travel

Last-minute Las Vegas

Two Sundays ago I received an unexpected phone call from old friends who were traveling to Las Vegas for a vacation they had planned over a year ago. They asked if I could meet them there. It was fairly short notice, but I asked Farrah if I could go to Vegas because I hadn't seen these friends in over 20 years.  After working out the financial details - after all, have you seen the airfare prices! - I booked a flight on Southwest Airlines, got a hotel room, and made my way out to Las Vegas last Friday.

James (Bubba) and Lisa, my friends from Air Force days long ago, picked me up at McCarran airport.  When Bubba stepped out of their brand new Dodge truck, he didn't seem to have changed much.  Oh yeah, there were few wrinkles on his face, covered by a scruffy beard that we wouldn't be allowed to have in the service, but he was the same old Bubba.  I gave him a big hug, then went around the driver's side to get into the truck.  I greet Lisa, who was driving, with a warm hand to the shoulder as we drove away from the airport.

We first talk about the weather in Vegas - it was about 98 degrees at 10 PM! - and about my flight.  We take care of the things I needed to get done - check into the hotel, dump my stuff in the room, grab a bite to eat - then we head to hit the slots (them) and blackjack (me).

Of course we talk about the past, about people's names we can, at times, barely recall.  We talk about things we've done together back-in-the-day, the common memories or how we recall them. We talk about the 20 plus years apart, and the people in our lives now, about family and friends on each side who are unfamiliar to each another.  We convey to each other our individual triumphs and hardships we've endured, the journey and battle scars that life inflicted upon us up to this point in time. We spend the next three days sharing all of these memories.

It's difficult to predict how often we will be in contact with each other after leaving Las Vegas.  We left each other with big hugs and the promise of staying in touch, and I know we'll try our best to do so.  But I recall making such a promise to my Uncle David in the Philippines when I was eight years old.  I promised I would write.  He said, "You'll forget me.  You'll forget to write.  But that's OK, for we will remember each other until the day we die.  This is just how it is."

I wrote to him briefly, but I grew up and, as he predicted, forgot to write.  Who knows, with email and the Internet this may change with Bubba and Lisa.  And as they read this, as I hope they read this, I'm sure they are saying, "You're damn right we're keeping in touch."

New York City Recap

Grand Central Station

It has been a week since we came back from our trip to New York City. I thought about writing a day-by-day account of our adventures in The Big Apple, but I think the Twitter postings during our trip suffice.

What I will do is point out some highs, and a few lows, on the trip.

Getting Around

Best Experience: Virgin America and walking.  As expected, Virgin America provided a good airline experience.  The plane is new, comfortable, and you have slight leg room.  You get as many free drinks as you want, but no free food.

You are going to walk if you are in New York City.  You'd be surprised how far you feet can carry you in the city.  So bring a good pair of shoes, and prepare for a few blisters.

That's one big M&M

Fine Experience: The Subway.  Not as clean and easy to navigate at The Tube, but once we figured out where we wanted to go, the Subway was the best method to get there.

OK Experience: Taxicabs. The only time we took a cab was from JFK to Manhanttan and back.  It was a $60 investment each way (including toll and tip).  Nice to know the cost upfront, but it seems a bit steep.  I'm not sure how much it would be if it were not a flat rate (of $45).

Eating

BestGray's Paypaya.  An amazing birthday dinner experience to have two dogs with onions and a drink, only for $3.50!  Also, Katz's Delicatessen provided an amazing dining experience. If you want a corned beef or pastrami sandwich, you better stop by Katz's in the Lower East Side.

FineThe Red Flame. A decent place to grab a quick breakfast.  It was convenient, located just down the street from our hotel.  They get you in and out as fast as possible.  Cafe Habana is a very crowded place in Little Italy.  Try the Cuban sandwich and the corn.  Yum.

BadMaxie's Delicatessen.  Overpriced awful food.  Also, how can you not make a good cup of coffee?

The Sights

It's the Brooklyn Bridge!

Best:  There are so many things to see in New York City.  What still stands out in my mind are the Brooklyn Bridge, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Grand Central Terminal.  I love Grand Central Terminal.  The first time seeing it, and having breakfast downstair on a subsequent morning, will not leave my memory any time soon.  Times Square is amazing, the first time you experience it, both day and night.

Walking down the spiral staircase at the Apple Store.

Fine: Top of the Rock, the NBC Studio tour, the Apple Store on 5th Avenue, and SoHo in general.

From the Top of the Rock

Bad: The third time going through Times Square.  All the people just started getting on my nerves.

Other Things to Note

We also saw Young Frankenstein, our first Broadway play.  The play was funny and entertaining even though Megan Mullally wasn't performing that evening.

The Sofitel was the hotel we stayed at in Manhattan.  Very nice hotel, with a wonderful room and splendid staff. If we were to go back to New York City and wanted to stay in Midtown again, I would want to stay here again.

Overall, the New York City experience was a great experience.  A big thank you to my beautiful wife for giving me a fantastic birthday present, and memories we can share for the rest of our lives.

[Note: For photos of our trip to NYC, please see the Photographs section.]

Twitter Updates for 2008-03-30

  • Just got back from Gray's Papaya. Deciding if we should get a drink before packing. #
  • Having a Long Island (and Farrah is having a Dirty Martini) @ Gaby's downstairs in the hotel. #
  • Need to start packing. Checkout is @ Noon. Then to JFK to wait. Wonder how much the cab ride will be? #
  • @ The Red Flame for the last time. #
  • Is it a flat rate fare FROM Manhattan to JFK? #
  • @ JFK early. Taxi ride was quick. #
  • @ JFK watching the "Secure Wrap" dude wrap luggage. Guess people are willing to pay to have their luggage wrapped in seran wrap. #
  • My NYC cell phone observation - most people have a Blackberry. The only time I saw an iPhone was when I was near an Apple store. #

Twitter Updates for 2008-03-29

  • It's cold and windy at the Top of the Rock. We can see the Empire State Building all lit up. #
  • @ Katsu-Hama for dinner. Yelp, don't fail me now #
  • Having a small breakfast @ Grand Central Terminal. We picked up some pasteries from Junior's. #
  • @ the Met. Not too crowded, yet. #
  • Looking @ a Van Gough. #
  • In the Greek & Roman art section. Farrah was scolded for taking video of me doing a Tim Gunn impression. #
  • @ Temple of Dendur. Very calming. Nice view of Central Park. #
  • Trying to figure out the best way to Prada SoHo. #

