London, BABY!

Well, we did it...we spent 8 nights in London and 3 in Paris.  It was a great trip, full of doing fun things.

I liked doing the day flight, made it a lot easier to "be on London time".  Hotel Ashburn was nice and well located, right by the Gloucester underground station which made getting around really easy.  Our original room had fan/air conditioning issues so we only spent one night there and they switched us in the morning.

Day 1: We started our first day on a Hop-on-Hop-off bus tour, but just road it around for hours seeing everything.  We did hop off for a bite to eat at Minories Pub by the Tower of London.  Christy had her first fish and chips and cider.   I was still fighting my cold/chest infection and didn't have much of an appetite so settled for a sandwich, but I did eat her mushy peas (every time she got them). 



We had a quick dinner at Saleri in Covent Garden before seeing Gypsy at The Savoy Theater.  Imelda Staunton was amazing!

Day 2:  We went to 11 o'clock mass at St. Paul's, all the while singing "Feed the Birds" in my head the whole time.  St. Paul's is beautiful and the service was very nice.  We got lunch at Cote, a French Brasserieafterward.  We did the hop-on-hop-off bus for a bit and got off at the V&A museum. We walked around the museum a bit, looking at all of the random collected stuff including Chris Martin's outfit from Viva la Vida.    We rested up a bit and got prettied up for Tea at the Thames Foyer at The Savoy.

Tea was lovely.  A lot of celebrations happening.  Aside: I loved that we saw other gays throughout the trip.  Everything was delicious and we had a lovely time.  It was a great way to celebrate our anniversary.


Day 3: This was the day of our full day tour.  Getting to the Victoria Coach Station wasn't straight forward so we had a bit of a hectic start.  Once on the coach we were able to get settled.  Monica, our guide for the day, was sweet and a good guide.


The first stop was Warwick Castle.  Obviously, it was a gorgeous day.  The castle was very commercial and felt like an amusement park.  We walked around the grounds, grabbed some lunch, and saw a bald eagle that we really thought was animatronic, until it lifted its leg and we freaked out.

Back on the bus then on the way to Stratford-Upon-Avon...


We started at Shakespeare's birthplace and toured the Visitor's center and what was originally his parent's house that he eventually owned.  Christy loved it.  Very cool to hear about daily life at that time and to see a short film about his influence.  It made me very excited that we had tickets for Romeo and Juliet later in the week.

We wandered Stratford and had a snack, did a little browsing in the shops.  Christy was hunting for yarn, but everything we found was acrylic!  Weird because of all the sheep around and the fact that the area used to be a wool capitol.




We made our way back to the coach to head to our final stop-- Oxford University and a walking tour guided by Monica.  On the way to Oxford we drove through The Cotswolds, which are a collection of little villages that look like they are from another time, so charming.








Oxford is a great town and the campus is gorgeous.  The history is so impressive.  The sky was amazing!

We walked around then had some free time during which we visited a huge bookstore.  Christy bought the #1 UK fiction book as a souvenir, and I browsed the Harry Potter books.

We headed back to the coach to make our way back to London.

Christy and I got off at Notting Hill Gate and had a nice dinner (including fried Brie) at the Mall Tavern.  There was a woman who looked like Amy Sedaris in character having dinner with her friend.  She was being weird about the bone marrow that came with her beef pie and insisted that they take the bone, clean it off then bring it back.  She had her dog under the table!  So weird.  There were dogs in a couple of the pubs we ate in.  So random.

Day 3: One of my favorite days of the trip!  We took our time in the morning and headed out to do a little shopping at Liberty Department Store.  The store is in an old Tudor building which is beautiful. I fell in love with a crazy expensive hat... and a gorgeous crazy expensive bag... and a gorgeous crazy expensive scarf... and didn't buy any of them.  We picked up a few things for out nieces and Christy bought some beautiful fabric for a dress.

I found a spot on Pinterest called Neal's Yard and we headed over for some lunch.  It was brilliant! Such a cute, hidden little spot with locals, no throngs of tourists.  We had a yummy lunch and I did a little shopping in Neal's Yard Remedies.  I bought some mint tea and hand cream.  The weather was gorgeous and it was nice and relaxing.


 





We had to get back to Victoria Coach Station for our afternoon to Stonehenge, no rushing this time.  It was a small group and the station was way less busy than the day before.




Stonehenge was beautiful and there was definitely an interesting energy there.  I felt very peaceful and loved hearing about the thousands of years of history about the area and the ruins.





It was a great day. We had a fun dinner at Tattersall's Pub in London, great fish and chips and cider. It was great listening to the Beatles while having a cider in the pub.  Dinner was good and we had a fun time hanging out before heading back to the hotel.  When we left to get the underground Harrods was all lit up!  It looked so pretty.




Day 4: Our first rainy day...and man did it rain. We made our way to Westminster Abby which is grand and so impressive.  Had a moment as I stood by Newton's tomb, next to Kelvin and Faraday. Poet's corner is amazing. No photos in the Abby.  The Garden was open and I wandered out there for a bit, so beautiful.  Monks have maintained it for 900+ years.

