Saturday, November 12, 2011

Paris and London

I've been dreaming about going to Paris ever since I was about 12 when I started studying French.  I can't say that I ever learned French, but I know enough to get around.  I am 32 now and I got to see Paris and London for the first time in my life.  In December this year David and I will celebrate our 10 years wedding anniversary.  Our trip to Europe was to mark that accomplishment.

I flew to Omaha on Friday, October 14 with my kids and a sinus infection.  Omaha is where my parents live and my kids were going to stay there with my mom, my brother's family and their cousins while we were away.

I left Omaha on Monday, October 17th and told my kids I was going to work and was going to work for a long time.  They are 4 and 3, and I wasn't sure they would understand the truth.  So this worked.  I've never been away from my kids for more than 24 hours. This was the first time.  And I know they were in good hands.  But how was I going to make it without them?
The flight from Dallas to Paris was long.  The guy sitting across from us was lucky enough to be seated in the 5 seat section with no one else seating there.  He laid across all 5 seats and slept for most of the flight.  I was envious.
Our first day in Paris we didn't do much.  We found our hotel and tried to catch up on some sleep.  It was raining when we woke up and decided to explore a bit.  We left our hotel later in the afternoon and took the train to Gare du Nord.  The hotel clerk told us that trains don't run after 9pm, but a taxi ride is about 15 euros.   The taxi ride cost us 40 euros, and the next day we found that the last train was at 12:15am. 

                                                        Sacre Coeur
From the Monmartre Cemetery
Being in Europe somehow makes you feel alive.  I think it's all the noise from people, and cars, and trains.  And possibly the fact that among all that movement at some point there is a pause; most stores close at about 8pm, the streets are not as alive, life slows down and I slow down.  Life doesn't seem to ever slow down in America when stores, food and shopping are available 24 hours.  I never have to worry if we have enough milk at home, because if we don't and it's midnight and I need milk, I can run to Walmart, it's open 24hrs and it's only 2 miles away, and I can hop in my car and not have to worry about when the last train is.  So this around the clock access to almost everything is so lovely and convenient, but at the same time it makes life one continuous circle that never never ends, it just keeps going and going and going.  I love it, and other times I hate it.
Both Paris and London had this really cool bike rental deal.  It's connected to the public transportation and trains.  So say you get out of one of the subway stations and you need to make a connection to another station that is not connected with and underground tunnel.  Well, you can take Velib...., get a bicycle, ride it to the next station where you are going to drop it off.  We attempted to do this, but somehow it didn't work out for us.  Here is a picture of a station with only one 'velo' left.
Ahhh I can probably easily live in Paris, or London.  Or probably anywhere in Europe, if only I could afford it.
We had lunch with a very successful photographer, Neil Snape at Chariter, an authentic French restaurant.  Apart from sharing his experiences as a professional photographer with David, Neil shared some customs about eating in a French restaurant.  For example, it is not necessary to tip your waiter.  Neil also suggested a lovely dessert, chantille au choux (I think).  This is very similar to what I used to order at the French bakery in Omaha.  It's kind of like an eclair filled with whipped cream.  What was special about Chartier's whipped cream is that they make their own from scratch.
                                       A street performer near Sacre Coeur.
                                  We visited the Salvador Dali museum.
And another cemetery, Pere LaChaise where I got obsessed with the ornate entries to the necropoli and took bunch of photos.  I think it was fun to play with my retro phone camera. 
Yes, we did stop by Jim Morrisson's grave.  It had more visitors than any other grave we saw.  In fact two sets of tourist stopped us and asked to look at the map we had so they can find ol' Jimmy's grave.  I think that's probably why we ended up stopping by.
We left Paris on Friday, October 21 and took an overnight bus to London.  Ah it was a tough ride.  The bus was full.  The lady in the back of the bus was stretched across 3 seats and would not move.  Her legs hurt.  So David and I sat in two aisle seats across from each other.  I couldn't sleep, although the guy next to me seemed not to have the same problem.  I was terribly uncomfortable.  We made it to London at 6am and with luggage and all it took us good 30 min to find Victoria train station.  We were supposed to go to Docklands, this is where our hostel was.  At first no one at the station seemed to be very helpful.  It appeared that no one knew or had the time to help us find out what train we need to take and what station we need to get off.  Finally we figured it out with the help of a lady who worked at the Info station.  We arrived at our hostel, The Great Eastern, at about 10am, but weren't able to check in till 2pm.  And then at 2pm when I tried to pay for the stay my card declined.  This was odd.  I am pretty good with budgeting and I knew there was money.  I ended up walking to the post office (which was also a grocery store) to get cash from an ATM machine.  I ended up using a different card and later discovered that the bus line (Paris to London) put a hold on my money as well as processed my payment.  So even though I had money, it was tied up and I couldn't use it for the rest of the trip.
London was more orderly than Paris.  It was mostly the trains/subways that gave me this impression.  In Paris you would put in your ticket to get into the station and about 2-3 people are mere inches behind you trying to piggy back and get in the station.  In London, almost every station had a uniformed employee observing the traffic of people.
On our first night in London we went to see a concert, Pop Will Eat Itself.  Originally David bought tickets to see them in Bristol the night before.  But see, David didn't quite arrange for transportation ahead of time.  He thought it would be easy to arrange this once we are in Paris.  This was not an easy task and especially not with our tight budget.  But he was very resourceful to obtain tickets to see them in London on Saturday night.  We were to meet a couple of people who offered David tickets at a bar called York (I think).  We found it and while waiting and trying to recognize the people who would give us tickets, we met a former band member, Adam.  Here is David pictured with him.
 The show was great.  Energy, energy all around.  I am not a fan of PWEI, but concerts are fun, we danced, we bounced and made some friends prior to the show.

