Sunday, April 26, 2009


London April 11-15, 2009

That title might look odd considering the fact that I only have three months in Paris, why would I leave for any time at all? Honestly, I needed a break and familiar faces and it worked out that the kids would be off to the countryside with their grandparents for a week and Europeans take the Monday after Easter off work so nobody was going to miss me until Thursday. Ere go…London!

So let’s set up the scene a bit:
Destination – London
Dates – April 11-15th
Reason – Vacation!
Mode of Transportation - Eurolines (Read: European Greyhound Bus – probably an entire blog in itself, I’ll try to recap below)
Housing – A room at Jimmy and Sarah’s pad, complete with my own set of keys (which I never figured out how to use correctly, good thing I never actually needed them).
Soundtrack – Goldfrapp, the song Oh La La, in particular (Introduced to me by Jimmy and Sarah, check it out!)
Menu for the weekend: Endless cups of tea, pints of beer and 5 star meals cooked by Jimmy himself…glory be!

For those of you who don’t know Jimmy and Sarah, allow me to offer an introduction. Jimmy took a year to travel around the world and landed in Santa Barbara for a time, with the lucky opportunity to share a room with my big brother, Jeff. He and Sarah have been out to visit California a few times since, most recently (I think) to be a part of Jeff and Nika’s wedding. Jimmy and Sarah just recently got married this January…Yay! Congratulations!!

We calculated and it seems I met Jimmy about ten years ago. So in my eyes, I was visiting family, the fantastic sights of London came as icing on the cake!

The trip:
I found out that I would be able to take such a trip about a week before I left so Eurorail seemed an appropriate mode of transportation, as the TGV train takes about 2 hours to go from Paris to London. Unfortunately the late notice meant that my ticket would cost almost 300 Euro. Planes were equally expensive, despite all my searching through cheap airfare websites, so the 70 Euro bus ticket seemed like a GREAT idea. Plus I thought it would be a nice way to view the countryside of France and Britain. So I woke up and took the metro out to the Euroline station, accompanied by one mother and her child and another traveler who continued his slumber until he reached his destination…IT WAS EARLY. At the station I wandered aimlessly, ticket in hand, around the various busses for someone to tell me where to go, until I finally decided the long line at the bottom was probably my best bet to get any information. Luckily, I stood behind a few people speaking English and overheard that I needed to check in here, in this long line, before I get to the bus or they won’t let me on. Good, now I know I’m in the right place. I peeped my head into their conversation to double check and met a British couple, who have apparently frequented this journey many times, and a girl about my age who was actually from Venezuela but went to college in California, so her English was impeccable. We stuck together and got great seats at the front of the bus, 180 degree view for the entirety of the trip! It was nice to have a travel companion and we talked most of the trip away. Our driver was quite a character, with his tight black pants and goofy smile. I’m guessing this was his first trip because we made quite a few circles throughout the journey. Despite getting lost, we only arrived about 45 minutes late.

Although we were on a highway, I felt like I was looking through a time capsule at some of the villages we passed. Also, I got a pretty good kick out of the fact that every highway sign said we were on our way to Calais (just like in The Three Musketeers!!) Five hours (or so) into the journey we came to immigration and everyone on the bus had to get off, and take our bags through the offices. The guy really grilled me! I had no trouble getting into France, and then I let my guard down and all of a sudden, I needed to tell him what I was doing, who I was staying with, my weekly budgeted allowance, how I made that money…I was really sweating, but at least I could tell him in all honesty, that I was just visiting Great Britain. Had I been grilled like that on my way into France, I might have reddened under the pressure.

