Tuesday, April 26, 2011

An Unexpected Visit

I know this blog was supposed to finish the Paris trip, but I need to move on for now.  I will return to Paris later, during a week when there isn't much going on.

Joey left on Monday the 11th of April.  On Tuesday, we found out that Chris wanted to bring Jake over for a visit for his birthday.  We decided not to tell the kids and surprise them with a visit from their favorite person in the whole world!  He arrived on Saturday and the children were in a state of bliss for  five days. 

John took Chris and the kids to Stonehenge Saturday afternoon.  Our running joke now that John has been there 3 times is, upon their return I ask, "How was Stonehenge?  Is it still there?" 

We went into London on Sunday, the movies Monday and back to Windsor Castle (third time) on Tuesday.  We met the McDermott's for dinner on Tuesday and then Jake and Chris headed back to the states on Wednesday.  WHEW!

However, we do not seem capable of staying in one place, let alone one country for long.  We packed up the car on Thursday to go to Germany to visit dear friends that we met when they were living in Raleigh.  (More on that trip later.)

Here are pics of Jake's visit, hope you enjoy them.  Notice the look of extreme happiness on all the kids faces, priceless!


Friday, April 15, 2011

Black is the New England

I made an observation the other day as I was walking through Reading. Everyone around me was wearing black or gray (grey? ...whatev). At first I thought I was imagining it. Then I started really looking for someone with some color in their clothing. It became almost comical in my mind, "OK, the next guy I see when I round this corner will be wearing ... nope it's gray."

At one point I crossed this open shopping street where I could see about 100 people at a glance. There ... amidst the grayscale crowd ... a pink jumper (that's hoodie or sweatshirt to you colonials). I laughed. She reminded me of that scene in Schindler's List where they colorized the one little girl. It was quite strange.

Sure, there are jeans, lots of them, and they are blue. But I am serious when I say that you can leave the house and never see a green shirt or a red coat on anybody. Just forget about chartreuse, turquoise, or whatever the heck aubergine is -- they didn't make it through customs.

Monday, April 11, 2011

J'Adore Paris!

Yes, it is easy to love Paris!  I think the best part of being in a different country is letting the culture soak in slowly.  Unfortunately, our trip to Paris wasn't slow or laid back.  We tried to hit the highlights in two days and wore ourselves out!

Thursday morning we packed up the car with me, John, Kim, Jack, Evie and Uncle Joey and headed to Dover to catch the ferry to Calais.  It is a 2 hour drive to Dover through beautiful English countryside.  We arrived in Dover about 1:00 and got right onto the ferry, we were a little early so we were able to take an earlier ferry (insert song from School House Rock here).  Of course the bonus of going this route was seeing the White Cliffs of Dover!

It takes about an hour to cross the English Channel at this point.  There are many different areas where you can cross the channel, but this one is the cheapest!  We had some lunch on the ferry and before we knew it, we were in France!

Poor John, he had to drive a right sided car on the right side of the road!  He had to keep telling himself to stay on the right!  Of course, all the signs were in French so I had to dust off the high school French classes and put them to use.  We were able to get on the correct highway to Paris and headed south to our destination.  Purchasing the software for the Garmin was also a good investment!  We have maps for not only England but all of Europe! Yeah John!

It was about a 2 and a half hour drive to Paris and we arrived around dinner time.  We checked into our hotel which was absolutely the best part of the whole trip.  We stayed in La Defense which is actually the business district for Paris.  It is a bit outside the city and away from the crowds and the hustle and bustle.  We had dinner at a local Italian restaurant and then back to the hotel for a good nights sleep.  John and I had our own room with the 3 kids across the hall and Joey a couple doors down.  It was heaven.  The concierge at the front desk, Oliver, was fantastic. He spoke very good English and constantly asked if everything was to our satisfaction.  In the morning, we went downstairs to breakfast, which was included in price of the room, and ordered a cafe au lait.  There were croissants and ham, bacon and eggs, cereal and yogurt, it was delicious.  We parked the car in a parking deck a few blocks away and headed off on foot to the metro station to take us into Paris!

Five stops and one change of trains and we arrived at the La Tour Eiffel!  (it was extremely easy to get there, don't be fooled by having to change trains, it was very easy!)

