Friday, May 29, 2015

Day 16 - When in Rome...

First day in Rome!  Now it's interesting to me because I had all these ideas of what these cities were like and of course, none of them was accurate.  Rome is a big city and kind of reminds me of a bigger version of Vancouver except with cobbled streets and ruins and basilicas interspersed with modern buildings and stores.  I like it!  I sort of expected Rome to be more like Florence I think, a bit smaller for some reason.

Anyways, we got on the train this morning (with some luggage debacle but it worked out) and got to Rome around 10am and started our tour of some of the sights.  First stop was Circus it's funny because I must have blanked right out because I couldn't remember having seen this today!  I think I thought it was just a ruin but not Circus Maximus type ruin.  Ha!  Anyways, you couldn't really see much.

Next stop...the Colusseam!  humming with people, we took a quick lunch break and then got whipped in as we had a group reservation.  now one thing that is amazing about these tours is that you never have to wait...we've been jetted in on all the venues where there are lineups...the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Accademia to see David, the Colusseam...well worth the cha-ching tour price (trip is costing is a bomb!).  Anyways, we has a local guide tour is through the place and I was just astonished at the size and scale...just massive, and it would be an achievement for modern day builders, let alone ones from back then.   I had another of those pinch me moments!

After the Colosseum we headed to the go through some of the Catacombs...not for people who are claustrophobic!!  Dark, a bit dank but very interesting.

We headed back to our hotel and for checked in and settled down to very important business...finding a place for dinner!  Tummy seems to have settled down so we wanted to have a very special dish for dinner, cacio de pepe.  Rome is famous for this dish and we found a place that was very well reviewed and a hop skip and a jump away from here.  We had the concierge call for a reservation for us and off we went to La Carbonara.  we got in early as our reso was at 8:30 but we got in at 7:30 as we walked past to check out he location and confirm the reservation and they had room which was awesome!  I has spaghetti
Carbonara and Hubs had the cacio de pepe...both spectacular.  Mine was smoky and creamy while Hubs was perfect.  So good.  We ordered a fish special which we thought was panfried but turned out to be deep fried (ugh) but after we peeled off the batter, fish itself was good.  Anyways, we had what we came for and it was a meal to remember for sure.

Last day in Rome and last day of four tomorrow...what a whirlwind, amazing, pinch me I'm dreaming kind of trip.  Tomorrow is the Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica, Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon and Spanish steps...and finally a Farewell Dinner before we head out on Sunday.  feeling sad about leaving, but also feeling excited to head home!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Day 15 - I'll Be Back, Florence

Wow...15 days on this trip!  I'm finally getting over the jetlag...actually I don't think it's so much jetlag as it's just being run off our feet, but the last few days have been more leisurely so we've been getting a bit more sleep each night which really really helps.  

So second say in Florence....I'm sad that we are leaving so soon, and actually wish we had had one more day here and once less day in Venice.  Not that I didn't like Venice but I think out of all the cities, it was my least favourite so far, but I absolutely love Florence and would love to come back one day and explore this area a bit more.

Today our travel director took us out for a trip to a leather factory, as that's what Florence is known for...leather and gold. I had had an idea of what kind of jacket I was looking for but sadly, the factory didn't have my size in the one I wanted, and anything else with a similar shape, I couldn't wedge my body into.  It sucks being short and having no waist because when stuff fits my shoulders and chest, it's tight in the hips as most people's hips are lower than mine. Bah!  I ended up trying one in that I would never have looked at (the lady was suggesting all sorts of ones that has way too much hardware) and I kinda liked has a bit more bling than what I would normally wear, but because I normally dress very monochromatic ally, I figured I could get away with some flash for zippers.   And the fit is fits across my man shoulders and fits over my ample tummy and hips, so I went for it after a bit of hemming and hawing.  I know there are many other leather places in Florence but time was of the essence and I didn't want to end up with some of the made in China crap that was out there.

After the leather factory, we went to Santa Croce basilica...I actually got a chill walking in there as it was the resting spot for a few people you may have heard about...Da Vinci, Galileo and Michelangelo.  I just stood there in awe at the monuments and soaked it all in.

After Santa Croce, hubs and I grabbed some lunch at the place where we picked up the wine planned, Hubs had Florentine steak and I had pizza, and we washed it down with a nice glass of brunello.  After our lunch, the waiter gave us a glass of a very delicious moscato, which we promptly bought and have polished off tonight.  It must have no alcohol content because we've pounded back the bottle and neither of us are hammered...hah!

After lunch we checked our the given it's size, I would have thought it was bigger inside, and it was big, but not massive.  Line up was short so we took advantage and went in.  Fairly uneventful.  Also uneventful was dinner, we headed back to the place we went for dinner last night.  I had spaghetti with tomato sauce and basil (something not crazy, stomach has been doing Ok knock on wood) and Hubs has wild boar which was delicious.  We were kicking ourselves after though...Hubs forgot there was a food market where you could get tons of delicious food all for was a foodie's paradise, seriously. us a reason next time right?  And we couldn't fully enjoy it as my tummy seems to be unhappy...right?  Right?!?

on to our last stop of the tour, Rome.  Bye Florence...I'll be back.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Day 14 - I Left My Heart in...Florence?

Oh Florence.

You've stolen my heart...this is the Italy I've dreamed of.  We got up this morning and caught the train from Venice to Florence, and met up with the local guide who took us on a bit of a walking tour through the city to orient ourselves and then took us to the Accademia to see David.  The museum is not that big, and I've seen a lot of legendary works of art this trip like the Mona Lisa, works by Monet and the Rosetta Stone...but my breath was absolutely taken away by the statue of David.  When you round the corner, he is at the end of a long corridor and I just stood there in awe for a minute.  So lifelike, and so absolutely beautiful, he looked like he was going to just start walking.  Standing at an incredible 17 feet, he was by far the most amazing thing I've seen this trip, bar none.

