Woody and Jane’s Excellent Adventure to London and Paris – June, 2010

For many years, Rita and I have tried to persuade Woody and Jane to travel outside the United States.  Woody argued that they had already done so twice:  to Windsor across the border from Detroit and to Tijuana.  As Woody’s friends all know, he likes to keep his feet on the ground (even when one has a medical boot), and so flights, cruises and high places are not his favorites.  We were thinking he and Jane should cross an ocean, and they took the initial step last year by getting their first passports. Rita and I had been to London and Paris a few times, and we thought these cities would be the best for Woody and Jane to get a taste for international travel.  To our pleasant surprise, they agreed to go.

To capture the adventure, Rita served as the primary photographer, and I took on the roles of director and screenwriter.  Some of the photos are in the narrative below, and a more complete set can be found at this link (click on the down arrow  below first row of photos to expand).

We flew business class on Delta, first to Minneapolis and then overnight to London. During the London leg, at midnight, we toasted the 29th anniversary of Rita and Lonnie (that’s June 6, D-Day, sort of appropriate for an England/France trip).

Upon arriving at Heathrow, we were met by our driver Bobbie who had been recommended to us by London regulars Jill and Leland Shurin.  Bobbie dropped us off at our 29-room boutique hotel, the Beaufort. Rita picked the hotel based upon Trip Advisor comments, and it proved to be a perfect start.  The hotel was well located on a quiet side street in the Knightsbridge section, only two blocks from the famous Harrods department store. Breakfast was delivered to the room every morning, and there was an open bar in the lobby from 3 to 11. Terrific staff.

With the danger of jet lag, we kept it simple the balance of the day by getting to know our neighborhood and going to Harrods for shopping reconnaissance and an afternoon snack in the food halls.

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On the first full day, we caught the “hop-on hop-off” open-top bus tour to get an overview of the city.  Our first hop-off was at Hamley’s, a well-known toy store – Jane was on a mission for her two grandchildren. The bus ride took us around parks and through neighborhoods plus many landmark London sights like Parliament, St. Paul’s, Big Ben, London Tower and Tower Bridge.  At London Tower, we got off the bus and boarded a boat to cruise the Thames for views of St. Paul’s, the Egyptian obelisk and the “Eye” Ferris wheel left over from the Millennium celebration.  We left the boat in the Big Ben area and had lunch at the Red Lion pub.  We walked over to Downing Street to look through the gate at Number 10, and then toured the underground war rooms where Churchill directed the British war effort.  Our walking continued through the Parliament and Westminster Abbey areas, and we then reboarded the bus to return to the hotel.

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As you will see, many of Rita’s photos are of Woody taking pictures with his brand new camera.  It was his first new camera in some 20 years and is one of those newfangled digital kind.

The next day, we started by getting some British pounds from an ATM machine and then took the tube to the British Museum.  You will first see Woody enjoying the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon and then taking a photo of the Rosetta Stone. He wanted some post cards and mingled at the counter with other patrons, and one of whom asked him if he spoke English and they looked at a hologram card together.  When Woody went to pay for his cards, he found that his pocket had been picked, likely by a cohort of the hologram guy.  So much for the ATM pounds and his remaining US cash, and also a loss of substantial time in the museum office taking care of cancelling credit cards.  Woody was a little down at this stage.

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That evening, we ate at Ha Ha Bar and Grill near Victoria Station and saw an excellent “Billy Elliot” (the musical, not the movie) at the Victoria Palace Theatre.    By then, Woody had explained his pickpocket woes to the hotel staff, other hotel guests, cab driver, dinner waitress and two complete strangers by the theatre.  We warned him that he had until midnight to get it all out and then to reboot (not that boot) his trip.  To his credit, he did exactly that and proved to be like a kid at Disneyland for the balance of the trip.

The traveling couples split up the next day as Woody and Jane went to see the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and toured (and had communion) at Westminster Abbey.  Rita and I headed for the British Library which was one of our favorites when it was part of the British Museum.  Since we had last been to London in 1997, the library had moved to a new building that nicely displays the writing treasures.  Rita and I then caught a matinee in the West End theatre district – “Enron” which was still running in London even though its Broadway run had quickly ended.  We rejoined that night and had dinner at Wodka, a Polish restaurant, with Leland and Jill Shurin and their son Jared and his wife Anne who live in London.  Leland and Jill were passing through London after being in Cinque Terre in Italy where they had been on our recommendation and even stayed in the same hotel room that we had a year ago.

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The next day took us to the Victoria and Albert Museum, just a few blocks from the hotel.  Like most London museums, it is free except for special exhibitions.  I chose not to buy a ticket to an exhibition on Grace Kelly’s clothes, but Woody gave it a try, possibly in solidarity with Gerard Grimaldi, a distant relative of Princess Grace’s royal family.  Woody quickly realized his error and rejoined me in the Renaissance galleries.  On a personal note, I am a longtime admirer of Michelangelo and Leonardo de Vinci, and you can stand at the V & A between two exhibits and absorb the greatness of the Renaissance:  one of Leonardo’s notebooks and a soap model by Michelangelo of one of his famous slave statues that reside with the “David” at the Accademia Gallery in Florence.

