stunning old cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral 

 

If you look closely, you can see part of The King’s Head Inn in the background. 

We walked around for awhile, ate lunch at the King’s Head Inn, walked around more, and took the train back to Waterloo. In contrast to our first week here, today was very relaxing, easygoing, and slower-paced.

At the Waterloo station, Carolyn called home and talked briefly with Christopher. We picked up a schedule for our ride to Windsor tomorrow and bought food for dinner at Simply Food, which we brought back here and just finished eating. Carolyn had a Mexican bean tortilla wrap and I had a tuna and sweet corn sandwich. We got some weird chips (“crisps”), some dessert thing, and raspberries. We got back to our room around 9:00 p.m., which I believe is the earliest since we’ve been here. It’ll be nice to get another full night’s sleep!

Published in: on May 29, 2007 at 8:45 am  Comments (2)  

Day 5: Dartmoor

Below is the fifth journal entry recording the events of the trip Carolyn and I took to England and France in July of 2006:

Saturday, July 22, 2006 London, England

This morning we left our room about 5:40 and took the Tube to Paddington. From there we took the train to Bristol, passing through Bath. The train was delayed twice en route, and we just barely made our connection from Bristol to Exeter St. Davids. We hopped off there and took a bus–the only one that day–to Portsbridge in Dartmoor National Park. I don’t know how long that bus ride took, but it must have been at least an hour and probably closer to two. The bus was a double-decker, and was definitely not suited for the terrain. The moors are unbelievably curvy, windy, and steep. In places where there are two lanes, the road is not actually big enough for two vehicles, much less a double-decker bus. But in many areas the narrow road did not even pretend to be made for two lanes. Throw into the mix that we’re still not used to vehicles being in the left lane, and you’ve got one scary ride. Scenic as anything I’ve ever seen, but several times–no, many times–I thought we were done for. On a great many of the huge hills, the bus slowed to a crawl as it tried with all the gusto it could muster to creep to the peak. The engine was grinding and we all held our breath, and to my great surprise, the bus actually conquered every slope.

The moors are stunning. Situated in Southwest England, they are the stuff of great English lore and legend. Enormous, craggy hills laden with plush green plants and dazzling heather and other flowers, the moors are home to ancient stone structures as well as roaming ponies, sheep, and cattle. We wandered among them as we walked.

As the bus neared Dartmoor, a 360-square-mile national park, we began to see sheep dotting the landscape–and the road. We saw a funny sign that said “SHEEP LYING IN ROAD,” and sure enough, we then began to see sheep lying in the road!

When we got off the bus at Portsbridge, we bought a little map. Then we stopped at the post office for sandwiches (Carolyn had a very English meat pasty), which we ate while sitting on the clapper bridge, a medieval stone bridge leading across a stream to our entrance to the moors.

I had a great vision of the moors already, thanks largely to my studies of English literature, with the likes of Hound of the Baskervilles, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre. But the moors far, far surpassed anything I had ever imagined.

We started out walking along a fairly flat field with a stream running through it. There was wool everywhere from the sheep, along with enough varieties of animal dung to fuel a country.

If you look closely at this picture, you can see wool caught in the tall grass. 

We wandered along, enjoying the countryside, and passed by an enormous, imposing, centuries-old-looking house. It was very cool. I can’t really describe the landscape, which began to open before us as we followed the stream. It was like all those movie scenes that I’ve seen set in Ireland or Scotland, where the huge green hills roll on forever, and I wish I could go there. Well, I did go there today. As we wandered among the ancient stones and sheep, walking along and sometimes crossing the gentle stream, some wild ponies–including a baby–moseyed along nearby. Eventually we climbed to the top of one of the great moors. As we stood there at the top of the world taking in the miles of rolling moors all around us, and as a strong and steady wind cooled us off and breathed ancient yet fresh breath into our spirits, I realized something startling but comforting: I was standing in my new favorite place on this earth. Of all the heart-stopping masterpieces of nature that I’ve seen, none comes close to this. I felt so alive and renewed and at peace. It was a pinnacle of many kinds.

Eventually we had to come back down and make our way back toward the bus stop. On the way we got some ice cream at the post office and ate it while we sat on the clapper bridge and watched some amusing little birds.

This time the bus ride back to Exeter St. Davids made me feel queasy, a real letdown after our wonderful five hours on the moors. But we made it back and returned by train to Paddington. From there we took the Tube to Piccadilly Circus, at the heart of the Theatre District. Carolyn had discovered that restaurants there stay open later in order to accommodate the theatre crowd.

