Paris and London in 11 Days – The Highlights

It’s been almost two months since Europe.

I initially refrained from writing about it. And took forever to sort through my photos. And then…really wanted to recap it. The trip was memorable for many reasons, but here are 10 highlights:

10. Le Jambon, and Other Adventures in Food

Paris, you love your ham. Ham quiche. Ham omelette. Ham baguette. So much ham! Ham in all the things!

Save for the epic Moroccan tagine had at the restaurant under our flat and our lovely afternoon market picnic, I was pretty unimpressed with the food in Paris. The wine, however, was great. But ham!

So, I was unsurprised when the only meal available on the Eurostar was, you guessed it, a ham and cheese sandwich, and was VERY excited as we pulled into St. Pancras, because A) I had always wanted to see the station (and it was very beautiful) and B) I knew there was a giant Marks & Spencer in there, and I was hungry. Dear, sweet M & S, I am obsessed with your prepared meals, my goodness. So many options for vegetarian folk like me. I wish you were still in Canada, although I suspect I would never cook, and my chocolate digestive consumption would be off the charts. Probably for the best that you’re just an occasional treat.

Thank you, England, for always having food I love and can eat. Indian food! Jaime’s Italian! Hot cross toast! Mmmm.

9. Premier League Game

Premier League Game soccer pitch

I went to a football game, and had a great time! If you’d asked me (or better yet, my Dad) a decade ago if I’d be sitting in amazing seats at a Premier League game I would have laughed. If you’d asked me if I understood what was going on, I would have snorted.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather, and as I sat in the 20+ degree sunshine singing along with “He’s going to Braaazillll!” I felt pure happiness. Also, Southampton utterly destroyed Newcastle 4-0, so that was fun to watch too.

8. Adventures in (Trying to Find) Absinthe

Wandering the Left Bank at night and exploring Shakespeare and Company were quintessential Paris moments (save for the fact that everything in that bookstore minus the ONE book I purchased were in English). We debated other Parisian activities. Drink wine? Well, yes, I did that a lot. Eat cheese and baguettes? Yup. People watch? Check, check. So we decided to track down some absinthe. For whatever reason, our attempts to ask our waiter where to find it (perfectly legal, to boot) were unsuccessful. We might as well have asked for crack with a side of hooker given the emphatic “Non, Non” we received as a response to our inquiry.

7. Manchester Craft & Design Centre

Felt puppets I tagged along on a trip to Manchester, a city I quickly fell in love with despite the drizzle and chilly weather. This was in large part to the charming Craft & Design Centre I dragged Steve to upon our arrival. Home to 24 artists who design, create and make in the on-site studios, it’s a fun space to wander and purchase goodies for friends or yourself (I did both). I highly recommend popping by if you’re in the area.

6. Book Shopping in Soho

I picked up Bob Dylan’s Chronicles from a small book shop in Soho. From the outside and initial shelves, it looked like a rock n’ roll book shop. Upon closer inspection, it was also a sex shop. I don’t want to talk about what was behind the cash.

5. Stonehenge

Stonehenge

I went to the ‘henge! Having been to Avebury back in 2011, and having been uber-impressed with it, I was a bit jaded initially and didn’t think I’d like Stonehenge. In fact, it was pretty cool. It was misty, cold and raining…quintessentially English. It was quite busy, but still very impressive to see, and I’m pleased to be able to check this off my life bucket list.

Also inexplicably – you can buy booze in the “henge cafeteria. Nothing like a liquid lunch with a bunch of old, giant rocks.

4. Slowly Catching Up on Pop Culture

Congratulations to me for finally seeing Phantom of the Opera. No, I haven’t been living in a cultural vacuum or under a rock for 20 years, yes it’s ridiculous that I hadn’t seen it at some point, yes I quite liked it, thank you.

We also saw a tremendously entertaining performance of Matilda. This was definitely one of my favourite Dahl books growing up, and it lived up to the hype. See this if it tours.

3. Bond in Motion Exhibit

It took a lot of persistence on Steve’s part, but there now exists a photo of the two of us, in tuxes, doing a Bond-style pose.

