Tuesday, September 27, 2011

England/France - Our First Two Days

We just had the wonderful and unforgettable experience of visiting England and France for two weeks.  What made it even more enjoyable was that we were able to travel with friends and stay with friends in both England and France.  The entire trip was like a dream really - it was almost surreal!
It is probably going to take me a while to catch up on posting but I thought would take advantage of jet lag waking me up at 5:30 am to get started.

We arrived at Heathrow Airport - (7:00 am local time) to a two hour wait to go through immigration and customs.  But we didn't mind too much because we were so excited to finally be in England!!  We also were amazed and delighted to see the diverse ethnicities of the people around us.  There were only a handful of Americans in a huge crowd of people from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa.  Very interesting!

Once through the line we made the unfortunate realization that the one and only thing we forgot to do before leaving the US was to call and activate international coverage on our cell phone.  Uh oh.  As we had been awake for 24 hours (nothing you could really call "sleeping" happened on our several hour flight) - I took a quick cat nap in the airport while Wes fussed over the phone.

On the train ride into the city we met a young exotic couple just returning from 2 weeks in the Galapagos Islands and 6 weeks in Ecuador.  He was from England and she was from Italy.  It was obvious that traveling the world and blending in with the locals was their "thing" and I tried to imagine such a life.  He carried with him a large disc-shaped metal drum.  He told us there were only a handful of these drums in the world.  Wild!

Finally we hit the streets of London and knew the first order of business was to find wifi so we could connect with the outside world and most importantly, our friends living in England (it is amazing how paralyzed we felt without a cell phone!).  We wandered around in circles a few times considering internet cafes and unsuccessfully attempting to use a pay phone - all the while admiring this beautiful city (we were near Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery).  I could still not quite believe that I was actually there!

We finally settled on McDonalds for our wifi connection and to my dismay Weston ordered a burger and fries.  I refused to have my first meal in London be American fast food!  But it all paid off because we were finally able to get connected and make our communications.  Whew.

It was finally time to start seeing the sites.  We had an afternoon to kill before we would take the train to the home of "B&H" - our friends living in England where we would be staying.  We first wandered over to Covent garden.  We perused the shops and ran into an antique market.  The stops, restaurants and street performers made the whole area very lively and festive.

 After picking up a few gifts and some gelato, we decided to spend some time at the National Gallery.  More street performers.

 As much as we enjoyed seeing the beautiful art - we were exhausted and were literally falling asleep looking at the paintings!  We decided to do some more walking to try to stay awake.  Trafalgar Square.
 The Olympics countdown.  This is the second time we have visited a city the year before they hosted the Olympics.  The first was our visit to Vancouver.

 The London Eye.  We never did get to take a ride.
 A typical London site - the red double decker buses.
We ate dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant and then took the train to Kent - where our friends live.  It was dark by the time we arrived at the station and we must have looked pretty peculiar walking through the streets of their town dragging our huge suitcases behind us.  One man stopped and asked us, "Are you right?"  In other words, "Are you insane?"  But we made it safe and sound.  We were anxious for a good nights rest so we went straight to bed (after some delicious lasagna and chocolate dessert with custard - let the vacation begin!).  Becca and James arrived late that night and we awoke to a wonderful reunion with them and their darling daughter Poppy - who was to be our mascot for the trip.  Here we are on the train headed back to London for the day.
Doesn't Poppy make the cutest mascot ever?!  More pictures of Becca and James later.
We took a city tour on the top of a double decker bus and got off at the Tower of London.  This was where William the Conqueror built his first castle in 1078.  Of course there have been many changes in architecture and function over the years but it was still remarkable.
The Yeoman Warder (or "beefeater") - a ceremonial guardian of the Tower of London.  There are a few dozen of these men.  They live with their families within the confines of the Tower walls.  He was our tour guide and was very animated and funny.
The White Tower
The tower that houses the Crown Jewels.  I have always wanted to see this!!!
One of many of the Queen's Guards that we saw in London.
A very small changing of the guard.
Unfortunately we were rushed through the White Tower because they were doing some filming.  We saw many knight's armors and swords.  This dragon was kind of cool.
The Tudor homes in the background were where Anne Boleyn lived before she was beheaded.
After the tour, Wes and I took off on our own to explore the South Bank of the Thames.  There were very modern buildings...
Along with beautiful views of the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.

We ate dinner at a yummy restaurant right on the edge of the river, wandered through the narrow alleyways near Southwark cathedral and The Clink Prison Museum.  We then took the train back to Kent for the night.

Enjoyed a late evening talking and laughing. There is nothing like old friends!


Anna said...

Oh HOORAY. I have been waiting for these posts. So fun!!!!! Can't wait to see all of the posts and mostly I can't wait to go with you some day!!!

Rachel said...

Great pictures! Can't wait to see the rest.

Jennette said...

So, so fun! I've been eagerly awaiting the report of your trip. So far, it looks fantastic. Looking forward to the rest of the report. And good luck on the jet-lag recovery!

Becca said...

How cool to see your pictures from when we weren't with you!

Julie said...

I have been waiting anxiously for your Europe posts to begin! Looking forward to more!! Love the photos. Especially the one of you and Wes on the train. You guys look so AWAKE.