|Subject: Trip Report - London and Paris|
Trip Report, 12 - 25 May 04, London and Paris
Even though we were in England in the same time frame as Gail, no comparison on trip reports. Gail's is super. Mine will be shorter and not as good.
A couple things we didn't know when we left on 12 May'04.
We get our tube, Gatwick Express and Eurostar tickets from raileurope.com prior to our departure. Fantastic service. But, our son and family got their Eurostar tickets from Eurostar right before they left. Their seats were facing forward. Ours backward. On the return trip there were ample seats available going in the forward direction. I'm not sure if it is because Rail Europe doesn't have access to the seats facing forward or if it was because the person I got them from just didn't know. The tickets were all the same price and there is some merit to picking them up at the station. No worries about forgetting them. The tube and Gatwick Express tickets were grand. I'm not sure if we save money buying from the U.S., but the convenience is great.
We didn't know that our U.S. carriers are flying with less gas on the international flights to save weight. I'm glad we didn't know that until after our return!
We arrived 13 May and stayed our first week in the Bayswater area, always our first choice of places to stay in London. We stayed at a Best Western this time. It was pricey but very nice.
We do easy meandering our first couple days and after leaving our luggage at the hotel we headed out for Piccadilly Circus, the BTA and Waterstone's Bookstore, one of my favorite stops in London. The next day was Covent Garden to stop at Stanfords (travel books and maps) along with the Charing Cross Road bookstores (Blackwell's is very nice). Trafalgar Square and dinner at St. Martin-in-the Fields' Cafe in the Crypt.
I was pleased that the little Collins London by Tube map guide is out in a new edition. That, combined with Bensons Handy London Map & Guide served to get us everywhere we went in London. Collins Pocket London is also excellent, covering more of the Chelsea Embankment area than any other we have, but I'd left it at home.
Our son and family arrived Friday afternoon and we met them at Green Park to go from there to dinner. Our first visit to Green Park. Lovely.
Saturday we did the London Walk for Notting Hill and Portobello Market. The walk includes 'the' Travel Bookstore from 'the' movie, Notting Hill (honest, I'm quoting our guide). Nice walk. The area is lovely. The crush of the crowds at the Portobello Market was almost overwhelming.
Later in the afternoon we did a walk on our own along the Victoria Embankment and across the pedestrian section (Silver Jubilee Bridge) of Hungerford Bridge by the London Eye.
We got to see the new building in London that looks like a big, silver cigar, but only from a distance. Interesting.
Sunday we finally made it to the Chelsea Physic Gardens (it's been on my 'to see' list for a couple trips now). We got there before it opened (the walk from the Sloane Square tube station sounds longer than it actually is -- there are street signs to keep you aimed in the right direction) so spent some time enjoying the Chelsea Embankment. The gardens are an oasis of peace and quiet in a very busy city and they have excellent afternoon tea in the restaurant.
Monday we did the London Walk to Richmond and Hampton Court Palace (another 'to do' that has been on our list for a while). You take a boat up the river Thames from Richmond to the Palace, about a half hour, one lock, ride. Beautiful gardens. The Great Vine was awesome. Another London Walk I would highly recommend. Chatted with a nice, retired lady. Her husband was going to a play in London while she was doing the walking trip. She does four international trips a year.
Warning. We got the wrong tube extension pass to go to Richmond (my fault; I got what I requested). If you have a travel card, you need the travel card extension that works on the train, too.
Of all the walks we've done, the only one we didn't care for was the one to Greenwich, but I've heard other people say they enjoyed it. We only did two this year for several reasons. We've already done most of the ones that we wanted to do (we still have the Beatles walks to go). The price went up .50 P this year, the age for the senior discount went up and the dollar went down. Not a good combination!
Things are expensive in London so I tried to cut back a bit on my book purchases (they're my souvenirs) to realize both a cost and weight savings. I have to be able to tote them home (like Gail's friend, Donna, I've mailed them a couple times in the past). I like to buy the British walking/travelogue books while we're there as we don't have good access to them here in the U.S. This is good. When we stopped at the little mystery bookstore on Charing Cross Road, they had Sue Henry's new book, The Serpents Trail: A Maxie and Stretch Mystery. The price was the same in GBP as it was in US $s, effectively almost doubling the price of the book at home. The other thing I noticed is that their paperbacks are published earlier than ours. Most obvious was the DaVinci Code in both the small and the trade paperback. One I wanted and decided not to tote home was A Pound of Paper, John Baxter. Not good. It won't be available in paperback here until around the end of the year. And then there were Alexander McCall Smith's first four No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books at buy two get one free at Waterstone's. The British covers are prettier than ours, but since I'd already read them and my suitcase was becoming heavier by the minute, I had to leave them there.
