I’ve been back from London/Paris for a little over two weeks now, so I need to get this down while it’s still somewhat fresh in my head. My memory is shit, so this recap is more for Future Josh than anything.
Lindsey and I have talked about going to England for a couple of years now. We have a great uncle who lives there that we wanted to visit, I really wanted to see London, and England, because of the lack of a language barrier, seemed like a good training run, if you will, for eventually traveling to the rest of Europe. So last year we decided that this year would be the time to finally pull the trigger and just go.
Because I know fuck-all about England, and because this year has been stupid busy — and let’s be honest, I’m also kind of lazy — we booked the trip through a travel agency. Having someone else coordinate the logistics removed a lot of the stress and anxiety — and knowing myself, probably anger and shouting — out of planning. Through a quirk of the travel package we went with, we ended up tacking a couple of days in Paris onto the end of the trip. I’m reasonably certain that whatever the fee that Rose claimed was completely worth it.
London was brilliant. I loved being there, exploring the nooks and crannies of the city, feeling the pulse of thing, and the omnipresent blend of modern and ancient architecture. Think we spent six days there in total, but I could easily have stayed there another couple of weeks. The other bit of England we saw was a town an hour northeast of London, where our uncle Charlie lives. It was nice to also experience something smaller and slower than London, and of course see family.
Paris was… okay. I feel like I’ve been harder on Paris than it deserves, since it was at the end of the trip and I was getting tired. Also because our hotel was a half-mile hike, uphill, from the nearest Metro stop, whereas in London it was a pleasant two minute walk from the hotel to Gloucester Station. The language barrier probably didn’t help, since I speak three languages: English, bad English, and high school Spanish. To Paris’s credit, though, the people we encountered were all pleasant, the food was surprisingly tasty, and the city itself, while littered with trash and covered in a charming veneer of grime, was gorgeous.
In no particular order, here are some of the highlights, as I remember them, and one lowlight (i.e., fuck you Charles de Gaulle airport). There are also pictures at the bottom of this post, so if you just want to see those and don’t give a fig about my recollections, feel free to scroll and skip.
Touring the Sherlock Holmes museum at 221B Baker Street. Very much a tourist trap, but still entertaining. Lots of Holmesian artifacts and apocrypha, set up in such a way so as to encourage photo opportunities. If nothing else, you get to see how a well-to-do Londoner may have lived in Queen Victoria’s time.
Indian food. It is much more prevalent in England than it is in the U.S. (or at least than in my region), owing to England’s sizeable Indian population. Being able to get tikka-masala at a corner pub was so nice.
The heat. I packed expecting to maybe wear shorts and a t-shirt during the day, and jeans and long sleeves at night. The first two days lived up to that notion, and then a summer heatwave surged in. Heat doesn’t typically bother me, but I am also used to being able to escape indoors to sweet, sweet air conditioning. Many of the buildings and homes there don’t have central air, so that wasn’t really possible.
Seeing Charlie and our aunt Pat, and meeting their kids and their families. I say “meeting” like it was for the first time, but I had met Kirsten and Fletcher before, however, it’s when I was, oh, one or two, which doesn’t really counts. They were all lovely, and they plied us with fancy Indian food, a barbecue featuring eight different kinds of meat, and, of course, beer. Can’t wait to see them all again.
First and only full day in Paris. We had the one day to really explore Paris, but between the Metro and walking 25,000 steps, we saw an awful lot of it. Had noodles at a bizarre little place where you build your order on a tablet. Saw the Eiffel Tower, from a distance. It was cool, but I didn’t feel the need to ascend it since I’ve been to the top of the one at King’s Island before. Hiked a couple of kilometers to get beignets. Perused the bookshelves inside Shakespeare and Company. Had dinner at an American sports bar-themed place. Got lost, a lot.
Taking the Eurostar from King’s Cross Station to Paris by way of the Chunnel. We splurged a few extra pounds for the slightly better seats, which was one of our best decisions the entire trip. We got roomier seats that faced each other in a half-filled car, a cold lunch, and the satisfaction of being high-falutin’, even if only for a couple of hours. If we had the EuroStar in the States I may never fly again.
Wandering the expanse of retail and bohemia that is the Camden markets. Camden is like a much, much nicer flea market, but with shops and stalls from where you actually want to buy things. We picked up most of the souvenirs here. I could have easily dropped a lot of money on various art and other things. Thankfully, I knew I didn’t have a lot of suitcase room. There was also Cereal Killer, which is sadly not a HACKERS-themed shop, but is instead a café that sells breakfast cereal. I only peeked in, because we’d already eaten, and also because milk and cereal in the steamy heat just didn’t sound appealing.
Charles de Gaulle, to which I would like to give a shout-out for being the most stressful and disorganized airport in the history of the world. We arrived a little over three hours early by way of a pulse-pounding taxi ride. It took two hours of fighting our way through the thick crowds, scuttling from this confused attendant to that one, propelled by misinformation, just to acquire boarding passes and check our luggage. One minor bomb threat later, which no one seemed terrible concerned about, and we eventually made it to our gate with a few minutes to spare. Never again.
The final night in London, seeing WICKED at the Apollo Victoria in the West End. The Apollo Victoria is absolutely gorgeous, and, on a balmy summer night with no air conditioning, absolutely sweltering. The production was fantastic (my first time seeing it), which made sweating next to another 2300 people tolerable. Props to the bar at our hotel for having glass bottles of ice water available, as regular bottles of cold water are largely unavailable in England. I also had “Defying Gravity” in my head for the next several days, so thanks for that, WICKED.
Well, that’s my longwinded way of saying I had a ton of fun on what will hopefully be the first of many jaunts overseas. England, you were lovely.
And now for the pictures (with bonus! captions).
The Coca-Cola London Eye (yay corporate sponsors). To give an idea of the scale, each of the cars holds about 20 people.
Lindsey, at the Sherlock Holmes museum, seated on her rightful throne.
King’s Cross Station. No wizards that I could spy. But that’s what they’d want you to think, isn’t it?
This fellow’s job is to stand in front of the Sherlock Holmes museum, let patrons in, and pose for photos. Poor bastard.
Holmes’s head is so tiny.
This London McDonald’s was the perfectly embodiment the phrase “organized chaos.” I was impressed.
This church was built in the 1200’s. That’s hard for me wrap my head around, to be honest.
A nice blurry photo of Buckingham Palace, at night.
Read it in the “Welcome to Jurassic Park” voice.
I like to imagine Cereal Killer is mostly retired from the hacking scene, and opened a shop in Camden. Man, I’d watch that movie.
Two pseudo-punks at the Punk exhibit at the British Library.
iv Albertine, of the Slits, was not impressed at the lack of female punks bands represented in the Punk exhibit, and fixed this display. Can’t get more punk than that.
I have to be careful or I’ll end up with fucking “Defying Gravity” in my head again.
Now I want to go to King’s Island again.