I See London, I See France

Hello and bonjour!  As many of you who follow me on social media know, I recently took my first trip to Europe, and I promised to share my observations from overseas.  It actually started in an Italian restaurant on a baseball trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, in October.  After some wine, my girlfriend (now fiancé) asked me if I like the 80s band, The Cure, and if we should go see them in concert.  I said, “yeah,” and she preceded to go on her phone and get us tickets.  After she bought the tickets, she told me that the show was on December 12 in LONDON! 

When booking flights, she decided that we should go across the channel to Paris for a few days after the concert.  Here are highlights from the trip, with some observations, pictures, and recommendations!

  • We arrived in London on Friday afternoon after a redeye flight from LAX.  We stayed at the “Grand Royale London Hyde Park,” which was built by King Edward VII for his mistress, actress Lillie Langtry.  My favorite part about the hotel was the full English breakfast each morning, which ranged from normal stuff like eggs, bacon, and sausage, to things like sauteed mushrooms, marmalade, baked beans, and of course, many kinds of English teas. 
  • We went on a Paddington Bear-themed double-decker bus tour of the city, which included English high tea with sandwiches, scones, cookies, cheeses, and marmalade. 
  • After getting mulled wine in Trafalgar Square, we wandered the wrong direction back to the hotel, leading to a six-mile walking tour through the streets of London.
  • Saturday night was the World Cup soccer match between England and France.  While I am not a soccer fan, I thought it would be a fun atmosphere to sit in a pub and watch with the English fans.  Unfortunately, the pubs were so crowded that many of them would not let anybody else in, and the ones that did were so packed that we could not even move.
  • Since we were there on a Sunday, we decided it would be cool to attend the church service at Westminster Abbey.  The service had a solemn feel to it, with an organ and a boys choir that sounded eerie and echoey because of the giant building and very high ceiling, combined with being otherwise quiet.  The most interesting part was the markers for all of the people buried in Westminster Abbey, from kings and queens, to scientists like Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, to writers like Rudyard Kipling and Charles Dickens, to politicians like Neville Chamberlain, who is off to a side, and Winston Churchill, who is actually buried elsewhere, but has a large memorial marker right in the middle near the entrance.  I would like to go back when services are not going to read the markers.
  • The Tower of London was recommended by a friend and I also highly recommend it.  I know a ton about U.S. history, but my European history is a little lacking, so I learned a lot.  The tower is a castle that was built in 1078 and has been vital to the defense of the city for centuries because of its location along the Thames River.  It has been used as a royal residence, an armory, a mint, and a prison, among other things.  It now houses the Crown Jewels of England, which you can look at.  There are old weapons and armor on display in the White Tower, which is the oldest section of the castle.  There are also old torture devices, like the rack, that look horribly painful.   You can also see ravens that are kept at the tower because as legend has it, if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the Crown will fall and Britain will be lost.
  • It snowed!  We were inside a pub when it started, so we went outside and played in the falling snow, making snowballs and taking plenty of pictures.  It was beautiful!  For a guy from near the beach in California, it was definitely quite a memorable experience.

  • One of the other recommendations given to me was the Churchill War Rooms, and it may be my favorite thing we saw on the trip.  During World War II, Winston Churchill had a complex of rooms and tunnels built and reinforced under a building in London.  Since the Germans were dropping bombs on the city, the allied war effort was orchestrated from the bunker, which included meeting rooms, sleeping quarters, a room for the typists and secretaries, and the map room, which has been preserved in the condition it was in 1945 when they left it, with the original maps up on the walls.  It now also includes the Winston Churchill Museum, where you can get a very good look at one of the greatest men in history.
  • The concert was at Wembley Arena.  The Cure frontman, Robert Smith, was quite an interesting looking guy in the ‘80s, and he still dresses in the same style, making him look a little like if my dad dressed in Goth.  The set list was strange, because although The Cure has enough hits to spread them around, they saved almost all of them until the very end.  In fact, they left, came back for an encore, still did not play hits, left again, and came back for a second encore where they played a bunch of hits in a row.  They sounded good, and when they finally did play Just Like Heaven and Boys Don’t Cry, the crowd ate it up and sang along.
  • Abbey Road!  As a huge Beatles fan, I had to go see Abbey Road and get a picture in the famous crosswalk from the cover of The Beatles final album.  As Paul McCartney found out, you have to be careful, because you have to dodge traffic to snap your picture!

