My goal here is to get through the whole trip in no more than five posts and then have a final post with thoughts, nuggets and other takeaways. I’m not sure yet how I’m going to accomplish that. Also, I’m by no means adding all my photos to these posts. I’ll sprinkle a few in as needed to illustrate the story, but I’m working on going through all my photos and adding them to a Google Photos album and some of you lucky folks will get a link! An even smaller group of you lucky folks will get a live slide show narrated by yours truly! Woohoo!
Okay, so we left off with me passed out in my tiny London hotel bed after being awake for 24 hours of traveling. Although I could have slept for many hours, I got up after four for our group fish n’ chips dinner and pub crawl. In the interest of time, I won’t go into detail here since you’ve all had fish n’ chips and beer. It was London, you know, “bad food, worse weather.” I wouldn’t necessarily agree with either of those sentiments, at least not for my short stay, but neither the food nor the beer blew my mind. Suffice it to say, it was a fun night bonding with my trip-mates at a series of three pubs near our hotel, one of which had a student deal that led to much double fisting as can be seen below (this is Ryan, one of many new friends).
In the morning we set out on our guided city walking tour where we saw mostly things I had already seen 12 years ago when I came to London after graduating with my last degree (Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, changing of the guards, Kensington Palace, etc.). It was, however, nice to have the context and explanations given by our tour guide.
After the walking tour, many trip-mates took a tour of the Tower of London, but I had hoped to go see the Leadenhall Building after watching a program about its construction on tv, and both Anna and I wanted to see Leadenhall Market (a.k.a. Diagon Alley from Harry Potter) and the Gherkin Building, so we set off alone to do that for the afternoon. The Leadenhall Building is difficult to photograph from the street but it’s worth looking up to read about its construction and why it is shaped the way it is. Below are the Gherkin Building and Leadenhall Market.
After a walk across the Millennium Bridge and a visit to the Tate Modern museum, we ended the evening meeting a few other trip-mates at the London Eye (a huge ferris wheel with enclosed pods) for a sunset ride.
I went out for a couple hours to a pub with my roommate and her friends that night and listened to some live music and then went to bed in preparation for our trip to Paris through the Chunnel on the Eurostar train the next morning. (It’s worth noting here that this trip was very much an overview of Europe. Seeing seven countries in 19 days means you can never stay anywhere very long. I knew this going in, and it was great being able to get a taste of so many cities and countries so I can plan my future travels. But if it feels like I’m just leaping from place to place in my posts, know that’s how it felt on the trip as well).
My dad asked me what it was like going through the Chunnel under the English Channel. I I wish I could report more excitement, but it’s like riding through a very, very long tunnel, which is exactly what it is. We arrived in Paris mid-day and met Giovanni, our Italian bus driver who would chauffeur us all over Europe, maneuvering our bus down the German autobahn and through congested city streets and all of this without so much as clipping a mirror. Giovanni spoke only Italian and earned the nickname “Geo” from the group, which would routinely be shouted as we rounded the corner and saw our bus come into view after various tours. He probably thought we were all insane. Thankfully our awesome tour guide, Claudia, translated for us with Giovanni and every other non-English speaker on the trip. Claudia is Austrian and knows German, English, French and Italian. She is currently learning Greek and puts us mono-lingual Americans to shame.
Arriving in France felt the most natural to me of any of the non-English speaking countries since I had taken French in high school. I remember very little, but enough to get the general idea of what many signs said. The sound of the language felt somewhat familiar even if I mostly had no idea what was being said. After checking into our hotel, many of us migrated down the street to the little grocery store to buy (cheap! delicious!) wine to sneak onto our Seine cruise that evening. Claudia advised us of how to best smuggle the wine onto the cruise to avoid having it taken away since that “would be terrible.”
We boarded the cruise at sunset after a delicious group dinner at a bistro on Champs Élysées. The cruise was our first real taste of Paris, watching all the Parisians sitting in groups on the banks of the Seine with beer and bottles of wine enjoying the evening in a way that is (stupidly) illegal in the U.S. We got our first look at the Eiffel Tower lit up at night and passed under bridge after bridge covered in “love locks,” which are apparently being removed to maintain the structural integrity of the bridges.
The next morning we embarked on our Paris bus tour (Paris is too large for a walking tour). Unfortunately, I started to feel sick on the first leg of the tour (most likely due to lack of sleep) and embarked on my first solo Paris metro ride back to the hotel after our first stop. After sleeping for a few hours and feeling much better, I set out around 4 to salvage the rest of my afternoon with an Eiffel Tower visit. I had planned to take the elevator (lift, as the Europeans call them) to the top, but the lines were atrocious and I decided that photographing the dramatic tower architecture from the ground was more than enough to entertain me.
I spent some time photographing during the afternoon. I knew I wanted to come back and take more photos at night, so I ventured off down some side streets near the tower to explore until it got dark. I found myself on Rue Saint Dominique, which was beyond charming. Lined with little bistros, meat shops, pastry shops and fruit stands, I walked up and down it at least twice and bought some pastries from a woman who spoke very little English. I also found Rue Cler nearby, which my brother had recommended, and found it charming as well, however many of the shops were closed by then.
I made my way back to the Tower a little before dark and took my brother’s suggestion to get a Nutella crepe from a street vendor. I picked a stand near the Eiffel Tower carousel and enjoyed watching the efficient way they made crepe after crepe on round metal hot plates with a tool that looks like a Zen garden rake without the teeth. My crepe order was Nutella with bananas and it was glorious. As I finished my crepe, the lights covering the Tower turned on and I started taking what were probably way too many pictures. The bright lights mingling with the dramatic metal framework of the tower were just enchanting. I kept taking pictures until the first hourly “light show” at 9 p.m. when the tower lights blink and twinkle like a huge metal Christmas tree. The whole crowd at the tower cheers when this happens and it’s a thrill to be part of it.
Wow. Okay. This is almost twice as long as a typical post and I’m not done with Paris yet! Bear with me guys. I’ll end here. Next post – my full-day Paris adventure and then on to Belgium and the Netherlands!