We were fortunate to arrange an anniversary trip for good friends from Seattle. He is a cruise lover, but his wife wanted the go to Europe! She won... They visited London and Paris on the Trafalgar tour. Enough said by me, here is the trip report from our friends, Ned & Caroline. Thanks Caroline, for letting us post your journal!
"The adventure began on Aug 25th as we left our house at around 10am and headed to the Seattle airport for departure at 130p. We enjoyed a smooth flight to Chicago and waited to board a 9pm flight to London. The excitement builds! I am going to Europe! Red eye flights are not a bad option here – the flight was “only” 7 hours but sleeping ate up most of that time. And then – we landed at Heathrow! (actually on Sep 26) My first taste of Merry Olde England. We were in the hands of Trafalgar tours. We were taken to our hotel, the Thistle Euston and checked into a comfortable but small room. Upon hearing the noise from the maid’s station directly across the hall, we requested a room change and were moved to a more spacious room. That first evening, we walked up to the nearby train/subway station which housed shops and restaurants and was packed! On the walk back, we ate dinner at the hotel near ours.
Second day in London found us up early, partaking of the complimentary breakfast (very good each day) and off on a tour of London. First photo op was an impressive memorial to Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) across from the London Opera House. Along the drive, we saw Hyde Park and Kensington Palace (home of Princess Diana and soon to be Will, Kate and little George’s residence). We drove around Trafalgar Square whose center attraction was a huge statue of Admiral Lord Nelson, a famous naval war hero. We stopped at Westminster Abbey and from there we could also see Parliament (which I learned was once THE royal residence) and Big Ben. Regretfully, we did not have time to tour the Abbey. Across the street, we entered another very old church to use the facilities which was a Methodist church and was special because we are Methodists. On to Buckingham Palace where regrettably, the changing of the guard did not occur that day. We saw the famous balcony where the royal family greets the masses including after the weddings of Princess Diana and Prince Charles and Will and Kate. The grounds were lovely. We then had lunch and decided to take a river cruise on the Thames which sailed by many famous structures. The dock was right below the London Eye (that immense “ferris wheel”). We sailed under London Bridge (surprisingly very simple but very historical), a reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, St Paul’s Cathedral, and then - - the first view of the Tower of London! The very seat of British history and the site of many political dramas. Ahead of that stood Tower Bridge which many believe is London Bridge.
The morning of the third day our tour group was off to visit Windsor Castle. This is the Queen’s preferred residence. I expected it to be about the size of Buckingham – wrong! It was immense! Buildings and ramparts and towers all connected over sprawling acres having been added onto by several monarchs as castles generally were. We toured the royal apartments there (no photos allowed – drat!) so opulent and St George’s chapel where many past monarchs are buried including Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour, his only queen to bear him a son, Prince Albert and the Queen Mother to name a few. There was a lovely village at the foot of the castle with many shops and restaurants. On the way back, we passed by Elton John’s house. Also through some of our “driving arounds” we went by Picadilly Circus, Ten Downing, and the theatre district.
The fourth day we were on our own but I just had to visit the Tower of London – my most desired tour of the whole vacation. First stop, however, was St Paul’s Cathedral – an immense church, ornately constructed by the famous architect Christopher Wren. The highlight for me was a memorial to us “Yanks” for our help in WWII – quite touching. Many famous people are buried here too though I can’t recall who right off hand. Then, finally – the famous (or infamous) Tower of London! Again, buildings, towers and ramparts. The most famous tower being the White Tower, built by William the Conquerer in1066. The Queen still has lodgings (private) here and there are many other historic royal apartments which regrettably I was not able to tour. We did see the Crown Jewels (again no pics) and they were indescribable! Not only crowns, but swords and other finery. I can only imagine how many pounds the whole collection is worth. Also, the famous tower green where enemies of the crown of higher nobility (most notably Queen Anne Boleyn) were executed by the more humane (?) method of beheading. I also toured the first floor of the tower which housed male prisoners awaiting execution. There were inscriptions left by many famous prisoners including Sir Walter Raleigh. Ladies waiting quarters were where the Queen’s lodgings are now. Monarchs for many years lodged in the Tower the night before their coronation and processed to Westminster Abbey for crowning.
