Category Archives: Sightseeing

Everyone Needs a Christmas Break

In the midst of moving, the LAST thing I wanted to deal with was two weeks of holiday house guests… even if said “house guests” were my family.

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It’s not that I didn’t want to see them… or didn’t miss them like crazy.

After having gone from seeing them all the time to never ever, nothing could be further from the truth…

It’s just with NO IDEA where we’ll be living in California, plotting a cross-country drive with a toddler, and packing, packing, packing… I just didn’t think I could handle a two week break from everything going on.

Well, what do you know… a break was exactly what I needed and even though I declared “only gifts for Avery this year” (i.e. I can’t handle shopping on top of everything else right now), hanging out with  my favorite crazies was the BEST present I could have ever gotten.

(Well, that and the fabulous  new digital SLR awaiting me in the States…hehe)

My family being in town also gave us a chance to do some sightseeing, which we probably wouldn’t have been very motivated to do on our own. We started with a bus trip to Leeds, Canterbury, and Dover…

Okay, so we’ve been to Leeds Castle before, but not at Christmas time when the entire castle is decked out “Nutcracker theme”, which was both delightful…

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… and SCARY!

img_22961(Why, yes. It IS a giant rat surrounded by dozens of smaller rats in the royal bedchamber. Sweet Dreams and Merry Christmas.)

Next stop, the white cliffs of Dover and the fr-fr-freezing British coastline.

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I’m told, on a clear day, you can invade… er, I mean see France from this beach.

And for our final destination, Canterbury Cathedral… beautiful stained glass windows, site of a famous murder-turned-martyrdom, medieval tales of pilgrimage

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Sorry, but there really is no way to make this stuff funny…

What was funny, however, was running into this family from Houston. They found out we’re from Dallas/Fort Worth and wanted to know everything about us… and guess what, my family proceeded to tell them everything about us.

Oh friendly, outspoken Texans! How I miss you!

You see, all of the things one would consider standard small talk — “where are you from”, “what do you do”, “how do you like…”, “Hi, I’m… what’s your name?”, etc., the Brits consider instrusive and off-putting… or so I’ve been told.

I ask anyway, which probably explains why I only have one British friend, and I think she only puts up with me because she lived in the US for a bit and is “used” to  Americans…

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In other family news… I got a (future) brother (in-law) for Christmas!

(Because it’s all about ME. ha!)

My family took a  side trip to Paris before heading  home and in the most romantic gesture ever, my sister’s boyfriend proposed at the Eiffel Tower.

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Alex (or “Mr. Alex” as we have had Avery call him so as to not be presumptuous) has been part of the family ever since first I met him. He’s good peoples and everything I could every want in a brother.

Could not be more excited for them!

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Filed under Family, Holidays and Merrymaking, Sightseeing

Paris Part Deux

Continued from Part Une

Ugh! Can you possibly handle MORE Paris?

Well, it’s cold and I haven’t left my house since we returned except to restock the fridge. So, unless you want more posts about shopping at Waitrose, it’s all I got. (Deal)

Voilà, mes amies! More Paris, it is, but just the highlights. I promise.

Eiffel Tower.

I should have known that going to the top of the Eiffel Tower was a baaaad idea when the top of it was eclipsed by fog.

It was indeed very, very cold…

Notre Dame.

I thought I was SO clever to suggest that Avery and I feed the birds outside of Notre Dame, so Mike could climb to the top of the bell tower unhindered…

That is until the birds attacked! Ewwww!

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Mike never made it to the top of the bell tower, but we did manage to attend Mass in the cathedral that night… once we escaped the birds, of course.

Stained glass, incense, chanting,  and organ music in a huge Gothic church… GORGEOUS!

Don’t worry. I lit a candle for all of you sinners out there…hee-hee!

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The Louve.

Totally missed it.

Why?

Because apparently two (supposedly) well educated, high functioning  adults in possession of… not one, but TWO different guidebooks… couldn’t  figure out that it’s CLOSED on Tuesdays.

(Sigh!) C’est la vie… we still got to enjoy the exterior.

Just standing in the courtyards and gardens, it’s difficult to comprehend that the Louve was once someone’s HOUSE.

Well, actually several royal and imperial someones’ house, but still… it’s no wonder the peasants revolted.

Musee d’Orsay.

Well, isn’t it fortuitous that just across the Seine from the Louve is the d’Orsay, which was open for business that day…

I love the d’Orsay so much so that I’ve gone every single time I’ve been in Paris, but this time I loved it even more for giving me a discount for (barely) being under 30!!!

Mike cried ageism, but I assured him it was because he was CLEARLY more cultured and sophisticated, and therefore would get those two Euros more out of the experience.

And then he goes and does something like this…

Swine!

(Okay, so that last photo was staged, but only because camera phone pics are super cheesy.)