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We then took a cab to Trafalgar Square which honors Admiral Horatio Nelson for his 1805 victory over Napoleon’s fleet – he unfortunately died in the battle.  After lunch at the nearby Sherlock Holmes pub, we walked the square in the light rain.  For the most part, temperatures were mild (high 60’s and low 70’s), and although rain periodically threatened, we did not often need the umbrellas.

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After dinner that night, we took a photo of Harrods which is lighted like the Plaza year around.

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For the weekend, Rita and I took the train to Edinburgh, Scotland, and so we do not have photos of Woody and Jane for the balance of their London stops which included the London Tower tour, the National Gallery, “Jersey Boys” in the West End, and dinner with the Shurins at Rules, the oldest surviving restaurant in London (1798).  The highlight of their weekend occurred when they left London Tower and saw 250 fully nude bicycle protesters circling the Tower – male and female.  Woody did not get a picture (too busy looking?).  They also went to the Catholic Westminster Cathedral, but found it in poor condition – proving Woody’s point that the Anglicans have all of the money in Britain.

On Monday, June 14, we met up again to catch the Eurostar train to take us from London to Paris.  The train goes under the English Channel through the Chunnel which, contrary to his smile in the photo, Woody liked only slightly more than flying.

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In Paris, we stayed at a small hotel facing Place Vendome, which is noted for its replica of Rome’s Trajan’s Column topped by a statue of Napoleon.  Place Vendome is also home to the Ritz Hotel, but we settled for a photo rather than the room rates. Our hotel was near the Paris Opera House, the reputed home of the “Phantom of the Opera.” You will see Woody snapping a picture at the intersection of Avenue de l’Opera and Boulevard des Capucines, the latter being the name and subject of one of the most famous paintings in the Nelson, Monet’s winter scene of the bustling boulevard.

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The first full day was again a “hop-on hop-off” bus tour that took us by such sites as the Louvre and other museums, Notre Dame, Napoleon’s Tomb, the Eiffel tower and the majestic Avenue des Champs-Elysees connecting Place Concorde with the Arc de Triomphe.

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We got off in the Montmartre area to see Sacre Coeur and rode the funicular to the top to tour the church – another mode of transportation not on Woody’s preferred list.  That night, we ate at a restaurant recommended by hotel staff, and it was the first of four very good tips for neighborhood restaurants.  Although not quite as intimate as the Beaufort in London, the hotel was quite good.

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The next day, we started on the grounds of the Eiffel Tower.  To keep Woody smiling, we did not ascend the tower. We then hopped on a boat to cruise the Seine and got off at Notre Dame to tour the church.

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The next stop was the flagship Louis Vuitton store on the Champs-Elysees.  We lunched across the street at George V’s sidewalk cafe, and while Woody and I lingered there, Jane and Rita returned to the store. By some shopper maven mental telepathy, daughter Beth called while Jane was shopping there. Beth and Kathleen did well at Louis Vuitton.

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We split the next day as Woody and Jane hit the two big museums: the Louvre and d’Orsay – so we have no pics of them seeing the “Mona Lisa” and the great impressionist collection.  Since Rita and I had been before, we instead went to the Musee Orangerie which had been completely renovated since our last trip and now beautifully displays monumental Monet water lily paintings.  Rita and I then went for a walk in the drizzling rain through the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, the most-visited cemetery in the world.  Among the thousands of ornate tombs are the final resting places of celebrities such as Edit Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Moliere, plus a well-known rock and roller, Jim Morrison of the Doors.

Our last day started at Musee Rodin, the former home of sculptor Auguste Rodin who created “The Thinker,” a version of which is also on display outside the Nelson.  Woody could not resist trying to mimic Rodin’s “The Kiss.” The instrument that Woody has next to his ear is not a cell phone and so he is not talking with Terry or Steve Dunn about work, nor Richard Martin on whether or not Albert Riederer is running for mayor.  It is the audio guide for the museum. Outside, Woody felt at home with “Hell’s Gates” and posed with the “Burghers of Calais.”

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That night we had our final Paris dinner, and Woody was still consulting his French “language map” which had consistently failed him with cab drivers and waiters all week.  It made for some of our biggest laughs on the trip.

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We then went to say goodbye to the Eiffel Tower, arriving at dusk and seeing the lights go on.  On the hour, the lights blink for 5 minutes, but you can’t tell that from the still photos.  I did capture this by video on my iPhone as I am showing Woody and Jane.

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A great finish to a great trip.

Lonnie and Rita