London & Paris - 1999

Intro - This is kind of a disclaimer notice that you find on the Europe trips we take each year since I often get email on this subject.  You may notice that all of our trips to Europe seem to include a trip somewhere in the U.K. every year, and other times we add Ireland or France. There's a good reason for this.  We have been traveling to the U.K. for years mostly due to the ease of getting a non-stop flight from Denver, Colorado to London, either at Heathrow or Gatwick (depending on the airline's latest destination airport).  We really have the travel down pretty well and always know what to expect.  Some folks ask me why we keep going to the U.K. year after year and why we don't try somewhere else.  The reason is that the U.K. has a long rich history that cannot be fully appreciated by going there once or twice for a week at a time.  Our families are from England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, so for us, it is a way to reconnect with our heritage.  I imagine that when it becomes somewhat boring we will probably stop going to the U.K., but I don't really see that occurring soon since there is so much to see and learn about these great countries.

You can use the navigation bar at the top of any page on my website (under "Travel") to find links to some of the trips over the years that we have made to the U.K. as well as a few trips to Ireland and France with the descriptions of what we saw and how we felt on each trip dating to the year of our vacation.  You can read our impressions of the vacations as they changed over the years and possibly pick up some ideas for your vacation to these wonderful countries.  The links to the various pictures also include pictures of the kids so you can see how they too have aged over the years while on vacation (or "holiday" as Europeans call it).

Learn what we discovered about London and Paris - sometimes the hard way.  Don't forget to check out my Europe Trip Advice page to discover things you might not have known about international travel (at least when traveling to London and Paris).

London
London Pictures
Paris
Paris Pictures

London

Arrived at Gatwick about 6:30AM as part of the non-stop trip from Denver, Colorado.  Big time change for us!  It was 11:30PM to us and we had the entire day to go.  Man were we tired that first day and even somewhat the second day.  One piece of advice is DO NOT GO TO SLEEP EARLY!  Stay up and get adjusted or you will pay for it for days while your body is all whacked out on your sleep patterns.  We would recommend taking a small tour of the city by bus (the double-decker kind that is open air on the top).  You get to ride around and see lots of sites around the city without ever having to really get off of the bus.  This won't stress you so much given how really crummy you will feel.  We would also suggest getting tour bus (coaches as they're called) trips arranged since you probably will not want to have a rental car if you will be staying in London.  We used a company named "Frames Rickard" and were very happy with them.  If you go to London in the summer, do not sit in the very back seat of any coach!  The engine heat rises from directly below you and you will be miserably hot.  We discovered this the hard way one day and really ruined it for us while riding.  You will probably want to check out my Europe Trip Advice page.

We took several coach tours and saw the Tower of London (not a single tower but really a fortress area with many towers), Stonehenge (they had a riot several days later there when some people crashed the Druids summer solstice thing at the rocks - kind of weird given that Stonehenge is in the middle of nowhere in the countryside), Bath (old Roman bath house ruins and a charming little town), Dover cliffs (cliffs are cliffs so not that big a deal although you can see France about 30 miles away from the cliffs if the air is clear), Leeds Castle (really a beautiful setting for the castle), and Canterbury (nice town with the cathedral as the main attraction).

We also saw the changing of the guards as part of the Tower of London Experience (by the way, you can't actually see the guards change since it happens behind the walls, but you could see the parade - starts about 11:45 in the morning).  We also walked around on our own and saw the Cavalry change and an absolutely beautiful place - Westminster Abbey.  We saw St. Paul's Cathedral, but Westminster Abbey is by far the more richer place for historical reasons.  We also drove to the Cotswolds and the next day saw Warwick Castle and the Warwick Church.  Beautiful old castle and rather interesting church.  I would recommend all of these places including the driving experience to the Cotswolds and a little further to see Warwick Castle.

I would probably get a rental car near the outskirts of London as the exit place since driving in London is something else.  These folks have a different name for a given street at just about every corner making it extremely confusing to figure out exactly where you are.  Another thing is to buy something like a Penguin book that shows the detailed streets of London.  Without the detailed map you will be lucky to get out of London.  You will also need to learn about "round-abouts."  This is England's unique way of getting off of one street and on to another without having traffic lights.  The main highways out of London really moved fast too.  Almost everyone was driving at least 90 mph and above.  Never saw any accidents and never saw any police patrolling the highways either.

One final comment is to expect to spend plenty of money.  Not as much as France, but at least double what we spend here in the U.S.A.  I got about 300 pounds (also known as "quid") and used my ATM card a lot.  There are ATM machines just about everywhere so it won't be a big deal getting money.  We ate lots of Indian food (quite good Indian food to be found in the London area, especially in Shoreditch) and frequented pubs just about every evening.  Most of the pubs would let us bring our kids in to sit down as long as they weren't running around.

