Day 5 - Free Day in London
With this being a free day, we decided to go see some things that weren't on the planned agenda. We woke up and had breakfast, and then joined Kristy, Michael, and John P for a trip to Windsor Castle.
First thing we did was get to Paddington Train Station. Anyone remember Paddington Bear from when we were kids? This is where he's from.
We took a train to Slough, where we changed trains to Windsor. The whole process was easy and efficient. The change at Slough was kind of cool because, as we waited for the train to Windsor, a high-speed train back to Paddington came through at about 100mph. Very cool stuff.
Brief sidenote before I begin. Apparently, the Queen had been staying in the castle the night before we visited and had left to head to Dublin just about an hour before we arrived. So close. Now, Windsor is a very quaint, almost stereotypical "Old English" town. Narrow streets, old construction, cobblestone streets. Awesome. The castle was about a 5 minute walk from the station, and boy was it big. We bought tickets, but just as we were going to enter the grounds, a fire alarm went off in the castle. We had to wait about 10 minutes, but other than that everything was cool.
Everything we looked at was just...."WOW!" The gardens, the castle, the cathedral, everything. And we hadn't even gone inside yet.
We walked through a few buildings, and found our way to this courtyard. It was here we saw a changing of the guard. I have the misfortune of having selective hearing, and didn't hear three guards marching up behind me. By the time I heard them, they were basically on top of me. This wouldn't have been an issue had they not had M16's with bayonet's on the ends. I was scared stiff.
We then went into the Queen's dollhouse. This dollhouse wasn't meant to be played with, but rather it was meant as an exhibition of everything that was luxurious at the time. The house was absolutely ridiculous - extremely intricate. No photography was allowed, but you're going to have to trust me on this one - the dollhouse was awesome.
Next, we went into the State Apartments. These are incredible. All of the rooms in the castle are still used today - the dining room, which seated probably 50-60 people, was said to be used in the rehearsal dinner for Prince William and Kate's wedding. Michael and I made the comment that growing up in the castle would have been awesome for many reasons, but one in particular - one could play hide and seek for hours and not be found. It was that big.
Following the interior of the castle (at least the parts you could actually walk through, since there were two entire wings that were not accessible), we headed to the Cathedral. The cathedral was beautiful, but not unlike anything else we would see on the trip. The only cool thing we got to see here was an organ recital. It was very unique to hear an organ in a real cathedral. Something I won't forget. As we walked through the cathedral, we saw the tombs of many Kings and Queens. English history was everywhere in this place.
After the cathedral, we decided to get a picture with one of the guards. I give the guard credit...he did his job - not moving an inch while multiple groups took pictures...and I even saw him checking out a few ladies. My man. Unfortunately, I do not have this picture, but it was good.
After leaving the castle grounds, we got some food at a place called EAT. This was a pretty cool place. Their business model was, admittedly, very good. They had pre-made sandwiches and soups and offered everything from salads to desserts. Just pick what you want pay, and eat at the outside seating. I enjoyed it, but we agreed something like that wouldn't work in America for a few reasons.
We then travelled back to London and headed to the St. Paul's Cathedral. We were aiming to climb to the top of the tower, but it was closed for a large function. Bad luck. We decided to go to the English museum. This was a history museum with a lot of great artifacts. We saw the Rosetta Stone, a number of mummies, and an Easter Island statue.
The night was capped off with a trip to a pub called the Black Lion for dinner and drinks. We sat outside and enjoyed the nice English drizzle that accompanied the night.
Day 6 - Journey to Paris
On this day, we would be travelling to Paris. The whole AESU crew had woken up at about 5am and taken a bus to Dover, where they would take a ferry to France, and then Bus to Paris. My parents, Shannon, and I, however, had arranged to travel by train through the Chunnel (Channel Tunnel) and go straight into Paris. So, we got to sleep in. We taxi'd over to St. Pancras station and looked some lunch and get on the train. We had to get rid of many of the English Pound coins we had, since coins cannot be converted back. This turned out to be a tough task, and I ended up purchasing a pre-made Whiskey & Ginger Ale and a Piña Colada. They turned out to be pretty decent, definitely worth my last English Pounds.
The train we took, the Eurostar, was awesome. It went as fast as 185mph. The only downside of this was the fact that there were so many little tunnels in England. Since it was travelling so fast, it created a vacuum in the tunnels, and ears were popping left and right. It was as if we were taking off and landing every 5 seconds, but the intensity was greater. Not too much fun. Surprisingly, we didn't notice any effect while we were in the Chunnel.The train got us there in under two hours. Even with us leaving many hours after the AESU bunch, we got to Paris before they did. Not a bad move.
We then had to catch a taxi to our hotel. This gave me the opportunity to use my first French in almost 5 years. I think I did a pretty good job, as the driver, I believe, understood most of what I said. We were, by about an hour, the first people to the hotel. This game us some time to chill before the group arrived.
Once the group arrived, we made plans to walk to our organized Parisian dinner. The restaurant was about a 5 minute walk away. Very convenient. The meal consisted of quiche, salad, Beef Bourgignon with mashed potatoes, wine, and creme brulée. It would turn out to be one of the best meals we had on the trip. Everything was awesome.
After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and were bussed to a boat ride on the River Loire. We were told to buy some wine beforehand to enjoy on the boat, so we quickly did that. When we arrived at the dock, there were a lot of people waiting for the boat. We mentioned to Kathi that we should wait for the next boat, as we would be able to sit up on the top level as opposed to down below. We waited about a half hour for the next both, but that move turned out to be incredibly worth it.
The city is breathtaking. As it was getting dark, we got to see the Eiffel Tower (or Tour Eiffel for those French speakers) lit up and blinking. You've no doubt seen it in videos or on tv before, but I promise you there is nothing like seeing it in person. The Cathedral of Notre Dame was lit up, as well. Basically everything we saw was, in some way, cool. Even the guy "emptying" on the river bank. Comical.
After the boat ride, we took the Metro back to the hotel. The Metro in Paris was not as nice as the Metro in London, but it was still efficient. The goal of the night was to go out to a bar. When we arrived back at the hotel, we were told that it was too late and that all the bars were closed. Michael, Kristy, Shannon, and I decided to go find something to eat. As we walked down the street our hotel was on, we found a little "hole-in-the-wall" bar called Bloody Mary. They looked open, so we walked in. We found that the owner/bartender spoke very goof English, so we got a couple drinks, sat down and shot the breeze with him. We were apparently the only people from the group that managed to find a bar that night. Solid work.
Up next...Paris and Versailles...two of my favorite days on the trip.
As always, thanks for reading, and leave any questions/comments if you got 'em.