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Toronto to Europe Airport and Day one

Is This Your Camera Sir?

rain 14 °C
View Europe on JuiceQ88's travel map.

So what does one do when you have an 11:05 p,m Friday flight from Toronto to Europe for your very first time to Europe? Chill and have a drink of course, because you are on vacation is the correct answer. I am so looking forward to this trip for a whole host of reasons: big birthday upcoming next month, I have never been to Europe, I want to see new places and experience new things that I up until now have not really had the opportunity to do etc... The downside if you can call it that is that I will catch the travelling bug and catch a wave every year for a few trips. Not the worst bug to catch I suspect and something I have always wanted to do more of as I got older.

The trip to the airport was nothing dramatic, just some Friday night traffic as we weaved our way through Toronto. Pearson was pretty quiet as it was 8:30 in the evening when we arrived. Check-in went easily and smoothly for the most part except when they were checking the carry on baggage. I didn't think anything of it until they asked if I had a camera in my backpack? I did and they asked me to take it out of the camera bag so they could swab the inside of the bag .. I think they were checking for drugs like cocaine residue or something like that. Well the thought of me not getting on the plane crossed my mind when they did that because the camera is something I borrowed. Now I wasn't concerend about cocaine or anything but it did cross my mind that if there was something then how do you say in all honesty well it isn't my camera I borrowed it from somebody? Sure it isn't yours buddy.

After Michelle and I cleared all check-ins we arrive in departure with time to spare. A drink at the airport, a quick lesson from Michelle in how to play gin rummy followed by several lost rounds of gin rummy to said teacher before boarding for our flight to London.

So I haven't travelled a lot, but the plane is always a bit of a guessing game ...who am I going to be beside? Is it a kid? Some chatty Cathy? A world traveller? A nervous Nelly who knows?? Upon entering the plane towards my seat, we noticed it was occupied by a man who didn't want to move out of my seat at first but the flight attendant told him he needed to move over one seat. He was a very nice man travelling with his wife. Both very quiet, so much so that the three times they had to get up to use the facilities I barely heard them asking.

We boarded early and it amazed us how many people tried to cram carry on baggage too big for the compartments into the bins. I don't care how many different ways you spin a suitcase, if it doesn't fit when the bin is full, it doesn't fit. I think I got corked in the head about 10 times by people trying to to put suitcases in the overhead compartments without realizing that they had backpacks on their backs and that infringes on my seat space when I am already seated. Hey I thought the rule was one piece of carry on baggage. Let's enforce the rule there Air Canada.
Other then the guy in front of me hacking up a lung, and his seat hitting me in the knees evey time he moved, or the nice back massage from the people behind me occasionally kicking my seat, or late boarders wanting to move our backpacks to make room for theirs, the flight was uneventful.

The excitement happened after arriving in London. We landed at Heathrow which is a pretty big airport. It is reasonably well organized, but is quite large. The only trouble we had was finding the Heathrow express train to London. The 15 minute ride to London was fine. We exited the train in Paddington and for 22 pounds in retrospect it was worth it because of the protests going on above ground which would have made driving a nightmare. I'll come back to that in a minute. We got on the tube and travelled 7 stops to Charing Cross Station. From Heathrow to the end of the tube ride, the rain had started ... on go the rain coats and out come the umbrellas. Welcome to London. We exited the subway right in the heart of the protests drawing awareness to climate change in Trafalgar square. After a few minutes going in the wrong direction, we turned around and doubled back. We got to the Hotel Nadler our home for the next 3 nights. It's in a prime location in Covent Garden. After checking in we dropped our stuff in the room and headed back out to grab SIM cards for our cell phones while we were in Europe. After the administrative part of the day was done, now it is time to see the sights: Out we got to see Trafalgar Square, High Commission of Canada, The Admiralty Arch, The Horse Guards Parade, we walked through St. James Gardens on the way to Buckingham Palace. We saw a Mounted Horse Parade from Buckingham Palace up the Mall towards the Admiralty Arch. Walked through Australia Gate, saw a Changing of the Guard, walked through Canada Gate. Saw the Canada War Memorial in Green Park, Saw the Victoria Memorial, Walked up Green Park to Piccadilly Street. It was raining a bit harder now so time for a pub. We found our first but it was busy so off down Piccadilly to find some more. We found two other pubs and ended up going into The King's Head, had a drink and some food to get us through the rest of the day.

