Thursday, August 30, 2007

Next stop: France

So, I knew we had to catch the chunnel for Paris at 7:09 AM. Not so difficult, unless you consider that we were supposed to be at the train station at least 30 minutes early and we had to take several metro lines to get there. Add all that together and you end up with a wakey time much, much earlier than I particularly wanted to consider. We hit the sack somewhat early, hoping to get a good night’s sleep. That didn’t happen. This whole trip I’ve been without an alarm clock. I simply cannot find the clock tat I packed. Either I didn’t pack it or I packed it too well, but in either case I don’t have it to use. I must have woken up 5 times that night, panicked that we had overslept our 5:15 goal. First time was at midnight. I woke up all in a fix and had to check my computer to see what time it was. It said 12:00 but I didn’t believe it, so I go wandering around the hotel, looking for a clock. I finally wound up at the front desk and asked the very confused clerk what time it is. I think he thought I was abusing some substance as there was a large, very readable clock directly behind his head. He looked at me funny, turned around and read the clock to me – 12:00. I was both relieved and frustrated at my early jumping the gun on waking up and staggered back to bed.

1:30 – repeat

2:15 – repeat

3:30 – repeat

4:00 – repeat

AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!! Not a good night.

Finally it was actually time to get up and we all got ready and made it to the chunnel with plenty of time, settled into our seats and started off for Paris.

On the chunnel we enjoyed our first taste of Paris, a lovely croissant from the train cafeteria that only cost the equivalent of roughly $7.50. Don’t you just love European tourist prices?

The French countryside was absolutely lovely. The morning we arrived everything was very green. We seemed to have left the rain behind in London at it was replaced by a light mist that settled picturesquely over the French farms and hills. Granted, I was sleeping for most of the train trip due to my less-than stellar night, but the parts I did catch sure were nice!

We arrived in Paris around noonish and immediately set to deciphering the instructions to our hotel. They were a tad cryptic and it took us a while to find it but after going to the absolute last metro stop on the line and carrying our bags for what seemed like 50 miles we chanced upon our hotel. It was simple but nice. We unpacked our bags and headed back out into the city.

Our first stop was probably the most daunting: the Louvre. We popped out of the metro right next to the big beast and were floored. It was similar to the feeling that we had seeing Big Ben for the first time. The Louvre is HUGE! These kings in Europe had absolutely no shame in building disgustingly ostentatious buildings. It did fulfill it’s goal (inspiring awe) I suppose.

The other issue with the Louvre is the sheer number of people inside. We were stuffed in there like sardines. There must have been 500 people in the mosh pit by the Mona Lisa. We saw some pretty famous stuff, but I’ve never known a whole lot about art so I probably didn’t appreciate it as I should have.

About 20 minutes into the museum I got hit by some nasty cramps and gas. I could barely breathe. That made the oppressive crowds and heat all the much more pleasant to deal with. At one point I found a bathroom but quickly discovered that there was someone taking their (and everyone else’s, apparently) sweet time. There were 4 men in line for the only stall and they all spoke different languages. The older Japanese guy who kept patting his midsection was squabbling it out with the young, well-dressed French (possibly gay) guy. I decided to skip that idea and looked for an easier way to find a toilet.

Anyway, I staggered my way around the museum ripping some nasty ones, probably damaging priceless artwork with the fumes. I think it may have killed one of the guards. We finally left the Louvre (which had become my idea of a personal hell) and went looking for some food. We found a neat little café down the road a bit and stopped. I immediately sought out their facilities while my compadres ordered. When I got back I found a lovely little set of sandwiches waiting. I had half of two different baguette sandwiches, one of them some kind of fancy ham and the other sausage pate. I was immediately feeling better about this Paris place. If they could produce food like this they must not be all bad, right?

After our dinner we wandered around the Champs Elysee, stopping to gawk at the Arc d’Triomph.

