Tuesday, August 31, 2010


PARIS Day 7: Notre Dame Cathedral, Latin Quarter Walking Tour, Louvre Museum, Night Cruise on the River Seine

This morning we took it easy because we knew that it would be a late night. Yesterday we bought tickets for a river cruise on the Seine and we planned to use them tonight after dark to see the city all lit up.

We left the hostel around 11:30 and headed straight to Notre Dame via the subway. Once there we found some lunch and walked around the inside of Notre Dame. The church is stunning more than it is beautiful, mostly because it is such and old building. It was started in close to 1100 AD, I believe, but it wasn’t finished for almost 200 years. It’s not hard to understand why. Even today the building of a church of that magnitude would take a very long time.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="453" caption="Notre Dame"][/caption]

It is fairly dark inside, and mostly stone, and most of the ornamentation is in the amazing stain glass windows. There were also many beautiful stone statues; one of my favorites featured St. Joseph playing with the Child Jesus.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="Candles in the Cathedral"][/caption]

Back outside the Cathedral we caught a 2:30pm free walking tour through the Latin Quarter. The tour was led by a native Parisian, in English, thankfully, and there were people from Russia, Australia, England, and other parts of the United States in our group of about 20 people. It lasted about 90 minutes and took us past the Shakespeare and Co. bookstore, which I fell in love with, the University of Paris, and many beautiful back streets of Paris. We both enjoyed the tour very much and our guide also pointed us in the direction of some wonderful ice cream.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="Shakespeare and Co!"][/caption]

After the tour we stopped for some browsing in Shakespeare and Co. and then walked to the Louvre Museum. We didn’t go inside, but we walked around the grounds and saw the Pyramid, which is definitely a necessary part of any trip to Paris.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="Pyramid at the Louvre"][/caption]

At this point we still have about three and a half hours to kill before our cruise that left from under the Eiffel Tower, so we jumped back on our trusty tour bus and saw the rest of the city one last time. We got out at the Trocadero again, crossed the bridge, and walked to the pier on the opposite bank of the Seine to wait for the sun to set. By 9pm it was dark enough and we boarded a huge tour boat to set off down the Seine. We were lucky because the Eiffel  Tower is illuminated with small, twinkling lights for just five minutes at the beginning of each hour, and so we got to see it both as we left and as we were coming back. The city was beautiful all lit up and the river was the perfect way to see it, since the water is where the city long ago began.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="720" caption="The Seine at Night"][/caption]

Monday, August 30, 2010


PARIS Day 6: The Arch of Victory, Open Top Bus Tour, Trocadero, Eiffel Tower

Today was one of the best days in recent memory. I might not want to live in Paris, but it sure is a great place to visit.

We woke up refreshed and ready for our first day in Paris, and started the morning with a long and scenic walk from the hostel in Monmarte to the Arch of Victory. It took us about an hour to get there, but we stumbled across a beautiful park on the way, which ended up being a short cut as well. Oh, happy fault :)

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="Park we stumbled into"][/caption]

Arc de Triomphe

After exploring the Arch we caught our second fabulous Open Top Tour Bus. We went with the Les Cars Rouges because they had the cheaper ticket price, and our 24 euro ticket was good for two days. Les Cars Rouges has fewer stops than some of the other tours available in Paris, but it made for a more smooth bus ride, and everywhere we wanted to go was accessible on their bus route. We round around for a complete loop, about two and half hours, catching our first view of the Eiffel Tower on the way. After the full loop we stayed on until we got back to the Trocadero, where we disembarked for more exploring.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="453" caption="First view of the Eiffel Tower through the Trocadero"][/caption]

The Trocadero is named after a French military victory, in Spain, I believe, and it offers one of the best views of the Eiffel Tower in the city. We stopped at a small café called Café Trocadero for lunch and we were not disappointed. It was a bit expensive, about 16 euro for an entrée, but it was about 2:30 in the afternoon and we knew it would probably be our last real meal of the day before returning to peanut butter pita sandwiches back at the hostel late tonight. And it was absolutely worth every penny. I ordered salmon, which was divine, and John ordered roasted chicken, which came with fries. Let me tell you, there’s a reason they call them “french fries”—The French definitely do them best.