Twitter Updates for 2008-03-28

  • Intermission @ Young Frankenstein. Too bad Megan Mullaly isn't playing her role. The show is good so far. #
  • We just got up. Trying to get our bearings on what to do today. #
  • @ The Red Flame again for breakfast. #
  • Trying to find the correct subway station to take to Lower Manhattan. We're trying for the Brooklyn Bridge even though the weather is raw. #
  • We are on the Brooklyn Bridge right now! #
  • Visited St. Paul's & WTC. Very emotional as a noon service was starting at St. Paul's. #

Twitter Updates for 2008-03-27

  • We are planning to see Lower Manhattan. Later in the day it's Central Park. We'll see how it goes. #
  • Standing in line for the bus tour. We are taking the Gray Line Tour. #
  • On the bus. We're by the seaport side. It's pretty cold now. We should have brought that extra jacket. #
  • Learned term: "Blocking the box." When a persons car, truck, etc blocks the intersection, not allowing cross traffic to go through. #
  • @ the Museum of Natural history, Dinosaur wing. My camera battery is dead. Dang it!!! #

Twitter Updates for 2008-03-26

  • Driving to the airport. #
  • OK, Virgin America is in the International terminal. #
  • We've landed in New York City!!! #
  • Our plane was initially early - good tailwind - but due to JFK traffic, we're stuck on the runway. #
  • Farrah & I are in our first NYC taxi ride from the airport. #
  • Morning traffic is heavy. Funny, our cab driver hasn't said much. He's talking lightly to someone on his bluetooth. #
  • Eating brunch @ a place called Maxie's Restuarnt Bar. Priced are a bit steep for breakfast. #
  • So breakfast was a bad idea. The best thing there was the water. My bacon was basically burnt bacon bits. #

Taking Off To New York City

We're getting ready to go to New York City! We're taking Virgin America as our airline. I'm hoping for as a good flight experience as we had when we took Virgin Atlantic to London last year.

I'll see if I can blog from NYC on the iPhone. I'm not sure if it will happen. At the least I'll provide some updates via Twitter - which will in turn appear on the blog.

I know, the weather outlook in NYC looks pretty wet. I'm hoping it's not. Either way, I won't let it damper the trip.

Can We Stay A Little Longer?

Early this morning we went through a list of sights we still haven't seen in London. The list was long. We asked ourselves, "Out of the places we still have yet to see, what would be our biggest regret if we didn't see it?" From there we prioritize our goals. Not making the list of places to see was: Covent Garden, Picadilly Circus, and The National Gallery.

We made our choices and set out for the day.

British Museum

We took the Tube to the Tottenham Court Road station. Shopping, as well as sightseeing, was on the agenda today. Though prices in the UK were high - to the currency conversion - we couldn't leave London without a few souvenirs. When we popped out of the station it was near a clothing store Farrah wanted to visit. We made our way in to look around for a bit before going to the museum.

We made our way down the street toward the British Museum. We luckily found a Starbucks, as we were in need of a little pick-me-up. We ducked on in, ordered drinks, and sat down to do some further game planning. We figured we could see most of the tourist spots we wished to see in the morning - finishing around noontime. Then we would head back to the flat for some lunch. After lunch, Farrah would go shopping while I'd stay behind to do some photo stuff on the laptop. Then in late afternoon or early evening we'd hit one more tourist attraction.

We finished our coffee then headed down the street to the British Museum. We were only interested in seeing one exhibit - The Rosetta Stone.

The British Museum

When entering the British Museum you are greeting with a big entrance way which is topped by an intricate glass ceiling, as you can see in the photo above. The photo doesn't do the setting justice. We spent several minutes taking it in and taking photographs. I wish I had a super wide lens to capture it all. It is beautifully massive. Awe inspiring. Breathtaking. I can only imagine how it would look during a clear starry night. I'm sure one day I will see it.

We found the information desk and a map of the museum. We thumbed through the pamphlet. There is so much too see here, but we were focused on our single goal: The Rosetta Stone. The curators must be aware that this is the main attraction, as they put The Rosetta Stone on the first floor and in the first exhibit room you could enter.

We walked in.

Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone is not uniquely large like the stones from Stonehenge or Avebury. But then it's not the size of the stone but what is written on it that is most important in this case. We spent a good fifteen minutes looking at the stone, also reading the historical notes accompanying the exhibit. We then had a quick look-see at the gift shop across from the exhibit entrance, then we headed on out to our next destination.

British Library

Our next stop was the British Library. I know what you are asking, "Why a library?" Well, this is a pretty amazing library. This particular library has some amazing works on display. The one I found most interesting were copies of the Magda Carta. Also there were:

  • Hand written lyrics by the Beatles
  • Two Guttenburg Bibles
  • Notebooks by da Vinci and Darwin
  • Manuscripts by Bach and Mozart
  • A letter from Queen Elizabeth I
  • A history of Britain written by Jane Austen
  • And many other amazing written works
The British Library

All of these works were only display in a very large room. You can even find some of those items online on the British Library's web site.

For lunch we bought sandwiches at the shop in the courtyard called 'The Last Word". We ate in the courtyard and discussed all the amazing exhibits we saw in the three hours we were out.

Shopping on Oxford Street

We headed back to the flat from the British Library. Farrah did some shopping at the stores on Oxford Street while I hung out at the flat blogging and fixing some photos. The only other plans we had were going to the London Eye, then eating fish and chips as our last dinner in London.

Farrah was tired after walking the stores. She took a long nap. I bought a ticket to the London Eye for her online, choosing the last time possible which was 8:00 pm. Luckily I bought it at the time because we got a late start to the London Eye.

London Eye

The London Eye

We had seen the London Eye from a distance when we went to Westminster Abbey. It look ever more impressive as we approached it in the setting sun. Again, it's difficult to appreciate its size unless you walk up to it.

We rushed into the ticket kiosk to retrieve the ticket and then Farrah rushed into line and on board her pod. Yes, she was making this trip alone. I wasn't going to take a chance especially after the Eurostar debacle. The round trip on the Eye is about 30 minutes. So as Farrah was going around the wheel, I made my way back up to the street to take some photos.

In the London Eye

Farrah can only tell you how the London Eye was. I could see in her face she was afraid first, but was happy she went on the London Eye. I do think she wishes I was on there with her.

Golden Hind

After leaving the London Eye, we took a slow walk back to the Underground Station to head back to our Bond Street stop. We stopped to take more photos of the London Eye and Big Ben in the setting sun.

We wanted to eat our last London dinner at the Golden Hind, a fish and chips place close the flat. We ate take-away from there our first night in London, but decided to eat in the restaurant that night. We had the Haddock, the mushy peas, and pickled onion. I was going to order the Halibut, which was more expensive, but the owner mentioned it was a frozen fish unlike the fresh Haddock. It was very nice of him to mention that and so I changed my order.

