London

Sitting in the airport, fully awake after two shots of espresso in our cappuccino😳, I’m just now having the chance to update the blog with our last stop, London.

Excited to go somewhere after check-in,

we walked to Harrod’s (we were staying in the Kensington area, so it was a 15 minute walk). Although it may not have been the most authentic place to order fish-n-chips, we couldn’t resist the lure of their Food Hall.

The next day was chock full of sightseeing, figuring out the “tube,” bus system (a double decker, of course),and going in this order:

Westminster Abbey

Inside the abbey, I especially enjoyed Poet’s Corner, seeing the memorials for some of my favorite writers (too many to name but including Robert Browning, Chaucer, and Wordsworth). No pictures were allowed inside, unfortunately. The audio tour is part of the admission cost and very worthwhile.

In the same area of the abbey is Parliament Square, the House of Parliament, and Big Ben (now named Elizabeth’s Tower).

What — you don’t recognize it?? Haha. Big Ben is getting some restorative work done from August 2017-2021, at least. At least they left the face uncovered!

Above: Thames River view in opposite direction (Big Ben was behind me).

Next, I’d like to say that we enjoyed a walk through St. James Park, but I’d be telling a half truth. Instead, we survived a walk through it! Although very picturesque and shaded by lovely trees, those same trees were dropping something that set off our allergies like crazy!!! 😫 We thought it was just us, but suddenly it seemed as if everyone around us was sneezing, coughing, and sniffling, too. Even worse, you’d be walking along and unexpectedly would get hit in the eye by those brown tree droppings (sorry I don’t know what they were or have a better word!), so now your eyes are stinging and watering and there’s no escape as it’s a sizable park!!!! It’s hilarious looking back on it, with everyone suffering through it together, but it wasn’t very fun at the time.

At least on the other side, we finally made it to Buckingham Palace!!

We also walked by the Churchill War Rooms but opted not to go inside, and then headed to Trafalgar Square, which is the city center and is named after a British naval victory during the Napoleonic Wars.

Oh, and I can’t forget to mention our side trip to Oxford Street (I can see why they call that area plus Piccadilly a “circus,” as it is a madhouse of people and shops!). It seems to be the Times Square of London, if that gives you an idea.

Here’s the view from the double decker

We loved Liberty of London’s four story store:

Sorry these are out of order; we did the shopping before Trafalgar Square, but it’s too hard to edit it from my phone😜.

We’d planned to head back to the hotel but realized we could easily fit in Kensington Palace first, so we did that, too.

It was a beautiful, peaceful area, like a calm oasis in the noisy city.

The sun sets late in London, so the extra hours of daylight afforded us ample time before heading back to the hotel. We even saw the Kensington campus of Richmond University, where Maggie Burch will be heading.

Whew! Are you tired yet?? What a day! The nice part was that on Sunday, we could relax a bit and enjoy a slower pace.

Declan got a haircut

We had afternoon tea

Watched part of the Gran Prix

And had pizza for dinner nearby.

We’ve had a lovely time in London. We joked, however, that we’ve had more trouble understanding the accents here than anywhere else we’ve traveled!!🤣🤣 London attracts people from all over the world, so you have their accents to contend with plus the various dialects of the English. It’s all been interesting and has been a nice way to end our European adventure.

We’ll now travel all day, not getting home until 10:00 tonight.

Happy Memorial Day to you all, and thanks for traveling with us!!😘🇺🇸

p.s. I’m not proofreading this entry, so please excuse any typos or mistakes. I’m almost out of WiFi time and almost at check-in.

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Day 2 Paris

After such a dreamy day one, how did day two measure up? Our agenda included Notre Dame, which was enormous and lovely:

above: Declan requested a pic of the organ

There were active confessionals, which seemed unusual in that you could see them instead of them being in a private box.

Next, we headed to the Eiffel Tower, but I forgot to mention that we were doing the metro for all of our sightseeing that day. Scott usually does a merit worthy job at navigating and only had one mistake, which included a very sketchy elevator ride. There’s nothing quite like riding in a very small, crowded space with perfect strangers, all of you staring at concrete blocks on your way down and knowing there is no escape should something go wrong. Take that in for a moment. 😳😬

Finally making our way from the promenade along the river to the Eiffel Tower, we had some beautiful views

but we had some surprises: construction, fences, throngs of tourists (that was not a huge surprise), glaring sun and heat, and a lawn littered with trash. Hmmm. Not very picturesque. We made the most of it, however, and took the obligatory pictures.

