Saturday, November 22, 2008

I see London, I see France...

Today I spent the day in London! It's been 8 years since I've been to England - not sure why it has been so long. But it was good to finally get back there! I took the Eurostar - the highspeed TGV train that goes under the English Channel through the Chunnel and gets you from city center to city center in 2 hours 45 minutes. The amount of time you are actually "in the chunnel" (i.e. under water) is about 30 minutes - I made a note this time :-)

So I took the 8am train and arrived in London just before 10am (England is a hour behind France so I gained an hour going over). My train home was at 7:15pm, so I had a full day to see the city. However, unlike Paris - which I can easily do in a day because I know the city so well - London is huge. And the traffic and the quantity of people on the streets reminds me a lot of New York City. So as it turns out, 9 hours in London was a stretch and I spent the day literally running from site to site. I got to see most of what I wanted, but the thing I didn't have time for really was any shopping. And the shopping looked so good! On SkyNews (out of London) they have been saying how all the shops in London were really hurting and talking about the recession and nobody buying. Well... that did NOT seem to be the case! Every store was packed, every store was already set up for Christmas, and business appeared to be absolutely booming!

Anyhow... in preparation for the trip I went online Friday night and bought a few eTickets: double decker on-and-off bus pass; fast track entrance to the Tower of London; and fast track entrance to the London Eye (giant ferris wheel on the Thames River). I am VERY glad I did this - the lines were incredible and I never would have gotten to do those things had I not already had my tickets. Have I mentioned lately how great the Internet is :-)

So I got to London at 10am and basically had 2 hours to sightsee before the highlight (and only relaxing time) of the day - a lunch reservation that I made several weeks ago (again, online) at Gordon Ramsey's restaurant called "Maze". I really like Gordon Ramsey (watch all his shows) and wanted to see if his restaurants stack up. But before lunch...

When the TGV arrived at St. Pancras Station (close to Kings Cross), I jumped on a double decker bus and went to Trafalgar Square. Then I walked from Trafalgar Square, past the Horse Guards Parade, and all the way through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace. This pretty much ate up my morning and I was crunched for time, so I had to jump in a cab to make my lunch reservation.

Lunch at MAZE was cool. The outside was very nondescript - you wouldn't even realize it was a restaurant - much less his - if you didn't look real hard. Inside, very modern with clean lines and a monochrome color pallet of light browns, beiges and sage. Nothing fancy, but clean and chic. I ate in the Maze Grill which is known for its steaks. Here is what I ordered:

Starter: Confit tomatoes, chorizo, potatoes, bitter shallots
Main Course: Casterbridge grain fed 10oz Sirloin
Side: Potato gratin

Lunch was a tad pricey, but very good. There were steaks from different parts of England, Japan and the US - you had to choose. They brought around a tray that showed the different cuts and explained the differences between the meats from different places. I choose a sirloin from England (Casterbridge) that was cooked perfectly and so tender I barely had to move the knife. Hope I don't get Mad Cow though! Sorry England, small joke ;-)

The steak was served on a small cutting board instead of a plate - kind of interesting. And the potato gratin was served in a tiny cast iron pot the size of a ramekin on a slate coaster. What they say is true, presentation is everything. The unique way in which everything is served at Maze is as much a part of the experience as the food is. Needless to say I was stuffed and just wanted a nap when I left, but I pressed on :-)

After lunch I had to zoom over to the London Eye to make my 2:30pm appointment. Not enough time to take the bus, so again I hopped in a cab. I can't emphasize this enough - buy your tickets in advance online people! The lines were astonishing at the Eye, but because I had a fast track ticket, I pretty much just walked right on. The views were incredible! I got some of the best photos of the whole day during the ride.

After the Eye, I got back on the double decker bus and headed to St. Paul's Cathedral for a quick pit stop on my way over to the Tower of London and London Bridge. On my previous trips to London I had seen the Tower of London, but not gone inside. I was determined to see the Crown Jewels this time and made it in just under the wire. Last admission was 4pm and I got there about 5 minutes before that!

