It was difficult to say goodbye to Paris. An amazing city, with so much left unexplored. We loved our time in France, and before we hopped in the van for our final day with it, Chris talked to a family from Great Britain in the car park of the hotel. They were heading back to London, and they took some of the mattresses off of our hands. We would soon be without the comfortable storage of the Mercedes, so downsizing was in order.
The whole family was hoping for a final peak at the Eiffel Tower on the way to dropping our rental off at Gare du Nord, however Chris especially was antsy. He had seen the Arc and the daunting traffic circle around it, and frankly, wanted no part of it. Would his trusty TomTom lead him through as he headed from east to north France?
Gare du Nord is a large train station in the north of Paris, and is the hub for Eurostar trains heading north to London via the Chunnel. We were hosed on the cost of tickets from London to Paris, so Shana booked earlier this time and cut the price by 65%. Thankfully, the trip to the station brought us through Paris’ second biggest traffic circle, not its first, so the family got a speedy close up of some tower/pillar thing as we ripped around the inside lane at mach 1.
If you’ve never been in a car park under Paris’ fine streets, you’re missing out. What you need to know is they’re built for little Citreon hatchbacks or Peugot sedans, maybe a SAAB. A Mercedes Vito nine passenger van has no place here. Fortunately, we only had to go six floors down, and park in a spot where both nearby drivers had overstepped the boundaries of their spots. Once the van was in its spot, it wasn’t coming out without a fight. Half the family got out before Chris parked, and the other half climbed over seats and out the back door. Eventually, we all sweated our way out to the rental counter where we dropped the keys off, and were on our way!
The beauty of a rental car, is being able to contain all of your junk in one space. We were now responsible for all of our luggage, and we would need to ride train and London Underground before hitting a hotel. Thankfully this worked out, and we made it to a little Ibis close to King’s Cross Station downtown London without too much fanfare. The rooms were once again little, but appropriately priced.
The kiddos were thrilled to be back in English speaking land, and were excited to be able to read every sign.
London’s Underground is a marvel of engineering. The multiple lines will get you wherever you need to go, and the connections to train stations, buses and airports are really quite something. Our first day in London was spent on the main sights. First to Buckingham Palace, where the Queen wasn’t, meaning the Estate Rooms are open for public viewing. But not for us, as the only remaining tours were full. We booked tickets for a future day, and made our way over to Westminster Abbey. Along the way, remnants of the Olympics were everywhere, with posters and people dressed up, signs and plaques. The city, not unlike Vancouver in 2010, really came together, put on a great show, and made the country proud.
Westminster Abbey was a complete joy. Not only as a beautiful church in its own right, but as a burial place for a who’s who of English history, it is not to be missed. The audio guide, beautifully voiced by Dame Judy Dench and Jeremy Irons (Spencer: “Hey, is this Scar’s voice?”), covers the highlights, enlightens the listener and is punctuated by historians, musicians, art historians and the religious leaders who still work at the Abbey.
The tombs of the kings and queens of England, burial places of scientists like Newton and Darwin, Poet’s Corner are all treasures. The Lady Chapel is one of the most beautiful sights in all of London, and walking the halls where kings and queens have been coronated, baptised and married is really quite tremendous. After the abbey, we walked to Parliament and saw Big Ben. Crossing the river to view the buildings from the other side of the Thames was quite something.
We also had the good fortune of leaving London for a couple of days to visit with Fran and Robert. Fran is a sister of Shana’s brother’s wife Janine. They were lovely hosts and we enjoyed the visit. Thanks guys! The boys slept in the back yard. Fran and Robert live on a small Army base where Robert is employed looking after the vehicles that are used by bomb disposal units. He’s had tours in Afghanistan, Canada and the Falkland Islands, and was very generous in showing us where he worked, along with the different vehicles that he works on. The boys found this a huge highlight! We even managed to sneak into town to catch Batman: The Dark Knight Rises – wow!
A couple of nights later saw us chugging back into London for our final day in Europe. We managed to fit in our tour of Buckingham Palace. The estate rooms, or entertainment rooms for royalty and their guests, were immaculate. All of those young girls who dream about growing up to marry a prince, I can finally understand what they’re after – wowzers! The place is amazing.
We also enjoyed a very quick stop at the British Museum, a short ride on a double decker, London Bridge and Tower Bridge, and a great supper of fish and chips in a traditional pub. Quite a day!
Unfortunately the trip was winding down, and after picking up luggage that we had left at a couple of train stations around town, we made it out of St. Pancras to Gatwick, where we caught a shuttle to our hotel. Our final sleep in England was short, as we woke up early to catch our cab back to Gatwick for the long flight home.
A new selection of movies helped to make the trip a little bit less painful, and before you know it, we were stepping off of the plane and into the arms of both sets of grandparents who came to the airport to pick us up. What a treat to end the trip with those that had started it with us, or joined us on it. It’s hard to believe that it’s over, and while there will be time spent remembering, looking at pictures, reflecting and maybe even scrapbooking, for now it is over, and time for a well-deserved snooze…