Monday, August 4, 2003

France - Paris, Versailles

This Dover harbor with its white cliffs is the last scene I saw of England as we sailed toward France...
I tried to imagine what Paris would be like, but even my imagination failed me.

Dover from the Ferry to Paris
One thinks of Eiffel towers when Paris is mentioned. No wonder!
It is such a massive structure, completely out of place yet in place at the same time.
The view of this metal structure was somehow beautiful in sunset.

Eiffel Tower at Sunset

By the time we crossed a small park and arrived near the Eiffel tower, the sun had already us a beautiful view of Eiffel Tower lit up.

View of Eiffel tower lit at Night

It is easy to see from this angle, how tall this structure actually is.
I had not been able to imagine until I saw elevators running up and down.

Eiffel Tower Angle
Twinkling Eiffel Tower?
This is not some special effect I created in Photoshop. Whether for tourist benefit or just for simple amusement, the Eiffel Tower was twinkling at certain point at night.
Perhaps this is what Parisians call Fashion...

Twinkling Eiffel Tower

If I were able to, I would have gone inside the Opera house in search know who!
The Phantom of course...
Perhaps it was better that I didn't...since I still have some shred of hope that the story might be true.

Paris Opera House
I did it..
Despite the deadly fear of height, I got on the elevator...or should I say elevatorS...and went to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
It really was making my feet shake, but it was worth it. I could see just about all of Paris and its numerous bridges from up there.  

View from the top of Eiffel Tower
I am sure the pictures of Eiffel Tower is getting tiresome, but the view during night, sunset, twinkling, during the day...are so different that I had to do justice.
I had a nice walk from the Eiffel Tower to the end of the Park, exactly opposite the way we went the night before.
I also succumbed to being a tourist by buying hand sketches of Notre Dame from the street vendor.

Eiffel Tower during the day
The famous street of Champs Elysée starts at this Arch de Triumph.
The night before, we had most crazy experience in this accident-prone area. We circled around and around the round about like crazy people who want to die.

Arch de Triumph
Who would have thought I'd actually be walking down this fashionable street of Champs Elysée?
I've heard this street numerous times in movies and songs, but never thought I'd get a chance. 

Champs Elysée
This fountain is somewhere in the middle between Champs Elysée and Louvre.
After leisurely walk down the street, we stopped at the ice cream shop and settled down for a leisurely hour eating ice cream and drinking coffee.
People-watching is more fun than what most people think...

The fountain at the end of Champs Elysée
Somehow, despite late...I mean LATE night of 4 am, I got up to go tour the Paris.
We had crazy night at the bank of the Seine river. There was street musicians, crazy Paris wanderers, people talking, drinking wine...I guess that's what we call night life.
Notre Dame...which I had seen night before took on a somber tone during the day.

Notre Dame
The Gothic churches are more beautiful inside than out...
One would really believe in the heaven and the mysterious God inside...

Inside Notre Dame
As the sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows, I wondered...
What was I really doing there? It was strange deja vu...
Or perhaps it was just lack of sleep... 
Inside Notre Dame
I love to take weird angle pictures of beautiful architecture.
Believe it or not, this is Notre Dame rose window.

Notre Dame angle
One side of Notre Dame, across the river, was being repaired.
Not having gotten the other side of Notre dame without all the coverings, I decided to at least take a photo of the other side.

Notre Dame from the side
This is the Chapel known for the stained glass windows. When I entered the first level of the chapel, I wondered what they were talking about
Then I climbed up the stairs into the next level...
It was truly heavenly. The sun cooperated and came through in rainbow of colors through the glass windows.

St. Chappell
We approached Louvre from the back, walking through the so called shopping street.
We encountered this beautiful Cathedral...

Back of Louvre
I had heard there was some sort of alternate back entrance to Louvre. We looked, but we could not find it, so we had to enter through the ever busy front Pyramid entrance.