The Haddock is a healthy size. It is deep fried but not oily one bit. I never had mushy peas before the Golden Hind, but if they taste elsewhere as good as they tasted here I'll continue to order them. The peas the mushed were the size of garbanzo beans! I had to try the pickled onion. It wasn't as pickled as I hoped for but it went nicely with the Haddock.

Big Ben

The Golden Hind doesn't have an alcohol license but they do allow you to bring your own booze. Several people did as they were celebrating the win by Chelsea over Manchester United in the FA Cup which brought more liveliness in to the place.

Packing & Posting

We took a slow walk back to the flat knowing what awaited us - packing for home. We gathered our clothes and few knick knacks. Farrah did most of the packing, fitting all our belongings into five pieces of luggage. We packed light, coming with only four pieces of luggage:

  • My backpack for the camera and laptop
  • Our big backpack - the one Farrah used her first trip abroad
  • A small rolling bag
  • A small LL Bean backpack

The fifth piece of luggage, a Yahoo! duffel bag, was packed into the small rolling bag. We broke that one out to fit a few items in. We really didn't buy much, just enough to partially fill the Yahoo! duffel.

While Farrah packed, I did the Underground planning on the computer. We noticed the Underground line we needed to take didn't start running until around 7:00 am. This made getting to Heathrow possibly problematic. This is great news to find out the day before, right?

Our plane leaves at 11:00 am. The Underground, where we are at, doesn't start running until 7:06 am. It takes us to Green Park where we need to catch the Tube to Heathrow. By our estimation we'll be in Heathrow by 8:30 am. There isn't really room for error such as missing the Tube. Stress time! We could take a cab, but it might cost 40 or so pounds versus the 4 or so pounds each to take the Tube. Oh well, wish us luck on the Tube.

Well, we better get our sleep. I'll probably post this when we get back to the US.

The Friday Squeeze

We arrived in sunny London from Paris by mid-day.  Luckily we gain an hour since France is one hour ahead.  The Tube ride back to the flat got us back there around 12:30 pm.  We planned to eat,  rest and shower before squeezing a few more sights.  I can't believe we'll be heading home soon.

We made our way  out of the flat before 3:oo pm.  Our plan: cross the Millennium Bridge, see Shakespeare's Globe Theatre , and visit the Tate Modern.  The only time sensitive place we were visiting was The Globe, as the Tate Modern is open late on Fridays.  The tour for The Globe would end at 4:00 pm.

We took the Underground to the St. Paul's stop which is on the other side of the Tate Modern.  This required us to pass St. Paul's Cathedral and cross the Thames on the Millennium Bridge to reach the Globe and the Tate Modern.  The Underground station is right next to the cathedral, but we were on a somewhat tight schedule so we didn't go in.

St. Paul's Cathedral

We did snap a few photos though, but then quickly headed toward the Millennium Bridge.  The wind had started to pick up a bit, making Farrah a bit antsy about the bridge.  We had read that in the early days of the bridge it was a bit unstable and the "swaying motion earned it the nickname the Wobbly Bridge."  This didn't sound like a fun prospect considering all that lay below the bridge was The Thames.

Millennium Bridge

Millennium Bridge (London)

We stepped on the bridge.  You can feel it give way ever so slightly, but you don't have time to notice as you continue your steps toward the other side.  The crowd, like a river current, forces you to keep moving forward.  Only when you are about half way across the bridge can you breakaway toward the edge, towards the rail, to take a photo.  On one side you can see Tower Bridge, lit up by the afternoon sun.  On the other side is Blackfriars Bridge.  The wind was picking up slightly so we started heading toward The Tate Modern, turning back every once in a while to view St. Paul's Cathedral.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

We made our way past The Tate Modern, entering The Exhibition & Theatre Tours section of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.  We paid our money, then walked around looking at the exhibits.  Unfortunately, The Globe itself was closed for tours since a matinèewas being performed that afternoon.  We did get the opportunity to see a demonstration on costume changes.

Costume Demo @ The Globe

We had an opportunity to have a tour of the Rose, but hunger started to creep in.  So we went to look for a bite to eat.  We were able to have a cone of ice cream (yum) by the Thames.  But the ice cream did not curb our hunger, so we found more substantial food in The Globe's cafeteria.  After  buying food and visiting the gift shop, we headed back out to eat our food on a bench facing The Thames.  We spent several minutes eating and enjoying the view and the sunny weather.

The Tate Modern

We entered the Tate Modern through the River Entrance which placed us on the second floor.  We decided to take the elevator all the way up to the 7th floor and work our way down.  The Tate Modern Restaurant on the 7th floor gives you a view of The Thames, St. Paul's Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge.  We would have bought a drink and sat down, but unfortunately all the seats were taken.  So we headed on down to the 5th floor.

Modern art can be quite different.  The installations we saw, in variety of different mediums, were  thought provoking to say the least.  For example, you can look at this exhibit and wonder, why?  (There is some profanity in both the art subject title and the audio.)  It's nice to take a break from the well crafted Renaissance painting or sculpture.

Ground Floor @ The Tate Modern

We were hoping to see some works by Salvador Dalí­, but unfortunately none were present.  They were preparing a special exhibit in June for Dalí­ and appear to have taken his works down for this exhibit.  A slight disappointment.  I guess we'll need to come back soon :)

We made our way down floor after floor viewing exhibits we had interest in.  On our way out we stopped by the gift shop we passed on our way in.  I looked outside the window of the gift shop out toward The Thames.  The sun that had greeted us at the airport was starting to dissipate as the clouds and wind rolled in.  It started to look a bit nasty outside.

The Best Way Back

We figured the best way back to the flat would be to go back to the Underground at St. Paul's.  This meant crossing the bridge in the suddenly strong wind.  Oh well.  Unlike our time in Paris, Farrah did remember to bring her brolly with her.  But we braved the light sprinkle as opening the brolly in this wind didn't seem prudent.

Tate Modern Collection

The ten minute walk to St. Paul's was quick since the bridge was no longer crowded.  We made it back to our Bond Street stop.  We had dinner at Wagamama's tonight, since we don't have one back home.  Plus it seemed like a good night for ramen.  It was a late dinner - about 9:oo pm. We tried to go earlier, but our first attempt to get seating was met with a very large crowd which went all the way outside.

To Paris and Back

We got up early yesterday morning to catch the Tube to Heathrow Terminal 4. We considered this our dry run for when we take the Tube to Heathrow for our flight out of London on Sunday. It wasn't a bad trip, only taking around 45 minutes. We packed very light since we were only staying one night in Paris. I had my backpack and Farrah had her handbag. Very light indeed.

We caught the British Airways flight with no problem. Booking online wasn't difficult. Thankfully the London flat has an Internet connection, which is one of the reasons why we chose it. This was my first time using British Airways . They have big comfortable leather seats and a friendly staff. The flight was quick with more time spent taken up by the taxi, takeoff, and landing. Once we landed at Charles de Gaulle International Airport the fun and confusion began.

