Day twenty and after brekkie we set out for Tower of London. It was a beautiful sunny day. There was quite a crowd but with prepaid ticket we got in fairly quickly and early and made a bee line to line up to see the crown jewels.
It took some time in line-up and waiting but we got in. Later in the day the line-up was far greater so it was a good move to go there first.
We took some time going over the white tower and the armory.
Had some lunch while some actors did some sword fighting on the lawns and went through the bloody hall to see some torture techniques.
We bought some souvenirs and had a coffee in view of Tower bridge to consider whether we had enough time and energy to have a quick look at the Borough market or just do the London Eye which we had prepaid tickets for.
After having a big day it was thought to take things a tad slower today if possible. A sleep in and a leisurely breakfast and then having a bit of a walk around the local area before packing up and leaving.
Brekkie spot in Hotel
As we were flying out from Orly airport the public transport connection from hotel to airport was complicated so we decided to take a taxi which was an experience in itself. I was very happy not to try and deal with driving in Paris! The taxi driver was friendly and chatty.
It seemed like it took longer to actually board the plane than the actual flight time to land in London. It was wet and a busy afternoon time to land in Heathrow. With airport train connections we were soon back at our Earls Court hotel again for the last three days of our trip.
Hazy view on London approach from plane
That evening my son and I returned to the Blackbird pub that we had gone to on the first night in London to find that there was a World Rugby Cup celebration happening on the big screen and with lots of people from various nations shouting for their teams. It had a great atmosphere.
On arrival at the Louvre we had pre ordered tickets, however we were informed we had to go and pick up our tickets at a Kiosk nearby.
The map we had from the website was not clear on where exactly the pickup point was. There was a market and crowds and it became quite irritating and an anxious time as it was late in the day and we just wanted to get the tickets so we could get into the Louvre and at least see the Mona Lisa painting. Getting a bit more desperate we asked a friendly and helpful person who directed us to what he could perceive as the Kiosk to pick up the tickets. When I approached the proprietor I was shouted at to read my map and go away. At this point I sort police assistance as I was starting to think that I had been duped by a false website that now had my credit card details but the policeman concurred with the first person that this kiosk should have been the pickup point judging by the map and directions I had. In a fairly dejected state we were not sure whether to just buy tickets and go into the Louvre or just go back to the hotel. And then just 100 metres or so away was another kiosk that had the tickets. I almost burst into tears. With ticket on hand we then more or less ran to the Louvre muttering in a delirious state… why didn’t the first kiosk proprietor just say it was just over there (!)
French Kiosks beware!
We raced through the entrance and followed the directions to get to the Mona Lisa. Being so late in the day we were quite fortunate to have direct access. Not long after we were being directed and ushered out as it closed in the late afternoon. There was so much more we could have seen and we really needed to have allowed a lot more time to see the complete collection or come back for another visit.
Having had such a full day we were quite exhausted. Caught the Met back to the hotel and grabbed some hot dogs from a street seller and went to relax in our hotel room. Later popped out for crepes and macaroons.
Breakfast was served with a beautiful basket of croissant, bread rolls, jam and cheeses. Enough to make up some snacks for lunch which we ate while in crowd on the tower. We made our way for our guided tour of the Eiffel Tower. It was a small group of around 10 and led by a young English chap. We all had radio microphones so could be guided and hear while we walked and the guide talked. Very professional and informative.
It was a dull morning and we did experience some rain while up the tower. Being on a tour we by-passed the crowd for entry. There were plenty of opportunities for photos.
The tour finished on level 1. We went up another level and made our way down. It took quite some time to move about from level 1 to level 2 and then to get the lift down. At one point an emergency signal went but we were all crowded and going nowhere anyway and could do nothing. After about ten minutes an announcement told us to ignore the emergency signal. Rain came while we were waiting to get the lift down at which point we were mostly under shelter.
Once off the tower we got coffee and then it took a bit of an effort to find the hop on hop off bus we had booked to go on. Once found it was quite relaxing to just chill and watch Paris zip by with English commentary from a personal earphone. We did a loop and a half and got off at the Louvre however it was quite late in the afternoon.
It was with excitement and anticipation that we were heading to Paris this morning. As we were only staying a couple of nights in Paris we were able to leave one of our larger bags at the Hotel in London with some of our excess clothes and souvenirs gleaned so far. Having traveled the underground to Kings Cross/ St. Pancras on the day we visited the British Library we knew where to go.
The check-in process was straightforward and allowed for conversation between other passengers. Once checked in we had breakfast as we had left our hotel early before breakfast was being served. The EuroStar train was comfortable fast and efficient. I was a little surprised there was no wireless internet as I thought I had heard there was. It is coming in upgrades soon an attendant said.
