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Monthly Archives: June 2014

I took 10 days in Paris so I could really get to know the city. However, unless you speak really, really good French, that is not going to happen. You can visit the tourist sites and get the layout of the city. But to truly experience French culture you need to speak the language. It seems obvious, and it’s not like I expected to learn French culture and language in 10 days. But I thought I could learn by observation. Not so much.

The French aren’t rude, in fact they are very friendly. But when you can’t speak their language they seem disappointed they can’t really interact with you. It’s like as an American if you tried to talk to someone who only spoke Spanish. If you spoke a little you would try to help them order their food or figure out where to go. But you wouldn’t necessarily strike up a conversation. Since I took Spanish in high school and college, maybe I should make my next trip to Spain and see if I fare better 🙂

I still love it here. It’s like no where I have ever been. Of course everywhere I have been is unique in its own way. Every city/town has a pulse and therefore specific rhythm. I find myself wanting to spend time learning French and coming back.

My pace has slowed in Paris. I’m sleeping in and lingering over coffee and breakfast. If I’m lucky I get out of the house around noon and see some sight, visit a museum or go shopping. Sunday I didn’t leave at all and read Forrest Gump! Today my plans got foiled by weather. It’s been raining in Paris and I wanted to cruise the St. Martin Canal. With the weather I decided to visit the Catacombes instead. When I got there it was pouring down rain. The line was  outside so I ducked into a cafe to wait it out. About 3 pm it seemed to let up so I got in line. A nice man working for the Catacombes let me know I was welcome to wait but I probably wouldn’t get in as they take the last tour at 4 pm and the wait was longer than an hour. Then the rain started to pick up. C’est la vie. I’ll try again tomorrow, earlier this time!

On my way back from Westminister Abbey the Tube line I needed to take was down, and I was running a little late. Luckily another one was close by and I was able to make it to St. Pancras for my ride to Paris.

I consider myself a decent navigator so I plotted out how to get from the train station to my apartment once in Paris. It was a nightmare! The streets on Google maps did not match the streets around the train station. I fired up my cellular data to try and get around but that just made it worse. Finally I called my host to give me directions. I learned a lesson, always ask a local for directions to their house even if you are a miss smarty pants that can figure it out for yourself! The street is so small it isn’t labeled on the public street maps. Once safely inside I made a cup of coffee and ventured out to get my bearings. The first order was to get to a bank. I then needed to pick up some groceries and find the closest Metro. Even though I had groceries I was too tired to cook so I ate out at a local cafe. I wanted to sit outside but didn’t know how to ask in French, so I asked the waiter if spoke English. He insisted on giving me the English menu and when he took my order he said he would try to understand me. I have a feeling he was totally messing with me 🙂

After dinner I headed back ‘home’ as I needed to get up at 5:30 ( which is 4:30 UK time) and catch a train to see Le Mont St. Michel in Normandy. This church was built on a large rock starting back around 400 AD. Gradually it became an abbey that housed monks and a village grew up around it. Le Mont used to become an island at high tide, though a dam built has left large sediment deposits building up the land around it. They are working on building a new bridge /road and a new dam to restore its natural island nature. The streets are very narrow and full of shops and restaurants. A unique thing to see. The abbey itself is awesome and I was able to witness a mass, which they hold every day. The views are breathtaking!


Le Mont St. Michel

On my third day in Paris I slept in, caught up on posts, will do some laundry and go to the Louvre later as it’s open until almost 10 tonight.

So after a restful train ride back into London, I drop my bag and hit the streets. The subway line I wanted to take to Buckingham Palace is down so I took another route and got off at Piccadilly Circus. This place was indeed a circus! Crazy amounts of people. I took some pictures and then headed for Trafalgar Square. I saw St. James park and fell in love with this place, it was beautiful and people were lounging on chairs and oversized bean bags. The sun was coming out and it was a great night to be in the park. I made it to Buckingham Palace then back through the park to see Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey. The Abbey was closed but I went in 2 days later and had a celebrity sighting. The night was young so I took a riverboat tour of the Thames and saw London from a different perspective.



London from the Thames River

The next day I headed to Windsor castle at the advice of my friend Scott. It is the largest castle in the UK and where the Queen lives most weekends. A tour of the State Apartments shows you all of the rooms they use in public ceremonies, knightings and where the Queen receives important guests. Windsor is its own town with lots of shops and restaurants. I wonder what the Queen thinks of all these people buzzing around her house all the time?



Tourists outside Windsor Castle

The next morning I had a few hours before my train to Paris so I went to see the inside of Westminister Abbey. This is where every king and queen has been crowned since forever. They all sat on the same chair, used only in coronations. The last time it was used was 61 years ago to the day that I was there on June 2. There are also a lot of kings, queens, scientists and artists buried here. My celebrity sighting was Seth Green. He was getting a tour with his wife. I can’t take pictures in the Abbey or I probably would have snapped one 🙂

Cardiff seems to be a party town. I was there for three nights on the main street and every night the bars were hopping and people were out having a good time. My first night there I went to see Cardiff Castle. This castle is built on the remains of Roman walls and has its living quarters well preserved. The last occupant had some serious style and lavishly renovated the place. There are intricate paintings and carvings richly painted all over the castle. He loved astrology and symbology so there is a ton of that in the decor. He also made sure it was kept in good condition along with other historical places in the area.


Inside of Cardiff Castle

The next day I went to Caerphilly Castle, the second largest in the UK. This place was cool, lots of places to explore. It reminded me of Trim Castle in Ireland. It has quite a bit of historical significance during the days of Edward I. One of the towers is blow away from the rest of the castle and is at a wicked angle making it look pretty cool. When I got back into town it was early afternoon so I started exploring and found Bute Park named for the Marquess of Bute responsible for decorating Cardiff Castle and preserving Caerphilly. This is my favorite place in Cardiff; it’s the Central Park of Wales.



Caerphilly Castle

My last day in Cardiff I traveled to Neath and Briton Ferry where my great grandmother was born. In Briton Ferry I was dissapointed to see that her street is gone. I walked around for an hour but its purely residential here. It was an old steel mill town and my great great grandfather worked in the mills. The mills are gone now and most residents now travel to work outside the city.

Neath is only 10 minutes away by bus and it has a market, shopping, an old castle ruin and a great little park. It was a very pretty town and I got to learn what a ‘cwtch’ (pronounced cotch) is, a Welsh cuddle! The nearby town of Swansea is a vacation destination for its beautiful beaches. Unfortunately the weather hasn’t been good and I hear it’s not worth the trip.


Shopping in Neath

Physically I am getting pretty tired. My knees hurt from all the stair climbing. I have a roommate that invited me to a show but I was too tired to go. Time for resting up. That night I was laying in bed reading by 6 and felt better the next day. I took that day easy as well as I was traveling back to London by train and new I wanted to hit the ground ‘running ‘ when I got back!