Monday, May 21, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities

Yesterday was our last full day in London for five weeks! A bit sad, it’s sort of become a home away from home and I really, really like Hampstead a lot! We started the morning with a pain au chocolat from this really nice bakery across the road from our hotel, and we thought we’d try and find the famous Hampstead Heath to eat it in. Unfortunately, seeing as we don’t actually know where this Heath is, we gave up and found a (still nice) bench and ate our yummy croissants.

Trying to find Hampstead Heath. This is a nice little garden, though!

Mmmmm pain au chocolat!

We then headed to the tube station and trained it to Euston, to check out the British Library! Seeing as I am obsessed with old documents, and like them EVEN MORE than old, worn stairs (hard to believe, I know!), I had been looking forward to this event for a lot of the trip. And the library did not disappoint. There is really only one gallery you can tourist in, which holds the ‘treasures of the British Library’ – fair enough, it is a working library – but the stuff in there is incredible! There are original drafts of famous books, historical documents, musical compositions, sacred texts and illumination manuscripts, old maps – there is just so much, so I’ll just list some of my personal favourites: a document written in 1155 relating to the redistribution of land after the Norman Conquest; a copy of Bede’s ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’ from the 9th Century; the first, handwritten draft of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte; The Gutenberg Bible (gasp!); a map of the world from the late 16th Century in which you can make out the coast of Western Australia (even though it is attached to Antarctica)  and a book called ‘The Roman de la Rose’, which was one of the most popular medieval romances. The whole place was so overwhelming, Mads and I were suffering major over-excitement and information overload, and there were a few things I missed: we had to go back because I told Mads how disappointed I was that Magna Carta wasn’t in there. She then informed me that it was, so we went back in and lo and behold there it was, in its own room with MAGNA CARTA in giant letters at least twice around the door frame. A few other things I didn’t realise I’d missed until I got the souvenir guidebook home, including ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ by Wilfred Owen (if I’d seen that I actually would have cried); and Shakespeare’s First Folio (although I’d already seen a copy of that at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon). 

So we left feeling very happy that we’d been, and a little disappointed we couldn’t go in to the King’s Library, a huge room full of really old books. I bet it smells like the Trinity Old Library in Dublin in there. On our way out we passed a little boy standing in the middle of the quadrangle out the front urinating on the ground. Where his parents were I have no idea, but they really ought to stamp out that habit soon or he’ll never stop...

The King's Library inside the British Library.

We had lunch at a good old English pub across the street, before deciding on having a wander around London. We caught the tube to Buckingham Palace and had a look, laughing at a fellow who had dropped his lens cap inside the fence and was trying to fish it out with an umbrella. The palace really is an impressive building, however we couldn’t walk up to it through Green Park because they are building up the area out the front for a Jubilee concert. Still, it’s always a must-see when you go to London. We wandered from there to Westminster, then along the Thames to the Globe, watching all the buskers as we went (there were tons of them!), and enjoying a Cornetto Soft Serve ice cream. Next we headed over the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral, and caught the tube back to Hampstead from Bank. It was all so busy, there were people everywhere, but it’s still a nice walk. We had dinner at the Flask – absolutely delicious steak and ale pies.

Buckingham Palace.

The statue out the front of Buckingham Palace. I love all the gold-tipped statues in London.

A black London taxi!

Big Ben

Boudicca and the Eye

Houses of Parliament at Westminster

London on the River Thames

St Paul's Cathedral

Today was a very big day! We left our hotel and beloved Hampstead, tubing it to St Pancras to catch the Eurostar to Paris! I was so incredibly excited to be going to Paris, however also slightly annoyed because my bag is too heavy and it keeps spinning out of control as I drag it along behind me. So by the time we had checked in, got our passports stamped and sat down in the lounge to wait to board, I was pretty much buggered. The train trip was great, we had big comfy seats, and we got food, which was tasty. The waiters always addressed us in French to begin with, but I felt too weird speaking French back, so we just communicated in English. Down into the tunnel we went, and in what felt like a couple of minutes we were out again. I pointed out the window to Mads. ‘Yeah, we’re outside again’ she said, looking at me like I was some kind of idiot. ‘It’s France’ I explained. So she got excited too as we raced past Calais and a whole lot of little French towns with small houses and big, tall bell towers like you always see in war movies.

