Friday, March 31, 2017

Boston - London - Paris Vacation Recap

Last weekend we returned from our family vacation (+ my mom: grandma) that started in Boston and included stops in London and Paris and I wanted share our adventure with you.


We started our trip with a day and a half stop off in Boston.  My cousin, Kari, and her wife and son joined us for a day at The Museum of Science.  We had a great day at the museum, which was really a pretty impressive place. There were many interactive exhibits that the kids enjoyed.  I thought the health area was the neatest.  I did manage to grab a lobster roll before leaving...

We left Boston at 10 PM and flew overnight to London.  This was a first for all of us to plan to sleep on a plane.  We flew in a 787 Dreamliner which I thought was pretty comfortable overall.  Since we traveled via carry-on backpacks, everything was easily accessible.  I managed to sleep off and on for a couple hours but it was definitely a long trip.  We arrived in London at 830 AM and quickly had to make our way to the London St. Pancras train station to catch the Eurostar to Paris at noon.  We took the Thameslink train to St. Pancras train station (about an hour ride) and made with with a hour or so to spare.  At this point, we were pretty exhausted.  We grabbed lunch/snacks at the Marks & Spencer gourmet food store and oh my goodness was this a cool place.  I *wish* we had M&S in the states.  We had pork pies, scones, pasta salad, crisps, pastries, and chocolates that we brought on to the Eurostar train for our two and a half hour ride to Paris.  At this point, we were all ready to eat and sleep.  In fact, I missed going through the tunnel under the English Channel because I was asleep.

We arrived in Paris around 4 PM and made our way to pick up the keys to our apartment.  It was about a mile walk to pick up the keys and then another short distance to get to the apartment.  Immediately, I felt immersed into the culture and way of life.  I would highly recommend staying in an apartment over a hotel in Paris as it gave us the opportunity to really experience life in Paris.  Our apartment was pretty small for the five of us though but we were so exhausted and ready for a nap, we hardly noticed.  Around 8 PM we ventured out to grab dinner.  We just walked until we found a place that sounded good.  We found a little restaurant/bar and immediately I had to turn on my french.  I was in an advanced french program in high-school and then I also took some french in college but I am still not fluent by any means.  I did find that a lot came back to me though and I was able to at least order for us and communicate and read the basics to get us around.  Our dinner was excellent - I had Croque Monsieur with a salad, the girls had burgers and fries (with mayo!), my mom had Risotto that she still is talking about and my husband had fish and chips... he's not all about french food....

The next morning we ventured out for breakfast and hit up a pastry shop.  Us girls on the trip basically lived for all the little pastry shops we encountered along the way.  Chocolate croissants and eclairs were a big hit with everyone.  We next made our way to the Eiffel Tower where we had already purchased tickets so we were able to walk right in opposed to waiting in the long line.  Good thing because there were long lines to get to the top of the tower.  It was slow moving but we eventually made it on a windy, chilly day.  It was an amazing view but we were pretty chilly so it was a brisk visit at the top.  After that we headed to grab some lunch and hit up a street vendor who was cooking fresh crepes.  We had ham and cheese crepes while sitting on the edge of the Seine River.  It felt like a movie moment.... After lunch we took a little cruise along the Seine River to see all the sites of Paris along the river.  There was so much to see and after standing at the Eiffel Tower for so long it was nice to take a break.  After we left the boat we hit up another street vendor selling waffles topped with nutella and strawberry... so so good.  On our way back to our hotel, we did some shopping.  We picked up little trinkets to remind ourselves of Paris.  We also stopped and grabbed a few groceries -- fresh baguette, brie, butter, grapes, apricots, and pear.  That evening we walked down the street from our hotel to another street vendor where we had sandwiches and savory crepes for dinner.