Also at this fabulous exhibit – the largest official collection of official Bond vehicles. On display at the London Film Museum in Covent Garden, I majorly geeked out at this. The Aston Martin DB5! The Lotus submersible! Goldfinger’s Rolls-Roynce Phantom III! GAHHHH. It was amazing. Expensive, but amazing.

2. Taking Art “Seriously”

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Paris has fabulous museums and galleries. We wandered the Louvre (much more tolerable than last time; the urge to stab myself in the eye was non-existent this time), Musee d’Orsay (which featured some of my favourite Degas and Renoir paintings, all housed in a beautiful former train station) and the Musee Rodin (which remains my favourite museum anywhere, although I resisted the urge to bust out an interpretive dance this time).

It was lovely to wander these places with someone with a similar appreciation for art. But more importantly, the realization that I am dating someone amendable to A) taking pictures of me doing goofy things (see: the Louvre shot above) and B) participating in said goofy photos (see: imitating the statues in the Rodin Museum, also above). This was a pretty crucial discovery about our relationship.

1. Climbing the Eiffel Tower

Standing on top of Eiffel TowerSitting under the Eiffel Tower (preferably with a beverage) is one thing. Climbing up it and experiencing its beauty from the top is another. To celebrate Steve’s 30th cancerversary, two unlikely climbers – one with one functioning ACL, the other super clumsy – made their way to the top.

Warm sunshine guided us until the clouds rolled in…and in…and in…and dumped a lot of rain. But, our efforts were rewarded with tremendous views of the city and it was the perfect way to spend our last day in Paris. Also, I DIDN’T FALL.

I was really honoured to join in the celebrations for this awesome milestone.

This was a trip full of meeting friends, family and also getting to bank some serious time with someone I don’t have the luxury of seeing frequently. Getting to explore Paris and London further were a nice bonus.

Day Trip: Camden Market

Camden Market

London is chock full of great markets including Covent Garden, Portobello Road and Spitafields, with many specializing in particular goods or services. Camden Market is one of the biggest in Europe, with hundreds of stalls and small shops selling clothing, art, food and random (and I mean random) stuff.

Camden Market is a good stop if you:

  • Are into goth/punk/vintage clothing
  • Enjoy people watching
  • Are hungry. Portions from food vendors are generous!

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While the market is close to several Tube stations, we opted instead for a waterbus trek from Little Venice (a short walk – or slight jog, in our case, from Paddington Station) to Camden. Cruising along Regent’s Canal, checking out enormous houses and the leafy trees in Regent’s Park, it was a peaceful way to start our visit to a place that’s anything but quaint. Once we arrived at the market, we wandered food stalls to  start thinking about lunch (maybe just me who did this), poked around stalls (there’s a cute little pop-up shop right by the food that’s worth a visit) and eventually settled by the canal to watch boats navigate through the locks.

And eat. The food was so good!

We capped off the day with a steep walk up Primrose Hill in Regent’s Park and rolled ourselves back down the hill onto a sunny patio for a Pimm’s.

As a head’s up, the market is pretty crowded. We went on a Friday, but Sunday is the busiest day – Camden Town Tube station shuts for the afternoon from 1 p.m. onwards to manage the crowds. A less busy option is Chalk Farm, a short walk or bus ride away up the Northern line.

Sunday Seven – Seven Ways to Pass the Time Before Take-Off

I have a confession to make.

I kind of love airports. 

To clarify, I don’t love waiting in long lines full of passive-aggressive (or just plain aggressive) people. I don’t particularly enjoy being frisked by security. And I always feel nervous watching my bag float off down the ramp, mentally crossing my fingers that I will meet up with it again. But once all those things are cleared, I get excited about my upcoming trip.

For many people, though, the airport is a place where dreams go to die, where you’re stuck waiting forever, your spirit slowly crushed. It doesn’t need to be this way! There’s lots of things you can do to pass the time before take-off – here are seven of my favourites.