After David, we took a look at the Duomo and then headed up to this lookout area called Piazzale Michelangelo to take in a panoramic view of Florence.  Seriously, I love this place.  A perfect mix of big city with culture and beauty, I could see myself returning here again and exploring more of the Tuscan area.

After a brief stop off at home, we headed our for dinner with the group.  We sat with two gals who are also avid foodies, so we sat all night watching all the amazing dishes coming out of the kitchen.  Pizza and Florentine steak are in our future tomorrow, along with a day of exploring Florence.

After dinner we headed out to a place that played live music, according to our travel director...turned out to be a karaoke bar, which was so much fun.  We have a mixed group of many ages and pretty much everyone went, which was awesome.  I sang at the top of my lungs particularly to a little Sweet Caroline, and shook my booty to a bit of Spice Girls.  Group is a lot of fun, I gotta say.

Florence, io amo.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Day 13 - Venetian Storm

Last day in Venice!  We had a walking tour this morning to the Rialto Bridge with one of the local was interesting to hear how Venetians live and she took us into little nooks and crannies around on the way to the bridge.  Once we got there, we were left to wander one of the local markets filled with fish and veggies.  Now yesterday the weather was roasting...we had had a tour yesterday and everyone was dressed fairly warmly for some reason, so today we were all wearing shorts because we were expecting it to be hot.

Wellllll...not so much.  Just as we finished the tour, it started drizzling and the guide said don't worry, it will stop soon, it never lasts long.  Don't worry, she said.  Famous last words...thankfully we were under cover at the market because the skies absolutely opened up on us.  We hid under the awnings for awhile and when it lightened up a tinge, we ran for it to an area where some do the street hawkers were selling umbrellas and rain ponchos for five euros each.  I was so mad as I had taken out my umbrella just that morning out of my knapsack, but we bought an umbrella and the guy handed me the last poncho left, a bright pink one.  Oh joy.  Those of you who know me, know I don't wear colour ever but I couldn't afford to be picky.  hubs and I were laughing because we figured these were likely the cheapest umbrellas ever, and would last five openings, so one euro per time we opened up. Sure enough...the third time we opened it, one of the spokes stayed to break and then there was a slight wind gust from people walking past and that was the end of it!  Thankfully we were pretty close to home and made it back relatively unscathed.  There was some crazy lightning and thunder though...apparently this was atypical Venetian storm but it was pretty crazy.  I've seen some hard rain before but this was one of the heaviest I've ever seen.

After a short break at the hotel, we headed back out to try and find some lunch.  The rains had stopped and the sun actually came out and it was warming up nicely.  We went down a few side streets to get off the beaten track and found a very small little place so decided to go in.  We asked what the specials were today and it was a strawberry sauce with pasta and the other was a pasta made with a small amount of bitter cocoa and squid and langoustines.  Sign us up! We each had the special and it was so good...just what we were looking for.  After lunch we wandered around a bit, had our first gelato (super creamy and yummy, hazelnut for me, milk and mint flavours for hubs).   tummy is not that happy with me right now (sigh...paying for the gelato) so tomorrow will be another bland food day to try and calm things down.  Not gonna lie, even tho I've loved the food, am really looking forward to some veggies.

Leaving Venice tomorrow and heading to Florence for two days.  Apparently no wifi there (noooooo!!) so will catch you all in a few days once I hit Rome.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Day 12 - Venice, I Like You

Day 2 in Venice!  Brief update tonight as I'm exhausted!  Had a bit of a rough night last night....not sure if I ate something or it's just a few weeks of rich food that's done me in, but tummy was NOT happy past night or this morning, but thankfully after a very bland breakfast of dry toast and a half a banana, my tummy seemed to have recovered.  Anyways, two days of not eating much and a horrible headache from not having coffee because my stomach was rejecting pretty much everything, I'm about to drop dead.

So today we went out to a glass blowing factory which was totally cool...the guy was a master who had trained for 40 years and made a horse and a vase on front of our eyes in 10 minutes.  So cool.  we then got to look around the factory where we bought some trinkets and then headed to St Mark's square for a tour of the Doge's Palace.  Opulent for sure and the guide did a good job of giving additional info.  Some people were doing another excursion but Hubs and I decided against it and we went out on our own to get some food and make our way back to the hotel.

Now Venice is as confusing as heck...but with a few hints from the guide that were very useful, we made it home.  I was sooo exhausted, I crashed for an hour long nap and it was 4:30!  We got up and headed out for dinner, hoping to find some hole in the wall place.

We wandered the streets hoping to find a place off the beaten path.  We saw a side street that looked like locals were walking up and down so we headed in that direction and voila! A little restaurant that looked amazing.  my tummy was doing better so I ordered some spaghetti with black squid and a dish of sea bass, and hubs ordered ravioli in a tomato sauce and a dish of black cod and polenta.  Now one thing in wines are very good typically and cheap, so we ordered a half litre as well, which was fantastic.   Dinner was also delicious but we didn't expect the pasta to be as big as it was, as we thought normally Italians have a small plate as a first course and then have their entree.  Anyways it was awesome, but my stomach was bugging me a bit so Huba had to eat almost all my dinner and his as well.  Not that he's complaining.

As we headed back we bumped into some of the other group and got invited to have some wine with them as one of them had bought a bottle.  As we sat sitting on the canal chatting and drinking wine, it was awesome as it was fun to get a chance to get to know the others.  The group is a good mix of people and age ranges. Anyways, off to bed now...last day in Venice tomorrow!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Day 11 - Bonjourno Italy!