After eating we made our way back down Piccadilly to the Hotel. En route we saw a film being made we grabbed some items at the store for the room and then headed in to chill and recharge for about an hour before heading out again. After our break we headed out and saw a few more night time sights: Crossed the Thames over the Jubilee Bridge, Went on the London Eye so we could see the city at night. Crossed the Thames again over The Westminster Bridge, saw Big Ben, The Parliament buildings, Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street and then back to Trafalger Square and up The Strand to our hotel. The night ended with some blog writing and a bit of television on in the background. A full day lots of walking and very little sleep on the plane so time for bed to get up early and do some more tomorrow.

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Posted by JuiceQ88 14:17 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london Comments (0)

First Full Day in London

Hey is that the Sun?

semi-overcast 15 °C
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Day 2 in London was supposed to start early. After all there is a lot to see. The 2 hours of sleep on the plane had a little bit more to do with the delayed start to the day. 9:00 am, up and at it .. still reasonably early and most of the things we want to do don't open when I am normally awake.

We arose to a half marathon happening outside our window along The Strand. People dressed in Pinapple costumes seemed to be the prevailing theme. Not sure why but hey whatever floats your boat. Our first destination was The Shard. A tall multi-use building comprised of public viewing, residential and hotel uses (Shargi-La is the hotel). It is a part of the London Pass we bought and gives fantastic 360 views of the city. Up we went to the 68 and 72 floors. Nice to know that the tube in London has the same areomatic smells as Toronto, though it is multiples upon multiple larger. The weather was cloudy but the rain at this point had held off. A great photo op.

Aftet The Shard we walked along the Queen's walk, past the HMS Belfast (a WWII battleship) towards Tower Bridge. We did the Tower Bridge tour and were a bit hungry afterward as we hadn't had anything to eat so far today. It worked out well because the rain has suddenly started again. By happen stance we ended up in White Chapel which for all you history buffs is famous for a well know murderer in the 1800s named Jack The Ripper. It was on my list of places to see if time permitted and we had a great cheap brunch in his former hood. Check off the list. 10 pounds each for brunch and that included an adult beverage.

After we built up our energy stores ... off to the Tower of London. For most, the main attraction here are the Crown Jewels, I am more interested in the history of Ann Boleyn and to see the Mideval Castle than the crown jewels to be honest. Plus the line to see the Jewels was really long and we had other things to see and do. We can see jewels elsewhere which was one of the next things on our list. I'll get to that in a minute.

Once done we in the Tower of London we walked up the road to grab the tube to head out to Hyde Park, Kensington Castle, and Notting Hill. We walked up to the tube ... closed for maintence. So we checked the map for the next closet station... walked there... closed ... humm a theme seems to be developping here. After being advised by a very nice homeless man, our third station was open for business. 10 stops later, welcome to Notting Hiil Gate station. We walked to see Kensington Palace, down Kensington Palace road, past a series of Embassies and into the grounds of Kensington Palace and Hyde Park. We did the tour of Kensington Palce which is where we saw some royal jewels ... so we saw some bling and that was enough for me. No we weren't invited in for tea by the Windsor's in case you were wondering.

After our tour of Kensington Palace, we toured the Princess Diana Memorial garden and then we made our way into Notting Hill, saw the market did some window shopping and took some photos of the narrow streets and colourful facades of the buildings. This area was made more famous due to the film starring High Grant and Julia Roberts. We did go into the Travel Book Store which I am sure has seen a boom in their traffic and sales since the movie aired years back.

Once done in Notting Hill it was time to head back to our home base to rest for a bit before heading out to exchange some hoodies we bought yesterday .. they ended up being a bit small when we tried them on. This exchange happened in Piccadilly Circus. While in the area we decided it was a great night to celebrate Thanksgiving. Where better to do that than in a pub? St. james Pub it is. When in Rome do as the locals would. Fish and Chips please for me as I hadn't had any as yet. Not a bad meal. On our tip back to the hotel we walked though Leichester Square... which has lots of Casinos and is China Town in London.

