Have you ever had one of those trips that you just know will stick with you forever as one of your most cherished experiences? Well I just got back from mine! A group of family members came over to visit and explore London and Paris from February 21st - March 1st. There was my mom Kim, dad Tony, aunt Judy, uncle Ronnie, cousin Jeremy, his partner Bob, family friend Jackie, her mom Tricia, and one of my best friends Kari. That brings our group to a grand total of ten people. Having a group of tourists this size in Europe can cause quite a hassle, but with our experience of traveling in large groups, and my mom's fantastic planning skills, we did just fine! Also, just to clear something up, anyone that knows our family and our crazy adventures, also knows our long standing joke of "Weinbergers don't take vacations, we take trips!" Well...this was definitely a trip. We have the itineraries, time tables, laid out budgets, and unbelievably sore/tired bodies to prove it! Although we like to make jokes about this, I would just like to quickly say thank you to my mom. She seriously has an incredible talent for planning events and trips, and she just does it for fun! We were able to see all of the famous tourist destinations, while still seeing unique things, and being able to fit it all into our limited time. I know she put many hours and a lot of hard work into this trip. So thank you so much mom!! You truly made this the trip of a lifetime for all of us!!
On the 20th, I took a train from Bordeaux to the airport in Paris. I went to Terminal 3 and checked into my hotel room that was conveniently inside the airport. I watched the Olympics still going on in Sochi, and tried to contain my excitement for the next day. I hadn't seen my family since Christmas. I was so excited, I could barely sleep! In the morning, I went to Terminal 1 and waited for them to get off the plane. We had a quick, but exciting reunion, and then we had to move because our cabs were waiting to drive us to the train station on the other side of town. We boarded the Eurostar, which is the high speed train that runs under the English Channel connecting London and Paris. When we arrived in London, we had some trouble finding our pre-ordered cabs. After a half hour of phone calls, confusion, and messed up directions, we finally found our cabs and then it was off to our townhouse in Muswell Hill, a district of North London.
When we arrived, our problems with the house began the minute we stepped through the gate. Don't get me wrong, the house was charming, and more fun than a hotel would have been, but it was old and seemed to have one issue after another. We were supposed to be greeted by our host, Daniel, to get the keys and get settled in, but he wasn't there. So there the ten of us stood with our luggage on the sidewalk. Nowhere to go and stranded in the middle of hundreds of townhouses in a foreign city. My mom called Daniel over and over and just kept getting a voice mail. Finally, she reached him and we found out that he couldn't make it and left keys in a hidden box by the outdoor stairs to the basement. After what seemed forever, we finally got into the house. And can you say stairs! The basement led up to the kitchen and living room, then there was a small stair case going to the floor with the second living room and the front door. Then a full flight of stairs to two bedrooms and a bathroom, a half flight up to another bedroom and bathroom, a full flight up to another two bedrooms, and then a half flight to the last bedroom, which was creepy and no one used...but it did have a ping pong table in it!
After exploring the house and settling in, we decided to walk to a cute little pub that we found on the internet. Everyone was so hungry from all of the traveling! We toasted to our first night in Europe and the start of what would be an amazing trip! When we got back to the house, there was very little energy left. Around 8:00, everyone started heading to bed. I was talking to my parents, and both of them feel asleep right in the middle of one of my stories! Haha I understood that they were tired though, so I just quietly slipped on up to mine and Kari's room. Kari was sitting on the floor going through her suitcase, so I sat on the bed and we started catching each other up on recent events in our lives. And this is where the "evil house" comes into play again.
The bed was in the corner of the room. I was sitting on it, with my back against the wall. Little did we know that this bed was held together by tape, evil I tell you...evil. Since I was leaning on the wall, I was pushing the bed sideways. The center support under the bed, barely in place with crappy Scotch Tape, flipped up. The entire bed started to shift, and the boards started to move. Suddenly, one board that I was sitting on, moved just enough so the end came loose and sling-shotted against the hardwood floor with a great force. It made me jump and I looked at Kari with pure panic in my eyes and hers were showing her one thought: "We. are. going. to. die." Then in rapid fire the boards started crashing against the floor one after another. Kari's eyes bounced all over the room with a look of terror, and the mattress and I started to sink through the bed. With some help from adrenaline, I somehow leaped out of the sinking hole to the side of the bed. I looked from the bed, to Kari, to the bed, and back to Kari. All she could say was "I thought we were being shot at!!!" Which now explains her level of panic and fear! We just looked at each other for a few moments, and the giggles started. We waited for people to come running, to see if we were all right. Not a single person came to our rescue...not a single person in the house even woke up. Talk about tired people. I had laughing attacks for the next four hours! We reassembled the bed, but we didn't want to chance anything, so we put the mattress on the floor and slept there for the rest of the time we were in London!
