London & Paris
March 22nd- April 3rd, 2000
On March 22, 2000 we boarded our flight to London, England. This was our first trip to Europe but hopefully not our last. Our trip would take us all around London and the surrounding English countryside and then to Paris via the Chunnel. While in France we were also able to escape the Parisian city life in order to experience some of the more remote destinations of the country. It would prove to be an amazing cultural experience where we were able to see historically important architecture and modern marvels. We hope you enjoy reading some of the highlights of our vacation.
Who could visit London without witnessing the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace or a whirlwind tour of Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. Of course we did all of those things and several other tourist activities including Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Harrod’s shopping, Tower Bridge, the Albert Memorial, the British Museum, and of course a spring walk through the many splendid parks. In addition to the afore mentioned highlights we also took excursions to Salisbury to see the cathedral and to visit Stonehenge. This circle of stones was absolutely incredible. Thinking about how they might have gotten there was truly mind-boggling. So intense was the experience that we didn’t even mind when we were pelted by hailstones while we waited on the bus. I will never forget the three of us sitting on that bench in the freezing cold laughing as the hail started to fall. Nothing could put a damper on our enthusiasm.
Other excursions that we enjoyed were Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace, the Portobello Road Market at Notting Hill, and Highgate Cemetery. Highgate is a gothic cemetery with incredible architecture. We took the guided tour and learned about some of the more famous residents, including the guy who invented toothpaste, and about how the cemetery has been saved from vandalism over the years. Among the more famous occupants are Karl Marx and George Eliot. Another macabre tour that we decided to go on was the Jack the Ripper Walk. On this tour you follow in the footsteps of the famous murderer to see where each of the victims were found and it includes a stop at the Ten Bells pub where “Jack” was known to scope out his next victim. This tour is done at night and walks you through the seedy sections of Whitechapel in east London. We thought it was quite a thrill but it could potentially freak some people out, so chose your companions wisely.
Our next European city was “The City of Lights” Paris, France. Having heard rumors about how rude French people could be we were pleasantly surprised at how friendly and helpful everyone was. Not one person was rude or short with us and they were all very patient with our attempts at speaking French. Paris is a beautiful city and we were able to see many spectacular things in our brief five-day visit. We toured the Louvre, Notre Dame, Saint Chappelle, the Arc de Triumphe, Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, and of course the Eiffel Tower.
Notre Dame is fantastic especially from the top. A spiral staircase leads to the top where you can get a good view of the city with the famed gargoyles standing vigil. We climbed more spiral staircases on this trip then I probably ever will the rest of my life. It seems as though all of the monuments have such stairs leading to the pinnacle, and of course we had to do them all. Not far from Notre Dame is the cathedral of Saint Chappelle and I have to say it was one of my favorites. The colors inside the cathedral are superb so don’t miss this often-overlooked church.
Another must see are the many gardens around the city. Our favorite was the Jardin du Luxembourg. Here you can see the beautiful Palace St. Sulpice and the Medici Fountain. The grounds of this garden were in full bloom when we were there in April of 2000. We couldn’t have been more pleased with the spring carpet of flowers. Flowers also brought a beautiful touch to the Eiffel Tower. Forsythia bushes in full bloom framed the monument wherever you looked. Strolling through the grounds of these Paris landmarks as people enjoyed the sunny day was a highlight of our trip.
Continuing our tour into the macabre we decided to stop at the cemetery of Pere Lachaise where Jim Morrison is buried. Finding his grave proved to be quite difficult, but walking around the cemetery is amazing. The above ground tombs truly give meaning to the term city of the dead. Once we found Jim’s grave we were watched by guards who were making sure that no one tried to remove anything from his plot. They have had many vandals over the years that have defaced not only Jim’s grave but those of his neighbors as well. The vandalism has gotten so out of hand that when the lease runs out on Morrison’s grave they want him removed. It is sad when people are so disrespectful. Our last venture into the underworld would prove to be the most entertaining. I am talking about the Catacombs of Paris. Millions of bones form walkways in this makeshift graveyard. The care that was taken to place these bones in orderly stacks and to arrange them in patterns is truly eerie.
Trains would take us from the city to a couple of very interesting places in the French countryside. Versaille and Chartres were our two picks for these excursions. Versaille was a gorgeous palace but the day we were there it rained like crazy and it was quite cold. The atmosphere definitely added an ambience to the castle but it did little for our comfort. Nonetheless it was a place I am glad that I got to see. In particular the Hall of Mirrors is exquisite and the palace grounds were still beautiful in the pouring rain. Thankfully on our second excursion we were blessed with perfect weather. We took the train to Chartres, France in order to visit the medieval cathedral that graces the city. The cathedral was spectacular, even better then Notre Dame. Once again we climbed the spiral stairs that lead to the top of the crumbling church. Evil looking gargoyles stare from every corner of the cathedral giving it a definite medieval air. The narrow catwalks on the top of Chartres Cathedral are not fenced like they are at Notre Dame and it adds to the vertiginous adventure.
Our Europe trip is filled with great memories that are too hard to put into words, but we hope that our brief write-up gives you a glimpse into our fun-filled vacation. Please enjoy our photos from the many spectacular sights of London and Paris.
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