Well, I did not mean for my last post to be a cliffhanger. Unfortunately I fell ill with a very nasty virus and became terribly backlogged on a number of fronts. So, onwards to the afternoon of Paris on our second day.
After our morning session, we made our way to the Pantheon in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Although originally built as a church, the building now functions as a mausoleum. The scale of this building is truly impressive as you can see from the photos below.
And then it was on to the Musee d’Orsay. The building was once a railway station which is fairly easy to tell from a few of the photos below. It houses a large collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings. Amazing really. We covered Monet, Renoir, Seurat and, of course, Van Gogh.
We then made our way to Jardin des Tuileries.
From the Louvre we made the long walk from Place du Carrousel through to the Champs-Elysees. We walked under the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
Continuing through Place de la Concorde. Not too sure about the Grande Roue though. It seems to take away from the amazing architecture of this city.
The Avenue des Champs-Elysees runs for almost 2 kilometres between Place de la Concorde and Place Charles de Gaulle. We made it to the Arc de Triomphe and, after a very long day of touring Paris, we decided to head back to our hotel.
Day two in Paris was now finished.
Our second day in Paris was a big touring day. We covered a lot of ground so this post will only cover the morning.
A wonderful spring day in Paris. Just perfect for touring the historic area: Ile de la Cité. On this part of the day we would visit Notre-Dame, Saint-Chapelle, Palais de Justice and generally just enjoy walking through the old streets.
We arrived early to Notre-Dame to get out ahead of the crowds. Which we did. We spent roughly two hours going through the church. It is truly a magnificent building and its history dates back to the 1100s.
We followed Rick Steves’ historic Paris walk. There is something almost magical about the streets and the architecture in this part of Paris.
Eventually, after touring several smaller churches and taking in much of the old town, we reached Saint-Chapelle. Our tour started in the lower level which, to be honest, is not very impressive. In fact, I wondered if the cost to enter the building was worthwhile. But then, after climbing a small spiral stairway, we entered into the main sanctuary. Oh my.
All that remained on our tour for the morning was Pont Neuf. Although a literal translation would be “New Bridge”, the Pont Neuf is the oldest standing bride across the river Seine. It dates back to 1578.
I had to capture an artist at work on the bridge. And, naturally, a picture of Matthew to prove that he was indeed on the Pont Neuf in Paris.
On our way to lunch, we came across thousands of locks just as we left the Pont Neuf. I suspect couples throw the keys from these locks into the river Seine to confirm their love for each other. We’ve seen this elsewhere in Europe as well as in the United States. Not sure I have seen this yet in Canada.
Time for lunch. The morning of day two in Paris was now complete.
Well, not really day one. More like half day one.
Our train from London was departing at 11:30am and it arrived into Paris at 2:30pm. That allowed us to have our final breakfast at the hotel and take a bit of a walk in nearby Hyde Park before taking the Tube to St. Pancras and then the Eurostar to Paris.
It used to be a simple matter of walking on to the train. With recent events in Europe, there are much tighter passport controls in place. We had to queue to have our passports processed prior to boarding the train. We also had to go through a security protocol that was basically similar to airport security.
The trip itself was a lot of fun. The trains really do move at an impressive speed. We enjoyed a light lunch on the train and arrived at the Gare du Nord station in Paris on time. We also arrived to a large group of protesters. There has been some labour issues in France and the protesters had set their lines on the arrivals area of the Eurostar trains.
Loud whistles, horns and percussion. Fortunately it was relatively easy to walk past the protesters and find a cab.
It was here that I was able to test my French language skills a little bit. The taxi driver was not familiar with our hotel so I had to provide directions to him in French. And it seemed to work just fine. 20 minutes later and we arrived at our hotel. Again I used French to go through the hotel check-in process. So far so good. No one switched to English.
We really only had one item on the agenda for this day: tour the Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel Tower was about a 30 minute walk from the hotel. We unpacked our bags and made ready for the evening. However, I ran into a little snag. The room key was attached to a massive bell-shaped chain holder with our room number on it. This keychain weighed several hundred grams and it did not fit into my pocket.
I removed the key from the chain holder. Off we went.
As we walked past reception, the front desk asked me if we were heading out for the evening. I said yes. He asked for the key.
Okay. Different tradition. Leave the key with the massive keychain at the front desk.
I told him that I had left the chain holder in the room. No problem. They would find it and hold my key for me.
Not surprisingly, I have a few photos of the Eiffel Tower to share.
Although the crowds were not that heavy, the amount of time spent standing in lines was in excess of a few hours between buying tickets and waiting for elevators.