Much bigger than I expected. No wonder all the many countries that have invaded france have felt it necessary to stomp around outside the arc. Very majestic. Then we wandered around some Parisian back roads (wandering is rapidly becoming one of our favorite activities here in Europe) until we bumped into the Eiffel Tower. Again, much larger and cooler than I anticipated. Really seems like an engineering feat when you get right up next to it. We found a cool little park that was relatively people-free and hung out there for a few minutes until the lights came on the tower and hung around until 9:00 when the whole thing went up in sparkles. Looked pretty dang cool.

Did some more wandering until we bumped into a metro station, walked the distance back to our hotel, showered and hit the sack. Paris was shaping up to be a good time after all!

Monday, August 27, 2007

London part deux

Slept well, woke up in good ol’ Chiswick (pronounced Chisick, no W)

We stopped at a market on the way to the metro for our breakfast. The little markets here are considerably better quality than the ones back home, you can actually get a decent meal that doesn’t leave you slightly queasy! I picked up some little pasties called “chelseas” and some juice. The chelseas were like little pastries shaped liked cinnamon rolls with currants instead of cinnamon. I like the pastries in Europe waaay better than America because they’re not all sweet. No nasty frosting, just a little glaze and some fruit, usually. Or a little butter. Mmmmm…..

Being Sunday morning, we decided to do what any good little Mormon kids would do and go to church. Only we decided to do it Europe style and attend the morning service at Westminster Abbey.

We went to a Matins service that involved a lot of singing from the choir, a sermon and some good ol’ fashioned creed recitations. The Abbey is beautiful, the sermon was quite good and it really was nice all around. The cathedrals were built to draw your eyes and thoughts to heaven
and they fulfill their role quite well. You end up looking up and pondering a lot.

Westminster Abbey is beautiful. I love the architecture here in Europe. I’ve realized that I prefer architecture to many of the other forms of art (painting, etc.) In fact, painting is probably my leats favorite. I enjoy sketches, sculptures and other things more than paintings. But back to the point, I prefer just wandering around London looking at the buildings and seeing the city to going to crowded museums and taking tours. Maybe that’s just me.

After the service we walked to Trafalgar Square, taking in the sights along the way. Big Ben, Parliament, countless churches and old government buildings went before our eyes. Interestingly, one almost becomes immune to magnificent spectacles. I caught myself several times dismissing absolutely beautiful buildings as “Oh, there’s another one”. You almost expect grandeur on every corner. And you’re rarely disappointed.

In Trafalgar we hopped on a red double-decker bus for a “hop-on hop-off” tour that would basically allow us to roam around London, grabbing a bus whenever we felt so moved. That worked out well, as we didn’t have to follow any certain schedule but could enjoy whatever we wanted for as long as we wanted. Again, more sights. St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Tower of London.

Our guide, a little English gal with a thick London accent and a very poor grasp on humor explained them all in a passing manner as if they were just buildings. She spent more time gossiping about English celebrities like Diana, David Beckham and Prince Henry or whoever than talking about the actual city (Maybe I need to read more tabloids?)

One of the girls in our group was desperately looking for a book by one of her favorite authors that is only published in England and that led us on a tour of London’s finest book establishments. Interestingly, there is one road through town that houses nearly all of the bookstores. You have the regulars like Borders and Barnes & Nobles in addition to countless cramped little used bookstores. I loved going through these little trashy stores and seeing what they had, although I was disappointed in their sections on Philosophy. Who woulda thought that obscure philosophy books aren’t a hot item for used bookstores to carry? Hahahahahaha…

We wandered into an area of town called Covent Garden, known for its gardens and dining options. We were looking for somewhere to get some “authentic” English cuisine. What better place than a pub? We found a suitably seedy looking establishment full of English chaps getting smashed and roaring at a football game going on. We were planning on getting fish and chips (the classic) but when the menu came I saw an item I couldn’t resist:


Wow. Can it get ANY more English than that? Let me tell you! When I got my food, it was a large scone thing with limp veggies, mashed potatoes and a curled beef sausage in it. Oh, and the whole thing was absolutely DROWNING in gravy. I was floored. Anyhow, a picture is attached.

