Friday, June 25, 2010

Ellen and Philip home; Leaving for Kennet Avon Canal tomorrow-

You won't be hearing from me for a week!  We're going on the canal for a week and we won't have internet but I will journal our adventures.  My next post could possibly be from Charlotte!

Ellen and Philip were a day late getting home because the Charlotte flight to Chicago was cancelled due to tornadoes.  They were exhausted when they got here as you might imagine.  We disappeared for the afternoon and evening so they could settle in and sleep, had High Tea at Brown's Hotel, very posh, and walked around London for hours.  We are going to be really sorry to leave here - at least I am.  That blog is called "Last day in London" although it turned out to be our second to the last day in London.  Artistic license, you know....

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Second "last" day - well, not really!

I'm saying last day because I mean it is our last day "out" before Philip and Ellen return.  We will have a few more opportunities because after they get home Wednesday around noon, we will leave the house to them and go out somewhere - haven't figured out where and also on Friday, we will do the same' so they can nap,, unpack, read mail and readjust.  So we really do have one and a half days left before the four of us go canal boating together for a week.  But it just kind of feels like the last day because we will no longer be the major players in the house but the guests and that is a little bit different than being here by ourselves.  But don't get me wrong - we are definitely looking forward to having them home.

Okay, so Tuesday John got to choose what he wanted to do and he wanted to try again to make our way to the Thames Barrier.  Remember when Robin was here and we went down the Thames with the Barrier as our final destination, stopped for lunch at Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich and got back on the WRONG boat which did a U-turn back to the starting point!  Anyway, since this wish of John's involved another river cruise, I had no objection at all!!  We took the same boat, had lunch at the same tavern and then made sure we got on the correct boat to go to the Barrier.

We took off at Westminster Pier and this time we went past Parliament which is always a building that causes
people to just stare at it's facade.  The beauty of the Gothic architecture and adornments is unbeatable, I think.  Don't forget that you can click on these if you want a larger picture.

The Thames River is a tidal river and the tide varies from 5-7 meters or over 21 feet.  We were traveling with the tide as it was going out to the English Channel and it was very rough going.  The weather was perfect, sunny and in the 70's like today.  I hope this lasts when we go canal boating next week.

Lunch at the Trafalgar again.  It certainly is quiter during the week than it is on weekends and I like it a lot better with all the people, although we did get a table inside this time with a great view of the river.

This time we got on the right boat and headed for the Barrier.  To quote Wikipedia "The Thames Barrier is the world's second largest movable flood barrier (after the Oosterscheldekering in the Netherlands) and is located downstream of central London. Its purpose is to prevent London from being flooded by exceptionally high tides and storm surges moving up from the sea. It only needs to be raised during high tide; at ebb tide it can be lowered to release the water that backs up behind it. Its northern bank is in Silvertown in the London Borough of Newham and its southern bank is in the New Charlton area of Charlton in the London Borough of Greenwich.
London is quite vulnerable to flooding. A storm surge generated by low pressure in the Atlantic Ocean sometimes tracks eastwards past the north of Scotland and may then be driven into the shallow waters of the North Sea. The surge tide is funnelled down the North Sea which narrows towards the English Channel and the Thames Estuary. If the storm surge coincides with a spring tide, dangerously high water levels can occur in the Thames Estuary. This situation combined with downstream flows in the Thames provides the triggers for flood defence operations.
The threat has increased over time due to the slow but continuous rise in high water level over the centuries (20 cm / 100 years) and the slow "tilting" of Britain (up in the north and west, and down in the south and east) caused by post-glacial rebound."  (The words printed in blue are links in the Wikipedia texts and I don't believe you can connect with them from this quote.  Sorry.)