I cannot think of a greater contrast than that between the serene, wide open moors and the packed, loud, flashing crowd of London’s Theatre District on a Saturday night. Eventually we found a little Italian place called La Locanda where Carolyn had minestrone, pasta, and ice cream, while I had Quattro Formaggio (pizza) and this weird but good dish that was a grilled avocado with smoked salmon, cream, and black pepper on top. We were there for quite awhile, dining at our table on a side street, with London’s nightlife bouncing all around us.

We took the Tube back here to the room and arrived around midnight. It’s been an absolutely incredible week, but today was perhaps the best so far.

Oh yeah, we finally got some rain last night and this morning. It cooled it down a little, but it’s still pretty hot. I have totally fried my head and need to start wearing sunscreen.

Right now outside our window I hear the cars racing by, the buses and trains in the distance, and the people walking up and down the road below us, laughing and talking loudly in foreign languages or very British English. Funny how I’m almost starting to get used to it.

Tomorrow: Stonehenge!

Published in: on May 22, 2007 at 7:30 am  Comments (4)  

Day 4: The Tower of London

Below is the fourth journal entry recording the events of the trip Carolyn and I took to England and France in July of 2006:

Friday, July 21, 2006 London, England

We did a lot today! First we went to the Tower of London in… well… London. It was incredible. It’s a huge medieval castle stuck in the middle of a large 21st-century city.

Tower of London in modern city 

We started out with a tour by a Beefeater, or Yeomen Warder, who are the keepers of the Tower. It was extremely interesting! We saw the Crown Jewels–three times (Carolyn really liked them!)! They were very shiny and impressive, even the ones that were several centuries old. We saw where Anne Boleyn was imprisoned and executed, as was Lady Jane Grey. We saw towers where famous prisoners were confined, and many of them carved inscriptions on the walls that can still be seen. Some of them expressed their gloom and misery, others professed their faith in God, still others carved their coat of arms, quoted Scripture, or simply carved their names. Many if not most carved the year they were there. Very interesting stuff!

carvings inside the prisoners tower 

We also went to the room where the famous murder of the two princes probably happened at the order of Richard III, as well as the place under some steps in the White Tower where their remains were discovered a couple centuries later. We also visited the tower where a tortured Jesuit priest (I think his name was Father Gerard) escaped from the fortress in the 13th century. We visited the site in the chapel where Anne Boleyn’s remains were found buried, along with about 1,500 others. And then there was the massive armory in the White Tower, which was several stories of ancient armor.

White Tower circa 1080

We saw the armor of several kinds, like Henry VIII, Charles I & II, and James I. We even saw some of Charles I’s armor from his childhood. Tons of armor, swords, shields, knives, axes, maces–even some old guns and cannons. Oh yeah, and saddles. The castle was right on the Thames River and very scenic.

Tower of London

After we left the Tower of London, we walked around the Tower Bridge and got to see it open (the drawbridge), which was pretty cool. Then we walked around the other side of the castle and took the Tube to the Victorian Station. From there we took a stroll through Hyde Park–we must’ve walked three miles or so. We crossed over the river and saw the memorial fountain to Princess Diana. Carolyn wasn’t feeling well and we had the hardest time finding a place to eat dinner. It was about 7:30 p.m., and even in downtown London it was really hard to find a restaurant that was still open! Even when we finally found one, across from Harrods, we had to get the subs to go and bring them back to the room to eat here.

It continues to be insanely hot and muggy. This is the most heat I’ve every endured for a week, with the possible exception of boot camp in August in South Carolina.

Tomorrow we’re leaving really early for Dartmoor.

Published in: on May 15, 2007 at 9:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Flickr Info

With the move between computers, I’ve lost track of which photos I’ve uploaded onto Flickr from our trip last summer.  So instead of trying to hyperlink all those pictures into the journal entries, if you’re really interested in seeing more, you can look at ’em at Flickr.  I’ll be uploading more in the days ahead–Flickr only lets you upload so much MB per month, and since Carolyn’s camera takes such high quality pics, it’ll probably be July or August before I can get them all uploaded.  Just FYI.

I’m working on adding Flickr to the links on the right side of this blog so you can see the pics more easily.

Published in: on May 15, 2007 at 7:32 am  Leave a Comment