La Course Extraordinaire, Partie Deux

The Jennettes'*

Part Two

* Still with Aunt Janet

P . . . . A . . . . R . . . . I . . . . S

We are back, and our journey continues in Paris. You can view Part One right here. I will tell you now that this leg of the trip produced the most Stitch-Em-Up pictures, so enjoy! We landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport at around 7PM on Wednesday 8th April, and made our way to the hotel: Citadines Louvre. We got there, and were promptly informed that due to "difficulties" we had been transferred to another Citadines hotel near l'Opéra. The hotel was set up like an apartment, and each room had its own kitchen and lots of space.* After settling into the rooms, we went out for something to eat. Luckily for us, Paris is open much later than England; it was around 11PM that we finally sat down to dinner, at Pizza Marzano, a clone of Pizza Express. Don't judge us - it was late and we were hungry. Food is food.
* Schmerm-note #3: Compare to itty-bitty living space in London hotel. Also, this is the closest we came to the circuitous journey to even get to the hotel.

The next day we went off to Disneyland Paris. This will get its own coverage in a separate post.

Friday the 10th was our discover Paris day. We would be leaving the city on Saturday, so fitting everything into Friday was a must. Of course, we couldn't do everything, but I think it was enough. For now... We began our tour by walking past the Place Vendôme to the Jardin des Tuileries. It was a bit weird just walking through the streets when all of a sudden a monument from your art history textbook appears the next street over. My reaction to the Place Vendôme was pretty much, "Huh? Oh, that's the Vendôme Column. Look at that." Crazy. The garden was largish, and very broad, and had a surprisingly random Richard Serra sculpture in it. I admit, I couldn't think of his name when we were actually there and had to look it up. So sue me, he's boring anyway. We wandered along the Seine, and past the Musée d'Orsay (see photo). I didn't know that the banks of the Seine are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. "The evolution of Paris and its history can be seen from the River Seine." (unesco.org) Okay, I can give them that. It's still weird, though; the Seine itself I can see, but the banks specifically? Whatever.

We walked along until we got to the Musée du Louvre. Actually trying to get into the Louvre would have been crazy; though the line was not that long, it would have taken more than the few hours we had to get through even a fraction of the museum. So we contented ourselves with just walking around the grounds and viewing those I.M. Pei pyramids that the Louvre is so well-known for.

We got to Notre-Dame de Paris (You know? From that movie?) by walking the wrong way around Ile de la Cité. It had slipped my mind that it was Good Friday, but alas, it was, and the Veneration of the Crown of Thorns was going on as we got to the Cathedral. It's not everyday you go to an ancient cathedral and there's something going on. Mom and Aunt Janet left to join the queue for the Veneration, and Anthony and I continued around the cathedral. We heard choirs and organ, and found out that they were beginning to say the Stations of the Cross. They had stopped the Veneration for now. We met up with the ladies and went round back to check out the flying buttresses.
The Jardin du Luxembourg was next on the list. We headed on down to walk around. The Gardens are quite large and open, in typical French style: very grand and impressive. Everything in the main promenade is carefully designed and maintained, leading your eye to the Palace, home of the French Senate.
After a little while, we caught a bus from the garden to the Eiffel Tower. It's definitely bigger in person. The queues to climb the tower (there were three) were all really long, obviously. When we got to the ticket window, we found out that the Pilier Sud,* where we were, only had steps. There was no lift service as with the other legs. That was fine for us, but it was a shame seeing elderly couples with no choice but to turn back and join the queue for another leg. You'd think they'd put that sort of information on the huge LCD screens above each ticket window. Go figure. We climbed the 347 steps to the first level. Nice view. (see photo: Champ de Mars and l'École Militaire) They had little placards telling you what all the sights were, but since it was only 57 meters (187 feet) high, you could barely see any but the closest buildings. Mom and Aunt Janet went to the toilets, and whilst they were waiting in the queue (yes, even on the Eiffel Tower...), Anthony and I continued to the second level, another 321 steps. From there the view was a bit better, but we wanted to go all the way to the top, 276 m (905 ft) from the ground. Only problem? The queue for the lift (the only way up) was massive. We joined anyway, and slowly made our way to the top.
* 'South Leg'
The view from the top of the Eiffel Tower is amazing. They have posted distances to major cities across the globe in all directions. Unfortunately, Paris only has a few easily visible monuments, the Tower itself being one of them, so there wasn't a lot that we could actually make out from the distance, but there was enough. Not much can be seen in the following photograph, but if you look closely at the previous two (taken from the second level) you may be able to spot a few sites, most in the second photo: Palais de Chaillot, the Grand Palais, Musée du Louvre, Sacre-Coeur, Notre-Dame de Paris.
Now, since it took nearly an hour and a half for Anthony and I to get to the summit of the Tower and back to the first level, Mom and Aunt Janet had no clue we would take that long. Begin hour of waiting and searching for two people whom we had no way to contact. After climbing the steps back up to the second level to look for them (no avail) and climbing back down to meet back up with Anthony, it was getting dark. And neither of us had eaten anything since lunchtime back around 1. As these things always happen, I found that I had missed a call. Assuming this was Mom who had somehow gotten hold of a phone, I dialled my voicemail. "In order to receive or save your messages from overseas, you must first set up your mailbox." My battery was on its last legs, let's hope this is quick. After setting up my mailbox and receiving via text my access code, I got the message that Mom was waiting for us at the foot of the tower. I had ruled that they wouldn't have left, as you can't get back up. Anthony proved me wrong. Score one for him. We got out of the tower just in time to see it light up at 9PM. Rather pretty. We took tons of pictures with nighttime Tower and, after being practically beaten over the head with little light-up plastic Eiffel Towers by the same vendor who kept coming back in hopes that we had changed our mind about his "bling-bling", we decided to get out of there and find some food.*
* Schmerm-note #4: While no search-and-rescue operation occurred on our trip, something like this would have happened eventually.**
** Actually, the feeling was rather similar to when our van died in Granada.