After lunch we walked to the Eiffel Tower, which looks much more industrial than I was expecting. It’s funny to see something you’ve only seen pictures of; it always looks exactly like the pictures, but different somehow too.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="Under the Tower"][/caption]

The whole area around the Tower is full of street vendors selling tiny Eiffel Tower key chains and statues, and they required a forcible “No” in order to leave us alone. John and I reemployed a tactic we had started using earlier with gypsies in the train station and on the way to the Sacre-Coeur: we pretended we only spoke German. A quick “Nein, danke” usually did the trick.

After much indecision, we decided to go up to the top of the Tower. The indecision wasn’t really about whether to go up or not but more about the method. John wanted to walk. I wanted to ride. Classic problem.

In the end we decided to walk, but then we got to the ticket window and found out that the particular line we were in was only for the elevators. How sad.

By the first level I was nervous, but the second I was scared, and on the third, and top, level I was absolutely petrified. I was just waiting to feel the tower move in the wind, which thankfully it did not. In retrospect I am so glad I did it. The view was absolutely breathtaking. On of the most distinct things about Paris is how unified the aesthetic is, and the top of the Tower was the perfect place to see it.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="View from the second tier of the Tower, the building on the hill is the Sacre-Coeur"][/caption]

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="View from the Tower"][/caption]

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="And this was the view from the very top... Yikes!"][/caption]

It was close to 6pm by the time we came down and we were bushed. We caught a subway back to Monmarte and shopped for Paris souvenirs up and down the street that leads to the Sacre-Coeur. I was in my prime indecisive form and it took me quite awhile to decide what I wanted, but I ended up with some beautiful mini posters of vintage style French prints and a scarf which, very subtly, features pictures of the Sacre-Coeur, Eiffel Tower, Arch of Triumph, and Notre Dame. I strongly dislike shameless souvenirs that scream “I WENT HERE,” but I also like things I buy to have some significance, so the scarf was perfect. You can’t see the pictures when it is wrapped around my neck, but I know they’re there. Perfect.

Thing I am Most Looking Forward to About the USA #1: Water

I assume that it will be hard to transition back to standard, comfortable life in the USA when my time abroad is over. So, to help me get psyched about the Kansas January and term papers that await me in the spring I am starting a list of things I am looking forward to Stateside. Look for more “Things I am Most Looking Forward to About the USA,” or “TIAMLFTA the USA” (pronounced “tee-am-left-a”) for short, in the weeks and months to come!

You walk in to a restaurant. You’re on a budget. You got with water when the waiter first comes to the table and asks you want because you figure hey, it’s free.


Water is not free in France. In fact, on several menus I have looked at, it is actually more expensive than other drink options, which are also too expensive, in my opinion. I have paid six dollars for a bottle of water here. That just wouldn’t happen in the land of the free.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

PARIS Day 5: The In-Between

PARIS Day 5: The In-Between, Sacre-Coeur

Today was a LONG day of traveling, but it went smoothly. John and I opted to take the Eurostar train from London to Paris, which worked really well. We got there plenty early, which was good because the lines were long and there were a lot of people. You have to check in to a Eurostar train half an hour in advance and go through some light security, as it is international travel.

Our train got in around 2pm and it took a little less than an hour for us to find our hostel, Le Regent Monmarte. Check in wasn’t until 4pm and the luggage room was literally bursting at the seams, so we opted to hang out for an hour and wait. Our room was very small, but mostly clean and had it’s own bathroom, so we didn’t complain. We shared our room with a fellow student traveler from Mexico, seeing Europe after a study abroad in London to improve her English.

It was a pain to drag the luggage around all day, and a poor combination of shoulder tension, lack of contact lenses, and luggage lugging gave me a headache that lasted our first few hours in Paris. Luckily it abated by nightfall and I was ready to explore.