After London, we got on the Eurostar train under the channel to Paris.  My guess was that I would like London better, mostly because they speak English there.  I had also heard from quite a few people that Paris is overrated and dangerous.  Besides that, I had many assumptions about France being full of rude, snooty people, and of course that the French are wimps and ultra-woke leftists.   Here are the highlights from the City of Light.

  • Pay to pee?  When I got off the train, I went to the restroom.  There were turnstiles at the entrance and it cost a Euro to go in!  How does the whole city not smell like urine?
  • Here is where my assumptions started to fall apart.  We took an Uber to our hotel.  The driver seemed like a standoffish grump at first, but then he started using a translation app on his phone.  He was a really nice guy, who pointed out sights and gave us some recommendations for places to go.  In fact, none of the people we met were rude to us.
  • Statues!  The next assumption that turned out to be incorrect was that the French would be ultra-woke whiners.  Sadly, Americans are in many ways far worse.  One example is that Paris is blanketed in monuments commemorating their history and the men who were a part of it.  Nearly every block has a memorial to Napoleon, de Gaulle, or some other French historical figure.  In the United States, we tear down our statues.  Point for France!
  • Street cafes!  When I thought about going to Paris, I wanted to sit in a street café, eat, and drink wine.  We walked from our hotel to “Le Campanella,” and had a fantastic meal of French stew and a lot of wine.  Magnifique!
  • Museums.  I am not a big art museum guy, but everybody who goes to France wants to see the Louvre.  The most famous art museum in the world holds many renowned paintings and sculptures, including the most well-known painting of them all, the Mona Lisa.  While I enjoyed the Louvre, I surprisingly was more impressed with another art museum in Paris, The Musee d’Orsay.  This museum holds paintings by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, and many more.  It was interesting to see how different each artist’s style was. 
  • My last assumption that was shattered was that the French are wimpier than Americans.  When we went to the Champs-Elysees on the night of the World Cup soccer match between France and Morocco, there were literally thousands of armed police officers, police cars, and armored vehicles lining the street and blocking shop windows.  Apparently, Moroccan fans had gotten out of control the last time they played, so the French put out such a police presence that nobody would dare cause any trouble.  In America, we let lawless BLM thugs run amok in our cities for much of 2020, breaking windows, burning buildings, and looting.  France for the win!
  • The Eiffel Tower is obviously a must-see.  We had tickets to the top of the tower, but because of weather, the highest platform was closed.  We were able to go up to the second observation deck, which is still quite impressive.  My girlfriend was a little disappointed because she had hopes of a proposal.  That seemed too obvious, though.  My proposal came two weeks later and was a complete surprise!
  • We took a riverboat tour on the Seine, which was beautiful, although very cold!
  • Moulin Rouge!  We got tickets to the famous cabaret theatre where the can-can was born.  The show was very entertaining, with strong-man acts, acrobats on roller skates, gymnasts, and a girl who swam with very large pythons.

  • On our last night, we decided to get a closer look at the Arc de Triomphe.  We did not realize that it closes, and we also did not realize that there is an underground tunnel that takes you across the 6-lane, busy traffic circle to get there.  We, of course, ran across the road like crazy people.  Once we were there, we looked around and read the inscriptions, until a French police officer came out from said underground tunnel and asked what we were doing there after closing.  We told him that we didn’t know it closed, and asked if we could use the tunnel to get back across.  He said the tunnel is closed, too, and when my girlfriend asked how to get back, he smiled and said, “run.”