Walking around the castle grounds is really cool if you're into history like I am. I didn't have nearly as much time as I would have liked, but I did get to see the Crown Jewels! Looking at all the scepters and crowns of previous kings and queens of England was fascinating. I noticed that when you go in to see the Crown Jewels (no photos allowed by the way) you are actually walking into a vault. The metal vault doors had to be about 5 feet thick. For some reason I kept thinking of the Oceans 11 movie while I was in there :-)

From now until mid-January they have ice skating at the Tower of London - kind of like how they do at Rockefeller Center in New York. And the view of the Tower Bridge from the castle grounds as it started to get dark was just beautiful.

By this time it was completely dark (it gets dark in England at 4pm in the winter) and it was sadly, about that time... so I jumped on the double decker bus to head back to St. Pancras station to catch the TGV back home to Paris. Because it was on the other end off the route, the ride was long - but this was a good thing because I got a free "London by Night" tour and saw all the monuments and buildings (and the Eye) all lit up! I sat up on top of the bus in the open air to take photos and froze - but it was worth it. Oh, did I not mention the weather? The high in London was about 35 today and the temps never made it out of the 30s the entire day while I was there. Thank God it was sunny and didn't rain! And up on top of that bus at night - with the wind - it was definitely very brrrrrrish :-)

I made it back to the train station, checked in, got on board and dozed for much of the trip home. When I arrived back in Paris at Gare du Nord I still had to take the Metro home - another 20 minutes.

When I finally walked back in the apartment it was 11:30pm and I was exhausted. It was a very long and fast-paced, but wonderful day in London. And now I think I'll sleep about 10 hours to recuperate - ha!

Click here to view all of today's photos from London (11/22/08)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Fashion Show @ Galeries Lafayette

The major department stores (Galeries Lafayette and Printemps) put on fashion shows each week, so I thought in my quest for an authentic Paris experience, this would be a good thing to add to the agenda.

The show was pretty interesting! Check out the clothes and styles by clicking on the link below to view all the photos from the fashion show today. I also took a few video brief video clips.

Two things to notice in the videos...

1) You'll see a girl with a big/bulky shiny black bomber-style type jacket with horizontal ribbing - those jackets are EVERYWHERE here. Everyone is wearing them. Personally, I don't really like them because they are so bulky. But I guess if you are super skinny you can get away with it.

2) On some of the girls in the video you'll see they are wearing black knee-high trouser socks/stockings with shoes. The video may look like they are boots, but they aren't. I haven't seen anyone out and about like that, but that's probably because it is winter and that may be more of a spring thing. Just thought it looked odd to see knee high stockings with a dress. But on the models it looked cool :-)

Click here to view all of today's photos (11/21/08)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


"Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men
that the defenses of peace must be constructed."

Very busy past few days... I will post more SOON! But for now, here are today's photos from my guided tour of the UNESCO headquarter - the United Nations Education, Scientific & Cultural Organization. (Or what I like to think of as my 'future place of employment' with any luck!)

Funny story about the Iranian delegation that I was on tour at the UN with.... I'm fairly sure I'm on some government "list" now. Guess Obama isn't the only one 'paling around with terrorists'... ha! More about this later....

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Today after school I went to see St-Sulspice. Like La Madeleine, I had never seen this church either. The picture I had in my head of it was from the movie The DaVinci Code. For some reason I thought I remembered it being small. Wrong. This church is HUGE!

Unfortunately, like so many buildings in Europe, one side of the church is almost entirely covered in scaffolding under renovation. Outside the church in the Place Saint Sulspice is a beautiful fountain.

Construction on St-Sulspice began in 1646, but it wasn't completed until nearly the end of the 1700s. There is an absolutely gorgeous alter inside along with one of the largest pipe organs in the world.

Click here to view all of today's photos (11/18/08)

Monday, November 17, 2008

La Madeleine

Somehow, I never saw the Eglise de Madeleine on any of my previous trips to Paris. Since this stay is a quest to see as much as I can that I haven't before, I headed over to check it out. The church was designed in 1764 and as you'll see in the photos, quite beautiful.

