Ah, the end of another busy week. My eyes are drooping, but my head is buzzing...could it be that 20-oz Coke I had today? Could it be the prospect of having not just two, but three days off?? (I can't remember the last Saturday I didn't go into the office.) Or is it all these thoughts about pubs in London, excited children and introducing Miss Chef to the Sainte Chapelle? You know the answer: all three.
I'm finally sitting down now to try to empty some of these thoughts out of my brain. Remember, this blog is my journal, so I'm warning you, this is about to get very self-centered! And I don't have any pictures to break up all this text. But I'll try to break it up for you, if you want to skip down to the actual plans we're making!
Chapter 1: Background and Introduction
or, I told you this might get boring
With less than a month to go before boarding our flight to JFK (and thence to Heathrow), I am feeling less odd and defensive about obsessing over the details. It also helps that several key items have fallen into place, and that I'm ready to leave much of the rest of our time relatively unplanned.
But as our plans become more detailed, I feel like I should back up and give you a bit of context. I have visited both London and Paris before, though in entirely opposite ways. In fact, I visited London from Paris! You see, I've actually lived two separate school years in France, one as an exchange student just out of high school, the other about eight years later as an English teaching assistant. That second year, as an assistante de langues, was in Paris.
I was actually less than thrilled to be assigned to such a large city, since I'm so attached to nature and open, uncrowded spaces. But that didn't stop me from taking advantage of my once-in-a-lifetime situation! Soon after taking up our posts at different schools, a new acquaintance and I realized that it was too easy to say, "The Rodin museum? Yeah, maybe next week." and end up never doing anything. So we each drew up our own separate list of places we wanted to see. Every Wednesday afternoon, taking advantage of the early day off in the French school schedule, we met somewhere, decided on an item in common, and went a'touristing.
It was a fantastic way to see so much of what Paris has to offer. Not only were we doing things off-season and during the week, but as employees of the Académie de Paris, we had free entrance to all state-owned museums and monuments. No lines at the Louvre, just flash your attestation professionelle, and wave goodbye to the folks queuing up for tickets. The subsidized monthly metro pass didn't hurt, either. And, of course, being fluent in French might have had some advantages, too.
Now on the other hand, my acquaintance with London is....well, not even an acquaintance, I would say. I visited as part of a five-day tour of England organized by one of the French schools where I was teaching. Naturally, every day was scripted, and much of our time spent on those picture-window travel buses. Although I have dear memories of a day wandering in York, and a solo stroll on the heath in Haworth (home of the Brontë sisters), the only memories I have of London are of a brief view of Trafalgar square and a couple of hours in Covent Garden. I had no idea of the layout of the city, other than Parliament and Big Ben being right smack on the river.
Chapter II: Revenons à nos moutons
"Let's get back to our sheep."
All of the above is to explain my recent spate of obsessive research. I really had no idea what was important in London. Now, after reading Rick Steve's travel guide nearly cover-to-cover and spending...well, yes, hours on TripAdvisor's London forum, I more or less know what I want to see.
Even more important, I think I know what Miss Chef wants to
Chapter III: What's the Plan?
So, here's the plan, for those who are truly interested in the details (I'll bold the sights we're going to hit, if you just want to skim). First, we are visiting family, so we have several days set aside for a trip to the beach, a visit to Stonehenge and some fun with the kids. On our own, we've got two full days to spend in London, with a third unplanned day right before we leave, which we may well use to go back in to the city again.
The day after Miss Chef and I visited with Big Trip, I had what I consider a brilliant idea: each of us claim a day as our own, to lead the tour and visit what's important to us. So one day I'll
Then on our second day, we've already got tickets to see All's Well That Ends Well at the Globe Theatre. Then Miss Chef will probably direct me to find the Borough Market, Foyles bookshop and a short pub crawl. (Her sense of direction and unease in busy streets leaves me the de facto Chief Navigator...which suits me just fine, liking to take charge the way I do. This way!)
We're also hoping to work in a good Indian restaurant, perhaps dining with my brother in the City after he gets off from work. Oh, and the day we get back from our beach trip, we have reservations at Artichoke, in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. We tried to get reservations at both of Heston Blumenthal's restaurants, Fat Duck and Dinner, but they are both impossible to get into. Miss Chef is quite satisfied with this alternative, though!
Chapter IV: Qu'est-ce qu'on fait ?
Ok, are you ready for Paris? We're actually a little less scripted there. My brother and his family will be there for the first three days, so we'll be doing some of the traditional touristy stuff: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre. However, I'm also eager to take them along on a boat trip up the Canal St. Martin. My Paris apartment was half a block off the Canal, and it's an unusual experience, as it goes underground for about two kilometers and then through locks and drawbridges up to the Parc de la Villette. Here there is an outstanding Cité des Sciences et Industrie, a very hands-on museum, as well as a modern, wide-open park great for picnicking, with climbable sculptures and themed gardens. Doesn't it sound like a great kids' afternoon? (Note to self: pray it doesn't rain.)
The kids have already been to Paris a couple of times (I know, I'm jealous of them too!), so I'm not sure what they've done already. I'd like to take them to the Sainte Chapelle, and maybe to the market on Rue Mouffetard. If not, well, Miss Chef and I have three and a half days on our own! Miss Chef wants to go to Versailles, and I'm considering using a half day to go to Giverny--one of the few things I didn't cross off my list last time. I'd also like to wander the streets, both in our neighborhood in the lower Marais, and in the windy, twisty residential streets of Montmartre.
As for food and drink, we have reservations for lunch at Joel Robuchon's Atelier, and I am dying to go to a new wine bar opened by "What Parisians Like" blogger Olivier at Ô! Château. They are the only place in the world to offer some of the most illustrious, grand cru wines by the glass. We'll probably also pick up some gifts and souvenirs at the food shops of Fauchon and/or Bon Marché. Not to mention the fantastic-sounding restaurant at the foot of our apartment building!
Chapter V: Now What?
Finally, a conclusion!
We've still got plenty of time to get through before we start packing our new walking shoes in our new suitcases. And I think I've planned just about enough for anyone's mental health. So how will I spend this upcoming gloriously free three-day weekend? Oh, I think I 'll find some time for the farmers' market, a little whitewater rafting and then have some friends over for lunch!
Phew! I'm not used to all this activity. Just thinking about all these plans makes me tired. I'd better get to bed.
Enjoy your weekend, everyone!
But don't forget, there's meaning behind those flags. Today more than ever, we need to remember that those who sacrificed themselves for our country aren't all in the history books. Their families are all around us, and they're still remembering, every day.