After eating at a sidewalk café, we walked over to the Arc de Triomphe. Pictures were difficult since it was after 10PM, but we were able to see François Rude's The Departure of the Volunteers in 1792.* It was all very Romantic.**
* Or, The Marseillaise.
** Go ahead, laugh. No really, you're supposed to.

The next day featured an evening flight, and a 3PM taxi to the airport. Needless to say, we didn't have a whole lot of free time. Most of the morning was spent finagling our luggage to fit under Ryanair's 15kg limit. After that was finally done, we walked to the Place de la Concorde and ambled down the Champs-Élysées for a bit, to the Grand Palais. I tried to teach them the song. By then it was time to head back, so we did. And there I shall leave you until our next outing. Paris was very pretty, and to tell the truth, better than I had expected. I'm glad I was able to see at least bits of it, as who knows when I'll be able to return. As usual, the complete Paris photo album (including Disneyland) can be found on Facebook here.


The Amazing Race, Part One

o, over Easter break, my family came to visit: mom, brother, and aunt. I was already into my second week of AIB holidays, and they were starting theirs (with a little extra padding from some strategically cashed sick days...) It was quite a two weeks; the itinerary included Bournemouth, Paris, Venice, and London. It involved a lot of running around and jostling of daylight hours, but it was well worth it. This was Mom and Anthony's first time in Europe (Aunt Janet and I had already been - visiting Kat in Seville). Speaking of Seville, this trip mirrored that one in more ways than one. I will explain as we go, with cited 'Schmerm-notes'. First comparison: it was an adventure!

In the interest of space, I'm breaking this post up into four parts: one for each leg of the trip. As always, there are Facebook photo albums for each port-of-call, which will be linked. I will mention here that I am hopelessly addicted to Photoshop's Photomerge function, which automatically stitches pictures together and blends them all nice and pretty. If you've ever tried to take multiple-shot scenes or panoramas you understand how awesome this function is. Now, one issue with the Facebook albums is that all photos are resized to roughly 500x700 pixels, which is a bit small for these photos, which can get up to 7000 pixels or more on a side. There were only one or two of the more squarely-proportioned panoramas* that would hold up under Facebook's resizing. So here's the Blogspot exclusive, my faithful followers... Included in this account of our trip are all** the panoramic photos in their full-sized glory! Lucky you! Clicking on these puppies to enlarge is a must.
* Or Stitch-Em-Ups, as I like to call them.
** Or at least most.

That said, without further ado, allow me to present our wonderful trip!