It tasted EXACTLY like you’re imagining right now. Doused in gravy.

After dinner we jumped back on the Tube (which we had completely mastered by this point) and headed back to Chiswick. We decided to go out and search down an internet place so we could tell out parents and friends we were alive. We found one, a little joint operated by two middle-eastern gentlemen that was closing just as we arrived. We gave them out best poor-students-in-dire-need-of-an-internet-fix routine and they allowed us 10 minutes to do our stuff. We all fired off really short letters (much to the ire of our parents) and hurried out so they could close.

Oh, did I mention the weather? This whole time it had been raining. Not any kind of downpour, mind you, but seattle drizzly rain. It actually made sightseeing quite pleasant as it wasn’t too hot and kept the lines down. We never really had to wear a coat so we weren’t held back at all by the water. And, frankly, I think drizzly is a much more fitting backdrop for London than sunny and warm.

Back to the hotel, crawled into bed and prepared for a big day. Off to Paris in the morning!

Saturday, August 25, 2007


After all the hugs and kisses and generally making a sentimental fool of myself, I was finally off to London. Only one obstacle remained in my way, looming before me like some specter of doom. Suspicious looking men prowled around me, brandishing their weapons and sizing me up. I prepared for the worst as I entered airport security, sure that they could do their worst but that I could pass through unscathed, clinging to my dream of boarding a plane bound for Europe. As I stepped towards the metal detector, I removed my backpack. The guy at the counter looked at me, slightly amused and said “Laptop?” I took my laptop out. “Camera?” I removed my camera. “Shoes?” Off came the shoes. “Pockets?” I emptied them on command. “Belt?” …….. OH COME ON! This was getting ridiculous. Honestly, I think the guy was just having a good time. That job probably gets just a smidge boring and sometimes he chooses poor, hapless college students to torments. Twisted.

I survived security fairly well. I’ve actually been surprised so far that it’s been quite easy to get in and out of airports and train stations. I think, six years later, the transit people have finally gotten the hang of tighter security.

Interesting side note: I saw Dan Albright in the airport, dressed up in his pilot stuff and heading off to copilot…we talked a bit.

I met up with one of the girls in our little group, Kimberlee Sirstins, in the SLC airport and we flew all the way to London together. We met the other girl, Ellen Lloyd, in Cincinnati during our layover. I spent nearly the entire flight stuffing Mom’s homemade cookies in my face. Let me tell you about disgusting airplane food. The “dinner” they served was most certainly the nastiest pile of poo I’ve ever tasted. I stuck each of the dishes in my mouth and nearly gagged each time. Stunning. I still shudder at the thought.

We arrived in London at about 8:45 on Saturday morning. We were to meet our final group member, Andrew Frick, there when his flight at 9:15. And wouldn’t you know, his flight was late! So, of course, we wait. The board says 10:05. Then 10:20. Finally, at 10:45, the plane arrives. We look anxiously for Andrew to emerge. And wait. And wait some more. He rolled out of the baggage area at about 12:30. Unbelievable! Turns out the planes were so backlogged from a storm in New York that it was taking everyone 2 hours to get their baggage. So, in essence, we spent a happy 3.5 hours sitting in the airport in London. What better way could you possibly spend your hard-earned time in England? Thrill of a lifetime! We were looking for a way to page him over the intercom of find where he was, but the information desk was inexplicably closed for a loooong brunch and noone seemed to know why. Everyone we asked anything to responded with “ask the information desk” and when I told them it was vacant, they’d say “well, someone should open that up!” assertively. Of course, nothing ever happened. Well done, information people!

I’m convinced airports hate me.

It’s a conspiracy.

The coolest things I’ve seen in Europe so far are the hand dryers in the men’s bathroom of Gatwick airport. Words don’t suffice to describe, but be assured that they are the pinnacle of human engineering. They actually dry your hands. Quickly.