Oh what a difference a little bit of extra sleep makes...we got home fairly early from the race yesterday so grabbed a dinner at a little local place (charcuterie plate and salads...I've been missing vegetables immensely!!).  We got back in the room around 8 so we leisurely packed up and lounged around until 10, and didn't have to be up until about 6...luxurious!  today is the first day I haven't felt like  I've been hit by a Mack truck...some of the other travellers are feeling the intensity of the pace for sure, as most of the people are in their late 50s or 60s or so, with a few exceptions.

We got on the road around 8 and we started on the road to Italy...we weren't too far from the border so entered quickly, and watched the scenery roll past.  Travelling by coach is pretty nice and the coach itself is luxurious...pretty comfy seats (a little too slouchy for me but can't complain), air conditioned and even on board wifi!  Awesome.

We stopped off every few hours for bathroom and food breaks.  Now I don't want to sound like I'm complaining because I'm so not, because I've enjoyed every tiny stitch of food that has passed my lips.  However, we eat pretty healthy at home with lots of fruits, veggies and fish, so eating out every day, morning noon and night...well the old stomach is not super happy with me and is starting to rebel.  Of course, I have been indulging a few dietary no nos like dairy and eggs on the trip so mea culpa.  Anyways, on the road to Italy there are these road side has stations that have restaurants in then where you can get food, wine, coffee and a bathroom break.  now these are not anything like the gas stations you get at home...because my stomach is a little upset, I wanted to order something light, so had a fruit salad and shared a salad with Hubs.  Now if this is a hint of the food to come, my inner foodie is already doing a happy dance...the fruit salad was fresh and I could taste fresh lemon on it, and the salad was better than most I've had at home with balls of cheese, big chunks of tomato, capers, olives and anchovies.

Finally after a five hour ride, we got into Venice.  Now this part of Venice looked pretty industrial, but we had to take a water taxi to where our hotel this was the Venice I saw in movies!  We checked in and  met up a few hours later and then on to the piece de resistance, the gondola ride.  Now you couldn't wipe the smile off my face as we glided along the Grand Canal...even my awful upset tummy wasn't enough to distract me.  After the ride we want on to St Marks square, which was also incredible...filled with people and all sorts of activity, we strolled the area for a bit and then took a water taxi back to the hotel.

A few more says of Venice...I need my stomach to feel better stat, too much food to be bad!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Day 9/10 - It's Been Nice, Nice!

Day 9/10 - It's Been Nice, Nice

Day 9 - Nice to Meet You
Haha!  I know, I can hear you all groaning now...

Some days I still can't get over that I'm here....seeing the sights that I've only heard about, seen in movies or learned about at school!  Yesterday we got up at the crack of dawn to get our butts to Nice...we had to catch a Eurostar train early early as it was a long ride, about five hours from Paris to Nice.   Travelling by train has its minuses and plusses if you're going in a bus you don't have to touch your train, depending on where, you may have to drag your bags a bit and not gonna lie, my bag is kinda heavy.  I tried to pack as light as possible but still, bitch still weighs a ton at about 40 pounds.  Now a lot of that is stuff that will lighten up as the trip goes and I use things up, and luckily so far I haven't bought much.  In fact hardly anything at all! I'm not much of a knickknack kinda girl (in fact I hate that knickknacks) and we really haven't had much time to shop which is fine by me.  While i would have loved to do some shopping, we haven't has much time between seeing sights and travel time.

Anyways, train ride to Nice was uneventful but lovely.  As we got off, we were supposed to go to Monte Carlo in Monaco for some gambling, but because the Monaco Grand Prix was one, it was closed to the public. We went up to the castle where Prince Albert lives, did a little poking about some shops and then went on to have dinner on the coast in a little seaside restaurant.  Now a hint to the wise...the food on these tours is not is OK and not awful, but you're not going to get a gourmet experience as they have to appeal to a lot of different tastes and most people aren't insane foodies like we are.  Luckily there's a couple of gals on the tour who are younger and foodies like us so we've been comparing notes!  Case in point...first night we had a traditional pub meal which was fish and chips or bangers and mash.  I chose the bangers and they were awful!  But I choked it down as I was starving so even cold sausages with gravy from a package tasted OK.

After dinner we were bussed over to the next little town called Juan Les Pins...because of the Grand Prix, we got moved to the next town as Nice was overtaken with people seeing the Cannes Film festival as well as the race.  They promised us a five star hotel to make up for it and so far so good...the nicest hotel so far.

Day 10 - Once in a Lifetime
Another early morning...will be so glad to get a chance to sleep in past 6 one day!  Today we headed to Monaco to see the qualifying portion of the Monaco Grand Prix...Hubs is a huge fan particularly back in the Senna days, and the clinching factor of us booking this tour was that we would be in Nice (or so we thought) when the race was on.  We got up early so we could catch the train to Monaco from Juan Les I was feeling a bit stressed about taking the train because 1) I don't speak French, if we get lost 2) Juan Les Pins is quite a bit farther away from Monaco than Nice 3) I have no idea how the trains work....those of you who know me, know I don't like to not have a plan.  The station was quiet so we were able to get with a few other people (foreshadowing alert!!) and noticed another couple who were also going to the race. Thankful to see we were on the right train, I relaxed.  When we got to the race, people were already ready to go and the thump of very loud Europop pumped through the streets...untsa untsa untsa.

