Category / travel

Europe 2010: Day 8 – Paris July 2, 2010 at 11:13 pm

Day 8: Paris

We woke up earlier, packed and took a cab to St. Pancras to catch catch the train. 2.5 hours later, we arrived in Nord train station in Paris.

Suzanne grabbed a few maps at the station while I lined up in the longest line for taxi cabs I’ve ever seen. Seemed like it took an hour before we got our cab. Our room at the Best Western Victor Hugo was tiny but was conveniently located. After a quick afternoon nap to recover, we headed out for an early dinner (by French standards). We gave up trying to dine at a highly-rated restaurant once Suzanne felt the people there gave us “dirty” looks because we didn’t have a reservation. We ended up in a restaurant down the street where for the first time in our lives, we got to taste the French delicacy: foie gras. Must say that I’m not a fan. The texture is too smooth and too fatty & buttery as a pate for me. I kept thinking of the poor ducks getting force-fed. Glad for the chance to sample it, but probably will not ever order it again. Suzanne’s steak and my sea bass were delicious.

Stuffed, we took a stroll to Arc de Triomphe at Champs-?âlys?©es. The famous arch was commissioned in 1809 by Napoleon after a battle victory. It’s in the center of this giant and very busy roundabout. The cars were constantly criss-crossing in seemingly chaotic traffic. Luckily there are underpasses to get to the arc.

The monument was massive, it felt bigger than in pictures. The facades were adorned with engraving and massive sculptures. I didn’t understand any the engravings, but they had to be commemorating important French battles or something. On the ground at the middle is the tomb of the Unknown Solder who was buried there in 1919. A fire was lit (usually lit at 6:30 PM).

We bought a ticket and head up to the top of the monument. The high panoramic view of the Parisian skyline was just breath-taking with the Eiffel tower visible nearby. We snapped pictures while waited until the sunset. The many avenues leading to the monument were pretty cool, viewed from the top. As the sun sets, the Eiffel tower lights up– what a sight it was.

On our way back to the hotel, we were disappointed that a local bakery that we came across earlier was already closed.

Europe 2010: Day 7 – Last Day in London at 11:09 pm

Day 7: London

This was our last day in London, so we decided to hit the well-known touristy places. We took the underground train, got off Charring Cross and headed to Adelphi Theatre to buy tickets to the performance of Love Never Dies (Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new sequel to The Phantom of The Opera). We then strolled the embarkment next to River Thames. We took photos at The London Eye, Big Ben and The Parliament. We took a river cruise heading toward London Bridge, but decided to hop off the next pier because it was too crowded.

We grabbed a quick bite at Leon’s which conveniently situated right across from the theater. I enjoyed the sweet potato falafel but the Moroccan meatballs weren’t good at all. After food, we crossed the street and caught the afternoon show. We quickly found out why we got good deals for row 1 seats. The seats were low relative to the stage, so our views were partially obstructed. But it was good show, not as good as the original though.

Suzanne was exhausted, so we head back to rest. I was planning to head over to snap some night pictures of Tower Bridge in the evening. But a 30 minutes nap turned into 3 hour nap– so we grabbed dinner at Pizza Express and turned in early. London Bridge will have wait for our return.

England was a wonderful visit. The wonderful museums, the rich and old architecture, the multi-day excursion to Bath and Stonehenge were the highlights for me. I’d love to explore northern England in the future. Goodbye England!

Tomorrow, we leave for Paris.

Europe 2010: Day 6 – London at 11:06 pm

Day 6: London

We bid Bath goodbye and headed back to Paddington Station in London. We hailed a taxi cab to take us to the train station. At the last minute, I asked the driver to take a detour to The Royal Crescent. I was hoping to make the trip there early in the morning, but Suzanne & I both got up late. When the cab stopped, I quickly hopped out and ran onto the lawn and took the photos of the crescent. I bought a new camera specifically for taking the panoramic shot of this place. It was the “money shot.” After getting the shot I wanted after a few tries, I rushed back to the cab.

