OXFORD AND WARWICK
"I used to be a tour guide", he said. So we begged him, "The Guide That Cannot Be Named" to take us on a trip to Normandy. We want to see the Normandy Beaches (we should have been far more specific as in take us to Juno). So giving him the beach information he quickly designed a tour for the Monet home and gardens because they are pretty. Dude...I live in Victoria, home to one of the greatest gardens in the world. I don't need to see gardens.
So everything was changed and we raced (as in ran our feeties off) to the Metro and then on to the train where we raced to grab the next (just departing no time to have your ticket checked) train to Rouen. Home to Joan of Arc but maybe not today. You see Rouen appeared to be closed, all of it. As in no museums open, no Cathedral open (though it is beautiful from outside). The outside was carved to look like lace or lacework so it is amazing. We didn't have time to look (not sure why since clearly we can't go inside or see a museum so we should have tons of time). Nope had to race through the streets. Really lovely old buildings though and had we not been with a guide we'd still be there in a maze of streets designed to keep you from finding your way to anything (it's true, they were built to confuse the enemy). Run through we must though as we have a train to catch.
We got very excited since we were apparently in such a hurry that we would get to Juno though we thought that we should have gone directly there. No such luck. We were racing to Le Havre. No history there, or at least as far as 'The Guide That Cannot Be Named" knew. Nope he wanted to show us a beach because you can see boats and water and stuff. Dude...we live 10 minutes from the ocean, we can see beaches and boats every day ("Well I didn't know that", he said).
Apparently all beaches close in France, or at least northern France on October 1st. That and this wasn't exactly a beach. It's a whole shitload of pebbles, no bathers no nothing. Wait I lie, there was one thing. You see all the public toilets were closed because the beach was closed so we managed to find a restaurant overlooking the beach where I may have had one of the best gelatos ever. The highlight of the day actually. Beautiful view if you don't mind pebbles and rocks. The toilet was nice though. Thank you La Croisette restaurant for a nice break and view.
We raced back to the train and back to Paris where our guide fell asleep and drooled all over himself. This is apparently the most embarrassing thing a Parisian can do, he was horrified. Now the best thing about our guide is he was a huge movie fan. There is us and then there is this guy, movie fan times a thousand. Not much he didn't know about film because he was a cinematographer. So even though the trip north was a disaster we still had a wonderful time learning about film.
He felt very guilty about not knowing France was closed on Mondays so he stayed with us and took us to movie locations around Paris. That included where they filmed the Bourne Movie. He showed us so many film locations I hate to stay I've forgotten them all. That and a lot of historical places that tourists don't normally see. Secret medieval alleys and the old walls of Paris.
Oh I forgot but where Joan of Arc got burned is all ripped down and under construction so didn't even get to see the statue.
Anyway we wound up at a very famous (perhaps one of the most famous) cafe's in Paris. The Bouillon Chartier founded in 1896. It's where all the poor folk used to gather for meals and it is still sort of like that. Basic fare (quite good actually) but packed. You actually form a line in another building then out into the street and then back into the main restaurant. It's crazy huge and seats something like 500 or more people. At last we found our first rude Parisian waiter (horray!). When we asked for medium well he said "NO!". That was it, just no, very adamantly. The medium was fine in the end, very tasty.
Lacey looking cathedral thingy.
It be a blustery day so we decided to "keep it indoors". Grabbed the Metro to Les Halles, a shopping centre. A super crappy, why did I go there, shopping centre. French it was not. It has all the American outlet chains, every shop I can go to at home in Canada or any city in the U.S. What a friggin disappointment. No place to sit down for a bite because the one thing missing was a food court. All the friggin mall directories seemed to have the Lego store in a different place so it took us a long time to find it.
The Parisian type Lego builds weren't bad but you couldn't get a good photo as they were in the windows so all you got was glare. The good thing was the build a minifig did have chef hats, French style torsos and they had their own "sort of" French dude blockhead (we got two they are kinda cute).
The next stop was the "Opera" stop (no tours today) so we stopped to see a little film called "The Paris Story". It was decent enough. Then into the Galerie Lafayette. This is a department store under a big dome of stained glass. All the levels open to the main floor and it's all very, very shiny and sparkly. We hit up the children's floor (fun Lego displays built by the staff) and lovely little outfits. We were shopping for an old friend from England who is having a baby girl. Of course every little girl needs a French dress from the best shop. Bit of a wasted day really, except for the little dress which Canada Post probably will lose or toss in the bin somewhere as we didn't pay $70 to track it. Friggin hate Canada Post.
First thing today we went to jail. The jail where they locked up Marie Antoinette before they chopped off her head. Before you go into the jail you have to check out the church called Sainte Chapelle. It's pretty nifty inside, some say more interesting than Notre Dame but alas no hunchback. The walls are almost entirely made of stained glass though so it's quite beautiful. Through the courtyard to the street and then it's into the Conciergerie. It was a prison and a large one it was too. It could hold up to 2700 people. You could even pay rent if you wanted a nicer cell with a comfy bed.
Did you know that before they cut off your head you have to get a haircut. That's so the blade goes through better. They have a little sort of barber shop inside. I thought that was pretty nifty.
After jail it was off to find Madame Curie's laboratory. We knew it was close to the Pantheon but there was a problem. You see there is the Madame Curie Musee and the Curie Institute. The institute was easy to find but we could nary find a sign or entrance to any museum. After about an hour of wandering and asking every Parisian who does not speak English we finally realised it was the same thing. Grrrrr! We'd been past it sooo many times. Now this musee is very very tiny but tons of info. They had to decontaminate the lab and her office because it was very radioactive and that stuff lasts for years. I hope they didn't just pretend they got that radioactivity out of there. Here's a couple of photos of my brother Normie, he's super into science.