As we got to our seats, I sat down and again had that "I cannot believe sitting here" feeling...I've watched this race on TV often, but to experience it live?  As I sat and took in my surroundings, I felt so grateful to be so lucky to go on this trip.  We had awesome seats just where the cars enter the pitlane so we could really see them close up and even got to see some drivers including the legendary Niki Lauda, who's true story was what the movie Rush was based on ( and where Chris Hemsworth played his rival James Hunt (hubba hubba).  Vettel, Raikonnen, Massa, Button and a few others walked towards the paddocks and waved at us...pretty cool!  Rich European men driving very fast cars (so in others NOT Nascar...cue the banjos please), what's not to like?!  Anyways, from our seats we were about 30 feet from the cars, so close enough to see their controls panels and smell the burning rubber from their tires.  The best moment though?  The favourite to win pole position was Lewis Hamilton and win he did...after the qualifying was done, a car came right in front of us and we got some amazing shots as he stood up and looked out of the top of the van and gave everyone in our section a thumbs up!  Wow.

After the qualifying, throngs of people all rushed the train to get back to the outlying areas, mostly Nice.  Now getting to the race was fairly easy, but I wasn't really sure how to get back as there are multiple lines running through that station and the trains have no names or numbers or just magically know somehow.  I went over to ask a  train guide who was helping to direct and I guess she didn't speak English and pretty much rudely turned away from me when I asked her to confirm that all trains on Platform C went to Juan Les Pins!  I was pissed...and then I heard another person ask if we were also going to Juan Les Pins...I turned to look and it was the couple from the station this morning!  She was french but spoke English, so said for us to go with her and her husband and she would get us back home as she at least spoke the language, but she wasn't sure how to get there either.  Now this is such a coincidence, I still can't get over it...of the thousands of people at that race, we both just happened to ask the same bitchy train guide for help? Grateful for some help, we glommed onto her and had a lovely chat with them on the way home and found out their names were Delphi and TJ. I thanked them profusely as we got off the train and said we'd likely still be stuck in Monaco if we hadn't bumped into them.  I'm thinking that maybe this is a little karma coming back my way...the past few months, I've had situation after situation where I've had to jump in and help
someone...two dogs that got away, a little boy who was wandering the streets alone and walking out on the road (argh), a lady who had crippling back pain while out walking so Hubs and I ran to our car as we were on a run and took her home and a lost Japanese boy who I drove home because he had just landed in Canada the day before.  Anyways, if this isn't karma, I don't know what is.

Thankfully, an early night!  We're heading to Venice tomorrow so we're up and it at early for a five hour bus ride. Italy, here comes Cindy!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Day 8 - Au Revoir Paris!

Day 8 - Au Revoir Paris

Ahhhhh...Paris...our time together was far too short, sadly.  Enough to get a taste of the city, and just enough to leave me wanting a taste more.  It's what always happens....just as we figure out the city, we have to leave but that was the whole point of this tour was to get a taste of each place.

Today was another action packed day, but we were out on our own which was great.  We love the combo of organized excursions and stuff on our own, so the perfect balance.  The first thing we did today was to head out to St Chapelle...Hubs and I are getting used to how to get around on the Metro, so we've been bombing around the past few days.  When we got there, there was a bit of a lineup but it moved fairly quickly.  When you first enter St Chapelle, there is the Lower Sanctuary which is already beautiful but when you to to top level with all the stained glass...well it took my breath away.  All the panes tell the story of the Old Testament and where are hundreds of metres of glass.  People sat and "read" the glass as each panel told a separate story and there was a guide that people were using that gave you an idea of what it was trying to get at.  Truly beautiful.

After we left St Chapelle, we took a quick look through the Latin Quarter which was OK, and reminded of Women's Street in Hong Kong.  Lots of food places and knickknacks, we went through quickly and grabbed lunch at a little place that looked interesting.  I've been wanting to try beef tartare and try it I did...finely ground raw beef with raw egg, capers and other mystery ingredients, it was served with perfectly cooked fries and a salad.  It was kind of funny because when I first ordered, the waitress said to me in broken English "you know it's not cooked?!" And I said yep...all good with it.  Hubs had fish which was pretty good but of course couldn't hold a candle to last night.  So how was the tartare?  Pretty good, kind of pickly tasting but I couldn't finish it as it was a big serving.  Hubs hesitantly tried it but he thought it was tasty.

After lunch, we went to the Museum d'orsay....what a place.  While the Louvre was incredible for all the masterpieces and the sheer size, it was a zoo with throngs of bodies everywhere.  D'orsay was much more civilized and afterwards I didn't feel like I'd been through the ringer.  We especially enjoyed the Impesssionists...I've never been a fan of "real" paintings so loved seeing the differing styles of such artists as Cezanne, Sisley, Renoir, Van Gugh and Monet, our personal favourite.  Incredible.

We headed home to freshen up and then headed to our last venue, the Marmottan Monet Museum.  Far outside of the downtown Paris zone, it was set in a much quieter area of Paris and was by far my favourite.  Dedicated mostly to Monet, it was quiet and I was able to take the time to sit in front of his work and just appreciate his work.    What a difference from the Louvre!

Hungry after a full day of art, we came back to our hotel from the metro and came across a charcuterie store and a bakery.  We needed cash so we did that first and then sadly by the time we got back, the charcuterie store was closed.  SOB.  We ran back to the bakery and ordered some baguettes, a pain du chocolat, a salad and some quiche and headed back to our room for a picnic.  We had some wine and cheese we bought the night before so broke that out and munched away happily in our room.

Tomorrow...early morning train to Nice.  Trip is about halfway done!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Day 5/6/7 - Catching Up

Day 5/6/7 - Catching Up

Uh oh...the days are all starting to blend together!  It's been a few days since I've posted because it's been pretty busy with seeing sights and...well the wifi in Paris has a little to be desired...but I guess I'm here to sightsee and not sit at the iPad all night long. dang keyboard needs recharging so it's taking me a bit longer to type these posts in, so please forgive me for typos, grammatical, etc.  I'll do one big post summarizing the past few days so don't mind the verbal diarrhea...ha!