I’m not even sure how to describe the next step of my journey, but it includes a giant bus travelling underwater, so you might understand why it would be difficult. Our driver drove us into what I thought was a tunnel, but in reality it was a box. On we go and then all of the doors close around us and the box begins to move. From what I can imagine, the box is on a train and we are travelling in a tunnel (I assume) through the Chunnel. Claustrophobia aside, my thoughts went to the many sea creatures just outside, ready and willing to eat me at a moments notice, though I supposed the water would drown me first. Ok, so I’m embellishing a little bit. I wasn’t that scared and it only took about 20 minutes and then the doors opened to dry land and we drove off, on our merry way to London. Still, I think I would have preferred the ferry. (I’ll try to post pictures on flickr to better equip my storytelling.)

Day one (Saturday)
I arrive in London at the Victoria Bus Station and navigate my way through the Tube to Limehouse, where Sarah meets me to walk me to their place. A recap of their wedding and my stay in Paris and family news ensues followed by the necessity for me to shower off the grime of a seven hour windowless bus ride which I shared with 50 other people. Sarah had a cup of tea waiting for me when I finished  This trips first cup of tea in London, and certainly not the last! That evening we went to an Argentinean Steakhouse for delicious steak, and all kinds of fun side dishes. YUM!

Day Two (Sunday)
Sunday began with breakfast at a locals spot by Columbia Road. Can’t tell you the name, because I’m not sure there was one. It was an outside barbeque where they made egg sandwiches and coffee. Now I’m sure you Yanks are picturing exactly what I would have pictured by this: frozen bacon strips from those yellow Oscar Meyer packages, but no. These were real sausage links and we enjoyed the sandwiches and coffee while sitting on the curb, listening to a band perform in the street. I was impressed. And this was an average Sunday morning for Jimmy and Sarah. Next we sauntered over to Columbia Road for a flower market. Crowd doesn’t begin to describe the mass of people standing corner to corner admiring the endless types of flowers, as the vendors shout “Let your eyes be your guide” and “5 pounds here, what a deal!” to get you to shop at their stall. Jimmy said it wasn’t even as busy as it usually is because of Easter Sunday, but I can’t imagine how one more person could have fit on that street. Still, I saw some beautiful flowers. Jimmy took my picture by one of those black British taxis and we were on our way for a driving tour of South East London (side note – the Brits call speed bumps Sleeping Policemen, because they lay in the road and keep you from speeding. I got a kick out of it so I’m sharing it here to see if it’ll catch!)

We went out to the flood gates (which I can’t remember the name of) but they are quite an architectural art form. London is built low so they have a constant worry about flooding. Again, I’ll try to post a picture soon. On our way I got to catch a glimpse of the concert venue which looks like a an alien’s cap. London is expecting Michael Jackson to perform for a packed stadium on a 20 (or is it 50?) day tour. After this stop we went over to Canary Wharf for the purpose of going to the grocery store, but I’m just glad I got to see it, because there is a great little park outside the massive bank building, which if I remember correctly is the tallest building in London. Sarah and I were going to walk around the mall while Jimmy did the grocery shopping for a Roast Chicken dinner, but everything was closed on account of it being Easter Sunday. We tried a few other stores, one out in Greenwich, and when none of those were open, we stopped at the local, smaller store and settled on, oh just pork chops with roasted potatoes, with a type of sweet onions in a homemade white sauce (that description does not do it close to justice, my apologies Jimmy). It was just something Jimmy whipped up, my mouth is salivating just thinking about how delicious it was. That evening we took a red double decker bus out to a little pub in the middle of a green field. It was built around the time that Elizabeth I was queen, is housed by a conglomeration of old and young, and whose lighting can best be described as yellow. Jimmy says it’s a weird lighting when you enter, but when you leave, it’s like you’re leaving a friend behind. It takes your eyes time to adjust, that’s for sure. The soundtrack for the evening was Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday, sang by friends of theirs (most likely) from way back when. I could probably do a character study on each person at the bar, but it would take up the rest of this blog. Suffice it to say there were older men, with slicked back hair in pin stripped suits (they were the singers), along with an assemblage of college students, three Frenchmen huddling behind us, and a girl in a bicycle outfit. The bar tender looked a bit lost most of the time, although he’s the son of the bar owner and Sarah sees him there whenever she goes. It was quite an assortment, which made for fun people watching, and the pints were tasty too!