From our Internet research, we knew we should use public transportation to move around the city, but there was still slight confusion. Public transportation is a combination of the Metro (subway), train (RER) and bus. Tickets can be used either specifically or for all, depending on what is purchased. Reading and understanding what to purchase wasn't clear in any language. Confusing?

We walked from the terminal after landing trying to find the RER station, which is where we needed to purchase tickets to lead us into Paris proper. It was a 10 minute walk to the ticket stations. Once there we were not sure which tickets to purchase. Luckily there was a representative who spoke English who helped us with the ticket machine, which for some reason wouldn't accept either of our credit cards. He suggested purchasing our tickets from the ticket booth, which required us to go in a large ticket line and purchase tickets from a seemingly unfriendly person.

We took the RER into Paris, then caught the Metro to Gare de l'Est where our hotel room was located very close by. The RER ride wasn't bad. We had entertainment on our ride into the city. A musician with an accordion hopped on board, spoke a few words in French, then played for the captive audience. He played well enough, and I gave a few Euros for his trouble. Little did I know we would be asked for money here and there on our trip in Paris.

Checking into the Hotel Francais (or is it the Francais Hotel?) was easy. The reception desk was kind enough to converse in English once they realized we couldn't carry a conversation in French. Getting up to our room on the third floor was interesting. We took a tiny elevator up, with Farrah and I barely fitting in there. It would be hard pressed for any normal size person to fit in the elevator, and with me and my Buddha belly it was a stretch. We probably could fit one more person on it. We didn't have much time to research the hotel, but it was one of the highest ranking, least expensive, and in an area we were considering, of the choices on TripAdvisor. The room itself was adequate. It had the necessities - a bed, a bath, and a shower. The room was on the slight side of safe and clean. We agreed we would be probably be sleeping in our clothes tonight.

We unloaded what we felt we didn't need to carry, broke out the map to game plan, then headed on out. Our first stop - Musèe du Louvre - aka The Louvre.

The Louvre

We bought Zone 1-3 passes for the Metro - from an unpleasant ticket booth person at the Gare de l'Est station - and hopped on the Metro 7 from Gare de l'Est to Palis Royal Musèe du Louvre. The Metro plunked us down just outside the Louvre. From our starting point all I could see was a massive building, not the expected famous Louvre Pyramid. We made our way through several courtyards then saw the pyramid. It was breathtaking to see the pyramid and all the people milling around in person. A slight drizzle started its descent and Farrah realized she left her brolly at the hotel, but this didn't matter. We were here! The Louvre!

Musèe du Louvre

We spent several minutes soaking in the feeling of being there. We took our time taking photos, walking around a bit, and then sitting there and soaking in the atmosphere as well as a few raindrops. We knew the line going in was going to be long no matter how long we waited. But we made our way toward the pyramid. Making our way toward the entrance we passed several very well armed military personnel. They brandished their automatic rifles as if to provide a visible deterrence to any trouble that may occur. Nice to see security was of the utmost importance here.

At the door our bags sent through the metal detector, then we headed down two sets of escalators to the main floor to purchase tickets. We started by standing in one of four manned ticket lines when I noticed a credit card only ticket machine. We quickly made our purchase through the machine. Next we obtained a museum map and planned what exhibits to see.

Crowd In the Louvre

The main exhibits I wanted to see was the Mona Lisa and The Venus de Milo. If we saw other works it would be a bonus. We made our way to both crowded exhibits, seeing other works of art in between. We walked into the room that housed the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa is small and behind glass-like protection as Farrah described to me before. But da Vinci's brilliance still shines through all of it. For some reason, particularly at this exhibit, the annoyance of people taking flash photos in a non-photo taking area really started to upset me. I find it hard to understand why people cannot just obey that simple rule. But still, they flash away. I am not sure what type of damage flash photography does with works of art such as this, but I'm sure it is detrimental.

We walked around more, then made our way to the Venus de Milo. We did take photos at the Venus de Milo didn't appear to have no photography designation. This is another impressive work of art. We were able to get up close and move around the Venus de Milo even though there was a large crowd.

The Louvre is crowded when it comes to the main exhibits. The rooms can get warm and it is unimaginable how hot it might get in the summer months. The less popular exhibits are not crowded at all, so if you go, you can take a break from the crowds by seeing other works of art in the museum, then head back into the fray.

After ninety or so minutes at the Louvre we started our walk to the Musèe d'Orsay.

Musèe d'Orsay

We took a slow walk to the Musèe d'Orsay. We tried to find places to eat along the way, but couldn't decide on what to eat or where to go. We wanted to eat at the cafe in the Louvre, but it was closing. Hopefully the Musèe d'Orsay would have something to offer. We walked about 10-15 minutes to arrive at a crowded line for the Musèe d'Orsay. It took another ten mintes to get into the museum. Once in we headed up the stairs and some escalators directly to the Impressionists on the fifth floor.

Musèe d'Orsay

The d'Orsay is much smaller but as impressive at the Louvre. Paintings by Van Gough, Monet, Renoir, and so many others fill the museum. We soaked in as much as we could before hunger played with our patience and stamina. We tried to eat at the small cafe in the museum. We actually sat down and read the menu which Farrah tried to translate for me. We sat for about five minutes patiently waiting for someone to help us. Unable to fully translate the menu and not feeling comfortable with what we knew, plus our ever increasing hunger, we decided to skip out of the cafe and hit the streets for food.

Luckily outside of the d'Orsay was a little cafe with a window for takeaway orders. Farrah order a ham and cheese and I had a hot dog. We got our food and sat on the steps of the d'Orsay. Yummy.

We sat, ate and caught our breath for a while. We've been on the move since we landed in Paris and other than stopping at the hotel room for a bit we haven't stopped moving. We both agreed it was a blessing in disguise that I couldn't get on the Eurostar the day before. The pace we would on to see all of Paris in a day would have been difficult with the pressure of getting back to the Eurostar on time to head back to London. Though we were basically seeing Paris in a day during this trip, the idea that we had a hotel room to stay at overnight made us more relaxed when walking about and seeing the sights.

We finished our food and broke out the Metro map. We realized that Metro 6 was just in front of the d'Orsay. We hopped on the Metro and headed Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel - the Metro stop for The Eiffel Tower.

Eiffel Tower

We had seen glimpses of the Eiffel Tower on the horizon from the RER in and, I think, from the Louvre. But seeing it up close is something different. The Metro walk to the Eiffel Tower was shorter than five minutes. When you come up on the Eiffel Tower from the side we did, you can start seeing it through the trees then it makes itself known. It is as impressive as Big Big Ben, but it becomes even more indescribable once you walk under the tower.