Despite the aching feet and lack of sleep, we went for Mona Lisa.
It is the farthest away from the entrance as was possible. I almost believe it was put there so that people had to walk the length of the museum to see it.
Personally, I was unimpressed. I admire Da Vinci, but I am not sure it was worth the pilgrimage.

Mona Lisa
On our way to the antiquities section...upon my insistence of course, we saw some beautiful Greek statues.

We spent our last night viewing the show at Moulin Rouge. It was spectacular although I thought it was rather made for the tourists.
I actually liked the movie version of the Moulin Rouge better...  

Moulin Rouge
We headed to Versailles after the view of Eiffel Tower during the day.
Versailles is another small town somewhat away from Paris. I couldn't believe how quaint and pretty the surrounding area was and how grad the palace was!         

I guess Louis had to outdo the palace in Paris.
It seemed small, but the buildings seemed larger and larger as one got closer.

View of Versailles
People...unavoidable during tourist season.
I could not avoid them at Versailles either...but such is the life of tourist. I still wouldn't have missed it for anything. 

The tour guide rattled on of the names of each rooms at the main part of the palace, but I cannot remember which room this was nor can I remember the name of any of the rooms I've taken pictures of.
I have many pictures such as this that I shall not bore people with.

A room in Versailles
I've read so much about this famous Hall of Mirrors in history books, but I had not quite expected it to be so large or so full of mirrors.
I am not sure exactly what I expected, but it wasn't really this. If it weren't for tourists and guards, I would have loved to slide down the whole hall.   

Hall of Mirrors

Books and DVDs on Paris and Versailles:
Walks Through Lost Paris: A Journey Into the Heart of Historic Paris Writers in Paris: Literary Lives in the City of Light Paris (Eyewitness Travel Guides)

Friday, August 1, 2003

England - London

I am actually not sure what to think of London...
Perhaps it is a city that requires more time to savor. It is definitely city of many dichotomy.
One thing that really surprised me was that everything, including bars closed just about 11 pm. Where is the night life I ask you? Where are those famous bar hopping experiences? Perhaps I missed it all...
To tell you the truth, I guess I did a bit of that. I won't lie. London does have a night life. Bars are completely different from what I had expected. It is where things are "happening" so to speak.

Famous London Bar Scene at Night...
People talk about London Bridge, but well, the fact is, London Bridge is really not at all remarkable. It is rather on the ugly side.
Tower Bridge on the other hand draws one's eyes. The river scenery crossing the bridge is quite remarkable. My first morning in London started with this view of London as we headed toward Stonehenge and Bath.

View of Tower Bridge from London Bridge
Baker Street...sound familiar?
Sherlock Holmes?
Maybe not to some people, but for me, it has a special place in my heart. I don't think I ever thought I would get to see the real Baker Street.
I mean it is true that Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character, but to many people, he is almost as good as real.

Baker Street Sign

And who says Sherlock Holmes is some ordinary fictional character?
If a fictional character has a museum dedicated to him/her, that's got to be one popular character. I guess what I'm trying to say is that he is as good as a real living person. Most living people don't even get a museum of their own.After getting off from my Big Bus at Picadilly stop...I walked few blocks and wala, I was in the middle of a huge square!
Sherlock Holmes museum
I would highly recommend the Big Bus Co. for tour purposes. All the employees are extremely nice, very informative, and definitely better than their competitors. You might save some time in queue (line if you are American) of several museums purchasing tickets through them.

Trafalgar Square
The four lions surrounding the statue...I hear that they were actually made from melted canons. This is where I was to meet my walking tour group (of Big Bus Co.).  

Trafalgar Square
I am not quite sure where Haymarket began and where Picadilly started. I'm sure I am in the middle of both sections of the town. Regardless, the theaters were in abundance here.
I was actually expecting to see an actual market like that in My Fair Lady at the Haymarket, but of course that was only my dream.

Okay...people find making fun of these Guards something fun to do in London. Personally I felt rather sorry for this lone Guard, who'd have to stand hours like to unmoving.

Lone Guard
I never thought the guard changes were a big supposed to all the other attractions in London, but I guess it is one of the main tourist attraction. 