The Jennettes'*

Part One

* Plus Aunt Janet

D . . . . O . . . . R . . . . S . . . . E . . . . T

The astute among you may find fault with the above title. "Stonehenge is in Wiltshire, not Dorset," you say?* I know. But to make things easier, I'm labelling the first part of our trip "Dorset". It's a lot easier than "Dorset, and Wiltshire, with a little bit of Hampshire thrown in toward the end" and calling it "England" would be less helpful, since we return to London later on. So Dorset it remains.
* You didn't say that? Oh, well then it's just me.

Mom, Anthony, and Aunt Janet arrived on Sunday the 5th. That first day's highlight was Anthony almost winning a random Guitar Hero tournament in a pub. He could have won twenty pints gratis. Instead, he ended up with a chocolate egg and a Toffee Crisp mug. He still had the highest qualifying score the other players had ever seen (apparently this is a recurring thing). It's easy enough to explain: Anthony doesn't have a life.

On Monday, we had our Discover Dorset tour with Jerry, our driver. We first went to Knowlton Henge in North Dorset, site of a very old Saxon-Norman church and some interesting yew trees. Names and initials of lovers were carved into the Norman stone, and dated circa 1941. A very interesting clash of time. We continued on to Stonehenge, yes, in Wiltshire. I've always heard that you can't get close to Stonehenge because it's an archaeological site of special magnificence. I don't know, but we were able to get pretty darn close. Not enough to touch, obviously, because it's an archaeological site, but a lot closer than I had expected. There were sheep grazing on the hill as well. There are sheep everywhere in England.

After Stonehenge, we carted off to Salisbury, also in Wiltshire. This is where your Stitch-Em-Up pictures come in; the only ones from this leg of the trip. Enjoy. I'm glad I pushed for a walkthrough of the cathedral (the first of many). It's just amazing how old things are in Europe. The Cathedral is over 700 years old, and has the tallest spire in the UK. It houses the world's oldest working clock, and the best-preserved copy of the Magna Carta, signed by King John in 1215. On a side note, the Cathedral is the final resting place of Bishop Roger (d. 1139). Bishoping was his trade. He was a bishop. His name was Roger the Bishop. He arranged, designed, and sold bishopries.*
* Yes, that is actually a word. I could have also used 'diocese' or 'episcopacy' but bishopry was a bit easier. Don't you think?

We ended by driving through New Forest. The ground is covered in gorse and heather and, more interestingly, wild Shetland ponies. They like chips. They also try to get in your van.* Driving to another part of the forest, we found a herd of fallow deer which included some white ones, and an impressive white stag. We also caught a glimpse of the fabled Flower Power van, now quite endangered in these parts of the world. A real treat. Afterward, we stopped in the town of Burley for tea, but it was basically closed (It was 5:00, after all).
* Schmerm-note #1: Much like the barbary apes of Gibraltar.

Mother, you might want to skip ahead at this point.
I will notify you when it is once again clear to read.

Tuesday was the Day at the Post Office.* We started the day by packing everything in my room that I didn't need into two boxes to ship home: cold-weather clothes, extra shoes, comforters, books, books, and more books. When we brought the boxes to the counter at the post office, the clerk told us that it would be much cheaper to ship everything in 2kg parcels. "They don't do much overseas shipping, so the price shoots up for larger parcels." Our boxes weighed 8kg each. As is, it would have cost us £170 to ship both. Begin Hour of Repacking, Weighing, and Reweighing. After about an hour at least we ended up with 6 2kg boxes of assorted sizes, and one box for all the rest. After all was said and done, the total came to...
It was a good thing our original clerk had chosen that moment to go on lunch break.
* Schmerm-note #2: Compare with the Day at the U.S. Embassy.

It's okay now, Mom.

We (or Mom) cooled down with some delicious Cornish pasties, and then we visited AIB. Even though it was holiday, there was still bustle about the studio. Deadlines don't take holidays. The family was able to meet both directors, and we stopped to chat with (i.e. distract) Team Sol. I felt like a St. Rose ambassador again, giving tours of the school. For dinner we went out to Poole on a whim, which proved semi-successful: shops were all closed (it was coming on 6:00), and there was a Dream Machines motorcycle outing at the quay, killing all hopes for a relaxing, quiet dinner. So we found a Chinese buffet near the train station. Don't worry, it was nowhere near as good as Brick's buffets.

Thus ends part one of the Amazing Race. Pictures from today's post may be found on Facebook and in stores near you. Join us next week for La Course Extraordinaire, Partie Deux.