Back to to Hotel we arrive. Time to write my blog, and total the stop count for the day 27446 and we are done. Today wasn't all rainy, the sun actually made its way out and gave us a chance to dry out a bit. A full day, time for some rest.

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Posted by JuiceQ88 14:19 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london Comments (0)

Last Day in London

Protests and no rain

overcast 14 °C
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Alarm went off just before 7:00 Am time to get moving so we can see more London sights before we depart for Paris tomorrow am. So this is it, the last full day in London, let's make it count.

On our way to the tube station we grabbed a couple of bananas and a chocolate Danish twist from the Sainsbury market down the road from the hotel and we ate that on our way so we had a little bit of food in our systems on our way to our first destintion today: St. Paul's Cathedral. Before we got to St Paul's I must tell the story of an overcrouded and super hot tube station due to a breakdown elsewhere along the line. So we waited and waited and waited... 7 full subways full of people passed us without stopping ... finally we got to our destination and on we went with our day.

St Paul's, built over 1400 year's ago is a very large church and is where Charles and Diana were married. We walked around the interior, saw the alter, the large domed ceiling, the artwork throughout etc... You will excuse me if I am not super in awe of the church I mean it is cool and has tremendous history but I am not going into the intricate detail about the artwork. I look at the exterior artchitecture of St Paul's and compare that to that of Westminster Abby for example which I find interesting but beyond that the artwork is religiously themes and is probably much more meaningful to somebody more religious then I am. We went into the Crypt and exited the Cathedral only to realize that we missed something pretty cool to do and we had to go back in to do it. We were taking pictures outside of the exterior and saw people walking around the upper dome which we thought would be something really cool to do so we asked if we could re-enter to walk the 528 steps to the very top level of St Paul's. Awesome views of London from there, which of course we took advantage of while it wasn't raining. 528 steps up also means 528 steps back down.

Once down we were off to Shakespeare Globe theatre, a sort walk across the Millennium Bridge to the other side of the Thames. We decided that we didn't want to do the full guided tour so we skipped that and just did a brief tour outside of the theatre. Once done we walked back over the Millenmium bridge, and back into the tube on our way to Oxford Street and the Marble Arch. No issues with the tube now.

Oxford street is a retail area and the highlight of the street was walking into a store called Primark for a few good retail deals: socks, a scarf and some leather gloves. The trip down Oxford street also took us to The Marble Arch which is basically a small version inspired by the Arc du Triomphe in Paris. The Marble Arch is located in the corner of Hyde Park which we were in yesterday.

Back onto the Tube we go to our next destinations: Westminster Abby, the Parlimant buildings and Big Ben. We exited the Tube to massive protests and organized gatherings for those in favour of and opposed to Brexit. A large police presence was around as we were smack dab in the middle it mostly because Parliament reconvenined today under Boris Johnson. We made our way through the crouds of people and decide that before we do anything more we are going for a bite to eat. To the Pub. A nice lunch at The Westminster Arms pub to add a bit more fuel in our bodies and off we went to Westminster Abby ...only to find that whilst we were stuffing ourselves we missed the last tour into the Abby. Oh well we saw St. Paul's and we toured around the Abby grounds took photos from varrious angles walked past Parliament, walked along the Westminster Bridge towards the London Eye. We checked about the Thames River Boat Cruise but we would have been pressed for time with our theatre tickets later tonight. Instead we walked through Whitehall Gardens, along the Thames up to the Horse Guards Parade then back to our Hotel.

We were in the room for about an hour and a half before heading to the tube for a quick trip out to Harrods before our last event of the day. Tickets to Hamilton. Harrods was neat and a bit too posh for me to be candid, although I did try on a 15,000 pound Rolex Cellini. Very nice but I would need to win a very large lottery to justify that type of indulgence. We were only at Harrods for about 40 minutes, got a few photos and then back into the tube to double back to the Victoria Palace Theatre for a production of Hamilton. It was a good performance, the singing was great and I am glad I saw it but would I race back to see it? Probably not.

