Sunday, June 9, 2013

Day 5-6 The City of Lights!

Our Eurostar train was leaving at 5:40am, which meant we had to get up at 4 and get our taxi at 4:45 to be there by 5...   Which we did!  And got there in plenty of time.

We got into Gare du Nord, figured out how to store luggage..finally... and then we were off to see the Basilique de Saint-Denis!  I have been wanting to see this for years and never made it on the other 2 trips I've made to Paris.  The Basilica has 1500 years of French history in it- Most of the kings and queens of France are buried there!  I was in heaven, especially since I had taken a medieval history class a couple of years ago and learned about some of the earliest kings- the Franks and the Merovingians, including Dagobert 1 (r. 628-637) and Clovis 1 (r. 465-511)!  Aah!  I'm a nerd I know, it would take another history nut to be as excited I was.  Other people buried there include: Catherine D'Medici, Charles Martel (r. 751-771), Henry I,II,III,IV, Louis, VI, VII, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII (only his heart is there-the rest was dumped into a mass grave), XVIII, Marie Antoinette, etc...   other nobility was buried there as well- not just the kings and queens.    It was pretty cool!!  Actually, more than pretty was very cool and amazing!  I'm so excited we got to go there!


From there, we went back to Gare du Nord to get our bags and went to our hotel the Splendid hotel, which boasted a view of the Eiffel Tower from every room.  Well. ours most certainly did!  It was the best view of any hotel I think I've ever stayed at anywhere!  See for yourself:
 Pretty spectacular!  so we dropped our things off and went out to explore the Louvre!

We spent a good few hours there, not seeing nearly everything- I believe someone once said you could view a painting/artifact every 30 seconds and it would take 100 days or so, with no breaks.  So we saw the big stuff, of course, the Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory (Nike)the Venus de Milo (the statue with no arms) , the Code of Hammurabi, the Ancient Far East rooms, the greek/Roman rooms to a degree, but we had already seen them at the British Museum and there's only so many statues and pots you can look at.  We ate a late lunch there and basically just wandered around looking at things.

From there we headed over to the Eiffel Tower, where we waited like 1 1/2 hours or so to buy tickets, then another hour or so in line to go up, then in line for like 30-45min to go to the very top..... and it was a pretty cold night, although very clear!  Not much to say about- just that the view was amazing, it was just very cold and we were really tired after the very long waits and a long day to begin with!

So the end of a very long day.  We didn't even eat dinner anywhere, but, since Devin's knee was all bruised looking and hurt, I went out to the Creperie across the street and got some crepes!  Can't go to Paris and not eat some of those.

The next day was practically a disaster... we started off for Versailles, but Devin's knee hurt, and when I got there (he stayed at the shops to look around and sit) there was the longest line I think I have ever seen at a tourist attraction.  It was ridiculous.  Of course, I didn't realise that until I had already bought my ticket and gone to stand in line...  and to top it off, the gates were closed for a little while even before I could get in!  Still have no idea what was going on- there were policemen and army/security guys.... apparently it was just because it was a Tuesday and the most crowded day to visit Versailles.... of course the day I chose...
 So after that disaster, we went to Notre Dame- which was not a disaster!  Very nice and pleasant as usual.

Lots of people, but the Cathedral is so big that it didn't really feel super crowded.  This year, the Cathedral is celebrating its 850th birthday!  And while t is a working church, we were not there during a service, although there was a moment of silence for the Lord's Prayer to be said.

After that, the second disaster...the Musee de Orsay, which along with Versailles, is the only major museum opened on a Tuesday so there was a massive line out front, at least an hour's wait... not cool.  So we wandered off to find somewhere to eat before we went to Les Invalides.  We found a nice little cafe, where Devin had some cheese plate and I finally tried Beef Bourguignon !  It was pretty good, a little too fatty, but good nonetheless.    

Les Invalides was and still is I believe, a working hospital for veterans.  It also has a pretty good military museum and it is where Napoleon is buried!  Also buried there are Napoleon's brothers- Joseph and Jerome, and his son Napoleon II, among others.  

The US Capital dome was inspired by the dome at Les Invalides- which is an interesting bit of history I learned.  The museum was pretty interesting- it told of the wars that France was involved in from the Middle Ages until WW2, if not more recently.  Lots to do with Napoleon and WW2, of course, but also exhibits on the Feudal wars, various wars between European powers, the French Revolution, the Franco-Prussian war, etc... I had been to it once or twice before, but we had only seen Napoleon's tomb and wandered a bit, never through the military museum- I found it quite interesting and educational!   

From there, we went back to the hotel, got our bags, and headed off to Gare du Nord to catch the Eurostar back to London!  We got in late-ish at night- not very late, but too late to do anything else.  So we just kind of hung around until bed, and that was the end of Devin's trip over here!  He left the next morning, and my tour guide job ended!  I had a good time, and I think he did too, at least that's what he told me :)  Showing someone around a city you love is always fun!

Day 4- Rest of London!

Today we started off going to the Churchill War Rooms, which were pretty interesting!  I'd never been to them, so it was a new experience!  You start off in the secret underground offices of Churchill and his staff and halfway through take a detour to the  Churchill Museum that has a lot of his papers-for work and for personal life-, pictures, clothes, etc...  You could spend days there looking at everything and watching all of the movies!

These offices were used for the duration of WW2- and only opened to the public in 1984.  It used to be called the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum but was shortened to the Churchill War rooms a few years ago.  Everything is set up the way it was in the 40s and there's different artifacts- letters, documents, photos, etc... of the staff and Churchill, so it's a bit like stepping back in time.  They also had information on those staff members, not just on Churchill and the higher ups, so you get to learn a bit about the job and life of typists, morse code readers/typists, and others.  Very cool!

From there we went across the river to the HMS Belfast , and old WW2+Korean War battleship that is permanently moored on the Thames.  According to various signs around the ship, and the website, she played an important role in the Arctic during the war, most famously during the Battle of North Cape on December 25, 1943.  She also provided support during the D-Day invasion.  After the war she went on service to the Far East- Australia, China, Japan, etc...  until entering service in the Korean War in 1952 until 1952.  She was retired from service in 1963 after 11 years of peacekeeping services.

The ship itself is confusing, to me at least....  the map they give you isn't very detailed.  Devin went and disappeared into the depths of the ship to see the engine room, boiler, etc...  boring stuff in my opinion :)   I wandered around the inside decks where they had exhibits about daily ship life- the kitchen, the bunks, the dining areas, the dentist, the surgeon.... I wouldn't want to encounter those last two on any sort of waves...
We met back up and went above decks to the officers areas and the guns, the captain's chair, etc... .  All in all in was a pretty cool thing to see.  I'm not a Navy person, but I do like the history about it.

From there, since it was already around 2pm we had lunch at a restaurant just a short walk away from the Belfast.  I forget the name, but it was typical British pub food- although they were out of the Cottage Pie which Devin really wanted to try, but ended up with another specialty- Chicken and Mushroom pie!

We then went back up to Trafalgar Square to go to the National Gallery.  We didn't stay very long- it had been a long day with lots of walking, and we were getting up really early the next morning for Paris.  However, I discovered whilst there- that it now costs £1 for a map of the museum!  Not cool!  Getting back to LPH, we went out for dinner, to the Italian place, ASK, just around the corner.  And that was the last day in London!