Tater Takes Paris

I visited Paris about 20 years ago and did not come away with a good impression. I was hoping that this visit would change my mind about the city. I got off to a rough start this time as well. We arrived at Gare Du Nord and I needed to things: a restroom and a transit pass. Both proved difficult. We had no Euros yet and the restroom at the station was a pay restroom. I am irritated by pay restrooms all the time, but am especially irritated by pay restrooms at a major travel hub(and when I need to pee and have no money). The transit passes proved difficult as well. The ones we needed were not sold in the vending machines, but the information kiosk person kept pointing us to the machines. When we finally found the place to buy them there was a shift change and the person helping us just abruptly stood up and walked away. Luckily, eventually, another employee showed up and sold us the passes and we were able to head to the hotel. It was dinner time when we arrived so we walked around to find food and settled on a crepe place. My wife said she had 50 euro so we were good even of they didn’t take credit cards. Turns out she only had 20 euro, the food cost 30 and the credit card machine was broken. The guy actually told us to just pay 20 and come back the next day to pay the rest. A positive Paris experience!

Now, on to the tours. Day one was busy. We started at the Pantheon because it was closest to the hotel. We had more issues with broken credit card machines and had to go a second time to an ATM to get money for our museum passes, but we made it in. We left the Pantheon and headed off to our lunch cruise on the river for my son’s birthday. Good food and a chance to see the sights without walking – my kind of tour! We left the boat and headed toward Notre Dame. We stopped first at the Conciegerie and then to the cathedral. We were unaware that even with a museum pass we needed timed tickets for the tower. There was an online app to use to get them so we downloaded it, but it wouldn’t work. We asked the woman at the line for help and she said she could let 2 of us go on in. I said the kids could go since I had been there before. She felt bad and let us all go. Another positive Paris experience! We made the long climb up the towers, saw the view and the bells and then back down and in to the crypt. We then toured Saint Chapelle and headed off to walk to the Arc de Triumph(another climb), walk Champs Elysses and Place De Le Concorde. We then walked over to get an up close view of the Eiffel Tower and then back to rest up for another big day.

Walking stats: 27,763 steps. 65 floors climbed. 9.8 miles

Day 2:

Only two tours today, but both very big. We started the day at Versailles. We followed Rick Steves’ advice and arrived right at opening and got in pretty quick. It is a huge place. It took most of the day to tour the palace, the gardens and the domain of Marie Antoinette. We did eventually see it all and found our way back to the train to get to the hotel.  We stopped in at the hotel, went to a local place for dinner and then headed over to the Louvre. The Louvre is open until 9:30pm on Wednesdays. We arrived around 7:30 and by this time there was no line. We walked right in. There was a still a big, annoying crowd around the Mona Lisa, but I will say that evening is a perfect time to see the museum, as long as you are OK with hitting the biggest things and moving on. We stayed until close and then headed back to the hotel. This was the end of our Paris trip.

The next day we had breakfast and then to the airport for home. Charles De Gaulle was a surprisingly easy airport with hardly any lines. It was a great trip and I’m sad that I’m now back to work. I’m ready to retire and travel all the time.

Walking stats: 34, 699 steps. 36 floors. 12.4 miles.

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Tater’s Last Days in England

I am going to squish the last 2.5 days in England in to one post to save everyone(myself included) from too many of these travel posts.

Day 5:

We left the hotel after breakfast and drove to Stonehenge. We did not go to the visitor center and pay the very high price to take a shuttle to the “official” Stonehenge path. We turned down the dirt road right past Stonehenge, parked there, and walked to the free path that is only steps away from the paid path. There were some trailers there protesting the people charging to see Stonehenge.

We left Stonehenge and drove to Bath. We spent a couple of hours walking around, but didn’t really go in any of the sites. I was not expecting it to be such a bustling shopping town.

After Bath, we swung by Stratford-Upon-Avon. It was late, so all of the sites  were closed, but we were able to get some pictures of Shakespeare’s house and the Royal Theatre. We then went back to Bourton-on-the-Water for dinner and sleep.

Walking Stats: 16,133 steps. 9 flights climbed. 6 miles.

Day 6

We checked out and drove the several hours back past London and down to Dover. We toured Dover Castle and went to see the White Cliffs. We really enjoyed Dover Castle and spent a lot of time there. The Operation Dynamo and the Underground Hospital tours were worth the wait in a line. Dover might be my favorite place we visited. After Dover, we drove to Leeds Castle where we were spending the night. We had access to the grounds even though the castle was closed to the public.