We checked into Melia White House right next to Regent’s Park, very nice hotel, fanciest place so far. After checking in, we caught bus #88 and headed to the National Gallery museum. We got off at the Picadilly Circus. Wow, it was an entirely different world comparing to quiet Bath. Soho was happening with crowds every corner: noises from construction, people hurrying from one place to another, buses and cabs zipping by. The weather was warm and humid so Suzanne stopped by a Japanese take out place and got a black sesame seeds & green tea ice cream. We happily headed toward Trafalgar square– Suzanne with an ice cream cone in one hand and camera in another. I told her she cannot looked more touristy, to which she replied that so was I– with a dSLR around my neck and a Stonehenge cap on my head. She got me!

The National Gallery housed a collection of paintings from British artists. The collection was pretty large, paintings of every style. I enjoyed them.

After grabbing a quick dinner at hotel, we took a taxi cab to Her Majesty’s Theatre and caught Phantom of The Opera. It must be something 20 years since I saw Phantom the first time. The performance was great and the music was as good as I remembered. The ending was a bit different from I remember though. This one had the phantom dissapeared, which isn’t the ending I vaguely remembered. I thought The Phantom died in the original.

Europe 2010: Day 5 – Oxford July 1, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Day 5: Oxford

We figured it’d be cool to visit one of the oldest universities in the western world. Oxford is in Whileshire which is conveniently an hour of train ride from Bath. So we started the day with a train ride from Bath to Didcot Parkway and then the connecting train to Oxford.

First destination was Oxford Castle. The castle was part of a few battles but it became a prison for last few centuries. The coolest part was climbing the spiraling stone steps up to the tower.

After stopping by a Spanish restaurant for some paella, we headed toward Oxford. As I mentioned to Suzanne how unusually quiet the place was, we made a turn and boom! People everywhere… Oxford wasn’t a sleepy college town I had imagined. We walked toward Christ Church College which probably is the best known part of Oxford. The place was used to film some Harry Potter scenes. I can see why. The place was medieval and just reeked with old traditions everywhere you look. There main court was huge, surrounded four sides with high walks and old buildings. The center was a little lilly pond with a statue in the center. I imagined that the court yard can appropriately used to film scene where Harry Potter learns to fly the broom. Another highlight was this long dining hall. The walls where adorned with old paintings of famous Oxford people. The only one I recognize was William Penn– founder of the state of Pennsylvania.

Next, we visited St. Mary’s and climbed these narrow stairs to the top of the tower. It was interesting negotiating the space with other visitors in cramped spaces. The top had nice views of the town.

There were a few other places I wanted to visit, but we decided to head back. We walked through a few very busy blocks of town on our way back to the train station. That area of town was extremely commercialized and modern, a bustling contrast to the old and traditional Oxford that I had imagined. Too bad, because it kinda shattered the images I had in my head of Oxford. You know, like scenes from the old movie “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.”

Europe 2010: Day 4 – Stonehenge & Roman Baths at 3:44 pm

Day 4: Bath – Stonehenge & Roman Baths

The day started with a breakfast at the hotel. There wasn’t nothing that was good to me. The sausage was bland and had a weird consistency that I didn’t care for. The scrambled eggs were also forgettable. Oddly Suzanne liked the breakfast, go figure…

stonehengeWe then headed into town and caught the morning tour to Stonehenge. The tour bus was a small with the driver also acted as the guide– a friendly gentleman who spewed out facts at each attractions we came across. He may be knowledgeable but the guy can use some humor. After about 15 minutes into the ride, he explained that the ancient Celts sometimes would produce these gigantic carving on the hillside near settlements as a way to declare their presence to the neighbors. They serve as warning signs for other tribes to stay away. The carvings were done by digging into the dirt until the white chalk layer is revealed. The carving we saw was called The White Horse. We were told that horses were common carvings and that they symbolized strength.