We went to 10pm mass at the Sacre-Coeur, which was one of my favorite experiences thus far. Mass was said in French, of course, and it was absolutely beautiful. A Dominican nun cantored for the mass and there was no doubt that she was praying beautifully, even though I didn’t know what she was saying. If you are ever in Paris, do not miss mass at the Sacre-Coeur.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="720" caption="The Sacre-Coeur at night"][/caption]

My Seven Pence on Traveling in London

London is a great city, full of history and heritage for people around the world, not just British citizens. As an American I was acutely aware of the connection between the United States and Britain while on the Bus Tour. As one of the tour guides said, turning to John and I, “Just think, all this could have been yours if you would have just paid your taxes.”

So, having spent 4 and a half fairly successful days in London, here are my observations to help make your trip just as enjoyable.

  1. London is surprisingly walk-able. What seems like a long way on the map might not take you that long to walk. At one point John and I walked from Buckingham Palace to Oxford Street and on to Edgware Street, which I was convinced would take us an hour or two, but only ended up taking about 30 minutes.

  2. The open top bus tours may seem touristy, but they’re worth it. The bus tour is the perfect first day adventure. If you only have a day or two in the city it orients you quite quickly and allows you to see many of the sites that you may not go out of your way to stop at, but are interesting to see nonetheless. If you are spending longer in London the tour will help you get your bearings, learn your map, and decide which sites are worth going back to, via the tube or a stroll. The tours also have great perks like discounted tickets and shorter entrance lines to attractions, and the Original Tour John and I went on also included a free River Cruise, which we didn’t end up taking because of time and the fact that we had already been on the river.

  3. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to see a lot of great things. Both the Tate Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery have free admission, and an afternoon stroll through Hyde Park or the Covent Garden Markets are a great way to experience the city without spending too much.

  4. The Tower of London is worth the entrance fee. This was by far my favorite site in London, and it will take at LEAST half a day to do it well. It is a bit expensive (14.5 pounds for a student, 17 for an adult) but you can explore the whole Tower complex, go on a tour with a Yeoman Warder, take an audio tour, AND see the Crown Jewels of England, which are very impressive all on their own. There is over 900 years of history at this site and I was sad to leave even after spending the bulk of our first day there.

  5. Explore the side streets. Bow Street is home to two beautiful churches, but it is only accessible on foot. This is just one of the many side streets worth checking out on a long city walk; the perfect balance to the tourist-y nature of a bus tour.

  6. If you are planning on using the Underground more than twice, buy a pay as you go Oyster Card. This morning John and I discovered that a trip to St. Pancreas with our Oyster cards was 1.80 pounds, without it the trip was 4 pounds. It also gives you discounted admission on River Cruises. It will pay for itself in no time.

  7. Pounds are a pain. Of course the United Kingdom wants to be different and use the pound instead of the euro. Go with it. Things will be cheaper in France.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


LONDON Day 4: Stonehenge, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Oxford Street

Go to Stonehenge. It is magnificent.

I was skeptical about how stimulating some several thousand year old stones would be, but I was wrong. The English Heritage society has put together a great audio tour to go with the site, delivered through small devices, similar to walkie-talkies, and numbered markers around the monument.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="Beautiful Clouds above Stonehenge"][/caption]

Apparently, Stonehenge is the third “henge” at that site. The first was built of wood over around 3,000 BC, (about 5,000 years ago), the second made of bluestones around 2,500 BC, and the current Stonehenge, which was made just a few years later. It was ALREADY an ancient site when the Romans came to England over 2,000 years ago.