Day Three (Monday)
Jimmy and Sarah didn’t have to go to work on Monday because it was a bank holiday, so Jimmy took me on a brief tour to St. Paul’s Cathedral (where Princess Diana married Prince Charles) across to the Tate Modern, where I got a speedy yet informative view of the works within from Jimmy – to be honest I could probably have spent five hours within those walls and never have gotten as much information from it as Jimmy shared in five minutes. We walked by Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, which I skipped on this tour because it is one of the only places I saw when I was in London last. Then we took a boat out to Greenwich. Boy, Greenwich is beautiful. The boat brings you up to the Naval Academy, which is best described as both massive and calm. Standing in it’s presence is truly awe-inspiring. It was also the site of the original Tudor Castle, where King Henry VIII, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I were born. Talk about historic. You never hear about kings and queens as children, but everyone has to be born at some point, so I don’t know why it was so difficult to believe that baby King Henry cried his nights away at that very spot.

We meandered our way through the royal park up to the center of time, literally Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), did everybody catch that because it took a whole conversation before I caught on. What a GORGEOUS VIEW! I had no idea London had so much greenery and trees. They don’t talk much about the huge parks in the history books, but they should! After a pint on the water, we went back to Canary Wharf and Jimmy finally got to do his grocery shopping. While Jimmy cooked, Sarah potted her plants and I danced around to Goldfrapp in the living room. I felt so at home  That evening we went up to the roof to watch the sunset over the city, I was having such a good time!

Day Four (Tuesday)
Over a lovely breakfast and cup of tea, Sarah and I began our morning. Then I left her to work on her Thesis while I took London on alone. I began at the Tower of London (more literally, a grouping of towers which form a Medieval castle, or fortress, or prison, or execution ground, depending on the era of history you are referencing…very old). My tour began at the beginning, with William the Conqueror’s private rooms (he built the palace) then I meandered past Traitor’s Gate, where William Wallace’s head once stood on a stick, through the garden where I stopped to watch a play which depicted Anne Boleyn’s wedding to King Henry VII, over to the Bloody Tower where King Edward IV’s sons were imprisoned by their uncle when their father died (they were never seen again…it’s a great mystery), and finally I went to see the highlight of this monument: The Crown Jewels! This is the official royal collection of crowns, scepters, orbs, swords and gowns used for coronations and state celebrations. One of these pieces, I think it was part of a scepter, is the largest cut diamond in the world and WOW does it sparkle! I am reminded of Abu’s face in Aladdin when he picks up the jewel and causes the wave of lava within the Cave of Wonder. (Yes, I did just quote Disney.) Funnily enough, you can view these pieces of elegance with your nose pressed to the glass as long as you stand on the people mover, so that you don’t become entranced and never move from your place. At first, I thought this was rather ridiculous, but in reality, whoever thought of this addition was a genius. I might never have left that spot without the help of a mechanical walkway beneath me.

Once I pried myself away from the jewels, I ate a quick sandwich at Subway and hopped on The Tube to continue my journey at Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. I was struck by the immensity and intricate architecture of the Palace of Westminster (where the houses of Parliament are located) connected to the Big Ben Clock Tower. Westminster Abbey had a special engagement that day, so I couldn’t go inside but it was quite impressive from the outside. I came up to the side thinking it was the main entrance and stammered in it’s presence, so you can imagine my reaction upon seeing it from the front. Since William I was crowned here in 1066, all but two British sovereigns have been coronated at Westminster Abbey.

There was a hunger strike being performed in the park adjacent to Westminster Abbey and Westminster Palace, with balloons and yelling, which kind of ruined the serenity of viewing this tremendous and historical church. I understand the utility of striking against the war, it gives citizens a sense of control at a time where they feel they have none and it shows the government that there is dissention which should be considered, however throughout Paris and London strikers pick the most picturesque places to voice their concerns, and it often ruins the experience. Take from that what you will, I rejoice their freedom of speech and expression but as an observer it gets a little tiresome, especially as they tend to leave the remarkable site trash ridden.