Day 5 - Cheerio London

For Day 5, we went out on a tour of London with the rest of the group.  Now we had done most of the stuff already but it was still good because there was a lot of things that we didn't know about and we got some cool info from Tony our tour guide.  Most folks flew in the day before and didn't have the luxury of three days in London to see the sights, so we ended up going back to Big Ben, Westminster Abby and then trotted down to Buckingham Palace.  The weather gods were not on our side...was sooooo rainy when we were out and we got totally dumped on but nothing we couldn't handle.  For the most part we've hit it lucky with ok weather, but I'm glad I packed a good variety of clothing because it's been pretty cool here...mostly around 15 degrees or so, but with a chilling wind that pops up especially at night.  Because of the rain we didn't see the changing of the guards like we were supposed to, but we did get to see a bunch of the guards practicing a bunch of formations for the Queen's annual big birthday celebration as well as a small procession of Gurkhas, which are apparently kinda like the British version of ninjas.

After we got back, Hubs and I went for another jaunt down Oxford St. and I'm ashamed to admit that I have not bought a thing clothes at all!! But the trip is still early, tee hee.  Stuff is either insanely expensive or not that much different than what I can get at home, at least the stuff I've seen.  After a short nap, we headed down to the Soho district to watch a show, Les Mis.  Now not sure if its because I'm so tired, but I found it terribly moving and actually cried through it!   It was an amazing show with incredible set changes...would totally do that again.  I was fascinated by how they seamlessly changed between scenes and the singing was so amazing.

Day 6 - Bonjour Paris

We ended up getting home around 11 and then had to get packed up to get ready for normally that's not too bad for me but ungodly when I'm jetlagged and tired from being gogogogogo.  We made the train to Paris and got in around 1pm, and did a tour of the city to get us oriented to our new surroundings.  I kept looking around and thinking wow...I cannot believe I'm here, all the places that I've only read about or seen on the news.  After the city tour, we went up to the second level of the Eiffel Tower which was amazing.  Now not gonna lie, I was a little scared....not sure why this bothered me so much as compared to the London Eye, but there were a few moments when my legs turned to jello.  After the visit to the tower, we all headed down to the Champs Élysées for dinner at a place called Cafe Clemente that was recommended by the travel director.  While the meal was good, we were still looking for the perfect Parisienne experience (and we so had it, but more about that later!).  When the menu has both English and French, I'm thinking it's the Cactus Club of French food vs a true Parisiene meal.  After dinner we walked up and down the Champs whereas mostly everyone else did the excursion which was a cruise along the Seine.  Most stores along the Champs were closed which surprised me...there were still tons of people out and about, and I thought a city like Paris would go all night.  I suppose I had visions of Hong Kong where most stores open until 11 at night.  One place we did visit was La Duree...famous for their macarons, I've never been a fan of them as they are usually so sweet but these weren't at all, but still delicious.   We ended up flying by the seat of our pants and taking the Metro back which is their subway'd it bad but nowhere as easy to use as London's Tube or Hong Kong's MTR.  Our night still wasn't over though...we headed back to the Eiffel Tower to see it all lit up, which was gorgeous, but missed seeing it with the flashing lights which happens every night at 10 and 11 as it doesn't get dark here until around 10:30.

Day 7 - I Can Die Happy

First excursion of the trip was today to the Louvre and Notre Dame.  Hubs and I were initially going to go on our own but we liked the lovely guide so figured we would join this one.  We headed to Notre Dame first...I was surprised at how much I loved this venue.  It was amazing inside...the detail, the stained glass, how ornate it was...the coolest thing was these cravings in the middle of the church that told the story of Jesus.  Not being terribly religious, I knew enough of the story I could figure out what each scene was.  A beautiful, beautiful place, I really was moved by how incredible this place was.  As we walked outside, there was a spot in front of the Notre Dame that has a star on it that if you jump on it, you'll end up back in Paris a exactly a year from the time you do it...needless to say, Hubs and I jumped on it!

Next spot was the Louvre.  Now they say that if you stood in front of each piece for a minute, it would still take a week to see the whole thing.  We were so glad to have a guide to take us around as she had so much awesome info on many pieces, and took us to see some of the key masterpieces ...the statue of Nike, the statue of Venus and of course, the Mona Lisa.  Again, I kept thinking I cannot believe I'm here, seeing this!  We were in there for about 90 minutes, and it was enough...information overload, I couldn't imagine being there much longer.  It was insanely busy to me but apparently this was a slow day as there wasn't a lineup to get into the room to see the Mona Lisa.  It still took awhile to get to see her and basically it was every man for himself...again, I sharpened my elbows on a few people but this place reminds me of Hong Kong that way....poor Hubs is so incredibly polite letting people go ahead of him all the time so he always gets stuck behind.  I've found that here, you just have to go for it and people typically seamlessly move for you.

After the Louvre, the group split up and Hubs and I went to the Musee L'Orangerie to see four of Monet's most famous pieces, the water lilies.  Each picture is the same scene done at different of the day, and all four are in one room so you are surrounded by Monet.  After taking some pictures, I just sat there absorbing the feeling of being in the room and just staring at each piece.

After art overload, we headed to the Lafayette galleries, a very posh mall.  After a quick peek (again, I can't afford a thing at these places), we took the metro home and decided to check out places around our hotel to eat.  We wandered down this street that looked interesting and happened upon a place that had no English on its!  We quickly sat down and had the most amazing meal...we haltingly ordered with our high school french... Hubs had this pan fried turbot which was incredible, and I had the mackerel, also pan fried but with this amazing olive oil and basil and finished with butter.  The meal also came with this stewed tomato which was so fresh and flavourful.  Totally satiated, we had to order dessert and had cheese with some black cherry compote.  As we finished our meal, a tourist sat down next to us and we ended up having a lovely convo with her...German but living in San Fran, we talked about tennis (she was there to see the French Open) and that we had to go to Australia next as she loved it there.  A lovely meal, this was one that is going to stick with me for a long, long time...truly, I can die happy.