Andrew managed to lose one of his bags immediately upon arrival in the metro station. We’re standing in line and we here his name called out over the intercom. I was certain we’d gotten busted for unknowingly smuggling some illicit materials into England, but it turned out that he’d just walked off without a bag. Whoops! We got through the line for metro tickets and placed our order and voila! Our credit cards don’t work. Why? Turns out, as we were later told by an attendant, that the machine “doesn’t like our type of cards”. We inquired into the “type” of our cards and were met by a blank stare. (Maybe it doesn’t like Yankee plastic?)

Finally, we arrived at our hotel at 3:00 PM. We checked into the cozy little establishment and lo and behold, cozy is certainly the apt describing word. The rooms are roughly 347 times smaller than the pictures on the website. Apparently the English have mastered adobe photoshop to a degree far beyond our own skill. The rooms were clean enough had functioning locks and came with and had fresh towels. What more could you want for 90 bucks a night? More, you say? Well, maybe you haven’t been to London. I’ll let you in on a little secret.

London is absurdly expensive.


Basically take all prices in the US, replace the dollar sign with a pound sign and multiply what you thought the cost was time 2.09. That’ll about do it. Reasonably cheap dinner? 25 bucks. One-way metro pass? 8 dollah. Pitifully tiny water bottle? 3-4 buckaroos. I’ll be broke in a matter of a week.

(Speaking of small, everything here in Europe seems to come in 2 sizes: “small” and “rationed out for the London blitz”. No wonder there aren’t any fat people in London. Nothing to eat!)

When we came out of the tube we were right next to Big Ben and we had our “holy crud, we’re actually in London!” moment. There we were, in front of the actual big ben. Not a post card, not a movie, the real thing.

We had the opportunity to visit the British Library. Not a real big tourist attraction, but easily one of the best in my mind. They have originals of some farly famous documents like, oh, the magna carta. You know, obscure stuff. They also had originals from Shakespeare, Chaucer (eat your heart out, Marty), Jane Austen, Leonardo Da Vinci, Rachmaninoff, Mozart, Darwin and tons more famous people. Oh, and a great religious section highlighted by an original Gutenberg Bible and several copies of the Qu’ran from a loooong time ago.

Andrew is a real fim/theater freak, so he convinced our group to attend a musical in the theater section of London, Picadilly. We decided on Spamalot, an award-winning musical based on Monty Python. After wandering around, we saw a discount ticket booth and Andrew rushed over to buy some tickets. They had two left at 25 pounds and promised that we could go to the theater and that they would give us a few more (“the last ones available”) for this great price. Oh, but right before Andrew and Ellen bought, the tickets magically went up to 30 pounds apiece. I was a bit suspicious of our over-zealous and slightly creepy ticket-selling friends, to say the least. Anyhow, we found a really good Italian place and grabbed some dinner before heading up for the concert…

Dinner: Rigatoni in a Marscapone, Tarragon, Red Onion and Pecorinno sauce. The stuff of dreams.

…when we arrived at the concert, I found it distressing but oddly hilarious that we’d been had. There were plenty of tickets left for the show at the full price of 22.50. Andrew and Ellen were given a wonderful “discount” of an extra 15 bucks! Hahahahahaha….I don’t know why it strikes me as funny but it is. Probably because I didn’t get ripped for 15 big ones. Anyway, that’ll teach you to be rushed into a sale with seedy people that change their prices, eh? Hahahaha…

Anyhow, Spamalot exceeded my expectations and ended up being freakin’ hilarious. Very funny, incorporating all of the highlights of Monty Python. I think it was particularly good here in London because of the genuine accents and british humor. Oh, and the large teeth. That helps.

Thoughts on London so far: I absolutely LOVE it. The city is clean, the people are fairly nice, the british girls are far better looking than generally reported. The architecture is amazing, the candy bars fantastic and the slightly cool and very light drizzle a nice change from surface-of-the-sun Provo. Many more adventures await!

(I’m writing this a few days later, so it’s not exactly current events. Hopefully I’ll catch up sometime.)

Europe! Finally!

Ok, so I finally got free wireless in one of our hostels, so the blogs should come fast and furiously.

Ok, maybe not fast and furiously but at least every once in a while?