In the are surrounding the Place de la Madeleine are many high fashion stores and gourmet food shops. One of them - La Maison de la Truffe - had some truffles in the window priced at 2,500 Euros for one kilogram!

From the steps of Madeleine you can see the Place de la Concorde, so I walked down and took a few night pics. In the Place de la Concorde is an Egyptian Obelisk from a 3,000+ year old Luxor temple that was a gift to France from Egypt in 1833. Also in the Place de la Concorde - but only around the holidays - is a giant ferris wheel. I didn't go up in it, but I may before I leave Paris. We'll see how my ride on the Eye in London goes on Saturday!

Click here to view all of today's photos (11/17/08)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Give Geneva a Chance" Day

Okay, so I decided to give Geneva a second chance today. I slept in, watched some more English television and then headed out to do some siteseeing. The first thing on my list was to go see the UN. So I figured out which tram to jump on and about 10 minutes later was standing in front of the Palais des Nations.

Of course it being a Sunday – and winter – the UN was closed. I knew that though, so it wasn’t a surprise. In winter they only offer guided tours M-F, but there just wasn’t a way for me to get here mid-week given my class schedule at the Alliance Francais. It was still really cool though. And about a block away is the building that houses the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), which most Americans only have heard of because of Angelina Jolie and the wonderful work she has done as their Goodwill Ambassador.

After the UN, I wandered around that area for a little while then headed back towards the hotel. In addition to being closely situated to the train station, the hotel was also only a 10 minute walk to Lake Geneva. So I walked down to the lake, saw the famous geyser that is shown in all/any photos of Geneva, and then decided to take a boat ride – I figured it was Lake Geneva afterall! The boat ride lasted about an hour and was great. My hands were frozen though (I only brought one set of hand warmer packets with me to Geneva and had used them the night before). It was a nice, scenic ride. Set against the shore line of Lake Geneva you can see the Alps and Mont Blanc (through the haze).

I learned two things on the boat ride:

1) Lake Geneva is central Europe’s largest fresh water lake; and

2) Switzerland had 4 official languages: French, Italian, German and Romanche (What the heck is Romansh?!? I’ll have to Google that!)

Update: This Romansh thing is truly bizarre... take a look at what wikipedia says here

By the time the boat was over, so was my time in Geneva. I went back to the hotel to collect my satchel and then walked across the street and got on the 4:15pm TGV train back to Paris. I’m actually writing this post on the train and will post it when I get back to my apartment.

Would I come back to Geneva? Probably. But really only because someday I want to be able to take the tour of the UN. I don’t know why, but I just wasn’t impressed with Geneva. It just seemed like a big city – any big city. I didn’t really get a real sense of history here despite the Old Town section and it just seemed to lack any sort of ambiance. I may be spoiled though because Paris just oozes history and charm. Every neighborhood here has its own personality.

If I do come back to Geneva, it will probably be just a pass through on my way to Chamonix – the ski resort town on Mont Blanc. Had I had more time here (and a more suitable – i.e. warmer – wardrobe), I would/could have taken a day trip to Chamonix. It just didn’t work out this time. So if I come back to Switzerland, that’s my plan – Chamonix and a pit stop at the UN for a guided tour. But at least I can (finally) add Switzerland to my travel resume :-)

At this point my train arrived back in Paris at Gare de Lyon.
I then took the Metro (Lines 1 & 8) to a stop called Grands Boulevards and
then walked 5 minutes back to my apartment.

Okay, I’m back home now! I missed my little place on the Rue du Croissant. Time to take out the garbage, review my assignments for French class tomorrow and make myself a nice, warm Crepe Fromage (i.e. cheese crepe - natural, not sweet - made with a combination of Brie and Camembert). Oh yeah, and watch some exciting Al Jarezeera TV to cap off the night – ha!

Bonne Nuit

Click here to view all of today's photos (11/16/08)