British Holiday Chapter 3: Paris, France

That Picture
I'm starting with that picture, but our visit to tour eiffel came later in the day. But you have to start with that picture for your first trip to Paris, right?

But the morning started off in St. Pancras, where we boarded the Eurostar. It was a terribly foggy morning and we didn't see England at all. We went through a bunch of tunnels. After one of them they started doing the announcements in French first, instead of English. We were in France.

St Pancras
Gare du Nord
We were planning on taking the metro from Gare du Nord down in to the central centre of the city. We had been stressing for several days (or possibly since before leaving Seattle) about how to get our hands on some Carnet. We had heard that it was a terrible scrum to get these ridiculous little paper metro tickets unless you had a fist full of Euros. Something about having to wait in line for a human to run your credit card. All this made me a little apprehensive that Paris was mired in the past (paper tickets are the only option? Really?). Not entirely unfounded, as we'll see in a minute.

Turns out though, that they sell carnet on the Eurostar. The only problem is that you have to stand on line with a bunch of bores from the US and Canada. The Canadian dude that I was stuck behind was a total mansplainer, and was lecturing some guy from some flyover state about American politics. I did not come all the way to France for this!

As soon as we hit the outskirts of Paris, the graffiti starts. It gets denser as we go along. By the time we're at Gare du Nord, every surface that can be stood in front of is covered with graf. None of it is particularly good. Just bad tagging. I guess to have a bunch of good stuff, you have to have a metric shit ton of... shit.

Beware of trapping your
hand in the doors.
We push past the scammers in the Metro entrance and find that we have, in fact, gone back in time. Old iron with unexplained metal bits. 1900 with a flash of 1960. The train we caught was 50 years old if it was a day. The doors didn't even open automatically, and were so well designed that they'd obviously taken a few fingers off in their day.

But we got through it. We got out. We found Notre Dame. Maybe you've heard of it. It's a famous cathedral.

It is quite nice. I'm always fascinated by old things. Something to do with there not being any of them round here. Cathedrals are particularly nice when traveling because they're, usually, a nice place for a quiet sit down.

Notre Dame de Paris is not particularly quiet. There are at least 1 million people here at all times. None of them are French except for, possibly, the people working at the gift shop.

Notre Dame
And, of course, the cleaners.

Some Kings or Something
For all that, it is really quite an impressive pile. According to our good friend wikipedia, it used to be brightly colored, you know, back in the 13th century or whatever. I'd love to see it repainted. Just like I'd love to see London before they put Prince Albert in the can.

There is, of course, quite a bit of color when you get inside. Them winders show up reeaaalll good.

Glass & Pipes
Glass and Statue
Holy crap. That sounded way american. There were just too many of those people around this place. Notre Dame will always be associated with Americans now. Boo.

Glass on TV
Not just a few Americans either. Look at this! Yeesh. Nice quiet sit down my ass.

People People PEOPLE!
So, eventually we took off and headed towards, but not to, the Louvre. We passed the Centre de Pompidou in the distance. I was all "Hey, it's that place with the pipes!" I took a picture. The walking continued.

Centre de Pompidou
And continued, and continued. By the time we got to the back of the Louvre we were getting quite grumpy. Suddenly, I realized that other than a biccy with our coffee on the train, and a rather poor bready thing from the costa in St. Pancras for me, we hadn't eaten anything.

café crème
crudité fromage
We were so low on that essential for good travel, blood sugar, that we couldn't decide what to do about it. I saw a café across the street and sort of demanded that we go it.

This is not usually the best way to choose a restaurant.

But we lucked out. We really did. The food was delicious, and the staff were really friendly. We'd be warned, even by our French Airbnb hosts, about how rude Parisian wait staff was, but that just didn't happen.

It could have been because Rakka ordered in French. She did stumble a bit, but she was obviously trying to respect the language. I think it helped a lot.

The other thing was that we stumbled in to a family run place. The whole time we were there I sat watching this family at the pizza place across the alley. When they were done they came over and showed off their kid to the owner of our place. Despite all the tourists that must inundate this place (the place was called Café du Musée but wasn't part of the museum), the locals managed to keep it real. This was the best part of Paris, hands down.

