Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Day 1 Non-Stop Means NON-STOP

The trip to the United Kingdom and France was wonderful beyond my expectations. I had never traveled to Europe before. It is hard to know what to write here or what to include in the way of photos. I have 1,800 photos and 85 video clips. I narrowed these down to 300 of the better photos to show slow moving targets,  to show my friends. For the blog, I am trying to keep it under 75 except when the photo tells the better story than the first 1000 words.

The Players:
Myself and my "bestest" best friend, my partner in crime: Joyce. We booked our plane tickets 11 months ago. Joyce was in charge. She has traveled around the world numerous times. It was good to travel with an experienced best friend. 

Today I will write about Day One and a half.

We traveled on the red eye from Orlando non-stop to Gatwick Airport in London, UK. I avoided caffeine for the three days prior to the trip. I woke at 4AM on the morning of the evening flight and got in a 5-mile walk before noon in an effort to be tired on the flight. I wanted to be able to sleep and arrive reasonably human-like. 

Entering the plane from the front cabin we walked through the First Class/Business Class cabins: They have seats that recline completely and become 76 inch long beds, each with a dividing wall to give the passenger privacy. In business/first class they also hand out lovely 100% cotton pajamas and slippers. Stewards were standing by with tasers to make we did not linger in this cabin too long so, alas, we continued on to the next cabin: Premium World Coach.

Three weeks prior to the trip we had to opportunity to upgrade from teeny-tiny benches, I mean regular coach seats to Premium World Coach Seats - (two across instead of 3). These include deeper recline, footrests, eye masks and stepped up services on board. I thought this would mean a wider seat - it DOES NOT. This is annoying to me, a lady with saddle bag thighs and hips: Due to the molded form of the seat, it was narrower than the regular coach seats by about 2 inches. I gained weight gained this past year and mourned every missing fraction of an inch. 

On this airline, in all cabins, all alcohol and movies are free. However in Premium we also got warm socks so we can take off our shoes, noise canceling headphones, upscale toiletry kit, pillows, blanket and eye mask, Orange juice and water are passed out every hour - even before I reached my seat they were encouraging hydration and its opposite cousin: urination, by walking through the cabin with trays, offering glasses of either/both. I usually travel with my own noise canceling headphones but these are included with the premium seat, so I left mine home. These were fine. 

Now it was time for wine and snacks. The first wine we had was from Chile and it was superb. The wine with dinner was from Argentina. The wine from Chile was better.  After water, orange juice, wine and a snack of salty-cheesy pretzels, we are handed the menu for dinner (also a heads-up menu regarding breakfast). I had the fillet of beef. Everything was tasty with the exception of the dinner roll, which I did not eat. 

After dinner, wine was offered again. Then the lights dimmed, the AC seemed to get cooler and the water/OJ brigade took a break so passengers could get some sleep. I got up to walk behind, to the middle of the plane, to use the restroom. That was my first chance to see the cattle car, I mean the normal coach class section. The faces I saw all looked miserable. By then we were 3 hours into a 7.5-hour flight and I think most of the people in coach had the look of sardines in the can. I silently said a prayer of thanks for the means and opportunity to upgrade and when I returned to my seat I put on the eye mask and concentrated on willing myself to get to sleep.  Joyce sleeps about 3 hours. I slept for about two hours. Not bad for someone with a fear of flying! 

When awake, I was careful to stretch, get up and walk around and drink more water. Before going to sleep I reset my iPhone for UK time. It was "now" about 5AM. the lights were starting to come back on in the cabin. Orange juice brigade came around followed by our 'breakfast snack' and a nice cup of tea. The breakfast consisted of a multigrain croissant, jam, cereal bar, butter, and  box of raisins.The cereal bar contained corn syrup - a substance not permitted in France and I do not think in the UK. I don't eat cereal bars anyway so I tossed it out along with the rest of the food. I was still digesting dinner. I got a kick out of reading the ingredients label and seeing that the raisins have ingredients beyond 'dried grapes.' 

We landed at 6:25am, London time, sailed through customs and border patrol and walked from one side of Gatwick Airport to the other to get the train to London's St Pancras station. We buy Oyster Cards - this is the equivilent of a NY metro card for mass transit. We also had our advance-purchase tickets for the Eurostar high-speed rail to Paris later that morning.  

St Pancras Station is lovely. If you take the best of Grand Central Terminal in NYC and combine it with a good shopping mall you have St Pancras. 