On the 22nd, we woke up to a strange beeping noise. We thought it was a dying smoke detector at first...but it ended up being the alarm system on the house. We tried fixing it, but couldn't completely solve the problem. We were on a strict schedule that morning, so we had to leave. For most of our transportation in London, we used a pre-order car service called Addison Lee. They were wonderful! Driving was entertaining to us because in England, cars drive on the left side of the road, and the driver sits on the right side of the car...that was very weird for us! As our driver was taking us to our bus tour, he took us on one of the most expensive streets to live on in Europe. The houses were amazing! We drove on Baker Street and went past Sherlock Holmes' apartment, and also got to see the U.S. ambassador's house and the U.S. Embassy (the largest one in all of Europe.) When we arrived to our destination, we got on the Golden Bus Tours. It was a ten hour tour, and somehow the only people on that tour were the ten of us, and Chon. Chon was touring by herself, so we decided to adopt her for the day.
Our driver, Paul, took us through London and our tour guide, Sue, told us many interesting stories and facts about the sights that we were seeing. When we left the busy streets of London, we were winding through the countryside of the county Kent. We drove through small towns and between farms. Hidden away in the woods, we arrived at our first stop: Leeds Castle. Leeds Castle is very pretty, historical, and is surrounded by a moat! There has been a castle on this site since the year 1119. Throughout history, many monarchs would use this home. One of them was King Henry the VIII, who used this castle for his first wife Catherine of Aragon. We toured the castle, tasted Mead in the library (an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey,) and went outside to explore the grounds. We went through the gardens to a giant maze, which was more difficult than anticipated. In the center of the maze, was a stone tower that people would stand on and help direct you. Once all of us made it to the tower, we had to go through an underground grotto to finally get out of the maze. It was an adventure!
(White Cliffs of Dover)
After the castle, we went to the city of Canterbury. Canterbury is one of the oldest cities in the country. We ate lunch at a little family owned restaurant...delicious fish and chips! Then we went to tour the cathedral, which is the spiritual head of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. It was very beautiful! While we were there, a choir was rehearsing for a concert and they were great to listen to! We then left Canterbury and headed for the White Cliffs of Dover. These cliffs, some reaching up to 350 feet tall, make up the boarder of England that is closest to Continental Europe. As we looked across the English Channel, we could just barely make out the cliffs on the other side in France, 22 miles away. We walked along the beach and searched for fun rocks. Then Kari, Jeremy, Bob, and I decided that we wanted to touch the English Channel! It was harder than we had thought because of all of the waves. Kari and I got really close and were about to touch the next wave that came in, but of course it was a bigger wave than the rest. We screamed and tried to run backwards. My feet were buried in the rocks though, so I just fell flat on my butt! We laughed so hard, and to my surprise, not a single person saw except Kari...whew! Eventually, after many failed attempts, we were able to stick our hands in the water and run away giggling like 5 year olds. Also, we completed this great conquest with dry feet! Jeremy soaked his shoes!
We drove back to Greenwich, a part of London, and got on a large catamaran that took us down the River Thames to the central part of London. We said goodbye to Sue and went in search for supper. First we went to Covent Garden, which is a trendy market, but it was crowded. We kept searching until we found a cute little restaurant hidden away on the second floor of a random building. After a long day, we finally returned to our house. Ahhh, but remember that beeping noise I mentioned this morning?? Yes, well it was now a constant noise. We went to try and fix it again, and boom...full on alarms started going off. It was incredibly loud!! For the next hour, seriously HOUR, we tried everything to turn the noise off. My mom was tucked away in her room trying to contact our host, whom she couldn't get a hold of again. Then the neighbors came out of their house and started yelling at her through the window. As if we were having a party to the freaking alarm system. Anyways, most of us were sitting in the kitchen, some plugging their ears, Bob had actual ear plugs, and the rest had headphones in. My dad decided enough was enough, and him and Bob went to the basement to find the circuit breaker. They couldn't figure out which switch went to the alarm, so they just cut the power to the entire house. Finally! Silence had never been so beautiful until that moment in time. They turned the power back on, and only a little hum was coming from the alarm. My mom finally got in contact with Daniel, and he gave us a code to shut the stupid thing up for good! Bob came back into the kitchen and went to sit on a chair. Only, he didn't stop at the chair. The seat broke and Bob fell through it all the way to the floor. Ronnie had to go over and actually lift him out of the chair, Kari and I felt bad for not helping, but we were laughing so hard we couldn't move. Let's just say we were all a little cautious about sitting on things at this point.