Waiting for the Eurostar

On the Eurostar. Yay here we come Paris!!

In what seemed like another couple of minutes we were in Paris! And now I had to speak French! I actually know barely any French at all, but I managed to communicate with a taxi driver where we wanted to go, and we got there easily enough. There was a bit of miscommunication when it came to the fare at the end, nothing dramatic but I was very, very relieved when we found that the lady who works at the hotel speaks excellent English. Once we’d settled in we decided to go for a toddle, the hotel isn’t too far from the Seine and Notre Dame, so off we went. The thing about Paris is it looks so splendidly Parisian! It sounds obvious, but I just love it when places look exactly how you imagined them to. It was such a beautiful, sunny day, and everyone was very chilled out. We wandered past houseboats docked in the Seine, bridges, and those beautiful Paris buildings: five or six stories with the Mansard-style roof, French doors and curly iron balconies. Finally we got our first view of Notre Dame – it was pretty amazing. We crossed over the Seine on one of the bridges, the railings covered in padlocks where lovers have attached them to symbolise their everlasting love (aaaah l’amour), before coming up to the famous cathedral and admiring the flying buttresses, one of the huge rose windows, the saints climbing down the roof, and of course the gargoyles.

Paris on the Seine.

First view of Notre Dame

Padlocks on the bridge

We figured seeing as we were there we may as well head in to Notre Dame. It was massive and absolutely beautiful. The arches, the stained glass, the prayer candles burning outside the smaller chapels: it is incredible that a building so huge and so beautiful has stood for so long. There were A LOT of tourists in there, but it didn’t seem to matter, they’ve done it quite well setting a path around the perimeter of the cathedral. While we were there Mass began, and it was incredibly beautiful as well. The most beautiful singing, accompanied by organ, filled the space, and we watched the priests doing whatever it is they do in Mass, lighting candles etc. It really was overwhelmingly beautiful to watch.

Heading in to Notre Dame. The stonework is unbelievably beautiful!

One of the famous Rose Windows

Joan of Arc

Prayer candles in the cathedral.

Mass in Notre Dame

Notre Dame - so massive and very beautiful.

Some of the famous gargoyles atop Notre Dame. Mads reckons these ones look particularly like those in Disney's version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. 

 We began to wander back to the hotel, Mads was tired and cranky, and on the way we went to a bar/brasserie for some food. Oh dear, more French. But I actually didn’t do too badly! Mads has designated me head of communicating with French People, so I managed to order us some Croque Monsieur and our usual coke/diet coke (which is light coke here) – the waiter was very nice and very patient, as it was very obvious that I really don’t know French at all. But as long as you have a go, so far people seem to be really nice about it! The brasserie was very, very French, with the maroon and cream woven chairs out the front under an awning, random posters on the walls and a lot of wood panelling inside – it felt very cool and very Parisian to be in there! The Croque Monsieur wasn’t too bad, either: I’m not a huge fan of Gruyere cheese so it’s not my favourite thing, but when in Rome, right?

Ah Paris! So pretty!

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity... Or Death! The revolutionary cry. I don't know what this building is.

Sitting in the bar next to Australie!! 

Mads in the bar/brasserie where we had our Croque Monsieur dinner

Mads fell asleep as soon as we got back to the hotel, so I wrote a bit (no point watching tellie, although we did have a flick earlier and humorously found CSI: the-one-with-the-redhead-chick dubbed in French), and then went to find a supermarche (supermarket). Just about everything was shut, as it’s Sunday evening, but I found one that was open around the corner and grabbed a couple of things. I must have looked like a total idiot standing there with a vacant expression on my face, smiling and nodding whenever anyone tried to say anything to me. Basically I just used the three words I know over and over: Merci, Combien, Au Revoir. However I did discover one VERY good thing about doing summer twice in one year: summer fruits!! I got myself and Mads a nectarine each, which was very exciting as nectarines are probably my favourite ever fruits and there is nothing like the first nectarine of the season: so to be having that experience again is pretty dang excellent!!

So far I am definitely feeling the love for Paris, and I can’t wait to see more sights tomorrow!! In the immortal words of Madeline, everyone's favourite Parisian: ‘Ah Paris ooh la la, as for me, I love Pariiiis!!’

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