This shot is across almost the entire width of the river.  The barriers are about 100 feet apart and remind me of the Sydney, Australia Opera House.  Here's a closer shot:

The wall you see between two of the barriers is what comes up to prevent the high tides from travelling up the river to the city.  These are raised periodically for maintenance.  The concern is that the tides are getting higher due to global warming and the barriers are getting older.  Since they may age out around 2060, plans are starting to compensate for this.  A great picture of the barrier is on Wikipedia at

After going around the barrier, we got off back at Greenwich and took the Dock Light Rail which is over land and the new Overland system to the Wapping area to a WONDERFUL OLD pub, the first on the river.  Pirates, cockfights, boxing, all kinds of savory things with savory characters went on in this pub when it was opened in the 1500s and for many hundred years after that.  The Providence at Whitby's bay window on the second floor was also a favorite spot of contemporary characters such as Princess Margaret and Frank Sinatra.

Tide's out here and we're down on the Thames shore.  First time for us in all these many trips.  How do you like the hanging noose?  When the tide comes up it's almost up to that first balcony and wakes from boats can splash the water into the pub.  If you are being hung there and can survive 3 tide changes, you can go free!  Of course, the hanging probably got you in the first place.

We both touched this river growth on the pilings just to feel it and then awhile later read a sign not to do that because it can cause skin rashes!  Yuck, went back in to wash my hands.

Here's a view of the street front of this lovely pub:

The area around the pub was once all warehouses.  Now it's all upscale apartment and condo living.  The warehouses have been refurbished and it's clean, safe and quiet.  Amazing when you consider who used to frequent these streets.

Finishing up our adventure before Ellen and Philip get home!

I am going to skip finishing the Paris blog for awhile because Monday and Tuesday were so wonderful that I want to share them while they are very fresh.  These are the two days left before Philip and Ellen arrive home that we can tour.  Wednesday will be busy with getting the house ready for them and moving into the guest areas for their return on Thursday, so we wanted to do some last time things.

Monday we drove to Henley-on-Thomas, a lovely village about 30 miles west of London and like its name, it is on the Thames!

I have wanted to go there for many years but there was no easy way to get there - no tube, no bus or train that wouldn't take hours whereas driving there from London was less than 45 minutes.  Since we have a car in London this trip, we decided to go.  John wasn't as keen on it as I because he hadn't spent the time I had reading about it, but he does love the idea of boat rides on the Thames and small old villages so he was game even if he did have to drive one more time!!

It turned out to be the idyllic village I thought it might be - old 15th and 16th century buildings and tiny cottages in row upon row on old streets going up from the riverfront.  BTW, cottages in England can be attached to each other as we might think of townhouses or they might stand alone.  You might remember our trip to Bibury last month with Ginger and Bill and the picture I included of the very famous row of attached cottages that you see all the time in English commentary about the beauty of the Cotswold's.

Lovely old church near the stone bridge which was built in the 1700s, wonderful old pub on the other side of the street and hotel next door to the church built in the 1500s.  Perfect village main street with walking only area, old pubs and hotels, shops, butcher, baker, almost a candle stick maker!
 One of the shops we went into was 14th century!!  If you click on the picture below and look closely at this picture its top floor in the shop behind and beyond all the chairs hanging from the beams, you can see a lot of the structure.  Definitely higgledy piggledy stairs that split in the middle to go to the front and back.  What a wonderful structure.  It was most likely a home over a shop. 

In the back where they were selling garden and outdoor stuff, you could see even more about the original building.

  Wonderful walk along the Thames, lunch at a museum cafe looking out on a nature reserve, canal locks to observe, a pint in the perfect pub with required dog

and the tranquil boat ride up and down the Thames.

Henley is famous for its annual rowing Regatta which brings 35,000 people EVERY DAY during the week it occurs.  This is a little town and I can't imagine the traffic that brings in or where the cars are going to park!  We got there the week before and could see the set-up of the course down the river; we could see all the banners hung across the streets and we could feel the excitement of the "craziness" that was coming in a week.

In the middle of the river area in Henley, there is an island with lovely little homes on it, some with boats moored in front; charming houses on the riverfront with their canal boats parked in front.  What an ideal life style - at least from our point of view!!

When it was time to leave, we started out of town and passed a sign that said "Hurley Village Only" pointing to the left.  Then we saw another sign that forbade trucks down the lane and I said to John that we were missing some special places, I was sure.  We got to a roundabout and John said "I'm going back to Hurley and see what that is about!"  Yeah!!  So roundabout we went and into Hurley and it turned out to be a TINY little village with one main street - with two OLD pubs - and sweet little homes on either side of the street.