The following morning, we had breakfast at our apartment and then headed out for a day of exploring.  We started out at the Louvre which was amazing.  I could have spent a week there.  Knowing that we were limited on time, we prioritized the areas we wanted to see focusing on favorite artists and famous art pieces.  Seeing the Monet in person was a highlight for the girls, especially my little artist Penny.  She had decided she wants to be an Impressionist Painter and loves Claude Monet now.  We grabbed lunch at the Louvre and then headed out to explore more of Paris.  Shakespeare and Company has been a bucket list item for me forever and I wasn't about to leave Paris without making a visit.  Shakespeare and Company is a bookstore that is famous for housing many famous writers as they traveled through Paris -- Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Richard Wright, and so forth.  Today it is one the biggest stops for book tours with many best selling authors stopping by for book signings.  Notre Dame is just across the street from Shakespeare and Company so we ventured over to check it out.  It is a beautiful building, far more intricate than in pictures.  Next we started heading back to our apartment but not before grabbing dinner at a little corner cafe called Sarah Bernhardt named after a famous french actress.

The next morning we had to get packed up to head to London back on the train.  We took the Eurostar back to London and this time I was awake going through the Chunnel.  Once we arrived back at the train station we did some shopping and grabbed another little gourmet lunch from Marks & Spencer.  If you do nothing else on a trip to London, you have got to check out a Mark & Spencer Food Store....  We went into Kings Cross train station and was able to visit Platform 93/4 from Harry Potter.  The girls were super excited and they have a pretty neat little store in the train station.  Next we headed to the flat that we had rented in South Kensington.  It was a big step up from our little Paris apartment with two big bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a large living room and modern kitchen.  The clean lines and style was perfect, I loved it.  We did have a pretty stressful trip on the tube getting to our hotel as people were packed on like sardines and I worried we wouldn't all be able to get off the train in time but we somehow managed.  After settling in we went to dinner and hit up an Italian restaurant just down the road.  Afterward we stopped by a little grocery store and grabbed some groceries for the next day.

The next morning we got up early and headed out on a chilly, rainy day for our tour taking us outside of London.  We started with a visit to Warwick Castle which was really neat.  We had about an hour to walk around and the girls really loved it.  It was a bit difficult at times due to the rain but we had our compact umbrellas with us so were able to get around ok.  Next we headed to Stratford upon Avon to visit the birth home of William Shakespeare.  It was amazing to me how well it and so much memorabilia had been maintained.  After our tour of the home we explored the town and fell in love with it.  I could absolutely move there.  We grabbed lunch from a sandwich shop (where I tried a Cornwall pastie - so good) and headed back to bus.  Next we went for a ride through the Cotswolds which was beautiful.  The grass was so green and lush and all the sheep and cottages made it feel like it was a out of a fairy tale.  We arrived in Oxford later in the afternoon and did a tour of Oxford University which was very interesting.  If had my way now, I would just move to the UK and go to Oxford instead of work... we also made a stop past The Eagle and Child Pub where JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis writer's group used to meet.  Upon leaving Oxford, we got news that there was a terrorist attack in London so we were a bit nervous as to what this meant for our trip.  The tube station was shut down in some places. Luckily we were able to get to a stop not far from South Kensington.  By that time though, we had been getting phone calls and text messages of people asking if we were ok.  It was our luck to have decided to do the tour outside of London that day instead of the tour of London that was planned the following day or we could have been at Parliament when it happened.  That evening we went to a local hamburger joint and then called it a day.

The next day we set out to explore London.  We purchased a pass that gave us access via bus all around the city.  Of course, due to the terrorist attack the prior day, many things were closed off but we made the best of the day that we could.  We started out at 221B Baker Street famous by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.  We did some shopping and I thought it was a really cool place.  Next door was a Beatles store and we spent most of our souvenir money here... what can I say, even my kids are Beatles nuts... Grandma is too.  We had lunch at the Sherlock Holmes cafe where I got some fish and chips as customary to do in the UK.  Next we took a tour around the city for awhile seeing the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, etc.  We stopped at the London Bridge and Tower of London for a bit.  It was still very windy and cold so it was hard to stay outside very long.  Traffic was especially bad due to part of the city being shut down and all the reporters who were there to cover the attack.  I never thought in a million years we would be so close to a terrorist attack.  I intentionally held back telling the girls until we were ending our time there because I didn't want them to be afraid.  The city was still very positive though.  In Trafalgar Square, there were artist doing drawings about peace and no fear.  There was a guitar player singing John Lennon's "Imagine" and "Let It Be."  If anything, this is an experience I will never forget and I was really moved to see how the city came out and came together.  On our way back to our flat, we grabbed dinner at an Indian restaurant.  All of my IT friends always rave to me that London has the best curry so I had to find out for myself as a curry-lover.  Indeed, it was all wonderful.  My girls, who can be a bit finicky, also liked it.