Back to my tour of London, I continued down Whitehall Street passed a tribute to women of WWII. This was an interesting monument to the 7 million women who picked up many different work roles during the war and silently hung up their hats at the end of the day to let the men take the credit when the war was over. I passed 10 Downing Street (the official residence of the Prime Minister), but couldn’t see much because it was all gated up. I checked out the red-coated soldiers on horses, who look like they could each be my younger brother, and by the way, they do blink, they just don’t move their head. I wonder at their thoughts as people walk up to take pictures with them. Moving on…I hit a bustling Trafalger Square for a great view of the National Gallery and Nelson’s Column (a tribute to Admiral Lord Nelson who died in a victorious fight over Napoleon). Then I veered down The Mall toward Buckingham Palace. The Royal Standard was not flying above the palace, so I guess Queen Elizabeth had prior engagements. The Palace, as a whole, looks more like a big house than many of the Chateaux de Paris. There isn’t much to its architecture, but it’s definitely something to experience. I’m glad I watched The Queen before I came to London, it gives me perspective. The monument to Queen Victoria is quite remarkable as well. I walked through Green Park which surrounds the palace. Again with the greenery of London, I was so impressed at its beauty and tranquility!

At this point, I had quite a few other monuments to hit before dinner with Johnny, a friend of mine from Santa Barbara, but I was pooped. So I got on The Tube and went back to the pad for a snooze. I slept for an hour and a half! I guess I had done more walking than I thought. Sarah had a cup of tea ready for me when I awoke and I spent the next hour watching my new favorite British television show, Dr. Who (at least I’m pretty sure that’s what it’s called). Newly rejuvenated, I went out to Notting Hill to meet up with Johnny for dinner at Churchill Arms, an interesting blend of English pub at one end and Thai restaurant on the other. It was a delicious experience. When I got home I enjoyed hot cocoa with Jimmy and Sarah as we watched an…intriguing show called Skallig, about a dirty and lost old man, befriended by a young boy, who was part bird and could heal people. It was more enjoyable than the description.

Day Five (Wednesday)
My bus back to Paris wasn’t until noon, so I went to work with Sarah to enjoy a nice cup of tea in an office meeting room with a great view of London. Unfortunately, it was overcast so I couldn’t see much, but I got a feel for what it probably looked like in the sunshine! I walked over to Trafalger Square to peek into the National Gallery which is impressive, I would have liked to spend more time there (guess I’ll just have to come back to London ;-) ). An interesting side note which enabled me to pop into the National Gallery and the Tate Modern the other day for a few minutes…most museums in London offer free admission! Special exhibits generally require a paid ticket and they do ask for a small donation of three pounds for the maintenance, but that is completely optional and anonymous. Why can’t Paris be like that?

My journey home was rather uneventful. The driver knew what he was doing, so we arrived to Paris an hour and a half early. Funny story…well looking back at least; at the time, it was somewhat traumatic. A few of the doors in my apartment do not have doorknobs, but can still close shut. When I got home I wheeled my suitcase back to my room and it caught on the door to the hallway and the door closed. I didn’t even realize there was a door there! So I was locked in the hallway, with nowhere to go but my bedroom. My cell phone was in the kitchen. The family whom I work for was in the countryside, so they wouldn’t be expecting me anytime soon. I was expected at ICOM for my internship the next day but they didn’t have my address, so it wouldn’t do much good for them to look for me. I spent the next two hours yelling out the window to the apartment that I thought Leticia, the aunt of the children I watch, lives. I even wrote a note, tucked it into the inside of a pen and threw it into the open window. Finally my neighbor came to the window (it was almost 11pm by this time) and I found out that Leticia’s family does not live there. My neighbor called the landlord who came up to find out my situation and called Phillip, Leticia’s husband, who came down with a key and eventually got the door opened. It was rather embarrassing, but I’m thankful that I was found. I’ve taped the latch on the door shut, but please pray that never happens again!