7. Stretch
As I mentioned in a previous post about the new yoga space at the San Francisco airport, I often get weird looks when I stretch before flights. Laugh all you want, strangers; it’s really important to get your body comfortable before a flight, particularly if it’s a long one. In addition to stretching for about 15-20 minutes, I like to do lunges (frankly, I like to do lunges anywhere), shoulder rolls and calf raises to prepare my limbs. Don’t forget to stretch during your flight too – check out Quantas for some great inflight health tips. If stretching’s not your thing, just walk briskly around the terminal – you might find something neat!

6. Charge Your Electronics
In Kuala Lumpur I had four hours to kill before my connecting flight, so I found a quiet corner with three leather massage chairs and promptly unplugged all of them except for one. Then I plugged in my camera and laptop chargers and hopped onto the third chair and relaxed while my electronics refreshed themselves.

5. Catch Up on Emails
Many airports now thankfully offer free WiFi, so why not take the time to catch up on some emails and send a few hellos home if you’ve got the time? It’s also a great time to back up any files (from your camera or otherwise) while you’re waiting for your various electronics to charge.

4. Check out the Amenities
Airports nowadays are more than just waiting areas for takeoff, so check out how much time you have to kill and find some fun. Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has its very own library, which highlights Dutch architecture, visual arts, design, fashion and history. Hong Kong International Airport has a nine-hole, USGA-approved golf course adjacent to the airport, complete with a Thai restaurant, putting greens and a club house.

But the most…interesting…amenity I’ve come across has to the Fish Valet service operated by the Fairmont Vancouver Hotel. If you’ve spent your vacation in British Columbia fishing and want to bring your prized catch home, Fairmont will store your fish in a 575 cubic foot departures-level fish freezer, and will transfer it directly to your flight home.

3. Hit the Duty Free

Didn’t have time on your travels to pick up a gift for someone you should have? Perhaps you want to splurge on some fancy perfume or cologne? Or maybe you just want a giant bottle of booze to take home. Whatever you’re looking for, the duty free is a fun way to pass the time and pick up something you likely don’t need, but really want anyway. A Toblerone bar the size of a baseball bat? Sure!

2. Make Up Useless Games

For some weird reason, I like to look at the arrival and departure boards and see which flight is coming or going the furthest distance from that particular airport. This game lasted FOREVER when I was in Honolulu, and I even got strangers involved who had initially mistaken my staring at the board as a sign I was lost. No, m’am, I’m just playing a really dumb game. Oh, you’d like to play too? NEAT!

Eventually I get bored of that game, so then I try to find a city I haven’t heard of before, and then totter off to find WiFi to look up where it is and learn something about it.

I am fully aware of the nerdiness of this game.

1. Nap
When all else fails, particularly if you’re at a small airport or there aren’t many fun distractions, find a good, quiet row of seats (or perhaps a sleeping pod if you’re at Heathrow or Vancouver) and take a nap. Nothing passes the time like spooning with your luggage.

How do you like to pass the time before a flight? Leave a comment below!

Thumbs-Up London!

Save for one day where we ventured to Southend (which was delightfully touristy and tacky all at once) and another noodling around Romford, I’ve spent four jam-packed days in London. To cram everything in I think you’d need at least a week, so I’m hoping to have a few more days before I depart to fill in any gaps. In no particular order, my favourite (and not-so-favourite) London experiences:

Jaime’s Italian Kitchen – my parents and I decided to have a “we’re on vacation” moment and went to one of Jaime Oliver’s restaurants for dinner. Although the portions were a bit on the small side, the food (and wine, as evidenced by my mum’s despair over finishing the bottle) were excellent, and it was a fun night.

Riding the Tube – While there have been some massive problems on the new Jubilee line, I have loved riding the Underground.  I love the character of each station and line (and some of the names, such as Bakerloo!), the politeness of the crew, and the thrill of sitting upstairs at the front of a double-decker bus and marveling at how the thing makes those corners. Our one-day off-peak passes have been great deals too and it’s been handy that a tube station happens to be a five-minute walk from my aunt’s house.

Family and Friends – Getting to see where my dad grew up, my parents worked and lived, spending time with relatives whom I haven’t really had a chance to connect with before (I’ll out-tourist you yet, Christian), meeting-and-greeting my aunt’s dog and finally seeing one of my bestest amigos after following him halfway around the world have been all sorts of fantastic. Thanks London for reuniting me with people!