Tomorrow is a total free day so we've got St Chapelle, the Marmottan Monet Museum and the Musee d'orsay and then the next day we move on to Nice.  the adventure continues!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Day 4 - Easy Peasy

After an action packed few days, not gonne lie...I'm feeling super duper tired and welcomed a bit slower of a day today.  We moved hotels today and it's like a culture clash...the Sumner is a small, homey B&B where the folks say hello every morning and treat you like gold, whereas the Cumberland is a bit of a fancy pants chi-chi place where the staff are wearing all matching suits that are perfectly tailored and the hotel lobby is a spacious cavern with water jugs with water infused with lime and mint.  I gotta admit, I kinda like the little B&B a bit more as it just felt warmer overall but cavernous works.  Hah!

So today we headed to the London for those of you who know me well, you're likely thinking she went up?  In that?!  I am the world's biggest scaredy cat when it comes to getting up on a stool three feet off the ground gives me vertigo (doing the Mud Mulisha in August should be super fun!).  Now one piece of advice for people who plan on doing to London...figure out what you're going to see beforehand and pre-buy tickets.  We bought Fast Track tickets for the Eye and we were up and on that thing in about 10 minutes...who wants to wait when there's so much to do?  The ride itself was pretty amazing...up high in the air, you got a panoramic view of London and overlooked Ben Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.  It was brief...about half an hour later the ride was over, so we headed back to Oxford Street and decided to check out Selfridges.

Aaaah, yes...Selfridges. Talk about expensive...clearly we were just window shopping as there was no way I could afford anything there.  We went up to the women's clothing and jaws dropped at the massive amount of gorgeous shoes, but even more massive prices.  I picked up a pair of Miu Miu sneakers that to me looked like Converse high tops and they were....get this...560 pounds.  Chanel, Louboutins and Jimmy Choos were all around live and shop in London, you gots to have some dough, that's for sure!

The other thing I noticed about London is that everyone wears skinny pants.  No boot cut pants to be found anywhere, and it was hilarious because there were these two men whose jeans were tighter than any woman's I've ever seen.  Like they were painted on.  So tight that Hubs even remarked on it.  Not sure if these guys wants children, you gotta let the boys have some room to breathe don't you?!  Yikes.

We headed back to the hotel at around 5:30 to meet up with our Travel Director and the rest of the tour group for dinner at a local pub.  As we got on the bus, we were trucked to a place called the Tattersal Tavern for a traditional pub meal of bangers and mash or fish and chips.  As we got our drinks, we joined two women from Australia and a couple from Edmonton ended up joining us as well!  We chatted for a few hours getting to know each other, and I'm looking forward to meeting the other folks as well.  We got the lay of the land and some of the days we have to be up pretty early so we need to be pretty darn organized.  The group is fairly small at around 22 people, which is awesome...not too big and not too small, we'll get to know everyone fairly well by the end I'm guessing.

So...not a super eventful day, but needed as I'm pooped.  Heading off to bed now, we're doing a tour of London with a stop at Buckingham Palace tomorrow and then Les Mis at night, just Hubs and I.  Night, peeps!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Day 3 - Whirlwind Day

Evening...or should I say morning to those folks back at home?  Whew, what a day!  We're starting to get more used to getting around here on the Tube and the bus...Hubs had planned out how we were going to get around everywhere but we threw our plans to the wind today and mixed things up and had a long and very productive day out and about...or should I say oooout and aboooot?  Bah ha, Canada jokes.

On the schedule for today was to head down to check out Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square and the Churchill War Rooms.  When we got down there, you could tell where most of the tourists were...jam packed with people, it was absolutely heaving.  Shoulder to shoulder with everyone, we took the requisite pics of ourselves with Big Ben and traipsed over to Westminster Abbey to check it out.  We couldn't for some reason buy these tickets online first, so we looked at the massive lineup and thought screw it.  We don't need to go that badly but because we were fairly early, we decided to go to Churchill War Rooms and then to the Imperial War Museum, which was actually what we had planned for tomorrow.

Churchill War Rooms was totally was an underground bunker very close to 10 Downing St, and it showed all the rooms and tunnels where Sir Winston would hang out while he and his cabinet made all the decisions surrounding the war effort.  Totally amazing to be there.  At the very end of the very well done self guided tour, there was a little book store and I was captured by a very small book in Churchill's own words about his love of painting.  He took up painting at the age of 40, and was actually quite good...this really caught my interest as he talks about the need for one to have hobbies that use a different side of their brain, which is exactly why I wanted to try a bunch of art projects this year.  Always using my logical left side, I've been trying to wake up the dormant right.  Me and Winston, we're down like that.

After the War Rooms, we headed to the Imperial War Museum which was absolutely massive.  Five full floors of a huge building filled with all sorts of war memorabilia, Hubs and I loved it.  However, we were exhausted by the end of full floor was dedicated to the Holocaust...definitely not the most uplifting of subjects and I felt beaten down by the end of it, the both of us left feeling pretty tired.  I really felt myself moved by the stories and the pure awfulness of it all...heavy stuff.