St. James' Palace
Thankfully with our guides, we had one of the best view of the Changing of Guards.

Changing of Guards starts at St. James' Palace
When the Guards started marching...
the Old Guards they call it since these are the guards that were on duty.
...we started marching as well, following the Guards toward the Buckingham Palace. 

Changing of Guards
The New Guards came from the station near the Buckingham Palace. We ran and got there just in time to see them march out and head toward Buckingham palace for changing ceremony
The flag was not up. Queen was not in residence, but well...did I really want to see the queen? I don't really think so...
Afterward I started my walking toward of own through Victoria Station and up toward Westminster Abbey.

Changing of Guards at Buckingham Palace
I was merrily walking down the street, not even thinking that I'd run smack into the Westminster Abbey. I think it has a tendency to sneak up on you. It does not at all look like a beautiful Gothic Abbey when you look at from the back side.
Then Wem! You hit it and your mouth drops.
Side of Westminster Abbey
I made conscious decision not to go into the Abbey. I know it is bad of me, but looking at the line and amount of time I had left to still see many other sites of London, I had to say adieu from the outside.

Westminster Abbey from the front
I couldn't stop taking pictures of Westminster Abbey. It just looked so different from each different angle that I became confused as to how many pictures I actually took.  

Westminster Abbey

I think if U.S. had Parliament building as beautiful as this one in Washington D.C., more people would want to live there and more people would be awed by the political system in U.S.
I would have thought it some sort of castle, but there it was on the map labeled as "Parliament". How can anyone function in official capacity in such a lovely building?


As I walked around the Westminster Abbey, across the street to Parliament and back, the Big Ben stood there, trying to outshine them all.Yup..Big Ben was every bit as impressive as I had imagined it to be. After the Westminster Abbey sneaking up on me, Big Ben was less of a Bang to my system, but it still was more than I had expected from seeing on movie and pictures.
Big Ben and surroundings

Big Ben

The best view I had of the surrounding areas of the bridges and the bridges themselves was on the 2nd level of the Big Bus.
After the Parliament, passing the Big Ben, I grabbed my bus again and crossed the London Bridge toward the Tower.

View from the Big Bus
Well...I actually didn't believe this place is really the Court of Justice. Looking at from the purely architectural point of view, it is more of an Abbey or Gothic building than a court.
It is hard to believe they actually use this building as a court, but it is true.

Court of Justice, from the bus

I was not flying inside the helicopter to take this picture.
Okay, it is easy to see that I was actually on a tall bus crossing the bridge, but one could have a large imagination and think I was taking this from a helicopter tour.
Seen close, Tower bridge is another impressive and pretty structure...and coolest thing about it is that, the draw bridge actually works!  

Tower bridge from the Bus
I was somewhat disappointed with the Tower. It was advertised too much as THE place to see in London. Actually I would have been more impressed with Westminster Abbey, but that's just me.
Still, with the free tour group I straggled along, the history and the blood and gore factor was worth it, not to mention most great view of Tower Bridge from there.

The Tower
This gorgeous view of the entire Tower Bridge can only happen from the Tower itself.
I wonder...what is the history of it?           

The Tower Bridge from the Tower

Someone forgot to tell me that British museum is larger than what it seems from the front.
I barely managed to drag myself there, my Meccah in London with the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts, at the end of most tiring day. My day had started with the Sherlock Holmes.
It is hard to believe, isn't it?
Fortunately, my body had a life of its own once it started to see the statues of Ramses and the funerary artifacts.

British Museum

Books and DVDs about England and London:
TV series about Henry VIII
The Tudors - The Complete First Season The Tudors - The Complete Second Season The Tudors: The Complete Third Season
Book series about Henry VIII and his women
THE CONSTANT PRINCESS The Boleyn Inheritance The Queen's Fool: A Novel (Boleyn) The Virgin's Lover (Boleyn)
Sherlock HolmesThe Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection

Rick Steves' London 2010 Top 10 London (Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guides)