Best of the British

Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?
I’ve been to London to visit the Queen.
Yesterday morning, Ron and I hopped a high-speed train to London.   Once we arrived, we planned to catch the Original Red Hop-On, Hop Off bus to do a once-around of this new (to us) city.  
We have learned this is the most efficient way to see the high points (Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Picadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, Soho, Carnaby, etc.) as well as the kitschy tourist stuff we will avoid (the London Eye…translation: eyesore, the London Dungeon…tourist trap spook alley) and anywhere else the “sheeple” queue up to follow the herd.  
We then pow-wow (fun, fun) and hand-pick the places we want to return to on our own.

We had some other dreams for our two-day visit; eat English Fish and Chips and go to Abbey Road. I also wondered if I would find the England my Mom had always wanted to see, but never did…
Some things went as planned.  Some did not. And that might be the best part of traveling.

I woke up with a sick stomach (too much wine and French pastry I suspect) and Ron was sporting a blister on his foot the size of a tennis ball.  Down, but not out,  we pressed on. I managed to refrain from ralphing on the train and Ron was very fond of the riding vs. walking plan.
As we were being chauffeured through the city, we listened to a proper Englishwoman narrate the sights and tell us why we should care.  But we draw our own conclusions, sweet cheeks.  So here are some of ours about London:
Good Lord, how do you drive on the opposite sides of the road?  And WHY?

How many RED double-decker buses does it take to create complete traffic gridlock?  London has greedily tripled this number!

London is full of Muslims and other immigrants…we spoke with almost NO London natives.

The women aren’t as pretty as in Paris and most have the same fashion sense as the Queen…None!

The Tube is a work of genius, and makes navigating the city simple….loved it!  Plus no-one pisses or drops their trash/cigarette butts where they stand (get a clue France).

London is clean, stately and rather pedestrian…no skyline really.  Ron says, “It isn’t as exciting as New York, as beautiful as Paris or as classic as Rome.”  Amen

The London Tower bridge is beautiful (see above)….it was our favorite London landmark!

The logo for the 2012 London Summer Olympics is hideous… the mascots are contrived and ridiculous.

Being all proper and even superior while boasting about various charities and giving to the less-privileged in hopes that they will eventually become hard-working, moral Christian citizens makes me appreciate even more why our founding fathers told King George to stick it up his ass! 

It isn’t close to anything and is nestled in a quiet neighborhood way off the beaten path.  But a short walk from St. John’s Wood tube stop will lead you to this iconic street.  People of all ages wait in line to take pictures imitating the crossing strides of the four men who started a music revolution. 
But for both of us, crossing this famous street was a tribute to our generation and those of us who lived through revolutions of our own.  We went to honor our youth and to remember the way we felt when we first heard the Beatles. They wrote the soundtrack to our experience. 

Abbey Studios is an unassuming building at one end of the crossing. But the wall surrounding it is covered with the names of those who have made the pilgrimage, perhaps like us, to acknowledge the music created there.  Come Together, Something, and Here Comes the Sun all came from the Abbey Road album. It was the last the Beatles would record together..
We left our own note of thanks on the wall.

It’s very late as I write this so let me just finish with these thoughts:
We found our fish and chips. We experienced the beauty London had to offer. Sadly, I don’t think London was the England my mother dreamed of visiting.  She wanted to see the English countryside, to walk the moors through the heather and smell the sea.

But I am glad we made the trip.  I am glad to be back in Paris.  And I am glad that in 1782, with the help of the French, we kicked Britain’s ass!


Paris Redux

Loitering at the Louvre
We came back to immerse ourselves once again in this place we love.  Our affair with the City of Light began 3 1/2 years ago, when a too-brief trip only whetted our appetites for all yet to be discovered in this country so far from home.  
The goal of our trip:  to become temporary locals by taking the road less traveled with little agenda.  We wanted to be free to explore; to do whatever we felt moved to do whenever we wanted to do it….this is the Empty Nester’s Nirvana! 
Of course, there are some places that called to us again.  The Louvre is possibly our favorite place in the entire city.  When I.M Pei decided to build three ultra-modern glass pyramids in the courtyard of this mammoth 12th century palace, former home of the Sun King, he elevated this international treasure into an architectural masterpiece.
The stark contrast is breath-taking, and it’s easy to see why people are drawn here.  We went back to see some things we missed the first time….gorgeous marble sculptures and the opulent apartment of Napoleon III. Oh, the soirees that must have been held in those rooms!  I could come back to see the art here again and again…..