The rest of the time in London (2 days) was no pressure, more relaxed and do whatever we want or can afford. Staying in a hostel and sharing a room with 4 other people (different people every day) added to the relaxing atmosphere.  The hostel, The Great Eastern, is a pub/coffee house/lounge that had all kinds of activies: games, yoga classes and a free jukebox after hmmm 8pm.  It seemed that each night David and I monopolized.  I was happy to see that they had a few Eels song, because my kids love The Eels, so much that they call E, uncle E (I'll save this story for another post).  So hearing E's voice reminded me of my kids and made me realize that I've been away from them for some 4-5 days and I am still OK.
We visited TATE museum one day and I really liked an exhibit by Taryn Simon called 'A Living Man Declaired Dead'.  I tried to read most of the notes accompanying the pictures, but oh there were so many.  A few that leave an impression was the man who was a double for one of Sadam Housein's son; an orphanage in Ukraine; albinos in Africa.
We walked by The Globe Theater.

And went down to the banks of the river Thames.
There were these giant shiny balls that I tried to get a cool picture of the distorted reflection on them.
We noticed a cathedral like building and decided to check it out.  It was St. Paul's Cathedral and the current location of the Occupy the Londong Stock Exchange movement.  This was quite interesting and a treasure for photo opportunities of all kinds of people.
It was invigorating to witness a movement, one of many that I know my kids will one day learn about in their history class and they will ask me: 'mom do you remember the Occupy movement of 2011?'  And I will say: 'Yes, I was there, I saw in London and there were people from all walks of life: rich, poor, young, old, tired, energetic, there were dogs and soccer players.

We walked by Buckingham Palace and the surroundings.
And I was happy to learn that I made mistakes on my phone camera that ended up being really pretty pictures.  Check it out, this is a park right next to Buckingham Palace.
And then off course some usual sights of Big Ben, and guards, and statues.

 The last night in London we checked out early from our hostel and spent at the airport.  We had a 9am flight the next morning and it seemed to be too stressful to figure out how to be at the airport in time.  On the flight back we were seated in the middle 5 seat section with only one other person, so this time I did get a chance to lay down and stretch my legs a bit.
And thanks to the free entertainment on the flight I found a show that I think it's hilarious: Curb Your Enthusiasm.
In Dallas, David and I went our separate ways, me to get the kids in Omaha, and David back to our dog and cat in Phoenix.  The kids didn't appear to have missed me too much, they were excited to see me and I was very happy to see them too.  They seemed to have had an endless play with their cousins, Marko and Sofia and I am sure they loved being spoiled by their grandparents.


Tracie K said...

Love it! More! I can ready about your fun while I freeze in MN!

Anonymous said...

Vesna! I adore your blog, your pics are beautiful. I'm so proud of you and your accomplishments. Your apron getting published in Belle Armoire!! WOW, that is sooo cool! Your favorite magazine and you're in it!! I can't wait to see it. Looking forward to the next chapter, keep on writing. Love ya, Becky