Our whole Stonehenge excursion was part of a planned bus tour. It was 25 pounds total and it covered direct bus rides to Stonehenge and back (about a 2 hour trip from London) as well as admission to the site. This was definitely the most stress-free way to go, and I would highly recommend it to anyone trying to get to Stonehenge from London, as any other means of travel besides renting a car requires at least a bus change in Salisbury.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="Stonehenge"][/caption]

We got back to London around 2:30 pm. Continuing our trend of seeing places without actually going inside, we strolled around Buckingham Palace, forgoing the 17 pound entrance fee and just appreciating how ungodly huge the whole thing was. There’s no reason one family needs a place that big, that’s all I’m saying.

Thanks to John’s uncannily good sense of direction we continued on a very nice walk from the Palace to Hyde Park, just one of London’s many LARGE parks on the west end, and the Marble Arch, at the corner of Hyde Park and Oxford Street. I then led the invasion of Oxford St, because Oxford is the shopping district and I can always find my way around a shopping district.

After a quick stop at Primark, a store that is called Penny’s in Ireland that I fell in love with last time I was abroad, we headed home.

We ate dinner at Zonzo on Edgware Road, which was reasonably priced, adorable, and delicious. After taking our time over our meal, we headed back to the flat to clean, take out the trash, and pack up for Paris, which is our next stop.

Friday, August 27, 2010


LONDON Day 3: Open Top Bus Tour, Convent Garden Market, The Globe Theatre

Today was our super tourist day, as we succumbed to the pressure and climbed aboard The Original London Open Top Bus Tour. Secretly, we were both really excited.

And, I have to admit, it was fantastic.

There are several different routes on the Bus Tour, and a ticket allows its holder to ride any of them for 24 hours. We rode a whole loop, which took about 2 and a half hours, on the Red Line, which offers recorded tour in many languages, and then we rode a short ways on the Yellow Line, on which a live tour guide points out the sites and answers questions in English.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="453" caption="Big Ben and Parliment"][/caption]

As I said, we did a loop on the Red to orient ourselves, and then we rode back around until we reached Covent Garden, where we planned to have lunch and have a look around the market. We ate a little pub just down the street and then walked around the market for about 45 minutes. We hopped back on the bus then and made our way to the Globe Theater.

Unfortunately the 5 pound tickets for the evening show were sold out and the matinee was already in full swing, so we didn’t get to see a show or even go inside the theater. But we got some nice pictures of the outside, and we were getting tired anyway.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="The Globe Theater"][/caption]

After some ice cream and a stop at the Anchor Pub on the opposite side of the bridge from the Globe, where the original Globe Theater stood, we got back on the bus again and made our way back to Embankment Pier where we got back on the subway and caught the Circle underground line.

I took about 200 pictures today and I will post some soon!

Thursday, August 26, 2010


LONDON Day 2: The River Thames, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey

This morning we woke up, fully on London time, ready for a full day. We headed straight out for the days adventures, stopping at an Internet café on the way to the subway to check our email and book an excursion to Stonehenge for this coming Saturday. We then figured out the subway system and bought our handy dandy Oyster cards, which can be used on all the public transport in London and garner you a 30% discount on River Tours, one of which was the main event on the docket for today.

We took the subway from Edgeware Road to Westminster and came up right next to the Westminster Pier and our first awestruck view of Big Ben. We got on a river tour that ran from Westminster Pier to St. Katherine’s Pier, on the far side of the Tower Bridge. We rode the boat past the London Eye, The National Theater, Cleopatra’s Needle, under London Bridge, and the rebuilt Globe Theater to St. Katherine’s Pier where we disembarked to visit the Tower of London.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="Tower of London and Tower Bridge"][/caption]

As it so happens, there is not one, but twenty towers at the Tower of London. We saw most of them on a tour guided by a Yeoman Warder, also known as a Beefeater, throughout the Tower complex. We stood outside the Bell Tower where St. Thomas More was held before his execution, although we didn’t get to go inside as that building is one of the few that is closed to the public. We saw the place where Anne Boleyn lost her head, as well as the ravens housed in cages just outside the White Tower due to a centuries old superstition about terrible havoc falling on England should the Tower ever be without them. It is illegal to have no ravens at the tower and so six are always kept around, but currently they have seven, just in case.