Now sometimes things happen for a reason and today the planets aligned!  Hubs was looking at some travel stuff and saw that the Madame Tussaud's was opening up a new Star Wars exhibit today of all todays!  We hadn't initially planned on going there at all but thought why not?  Because today was such a full day already, we figured we would go down and pick up tickets for tomorrow as it's not that far away from where we're staying.  As we walked in, it was dead and at this point it was around 6pm...we decided to heck with it, rather than come back we were already there and we'd had a late lunch (finally had my fish and chips!) so we decided to just go in.  Madame Tussaud's is all grouped by type so movie stars, athletes, singers, etc. were all grouped together.  Now I'm not gonna lie...some of them are bang on (Rhianna was freaky in how much she looked like the real thing) and some of them...meh, not so much (Obama looked nothing like Obama) but we managed to get some pics of me fondling groping sitting with George Clooney and a melodramatic pic of myself with Jennifer Lawrence where I'm pretending I'm a downtrodden ally from District 12.  After seeing all the mannequins or whatever they're called, there is this kitschy "Spirit of London" ride where they go through the history of London with you, and then you head into the Marvel section.  Not knowing what to expect, we were led into a theatre where there is a totally cool 4D show where your seats vibrate, it feels like you're being punched in the back and they spray you with water!  Everyone was getting quite the kick out of this and you could hear all the kids squealing with delight and a huge cheer burst out at the end of it.  As we were led out, what did we hear...

*deep heavy breathing*

Knowing Hubs is a massive Star Wars fan, he could barely contain himself from sprinting to the exhibit like an eager little boy!  Now I'm not the biggest Star Wars fan, but I gotta say, it was pretty darn cool.   I even managed to trot out my acting skills for one pic that I'll save for my photo post to come...the attendants at that display got a huge kick out of it, so I'll definitely post it for your viewing pleasure.  So this turned out to be the perfect palate cleanser after a heavy day of war stuff, and I have to say I enjoyed myself way more than I thought I would have.

Now...the food?  How was the Lebanese you ask?  Not gonna was a meat filled delight.  It was absolutely packed at this placed called Maroush, but the line went quickly and we were in in about 15 minutes, and were tucked away in a corner table at the back of the restaurant which was perfect.  We ordered hummus and grilled halloumi for appies...the hummus was quite different in that it wasn't terribly garlicky, in fact I don't know if there was any garlic in it at all!  But it was still really yummy and we devoured it up with some lovely thin flatbread.  The halloumi came up next, which for those of you who haven't had it before, it's a salty cow cheese that is kind of like mozzarella but quite salty.  Totally delish.  For mains I ordered the lamb shwarma platter and Hubs ordered a lamb metzi plate.  Now most platters I have back at home, they give you a bit of meat with some veggies and bread.  Not this place...the whole thing was meat, meat and more meat, and while I was hungry, I couldn't finish it all.  We packed it up and as we walked out of the restaurant, there was a lady pandhandling so Hubs gave her our leftovers as there was quite a bit of lamb and halloumi left...I hate wasting food, so glad that someone could enjoy the food if we couldn't.

So today was a whirlwind day!  As Rick Steves advises, planning your trip ahead gives you the freedom to play things by ear, which is what we did and we had the best day.  Tomorrow is the end of our free time in London...we move from where we're currently staying (the Sumner) to the hotel for the tour which is just down the street (the Cumberland) and tomorrow night we meet up with the rest of the tour folks for a welcome reception and a night of food and drink.  During the day it's more leisurely with a trip to the London Eye and likely just some meandering about town but sometimes those are the best kind of days....looking forward to what tomorrow brings!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Day 2 - So Sleepy

Hey folks!

Day 2 in the UK.  Poor Hubs...he's having a bit harder of a time adjusting to the time change...the last time when we went to Hong Kong, we had no trouble adapting.  However, that could have been because of that horrific flight that we were on where we didn't sleep a wink.  So on that particular trip, we flew out at 2am in the morning and landed in Hong Kong 7am their time.  We hit the ground running and didn't go to bed until 11pm that night, so if you do the math we were up for 48 hours straight.    Almost delirious and so tired I felt sick, we slept like logs that night and bing!  The next morning we were right on Hong Kong time.  This time, not so much...anyways, it's not too bad and tonight we're already feeling much more in sync with the time change.

So on today's itinerary...Tower of London and the British Museum.  Hubs and I toodled off this morning bright and early and...well, we got a little lost.  Google directions for walking...not so much, people.  We got a little turned around and were going in the wrong direction and Hubs...just like a man...wanted to keep walking and I finally just said let's just go ask someone, for crying out loud!  As I walked across the street to a coffee to once again don the forlorn lost Asian face, there was a street sign that was pointing to the Tower of London, which was a short 5 minutes away!  Excellent.  As we walked in, it was just starting to get pretty busy so we gunned it for the Crown today's sights were my choice, so Hubs wasn't really into the Crown Jewels but even he was a-gog at them.  Seriously amazing and so beautiful, it took my breath away to look at them, particularly some of the crowns.  As we walked out, we were thankful we saw them first as the line up as we walked out was wrapped all along the courtyard and honestly, if I'd seen that I would have thought screw the Crown Jewels, ain't no one got time for that.  

After doing a couple of the other towers, it was getting a bit late so we headed off to the British Museum.  This place was absolutely I said, I'll do a catch up photo post once I'm back home but some of the exhibits were awe inspiring, in particular the Egyptian and Roman exhibits...we just couldn't get over how intricate and beautiful some of the works were, and how old...I would just stand there and stare at some of the artifacts in wonder and true awe.  The one highlight of the exhibit for me was the Rosetta Stone...probably the biggest attraction of the whole museum, as soon as you walked into the Egyptian exhibit it was surrounded by people pushing to get to the front to take a shot. Not wanting to be left out, I sharpened my elbows on a few people as I pushed my way to the front and took some pics.  Hee hee.  Little asian, also little pushy. adventures for today?  After the Tower of London, Hubs and I were starving so we were hunting for some off the wall little place to have coffee when we came across this odd little coffee place called the Wild and Wood Coffee Shop.  It was the weirdest shape, almost triangular inside but the food was not bad (just sandwiches and pastries) but it was well known for it's coffee.  Ordering our usual americanos, they were pretty darn good.  For dinner, we wanted to head to pub to have a pint of a little somethin' somethin' and some dinner, so went to this place called the Grazing Goat.  A definite hot spot in the Marylebone area, it was filled with people grabbing a beer after work as it was filled with men in suits (swoon).  Food wasn't exactly traditional pub fare but still yummy...Hubs ordered a smoked fish on celeriac puree, while I ordered the braised lamb which was sooooo good.  Hardly gamy at all and extremely tender, it was definitely some of the best lamb I've ever had.   The one thing that really amazes me though is the cost of food in London.  I knew it was expensive but wow...prices are what you would pay in Vancouver for a nice dinner, but then when we double it for the exchange...ouch!!  Oh well, YOLO, right?