As we stood waiting for Scott to figure out the next metro direction, I admired the tower’s grand proportions and iconic beauty. Despite the initial disappointment of reality not meeting expectation, we decided it really was still quite magnificent to be standing there in its presence.

Our last stop for the day was the Arc d’ Triomphe. We saw the tomb of the unknown soldier, which is beneath the arc, and observed something very official-looking going on, though we’re not sure what it was. If you look carefully, you can see the eternal flame that burns in the soldiers’ memory.

By this time, Declan’s head was hurting and he wasn’t feeling well. After making our way back during rush hour on the metro, our little guy fell fast asleep on our bed. We only woke him later to brush his teeth and transfer him to his own bed, and he and I said prayers together before he drifted off again. I think he just had too much “going,” too much sun, and not enough water and rest. Scott and I vowed to take London at an easier pace if we have to, which may mean seeing less yet enjoying ourselves just as much.

Our last meal last night was crepes “to go” so that the three of us could eat them at the hotel, and this morning we enjoyed our favorite pain au chocolat (croissants with a few chunks of chocolate).

Here is my personal spot by the window that I’ll miss sitting in to have my coffee and look down on the activities on the street.

At the moment, we’re on the super fast train Eurostar, heading to London. This was an amazing chance to ride this unique train which goes under/through the English Channel and gets there in only three hours. We’re comfortably settled into our family seating area,

and I’m finding it hard to believe that London is our last stop before home. While I know home will feel wonderful and welcome, I’m still wanting to savor this experience as much as possible.

I’m also hoping our friends at the beach will have a safe Memorial Day weekend. We miss y’all and our extended family!

Add-on: I couldn’t publish this earlier as the WiFi was too slow on the Eurostar, so now we’re in London. Here are first glimpses:

Also, Declan is much improved, so we’re very thankful for that. Happy Friday to all, and thank you to the veterans. 🇺🇸

Paris

It’s magical, folks. It really is. I can say that even though, raining when we arrived, we were walking around with our backpacks and having trouble finding our hotel amidst rush hour. Maybe that moment wasn’t magical, but since then it has been!

Delaney’s dreams came true yesterday, as we let her plan a Chanel-inspired first part of the day. She has read books about Coco/Gabrielle and studied her life, so maybe you can appreciate how special Paris would be to her. We began our day at Angelina’s, the restaurant where Coco Chanel began her day with a hot chocolate.

Delaney ordered the decadent, famed drink along with her breakfast, and we all truly savored this very special place and breakfast.

We requested the table that Coco used to always sit at, but it was already taken, so they seated us beside it. Lucky for us, there was a slight break between people dining at it, so we still got a pic of Delaney sitting at it😉

Around the corner, our next stop was at Chanel’s flagship store, which she used to live above, and visiting it was quite the experience!

Upon arrival, security guys open the doors, and you’re greeted by a hostess of sorts, who asks what you would like assistance with today. Based on your answer, you’re paired with someone who can help you with that and escorts you to that part/room of the store. Having saved up for a card holder, Delaney knew exactly which design she wanted. Then you’re taken to a different room so that your transactions are done in privacy as you sit comfortably. The sales lady was so sweet and offered to let Delaney have her picture taken on the staircase next, the one that leads to Chanel’s apartment.

For a few hundred dollars, you can view/tour the apartment, too, but we opted not to.

We then looked at makeup, so a different sales lady was called over to assist us with that, and she offered us beverages (parched, we asked for water). Delaney and I got a few items there.

Au revoir, Chanel!

Next, Delaney spotted a macaron place she’s heard of, so we each indulged in one of their unusual flavors.

Our afternoon was then spent at the Louvre, which was a favorite spot for Declan (and all of us, really)! We walked ourselves to death, partly because of the 8 mile equivalent size of the museum (you can’t cover it all, so you have to pick faves to see) and partly because of its convoluted design, which requires you to go up to go down many times. Yes, you read that correctly. However, it was worth it to see the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo and other famed works. We let Declan do the choosing for the most part, and our last stop was the African area, which was fun and quiet, the latter being, in my opinion, because no one else could find it. 😁

Worn out, we barely made it back to our hotel, being thirsty, hungry, tired, but amazed by all we’d seen and done.

The magical end to our day was eating at Cafe de Paris, the Saint Germain location. You see, we’re staying in that district, as Paris is divided into arrondaisements or districts, each with their own flavor and character. Saint Germain is lively, full of cafes, music, and shopping. I had the most delicious lemon chicken I’ve ever had at this brasserie, and we’ve found all of the waiters to be very nice and have spoken excellent English.

We may be going for a record in eating gelato, because we stopped for some of the best since Italy.