Matthew convinced me to go up to the summit of the tower. I was a bit nervous as I do not care to be that high in buildings. In this case we were about 320 metres up in the sky.
Cool vistas though.
We did not know it at the time but the top outline of a building that you see in the photo below — just left of centre on the horizon — is the Dome and Clock Tower of the Sacre Coeur Basilica. We would go there in a few days and climb 300 steps to the top of the Dome which also offers a dramatic view of the city. I think the elevation might be a bit higher than the Eiffel Tower.
A few more parting shots of the Eiffel Tower as we returned safely to the ground. We made our way to a nearby cafe and enjoyed an evening meal.
Another full day of touring. But here we were in this amazing city.
Paris day one was finished.
This day was our last full day in London. We left for Paris on the following day. So, needless to say, I saved the best for last. At least I hoped I had for Matthew.
Today we would spend time touring the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast and the Imperial War Museum.
First up? The Tower of London.
The crowds were surprisingly large at this time of year and we had a bit of a wait to gather tickets — almost half an hour. However, once we made our way into the attraction, the crowds did thin out and we had no issues with our tour.
It was interesting to see how royalty lived back then. A true king bed.
Pomp and ceremony seems to have been an ongoing trait for humans. This throne for example. Quite the chair. I wonder how something like that might look in my office?
The grounds of the Tower of London offer excellent views of the Tower Bridge as well as the city of London.
We were able to walk through the Crown Jewels display which was being protected by the Queen’s Guards.
Matthew was quite concerned about the colour of the Queen’s Guards. Shouldn’t they be wearing red?
As we continued our tour, we could see the HMS Belfast in the distance.
After we spent the morning touring the Tower of London we made a brief stop for lunch and then proceeded to the Tower Bridge. Here are a couple of shots of Matthew to prove that he had crossed the Tower Bridge.
We spent most of the afternoon touring the HMS Belfast. There must be something about an old World War II naval ship that captures the imagination. I thought we would spend an hour or so on board. We spent almost three hours going through the ship.
And this is the only shot of me in England. In the Captain’s chair of the HMS Belfast. I think I have a bit of that naval officer look going on don’t you agree?
We made it to the Imperial War Museum much later than I had planned. We only had an hour or so before it closed. We spent most of that time going through the Holocaust exhibit. A very powerful exhibit and truly shocking to consider how the Nazis persecuted and murdered European Jews.
We were quite late getting back to our hotel and, with all of the walking, we decided to order room service as opposed to finding a restaurant. Over 25,000 steps this day.
Day 4 in London had finished.
Our third day in London. Another bright, sunny day.
First up was a tour of Green Park. Green Park is roughly 47 acres and offers a beautiful way to enter the grounds of Buckingham Palace. There are no lakes or buildings in Green Park.
There are a few monuments and we spent time at one of those monuments, the Canada Memorial.
This is the gateway between Green Park and the entry into Buckingham Palace.
A view of the same gateway from the other side. Note the prominence of the word Canada.
There were a number of police standing guard over the palace. And they carry some pretty serious hardware.
The crowds arrived early to view the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
We had planned to see the Queen’s Gallery as well however it was closed for the day. So we made our way to the Victoria and Albert Museum.
This museum holds the world’s largest collection of decorative arts and design with somewhere over 4.5 million objects. There are no less than 145 galleries in this museum so clearly our time here would be limited to just a few of them.
Many of the galleries looked like this one. Huge spaces with incredible artwork.
We decided to have our lunch at the Victoria and Albert Museum and then, after completing our tour here, we made our way on our walking tour of London. This included walking through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The picture below is of the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens. It is directly across the Royal Albert Hall.
We came across a number of interesting buildings as we walked through London as you can see in the next three photos.
And, towards the end of the day, we made our way to Chinatown.
We broke for dinner and then took in a movie called London Has Fallen.
Day 3 in London was now complete.
Our second day in London. Bright, sunny skies. Mild temperatures. A perfect day for walking outside.
We took our breakfast at the hotel. The hotel restaurant overlooks Hyde Park, a 350-acre park in the heart of London.
Here is a shot of the front of our hotel.
Our first stop for the day was Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. We spent about an hour walking around the area. So many points of interest however I will highlight just one.
The Canada House which is home to the High Commission of Canada in London. It is a stunning building with quite the history. Canada House was built between 1824 and 1827 by the same architect of the British Museum, Robert Smirke. The Canadian government purchased the building in 1923 for £223,000.
