I’m sitting at Heathrow airport at the beginning of what will be quite a long layover. I was originally scheduled to fly home via LAX but when I had the opportunity to get a direct flight to Seattle I jumped on it! Unfortunately that also meant a very long layover but I am more willing to endure a layover (especially since my dad used his frequent flyer miles and we are in business class and can use the lounge!) than deal with LAX. Not to mention I am only arriving home about an hour or so later. So here I am. And I figured since I do have scads of time I would write up a quick synopsis (or not so quick – they seem to get longer and longer) of my trip as I doubt I will have time in the next few weeks based on the flurry of activity my blackberry has received the last few days. I’m not sure when I will have pictures. I probably should also mention I’m exhausted, so forgive me if I start rambling and my sentences become incoherent.
This was mostly a blur as our flight didn’t leave Seattle until 10 p.m. and the connecting flight to Paris was also delayed so we didn’t get to our hotel until around midnight. Waiting in Seattle to take off, the TV in the lounge was turned to the Dancing with the Stars finale so I was able to watch at least the first part! Landing in CDG I said “Bonsoir” to the passport control officer and he looked at me with an astonished look on his face and asked if I spoke French. Little did he know that is about the extent of my French (along with hello, goodbye, please & thank you, and 1 – 10 and a few other phrases) and I had to tell him that no, I did not speak French. The hotel room was nice, if on the small side, but the bathroom seemed decent.
We didn’t fully close the curtains and so I awoke with the sun, which was around 5 a.m. or so. I tried to go back to sleep and was somewhat successful. Dad (Tom) was not and he got up and walked around the neighborhood, bringing back croissants for breakfast! I love French bread, pastries, etc. We took the train out to Vernon and caught the bus to Giverny to look at Claude Monet’s house & gardens. Monet is probably my favorite painter (Renoir is a close second) and the gardens were amazing – his paintings in real life! Back in Paris we visited the Eiffel Tower before having dinner at a pizzeria where I had what else but margherita pizza! When we finished dinner it was dark and close to 11 p.m. so I headed back to the Eiffel Tower to see it at night and to see the twinkle lights which happen on the hour. I love the Eiffel Tower, especially with the twinkling lights!
Today was museum day!! We started at the D’Orsay, followed by the Cluny, Notre Dame (not really a museum), we got in line for Sainte Chappelle but the line was extremely long and not moving and my dad is not the most patient so we went to the Conciergerie (where prisoners awaiting the guillotine were held). Next up was the Lourve and the Orangerie. Between the Louvre and the Orangerie we were approached twice within the space of 10 minutes with someone trying to sell us a “gold” ring. I had read about this scam before we went and so told my dad to keep walking. The gist of the scam is they “find” a gold ring and ask if it is yours. When you say no they either try to sell it to you or ask for money. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an accomplice in the background waiting in case you do pull out your wallet. Dinner was again at the pizzeria and on our way back to the hotel I realized it was already a couple days into our vacation and I hadn’t had any dessert! We passed by a bakery and I got an eclair – yum!
We had breakfast at the hotel before heading off to Versailles. It is an amazing palace!! And this time the hall of mirrors was open – it was fantastic! After touring the palace we wandered through the gardens waiting for the fountains to begin. We were sitting on a bench and a few minutes before the fountains were going to start we got up and walked toward the main fountain – good thing too as behind the bench we were sitting on was another fountain and we probably would have gotten soaked if we had stayed. We oohed and ahhed over the fountain before continuing on to the Grand Trianon (a smaller palace) where the King could retreat from palace life when it got to be too hectic. A bride & groom were there having their wedding photos made. Next was the Queen’s Hamlet, a little village where Marie Antoinette could escape from reality. There were several more brides & grooms having their pictures made in the hamlet. We walked back to the palace, having lunch on the grass. It had started drizzling by this time. We walked back to the train station and caught a train back to Paris. We got off at the Abbesses metro stop and started up the stairs. The stairs went on forever! Finally we emerged and made our way over to Sacre Couer where we climbed more stairs up to the church, 200-ish or so. Walking through Montmarte, I found a gelato place so of course I had to stop for a gelato. It started pouring not too longer after this so we found cover to wait out the rain. When it looked like it had stopped we made a run for it, but halfway down the stairs it was raining again. A little tired of stairs at this moment, we decided to keep going to the metro station. I counted the stairs on the way down and came up with about 150 (give or take 10 – I got to a point and wasn’t sure if I was on 80 or 90). We emerged from the metro at the Arc de Triomphe and it had stopped raining! We started up the stairs and when we got to the top it was raining again. We quickly took a few pictures and headed back downstairs.