It also so happens that all the Crown Jewels of England are kept in the Waterloo House at the Tower of London and we got to see them as well. While waiting in line we got to see footage from Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, which looked amazingly like the coronations that happen in most children’s movies with happy endings. In a rare show of British ingenuity, the most heavily bejeweled crown, scepters, and jewelry in the collection were displayed in a long row bordered on two sides by moving sidewalks to keep people from loitering too long in front of the gems.

We enjoyed some authentic British fish and chips outside the Tower complex before running to catch the 4:30 boat back to Westminster. It began raining pretty heavily on the boat back so we sat inside instead of on the deck like we had on the way there. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and interesting, though, so all in all it was a half an hour well spent. When we reached Westminster we braved the rain to stroll past Big Ben up close and around Parliament to Westminster Abbey. When we reached the Abbey we were disappointed to find it closed to tourists. But, as luck would have it, it was just after 5pm so weeknight Evensong was just starting, and the Abbey never charges for people to worship. Putting on our best Anglican faces, John and I made our way into the Abbey to listen to one of the most amazing choirs I have ever heard sing the Magnificat and other sacred hymns in at least 6 parts. After the service we walked through the church, stopping on the exact spot where English monarchs have had their coronations for centuries and next to the grave of famous scientist Isaac Newton. The rain was just coming down harder, though, when we got outside and so we made our way back to the Westminster subway and squeezed into a rush hour train back to Edgware.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="Westminster Abbey"][/caption]

RANDOM FACT OF THE DAY: London is one of the smallest capitol cities in the world, technically covering only about one square mile, and Westminster, where Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Parliament, and Big Ben are all located, is actually a separate city.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

LONDON Day 1: The Arrival

Today my traveling companion John and I arrived in London’s Heathrow Airport after a LONG 9 hour flight around 6:30 am London time. We were greeted an hour or so later by a family friend of John’s, who took us to our lodgings for our 4 day stay in London. Heathrow is a monster of an airport, and it composed most of the scenery on the left side of the road for quite awhile.

John’s friend drove us into Paddington, where he had arranged a flat for us to stay in. The flat belongs to a family that has been out of the country for several months and were happy to let some poor American college students stay for a few nights. The flat itself is adorable and nestled in a dominantly Arab section of Paddington. I hear that it is the month of Ramadan, the Muslim holy days during which they only eat when the sun is down, so it has been pretty quiet during the days. The flat is small and eclectically furnished, but it has a kitchen and comfy couches which we have definitely taken advantage of!

After we got settled a bit John’s friend took us on a short walk around the area to point out the subway station, supermarket, and other points of interest. After a quick breakfast we headed back to the flat for a power nap. Originally we had planned to muscle through the day on a guided tour or something, but we realized shortly after landing that we would need to sleep sometime since neither of us had been able to sleep very much on the plane.

Five hours later we were wide-awake and ready to explore our corner of London some more. We put on some warmer clothes (It is only about 55 degrees Fahrenheit here!) and pulled out the umbrella (Because it was, you guessed it! Raining.) and took off on a walk. We had passed an old bookstore earlier in the day on the way to the flat and so we walked back. For an English major like me and a book lover like John, it was a slice of heaven. The store was tiny, about the size of someone’s living room with an itty-bitty basement, but every surface of every wall was covered in books. There were stacks of books up to the ceiling in some places. There was very little semblance of rhyme or reason to the organization of the books, but they were amazing to browse through. I ended up buying a tiny red book of Songs and Solos from the early 20th Century, full of old hymns organized by theme and message. Then we ventured in the other direction to find groceries.

It was a fabulous first day in London, even though we didn’t do very many tourist-y things, and I look forward to what tomorrow will bring.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Alright, We'll Try this Again...

Here I go, off again! I'm getting all packed up and ready to leave for a wonderful stay in Italy for the fall semester of this year. This time I PROMISE to write more often. It will be a struggle, but here's to hoping it will go better than Ireland did.

j.e. mcfee
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