 Well, this isn't exactly one of the small ones but it was very pretty and VERY old.

We later read on a sign that some of the homes near the river were out buildings of a monastery that was listed in the Domesday book and that was written in 1086!  There was a public footpath that took us across the navigable part of the river - which was very narrow at this point - to several islands that had public camping, picnicking and marina mooring sights with enviable boats that I could have lived on in a minute!

7 PM - Time to head home.  A beautiful day, as good as I expected, in fact better.   And we didn't get caught in any traffic!  Philip and Ellen can drive from now on....  By the way, Henley-on-Thames is a very relaxing place to spend the afternoon.

I'm posting this now - Wednesday - and hope to write our Tuesday adventure in London this afternoon.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wednesday, June 16th - another boring day in Paris! :)

(That title's a joke. Nothing is boring in Paris, not even the fact that they collect your garbage every day!)

We thought we were overwhelmed yesterday with all we saw.  Today we go into overload.  The Louvre and it's gardens Jardin des Tuileries (don't ask me to pronounce that!), La Madelaine, a boat trip on the Seine with a stop and tour of Notre Dame, the boat back to the Eiffel Tower and a stroll home through the boulevards.  Achey, breaky feet....

Well, you all know about the Louvre.  Did you know that it has over 35,000 pieces in its inventory of art and furnishings?  Have you ever tried to see them all in one day?  Of course not, but I sure felt like it before we gave up.  You're supposed to start at the Pyramid; we ended up here.  We started at the bottom from the Metro train station which is a mall at the below ground level and worked our way up!  I liked the pyramid a lot better than I thought I was going to but it still looks out of place to me.  It's very dramatic and it's  hot under there!

Of course, one of the biggest draws at the Louvre is the Mona Lisa.  It's surprisingly small.  The crowd was not!  People were pushing to get to her.  I just stood still until someone in front of me moved and I would move forward a spot.  Until!!  Until these two old women who kept shoving me from behind shoved one too many times so I just used my butt as a weapon and they didn't touch me anymore!  I plead self defense.  I finally was able to gaze at her for awhile and decided that that sly little smile on her face was saying "What is all the fuss about, anyway?"

There were at least three artists painting copies.  Even the old masters did that!  These folks were good, even with spectators watching over their shoulders.  I guess you have to be good to be allowed to do this in this most famous of art museums.

The Louvre is not the easiest place to get around in.  We all agreed that the mapping was confusing and you were frequently just walking around trying to figure out where you were.  However, it is huge and some of the spaces you find without looking for them.  I found this one trying to find my way out!
One of my destinations was Napolean's apartments.  It was a rather round-about route asking every attendee along the way because the mapping of where you were didn't seem to match where you were going!   The apartments were at the end of one wing but you couldn't go straight to them; you had to weave your way in and out of other displays although the map made it look like it was a straight shot.  John never got to this part of the museum and I didn't have my camera with me, so if you would like to see some of the apartment go to  I was surprised how long it took me to research this - about an hour - because there are few pictures even on the Louvre website which had no reference to the apartment at all.  You will most likely have to cut and paste that address because I don't think this blog program gives direct links, but it will be worth your effort and if you click on "full screen" on the little option icons at the bottom of the screen, you can move it around and you will really get the true effect.  Enjoy.  Oh, and yes, he really did live there!

 Our next destination was La Madeleine, a lovely old church within walking distance of the Louvre.  It was originally built on the foundations of another building and Napoleon wanted it to be a Greek monument to his triumphs but when the Arc de Triomphe was finished, it didn't seem so important.  Then Napoleon was defeated and the next guy decided to make it into a church after some debate that wouldn't it make a fine train station!  It has 3 domed skylights that make it unique from all the other churches we went to see.

Honestly, now I have to confer with Robin and John because they are all starting to blur.  They all have arches and naves and gravestones on the floors and plaques on the walls - and beggars at the doors. 

It was time for a rest and the city in perspective so we took the river tour down (or up, I'm not sure) the Seine.