Eiffel Tower

The crowds were big under the tower and the lines to go up were long but fair. I had no desire to go up the tower as it appeared you needed to walk down in order to get back on the ground - unless those walking down were impatient and decided to make the descent on their own. We stared at the tower and the surrounding for a good half hour, letting our meal settle even more. If it was a clear sunny non-windy day I might have gone up. But today was a day to soak in the atmosphere.

It was at the Eiffel Tower where we were accosted more for money from gypsy type people. It was a little of an annoyance, and we would run into in our next couple of stops. But I guess it's like any other big city (though I only recall one time being asked for money in London).

Next, we walked several blocks to catch Metro 6 to Charles de Gaulle Ètoile and the Arc de Triomphe.

Arc de Triomphe

I recall seeing the Arch de Triomphe in a history book when I was a kid. For some reason the image of the Arc still sticks in my memory as something I wanted to see. I think the simple shape and the name really made an impression on me. Now I can say I have seen the Arch, I have been under the Arc, and it is gorgeous.

Arc de Triomphe

We snapped several photos across the street from the Arc, being accosted every once in while by someone asking for money. We then realized we could take a tunnel and be right under the Arc. It wasn't too crowded under the Arc. We took our time soaking it in, looking down the Champs Elysèes, and taking photo after photo. We sat down and gave our tired feet a rest.

There was one more place I wanted to see, Notre Dame, but it was closing soon and we would not get there in time. It was ok with me. Being able to see the Arc like this, looking out in the the city traffic, and being with Farrah made me really appreciate the opportunity to see all of this - to see Paris as we had this day. If we weren't able to make it inside Notre Dame it was fine. The day could have ended here.

We took the RER A to Les Halles then the Metro 4 to St-Michel to see Notre Dame. Once we got out of the rail station it took a while to get our bearings. We were in front of Sainte-Chapelle trying to find out where to walk towards. We walked along the River Seine and found Notre Dame.

Norte Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris

More jaw dropping awe engulfed my mind as we walked up toward Notre Dame. There was still a good crowd in front of Notre Dame though it was late afternoon-early evening. We took several photos in front - even having some girls jumping into a photo Farrah was taking of me. The details on the outside of Notre Dame jump out at you and the history just pours out through the cathedral. As I was snapping away taking photos I noticed people were still going into the cathedral. It looks as if we were in luck and the cathedral was still open.

We made our way into the dark cathedral. Inside is as impressive as Westminster Abbey, even seemingly bigger than it. There was a mass that just ended so people were still milling about. I asked Farrah if we could light a candle. For some reason I was thinking of my father and felt like light one. I almost did at Westminster Abbey, but for some reason this opportunity seemed more appropriate in doing this for him. We lingered about longer taking in the shear size and history of it all, then headed out.

We walked down one of the side streets off of Notre Dame, going in and out of souvenir shops. We found a nice restaurant to eat outside. Farrah had a quiche and I a bacon cheeseburger. It was a bit $$ but it was a good cap to the end of the day. It was a bit after 9:00 pm and we needed to head back to the hotel room. We paid the bill, unsure if a tip was necessary. All we read about tips were about England, where tipping is dependent on several factors. In the end we didn't leave one and felt bad for not doing so - but we were already a couple of blocks away when this feeling of bad etiquette. Our waiter was extremely nice, probably the nicest French person we met all trip, and we basically screwed him over. I feel bad as I'm writing this now :( Major faux pas!

We heading back to the hotel for some sleep in our clothes. It got cold through the night and the heater didn't work. We used our jackets for warmth - or at least partial warmth. We woke up early to head to the airport. The RER ride to the airport was simple enough. The difficult part was figuring out what terminal we needed to take off from.

Back to London

The RER dropped us off at Terminal 3. We took the free rail to Terminal 1. After getting off and looking at the departure board we realized we needed to be in Terminal 2. We hopped back on the rail and headed to Terminal 2. Once in Terminal 2 we took the very long walk to our gate which was at the end of the terminal. Luckily we had enough time for the walk and wait. We had a few extra Euros to spend so we had breakfast at the terminal.

We checked in to board the plane. After a quick search of our bags, we handed our boarding pass to the agent then walked the narrow hall to our plane. Funny thing was at the end of the hall, we headed down a set of stairs(?) which lead to outside to a bus! Farrah then asked the agent at the end of the stairs, "Is this British Airways?". Yes, she replied. We boarded the bus and waited with about 40 other people. Once everyone was on board we drove off onto the flight line. We stopped at a plane and disembarked at the front of the bus. Some commented, "How do we know if this is the right plane?"

"If we land in London, then it's the right plane", I replied. I received a brief chuckle from my response.

We boarded walking to the back of the plane and our seats. My Dramamine kicked in and I fell asleep as the plane took off.

Impressions of Paris

Paris is a beautiful city, dirty in parts. It's more dirty than I thought a city of this caliber would be. In Paris there were more people asking for money then I had experienced in a while. I enjoyed all the sights we saw, and the transportation system became more understandable as we used it. But it is not as organized as the London Underground.

Would I go back to Paris? Yes, but I would like to see somewhere else in France before heading back.

Paris is a No Go

I have two phobias I am keenly aware of - a fear of heights and of enclosed places.

Fear sucks.  When the Irrational fear becomes debilitating it sucks even more.  An irrational debilitating fear hit hard this morning when we tried to get on the Eurostar to Paris.

When we were first planning our trip to Europe, we were going to fly to Rome then London.  As we planned further it made more sense to simply visit England and Paris.  We then narrowed it down to Bath, London and a quick day trip to Paris.  Flying was one option to go to Paris.  But a cheaper and (to some) easier way is to use Eurostar which places you near city center.

If you don't know what the Eurostar is it is a fast train to Pairs.  Part of the train trip is going through a tunnel created under the English Channel (or Chunnel).  Yes, that's right, under the English Channel.  When I found out about this I first said I'd rather fly.  But then reading about Eurostar further (it's only 20 minutes under) I felt I could do it.  We booked the tickets.

Eurostar Station @ Waterloo

We arrived at Waterloo station early since our Eurostar train left early.  I took my two Dramamine once we got to station, but something was still lingering in the back of my mind.  We went through the security checkpoint then waited to board the train.

Nothing really conscious was going through my mind, nothing I could put my finger on, but I was getting anxious.  I was getting nervous.  Then there was an announced delay in boarding.  This allowed my mind more time to wander.

I could feel my breathing getting heavier, my legs feeling like cement, and my head becoming light.  Then came the boarding call.  I coughed several times as if I was going to vomit, but I knew I wasn't.  Farrah kept asking me if I was ok.  I kept saying yes, hoping I could get past this.

Another boarding call.

