I think that bagpipe player is an undercover cop!

Today is the last time we can start a post by saying “Today was a travel day…”, unless you count flying home…but that’s a whole different thing. Our Eurostar tickets weren’t until 1pm (because we are paranoid about missing important trains) so we were able to get up late (in Justine’s case), pack up slowly (in Kristin’s case) and still get to the station with plenty of time to change our money, print our tickets and get through security. The train ride was uneventful, but we made sure to note when we were in a tunnel. Last time neither of us had been paying attention and we’d missed out on the chance to have a “we are under so much water right now!” conversation.

When we pulled into St. Pancras in London, we reloaded our Oyster metro cards and hoped on the underground. It wasn’t too bad of a ride to our hostel, which is the same one we stayed at in August. We are actually even in the same room as last time, although different beds. As an exciting change, the Walrus Waterloo now has code locks (last time it had keys) and has improved their breakfast selection.

Once we were settled in we did the walk across the Westminster bridge. Our imaginations had not gone crazy: the view of Big Ben & Parliament is just as unbelievable as we remembered.

You know what else is as unbelievable as we remembered: British food! We had it built up in our minds…so much meat, potatoes, peas and gravy…yum! We went for supper at a random pub and were treated to a lovely combination of all of those foods. We fell back into our same routine we’d held for the month we toured the UK: Justine had a meat pie (steak with veggies & mash) and Kristin had bangers & mash (with onion rings on top and so many mashed potatoes that she couldn’t even finish half of them!).
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It was still early when we finished eating so we wandered towards Trafalgar Square…we just love it there so much that we couldn’t stay away! We weren’t dressed warm enough to just sit around but we enjoyed the view of the giant Christmas tree in the square’s center and listened to the carolers in front of it. The tree is actually a gift that the city of London receives every year from Norway for their help during the Second World War.

And we are going to finish up with a question. We offer participation points for answering, but also encourage people who are not playing for points to answer as well…we really want to hear from alllll of you! Since we are now at our last stop of the trip, what is the place we have most inspired you to visit? Tell us the city/country/sight that you read about and said “I just have to go there!”.

What We Miss:
When everyone spoke our language and we understood everything everyone was saying…oh wait…

Love, Luck & London we Missed You!

How am I supposed to know you hit me if you don’t boop?

Today was our last day in Paris and our last full day in continental Europe. Basically today it was very clear just how close we are to the end of our trip!

Our main sight for this morning was a repeat from our first trip here: we returned to the church of St. Chapelle. For all of the basic information on the church please refer to “I hope no one steals my lipgloss…” After traveling around Europe for 4 months and walking through what seems like a million variations of religious buildings, this is definitely still Kristin’s favorite church. It’s close to the top of Justine’s, but she’s just not as good at ranking them…too indecisive.
The church on round two did not disappoint. When we got upstairs, the stained glass was as marvelous as ever. So much color and detail…we’ve heard a rumor that the second floor is at least 80% glass! Unlike last time, we were there very early and weren’t faced with enormous crowds. The room housed only a few people so you could get a fuller view of things and appreciate the building as a church and not just a gorgeous building.

When we left the chapel we finished up some last minute purchases and walked around the historic core of the city one more time. It seems we will never get used to the site of Notre Dame standing out in the centre of Paris. This time we also walked past the Hôtel de Ville or City Hall. They were in the process of setting up a skating rink in front. We imagine it will be a magical site when it’s done, but right now it just looks likes a North Pole construction site.

For a quick lunch we visited the Champs Élysées Christmas market for a final time. Today we had some delicious French Onion soup. We watched them scoop it out of the giant pot and top it off with plenty of cheese and chunks of bread. Delicious!

Our afternoon activity was a Sandeman’s walking tour, although it unfortunately was not free. We had wandered through the Montmartre area on our previous Paris stop and had considered it one of the most interesting parts of the city. It’s a bit younger & trendier…fitting as it was the scene of Paris’ bohemian age. Being as it seemed full of stories we would want to hear, a walking tour of the area was welcomed.