After dinner, Hubs and I decided to wander around our area and head down Oxford Street.  A mecca of shopping and consumerism, it was packed for a Friday reminded me of a mix between Vancouver's Robson and Hong Kong...big wide sidewalks packed with people shopping their faces off.  I didn't buy anything as the stores were mostly the same as what we could get here (Forever 21, H&M, Gap) or not my style, but it was pretty cool to check it out.  We were a bit peckish after all that walking (and holy, my feet are absolutely killing me) so we walked one street over from our hotel and bam...we were right in the middle of one of the biggest Middle Eastern communities, with wall to wall restaurants with people sitting outside smoking hookahs.  Hubs and I just looked at each with big grins on our diehard foodies, coming across something like this is what we love...discovering places where the locals eat. Seriously, if you go into a Chinese restaurant and no one there is Chinese, get out the eff out of dodge...sweet and sour chicken balls a la Manchu Wok is what you're going to get, not the good stuff.

So tomorrow, we've got Westminster Abbey, a peek at the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square and the Churchill War Rooms.  We're particularly excited about the last venue as both Hubs and I are huge war buffs.  And then for dinner...we've already picked out a Lebanese place to go.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Day 1 - Hello London!

Cor' blimey...she's alive!

OK...maybe that was a little stereotypical and I should be ashamed, but whatevs....I'm in London!   WTF, you guys are asking?  One minute you're talking about lifting weights and running (even though admittedly I haven't posted much on either topic lately), the next thing you post you're in London. Hubs and I are on vacation and we're doing a tour through Europe...this trip has been months and months in the planning, and last night we flew out of Vancouver and we landed in London this afternoon.  This is a pretty whirlwind trip where we're hitting a fair number of cities, so I decided that I would blog this trip...when I went back and re-read some of my Hong Kong posts (see here, here, here and here), I was like oh wow, I'd forgotten all about that!  So here I am, blogging from our hotel room.  I'm going to try and do this as much as I can (pending wifi availability) unless there are some nights where the pints may have been a bit too glorious to resist.  Teehee.  Oh...and you might notice the lack of photos.  I cannot for the life of me figure how to get pics off my iPad so I can post them to Blogger (I can feel my BFF cringing at my Luddite-like tendencies as she reads this) so for now, no pics.  Sorry dudes.

So where is this trip taking us?  London, Paris, Nice (including a side trip to Monte Carlo to watch some F1 qualifying), Florence, Venice and Rome.  We're doing an organized tour through Trafalgar because neither of us have been to Europe and we wanted to get a bit of a taste of what it's like.  We heard some good things about Trafalgar, so here we are.  

So...enough of that.  What did we do our first day here?  Well, before I start on today I would remiss in not discussing our flight here.  The last time Hubs and I did a long haul flight to Hong Kong, we seriously almost died.  We were in economy on Cathay and the seats were atrocious.  Atrocious.  We swore we would never do that again, so through some points magic we managed to accumulate enough tickets to fly business class on British Airways.  As part of this, we had access to the British Airways Club Lounge which was amazing.  There were tons of snacks, coffee and free liquor.  And I'm not talking about Crown Royal type stuff (not that I mind a good old Crown and ginger every so often) but 15 year old Glenlivet that you could pour as much as you liked.  Drool.  The piece de resistance though was the actual seats themselves...Hubs and I picked  two side by side pods so we could sit next to each other so Hubs could hold my champagne glass so I could gleefully take selfies of myself as I revelled in my luck and hummed strains of Fergie's Glamourous under my breath.  Kidding!  But the best thing was actually being able to lie down on a plane.  It was so awful on our Hong Kong trip...13 hours in seats that I'm sure is what it felt like to be put on the rack back in the olden days.  So amazing, and so worth's definitely spoiled us for anything else going forward.

Once we got off the plane and through Central London to our hotel (um, holy traffic!), Hubs and I got freshened up and decided to walk to Harrod's.  It was pouring rain out, but we were game to get some fresh air and what's a little rain to us Victorians, amirite?!  We'd passed it on the way in, so we thought sure, we know the way!  Um, nope...we got lost and thankfully we found our way.  Now for those of you who have been to Harrod' it not the most freaking confusing store to be in?  We walked around and around in circles trying to find the tea room and finally I had to put on my best "help this tiny little Asian" face on and asked for help.  What is it with the no store directory?  And the weird rooms that link and go through other rooms?!   Anyways, we finally found the Tea Room and had the most amazing dinner.  We were too late for afternoon tea, so we had dinner there and ordered a nice pot of tea to share.  Seriously...the food was delish.  Hubs had a fresh pea soup with ham and devonshire cream along with a smoked haddock cake, and I had the traditional fish pie which was to die for.  I've never had a pea soup that was so fresh tasting, and the fish pie was full of smoky bits of fish, a very light sauce and the fluffiest mashed potatoes I've ever had.  First meal in London:  success.

Day one, done.  Tomorrow is Tower of London and the British Museum...and possibly a pint of something along the way home.