 I was ready for the rest but then we came to the two islands in the middle of the river and on one of them is Notre Dame!  So off we went to tour that.  Now, first of all, I did not know that Notre Dame was on an island, did you?  Secondly, I learned about flying buttresses in the 6th grade and as far as I can recall, this is the first time I've seen some real ones!!

The day was exhausting and overwhelming.  We gladly got on the boat to get us to the area of the Eiffel Tower so we could walk home from there.  Picked up wine, bread and cheese and "dined" in the apartment.
Have found a very good cheap Viogner!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Tuesday, June 15th - More magic...

Imagine a tiny apartment in Paris furnished with lovely antiques and lovingly used furniture, doll house like in it's size, comfortable, equipped with everything you would need for a short stay - even a long one, if your schedule allowed.  Imagine that within walking distance of your front door there is a patisserie with wonderful baguettes and rolls, cakes and cookies and that it is open early in the morning!!  Imagine that within two blocks there is one of the biggest and best markets in the city with rows and rows of all you could want from eel to pocketbooks!  Imagine that the city transit system is within blocks no matter which way you go, that there is a grocery store within five minutes and a wine store around the corner.  Imagine a cafe at one end of your street and beautiful parks at the other with historical monuments and fountains at your intersections.  You're in Pareeee and in our "space".

Imagine, too, that you get the chance to have a "french experience", that you come home from your magical first night out and the kitchen floor is wet and you have to find a plumber, that the apartment "manager" tried to stop the leak but it got worse.  That you don't speak French so you are glad you have the phone numbers of your owner's friends so they can call the "urgent plumber" for you.  That the urgent plumber says that someone will be there in 30 minutes and two hours later you are still using the turkey baster under the sink to control the water.  That when the plumber comes to the door in the waiting area and you don't believe he is the plumber because he is young and gorgeous so you don't let him in!

Imagine going down the street to your own patisserie for your pastry for breakfast the next morning, little works of art begging you to take them home.  Only too happy to oblige.  Oh, heaven.  

If you can imagine all of that, then you are right there with us in Paris, city of contrasts.  You are at Montmartre, the highest point in Paris and the location of SacréCoeur, beautifully appointed with marble and gold, colossal in its size, monumental in its inspiration.  Outside, you are accosted with sellers of postcards, barefooted beggars, tourists with cameras.  Perhaps you are at Galleries Lafayette, a store built in the early 1900's with the vernacular of a cathedral, a stained glass dome worthy of any worshiper, wall carvings as if it were a great hall, sale signs of 50% off the underwear and still too expensive to replace the ones John forgot to pack.  You are walking the streets, looking in windows arranged as if works of art whether they display food or shoes or loaves of bread.  You are overwhelmed with the beauty of the Opera House, appalled at the trash in some parks.  You are in a city, any city perhaps, but this one is startling in its beauty..... and you are anxious to see more.

So Robin took us Tuesday morning to  Montmartre - the highest peak in Paris topped by the SacreCoeur.  This basilica is a stunner.  Hard to describe but a great place to start your introduction to Parisian landmarks and sacred places.  Pictures will have to do it for me


The view of Paris from this, its highest point, accentuates how big this city really is.  Even on a foggy day.

You can see the Eiffel Tower from almost any place in the city, often peeking in between the trees as here on the Mont appearing ethereal and mysterious.

We climbed hundreds of stairs to get to Mont Martr including in the Metro station when the lift was an alternative.  We went around and around and around and around and up and up and up and up and at the top, legs aching and chests heaving, we decided that if there were EVER a lift available, now we know why we should take it!  Then we had to climb more to get up the hills to get to the Mont and Robin said the last flight alone - and there were several flights before to the Basilica - had 82 steps!  So we did the logical thing, we took the Funiculair down!  Why we didn't take it up, I don't know but it wasn't worth a Metro ticket to take it down!

Going from the sacred to the secular, our next stop down the hills - with a few shops as diversions - was the Gallerie Lafayette.  This is not the domed ceiling of a church but of a retail store built in 1906!