Walking Stats: 15,840 steps. 57 flights climbed. 5.5 miles

Day 7

We spent the morning touring Leeds Castle(included in the booking of the room) and going through the maze and then headed to Ashford to return the rental car and take the train to Paris. Only a small snafu when we were pushing it on time and discovered the entry to the parking and rental car drop off was closed for construction and there was a 15 minute detour to get in to drop the car. We still had plenty of time for the train, but 15 minutes late dropping the car. The AC was out in our train car, so that was fun.

Next post will be the Paris post, including the evening of Day 7 arrival.

Day 4: Tater Leaves London

This was the day we were to leave London and experience more of the country. We weren’t scheduled to pick up the rental car until 1, so we had some time to walk around a bit after breakfast. According to my phone, the area we walked was the Camden/Barnsbury area. We also went back to the British Library to see if the exhibits were open. The sign in the library had said they would be, but an employee had told us they wouldn’t open until we were gone. The sign turned out to be correct and we were able to tour the exhibits before we left. My daughter was excited about seeing the Magna Carta. I was excited about the literature section.

We then picked up the rental car and headed out-of-town. It was the first time any of us had driven on the opposite side of the road, so I was a bit stressed about that. As is the norm, my wife was the driver and I gave the front passenger seat to our on so I could hide in my book and my music so I wouldn’t stress everyone out worrying about her driving. She did fine and acclimated quickly and we made it safely out of town and to Oxford.

I could have done the Oxford day in combination with the next day, but there is a story to tell about our first big blow up of the trip later. We parked in a park and ride lot and rode a bus in to town.  When we arrived, there was an argument between the kids on what to see first. My daughter wanted to head over to Oxford Castle first and then see the rest. My son wanted to go to the Museum of Natural History first because it closed early. My daughter knew he would spend a lot of time there and she didn’t want to risk missing other things. So, we decided to split up. My wife and son would go to the museum and library first and we would go to the castle and then down that direction. It was decided that we would meet at the cross in the street when we were done. So, we headed to the castle, but opted not to do the tour. We saw what we could see without paying and then walked around town. We walked past the cross in the street several times before figuring out where it was. At that point, we knew we might have issues with the meet up later. We walked down and saw the Bodleian Library and the sites along the way. Oxford ia a beautiful city. We then headed back to the meet up spot.

Of the four of us, my wife is the only one who had a phone with international service(for work purposes) and the rest of us rely on wi-fi the entire trip. It works for the most part, but is not convenient if we split up. This is a case where splitting up was a bad thing. We headed back to the cross on the street area, found a bench nearby and waited for my wife and son. We walked back and forth to the cross n the street several time to make sure we didn’t miss them. After a while, my daugher walked down to the library to see if they were still there. We did not spot them. I finally took off to find wifi so I could send a message to my wife to check on them. Even after I told them where we were, they somehow went to the wrong spot. After a few cranky messages, we found each other. Ut turns out they couldn’t find the cross in the street so they waited further up the street and somehow thought we would still find them. Further complicating matters, they had gone directly from the museum and did not tour the library as they said they would. So, they walked down the street to their location while we were off the steet and in the library. None of us we re in a good mood after all of this. We then went to the pub for dinner where three of us ordered fsh and chips only to find out they only had one fish left so two of us had to order different food. An iritating end to a visit to a great town.

We then headed off to our hotel in Bourton on the Water, a beautiful little town in the Cotswolds. The owner of the hotel was a verhy nice guy who helped our mood tremendously. We had a nice walk through town and then rested up for a long day the next day.

Walking stats: 26,389 steps. 5 flights climbed. 9.8 miles.

Tater Takes London: Day 3

Our third day in London started at my favorite attraction in the city, the Tower of London. We followed the advice of Rick Steves and arrived right at opening time with pre-purchased tickets and walked in with no line. We also followed his advice and went straight to the crown jewels before the place was packed. If you go to the tower,  I recommend following this advice. You will spend several hours touring the tower. It is a large, interesting place. I’m petty sure it was my kids’ favorite as well.

We left the tower and walked across Tower Bridge. We headed toward London Bridge and Borough Market. I had forgotten that these were the locations of the attack last year until we came across the memorials. It was back to being a bustling market. It was huge and had just about anything you could possibly want to buy. We only had coffee and ice cream.