We didn't have dinner so stopped at a local Japanese take out place grabbed a tray of Sushi to eat in the hotel as we unwound from the day and updated our blogs. 22963 steps taken today. Need some rest because we are up early and off to Paris by train tomorrow. Tomorrow I will be saying cheers from London bonjour from Paris.

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Posted by JuiceQ88 15:09 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london Comments (0)

Time to say fairwell and bonjour

Cheers London, Bonjour Paris

semi-overcast 16 °C
View Europe on JuiceQ88's travel map.

6:30 comes a bit early after being up late the night before.., Whatever I am on vacation. We were up early because we needed to get packed and head off via Uber to grab a EuroStar train to Paris, France. Uber made sense because then we didn't need to lug our suitcases through the tube and up stairs etc... Thanks for the comfortable ride Mohammed.

My first trip on a high speed train through the Chunnel was nice, we watched a movie, had a nap and 2.2 hours later, bonjour Paris. We got our bearings in the Gare du Nord station, determined the route we wanted to take to get to our apartment and made our way down to meet up with the owner/manager so we could get our keys and be out and about. We found the place and were ringing the bell only to discover we were ringing the wrong bell. We aren't at number 7 we are at number 6, sorry to disturbe your day folks. Once we were in, we changed and off we went to explore the sights. We walked around the block, it started to rain so we walked right back to the apartment, I changed again, we grabbed umbrellas and we went off again to explore.

Down to the Seine we went, over Pont Neuf, and towards Notre Dame. En route I was taking in the sights, The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Seine, The Hotel Du Ville, the Chateau styled buildings etc... I was just taking it all in. Michelle my awesome tour guide and I made our way towards Notre Dame and since we hadn't eaten, it made sense to me that it was time to eat a cheese and ham crepe. I mean when in Rome. We ate the crepe and when we were done boom Notre Dame right in front of us. The reconstruction from the recent fire are underway and not sure how long the process will take but they will want to get it done as quickly but as "properly" as possible.

Into the Latin quarter we go to explore and while we are in the general area. We go into a Fromager, wine store, Croissant store all side by side ... I mean right there folks and yes maybe a bit of a sterotype but hey whatever. In the Fromager we are able to smaple some of the nice cheeses. The one with Truffles is quite nice but a bit on the pricy side. Enough cheese, time to see the Pantheon and Luxembourg Gardens. Chilling on the grounds of Luxembourg Gardens, we take in and enjoy the shinning sun and do so while we finish a gelato. To be totally honest, Michelle ate hers nicely, I scarfed. I was done before we even got to the garden. We .. (well Michelle) finished our gelato and then decided it was time to head to Montparnasse; a highrise office buiding with great views of the city for newbies like me. 360 degrees and a great place to get your bearings. We did this as it is open air and a great chance to see where all the "landmarks" are and no rain in sight. 56 floors up with an open terrace on the 59th floor.

We walk back towards our hotel, but do so along the Louvre and see the arch, the pyramids in the courtyard area etc... We stop at a grocery store, grab some pop, ice, milk, cheese and baguette.. yes I didn't mention the croissant I had after the crepe, so basically I have enforced and even fueled every French stereotype today other then a glass du vin but hey like I said earlier ... when in Rome.

With travel we didn't log quite as many steps today but still were able to get to 19898 steps. Tomorrow is another day. Before I sign out for tonight, a few first time observations: smoking is very popular here, there wasn't 5 minutes where a police car or ambulance didn't have their sirens going off. Bon nuit.

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Posted by JuiceQ88 11:58 Archived in France Tagged paris Comments (0)

Paris first full Day

Today was all about the dead: people, artists and soldiers

semi-overcast 17 °C
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6:45 am .... beep beep beep off goes the alarm... need to get up early to make out way to the Catacombs. Quite amazing the Catacombs. I mean bodies have been preserved and moved from varrious locales around Paris to these areas. They study the diet and health conditions of dead Parisians in the process of moving them to document general health etc... The Catacombs for those who don't know are the skeletal remains of many Parisians who have been carfully moved from various cemeteries around Paris to a central area undergroud. We were there early as we didn't have advanced tickets and those with are allowed to proceed first. Only 200 people are permitted into the Catacombs at a time. We made the cut as we were there an hour before opening. Fortnately the rain held off for us while we were waiting outside. That would have sucked to be candid.