The train traveled at around 200 km/h and I tried to take pictures as we speed by but they all ended up as mostly a blur. I found it really exciting to be traversing the countryside and taking in the scenery. When we arrived at the Gare du Nord station our first encounter of French/Parisian culture was standing waiting for some time at an information booth… initial response from “Parlez-vous anglais” was no but my colleague does so having to wait longer till the colleague was free, and then in response to my request about where to get Met (local train) tickets.. given short sharp hand gestures of downstairs to the right. Then joining the extensive line of people there waiting where behind the booth a single attendant talked behind the counter to a colleague and then periodically at their own pace attended to the next person in line. At one stage, I guess by the accent an American, loudly complained about the lack of customer service… I felt like shrugging and responding.. this is Paris…
Once we had our Met tickets and worked out the route to take we embarked on getting to our hotel near Moulin Rouge in the 9th district not far from the station. When we came out from the Met underground and started walking along the main street towards our hotel what struck me was the number of dubious shops with explicit materials and options available. It made us feel a bit uncomfortable about the district and area where the hotel was located (!)
When we found our hotel it was off the main strip and quite nice. We were too early to go into our rooms but we could leave our bags at the hotel and go exploring to get some lunch. Near the Moulin Rouge there were a number of tourist outlet but also a local shopping strip of food markets and mini supermarket outlets. We found a pleasant café for baguettes, coffee and macaroons.
Being a Wednesday the Louve had late night opening and I had ambitions of touring. However my wife and son were tired so instead we rested. As opposed to our usual hotel experiences there was no kettle or instant coffee/tea provided. I sort to inquire at the front desk using my iPad with translation as to whether this was possible to have boiling water as we had some instant coffee, and was told in fairly blunt terms I could have boiling water but no milk go and get your own at supermarket. So I did but then also realized I had no cup so experienced shopping in a French supermarket trying to find milk plus other snack supplies as well as returning to the café from earlier to get a take away coffee to allow for a cup in the hotel room.
In the early evening we went for a walk and found a restaurant outlet specializing in hamburgers as well as later getting takeaway crepes to eat in the hotel room.
French hamburger and chips with style
Today we had planned to visit St. Paul’s and I had bought tickets in advance to beat the line and get a guided tour. However when we arrived there was a crowd outside and a formal service about to occur with dignitaries so no tours. We joined the crowd to do some potential celebrity spotting and learnt that there was a service to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain including a fly over of Spitfire vintage aeroplanes.
Due to this disruption and with other plans afoot plan B was for my wife and son to go and visit TATE Modern over the Millennium bridge and for me to go and visit a librarian colleague who had done a job exchange to Australia fifteen years ago.
St. Paul’s from Millennium Bridge
I took the tube to the quaintly titled Elephant and Castle station to find the London South Bank University. It was a fairly modern University and similar to my home institution and former institution that I worked for with similar cohort and courses offered. One thing that was interesting was quiet pods for the students to study in. The library had multiple level so a tour of the library had us progressing over the multiple buildings and levels.
London South Bank University
Quiet Pod in library
I had lunch with my colleague and then made my way back to meet my wife and son on the Millennium bridge and tour St. Paul’s. We talked to the volunteer guides and hosts who were members of the church before the tour. We found out that at the earlier special service Prince Andrew had been the Royal representative. We were not permitted to take photos inside St. Paul’s. The tour was a highlight particularly standing under the dome. The tour guide pointed out to us a memorial particularly to Melbourne in St. Paul’s. My son and I after the tour went up to the wall of whispers and then beyond that up to the top of the tower where you could take photos of the surrounds.
We had fish and chips from a pub near St. Paul’s and made our way home for an early night as the next day we were off to Paris!
Today was a full day but special day. We started off early for a quick look at the British Library. In the past it was, like the Victorian State Library, combined with the British Museum. However in the early 1990s it was relocated to a purpose built building near Kings Cross/ St. Pancras station. The alternative motive was also to see how long it took to get to St. Pancras as we would be departing from here in a few days on the EuroStar train to Paris.
The train station quite iconic and has featured in many films. The library was within a short distance from the station. It had an Alice in Wonderland theme relating to a 150 year anniversary.
Around the library were various galleries and exhibitions and closed off collections only accessible to registered readers as well as breakout and study spaces. I talked briefly to a librarian at the information desk and spent sometime getting some souvenirs at the gift shop
We made our way back to the hotel and then to a special lunch. A friend had recommended a rather posh Kensington roof gardens or the Babylon restaurant at the roof gardens that had a two course lunchtime almost affordable deal. We had arranged for my daughter to come in and join us for this special lunch as a farewell till we saw her return to Australia at the end of the year.
The food and views were amazing. We were not able to tour all of the gardens as there was a function being held in English garden that has live flamingos that we could see from the restaurant. We did have a tour of the Spanish garden with some other diners.
In the evening my son and I went to Piccadilly Circus and went through Ripley’s Believe it or not. My son enjoyed it. I found it a bit commercial and glitzy. We had a late snack at an Eastern European Pastry shop.