The Courtyard at Dusk
Everyone is drawn to the La dame de fer, the iron lady built to welcome the world  to the Exposition Universelle, a World’s Fair marking the centennial celebration of the French Revolution.  Three hundred workers, 18,000 pieces of wrought iron, all held together by two and a half million rivets…it is inspiring to stand under and look up into the perfection of design,
The Eiffel tower feels almost like a holy pilgrimage for us.   Surrounded by acres of grass, water fountains and cannons (we finally saw them fire), Ron says he can’t believe how people flock to see a structure that doesn’t do anything… just stands there.  But it feels like the pulse of Paris lives here, and we could not imagine staying away.

We knoshed like the French do on a hot dog gratine (french baguette, pig, and cheese…OMG) and stayed until dark to gasp with the crowd when the tower turned gold with light.  

Thanks Trevi Tripod!
The Night Show
Ron and 10,000 of his newest friends
Tomorrow, we are off to London on the morning train through the Chunnel.  We are anxious to see the sights of this summer’s Olympic City.  We will be paying homage to our generation by crossing Abbey Road.  Heeding the advice of three Englishmen we met at a pub last night, we will hopefully find some acceptable (to Ron, at least) Fish n Chips…
As our new Brit friend sang,  Oh, the Good Life…”

Doublay de Jour

See the zombies in this picture? The two jet-lagged dorks who are wandering through one of the liveliest sections of Paris?  You won’t find us in this pic, but we were there, hunched  over the BEST hot, French-onion soup ever made, trying to remember who we are and how we really got here.  
Hey, if you have ever stayed awake for 24+ hours, you know what I am talking about…
It all started for us on Wednesday afternoon.  After boarding the 6:00 p.m. non-stop flight to Paris (love this Delta hub city!) Ron and I entered some strange time warp, a portal to the European Traveler’s Twilight Zone!
Night enveloped us at 37,000 feet somewhere over Greenland, The oldest team of flight attendants I have ever seen (how much seniority do they need to be working the Paris non-stop?) controls the lighting and orders everyone to lower their window shade…they tell us it is so they can show the THREE back-to-back movies we have already seen while frenetically serving complimentary beverages, dinner, snacks, water, snacks, more water, breakfast, more water….and I am supposed to sleep????
After hours of repeated seat-shifting, pillow-folding and, uh ZERO sleep, I check my phone to see it is 2:00 a.m….fantastic! All of a sudden, some dumb-ass rebel defies the flight-attendant Nazis and lifts his window shade (gasp)…the blinding sunshine floods in! It’s 9:00 a.m.????  WHAT?  Seven hours gone…..phhhhhhht!  

It’s Thursday.

We arrive at Charles De Gaulle in a fog.  Herded like sheeple (baaaaa) we march with the other scare-haired, unwashed masses through customs and then on to baggage claim.  Now we trek through the longest terminal on earth to the RER train terminal to Paris.  
Can you imagine how worldly and super-cool Ron and I feel when we emerge from the bowels of the dilapidated, puke-smell train station onto one of the busiest streets in Paris schlepping two huge soopcases, a Netbook, two backpacks and a neck pillow?  Hard to look cosmopolitan when  you are this lost, trust me.  Standing in front of a huge map trying to decipher directions in a foreign language is pretty humbling.
Oh God, let’s just get to our well-researched boutique hotel, nestled on that quiet street recommended in all the reviews, and SLEEP!  But Oh Contraire!  The room we sent 50 e-mails arranging? Wrong room, not cleaned yet.  We have two other options on the 2nd or 6th floor, Not clean either….So sorry, je desole….merci fucking beaucoup!  We plop in the lobby and drink red wine as fast as the balding hotel manager can bring it to us.

Finally, we collapse in a room about the size of Andrea’s walk-in closet albeit with the European elegance we have learned to appreciate. Ron snores; I out-snore him.  We awake after a few hours to the dusk of Paris, and want to explore. We drag our muddled minds and asses onto the streets.  
The City of Light is stunning…. and then some.  It has its own smell, and we quickly tap in again to our love for its elegance and excitement.  (The women here are unpretentiously gorgeous and it is a fashion workshop walking among them).  We head for Notre Dame, not far from our hotel.  We breathe in the invigorating cool night air. 
Holding hands, we cross the Seine, walking through alleys filled with pubs, restaurants, souvenir shops, and architecture unlike anywhere else on earth.  We sit in front of one of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals and watch young performers throw fire batons and blow flames high into the air.  People gather to applaud their skill and throw money into a hat.

On our walk back, a waiter beckons us into his cozy cafe and serves tureens of French Onion soup that warm us body and soul.  
We survived our “dooblay-day” and are already excited to see what tomorrow holds…