We reached Stonehenge after about an hour of driving.

I first read about Stonehenge when I was in the 5th grade. At the time, I was fascinated by UFOs and was reading all the books of the subject that the local library stocked in the children’s section. Seeing all the photographs over the years has me somehow imagined it to be a huge thing. Seeing it for the 1st time in my life, made me realized that it was quite smaller than what I had visualized. But it was still very impressive site. These rocks were massive and the human feats were simply unimaginable for ancient times. It’s also mysterious as you ponder on its purprose and use. As an impressionable kid, I bought into all the UFO’s theories out there, including aliens building the Stonehenge (and the pyramids as well).

I was surprised how accessible it was– being conveniently only a few hundreds feet from a major highway. I suspect that we’l be reading about one terrible accident on one foggy morning how dozens of cars rammed themselves into Stonehenge and knock down everything… gasp! 🙂

Suzanne & I circled the Stonehenge and came back to Bath after the 3 hour trip. Next stop was the Roman Baths. Built about 1800 years ago, the ruins were built by the conquering Romans around Bath’s hot springs. A temple was erected because the springs were considered holy and the water believed to have healing power. Bath houses with piping were erected around the area. The main attraction being a big retangle green pool surrounded by 2 stories of Roman columns and statues. Suzanne & I also liked the many items displayed. My favorite display is the reconstruction of the front of the temple– video projection fills in the missing pieces giving you an idea what the temple would look like. Having a museum built right on the excavation site is very cool.

Next we headed over to a spa for a dip in the spring water and a dinner of pheasants– a relaxing end to a busy day.

Europe 2010: Day 3 – Bath June 27, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Day 3: Bath

This morning, we boarded the train out of Pandington Station in London, enroute to Bath for a 3 night stay. Bath is an ancient city where there are Roman ruins. The place came highly recommended from Suzanne’s coworkers.

The Padington station was huge and crowded. While lining (or queued up as the Brits would say) up to ask for boarding information, I encountered some rude and aggressive travelers who had some pretty nasty words for this Italian couple who was holding up the line. Suzanne grabbed some coffee and breakfast pastry while waiting for me. The apple-filled pastry she got was incredibly delicious, by the way. We’ll have to get some on the way back.

The train ride was pretty smooth and lasted about 90 minutes. It was neat to watch the country side rolling past us from the windows. With distinctly-English town names like Dorset, Sommerset, and Wiltshire, I started to conjure up movie images of 19th century Jane-Austen era. Austen did spent 6 years living at Bath.

We got of the train and decided to walk to our The Holiday Inn Express. We lugged the luggages across the Avon river. The hotel was a bit further than the lady from the tourist office at the train station lead me to believe. I was sweating under the warm morning sun by the time. I remined Suzanne how we over-packed and we both laughed at how amateurish we were as travelers. I remembered how Vince, who travels extensively, told me how packing light is an art. No doubt from me that it is.

After a quick afternoon nap, we took a 20 minutes stroll to the town center of Bath. Most of the buildings in the town center are pretty old. Their exterior are unpainted and the entire town seemed to be of the same earth tone that come from the building materials of stones or bricks. Very neat and pretty.

Bath Abbey

The original abbey was built in the 8th century, and the current one was rebuilt in the 1499. It was a large and was impressive with its imposing height and decorated exteriors. I was simply in awe. We missed the last guided tour of the day so we didn’t go inside. We grabbed a quick drink and strolled around the place. We were happily snapping pictures. 🙂

This trip reminded me how I haven’t been using my camera this past year as I had in the past. It was the combination of the new job at Netflix and the new house that I found little time for snapping pictures. It took a few days to get comfortable with my camera again. It wasn’t so much that I was bumbling with my camera, it just took awhile to get away from shooting the touristy shots. It’s odd. Good opportunity to dust off the cobwebs I guess.