We grabbed a quick lunch then headed into the Tower of London...in the rain.






We had great timing and made it right into a small Yeomen tour. Stephen guided us into the chapel and gave us an animated, funny, and detailed history of the palace, tower, and many beheadings that took place there over the years.  His account of Ann Boleyn's murder during which he insisted on audience participation to act out the gasps from the crowd, which only Christy did at first.  It was so funny.  But it was a lot of death all around, which was creepy.

After that we went in and saw the crown jewels, which are amazing and gorgeous.  I want a crown!

We headed back to the hotel because we didn't feel like dealing with the rain and to rest up before our night out.
Some of the ravens of the Tower.

After a short nap for Christy we got ready and headed out.  We crossed The Millennium Bridge over to Southwark and had a nice dinner at The Swan, right next to the Globe Theater, which is a recreation of Shakespeare's original, built only a little way away from the original spot.  


It was such a cool experience.  We had bench seats and spent a few pounds for cushions and chair backs, totally worth it.

The Groundlings performing were fantastic! We saw Romeo and Juliet and I loved it so much.  I have gone back and forth about the play over the years, but I really loved seeing it in the open air environment.

This was another highlight of the trip!


Day 5: More to do...but we got tired and hit a wall. We started the day at The British Museum, which was very cool.  There is so much there and entirely too much to try to tackle in one visit.  We had great luck with a Rick Steves podcast for The Louvre, so we downloaded his guide to hit the highlights in The British Museum.

There were a ton of people and lots of groups of students running around.



The Rosetta stone was cool, though surrounded by people.  We ended up going back to it before leaving the museum.  We did some cool Egyptian stuff but skipped the mummies, we both had enough of dead people.

His tour was cool and did cover some good pieces.  The carvings and sculptures from The Parthenon were amazing, but I felt weird about the fact that they should be in Greece.

It is an amazing space and there is a ton that we didn't get to...next time.  We did pop into a gallery that had one of the Easter Island statues, which was cool.

The day before I looked up good places for afternoon tea and found one that was close to the museum and made us a reservation.



We had a lovely, filling afternoon tea at Bea's of Bloomsbury.  It was a bit of a walk from the museum but with some help from a local gentleman we found it.  I was so frustrated by the layout of the streets and will never take for granted how easy Philly is to navigate.  After tea we walked over to The Dickens' Museum.  I think there were only 2-3 other people there, which was so nice after all the crowds.  

Dickens' desk.



We were exhausted, so we headed back to the hotel and napped for a bit.  I found a great pub in walking distance from the hotel--we were so over the underground.  We got up and ready and headed to Blackbird Pub.  The area around the hotel is really nice and there are cute little streets and gardens everywhere.

The pub was great!  We had awesome cider and delicious meat pies with mash, gravy, and greens.  I cleaned my plate and ate Christy's greens!

The pub was full of locals, which I always love.  We had a nice walk back through little streets with twinkle lights, and crashed!

Day 6:  Christy had a migraine, so I headed over to the National Gallery myself.  It is a beautiful space.

I got the audio guide and got started.  The first piece I saw was The Burlington House Cartoon by Leonardo da Vinci. It is in a small, dimly lit room. I sat on a bench and was just looking at it and was overwhelmed.  It is so beautiful and soft.  Then someone came in and took a selfie with it and I got annoyed and moved on.  I saw some amazing pieces, including some impressionist and post impressionist pieces.


I've been so emotional about Vincent van Gogh's work, and when I saw A Wheatfield, with cypress I cried.  I wanted to be in the painting.  I loved the version of Sunflowers, and actually bought a phone cover while I was there (I dropped my phone and my case cracked, so it was perfect timing).

I headed out to meet Christy at St. Martin-in-the-fields Crypt for lunch.  It is a cool space and the food was pretty good.  Afterward we headed over to Kensington Gardens for a walk and a visit to the Palace.



The weather was beautiful and sunny.  We walked around the park for a while and saw the Peter Pan Statue.  I love that J.M. Barrie had it installed in the middle of the night so the local children would think it appeared by magic!







I gotta crow!
We sat by the pond for a bit then headed in to the Palace.

Wallpaper in a hallway in the Palace.

I love a mirror selfie, this was in the lift.


We saw the Victoria Revealed exhibit.  I didn't know anything about Queen Victoria and her love story with Price Albert.  It was so sweet and so heartbreaking when he died.  Afterward we walked through a cool fashion exhibit.  The dresses were amazing, especially Princess Diana's from the late 80's and early 90's.  They looked like Barbie dresses!


We headed back to the hotel to relax and get ready for dinner and another show.  I made us a reservation at The Opera Tavern (why not have Spanish tapas while in London?)  We had a terrible time trying to find it and were 30 minutes late for our reservation.  It was worth the hectic journey because the tapas were delicious. We saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  The show was fun and the actor playing Willy Wonka was great.  It was a fun last night in London.  We headed back and packed up.