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Filed under Marriage, Sightseeing, Travel

Paris In Photos – Part Une

This is our second day home from Paris and piles of laundry are being ignored because I am STILL going through all of our photos from our trip…

… all ONE THOUSAND of them. Literally.

Thank goodness for digital. I’ve deleted most of the duplicate/blurry/”someone walked right in front of us” shots, but there’s still way too much for just four days.

In any case, here are the highlights of our trip:

Versailles…

Technically outside of Paris, but I was absolutely insistent that Mike see why j’adore Sofia Copella’s Marie Anoinette (even though most people I know did not). It was filmed on location in Versailles you know… and to see it in person is just breathtaking.

The first time I went to Paris (and Versailles) I was 15 years old and on a trip with my high school French class. Why that was a good idea, I will never understand.

My friends and I were completely obnoxious and our antics included (but were not limited to) “storming” the steps of Versailles while singing “Do You Hear The People Sing” from Les Miserables.

Can you say… Theater. Geeks.

See how dignified and reserved I was upon my return….

So perhaps winter was not the best time to tour the gardens…

…especially with the statues covered up… mostly.

It was impressive, none the less.

Yet, of all of the brilliant sights of Versailles, Avery was most taken with the garbage trucks and puddles.

The entire time he kept saying, “Look, garbage truck! Garbage truck! Mommy! Mommy! Garbage truck!”

I had to remind him, “This is France, mon petit cou, you mean gar-bahj…”

To be continuted…

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Filed under Family, Sightseeing, Travel

La Vie en Rose

Loosely translated: “having a rosy outlook on life”… or so my two years of college French taught me.

My French professor believed that anyone could learn a language. It was just a matter of throwing yourself into it with wild abandon and allowing the little “drawers of your mind to open up”.

(Why do profs always say things like that?)

I made A’s all four semesters, but those drawers remained shut as we made our way through Paris this past weekend. I guess I’ve lost the wild abandon of my college days… Trust me. It’s okay.

So anyway… Yes, we spent a long weekend in Paris.

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Just for the heck of it? Not quite. We decided to combine the obnoxious task of re-establishing our tourist visas with a romantic getaway in the world’s most romantic city with my romantic husband… and our toddler.

They said we had to leave the country and come back through immigration. No one specified where and for how long. What better way to stick it to the English than to break croissant with their historic arch-rivals, the French!* (Just KIDDING!)

I think that’s making the best of a bad situation, don’t you?

In other news, Mike accepted a job in Northern California. It’s still overseas and not London and not quite home, but we are so grateful nonetheless.

In spite of moving again, we are certainly excited about the next chapter in our crazy life.

La Vie en Rose!

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* Okay, so I used to think that the English “animosity” towards the French was just an ridiculous stereotype. Then, one night I caught a short blurb about the French economy on the evening news.

Apparently, France hasn’t been as badly hit (relative the the UK, of course) by the credit crunch because of the way their banking is set up. The French government maintains different measures to keep its citizens from buying stuff they can’t really afford.

(Maybe a little socialism isn’t such a bad idea…)

When the cameras returned to the British news anchors in London, their only commentary on the story was, “Well, aren’t they smug?”

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Filed under Misconceptions and Mishaps, Packing Up and Moving, Sightseeing, Travel, Undiplomatic Behavior

Playing Tea Party with Grown-ups

As soon as we announced our move to London, the threats requests to stay with us poured in immediately.

I tended to ignore the ones who framed their request as “Oh wow, a FREE place to stay in London” (Not quite. Get a hotel, freeloaders) versus the ones who said, “Oh, how we will miss you SO much. We just have to see you as soon as possible”…

It’s all in how you spin it, people.

So far, the only ones to make good on their promise will be my family, plus my sister’s boyfriend who might as well be family. The last time we talked, he said that he wanted to do the touristy stuff, but mainly wanted to experience what REAL Londoners do– where they go, where they drink, and peek in their tiny fridges.

I’m not sure if we qualify as “real Londoners” (or that we have any clue what the cool kids are doing). As much as we try to keep a low profile, there are just some things that are so ridiculously touristy that they BEG to be done…

Like leaving the kidlets at home with the Hubby for the afternoon and having a proper English tea…

… in the beautiful lobby…

… of The Landmark of London…

…with your girls…

… who are also Americans.

tea I did NOT take the foodie photo on the right and therefore deserve ZERO credit for it.

In fact, I yanked it from The Landmark’s site.

The lousy photo I took… the one with the bad lighting, boring composition, and strange angle simply did NOT do it justice.

I think we should have a do-over.

You’re welcome to join me, provided you’re not too embarrassed to be seen with the dorky girl toting the large camera?