But I diverge… We had dinner reservation at Sally Lunn’s House. We got lost looking for the place. A local gentleman came to our assistance. A friendly chap as the Brits would say. We did exchange emails, we both laughed when we heard each other’s last name: Wooley & Lam. 🙂 Thank you Terry Wooley for your help.

Sally Lunn

The restaurant was founded by a French lady some 300 years ago. The place billed itself as the oldest house in Bath, completed in 1482. It was decorated with many of interesting old items: a cupboard where Sally’s secret recipes were stashed and map showing Sally’s escape from France to England. In fact, upstair was a museum. She’s famous for her Sally Lunn’s Buns, which were well-known through out Bath in her time. She used them as “trenchers” which, before the wide use of plates, were bread that doubled as plates. People eat them as part of the meal. We had some liver pate’ on Sally’s Buns– yum! Our lamb shank and beef medallions came on the yummy buns as well.

A drink in front of Bath Abbey

With our tummies stuffed, we headed to the Huntsman Pub to meet up with others for a “comedy walk” called Bizarre Bath. Right off the bat, the comedian cautioned that we should expect no history nor useful information about Bath from the 90-minute walk. The guy was good, very funny and improvising. The group was about 50 people large, and at 8 pounds per, this guys is doing well I thought. He called me up to the front at one point and want the group to give me the cold stares that he taught us to do to tagging strangers. He made a joke about how I look like a floating head because I was blend in the walls with my beige top & short, which is funny because I made the same comment to Suzanne earlier in the day!

So as I was receiving the disapproving stares from 50+ pairs of eyes, Suzanne came to the rescue and shouted to the group “Hey, lay off people. That’s my husband!” To which the guy responded “she’s a feisty one, isn’t she?” “Yes, she is…” I said loud and proud.

Europe 2010: Day 2 June 26, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Day 2: Victoria & Albert Museum, London Bike Tour

After a light breakfast, we started the morning with the visit to Victoria & Albert Museum. The collections in this museum were enormous and extremely impressive. We snapped a lot of shots of the items. Highlights included a large collection of Asian arts, color stained glasses, paintings by Raphael, busts and statues etc… There was also a Grace Kelly fashion display– I didn’t appreciate it but Suzanne enjoyed it. I thought the Horace Walpole collection was very good. The items this guy collected over his lifetime were impressive.

We grabbed sandwiches and had our lunch in the courtyard while waded our feet in the large shallow pool, watching little kids having fun with the water. We head back inside for another hour.

After about 4 hours of museum time, we walked to the Kensington Gardens. The park was big, with big tall trees. The afternoon was a tad humid, so the placet was a nice way to enjoy the breezy afternoon. We took a quick nap on a park bench and then stopped by Lady Diana Memorial Children’s Playground for ice cream before exiting the park. One thing we noticed is that the Brits seem to really enjoy hanging out in their parks– more than in the States, it seems to me.

We met up with Matt from Fat Tire Bike Tour at Queensway station for the afternoon bike tour of London. Matt took us through Hyde Park and St. James Park. It was a fun alternative to the typical double-decker bus tour of the touristy sights. We saw the Kensington Palace (Lady Diana’s residence), Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and Trafalgar square.

The biking and all the walking totally exhausted us as we headed to dinner. We stopped by a local Thai place we stumbled upon on a whim. The place had the worst Thai dishes I ever had. They don’t even taste like Thai food. The best thing from the meal for me was Coke– refreshing after a long day. What a forgettable meal.

Another long walk as we meandered through the small streets and we made back to the Kensington Hotel utterly exhausted. But instead of passing out, Suzanne & I found ourselves up at 1 AM writing and packing for our next stop: Bath. We’re still jet lagged still I suppose.

Europe 2010: Day 1 – Kensington June 25, 2010 at 8:59 pm

2 airline meals, countless drinks and 10 hours later, Suzanne & I landed in Heathrow. It was 8AM London time (midnight Californian time), the next day. The 10 hour “red-eye” flight would hardly been tolerable had it not been for season 1 of Big Bang Theory. At least it was a direct flight.