The building was opened in 1925 by King George V. And this is what he had to say about it:
Canada is a great country: alike in the literal sense of vast extent from sea to sea and great in achievement and in promise: and it is right and necessary that its official representatives here should be housed in a manner worthy of the Dominion and adequate to the discharge of their ever-growing and important duties.
Canada House was closed as a cost cutting measure in 1993 although that decision was reversed due to a change of government in Canada. And it was closed again in 2010.
It was definitely open while we were in London. Lots of Canadian flags.
And here is proof that Matthew was indeed at the National Gallery in London.
Inside one of the great halls of the National Gallery.
After our time at the gallery, we started our walking tour of historic London. We began at St. James Park. It was nice to see the flowers in bloom.
As we made our way to the Parliament buildings and Big Ben, we spied the London Eye at a distance. Time for a ride.
The London Eye is Europe’s tallest Ferris wheel and it reaches 335 metres in height. It is apparently the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom. This was probably one reason why we paid the extra money for an express ride. Otherwise we might have spent a very long period of time standing in line. Great views of the city such as the Parliament buildings and Big Ben.
After the London Eye we made our way up to Westminster Abbey.
The weather remained terrific for outdoor walking so we made our way from the downtown area to Covent Garden.
At the Covent Garden Square we were entertained by two unicyclists. They were older gentlemen with a unique ability to execute stunt riding on a single wheel while entertaining the crowd with that traditional dry British wit.
We finished our day at Piccadilly Circus. Matthew liked it better than Times Square. That said, the crowds at Piccadilly Circus were huge.
A successful day two in London. Over 20,000 steps that day. Our poor feet.
Now that we have returned to Canada, I can go through some of the photos and share with you a little bit of our itinerary in more detail.
We had left Toronto Pearson at 6:30 last Wednesday evening. The flight arrived into London the next day at 6:30 in the morning local time. Which meant that we had to push through a day of touring and put off sleeping for about a day and a half. The jet lag hit us hard by about 3:00 in the afternoon but we managed to keep awake until 9:00 in the evening before finally taking in some much needed rest.
It was a fairly quick and easy entry into the city. Clearing customs into England was straightforward. And, from the airport, we took the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station and a cab from Paddington Station to the hotel. We checked in to the hotel at around 9:00am, left our bags there, and made our way to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
However, on our way to the cathedral, we decided that it would be a good idea to eat a small breakfast at a nearby Pret a Manger. Pret a Manger is the U.K. response to Tim Horton’s. Although with a much wider array of food choices. I counted 187 Pret a Manger restaurants in London. They are as common as the CCTV cameras.
Appetite being satisfied, we headed over to the cathedral and spent several hours touring the place. The highlight was the step chase up the main dome. 259 steps. We only climbed up to the Whispering Gallery as opposed to the very top of the dome. I have a bit of a thing about heights and so we stayed closer to ground level.
The Whispering Gallery runs the interior of the dome. It is called the Whispering Gallery because if you make a whispering sound it will be audible on the opposite side of the gallery.
The weather being a bit overcast this day encouraged me to substitute a museum in place of walking through the streets of London. Matthew and I made our way to the British Museum. The British Museum contains a large collection in excess of 8 million works. It might take a bit longer than a few hours to see them all so we restricted our tour to just a few million. We’ll come back another year to catch the rest.
Enough time had passed by this point in time, along with the caloric expenditure climbing 518 steps up and down at St. Paul’s, that we decided to take a break for lunch. We walked out of the museum and found a nearby pub — the Bloomsbury Tavern. Established in 1856, this pub claims to have its own ghost. We did not see it.
After lunch, we were back to the British Museum. Matthew was forced to pose for a photograph. I told him it was necessary to prove that he was at the British Museum. We became sidetracked with a deep metaphysical discussion about how to prove existence, particularly with a digital image. And I wasn’t sure if that was just an attempt to get me to stop taking his picture. If it was, it did not work.
Next stop was the ever popular Churchill War Rooms. The construction of these war rooms began in 1938 which leads me to believe that Churchill knew war would be taking place long before the declaration of war on September 3, 1939.
Matthew and I both hit a wall at around 3 in the afternoon. And the walls in London are mostly made of stone so it did hurt a little bit. The jet lag and the lack of sleep really hit us hard and so we decided to return to the hotel, take a bit of a break and then head out for supper.
Matthew had this bed. I had the floor.
Day one in London.
After several discussions with our server last night, he presented us with the bill. And then he asked me: “Vous vivez en France?”
Being back in France is bringing back my french. Being mistaken for a native speaker is probably as good as it gets.
We head home tomorrow.