 The atrium this tops is 5 or 6 floors high and each floor surrounds the atrium with heavily carved balconies displaying goods.  Not quite Macy's but it will do!

It's food hall is known as the Harrod's of Paris - can't imagine why...  These are just the spices!

After more walking and walking and looking in shops, we stopped in a typical cafe and had Salad Nicoise, wine and more bread, compliments of Robin.  Parisian cafes are fun with half the people sitting outside at little tables, the chairs all facing the street so they can watch the world go by, drinking their wine or espresso, reading their papers and many smoking their cigarettes! I would have loved to do that - not the smoking part!

Now it was time to take in the opera house, Palais Garnier.  Wedding cake exterior, opulent interior, lavish with statuary, marble and gild.  Criticized at its inception, it is now considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.  It is one of those places where once your jaw drops in amazement, it rarely closes until you leave!  Every surface of public space is decorated to astound.

This is the grand staircase!  Just one level of it.....

surrounded by balconies where attendees would see and be seen and here's a casual room for intermission!

There were student groups all over the place with guides, sitting on the floor as in the picture above, and I envied this country that they had such outstanding buildings and art and heritage and history to teach their children. 

We had worn ourselves out by now, so we worked our way back to our neighborhood and our own grocery store and patisserie to get our goodies.  We had had lunch in a little sandwich shop where small glasses of wine were on the counter sealed with an aluminum peel-off top much like a yogurt serving in our groceries.  Had to have one just for the fun of it.

Entertainment on the Metro....

Dinner at home again seemed to be our style.  I hear that's what the natives do - lunch at a restaurant and dinner at home.  Baguette, butter, olives, cheeses, and a very good wine we had discovered the day before for only 4 euros a bottle.  Stocked up on those!!  Plus the kitchen floor was dry!  (If you don't understand that comment, you missed yesterday!)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Monday, June 14th - Magic in Paris

It took almost all of Monday to get to Paris!  Leaving the flat at 9:30, taking the bus to the tube, the tube to Heathrow, the fkight to Paris.  The plane we boarded at Heathrow had two stories and held 535 people!!  Look at the size of the guys on the tarmac next to it.  It took one hour to board.  During takeoff, you could watch the plane taxi and take off on the TV screen at your seat because it has a camera on its tail.  The wings were wider than the runway!  It was a little nerve wracking!

Then when we got to Paris it was an hour on the Metro until we got to "our neighborhood" and a short walk to this absolutely delightful little apartment and beautiful area.  By then it was 6:00 PM.  So that was 8 hours for a one hour flight!  The joys of modern travel.

However, we didn't let the evening go to waste.  We no longer got into the apartment and dropped our bags then we went to the grocery store and the patisserie and got coffee, cream (which, since it was in French, we didn't find out until the next morning that it was sour cream!), and our evening meal - bread, cheese and wine!

Back to the apartment to picnic at the coffee table for a couple of hours, and then at Robin's urging to go for a walk.  Now, Robin, John's brother who had come to London to join us in Paris, has been here many times on business but not as a tourist.  However, he knew the neighborhood we were in in relation to the rest of the city and soon after we started on our walk, he grinned down at me and said "Tonight, you are going to see magic!"  I couldn't get him to tell me what he meant, but he kept grinning. About two short blocks later, we turned the corner and my gosh, right in front of us less than a mile away down this wide open boulevard was the Eiffel Tower!  It WAS magic!

My mouth dropped open and I stopped dead in my tracks.  It IS magic.  He was right.  We continued walking straight up this sandy expanse,  lined with trees, until we were almost there and then we just laid down on the grass and stared at it.  Robin kept saying "Tonight you are going to see magic!"

I couldn't get him to give me any more clues.  So we waited and watched - that was fun, watching the people, watching the sun set.  That was magic, too. 

And then it started - the sparkling of the lights all over the tower, like a bright Christmas tree.

If you click on this picture and imagine these specks of light randomly flashing on and off - bright halogen white, you might be able to conjure up the magic I was feeling but it would be very hard.  One of those "you had to be there" moments. 

And to think - we had four days of magic ahead of us.