My husband and I just got back from our trip to London and Paris. We had an incredible time and are making plans to return. I could go on and on about what we did and what we saw, but instead, here are some of my noticings and musings.
- Guided tours are the way to go OK, I know others may say you should just immerse yourself in the culture and avoid those one size fits all tours that only highlight the most well known sites. However, when it is your first, and maybe your only, trip to these iconic places, go see the sites. You are in fact a tourist, so go ahead and act like one. Going to Versailles and the Louvre with a tour guide meant we got to skip long lines of people baking in the sun and be directed exactly where to go. We heard so much historical information that we may have missed if we were walking around on our own trying to translate the signs. In London, we got to see several touristy spots in a guided day trip. If we went to visit Buckingham Palace without our guide, we would have skipped it. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of people vying for a glimpse of the changing of the guards and knowing where to find a good spot to see the action would have been extremely overwhelming without someone with us who is in the know. I definitely recommend utilizing the experience and knowledge of the tour guides if you go to the touristy places.
- The underground transportation is an experience you can’t miss If it weren’t for my navigationally adept husband, I probably would have avoided the London Underground and the Metro in Paris. And that would have been a shame. Both were our primary modes of transportation, aside from walking, and what an amazing experience they both were. They provided fantastic people watching. One guy had his sunglasses on despite being several feet underground and a cigarette hanging from his mouth waiting to be lit. He was oozing French coolness that I’ve only ever seen on television. I felt like an authentic Londoner and Parisian while on riding on these subways, particularly when we were crammed in like sardines. I was in awe at those who could stand without gripping a pole and not even flinch at the lurching of the many starts and stops. But most of all, the level of consideration in those tube cars was refreshing. People offered their seats to others, no one complained when you lost your footing and fell into them, and when the exit doors were difficult to push open, a gentle reassurance in French was given instead of anger or annoyance. Again, I highly recommend taking these modes of transportation for the experience. But don’t forget to mind the gaps.
- The love of bread in Paris made my heart happy How do Parisians stay so thin and fit and still eat so much bread? It must be all of the walking. I saw an endless amount of people walking around with a baguette. No other bags of groceries, just the long loaf of bread in their hand as they walked down the beautiful streets of Paris. Parents with kids in strollers would walk into a small bakery, purchase a baguette and continue on their way ripping off pieces of the bread to share with their child. One evening we ate at a small sandwich shop, and several people came in to get a demi-baguette. They would put it in their purse and continue on their way. Incredible. One word of caution, however, do not put a croissant in your purse. Even if it is wrapped up in a small bag, not even if you are holding a scolding cup of cafe creme and digging around in your purse for your metro card, even then, do not put that croissant in your purse. It will flake all over everything. These golden flakes will, in turn, stick to anything. So messy. Nonetheless, it will taste delicious an hour or so later despite deflating a bit.
- Fancy cars and walking Expensive, flashy cars galore in London. Not just driving around, no they were just parked on the side of the street everywhere we went. My husband was a kid in a candy store pointing out all the shiny fast cars every 5 minutes or so. We even took a trek out to a McLaren dealership. It was fun to be around so much fanciness. So much walking. I thought I was prepared. I brought only comfortable sneakers to wear, I had been walking and jogging at least 2 miles a day for about a month before our trip, but I was not ready for the level of tired my feet and legs felt on this trip. My treadmill miles were no match for the stairs, gravel, and cobblestones in London and Paris. But all of this walking made the guilt of eating a croissant or two or three or five nonexistent. It allowed us to see and experience so much of both cities. We could go at our own pace, stop in any store or restaurant that looked interesting, and do even more people watching. I wouldn’t have done it any other way, achy feet and all.
- Everyone will try to hold up the moon We went to the Natural History Museum in London. It was free and right next to our hotel, so on a day we didn’t have much planned we figured, why not? It was interesting, but probably would have been more enjoyable having our kids with us. One of the exhibits was in honor of the 50 year anniversary of the moon landing. It was a big, mostly empty room with a huge model of the moon hanging from the ceiling. It was at this exhibit we realized this: No matter where you are from or what language you speak, if there is a huge moon hanging from the ceiling, people will stop to take a photo in front of it so it seems as if they are holding it up. Despite our differences or our language barriers or how far we traveled from home, we really are all the same at heart. The excitement when we come across a sweet photo op cannot be denied. We all just want to look as if we are holding up the moon.