Day 7: Farewell, London!  Bon Jour, Paris! The EuroStar is awesome!  We had a quick train ride that included a lovely lunch complete with lots of wine.  I was so excited for Paris, even though the forecast called for rain.

We got in, met our driver and headed to Hotel Montmartre mon Amor.  Though the hotel was sweet, had a great breakfast, and right next to Sacré-Cœur Basilica I would not stay in Montmartre again.  It is not the best area at night and the hills are killer.  Had the weather been better I am sure I would have loved being up there because we would have been walking around and felt more casual.  We checked in and get settled.  They stored our luggage because there was zero space for them in the room.  We just pulled out everything we needed for the next few days.  Once settled we headed out for a walk around and bite to eat.


Making the best of the rain.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica


It was rough going in the rain, so we called it and had an early night in watching Moulin Rouge.

Day 8: More rain... When we were in Paris in 2012 the Picasso Museum was closed for renovations, so we were excited to go this time. We also loved the Picasso museum in Barcelona. It was the first Sunday of the month so the museums were packed and the queues were looooooong.  We stood in the rain waiting to get in for about 45 minutes but it wasn't too bad.

It was a great museum, and his worked is so varied and interesting.  Picasso did a study of Manet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe, and I loved it (we saw Manet's later that day).



After Picasso, it was still raining a smidge.  We headed over to Notre Dame, we cheated and took a taxi.  We walked through again, and it was just as impressive and beautiful.



We headed over to my favorite, Ile St Louis to get some lunch.  We went to a sweet cafe that looked at Notre Dame, got a lovely window seat and had a delicious lunch.

We did some great people watching and took a long time eating and drinking our wine.  The sky looked a bit better, but then it stared pouring so we settled in and ordered coffee and dessert...the best ice cream in the world!

Magical Berthillon ice cream.


The sun broke through and it was gorgeous.  We walked along the right bank and popped into Shakespeare and Company bookstore.  We made our way to the Musee d'Orsay, which I am declaring as my favorite art museum, other than ours here in Philly (though it is a very close second). The queue was crazy long.  I went and stood in line and Christy went up to look into getting in quicker, maybe by buying a museum pass.  She worked some magic because a guard just told her to go get me and head right in.  I am not sure how or why but they let us in before everyone.







It truly is an amazing museum, an old train station that now houses some of the most incredible pieces of art in the world:
The Birth of Venus by Cabanel
The Bathers by Cezanne 
In a cafe, The Ballet Class, and many others by Degas
La Source by Dominique
London, Houses of ParliamentThe Rue Montorgueil in Paris, The Cliff, and so many more by Monet
Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette, The Swing, Young Girls at the Piano, and so many more by Renoir
The Circus by Seurat
The Clown Cha-U-KaoRousse, and many others by Toulouse-Lautrec
Self portrait,  Starry NightThe Church in Auvers-sur-Oise, Van Gogh's Bedroom in Anvers, and others by Van Gogh

We had a nice afternoon wandering the museum then we had a glass of champagne in the cafe and had this lovely view.

We headed out and found a transformed day, stunning sunny skies and enormous billowing clouds.




We wandered Place de la Concorde in the sunshine and took our time getting back to the hotel, but as we got on the metro it started to get cloudy, and by the time we were back at Montmartre it was raining a little.

We decided to have dinner at a little cafe right by the hotel and it was just perfect.  Christy knitted, as she does all over the world.

We watched Doctor Who, Vincent and The Doctor to cap off the night.

It was a wonderful day in Paris.


 Day 9: Paris by Mouth




We took our time in the morning and headed to our Paris by Mouth Wine and Cheese Tasting.  It was an amazing experience.  We tasted wines and cheese from all over France and talked about how they are produced and how to make good pairings.  I have notoriously hated goat cheese and was a little worried when I saw 4 goat cheeses to start.  We learned about goat cheese season and the proper ages for goat cheeses and I liked 3 of them and loved the 4th.  Our rules in the US about pasteurization and age for cheeses make it impossible to have those here.  They were good about making recommendations for cheeses we can get here. The wine was incredible, but again not wine we can get here because of the rules about additives that are required here in the states.  We could have brought some back, but our time was limited so we didn't get to a wine shop.  We can get some here, and I will!  The hosts, Meg and Thor, were fantastic.  Thor and I exchanged emails because he is from Philly and will be back later in the summer.

We left the class, feeling good...and headed to the The Tuileries and say by the pond for a bit, enjoying the sunshine and gorgeous skies.






The sky clouded over and the rain started again.  We headed back to the hotel in the rain.  We made an early night of it and had dinner at Cafe Botik right by the hotel.  The French know how to cook eggs and chicken.  Some of the best chicken dishes I have had have been in Paris.  I had a yummy roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and a ton of garlic.

Day 10: Our final morning and too much time at the airport... Cloudy skies in the morning, but we wanted to make out way up to Sacré-Cœur one more time.  We went in, and it was quiet without throngs of tourists.  Christy lit a candle and we had a quiet moment.  As we left the rain started.  But the sky was incredible.





Au revoir, Paris.

It was an amazing trip filled with life list items and beautiful memories.

Peace.


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