The last day, we made our way back to the airport.  Other than a brief panic over a cancelled train, we were able to get back to the airport with plenty of time.  Going through Security was a bit overwhelming with the attack but security there was very kind compared to the US TSA.  All of our bags were searched and swabbed.  It took us about half an hour to get everyone together and ready to get go to our terminal.  We left London at 4 PM and made it back to Boston at 7 PM on the same plane we came in on.

Overall, this was an amazing trip with a lot of activity but such a positive experience.  I would love to go again and hope to do so in the not so distant future. We loved backpacking and it is now our preferred method of travel, I plan to do a separate post soon on how we pulled it off.

Now I return to back to seeking and plotting out my next European adventure...

"Why, then the world's mine oyster" -- Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Winsor

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Spring is coming

I'm ready for a season change.  Not that we've had terrible winter weather in the Midwest but it has been overcast for months now and I am ready for spring to arrive. I've definitely been short on motivation although my creativity has been flowing freely.  I thought I would just share what I've been into lately...

Cross stitch - I have a new addiction.  In fact, I spent most evenings working on different projects.  I started with a Last Unicorn pattern that I love and then quickly moved on to other projects including learning to make my own patterns.  Etsy has been my favorite spot to shop for new patterns but making patterns is fun for personalizing items.  I recently made this portrait of my cousins and I for my Grandmother for her birthday. I both designed and stitched it.

Paper flowers - I have also been working on making a large bouquet of paper flowers.  I am a bit of a paper collector and it has been fun to learn how to cut, fold, and mold different shapes from paper.

Books - I have started too many books to name but have struggled to get into anything lately.  The last book I finished was in December, it was Everything That Rises Must Converge: Stories by Flannery O'Connor.  I loved it as I love all things by Flannery O'Connor but since Dec, I've just been stuck. My attention span hasn't been there.  I did recently buy My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix so am hopeful that it will grab my attention and throw me back into reading again.

Television & Movies - what can I say.  It is easy to stitch and watch tv so I have been doing a lot of that.  It doesn't hurt that there is a lot on right now that I am into.  The Walking Dead picked back up last month and I am still crazy for the show.  A new show called Riverdale started last month as well and I am really enjoying it.  I always loved the Archie comics growing up and this show is based on the newer, darker Archie comics.  Jughead was and still is my favorite. Girls on HBO has been a favorite for awhile - love Lena Dunham and her character.  This Is Us was a show I knew I would love from the previews that came out months in advance.  It has some of the best writing for a television show ever.  I admit, I get a good weekly cry from this show - and Randall is my favorite. And then there are plenty of what I consider cotton candy shows - The Voice, a slew of MTV shows, and all the Investigation Discovery I can fit in.  As far as movies go, we did go see Hidden Figures as a family.  I loved Hidden Figures and highly recommend it to everyone.  I also rented Edge of Seventeen one evening and thought it was cute.  I realize that I will always love all things aimed at teen girls.... oh well.

Unicorns, Lisa Frank, and other colorful things - Speaking of teen girls, my love for all things Lisa Frank is strong going back to the early 80's.  I have really rekindle my love for these things through sharing it with my daughters.  Lisa Frank and Glamour Dolls recently launched a Kickstarter collab for cruelty-free Lisa Frank makeup!  I was the 24th backer so I am not only getting the Lisa Frank makeup collection but also am getting something from the Lisa Frank vault!  I'm most excited about that. We also went to a store party here called Happy Puppy, Sparkly Kitty, Rainbow Unicorn Party.  It was all about the colorful animal stuff.  And my youngest has gotten into baking and loves making colorful treats.  I have started a Pinterest board just for this as we discover things she could make.  She's also already planning her 10th Birthday party and going with the Unicorn theme and I'm not complaining. I actually love that all this stuff I loved as a kid is back "in."