London/Paris May 2016

In May, I returned to Europe for business. This trip was special for a couple reasons. After long last I finally got the chance to visit Paris and since I had meetings in London, I spent the weekend there before hopping the Eurostar through the Chunnel to Paris. Bucket list checked.

We stayed in South Bank at the Mondrian Hotel right on the Thames because our office and our meetings on Thursday and Friday were nearby. This is the view from my hotel room. Quite nice.

Mondrian View
View from my Mondrian Hotel Room Mondrian Hotel 20 Upper Ground London, SE1 9PD

Of course you can’t go to London without having dinner at a proper pub. On our first night, we had dinner at the Black Friar, which was a short walk from our hotel on the other side of the Thames.

John had reservations for 7:00. When we arrive, the waiter tells us they did not have his reservation and there are so many people outside. Oh my! Fortunately, they found a tiny table in a nook where John and his wife, Barbara, were shoe horned and there was literally a piano bench for me. But the fish-n-chips and beer were awesome.

Then about 7:50 they inform us we need to leave so they can have the table for the next reservation. John missed the chance to say “show me the name on that reservation”. We were done anyway but how rude!

On Saturday, we set out to see the sights. I had been to London before but never really explored South Bank, so we decided to check out St. Paul’s cathedral and whatever we could find. You cannot overstate the size of St. Paul’s. When you reach the steps of the magnificent cathedral, you get an appreciation for how large it is. From there, we ventured further east on the Thames to the Tower of London where the contrast of new and old still fascinates me. Of course Tower Bridge is quintessential London, especially when there is a big Double Decker bus passing over it. I just had to capture a selfie while on Tower Bridge to prove I was there.

On the other side of the Thames, we walked by the ultra modern buildings like City Hall and the open air mall at Cottons Center. Then, we ran into Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. We did not plan ahead, so we did not get tickets for the live production of one of Shakespeare’s plays but I was able to get a shot looking through the doors. From outside, it looked so historically real.  When we walked outside, you really gain an appreciation for the extent that they went to stay true to the original theater. I only wish Ryan was here to see it.

Heading to Paris

Sunday morning, I was up very early, so I had to run out to Black Friar’s bridge to get a shot looking west on the Thames. Beautiful morning in London.

After a quick coffee, we caught a ride over to the Eurostar station where we went through the Chunnel to Paris to be specific, Platform 5 at St Pancras International train station. I have always wanted to take this route into Paris. Now I have done it. Bucket list checked.

Forgive me for taking this video. This was my first time entering France and I found the French country side so captivating with its classic red roof country cottages. Maybe you will too.

Paris at Last

Paris has been on my bucket list for quite a while. Finally, I was able to check it off the list. Fortunately, I was guided by a John and his wife, Barbara, who were so gracious to give me a tour. I didn’t appreciate what I saw until after looking up all the things we saw for this article. Thanks, “buds”!

It was threatening to rain, so the first thing we had to see was the Eiffel Tower. Looks a lot like the one in Las Vegas – but bigger. From there, we walked around the Seine where it seems all the great sites of Paris can be found. Not far from the Eiffel Tower, you run into a gold clad bridge called Pont Alexandre III that connects two of the more famous sections of Paris called Champs-Élysées and Les Invalides. On the North side of the bridge is the famous Champs-Élysées quarter. Looking back over the gold decorated bridge, you can see the French Military Museum called Les Invalides. Within the museum is a military hospital and a retirement home for war veterans. In the museum, many war heroes are entombed including the most notable, Napoleon Bonaparte.

From the Grand Palace on the banks of the Seine, we ventured east along the Champs-Élysées to the Place de la Concorde in what seems to be the logical center of Paris. It was in this grand square during the French revolution that King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and many other dignitaries were executed in public by guillotine.

From there, we walked up the Seine and noticed a pedestrian bridge loaded with locks. Sure enough, it was the Pont des Arts, which links the Institut de France and the central square of the Palais du Louvre. Of course, this bridge is famous for the love locks where tourists attach padlocks with their first names written or engraved on them, then throw the key into the Seine river below, as a romantic gesture.

It was about this time that I ran into someone I recognized. I walked past him earlier but when he walked by us, I had to say something. “Sorry to do this but you look really familiar. Are you from Central Illinois, Peoria? Did you coach basketball?” He says, “Yes. I am Rob Judson. I coached at Bradley and lived in Peoria for quite a while.” Once again, you can’t go anywhere in the world without running into Peoria People.

Even In The Rain It’s Still The Louvre

About this point, the skies started to unload. We had finally made it to the Louvre but the rain could not hold back any longer. We didn’t have time to take an in door tour but even walking the grounds was impressive. Everyone says that this place is huge but you really can’t appreciate the size of this place until you are there in person.

We entered from the west side at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel where there is a half-sized Arc de Triomphe commemorating Napoleon’s military victories in 1805. From the Arc, we were sheltered from the pouring rain and could see the famed glass Pyramid of the Louvre. I tried to get a panoramic view of the Louvre but neither my iPhone nor my fancy camera could capture it all on one picture. I should have taken a video.

It was late and Barbara had dinner plans at Les Deux Magots where Hemingway often ate during the war and Picasso frequented the cafe as well. This little place is one of the oldest cafe’s in Paris. The waiters take their business quite seriously. At dinner time, they bring out linen table clothes to replace the paper table covers of lunch and offer a completely different menu. Good thing Barbara speaks a little French or we would have never made it through dinner.

The surprise of the night was after dinner when John and I dumbed our way into Notre Dame. Seems when John and I are together, we manage to dumb our way into places others can’t get in to. Apparently the rains and the time of the day ran all the crowds away from Notre Dame.  We managed to walk into Notre Dame without a wait. Of course it was dark, so the sites were limited to a few things that were lit up but we enjoyed the visit. That was the end of a busy day and we were fortunate to see quite a few sites in Paris. On to our partner and sales training event.

Last Evenings in Paris

On our last evening in Paris, we went back up the Seine and found a couple great places for dinner. While we were there, I managed to capture some more great sites – between the rain drops. One of my favorite pics turned out to be the Paris Opera House, right around the corner from our hotel at the Hilton Opera. The Paris Opera is lit up and gilded with golden figures. The right blue sky made the scene even better.

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