The Eurostar is a great way to get to Paris quickly.   If you don't pay attention to the fact that if we hit a wall, we will all disintegrate into dust. . .  .Once I stopped concentrating on how fast we were traveling I could concentrate of enjoying myself. Opps, forgot about the underwater part.  I do not like to travel under water. I hate tunnels of a mile or less and EEK, the Chunnel is under the English Channel for 22+ miles!

We emerge in the beautiful French countryside on a lovely spring day. We were in a four-seater with a 12 year-old boy who was born in New York, raised in Paris and now lives in London. His mother is from Medellin, his father is from Baltimore and his siblings go to schools in the US, studying engineering. His mother, glued to her phone the whole trip, sat across the aisle, keeping the empty seat next to her for herself and dumped her boy with us. Nice, huh? Nothing against the kid- he was a fascinating young man. In fact, I enjoyed talking with him and I know he was thrilled that we did not hide in our books and ignore him. He even helped my download an ap on my iphone so that I could hold it up to anything written in French and it would show it to me in English, all using the camera function. 

London to Paris in 2.5 hours, plus we lost another hour due to traveling east. We arrive it Paris at 1:30pm Paris time - which is 6:30am back home in Florida. 

We arrive at Gard du Nord and take a taxi to our hotel in Montmartre on the Boulevard Montmartre. Our room is on the 4th floor, overlooking Boulevard Montmartre and facing in the direction of the Lourvre, a 20 minute walk away. Some windows in the hotel overlook the hill upon which sits Sacré-Cœur: The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. 
The Basilica - This photo was NOT taken from our hotel room,
it was taken the day we climbed to the church. 

Our hotel windows overlook Boulevard Montmartre - a bustling street crammed full of museums, cafes, restaurants, theaters and shops. 
View outside the French doors in our room
Before leaving the USA, Joyce and I agreed that when we arrived in Paris we would eat a meal and then retire for the day so we could wean over to the new time zone, perhaps getting up at 4am the first day and a normal 6am by Friday. That was the plan. . . . 

We unpacked and rested on the beds for about 45 minutes before going down to find a place to have lunch. One expensive bottle of mineral water and a salmon salad later, we decided to take a walk to stretch our legs before returning to the room to call it a day. . . . . But this is PARIS and it was my first time, and so we walked for six hours. 
One of 4 bridges we walked
that afternoon/evening
We started down the street you see from the hotel window. At the end of the horizon in this perspective , we reached the Louvre. Then we crossed over the Seine on the Pont de Carrousel (bridge) and walked along the Seine to the Champs Elysees Place de la Concorde (that's where they guillotined, once upon a revolution). Night approached. The Effiel tower, still a few blocks away, was magnificent in its night-bling. We crossed over several avenues, passed many museums, parks, sites of interest . . . gobbling it all up. It did not matter that it rained on and off. It certainly did not matter that my legs were getting tired. Paris was the remedy to every problem that afternoon/evening. I was in Paris and I could not get enough. 

After three hours we stopped to have something to drink. It was close to 7:00pm. Vaugely we thought about dinner. We walked into a restaurant through a park across the grand expanse of the Avenue des Champs Elysees. We sat at a lovely table and read the menu but decided we weren't really hungry, just thirsty. I had a bottle of water, a glass of wine and a cup of coffee. With glasses of wine, they brought us a small plate of 3 tiny cheese crackers. Joyce and I both felt that these were the finest crackers we ever had in our lives. Each was just a single bite and heavenly. To give you an idea of how perfect they were:  they asked if they could bring us more and WE declined because we both felt we had experienced perfection - and it was enough.

We did not even eat dinner that night. These were not miracle diet-crackers. We were just too tired. 
Love the heart that formed during the pour 
The coffee was presented with a small block of dark chocolate. I licked a corner of the block but left it on the plate. Milk/cream, sugar are not offered with coffee in France. You want milk, you must order a 'white coffee.' However, the coffee in France is soooo good, I do not need to add milk. Yes, I did visit Starbucks in several locations: more on that later. 

After finishing the water, wine and coffee we continued our walk: the Paris Eye, Jardin des Tuileries and back to the Louvre for a night photo with the Pyramid. 

We finally returned to the hotel around 10pm that evening. Our room is tiny but the bathroom is(according to my well-traveled roommate) 'the largest hotel bathroom she ever had in Europe.' We finally get to bed around 11pm, Paris time. In was late March and 49 degrees outside, but we left the french doors open all night and stayed warm under fluffy down duvets. We must have slept well because the next thing  I knew, the sun was poking through the drapes and Joyce was poking me and saying "Hey, it's

Next up~
Day 2 - Have Faith and Keep Climbing!