The next day, we all woke up ready to start the day. But...surprise! Since we had turned the power off the night before, things in this old evil house got all messed up. One shower stopped working completely, and the other shower just dribbled water and only had warm water for the first two people to take a shower, the rest of us had ice showers! Lovely way to start the day! After our cold wake up, we went to the Tower Bridge. We got to go in the towers, and walk on the high walkway that connects the top of the towers. In the towers, there were videos and a museum of the bridge, as well as others around the world, and facts about surrounding monuments. After the bridge, we went to the Tower of London. This is a castle and a fortress that has been around since the 11th century. Although it wasn't the castle's main purpose, it was also used as a prison from 1100 to 1952. It was a royal residence for many rulers throughout history. We were able to walk through several of the towers, the torture chamber, and we got to see the Crown Jewels! The Crown Jewels are held in a very large vault inside the castle. In this collection there are all of the crowns, jewelry, swords, and apparel worn by the sovereign of the United Kingdom during the coronation ceremonies throughout history. There are also the special items, such as gold platters and punch bowls, used at the coronations and other state functions. It was very cool to see all of that!
The rest of the day, we rode the "Hop On Hop Off Bus" around the city looking at all of the tourism sites. We walked around Piccadilly Circus (London's equivalent of Times Square in NYC,) Trafalgar Square, and Pall Mall. We went to see the Queen's Horse Guards, but all of the horses were put away. Right by that was the Prime Minister's house. Across the street, we got to witness a demonstration for Ukraine. That was very interesting, and something I have never seen in person before. After the demonstration marched onward, we were able to take pictures of Big Ben! (My picture above) This is the clock that the world time is set to. When in London, you have to set your watch to Big Ben Time, and you will always be correct!
On Monday the 24th, we left the house a little earlier so we could stop at a little cafe a block away from the palace and have some breakfast. Then we finally got to go to Buckingham Palace!! We wanted to see the Changing of the Guards, so we got there an hour and a half early to get places right against the gate! While waiting, we walked around and took some pictures, and had a very nice conversation with a lady from Australia. Then we watched the Changing of the Guards, which was about a half hour long. After the palace, we went to Westminster Abbey. Almost all of the coronations of the English Monarchs have been here, as well as many of their funerals. When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, special tiers were constructed for the 8000 people who attended the ceremony in the church. The chair that is used for the coronations is on display and has been used since the 14th century. The most recent famous ceremony held there was just 3 years ago when Prince William and Kate were married there. We also saw the tombs of many English monarchs as well as famous writers and scientists like Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton. It was amazing!! The church is incredibly beautiful and holds so much history.
We were pretty tired after Westminster, so we got back on the bus and toured London for almost an hour and a half. We stopped at St. Paul's Cathedral to take pictures. This cathedral is also a very important site. It holds many festive occasions such as the Queen's Jubilees, her 80th birthday, and weddings including Prince Charles and Lady Diana's. Right next door, we had reservations for supper at Jamie Oliver's restaurant "Barbecoa." Jamie Oliver is a famous British chef and TV host. The food there was absolutely amazing!! We had fun drinks that were to die for (mine was a Charred Pineapple Mojito.) Kari and I both got a cheeseburger. The group laughed at us, but let me tell you, we both said it was by far the best cheeseburger we had ever had in our lives! Delicious!!
To end our wonderful time in London, we took a ride on the London Eye. This is a giant Ferris Wheel that actually has rooms that you stand in, up to 25 people. We got our own capsule, so that was cool. It is a very slow moving ride, you go around once and it takes about 30 minutes. It was so pretty to see London from above at night! Some had a few moments of panic due to fear of heights, but it was still very fun!! As we got back to the evil house for our last night, Ronnie started to open his door to get out of the cab, and an oncoming car swerved into their lane to pass a car and ended up hitting Ronnie's door. The noise was absolutely horrible and the car shook, there was some panic and fear, but thankfully, Ronnie was completely fine and so was the car! Whew! We went to bed early that night because we had to be up bright and early to take the Eurostar back to Paris!
That concludes the first half of our journey! I have always dreamed about going to London, it just felt so unreal to actually go to all of the places that we did, and with family! It was so awesome!!
Stay tuned for my next blog about our trip in Paris!
Thank you for reading!
"Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not."
-Henry David Thoreau
"Family is the most important thing in the world."