Markets – I’ve been to Romford, Portobello Road (which I envisioned would be exactly like Bedknobs and Broomsticks had made it out to be – it was not) and Spitalfields – all good fun.

“Boris’s Bikes” – Like Bixi in Montreal, all across London you can pick up and drop off rental bikes which charge you by the hour. While you can’t take them everywhere (including some parks, like Green Park where we innocently missed the sign and a very angry man berated us for no reason), it’s a great way to get around and give your feet a well-deserved rest. And while I had expected certain death from riding on the streets after witnessing how double-decker buses motor up behind cyclists, it was actually quite manageable.

St. Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge – I didn’t even go in either place and found them fascinating. That is the mark of a good tourist attraction. Hopefully third time’s the charm for St. Paul’s when I go back.

Parks – Spend a sunny afternoon loafing around a park, either on foot or by bike. It’s a great way to get off the touristy path and meet locals, spend some time in nature, and relax away from the hustle-and-bustle of London life. Oh, and it’s free! Pack a picnic or grab a sandwich or salad from basically anywhere as healthy lunch options are available on every corner.

The “They Were Okay, But Not What I Expected” Experiences:

Natural History Museum – Granted, we went during a school holiday so it was a tad busy. However, the dinosaur and mammal exhibits were a bit disappointing (some of the fossils were casts made from dinosaurs at the ROM in Toronto!) and it took forever to get around due to the sheer number of people.

Primark – Again, it was a school holiday. However the Primark on Oxford Street was a bit like a Boxing Day sale on crack. I lasted about five minutes and had to hoof it out of there before losing my mind. Yes, £2 for a t-shirt is a good deal, but I value my sanity more.

Trafalgar Square – The last time I came to London, when I was nine, there were THOUSANDS of pigeons in the Square. A bit unhygienic and nutty, yes, but all part of the character of the place. Now there are none, as they’ve been chased off.

Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace – Yes, Liz has a posh house. But standing in massive crowds a million feet away from the gates, in hot sunshine, to watch some guards walk down the street and away from view was kind of a bummer. I can’t even imagine what those crowds will be like for the royal wedding. Good luck with that, people. I’ll be watching from the comfort of my Nan’s, sipping mimosas.

London Calling

Hard to believe, but I’ve been in England (and more specifically, London) for a week! Time really has flown by. While I enjoyed my experiences in Asia immensely, I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t been overjoyed to head to the airport to make the journey here. And what a long journey that was:

  • A slightly-dodgy commuter flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, further aided by my cold
  • An overnight (six hour) layover in Bangkok that involved no sleep thanks to hard benches and Thai New Year celebrations (song-and-dance combos at 2 a.m. – seriously – and water fights IN THE AIRPORT)
  • A four-hour flight to New Delhi at 6 a.m., still with no sleep thanks to the raging heartburn I picked up from my curry breakfast, and the woman next to me poking me awake every few minutes to chat
  • A three-hour layover in New Delhi, most of which was spent essentially in a police line-up to identify my bag on the tarmac (one good reason to buy a bag that’s not black!). I spent the remainder of the time at McDonald’s due to it being the only restaurant in the airport that accepted US money (something to look into ahead of time – whether or not the airport you have a long stopover at has a weird rule prohibiting foreigners from changing money to local currency. I did not do this in advance.). P.S. McDonald’s in India has pretty good vegetarian offerings! And Coke (the soft drink, not otherwise) really was as sweet as I’d heard.
  • A nine-hour flight to London, where I realized I had packed my sedatives in my checked bag (blast) and my seatmate was a crafty old lady who was after my window seat

At any rate, it was a very long 24 hours. But after whipping through Heathrow customs and picking up my dirt-streaked backpack, I was reunited with my waiting parents who had come to pick me up (so yes, despite a fear of flying, my mum made it on the plane with the help of a few sedatives).

London is, without a question, the first city I’ve visited where I’ve actually thought, “I could live here in a second”. I love everything about it – the weather (granted, it’s been freakishly nice weather here – in the mid-20s each day with nothing but sunshine), the people, the sights, the delicious sandwiches and lunch offerings…I could go on. And will. In the next post!