In summation, my trip to London was a wonderful vacation from Paris life. Although my French is getting exponentially better, it was nice to be able to walk up to an information kiosk and feel assured that the person would be able to understand me with little difficulty. Hangin’ out with Jimmy and Sarah was both casual and wonderful! I am so grateful because they really took me in and I felt at home in their world. It’s nice to have a home base when discovering a new city, it allows you to see it from a local’s perspective and hit the tiny wonders at the heart of the city. Plus, the tea was like a natural comfort in itself.

Next big thing…Mom is visiting for a week! I can’t wait to see her

Monday, April 20, 2009

Momentarily disconnected

My internet is no longer working at my apartment...bummer. Can't say when I'll be able to write next but I wanted to let you all know that I had a WONDERFUL time in London; Jimmy and Sarah took really good care of me :) It was a nice vacation from Parisian life. Back in France again and mom has arrived for a visit. We've been keeping ourselves busy with a trip to Versailles, an elevator ride up the Eiffel Tower and lots of walking, as only my mother and I know how to do :) I'm so happy to have her here til the end of the week!

That's all I can write for now, since I'm at work. Love to all!!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Saint Vendredi

Today was Good Friday, or Saint Friday as it's referred in French. I found a little Roman Catholic Parish near my neighborhood called Saint Joseph's Church. It's an English congregation, which I wasn't actually looking to find, but since it was close I thought it might be nice. The priest has a great Irish accent and all of the lectures had a different accent from somewhere in the world. I recognized the American right away.

I had a strange epiphany, which might be difficult to explain, but I'll try: When I'm walking around town or on public transportation in Paris, I generally try to pass as Parisian (and wonder if I ever pull it off) so that if two people are talking, they might as well think I can understand them, even though most of the time I can't since French gossip can ramble a little bit and it's difficult for me to follow unless I get the full beginning, middle and end of a conversation. Anyway, sitting in this church surrounded by a room full of people who opted for an English service, I felt odd at first, because everywhere else I go, even though both of my jobs allow me to speak English on a regular basis, I am nervous that I won't be able to communicate. It was kind of unbelievable to me that I could (potentially) speak at my leisure and I would be understood. I felt like a kid with his hand caught in a cookie jar. I'm not supposed to be speaking English, but I can here and no one can fault me for it!

Ok, that said...moving on.
Darcy and I took French class together in high school. She studied abroad in college and then moved back for a masters program. Here's where I pay tribute to Facebook...Darcy noticed that I had a blog about living in Paris in the Springtime and sent me a message to grab dinner, so we did last Wednesday and then had lunch today. It was really great to catch up about where everyone is right now and what's changed at Notre Dame. It's just nice to have a friend in Paris that knows where I come from and where it feels like she genuinely likes having me around. It sounds strange but everyone I've met so far, it's been like I'll just go out and have fun and if nothing comes of it then it's no big deal, because it wasn't there before. But she cares that I text her when I get home, and that's a comfort that I hadn't realized I'd missed.

Now I need to get to bed because it's late and I'm off to London early tomorrow morning!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I found grass in Paris, that you can actually sit on!

So, in general, Paris has a few green areas, mostly around national monuments. There are parks all over with playgrounds for kids to play on but they are usually surrounded by sand. The grass that you do find is manicured to a "T" and beware of signs which read, "Pelouses Interdit!" because that means you can look at the grass, but please do not touch it (much less cop a squat).

There exists a place however where you can bring your children to run around on the grass, roll down grassy knolls and picnic near ponds with duck families and swans. This place is quite majestic actually. I found it in the travel book on Paris, which talks about glorious rose gardens that famously bloom to beauty in June. Currently in bloom are meadows full of tulips (which I quite enjoy) of all types, colors, and shapes. It's found within the Bois de Bologne (Bois means woods in French). More specifically, in the Parc de Bagatelle.