Back to the apartment we went after the tour of the Catacombs to get our plan of attack for the afternoon. We decided that since the rain wasn't coming down we would take the time to walk through the Tuilerie garden from the Louvre. We did that by first going past the Joan of Arc monument just north of the Louvre grounds. Once through the Tuilerie garden, the Champs-Elysees begins as you walk towards the Arc de Triomphe. The Arc was the main monument we were walking towards. We pass high end fashion boutiques, crepe places (which we had to have another one), and then there you are the Arc. After our photo op outside, Michelle and I we went and bought our Paris 2 day museum pass that allows us into the Arc and other museums thoughout Paris. Up to the top of the Arc we go. 282 circular steps later we are at the top of the the Arc ... and it starts to rain just in time for our photo op from up top. Michelle and I waited for about 5 minuts and it cleared up so we could get our 360 views of the city. 284 steps up also means 284 steps down and we can use our pass again if we want to do so. The Arc was built to honour the great army and was ordered to be built by Napoleon across the way from what now is the Louvre and it's gardens

Hey it isn't raining so what else can we do outside? Let's make our way to Sacre-Coeur and Montmartre. Sacre-Coeur is a very large church on the top of the hill overlooking Paris. From there you can see pretty much all of the main sights in Paris. A hill you say yup that means more steps to climb up. Monmentre is a neat artist community and is the only place in Paris where artists can legally approach you and ask to have your portrait done. They will do them right there on the spot if you wish. Just as we were being asked the rain once again started. Montmartre has an old school feel, narrow streets, cobblestone roads and streets with weird angles. Thought it has a definite artistic feel it is still has all of the same stores you will find in virtually every neighbourhood in Paris: crepe places, bar/cafe/restaurant, fashion stores, cheese stores, condom rack with very funny packaging and Mona Lisa doing a dab, bread and pastry shops etc...It is also a great place to pick up a few gifts for back home if one wishes to do so. While in the area it is also a good time to walk do the road to see the well known and famous Moulin-Rouge. It is a bit of a trashier area that the Moulin is located in. Adult stores line the street and it doesn;t surprise me since the Moulin-Rouge was a famous for its exotic dancers at the time.

Back to the apartment we go to figure out what we want to do next. Humm it is still raining so maybe since we have the 2 day museum pass it is time to go and see a museum or two. We leave again and walk to the Museum D'Orsay. We didn't walk and spend too much time there, really we were only going to see some of the impressionists: well known artists, Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Seurat, Manet, Dugas etc.. The building that the museum is housed in in an old train station. I am not a huge artist afficionado, I mean I like art but art to me is a very personal thing. What I like you might not like and what you like I might not like. We saw what we wanted to see in about 40 minutes. Some people would spend days upon days there and no question these are works of art and power to those who want to dwell there for hours .. that isn't us. So once were were done there off to our next destination the Rodin museum.

Hey look it is raining outside was we exit to museum D'Orsay, to head to the Rodin museum. About a 15 or so minute walk later we are here and have 40 minutes to see the various pieces outside: The Thinker, the Gates of Hell and other pieces. Sculpture is more interesting to me in many ways and Michelle and I took our time to see the pieces and maybe have a few funny photos with some of the sculptures in the process. It was raining and we could have used maybe 20 to 30 minutes more in terms of time but certainly not much more than that. Once we left to make our way to dinner after a long and high step count day we heard a truck back into a wall while trying to enter the Rodin museum .. that was funny and not surprising to be honest (narrow streets in places).

We made our way back towards our apartment, finally found a nice little place to eat Le Petit Carreaux. We had a croque monsieur which was cut into slices and eaten as an appetizer. We also both had a glass of wine and a bowl of onion soup or French onion soup for all of those back home. Delicious. Thank you Diane for treating us to dinner in Paris.

So we are both tired today we saw dead Parisians, works from dead artists, and monuments to dead soldiers so need to have a drink and kick our feet up ... step count on the day 34773.

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Posted by JuiceQ88 11:50 Archived in France Tagged paris Comments (0)

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