After a walk through the market, we got on the train and headed out to Greenwich to see the prime meridian. I was not very excited about the trip to Greenwich, but it turned out to be very interesting. If you have extra time, I would recommend going out. We once again opted for the bus back to central London. This time was less stressful since no one had a specific time they needed to be back.

I had to go back and look at my pictures to remind myself what we did next. It was a long day. We got off the bus down by the river and walked by Globe Theatre, took in the view from the top of Oxo Tower, walked back across the bridge to see St Paul’s and headed back to the hotel for a few minutes and then went out for a late, after dark trip to see Abbey Road before we left the city the next day.

Walking stats: 30,747 steps. 48 flights climbed. 11 miles.

Tater Takes London: Day 2

Our first full day in London started(after breakfast) with a trip over to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. On the way, we stopped for a photo-op at a phone booth.

I don’t remember this being such a mob scene when I was last there 20 years ago. We were about an hour early getting to the palace and people were already surrounding the area waiting for the event. It got even more crowded over the hour. The ceremony also seemed to be bigger than back then as well, but I may be misremembering that. It’s fun to see once, but if I go back again, I will skip this.

We then headed over to the Churchill War Rooms. I was really surprised at how long the lines were. We were told the wait to get in without a timed entry ticket was 1.5 hours. As we were looking online to see about buying tickets for the next day, the line suddenly started moving, so we waited. The wait was a lot shorter than expected and we were able to get in. It was a very interesting museum and I had it eventually tell the kids that they had to move faster through so we could get to our next destination. I would highly recommend this.

We then walked past Westminster Abbey on the way to the Houses of Parliament. My daughter wanted to sit in on a Parliament session, so we only took pictures of the abbey and didn’t go in. At Parliament, we were told that it was too full and we should check back in an hour. While we waited we went back to the Supreme Court building that had a free entry sign out front and ended up sitting in on a trial there. We then went back, got in to Parliament and sat in on a session about retail issues.

From there, we walked across Westminster Bridge to get a photo of Big Ben and then took the Underground to Kensington, walked through the gardens to the Albert Memorial and the Diana Memorial Fountain.  We had a few issues getting to the area where we planned to eat dinner due to a major fire in an expensive hotel(pop star Robbie Williams was there and evacuated) blocking most of the roads to the station.  We made it to the pub, walked down to Downing Street and Trafalgar Square and then took the bus back to the apartment.

The bus ride was good, but slow, which stressed out my son who had a Skype interview that night and barely made it back in time. He got off the bus a stop early and ran to the apartment. The two of us went out after to a local craft beer place where we ran in to a random student band dancing down the street.

It was a long day, but very fun.

Walking stats: 26,414 steps. 29 flights climbed. 9.5 miles.

Tater Takes London: Day One

I never did get around to blogging about my trip while I was on my trip. Now, I have multiple days worth of trips to post about and I’m not sure the best way to do it.  I will try a new post for each day of the trip and change if it seems to be a be too much. If you are my friend on Facebook, you have already seen all of my picture dumps there.

We arrived in London at 9:30am at Heathrow. We got our Oyster cards for the transit system)a very convenient and easy process) and headed off to our hotel. Our final stop in London before walking to our hotel was Kings Cross Station where we found Platform 9 3/4. img_0314

We stayed in a two bedroom apartment owned by the Jesmond Dene hotel. It was a very nie place, nice enough that I would have been happy to stay there the entire trip. The staff was very nice. They stored our luggage for us since we were there early and then dropped it at the apartment once it was ready so it would be waiting for us when we were able to check in. They also served a very nice full English breakfast every morning.

If you are going to London, I would highly recommend booking an apartment with them.

The hotel was very close to the British Museum and the British Library, both free. Since we were tired and had less time, we focused on these two attractions on day one. The British Museum was very big and impressive, but other than the Rosetta Stone,

there’s not much there that is that different from what you would find in a museum elsewhere(I maybe wrong about that, but that was my impression). We then headed down to the library only to discover the exhibit center was closed and there was a chance it would be closed the entire time we were in town.  So, I took some pictures of the King’s Library

and the Newton statue outside

and we moved on to the next item on the agenda: finding a place to buy fish and chips.

We did find a chippy, bought dinner and then headed off to the apartment to rest up for day 2.

Walking stats for the day: 17,293 steps, 10 flights of stairs climbed, 6.8 miles.