More coughing.  I couldn't stand up.  I looked at Farrah and told her I don't think I can do this.  I honestly don't know why I can't as I'm not really thinking about it.  She looks at me, smiles and says everything is all right.  She touches my face, kisses me on the cheek and says, "Let's book a flight instead.  We'll get to Paris."

My beautiful understanding wife is strong for me in this moment of irrational fear.  We walk out of the station and head back to the flat.

Unfortunately, the two Dramamine hit me hard when we are back at the flat.  Farrah let's me sleep it off until the afternoon.  We then get online to book the tickets through British Airways, and then book a room since we decide to spend the night in Paris.

So, we're set to be in Paris late Thursday morning and will be staying at the Francais Hotel.  I apologize throughout the night for ruining this day.  Farrah just smiles and says it's all right.  I can be apologetic until midnight, then no more talking about it.

I love my wife.

London Lite

We made today a light day since we are heading to Paris tomorrow.  In Paris we need to cram in as much in once day and I know we'll be tired.  This morning we did a dry run to the Eurostar station where we are catching the train to Paris.

We started the day off late since the day's activities are light.  We picked up our tickets then ate lunch bought at the local Marks & Spencer.  We tried to see the London Eye from the Waterloo station where we were eating, but couldn't get our bearings straight.  But the London Eye wasn't really on the schedule for the day, so we went back on the Tube to our destinations.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

The Palace isn't open to visitors during most of the year.  It is only open when the royal family is away on vacation.  But this fact doesn't stop people from visiting and taking photos in front of Buckingham Palace.  There were plenty of tour buses and roaming tourists, but we managed to get are requisite photo in front.

Our plan afterwards was to walk to the two adjacent parks, St. James Park and Green Park.  We first went through St. James Park.  A light rain started coming down as we entered the park.  This didn't stop people from eating their lunches or feeding the birds in the park.  As we made our way halfway though the park Farrah noticed it ended near the Churchill War Room.  We were planning on seeing it earlier in our trip, but it dropped from our must see list.

St. James Park

But then Farrah reminded me that Number 10 Downing Streetis close.  So we wandered off our course to see the home of the Prime Minister.  If you haven't been following the news lately, the current Prime Minister is stepping down shortly, so it would be nice to see this location.  Unfortunately, it is very well guarded.  Oh well.

We continued our walk pass a horse guard, then waled up to Trafalgar Square which leads to the National Museum.  Trafalgar Square is beautiful with huge statues to look at all day - or at least during a lunch hour.  We saw many people milling around even though a slight drizzle was present.

Fountain in Trafalgar Square

We didn't realize we walked so far from Green Park, so we caught the Tube near Trafalgar Square and walked though Green Park.  The lunchtime crowd that occupied at St. James Park across the street seemed to be non-existent in Green Park.  We then headed back to the flat because we were going to see a play tonight.

Green Park

Sunday evening we were able to purchase tickets online for tonight's showing of The Sound of Music.  It has received many positive reviews.  We didn't realize the theater was fairly close to the flat - one Tube stop away. We rested for a couple of hours then headed to the show.

We had somewhat nosebleed seats in the upper balcony.  From our theater sets we lose partial sight to front stage right, but it didn't affect enjoying the play.  The performers were good, but it is difficult to live up to an iconic movie. This is only my third theater experience - the other two being The Phantom of the Opera and The Lion King.  This ranks third, but it was my first London play!

We ended the night anxious to head to Paris.

The Big Four

Today was my first experience with Tube congestion.  It's Monday so people are off to work.  Plus we got a little late start in getting out of the flat.  We needed to catch two lines to reach our destination: the Jubilee line and then the Circle / District line.  Unfortunately, when we got to our second Tube destination the line was seriously delayed.  We had to find an alternate route that took us north,  then back around to get to Tower Hill where we needed to be.

Tower of London

We arrived at the Tower of London in pouring rain.  The forecast for today, as with many of the previous days, was for continued rain.  It was steadily pouring when we purchased tickets and entered the Tower.  We planned to go it alone though the Tower, but a tour was just beginning so we decided to follow the tour guide for as long as he went.

He talked about the history of the Tower of London and the many queens and royalty who were held there before their execution.    Our tour guide spoke mainly in the chapel and talked about who was buried there.

Tour Guide at the London Tower

After his talk, Farrah and I headed to see the Crown Jewels.  The line to see the jewels is long, but when you see the actual Crown Jewels you pass by while on a conveyor belt.  There will be no linger near the jewels!

If you wonder why there are no photos of the Crown Jewels it is because no photos are allowed.  In general I hate taking photos at museums because the lighting is low and I don't have the proper lens.  Plus most of the time photo taking isn't allowed in the museum.

After the Crown Jewels we went into the White Tower and the Bloody Tower, both fun places full of history.  We also stopped by Traitor's Gate before heading out the side entrance which faces Tower Bridge.

This was a lot of history to soak up by noon.

Tower Bridge

We exited the side of the Tower of London which faces the River Thames.  There we look out at Tower Bridge which still looked impressive in the light mist.  We tried to take a few photos on the crowded walkway filled with french speaking students and other tourists.  We then made our way up in search of lunch, stopping by a local Wagamama to give it another go.

Us and Tower Bridge - The Myspace Photo

Big Ben

After refueling, we headed back into the Tube to head to Westminster Abbey.  When you head out of the Tube station to head to Westminster Abbey you are greeted with - BAM! - Big Ben!  It is an impressive sight.

Big Ben

We stood around in awe for a good 10 minutes just snapping photos and admiring is sheer size.  We looked out across the river from Big Ben and were able to see the London Eye as well.  We didn't stop by the London Eye though as we are saving that for later in the week.

Westminster Abbey

After milling around Big Ben, we made our way to Westminster Abbey, another large impressive structure. a place where monarchs are crowned and buried.  Our feet were getting tired at this point, but we needed to go into the abbey.  We walked around looking at each burial or commemorative marker.

Westminster Abbey

After our exhausting tourist-y filled day, we headed back to the flat for dinner.

To Market, to market, to buy....

Camden Lock

This weekend we went to the two big markets that happen on the weekend: Notting Hill and Camden Town.  Both markets are very popular, very crowded, but also very different.  Rain was in the forecast for a majority of the weekend, but we wouldn't let that stop us from going out.

Saturday - Notting Hill

The market opens around 7:00 am, but we started out late in the morning hoping some of the clouds would break.  The walk down Portobello Road was crowded and dangerous at times, as cross traffic is still open.  You just need to remember to look right-left-right instead of left-right-left.  Oi!

The shops and stalls seemed to line the road at least a mile long.  The stalls were part antiques, part flea market, and part farmers' market.  We walked the whole thing, with the rain pouring in and out through times.  The sun managed to peak out for about 10 minutes at one point.  But as we were heading back to the Tube station, the rain had started to come down in a steady downpour.