I mean, doesn’t that just scream “tourist”…

PhotoStory Friday
Hosted by Cecily and MamaGeek

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Filed under Foodie, PhotoStory Friday, Sightseeing

No Photography Please

PhotoStory Friday
Hosted by Cecily and MamaGeek

Okay, so I technically wasn’t supposed to take this photo of Queen Elizabeth’s throne at Windsor Castle, but it was right there and I just couldn’t resist a quick, covert snap-snap.

I hope I don’t get sent to the Tower

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Filed under Photo Ops, PhotoStory Friday, Sightseeing

You’re Mysterious and Old, But I’m Strangely Drawn to You.

This coming Thursday is our wedding anniversary, which I wanted to celebrate with a weekend trip some place stunning, romantic, and fabulous…

Paris? Roma? Milano? Brugge? Any of these would do!

Where did Mike want to go?

Stonehenge.

An hour and a half journey out of London with a toddler in tow to see a pile of rocks in the middle of nowhere… Yeah.

I relented at first, but because Mike is a hundred and thirty-one flavors of wonderful about everything I want to do and hardly ever asked for anything, we went to Stonehenge…

… but with one compromise. It can’t be our only destination for the day.

Frankly, I just didn’t think Stonehenge would be very amusing for Avery, and as anyone with kids knows, that’s a huge factor in any sort of trip planning. (Obviously, I would have preferred to some place else, too…)

As it happens we stopped at TWO other places- Windsor Castle and Bath- courtesy of the bus tour I booked at the very last possible minute.

Normally, I find tours and group travel of any sort far too tedious restrictive. (This is why I have absolutely no desire to “cruise”.) I prefer the freedom to linger longer at the interesting places and ditch the audio tour if it sucks…

However, not having to wait on a chilly platform for the next train to arrive is rather nice too….

(For those of you who DO like tours and/or are planning a trip to England, I highly recommend the company we used and am happy to pass along their name. They were very accommodating and kid-friendly, especially with always having our stroller unfolded and ready to go at each stop and dropping us off closer to home at the end of the day.)

Here’s the breakdown of our trip:

First stop, Windsor Castle.

We were herded off the bus, through the town of Windsor, which looked all too charming and wonderful, and straight into the castle

Once through the castle walls, we were hurried up the hill, “reminded” to keep up with the group (umm, do YOU want to try to push this stroller?), handed an audio guide, and given an HOUR to soak in 900 years of history, grab lunch, use the potty, and get back on the bus…

Kind of stressful.

We were rushing through everything when Avery had a meltdown in the middle of St. George’s Hall. (Not my photo.)

He was on the floor, rolling around, crying, screaming, waking up the Queen…

I was about to do the same. Instead, I picked him up and carried him outside. As I stepped onto the footpath, I was curtailed by marching redcoats…

We walked out just in time to witness the changing of the guard, which cheered Avery up immensely. The drums, the marching, the fuzzy hats… He was SO excited!

Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any tacky touristy photos with the palace guards once they were through changing, as we were about to miss our bus.

(And, I really wanted one of those photos, too… Grrr)

Next stop, Bath.

Bath is another breath-taking destination well worth a three-day weekend…at least. We got to stay for a bit over an hour and a half.

Our guide insisted on giving us a walking tour since it was his hometown. He pointed out famous homes, landmarks, and its history as we walked along the busy streets.

Too bad we couldn’t hear a single word he said over the crowds and the bustle and the… ummm

… diverse street performers. (I’m not sure how to feel about this.)

We spent most of our time in Bath touring the ruins of the ancient Roman Baths, hence the name of the city. It was interesting to see, but we weren’t allowed to touch any of the “healing  waters”.

The water was, ironically, contaminated and untreated… Nice, huh?

By the way, do you know how FUN it is to take a curious two-year-old to a place with open water right at his level and tell him he can’t touch it?

Not very, but he handled himself rather well.

It wasn’t until we were on the bus heading to our next stop that we saw to most gorgeous views Bath has to offer. I wanted to get off the bus and ditch the tour right then and there!

We definitely have to go there again.

Last stop, Stonehenge.

As it turns out, Avery LOVED Stonehenge and would have GLADLY spent an entire day there. He ran around in the open fields, screamed at the top of his lungs, and “baa”-ed at the sheep grazing nearby.

Even as I put him down for his nap this afternoon, he was still clutching the leaflet given to us at the site and saying, “Sto’heg, Mommy! Sto’heg! Sto’heg!”

What the heck was I thinking?

OF COURSE, our son would love the huge pile of rocks in the middle of no where. He’s a BOY and, more important, just like his Dad…

…and I love them both so very much!!!

So there, you have it. Our “romantic” anniversary get-away. I told you my life isn’t at all glamorous, but at least it’s fun!

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For all you geeks… er, gamers out there, you’ll appreciate this. You’ll never guess what we found at Stonehenge.

That’s right. 20-sided dice. Do you think the aliens left it?

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Filed under Art & Architecture, Marriage, Sightseeing, Travel