We hailed one of those ubiquitous black taxi cabs and made it to the Kensington Hotel through the gnarly morning London traffic. First impression: construction everywhere. Apparently, London is on an expanding and/or modernization.

After checking in, we took a 20 minutes walk to The Natural History Museum. There were buses unloading school kids in cute uniforms. There was a long line (or queue as the Brits would say) of people waiting to enter. We were immediately struck by the architecture of the museum. The museum was a lot bigger than we both imagined. The walls were a layered of gray/blue and yellow bricks or stones. The reaching spires were imposing.

Every inch of the exterior was elaborately adorned. The details simply overwhelm you. My two favorite features were the entrance with its complex arches and columns and the numerous ferocious gargoyles perched on top looking down at you– leaving no doubt in your mind that they are ready to defend the treasures in the museums!

I entered the museum I was immediately stopped cold by this massive dinosaur skeleton in the middle of the museum, greeting you. This thing was huge and long. We saw all sorts of stuffs while dodging excited school kids. The collection of skeletons were amazing. Too bad, we didn’t get to see all of the impressive dinosaur collections. We also saw a complete fossil of a pliosaurus, one of those swimming dinosaur. It was huge.

At one end of museum, atop a massive flight of stairs, sit a life-sized white marble statue of the most famous of British sons: Charles Darwin. There was a display of Darwin’s stuffs but we didn’t make way to see it. We also saw an impressive collection of stuffed birds. There was a display of hundreds of types of humming birds. And I saw 2 stuffed dodo birds! Never seen those in “real life.” That was anoher highlight for me.

There was also a massive collection of minerals and gemstones but that section didn’t seem to attract a lot of people especially kids. We headed back to the hotel after spending 3 hours in the museum, overwhelmed but totally exhausted. All these treasures and the museum charges no entry fee! Sweet…

After a nap, we walked toward Earl’s Court, checking out the local restaurants that lined the street. The place was pretty happening. The Greek restaurant I targeted proved too far for tired legs, so we sneaked into a place called Nandos Chickenland– mixing with the locals and other tourists. The people next table to us sounded like Italians. After a light dinner of marinated olives, roasted chicken and Brazilian beer, we headed back to the hotel to turn in early.

Day 2 will be a busy day, capping with an afternoon bike tour of London which is something I’m looking forward to.

Europe 2010 June 24, 2010 at 9:55 pm

This year, Suzanne and I decided to take a trip to England and France as a way to celebrate our 10th year anniversary. I decided to blog a bit of our experiences as we travel. Since I will only blog as time permits and the fact that internet access might be limited in the country side, the blog posts will not be regular nor up to date. Also, please pardon the typos and grammar errors as these will be quick and raw posts.

Snapshots of our trip will also be updated on the gallery widget on top right of this blog but they’re better viewed on my flickr. Again, they’ll quick post processed and probably not be regular.

Let’s start with how the trip begins with a little unexpected drama.

The day started out with me coming within inches stepping on a snake that found its way into our backyard. With a box in one hand and a stick in the other, I did my best imitating Steve Irwin. Katelyn & Allison cheered their old dad on like a hero. After a few attempts and many involuntary girlish screams, I got him trapped in a box. There wasn’t time for me to call animal control. So I covered that box with a lid for Doc to come by after work.

I didn’t want the poor thing to suffocate and I didn’t close the lid all he way. Rookie mistake. Half hour later, the snake proved I’m no snake handler by getting away. Probably for the best, but snake charmer, I’m not.

Anyway, with the little drama over we loaded up our 2 gigantic suitcases (Suzanne over-packed again) and took off to SFO. We kissed the girls goodbye and off we went on our 10 hour flight to London. Our 17-days adventure to celebrate our 10th year anniversary was underway….