Farrah in Notting Hill

Camden Town

We awoke to steady rain Sunday morning, but this wouldn't stop us from heading to Camden Town. For some reason I really enjoyed taking the Tube today.  I was impressed that we were able to transfer to a couple of trains quickly. I can imagine living in London without car.

Camden Town has a more youth and fashion oriented appeal.  The majority of the crowds there remind me of my record store days.  You can see several goth clothing stores and music shops along the streets.  Most of stalls in the market areas deal with clothing, jewelry, and accessories.  The food court area in one portion of the market offers a variety of tasty looking dishes easily served in an aluminum tin for your takeaway pleasure.

We stayed in Camden Town for several hours before heading off to a more touristy endeavor - The Victoria & Albert Museum (aka V&A).

V&A

The Tube station stops near the bottom section of The V&A.  A long walk down a tunnel takes you to an underground entrance.

The V&A has both a mixture of old and modern art.  Heck, they even had an exhibition for Kylie Minogue!  We didn't go see that exhibit or the surreal exhibit as they cost extra.  But the rest of the museum, like most of the British museums, was free.  We were able to view the amazing Raphael Cartoons - for which I was chastised for taking the photo below.  Luckily I was able to say it wasn't of the cartoon themselves but of the archway.  Otherwise I probably would have been chided even further.

The museum was impressive.  I will need to post other photos once we get home.  The internet connection here isn't bad but it isn't that great either.  Plus some of the photos really need work.  I hate taking photos in museums, as they normally have low lighting due to the nature of the work being displayed.  I was able to take a few photos, like the one of the idiot leaning on an exhibit below while trying to admire other art before him.  More will follow once we are back in the states.

Harrods

The last stop of the day was at the world famous Harrods.  We walked around a while looking at many things.  This is one large department store that has many brands available.  But it isn't really my cup of tea.  On the lower floor you can find a small memorial to Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed, the son of the store owner Mohammad Al-Fayed.

We didn't much after Harrods as our feet were dead tired after walking all day.

In London - Catching Our Breath

My First View of Stonehenge

We are in our rented London flat now.  It is a nice one bedroom flat in St. Christopher's Place, which is off one of most busiest shopping streets in the world - Oxford Street.  Luckily, we are off a quiet branch of the busy hustle and bustle of the main shopping lane.

We arrived in London early Thursday afternoon by coach (bus) from our time in Bath.  I meant to blog more often then I have and about our lastt two days in Bath, as well as our past two days here, but the jet lag is still hitting me.  Farrah and I find ourselves up at 5:00 am, then knackered by 1:00 pm in the afternoon.  We get our second wind after a quick afternoon nap.  Hopefully we'll be on full London time by the tomorrow.

Stonehenge and Avebury via Mad Max

On Tuesday we took the Mad Max tour of Stonehenge and Avebury stone circles.  Mad Max Tours received very good review in the trip planning references we used.  I thought the tour was going to be rough when we first got on the small tour bus of about 12 people.  Our tour guide Nick seemed a little flustered in the beginning, but his demeanor and the tour picked up as we moved through the day.

I suppose stone circles can be looked as large rocks placed in unusual but possibly significant positions, but they mystic that surrounds these formations is hard to ignore.  We arrived at Stonehenge after an hour ride from Bath.  The drive was uneventful.  We were the first tour group to arrive at Stonehenge.  This afforded us the opportunity to view Stonehenge without the many people to come in the ten minutes after our arrival.

The photo above represents the first time I saw Stonehenge. I know it's not the best photo, but  it is an honest representation of what I first saw.  I can honestly tell you my heart skipped a beat upon seeing Stonehenge on the horizon.  To see Stonehenge in person is amazing.  We were able to walk around the whole structure.  I know we took too many photos, but I wasn't sure what photos were going to turn out with the cloudy slash sunny weather we were having.

After Stonehenge we headed to Avebury, another stone formation.  Avebury is not as famous as Stonehenge, but the rock formations are just as impressive.  The rocks at Avebury are more natural wheareas the stones at Stonehenge were beaten smooth.

We then took a short ride to Lacock where we ate lunch at a small pub there, the George Inn.  We had the fish and chips there with a pint of Guiness for me and a half pint of the local bitter for Farrah.  We chatted it up with some of the other people on tour with us, finding out that two of the other single passengers were from California - one from San Diego the other from Mountain View!  Small world.

Lacock has been used as a filming location from time to time, since it can represent old England and it is a very small town.  It has been used in such productions as "Pride and Prejudice" (BBC version), Harry Potter, and a new Dame Judi Dench BBC mini series.

Family in Bath

Wednesday morning we went to a hairdresser in Bath.  Not just any ordinary hairdresser but Farrah's host mom's business in Bath.  At first Lin (Linda) wasn't sure who she was seeing peering through her door, but after a quick smile and a "Do you recognize me?" from Farrah, memories of Farrah's stay in Bath nine years ago came rushing back.

Farrah and Lin talked for about half an hour, which consisted of introducing me,  and quickly catching up on the time spent apart.  Lin invited us to dinner that night, an opportunity  to catch up with Brian and Louise.  We spent the rest of the daylight going to the Costume Museum and other sites we wanted to see before we were to leave on Thursday morning.

At about 4:30 pm we started the slightly long uphill walk to Lin's home.  Farrah said she remembered how to get there, questioned her recollection about halfway through our walk, then assuredly guided us to the right place.  The rain was steadily coming down that night.

We arrived at Lin, Brian, Louise and Barnaby's lovely home to smiles and hugs.  We spent the next four hours drinking wine, eating dinner, and talking about everything under the sun.  It was a lovely evening spent with warm genuine people who I know Farrah can truly call her family across the pond.

Our time spent in Bath was enjoyed to the fullest.  I wish we could spend more time there, but we needed to head off to the second part of our journey.

Travel Day

Thursday found us partaking in one last early morning walk around Bath, then a quick breakfast before catching the coach to London.  The three and a half our drive to London wore us out.  Once we got off the coach, we headed to the crowded Tube station.  We bought an Oyster card which seemed more economical for our 10 stay in London.  Loading the card took a considerable amount of time as the blasted machine did not want to read my credit card.  Imagine the frustration after the tiring coach trip!

We boarded one Tube train then another to our destination.  I must stay the Tube platform looked like a movie set.  Nice, clean, and unreal.  I'll need to take photos of the station some time later.  I couldn't at that time as our hands were full with the luggage.

When we got out of the Bond Street Tube station to locate the rental office it was pouring rain.  Oxford Street was crowded with shoppers even though it was raining cats and dogs.  We managed to easily find the rental office, only about a three minute walk from our location.  We received the keys from Lizzie - our representative at Globe - then found our flat.