The Eiffel Tower is magnificent.  We bought tickets to the top and started our assent up, up, up!  You have to stop at the second floor and get on a different elevator to the top.  Could not believe the view.  It was a bit cloudy but not too cold and we spent about a half an hour just looking out over the city of Paris.  When the top started to get really crowded, it was time for me to head back down.  I make no secret of my issue with crowds, hate them with a passion!  I started to feel claustrophobic and knew it was time to go!

Once back on land, we decided to take a boat cruise down the Seine.  It was one where you could get off and back on again at different points.  We knew we wanted to see the Louvre next and riding down the Seine was a relaxing and beautiful way to get there.  The Louvre is massive!  The kids get in free so that was a plus.  Highlights of the Louvre;  The Mona Lisa, Venus di Milo, the Coronation of Napoleon, Saint Michael Overwhelming the Demon by Raphael, and a few paintings by Carpaccio that are worth seeing while there.  The best thing to do is list your must sees and go on a big scavenger hunt.  One could spend the whole day there and not see what you're looking for, it is that big!

After the Louvre, we walked back across the Seine to take the boat to our next stop which was Notre Dame.  Another beautiful church and we were able to take pictures this time!  We were there in time for Mass, but the children were tired and cranky so we decided it best to head out. 

We hopped back on the metro for La Defense and back to the hotel.  Oliver, our friend and concierge recommended a nice restaurant for dinner.  The meal was very good and the wine was even better.  John and I had a bottle between the two of us plus a glass of champagne when we sat down.  I basically ran back to the hotel to fall into bed!  I was so tired! 

So, that was our first day in Paris.  I'll add some pictures here and stop for now.  I will hopefully post our morning at Versailles and our long stroll up the Champs Elysee in my next post!


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My Feet Hurt!

Where to start...

Joey arrived on Wednesday and we have been going non stop since.  We sent him off on his own today to London so we could all take a rest and I could catch up on my blog!

Joey, the kids and I braved the local bus transportation and headed into the metropolis of Basingstoke on Thursday.  We had heard about an old estate fittingly called Old Basing House and set off to explore.  The house was the largest home in Basingstoke at it's time and was one of the lasts to fall during the Civil War.  It was also a favorite get-a-way to Henry VIII, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth.  The owners were Royalists and defended the monarch during the Civil War.  It fell to the Parliamentarians after Oliver Cromwell sent over a thousand troops to take the house after 3 years of fighting.  Once the house fell, it was destroyed so there isn't much left other than some ruins and an old cannon.  (I'm learning while here)!

Friday we headed into London to finally see The Tower of London.  It was fantastic.  We took a guided tour headed by a Beefeater.  Why are they called Beefeaters?  They don't know.  However, they think it is because they used to be paid with portions of beef.  At the time, beef was expensive and hard to get.  The commoners, who could not afford beef, would pass by them and say, "he's a beefeater!"  They are very cheeky gentlemen with great stories about the tower and the unfortunate end of those who were imprisoned there.  Most of them lost their heads!  Sir Thomas Moore, Bishop Fisher, Anne Boelyn, and Katherine Howard just to name a few.

After the tower, we headed over to the Imperial War Museum.  Now, this was not high on my list, but due to who my father is and Joey's love of military history, it was certainly necessary.  Two of the best things about this museum are; it is free and they have a fabulous exhibit on the Holocaust.  I highly recommend stopping by just for this exhibit.

We hopped a double decker bus and headed towards Piccadilly after a brief stop to show Joey Westminster and Big Ben.  The day ended after a nice dinner and a trip to a bakery for dessert!

Saturday we went south to Portsmouth.  This is where the HS Victory is docked so John, Joey, and the kids headed over to check it out.  I, went shopping!

Sunday was Mother's Day in the UK....yeah me!  I got my wish to go to Hever Castle.  It was a beautiful day spent exploring the castle, gardens and spending the day with my family.  I am truly Blessed.  If you don't believe me, check out the pictures!

Evie's birthday was Monday.  I can't believe she is 8 years old!  We celebrated with Mexican food, cake, ice cream and of course...presents!

What are we doing this weekend you ask?  Well, my birthday is on Saturday, and I decided that spending it in Paris would be lovely.