Paris

Once again, we couldn't get a plane trip that had times that were anything "normal."  Instead, it had to be get up at 4:30AM, hire a cab from where we were staying in London to take us to Paddington Station (cost us 8 Pounds), then a Heathrow Express train ride to the Heathrow airport, and on to Paris.  One thing about British Airways, those folks don't screw around when it comes to rolling out the food cart.  The plane wasn't even level when we left Heathrow for Paris and they were rolling out the food cart.  Kind of debunks the myth of how long it needs to be before they roll out the food cart on airlines.  They gave us cold scrambled egg and ham sandwiches that were really pretty good.  All that for a one hour flight.  Didn't get food on the way back from Paris to London.  Paris can be a shocker if you don't speak French.  I don't blame the locals for not wanting to speak English since after all, it is their country.  It would be kind of like them coming to the U.S. and expecting us to speak French.  That would seem rude to us, and likewise, it's rude to them to just assume they will speak English.  We found that some people did speak English, but not that many when you got away from the museums and normal touristy sites.  The best thing is to tell them in French that you don't speak French and ask if they speak English (in French of course).  I like the way we arrived (other than being extremely early) as far as not being really tired from the international flight.  I would recommend that if you want to go to England and France (and you're English speaking), then go to England first.  You can spend the first couple of days readjusting and at least language won't be a barrier to getting around.  Then you'll be rested and can enjoy Paris much better.

We didn't get a car since the Metro subway can get you just about anywhere you would ever like to go and parking is really ridiculous in Paris (as any large city would be).  Unlike London where we took the double decker buses as well as the Underground, it really wasn't necessary to take anything other than the RER trains and the Metro subway.

We arrived on a Saturday morning and other than the dopey airport that I mention in my Europe Trip Advice page, we were able to get to Gar du Nord via a shuttle bus to catch our Metro rides.  I probably would take a taxi directly to the apartment next time rather than trying to hook up with the SNCF train that would take us to Gar du Nord where we could hook up with the Metro.  Of course, if we had gotten the zones right on our Metro pass we probably could have taken something directly in to town from the airport rather than fooling around with trains just to get us where our Metro pass would work.  We checked in to the apartment early and they had no problem getting us in.  Then we went on to the Louvre.  I've been to the Louvre before and can't tell you enough good things about this old museum.  Now that is a museum!  One trick regarding the Louvre though - unless you have a backpack or purse, don't stand in line at the glass pyramid (that's the main way to enter the Louvre).  You will see a very long line of people (called a queue) waiting to go into the pyramid.  The reason they are there is because just inside the pyramid is a baggage scanner similar to an airport baggage scanner.  So if you don't have anything to be scanned, just walk up past the front of the line and go down the escalator to get your museum pass.  If I had it to do over again, I would go to Musee D'Orsay first since their line is usually smaller than the Louvre's.  Buy the museum pass that covers all museums.  Then after you have the museum pass you can avoid the glass pyramid at the Louvre all together.  Just go to one of the side entrances where tours or people with museum passes can enter and there's practically no line at all.  One thing that was kind of weird that we saw was on the way across the Seine to D'Orsay.  A motorcyclist had just been killed and was laying in the middle of the street while the police were directing traffic around his body.  He wasn't even covered up, just laying there.

We also went to Fontainebleau, the Eiffel tower (yes, we were able to go straight up the tower on a cloudless day with absolutely no wait at all - very unusual), Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Avenue des Champs Elysees, L'Obelisque, Sainte Chapelle, Place de la Bastille, and Le Pere Lachaise.  The one place we missed but I wish we would have seen is Versailles.  I've been to Versailles before, but we just couldn't squeeze it in given all the things we were doing coupled with our exhaustion.  Le Pere Lachaise was different in that it is the cemetery where Chopin, Maria Callas, Ernst Max, Sarah Bernhardt, and Jim Morrison of the Doors is buried.  Many other famous people buried there too.  The cemetery is huge and the most favorite place to visit seems to be Jim Morrison's grave site.  It's a rather small grave but with huge groups of people hanging around - mostly young people.  They had a police woman standing guard at the site and told me that I couldn't videotape the gravesite.  Is that dumb or what?  I had the camera running while I was explaining to her that it took digital photos (it does) so I got footage anyway.  Kind of funny seeing all these people that were born years after Jim Morrison died and yet seemed so fascinated by him.  Being from Florida, I saw the Doors twice in concert and actually attended the last concert Jim Morrison gave (in Miami, Florida).  The last concert was really a bad one when you consider how drunk the guy was, so not much of a way to end things.

You can check out all the things to do while in Paris via the Internet, but if you're only there for a few days, I'd say to go the Louvre (plan on at least an all day stay), D'Orsay, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower.  Arc de Triomphe will take you down famous boulevards and the circular drive at the end is a riot to watch.  Don't know how many lanes wide the street is but cars just go round and round and there's often a wreck there.

 

Check out my page on European trip advice to align expectations that you may have about traveling to Europe as well as ways to make your travel experience a little simpler.

 

 

 

 

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