We went to Windsor (one of our favorite places) and, first ever, did the Covent Garden Market. I hate to admit it, but we didn't know where it actually was. Well, just hang a right out of the tube station instead of going left (duh!).
When you go to England, if you think you'll be taking more than a couple trips by train, I recommend the senior discount card for those 60 or over, 18 GBP. You'll save about 1/3 on most train trips. You may also be able to realize a discount with the tube travel card (a portion of the trip through London is covered by the travel card).
Oxford Street is a crush of people. I think I've read there are 12 million people in London. At any given time, 7M must be on Oxford Street shopping. Yikes. After all the people on the street, we decided not to tackle them in the tube and took the bus. The travel card works on the bus, too. It's a lot of fun seeing the places that are just a name on the tube stops.
Thursday, 20 May, we took the Eurostar to Paris. Even if we were riding backwards, the trip was great fun. There was a show on either the Travel channel or PBS after we got back and it is amazing all the responsibility the fellow driving the train has. Wow.
We were unable to locate an ATM at the Gard du Nord train station (it seems like I had read that they'd taken the machines out) and ended up exchanging dollars for euros at a not so good exchange rate but we needed money for the taxi.
Our taxi driver was fantastic.
We stayed on the Left Bank a couple blocks from Rue Cler. Lots of nice places to eat and stroll. Thursday we stopped at Pegoty's, 79 Avenue Bosquet, for tea to ease the transition from London to Paris. We finally got to see Napoleon's tomb and were amazed to discover that it's within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower. We'd taken that yellow tour bus on our last trip over. Never again. It is slow and by the time you twist around on the streets, you don't have a clue where you are. One of the main reasons we went to Paris this year was that our son was there, too, and they gave us Metro 101 lessons. We had a great time walking by Notre Dame (oh, and a side trip to Shakespeare & Company) and in the Marais (our son stayed in an apartment in the area since they have a little one now) and Bastille area. Of course on our maiden solo metro trip, the train came to a halt on the second stop of our trip back to our hotel. Since we speak almost no French, it was a challenge. There was an accident further down the line and we wouldn't be able to get far enough to make our connection. Fortunately the little girl that was selling the tickets spoke good English and was able to show us an alternate route. I know folks say they like the metro better than the tube, but we like the tube better. There always seem to be staff members available to help if you're confused and I don't think we ever waited longer than a couple minutes for a train. They seem to be faster, too.
Paris is expensive (we see a pattern here). Even though the euro is less than the pound, the prices are higher. It was the nicest trip we've had to Paris. Everybody was very pleasant and seemed to be able to speak a little bit of English to help us when we didn't have a clue. We talked to a lady that had given herself a retirement gift of nine weeks in Paris. She'll be returning to the U.S. at the end of this week. Wish we could have talked to her longer. Wish we had her address just to find out how wonderful her stay was.
We returned to London Sunday. Another great taxi ride to the hotel (all three of our taxi drivers were super). The driver was surprised that we knew who Queen Bodicia was as we drove past her statue (we watched that TV movie!). We stayed in the Belgravia area as it is very close to Victoria Station (walking distance) and the Gatwick Express. After checking in to the hotel, we went to Hatchards Bookstore to browse (lovely, very old bookstore) and Fortnum & Mason for tea bags. Their tea is wonderful and we never can tote home as much as we'd like. We take the little bags out of the boxes and put them in the big freezer bags, squishing any extra air out.
Monday we finally got to Harrods. Always on our to do list, an incentive to get down there was a show we'd watched on the BBC. Diarmuid Gavin had done one of their window displays. It sort of looked like the gardens he does on his shows on the BBCA, Homefront in the Garden, I think, with the lollypops (well, that's what they look like to me). The Chelsea Garden Show was starting the day after our departure and it was the closest we could get to seeing one of his gardens. Harrods was great. We had a nice lunch at a counter in the food court and had a good time looking around in the pet department, the garden furniture displays and, oh boy, Waterstone's.
Our son and family came back from Paris on Monday. They were staying in an apartment close to the Chelsea Embankment, so we met them in their area for strolling and dinner.
Tuesday, 25 May 04, we headed back to home. We really had a nice time and it is fun when you have family in the area at the same time as you are, especially when they live on the other side of the country and we only see them a couple times a year!
We spent a bit more for our hotels this year, selecting them for location and space. Since we knew we were spending a little more for lodging, we planned accordingly and spent less in other areas to offset the cost just a bit.
My sincere thanks to the Ziners that shared information on the May British holidays and the weather. Who would have guessed it would be 88 degrees F and sunny our entire trip. The London flowers even bloomed early this spring. Our only break was two of the days in Paris were cool (and I left my jacket at the hotel -- brrrr).
Happy traveling, Peggy * SW OH