Like first of all: The hill of Montmartre got it’s name from the execution of St. Denis (remember him from yesterday??). He was decapitated on this hill and it became known as the ‘Hill of the Martyrs’ or ‘Mont Martre’ en Francais. We heard this story while standing in a park that is supposedly on the spot of the Saint’s murder. The park was very familiar to us as we had once ate a baguette, cheese & meat supper here…and wondered what the possibly Italian tour guide was telling her group who stopped basically on top of us while we were eating.
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We stopped in front of an apartment building where Vincent van Gough and his brother once lived. Van Gough lived that troubled artists life. He never really had a career, stayed with his more successful brother, failed at numerous employment opportunities and eventually ended up in a mental institute. However, during his stay with his brother he decided to become a painter and painted numerous canvases. Following the death of van Gough, his brother sold these paintings and van Gough became the famous Vincent van Gough we know today.

The tour highlighted the two windmills on the hill of Montmartre. The hill used to be far from the centre of Paris and was filled with windmills creating the staple food for the people of Paris: crépe. Only one of these windmills remains, the Moulin de la Galette. Today it can still function and is now an expensive restaurant.
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The most famous windmill is the Moulin Rouge. This renowned cabaret, on the site where an actual red windmill once stood, was actually built to be the biggest and bestest cabaret in the world. When Paris was preparing for the World Fair in 1889 (and building famous towers) they decided to build a “typical” Paris cabaret that would draw the Fair tourists to the Montmartre area. As opposed to the struggling club people think the Moulin Rouge got it’s start as, it was actually world famous from the moment it opened it’s doors.

Our tour concluded with our complimentary glass of wine at a bar just down from the Moulin Rouge. We had a small group of only 7 for the tour, so when 3 people opted out of the wine it ended up just being our guide (a 24 year old Music/Education student named Adam), us and a 40-ish year old couple from Atlanta. When we finished our glass of wine the Georgians decided the evening shouldn’t be done yet and bought a bottle for the table to share…and then they bought another…and then another… Well, that set the tone for the night and our 2pm tour turned into much longer event than 2.5 hours. What is it with older couples buying us alcohol?

What We Miss:
Being able to go on the internet on our phones at any moment…it’s nice to be so connected!

Love, Luck & let’s tell every embarrassing story or anecdote about Kristin we know…

PS. Doesn’t this street make for the most lovely photo?

He’s like the god of nature…or something…???

Welcome to Paris Day 2! or Day 4 if you count our day trips…or Day 7 if you count our last stop in Paris…or Day 11 if you count the day trips of those stops… Anyways, the next two days will be filled with lots of aimless wandering and slightly more obscure sights (aka the ones we want to see but not so desperately that they made it into the itinerary of our first trip to Paris).