Stair count: 150 up from the metro, 200 to Sacre Couer, 283 to the top of the Arc de Triomphe!
Last day in Paris! We stopped by a bakery on the way to the train station. We arrived in Reims (capital of champagne) and stopped in the cathedral before walking over to Martel to tour their champagne caves. However, they were not having another English tour until a lot later in the day so we walked to the next champagne house, Taittinger. At the end of the tour, we got a sample of champagne and I noticed the model of a ship – it turns out it was the Sovereign of the Seas, which was the ship I took in March on my cruise! What a small world! We walked back to town, stopping at the Museum of the Surrender, where the Germans officially surrendered in WW2.
Stair count: 107 up from the champagne caves
We woke up on the early side and made our way to the airport to catch our flight to Hamburg. Hans (my dad’s cousin – my dad’s grandfather was Hans’s grandmother’s brother) picked us up from the airport. My dad’s grandfather, Emil (my great-grandfather), was who I was named for! No one knows for certain why Emil left for America, but there are three popular theories – 1) he was avoiding being conscripted into the army, 2) he was avoiding the police (for what I’m not sure), and 3) he had thought British Columbia was beautiful and wanted to live there. I have my doubts about 3) as he ended up in Moxee (outside of Yakima, WA) which in no way, shape, or form resembles British Columbia. The other story Emil is known for is he asked his sister to find him a bride and send her to America. The ticket he sent was not a one-way ticket though! But it worked out. Marietta (Hans’s wife) made us lunch and then Hans left for a school reunion. Marietta dropped us off in town while she went to an appointment and after doing a bit of shopping we walked back. Three of Marietta’s children (Elisabeth, Beate & Olav) and three of her grandchildren (Lucia, Laurence & Solvie – Elisabeth’s children) came over in the evening and entertained us. Sorry if I misspelled anyone’s name!!
Marietta showed us around Hamburg the next day. We saw St. Nikolai (a church bombed in WW2 and now a memorial with an elevator inside the ruined spire), the Chamber of Commerce, the Town hall, St. Michel and the beginnings of the new Concert Hall. Beate joined us in the afternoon and we took a boat trip around the harbor. We met Olav and his girlfriend for dinner. The restaurant was on the river and we were quite entertained by the parade of ships coming in and going out. Olav, Beate and my dad are all involved in shipping. Obviously I’m getting tired as the descriptions seem to be getting shorter.
We took the train into Hamburg and enjoyed a boat ride around the Alster (two lakes in Hamburg). The weather was beautiful so driving home from the train station Marietta put the top down on her convertible. Hans was there when we got home and after lunch we (Hans, Tom & I) were off to the town of Luebeck before boarding an overnight ferry to Sweden. The ferry ride was really neat, and we got to go on the bridge of the ship! Yes, shorter and shorter as I sense the end – not only in the written form, but also literally as the clock keeps ticking towards my flight!
We arrived in Sweden at 7:30 a.m. (or as I like to call it #1 on my 31 Things list!) and off we went, up to Helsingborg where we took another ferry to Denmark where we visited Kronborg Castle (supposedly where Hamlet took place) and then Fredericksborg Castle. We drove back over to Sweden via the massive Oresund Bridge to catch a ferry back to Germany. The ship was late so we ended up sitting in the car for a long time! Finally we were underway. We arrived in Rostock (where my dad’s family is from) around midnight.
We drove out to Pappendorf to see the summer house of Emil’s sister (which makes her my great great aunt, I think). It had been expropriated by the Russians at the end of WW2 and returned to Hans’s family after the end of the Cold War. Olav is in the process of renovating the house. Right now it is a bit of a mess but you could see the old, faded beauty as well as the beauty it will be once the renovation is complete. We then toured Rostock and enjoyed some gelato before driving back to Hamburg. Marietta made us a lovely dinner (pizza!! how perfect since I hadn’t had pizza since we left France!) and Elisabeth came over as well.
aka today! We woke up at 4 a.m. and Hans drove us to the airport to catch the first flight in our journey today. Which brings us to now. I know I’m leaving a ton out but as I’m fading fast I figured I’d end this and start walking around to wake myself up!!