In the perfect French spin on it, they put a macaron filled with ice cream on each.

Paris during the day is hectic and business-like, but it really comes alive at night. We could hear street music as we were eating our dinner, and the lights coming on as we strolled home were enchanting.

There’s nothing else like it. I need to run, though, because we’re off to see the “musts” of the city.

More later if I’m not too tired!

Monaco

Monaco is like eye candy and requires little commentary, so I’ll stick to pix with captions. Overall, it felt safe, clean and perfectly manicured, and upscale — with lots of enormous yachts!!

They’re setting up for the Formula 1 Gran Prix that’s this Sunday; our guys thought that was pretty awesome!! Below pic is on the actual track!

Above: the Prince’s Palace

Above: the cathedral

Above: what an amazing view from the palace property. We enjoyed our stay, but we checked out today and took the train to Paris.

Above: we traveled along the Côte d’Azur for a while, getting to see Nice and Cannes.

Below: my fave views were of the countryside.

🎵little town, little quiet village, everyday like the one before🎶 (if you’re a Beauty and the Beast fan like I am, you know what song that is! Every village made me think of it).

I’ll save Paris pix for tomorrow, but suffice it to say that Delaney is finding it hard to believe we’re actually here!! Tomorrow, we’re letting her choose fashion and Chanel-inspired things to do. She made a reservation at Angelina’s for brunch in the morning, so bon nuit for tonight😴

Random thoughts while traveling

We were in Venice, I think, when I realized something. Looking around for someone who spoke English, I saw faces that looked like they could be American, so I strained to listen for their words. However, in every case, a different language came out of their mouths!

I’d even see a face that reminded me of someone back home, and I’d halfway expect them to be American, but again, they started talking and another language came out — Italian, French, what sounded like German or Dutch maybe. It was such an odd thing!

Perhaps we all get into strange territory and look for something familiar.

My other thoughts were that I was looking into the ancestral faces of Americans, which was both an obvious yet new experience for us! From that point on, I’m playing a bit of a game in my head when I see a face that looks familiar, and then I try to guess if that person will be Italian, French, etc. Then I can hear if the language matches up to my friend’s heritage that they resemble.

This happened in Venice with Agnes, who reminded us of Declan’s organ teacher. When I messaged her to tell her, she said it made sense because her family’s roots are Eastern European (and Agnes was from Hungary).

In all of these faces, however, I have yet to see my own. Being somewhat of a “mutt” and only vaguely knowing we’re Scotch-Irish, I’m curious to see as we travel and eventually get to London, if there are reflections of my own appearance and ancestors.

Anyway, I told you these were random thoughts, those probably only had by novice travelers to Europe!

As we said “ciao” and “gratzie mille” to the inn’s owners in Moneglia today, I had to take a pic, partly because they were so kind and helpful and partly because the man reminded me of Mr. Barra, my friend Marne’s dad. She may not think so from the photo, but even his mannerisms were similar, having a quiet confidence and gentle yet strong presence.

I already posted these next pix on Facebook, but here are views out of opposite sides of the train today — mountains and sea. It’s such an enjoyable ride and makes it fun to travel, read, and have a cappuccino.

Oops–I almost forgot to tell you that this is a train we almost missed!! Our connecting train in Sestri Levante was running late, so we had be ready to hop off that train, quickly look at the departure board and find the platform, and then run super fast underneath and find the platform and then make a mad dash onto the train, with Scott double-checking that we were hopping onto the correct one. Whew!!!!! Scott and I were out of breath (Declan was looking at us like “no big deal” and “why are you panting?🤣”). Once we found our coach and seats, we heard the announcement that train 143 was now departing. Wait, what? Our train was 144!😳 Scott found the middle of the train where the cafe cart was and asked; thankfully, trains 143 and 144 were the same. Whew again!!!

So it’s not all as dreamy as it seems!! This kind of travel and adventure isn’t for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. 😁

Once again, ciao!

Aaah, the coast

What a switch to leave bustling and high glam Milan and come to the laid-back, relaxing beach!! It was a welcome change for us, seeing palm trees as we exited the train station in Moneglia.

We are on the Ligurian Coast, and its emerald and azul seas are absolutely mesmerizing and gorgeous. We all probably let out a collective “aaahh” as we saw it and breathed in the salty breeze. We’ve been blessed with perfect weather while here — sunny and warm during the day (although it drops dramatically at night so that you need a jacket).

The little town of Moneglia that we chose isn’t as crowded and touristy as the Cinque Terra, although it’s all part of the Ligurian Region. Many of the locals know very little English, so it’s been good for us to stretch ourselves and speak a little more Italian. Oh, and a follow up to my earlier post about water without gas: instead of calling it “still” water, I’ve learned to order “acqua naturale” while here, as these locals call it.

