Arizona

I was down to Arizona for a speaking engagement at the Fairmont Princess in Scottsdale. I really love the southwest. It is just a beautiful part of the world. Here are a few shots from my all too brief time at the resort property. Lorraine was able to join me and I hope she also enjoyed the time south. The very last photo of this series was the view from our hotel room. I could get used to that view.

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Paris Day Three

Really two major sites for the third day in Paris: the Louvre and Sacre Coeur Basilica.

It did take quite a bit of time to work through the security protocols at the Louvre, however we were amongst the first to get into the museum which allowed us to see this particular painting without the massive crowds.

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We were surprised to see a number of painters in the galleries. This artist was making a fairly convincing copy.

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The galleries were stunning. It is hard to fathom the attention to detail in the construction of this hall.

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Regardless of where we were in the museum, there was art everywhere. Even on the ceilings.

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Areas of the museum offered small secondary chambers. They were usually very quiet.

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Even the staircases from level to level had interesting details in the architecture.

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By the time we had made it to the Venus de Milo, the crowds had certainly descended.

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Still, it was possible to create the illusion of isolation despite the hundreds of smartphones crowding the sculpture.

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We spent all morning and part of the afternoon at the Louvre. We made our way to a nearby cafe and then began the journey to Sacre Coeur Basilica.

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We did not know that it would take so long to walk to the Basilica.

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We did not know that it would take hundreds and hundreds of steps to climb up to the Basilica.

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We had a bit of a break at the small town square. It hosts a number of street artists.

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Once we arrived to the Basilica, we naturally wanted to climb 300 more steps to the top of the dome. We were rewarded with some wonderful views of the city.

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After our tour of the Basilica, we were getting close to dinner time. We wandered around the old town near Sacre Coeur and then made our way back to the hotel.

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Day three in Paris was now complete.

Paris Day Two Afternoon

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.

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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.

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We then made our way to Jardin des Tuileries.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Day two in Paris was now finished.

Paris Day Two Morning

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.

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We followed Rick Steves’ historic Paris walk. There is something almost magical about the streets and the architecture in this part of Paris.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Time for lunch. The morning of day two in Paris was now complete.

Paris Day One

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Another full day of touring. But here we were in this amazing city.

Paris day one was finished.

London Day 4

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.

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It was interesting to see how royalty lived back then. A true king bed.

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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?

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The grounds of the Tower of London offer excellent views of the Tower Bridge as well as the city of London.

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We were able to walk through the Crown Jewels display which was being protected by the Queen’s Guards.

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Matthew was quite concerned about the colour of the Queen’s Guards. Shouldn’t they be wearing red?

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As we continued our tour, we could see the HMS Belfast in the distance.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

London Day 3

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.

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There are a few monuments and we spent time at one of those monuments, the Canada Memorial.

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This is the gateway between Green Park and the entry into Buckingham Palace.

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A view of the same gateway from the other side. Note the prominence of the word Canada.

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There were a number of police standing guard over the palace. And they carry some pretty serious hardware.

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The crowds arrived early to view the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

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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.

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Many of the galleries looked like this one. Huge spaces with incredible artwork.

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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.

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We came across a number of interesting buildings as we walked through London as you can see in the next three photos.

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And, towards the end of the day, we made our way to Chinatown.

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We broke for dinner and then took in a movie called London Has Fallen.

Day 3 in London was now complete.

London Day 2

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.

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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.

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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.

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And here is proof that Matthew was indeed at the National Gallery in London.

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Inside one of the great halls of the National Gallery.

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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.

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As we made our way to the Parliament buildings and Big Ben, we spied the London Eye at a distance. Time for a ride.

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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.

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After the London Eye we made our way up to Westminster Abbey.

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The weather remained terrific for outdoor walking so we made our way from the downtown area to Covent Garden.

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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.

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We finished our day at Piccadilly Circus. Matthew liked it better than Times Square. That said, the crowds at Piccadilly Circus were huge.

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A successful day two in London. Over 20,000 steps that day. Our poor feet.