Unless you want to count this guy.

bikeshaw with circus music
Not only did he have the most ridiculous bike-rickshaw thing I've ever seen, but it was playing recorded accordion music really loud. I think it was supposed to be traditional French folk music but it just sounded like a circus. How I wish I had video.

This was, as you can tell, right out front the Louvre. The Louvre. We didn't go in, just strolled by. But even so, it's impressive. The size of the place... Let's just say it's not small.

I. M. Pei-amids
In fact, this seems to be the theme for Paris. Big, designed to impress, gilt.

Gilt Much?
Everything is all "Ooo, look at me. I'm sooo fancy. Ooooo." It's like a pan-galactic gargle blaster. It succeeded in impressing me at first, but after a while I was like, hey, fuck you. I wasn't the only one.

"Fuck You" Tour Eiffel
The funny thing about walking from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower is that there really isn't anything that interesting between them, but they're farther away than you'd think. We had passed by the musee d'orsay but didn't go in (I was interested in the building more than the contents. Didn't seem worth the Euros).

It was a hot day, and even though in blog time we had just left the café, it was something like an hour slog through the bland streets of Paris.

And they are bland streets. Some guy was complaining about the randomness of London on the Guardian today. But really, that's what makes it so fun. In downtown Paris everything looks the same. Same stone, same layout, same same same. There's one landmark, the Eiffel Tower, and you can't see it half the time. Walking is usually good, because you get to see all the things. But if there aren't things to see...

Well, this cute car. That was worth a 2 mile walk. Or, you know, not.

Cute Car
So, anyway, just as I'm about to collapse for want of a refreshing beverage, Rakka points out that we're standing in front of a supermarché. Well, just a marché really. Moments later, armed with cokes and an apple, while I'm taking pictures of "fuck you" graffiti, Rakka beckons me to look around the corner. We were finally at the landmark.

So were the police. In riot gear.

Crikey, it's the Parisian Rozzers or French Po-po are on the Case.
I guess there's some sort of protest going on or something? Definitely cannons and screaming. We sat and listened. My apple was rotten.

Cannon Fire

The Tour Eiffel is a pretty thing. I will grant you that. It is another place with such a high concentration of Americans that you almost forget that you're in Europe at all. Maybe it's just one of those Las Vegas fakes...

Up the Tour
A day in Paris is tiring, especially when you walk the whole way. I wasn't walking the whole stinking way back, and the metro didn't appeal. Luckily, the Batobus stops right here, and it's a nice little boat ride down the Seine. Can't complain about that.

Actually, I can. The boat was crammed full of Americans. Bah.

Notre Dame, perhaps you've heard of it.
When we got off the Batobus, there was a dude playing French accordion folk music. Like, for real. Busking. I think people were paying attention. Mad.

We hung out at Notre Dame again. Different light in the afternoon. Nicer. This, however, was when the vacuum recording actually happened.

Light on Stone
And from there, it was back to ol' Gare du Nord. We were 2 hours early, because we ran out of energy to do things. Or rather, the things left to do took too much energy.

So we hung out in an "English" pub near the Eurostar departure area. The pub was hot, like an oven. We only stayed for one drink. We were first in line for the train.

After getting through security and getting the old passport stamped (hooray!) I had a ham sandwich and watched a couple that were in what would politely be termed a female led relationship. In practice this meant that he carried all the luggage and wore purple nail polish. It was endearing in a way. They were English of course. It's a very English sort of idea. I mean, that's how Thatcher happened, right?

Gare du Nord
Did I mention that we encountered some Americans during our visit? Two rows in front of us were the most insufferable American sorority girls. They talked for the whole two hours about things like how great it was that they got to practice speaking Spanish with an actual Spanish speaker. It was the only time this entire trip that I had to break out the headphones.

Well, that was quite a post. Paris didn't impress me much, but I was actually very happy with French people. I'm eager to return to France, but I'm done with Paris, at least the centre.