The flat is nice and roomy, having a nice small kitchen, bedroom, bath, etc.  We've settled in pretty well, having bought the necessary groceries at the local Tesco Express.  I am happy we rented a flat, allowing us to live the local experience unlike a hotel room.  Plus it almost cost the same as a decent hotel room here in pricey London!

Anyway, as I finish this up it is coming up at 1:00 AM.  I better get some rest.  Farrah is already asleep.

I'll blog more when I can.

Tours: Our First Full Day in Bath

After a good night's sleep, we headed down to breakfast, which started later than usual since it is a Bank Holiday.  Our breakfast table is designated by room number.  We had a choice of five different meals:

  • A full all English Breakfast
  • Scrambled Eggs and Bacon
  • Fried Egg and Bacon
  • Egg and Toast
  • Beans and Toast
  • Vegetarian

Farrah had the scrambled eggs and bacon and I had the egg and bacon.  The bacon is cut much like a thin ham steak - nice and salty.  There were also choices of cereals, fruit, and juices.  Not a bad breakfast for a seemingly small bed and breakfast.

We looked outside while eating breakfast, seeing the wind and rain that were mentioned on the morning television forecast.  We weren't going to let the rain change our plans of taking the Bath CitySightseeing tour.  After all, this is England and it does rain!

Bath CitySightseeing is broken up into two sections: The City Centre Tour and Skyline Tour.  We took the City Centre Tour which took us through sights within the city.  We sat on the top front covered section of the double-decker tour bus, sheltering us from the rain.  It was difficult to see some of the sites pointed out by our tour guide through the rain drenched windows.  By the tour's end the sun was starting to try and break up the clouds.

We then headed in Roman Baths Museum.  The museum was crowded since it was a holiday.  We managed to take the full tour in about 90 minutes. Afterwards, we grabbed lunch at Sally Lunds, the oldest (tea) house in Bath.  Farrah ordered the Bath Cream Tea with half of their famous bun.  The bun, we are told, is created from an ultra secret recipe, locked in a safe and only known by three people.  It came with raspberry and clotted cream.  I had a roast beef sandwich which came with apple pie and clotted cream.  Yummy on both counts.

After our fulfilling lunch, we jumped on the Skyline portion of the Bath CitySightseeing tour.  We sat on the uncovered portion of the top of the bus this time, since the weather cleared.  We had to dodge tree branches from time to time up there.

For dinner we decided to try Wagamama which received some good reviews.  Wagamama is a nice clean trendy type place to eat Japanese food.  Farrah tried the Miso Ramen and I had the Chilli Beef Ramen, both served with very fresh vegetables.  The prices are high, considering the conversion rate, but we're on vacation!

We're Here!

As I write this right now, it is around 21:18 (9:18 PM)  on Sunday here in Bath, UK.  Farrah and I are sitting in our room at The Parade Park bed and breakfast, watching television and trying to recover from the day's events.

The flight on Virgin Atlantic from SFO was long, but as comfortable as possible.  The seats don't give you much room.  Luckily you do receive a personal entertainment screen.    You can choose from over 50 movies, television shows, and games to past the time away.  I managed to watch "Smokin' Aces" and " The Illusionist "  and a few minutes "Music and Lyrics".  Farrah watched "Borat", "Catch and Release", and "Music and Lyrics".

The food, a dinner and breakfast, were not bad for airline food.  They even provided free headphones and a free toiletry kit.

Once we landed at Heathrow, we took the long walk to Central Bus Station and waited about 90 minutes for our bus.  At this point Farrah and I were pretty much whipped, having only slept a couple of hours - if that much - on the plane.  We both feel asleep off and on through the two hour bus ride to Bath.

Room with a View

We easily found the bed and breakfast.  The room is on the third floor - what we would call the fourth floor as the ground floor is not counted.  Our room is small, but it does have it's own bathroom.

The sink has separate hot and cold water faucets and flushing the toilet requires you to pull the lever several times in a row - almost as if you are priming the pump.  We can see the Abbey from our room, as you can tell in the photo above..

All in all an adventurous day to the UK.

How We Planned Our Trip

Trip Itinerary

As with any trip you take, the first thing we decided on was when to go. When Farrah went on her semester abroad she did most of free traveling in May. From what she recalled May was a good month to travel, just avoiding people getting off of school and the family summer vacation rush. We chose the first half of May to travel. A basic sketch of our plans are:

  • Four day in Bath, UK
  • Six days in London day
  • A day trip to Paris
  • Three 1/4 days in London before heading home

If you want to see how our trip is playing out in a day-to-day view, check out our Yahoo! Travel page to see the sites we are planning to visit. This page will change of course.

Transportation and Lodging

We started with the first major expense: airline tickets. In an effort to obtain the best price, we first tried a service at Farrah's work - a concierge service. The service is mean to conduct all the footwork for you. You simply need to supply the service with what you want and they will try to find the best prices for you. I always thought they would get decent discounts, but when we compared what the service had to offer versus an Internet service like Kayak, the difference was minimal. I was even able to direct the concierge service to a better discount using Kayak!

We chose our dates and airline (Virgin Atlantic) and booked the flight via Virgin's site. We also booked our bus tickets from Heathrow to Bath and back to London. We'll be staying in Bath for our first four days, then the rest of the time in London, with a long day trip to Paris.

We used several resources in planning our trip. Of course we used the Internet, but also sought advice from friends and co workers, and of course good ol' books. Plenty of research can now be done on the Internet, foregoing the purchasing of books. But it is nice to have and carry a tangible reference guide on the trip.

After looking through several books, we found what we believe are three good choices:

The three books bring different views on what is must see in London. The Rick Steve's book takes a historical approach, offering tips on what historical sites can't be missed and what you can live without visiting. Pauline Frommer's book brings a woman's perceptive to traveling in London (e.g. places to shop), but also offers frugal places to stay and eat. Time Out London stays with the hip and cool places to stay and see, just like the newsstand magazine.

The Internet has changed much since 1997 when Farrah was planning her semester abroad. At one point back then, she was wondering what to pack and wear in Europe. I said to her, Let me post the question in a newsgroup. I found the old Usenet posting I submitted doing a search on Google. Nowadays you don't need to use newsgroups, but message boards are the thing. I'm sure there were some travel sites on the Internet back then, but nothing really known. Nothing like the ones we used on this trip. The most useful sites have been:

I am on Tripadvisor daily and find it the most helpful site of the two. We looked at lodging reviews there making our selections based on reviews and community photos.

Passport Update

I managed to get a hold of the passport office. They confirmed they received the paperwork, but they confirmed they won't do any expediting until there are only 14 days before the trip! So you know what I'm going to do on that 14th day - I'll be on the phone dialing.