A brief history, courtesy of Let's Go Paris, Charles X bet his sister-in-law, Marie Antoinette (by whom I am become increasingly intrigued) that he could build the Chateau de Bagatelle in under 3 months. It actually only took him 64 days. You would never guess that the result you find today was the result of a game rich people play when they feel like throwing around some money and wasting necessary resources that the commoners most likely needed for more pressing needs such as building fountains to bring water to the people. The revolution came shortly after the completion of this surprise there.

It made for a peaceful promenade around lakes, rock formations, and one (not very imposing) chateau. I wish I had thought to bring a picnic as so many others had, because the bus ride back to the metro was slow-going in bumper to bumper traffic down a two lane road. All in all, a pretty great find!

This weekend I'm off to London to spend some time with the newlyweds, Jimmy and Sarah, for, as Jimmy puts it, "Some good food, good wine and good conversation (in English woo hoo!) Ta-Ta for now!!

Saturday, April 4, 2009


I continue to be shocked and astounded by the things I see while traveling through Paris. They are generally little things, but I find myself staring oftentimes as I watch and think to myself..."seriously?"

1.) Parisians park their cars in the most random (or creative) places. It's difficult even to explain, as they must just be driving down the street and think, "Well, sure. That looks like it will fit my car. I'll just stop here." Sometimes they completely block in another car, sometimes they get to the sidewalk and, instead of parking parallel as the title "Parallel parking" would imply, park perpendicular. At least it's technically parallel to A street somewhere in Paris, if you take out map of the streets of the city, perhaps you will find one.

2.) There was a dog on the bus, wearing a diamond studded barrette. Judging by the bling on this pup's owner, I wouldn't be surprised if it was real...and yet, it rode the bus, so perhaps HER jewels were the fake ones? This barrette was similar to one of my bobby pins, but silver and (as I mentioned) diamond studded. My thoughts after I took the appropriate time allotted to believe I was seeing such a thing was this, "Even dogs have better accessories than me in Paris." I get that dogs get chilly, and so why not get them a cute little sweater, but diamond studded barrette? Really?

3.) 5 o'clock (or 17 o'clock if you're speaking in Parisian/military terms)must be the official smoking break for the city. I often leave to go to the Fromont's around 5pm, and as I walk, I ascend through a cloud of smoke to get to my destination. It's as if each business is clocked to my footsteps so another person walks out of a building,cigarette in mouth, lighter in hand, as I pass each business door. I should mention that the smoking I notice honestly seems less, since that last time I was here, but at 5pm all bets are's been a rough day and people need their nicotine.

4.) Connected to this thought is the age of the people I see smoking. A lot of the time, it's young people. And by young, I mean 10. Or at least that's how it seems sometimes. I have literally stopped to stare and decipher the age of some of the kids I see smoking around the city. Maybe it weirds them out, I hope it makes them feel awkward enough to put the cigarette out and give themselves a chance to grow to their full height potential. Apparently Paris must not have an age limit in order to be able to buy cigs. (This might have sounded harsh, but I feel strongly about it, so sue me).

5.) Then there are the things that make me pause and reflect in a different way. Like when I wake up in the morning and the sun rise has blasted the sky with pinks and oranges around the Eiffel Tower and I think to myself, "Wow, is this real, or has someone put a screen behind my window to make me feel like I'm dreaming."

6.) Or when I walk by the Palais Royale (Royal Palace) and there is a small orchestra playing music for the public. And I stop to listen and look around at the other people who have pushed pause on their seemingly busy days to appreciate art. So what if I arrive one minute late to my destination, if I can't allow myself to enjoy this then why am I even here?

Those are a few of the examples of the ways I am constantly stopping the general flow of my day to take stock in the abnormalities of Paris life. I'm sure it is this way in any city, so I advise you to stop and notice, you might be surprised at what you see.