Next day it was goodbye to London and hello Paris. We boarded the Eurostar, a high speed train, at St Pancras station and sped off to Paris going UNDER the English Channel. Upon arrival in Paris, we were again hosted by Trafalgar Tours and taken to our hotel La Concorde de Montparnasse. Soon after, we attended a meet and greet then took off for a tour of Notre Dame. Unfortunately, a very loud street performance was taking place right outside of the cathedral and we had trouble hearing our guide educate us about the many carvings and statues on the outside – they all told a story. Inside the church was incredible. Many gorgeous stained glass windows and statues commemorating saints and notable historical figures – my favorite being Joan of Arc. Incredibly, a mass was taking place during our tour! After a really good dinner and a little shopping, we were taken to board a tour boat to cruise the Seine. We passed by many ornate bridges, more statues, the Louvre, the Conciergerie (a palace/prison; last stop for Marie Antoinette and many other French nobility during the French Revolution) and then – the Eiffel Tower lit up from base to top! A real eye dazzler which at one point performed a twinkling light show.
Second day in Paris is a day that will live in infamy. Our tour was to be of the second level of the Eiffel Tower where all of Paris could be splendidly viewed. On the way, we skirted around La Place de la Concorde, formally La Place de Revolution where the main guillotine stood during the revolution and where many of the French aristocracy were executed, including Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette. Upon arrival at the Tower, I chickened out and did not progress to the 2nd level as planned. The only one of our tour group not to do so. After composing myself, I hoped for a 2nd chance but it was not to be. Very important life lesson learned – never espouse cowardice no matter what and certainly not in as regards a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – life long regrets are no fun to live with. On the ride back, we drove down the Champs Elysee (arguably the most expensive shopping district in the world) to the Arc de Triomphe around which are the dangest traffic lanes you’ve ever seen. Back for a nap and later a most excellent Italian dinner at a sidewalk café (very French). I also did a little shopping that day, a Saturday, as we were told all the stores were closed on Sunday and found some of my must-haves – something for my daughter’s wedding!
Third day in Paris brought along my favorite tour here. A trip to the palace at Versailles. This was built by Louis XIV, the sun king, who was very fond of himself and lavishly decorated the palace to reflect his great wealth and impress other crowned heads of Europe. It was absolutely stunning and so opulent your eyes barely could drink it all in. The highlight of the palace is the not-to-be-believed Hall of Mirrors. .Mirrors were extremely uncommon in the 17th century, outrageously expensive and Venice was the only place they were made. But Louis had to have the finest and he hired Venetians to produce a staggering 357 mirrors! The Hall was used primarily at first as an indoor strolling ground for Louis XIV but later for state events and dances. The Treaty of Versailles was also signed here after WWI. Many of the rooms were named after Roman/Greek gods and goddesses. Marie Antoinette’s bed chamber is as she left it before being arrested and taken to Paris. Very famous gardens lie behind the palace and require 18 gardeners to maintain. Again, a very impressive sight with fountains and statues everywhere. It’s hard to believe this area was once a swamp. A negative side note – the very pricey perfume I purchased in the gift shop here was a bust. The sample bottle was great – mine not so much. So much for French parfum. I think they got a little alcohol happy and as someone stated, I smelled like a French _ _ _ _ _ fill in the blanks! After a very quick put the feet up, we departed again that day for a visit to Montmartre, a very artsy and quaint area at the top of a steep hill. Many famous artists lived and produced their art here. Also at this location stands the famous Basilica of the Sacre C’oeur which we did not have time to tour inside. We had dinner at a wonderful French restaurant that the tour company chose for us and then shopped at the many delightful shops lining the cobblestone streets. Even though it was Sunday, these shops were open because Montmartre is actually a separate city from Paris.
Finally, the last day arrived and it was time to bid Paris adieu. Security at Charles DeGaulle airport was very tight and boarding the plane took place on the tarmac. The flight was sooo long – 10 hours! Which brings me to my least favorite part of the entire vacation – re-entering the US in Dallas. What a trick dog and pony show. This is my home country, dang it – let me in! Finally through all the security hoops and onto another 3 ½ hour flight to Seattle. Whew!
In summary (to quote Bill and Ted) this was a most excellent adventure. The trip of a lifetime that will be remembered forever! I was proud of myself for keeping my adrenalin pumping and doing all I possibly could. I am a lifelong history buff and history sprang to life on this trip. What was only a dream before almost seems like a dream now though I have pictures to prove it was not."