We started today with a mega metro ride. It took us 23 metro stops and one line change to get to our desired location, which was St. Denis church. Saint Denis, a patron saint of France and the first bishop of Paris, was decapitated on the hill of Montmartre. Followingthis, Denis supposedly carried his head northwards and finally stopped at the site he wished to be buried. A church was founded here in the 7th century and became the final resting place of the French Kings, nearly every king from the 10th to 18th centuries are buried here. Both from the outside & the inside St. Denis looked like a simple gothic cathedral. We later found out this simple cathedral is also important historically for its architecture. Built in the 12th century it used inovative structural and decorative features which are said to make it the first truly gothic building. The design of the 13th century nave has also been the prototype for gothic cathedrals in northern France, England and other countries.
It had all of the markings of classic gothic architecture, but none of the crazy extravagance you see in some churches. The simple columns and ceiling just allowed your focus to be on the complexly gorgeous stained glass. Each window was filled with a difficult pattern or realistic king or detailed biblical scene. And all of them were bursting with color.
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The tombs of the kings were interesting…which seems morbid, but what can you do? We got excited whenever we came across someone we’d heard of and Justine quizzed Kristin to see what she could remember of their lives. The tombs varied from simple rectangles to extravagant displays, but all featured a death mask carving of the person. Some are creepily realistic. The most interesting coffins included those of Clovis I (who died about 1500 years ago), Louis XIV (who has as crazy of a final resting place as he had of a home…remember Versailles?) and Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette (who were beheaded in the revolution and dumped in a random grave…they weren’t dug up until 22 years later and were buried in St. Denis in 1815…that’s why the graves look so modern).
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The Paris Opera House or Palais Garnier is an amazing feat of architecture. It was built between 1861 and 1875 for the Paris Opera. We originally planned on just going to check out the exterior, but once we started talking about it and the fact that this is the building The Phantom of the Opera is based in we decided to pay the money to go inside. The visit was well worth it! The grand staircase alone was worth the money to see. The detail work on everything from the walls to the ceiling to the statues holding the lights is just incredible. Then you start to wander the foyers and find hallways that look like they were ripped straight out of Versailles…so much gold, mirrors and decadence!
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The theater itself was the last thing we saw. You can enter into one of the plush boxes and get a full view of the venue. Every seat is made of red velvet and looks as comfortable as floating on a cloud. Everything is dark wood, gold covered or red velvet, leaving the place looking incredibly rich. It was the type of place that you would go to a show at just to be in the venue. The roof was painted by Marc Chagall…remember him and his modern-style biblical paintings? It looked just as odd as those painting and contrasted a bit with the 7-ton bronze and crystal chandelier in the center, but somehow it all still worked. Interestingly, the falling of one of the counterweights of the chandelier in 1896 inspired the famous scene in The Phantom of the Opera. The lighting was low while we were in the theater because they were doing lighting tests or set-ups or something on stage. This created an ambience of darkness & shadows that made you certain the Phantom could be lurking about, peeking out of one of the balconies.
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Lunch time drew us back to the Champs Élysées Christmas market. Our guide (on the Sandeman’s tour we did the other day) had told us about a local delicacy you could find at some of the stalls, so we decided today was the day to try it. Tartiflette is basically scalloped potatoes with ham, which anyone who has ever had ham & scalloped potatoes knows is basically deliciousness. We shared a hardy container of it on the side of the street.
We followed up our potatoes with one of these:
We’d seen these chocolaty creations at many a stall and were curious as to what they were. Kristin was so curious that she just bought one and bit in…
Turns out it’s chocolate covered homemade marshmallow, all balanced on a little waffle wafer. Again, deliciousness. It was starting to rain at this point, so we headed for a McCafé break. After hot beverages and blog posting we were feeling recharged and ready to face the still-coudy-but-no-longer-raining skies.

The no-longer-raining skies lasted about 30 seconds and before we could even get across the river it was pouring. We found refuge under a bus stop but the damage was done…Justine’s ballet flats were soaked right through. You may be wondering why she was wearing ballet flats when she knew it would likely rain today but you see, her runners were still slightly damp from Disney day so she risked it. Kristin was fine…her shoes are waterproof 🙂 To remedy the disaster we headed back to the hostel. First we did a little souvenir shopping though. We’re getting the stuff crossed off our list…literaly…if you know us you know that we have an actual shopping list.

For supper we hit up a place we’d noticed on our last visit but hadn’t had the time to go to until now:
Yes, it is a Canadian pub 🙂 The inside was decorated with hockey jerseys (mostly Montreal), flat screens playing various sporting events and a large RoughRiders flag. Oh and in case you didn’t notice, the door handles are hockey sticks! It was a nice jolt of home to get us through our last week, because we must admit we are getting a little anxious for Canada. For our meal we had a chicken quesadilla (not very Canadian, but something we often eat when we are in Canada), a poutine and Canada Dry ginger ale! Yay Canada!

What We Miss:
Kristin – Food court Chinese food…Justine misses it too…
Justine – Siesta…

Love, Luck & Louis XVI