Brave...brave Sir Normie.
Afterwards it was off to discover the Pantheon. Very large and you can find all the tombs here. You don't have to look at the map to find Marie Curie's as that is where everyone is going. Follow the crowd. The second most popular is Victor Hugo...the Les Mis dude.
Joan of Arc is in here too but we didn't know that so we missed it. We spent a day in Rouen looking for Joan but it was never meant to be. That's coming up.
The Pantheon. Aren't the clouds looking nifty?
So we walked through the gardens, over the bridge and there was no line at the d'Orsay (none of this pay extra silly business...not if you get there early enough). I do say I rather like this place as there are statues (my favourite) and some super famous paintings and a shiny ballroom (see left) and some over the top cafe's we didn't stop at though there is a grab a coffee and sweetie bar on the lower level. This was way better than the Louvre...just sayin. Don't be wasting your precious time at the Louvre when you can see the great stuff in here.
Then we grabbed the Metro and headed to the stop for Sacré-Cœur but alas it was closed. We got off at the next stop but without a map or phone we had no idea where to go. Luckily this little church place is on top of a very high hill so we just headed up every street that continued up (I think we went up the backside). We found 120 stairs and up we went. Did I mention it was like +26C out there so we were hot and bothered by the time we got to the tippy top.
We went in, wandered about and then decided we were either going with sunstroke or low blood sugar from the climb. Feeling about to pass out we found a giant Cola Slurpee thingy coming in at about 1 million calories. That went down in seconds and we ventured onwards. It was getting late and the sun sets early in October. That means when you finally reach the Awful Tower (looking rather splendid) you get views like this. Am I an awesome photographer or what? We didn't go up but rather just enjoyed the view and wandered around at the base of it and down the river. That was our day...not bad eh?
Okay my cute face isn't in this one but this is literally the view just a 1/4 block from our Parisian apartment.
We took the Eurostar from London and then a taxi to our private apartment where we stay all week.
First stop was the market for fresh fruit, roast chicken and potatoes and veggies (and to practise our French). There were Patisseries nearby so somehow we managed. Then walked up to the Arch de Triumphe for sunset time.
It was a travel day so not too much to report. Still I am loving this view.
Yup...we were there right when it opened, first rotation as it were. Little cloudy but views were good and you get lots of time right up at the window. This is me with all me brothers, all with their own travelling interests. Except me, I like everything.
After the "Eye" it was a trip to the Bank of England to exchange our now useless 20 pound notes. We are so good at exchanging expired money now. Luckily this is where they shot "Mary Poppins Returns" so we got our little taste of movie location time.
The evening was spent at the very lovely "Ivy", the restaurant where all the celebrities hang out. This is not far from Leicester Square and we had lovely food in a nice atmosphere. No celebs but our friends did see Stephen Fry last time they were here. Lovely day all round and not very taxing on the brain.
First time to visit the home of Mister Charles Dickens. He lived here when he was in his 20's, recently married to a woman he adored and they had a child. He was perhaps the first worldwide celebrity and it is here he began to entertain some of the great men of science like Charles Darwin. He was moving up in society but he didn't forget where he came from. Lovely little house with so much interesting history and rooms to enjoy (upstairs and downstairs). It was at this home he wrote my favourite story "Oliver Twist" and if you wander the neighbourhood you can see so much of the inspiration for scenes in that book ( or series rather).
On this very desk he wrote "Great Expectations". I did think I might feel his ghost or something but I didn't. Still I really loved this place and it's very much worth a visit.
Later it was time for a brief nap (because we've been sleeping poorly) and then off to the front row of Les Mis (my 3rd time I think). Oh my! It was awfully confusing when the young Cosette was white and the grown up Cosette was black. Never wrapped my head around that. Kind of ruined it (it would have been so very easy to have a young black actress play young Cosette). I think the director was on drugs or something. Valjean (looked exactly like Russell Crowe so I immediately thought him the bad guy) was rather gruff and unlikable in this version where Javert was handsome and such a lovely singer you sided with him. I blame the director on this one, had he just reversed the roles of Valjean and Javert it would have been 100% better. Still I loved Bradley Jaden and he was a joy to watch. It sure is funny how you can take a great play and make it less great with a bad director. At least we had great seats.
Now this might be one of my most fun things to do in London. It opened a year ago and it's called MAIL RAIL. It's the little tiny, underground railway with tiny little cars and a tiny glass dome. This is how they transported mail under London for many years.
You squeeze into your tiny car (don't stand up, don't be over 5 feet tall or you'll almost have to duck just to sit in the seat. Boy though, is it fun. Then after you go through the Rail Mail museum and you can go in a rail car where you have to sort mail while the moving floor tries to throw you off balance. Not sure which was more fun, the train or the sorting. Super friendly folks. Then after you go across the street to the museum (well you go there first for tickets but really you should pre-book) and check out the entire history of the British Postal Service. Wow...interesting or what? Loved this day. Afterwards we went to the local "Futon" shop and bought a mattress topper to put on our hotel bed so that maybe we could actually sleep on the cement bed. It did make it much better and the 100 pounds was cheaper than moving hotels and paying an extra $100 pounds a night for a room. Sometimes you gotta just be creative in your stay.
New friends at Mail Rail. I told you they were super friendly.