British Holiday Chapter 2: Walking around the City

(I apologize for the time between chapters 1 and 2. I've had a cold of doom, and I started a new job.)
Elephant. check. Castle. check.

This was the first full day in London. We sat down and planned out a complete itinerary, involving tubing to London Bridge, walking down Bankside to the Tate Modern, across the Millenium Bridge, by St Paul's, and through the City.

By being insistent despite having a poor grasp of the lay of the land, we made it 10 feet out of the London Bridge tube station before I cocked up the whole plan. I always like to think like I know where I'm going. I never do.

But it was ok, we still saw all the stuff. We just did it backwards, so to speak. So we started off with a walk through the City to St Paul's.

St Paul's
St Paul's from some park
It's a nice old pile. Everybody knows its story, right? Should I go in to it? The Great Fire burns everything down. Christopher Wren gets tapped to rebuild it. He's all "Screw this Gothic crap, it's the Renaissance Bitches."

St Paul's
"Any of you suckers been to Rome?" he continued, even though he hadn't. "That Basilica is the fucking business. Let's do one of them." Unlike the Basilica, there is an extra nested dome, for a total of three. Like the the Basilica, they are held together with honking great chains. 

There's also a clock tower sort of thing. As we sat in the courtyard and I took a sound recording and happened to get the clock striking 11.

St Pauls Courtyard
The fun part is that we didn't even go in to the church. Bunches of it was under construction, but they were still charging the same rates. So we just went down the basement to feel the fury of their gift shop, and then we headed back down south.

In our wandering we encountered some iconic City things. 

The Cockpit
Fancy Posts
We didn't go to the Cockpit, though I've heard since that we missed a good pub. Instead, we grabbed some Pret and took it down to the Thames, in the shadow of the Millenium Bridge. It was lunchtime and benches where scarce, but we found one eventually. We sat, with our backs to the City of London School, where Daniel Radcliffe did his learning when not on Harry Potter sets, ate our sandwiches and watched the joggers.
The Shard and Tower Bridge from Millenium Bridge
The tide was low, and amateur archeology on the banks of the Thames has been on the London todo list for years. "Hey look," we will say, "a Victorian clay pipe stem!" We will be so excited. But this was not the day. It was muddy down there and we were traveling light. We didn't have any extra shoes.

The sound of roller suitcases on the Millenium Bridge when heard from below was incredible. Unfortunately, I didn't capture it. But I still uploaded what I got, because I'm like that.

Under the millenium bridge
Now, it's impossible to cross the Millenium Bridge without stopping at the Tate Modern. I mean, it's right there. Bruno, our airbnb host, suggested hanging out at the bar on the top floor. 

Tate Modern
Tate Stack
But we were not particularly in the mood for booze. We did make it up to the upper cafe, which has a balcony, which we went on. Maybe because it was still pretty hazy, I didn't get any photos that were that interesting. So here are some balls.

On the way back to the tube stop, we pass through the Borough Market. It was not too crowded, which was nice. I hate crowds. Strange that I love London so much while hating crowds. Some how I can put up with masses of people in London. Maybe it's because most of the individuals know how to be in a crowd. It doesn't seem like something you could be skilled at, but you can, and Londoners are, and I appreciate it.

Borough Market
We noticed a dude in red trousers at the London Bridge tube station. Rakka mentioned him. He followed us all the way back to the E&C. It makes you wonder, how many people without conspicuous trousers get on and off the same trains at the same time and go to the same places as you. Are well all following each other around all the time?

Red Trouser Man
Regrouping in the fastness of Isengard gave us the opportunity to just stare at the view for a bit. We were in this room for 5 days and it never got old. I could live in Strata SE1, no problem. 
View from Isengard
Except for money. It's not cheap. £350 for a 1 bedroom doesn't sound like a lot, until you notice that UK rents are always specified per week. Think of all the train tickets that money could pay for.

Anyway, we were still mad with jet lag at this point. We went out for an early dinner at the Greek place around the corner. There was all kinds of construction junk in the way (a recurring theme for the trip, especially in London) but none of that mattered. The food was great.