Today we went to explore, with no particular place to go or be (isn’t that the best when you’re on vacation?!), as we had a few hours to kill while the shops were closed for the afternoon from about 12:30-3:30. Sometimes when you take a stone path and keep climbing up, your family is greeted with these surprises:

On our descent on a different path, we were welcomed by this scene:

We could’ve stared all day, but I did want to get my toes in the sand (which was scorching hot!) and feel the water (which was very chilly!). I likened it to the Canadians swimming in our March temp waters in Myrtle Beach, but the Italians here didn’t seem to mind. The area at the shore was buffered by amazing rocks and was quite shallow so that they could walk or raft over, and you could see through the clear blue-green waters.

After that small “hike,” we thought we deserved gelato 🤣 and found an all-natural one. Delaney and I got banana-lime (note to self: try to duplicate this combo at home)!!

Tonight was pizza at a restaurant recommended by the lady who checked us into our apartment. Oh my– I wish I could share that pizza with all of you. The crust was like nothing else we’ve had — thin and light and crispy and baked in a wood fired oven. I can’t do justice to the restaurant but can show you these pix of the stone and the wood beams and tree.

So tomorrow we catch two different trains (please pray for us with a quick turn-around time in Genova!) on our way to Monaco. I guess we need to switch gears from Italian to French. I’ll be doing some Duolingo on the trains!! For my homeschool friends, Declan and I began reading Our Island Story on the iPad, and it’s soooo good! I can’t believe we’re just now discovering this wonderful book.

Lastly, I can’t believe I forgot to mention that Scott and I celebrated our 22nd anniversary on May 18th — the day before THE wedding of this year– haha! All four of us had a delicious seafood dinner since we’re on the coast.

By the way, Moneglia is known for their seafood and olive oil. This quaint little beach town was just what we needed in the middle of our trip.

Ciao to all of you and to Italy!

outside of Giada, our apartment in Moneglia

our terrace

sibling bonding, courtesy of family vacations😉

guy bonding

just us girls

Milan and Lights (?)

Delaney has been excitedly looking forward to Milan, it being the fashion mecca, so here we are in the place of her dreams (a close second to Paris, I should add). She has been mesmerized by seeing all of the top designers’ stores, and she even made a special purchase in one of them. Although designer brands aren’t really my “thing,” I was excited for her, especially knowing that she had worked and saved for a long time so that she could buy special things like this in Europe. Here she is:

There were some very beautiful streets

I would say their malls are a wee bit nicer than ours, how about you? 😁

And it was fun looking at the store front displays (some shops were closed by the time we got to them).

Declan made a purchase of a race car (he’d been eyeing them since we’d gotten to Europe) and enjoyed the LEGO store.

We also saw the Duomo (above), which was towering and impressive — but also covered in tourists. Oh, and I forgot to mention the beautiful train station, but here is a picture.

Pop Quiz: what do you do when none of the light switches work in your hotel room?

Answer: find this slot on the wall and insert your room key

Europeans are energy-conscious, so that’s good. 😉

One other mention of transportation to save you time and trouble; sometimes you have to validate your ticket as you’re leaving as well. You’ll figure it out as you watch others, but here is Delaney doing it in a Milan subway station.

It goes in the yellow slot and comes out a different slot, where you grab it, and then the gate opens so you can walk through. Do it once or twice, and you’re an expert.

Speaking of the subway, I almost forgot to reveal that I may have committed a fashion sin yesterday by wearing sandals in Milan. I had a woman on the subway give me the death stare from head to toe (particularly toe) so much that I halfway expected her to lunge at me (either for my faux pas or maybe because she was just crazy🤪)!!

I meant to post this earlier, but weak internet connections are challenging, so here are a couple of pix from the train station, showing the departure board and what is looks like inside.

On the left/first column are the train brands, the second column are the train numbers (very important), the destinations are next, then the departure times and last are the platform numbers. The only hectic part is that the platform number will not often appear until maybe 5 minutes before the train departs, so be ready! I noticed yesterday that the train brand we were looking for usually was arriving at the platforms 8 and under, so we got closer to those. Your ticket will then tell which coach/section to board, along with your seat numbers. We’ve had fun sections facing each other the past two trains.

Today, we’re going to (hopefully) enjoy breakfast at our hotel (you don’t want to get your hopes up about hotel breakfasts) and then catch a train to the Cinque Terra. This is a coastal area that will probably be touristy but also beautiful.

Ciao!