Greek Food
For some reason I was enthralled by the lights in the windows. Probably the jet lag and the general sort of exhaustion from walking for miles around all day. 

Greek Light Balls
It was a bit weird to be ending our first day in London eating Greek food. But there was still plenty of time for pubs, sandwiches and kebabs. That all comes later. But not tomorrow. Paris tomorrow. 

British Holiday Chapter 1: Getting There

One of them had a flick knife. The leader. The others stood around me, preventing my escape. There was no one else about this dark back street in Southwark.

"Give us the phone and the money!" demanded the leader.

I wasn't having it. It was time to make my move. I squinted. Asked quietly "Are you having a fucking laugh!?"

But I've messed this up. This is starting in the middle. I should tell this story in order. It's a tale of friendship, pints, parks, airbnbs, trains, pubs, boats, food and sandwiches, which as the fellow once said, is a type of food. Let's go back to the beginning, shall we?

It starts on a cold, rainy March day in Bremerton. The taxi driver, despite having only a single mile for conversation and being distracted by two phone calls, still manages to tell us that jesus is the answer and how global warming is a political issue. At the ferry terminal, we resolve never to use that taxi company again.

Rakka and I... Rakka, that's my traveling companion. Or am I hers? Either way, Rakka and I were early to the ferry, in the same way we were early to SeaTac and every other thing. On the return we got to Terminal 5 so early that the bag drop wasn't even opened yet.

Many hours later, we found ourselves on a BA 747 direct to Heathrow. This was my first time on BA. It is a telling combination of the worst and the best that Britain can deliver. It starts with the blanket and pillow placed on your seat in a gracious gesture of welome, which is nice but there's no place to put them, and there are 200 people waiting for you to sit the fuck down. Directly following that is the safety video that they always eventually give up on, but only after rebooting the system, twice. But then comes the meal, which is prefaced by a complimentary G&T and arrives with wine, and is served by a smiling flight attendant who will joke around with you given half a chance.

BA's inflight entertainment. Not quite 100%.

BA could be the poster child for the Cynics' Britain; the Britain where fire extinguishers catch on fire. But it comes with a sense of humor, booze and a curry.

Heathrow Connect, on the other hand, is just solidly bad. It's a joint venture between Heathrow Express and First Great Western and it's designed to frustrate you in to upgrading to the Express. Especially from  Terminal 5 which they don't actually serve. That was fun to figure out after 12 hours of traveling. Let me tell you. Actually I won't.

We finally arrived in Elephant & Castle. We had arranged to rent a room though airbnb. The room was in the Strata SE1, also known as the Razor and Isengard. We were on the 10th floor and the view from the room was fantastic, with part of the Eye, part of the Clock Tower, and BT Tower. The living room was a trainspotters dream, with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the tracks.

Eye and BT Tower
After about 15 hours on the move, we took an hour nap.

Elephant & Castle from the Strata SE1
Refreshed, sort of, it was time to charge up our Oyster Cards and head out to Islington to meet Bob the tube cat at his book signing. We arrived, early surprisingly enough, and so stood around trying to coordinate with three separate parties that we trying to meet all at the same time. Nix, Kiki and Glew. We had never met Nix or Kiki in person. None of them knew each other, or anything about Bob Cat.

Eventually though, after standing in the queue for an hour, Kiki and Nix all found us. We saw Bob and James and they signed our joint copy of the book. At some point Kiki and his friend Amanda gave up and  and went to some pub to claim us a table at a pub. We went and met them.

Bob and James
After a time and hundreds of confused text messages later, my old friend Glew showed up. It was great seeing Glew, and I love that I can say "Oh, I just ran in to a on old friend in London. Like you do."

This was a great night. Drinking with friends, old and new. Being terribly jet-lagged. Eating nothing but half a plate of chips. Watching sexy Neanderthals count on Amanda's iphone while walking to the tube. If going out was always like that I'd do it all the time.

Friends at the Pub