We spent 2 weeks in April 2012 traveling to London, Normandy and Paris. The weather wasn’t great, mostly overcast and drizzly, but it didn’t stop us from exploring these wonderful areas! (we planned ahead and brought along raincoats).
Our trip started in London. We got in at 9am and couldn’t check into our hotel (Citadines in Covent Garden) until 3pm, so we decided to visit the British Museum.
The museum is free, but does ask for a donation. It is absolutely stunning when you first walk in and there is a TON to see.
including the Rosetta Stone!!
They also have A History of the World in 100 Objects, which consists of (you guess it) 100 objects laid out throughout the museum that follows human history, from 2,000,000 BC though 2010.
One item is this Head of Augustus, the first Roman emperor
The following day we walked around London visiting a variety of touristy places including
St. Paul’s Cathedral (here photographed from a super reflective piece across the street)
The Monument – a tribute to the Great Fire of London which occurred in 1666 and consumed hundreds of houses. It is 61 meters tall, which is the distance from the start of the fire (a bakery) to the monument and it takes 311 steps to go up.
Walking up the 311 spiral stairs
The views from the top are totally worth the climb!
Our next stop was The Tower of London. This was where the famous wives of Henry VII spent the last few days of their lives. There is a torture room (really creepy), ravens and amazing tour guides called Yeoman (highly recommended to join them on the tour included in the ticket price). There is also the Royal Armories collection, which includes coats of arms from all over the world and from different centuries. Also housed here are the Crown Jewels.
We then walked across the London Bridge
Once over the bridge, we made our way to Borough Market, an open air (sorta) market where you can buy fresh produce, wine/beer and get a delicious lunch!
Since it was our first time in England, we decided to do a day trip to Windsor Castle, Bath and Stonehenge. It was very well organized and took all the thinking out of visiting these sites.
Windsor castle is the official royal home and has beautiful architecture and grounds. We even got to see the change of the guards!
Next stop was Bath. Bath is about 1.5 hours west of London and is the site of ancient Roman baths built over hot springs. It is very well preserved and has an audio guide that walks you through the multiple rooms of the bath house.
During the excavation, old coins were found, which were amazing to see!
Our final stop was Stonehenge. We were all-touristy-out by this point, so it was a good last stop, since there isn’t much to see. It was interesting to see the huge stones and imagine how people in 2000 BC accomplished this task.
The following day was the London Marathon and we got a view of the city during this event.
Marathon finish line at Buckingham Palace
Countdown to the London Olympics
We had some awesome food and visited great pubs while in London.
The pubs: Harp Pub, Princess Louise Pub, Lamb and Flag Pub
Mr. Kong (delicious Chinese food, there is a great Chinatown in London)
Hummus Bros – oh how I wish they come to the US. You get a plate of perfectly smooth hummus with a choice of 1-2 toppings (we got chicken and avocado salad)
You have to get fish and chips with a side of mushy peas while in England. One of the best places to get this is at Rock and Sole. I’m not a huge fan of mushy peas, but the fish was flaky, light and yummy
Down the street from our hotel was Belgo – a Belgium mussels, frites and beer place. It was wonderful! Just look how excited the monk is on their signature glass!
Oh, and since our hotel had a fridge, we were able to sample a plethora of British cheeses!
Next up: France
We flew into Paris and took a train to Rouen, a city in Normandy. We stayed at Hotel Sisley in the Gaugain room.
Our view from the hotel
I had the best dinner in my life at an extremely small restaurant in Rouen: Auberge Saint Maclou. We got a fish tagine with chickpeas and a perfectly cooked salmon with a piece of foie gras that was as large as the salmon! To say it was mouth-watering amazing would be an understatement! (check out my yelp review).
Since Rouen is a university city, there are a ton of fun bars to try. We went to Delirium Cafe, which had a great beer selection.
The main reason we went to Normandy was to visit Le Mont Saint-Michel – a monastery built during the 700s. It is an island during high tide and a peninsula during low tide (so watch the tide schedule if you plan to drive and park your car!)
Inside is a main street that winds up the ‘mount’ that is lined with small touristy shops and restaurants.
The church is filled with beautiful walkways and views of the surrounding area
The other big thing to visit in Normandy is the Normandy American Cemetery, a tribute to the American soldiers that died during D-Day and the months after to help win WWII. It is serene, beautifully maintained and very peaceful. (You need your passport to enter since it is technically US soil).
We took the train back to Paris, checked into our hotel near the Opera House (Hotel Westminster) and enjoyed our complimentary drink at the bar downstairs.
Dinner that first night in Paris was on Passage des Panoramas, a delightful little alley lined with tiny restaurants serving mostly French food.
The following day we took the RER train to Versailles, which is only a 20 min ride! The walk through town is lovely, though it isn’t very well marked, so pay attention to the minimal signs. (On the way back to the train we stopped at a farmers market to pick up some delicious cheese!)
We bought our tickets online, so we didn’t need to wait in line to buy tickets and then again to get into the palace. Also, we went really early to avoid lines (there weren’t any) and the hordes of tourists that flock to the amazing palace every day
The Hall of Mirrors was the main room to dine and entertain hundreds of guests. It is breathtakingly huge and has windows that overlook the perfectly manicured grounds and gardens.
The Grand Trianon (or the Pink Palace) was Marie Antoinette’s palace. While smaller than the main palace, it was just as decadent with grand halls and pink marble throughout.
The following day, while I took a nap, Kevin explored the Louvre by himself. (I’ve been there too many times to count).
Venus de Milo
Odalisque (Kevin took this photo without even knowing that it is my favorite painting in the Louvre)
Monmatre is the big hill in Paris that overlooks the whole city. Atop the ‘mount’ is Sacre Coure, a white church which is the highest point in Paris. This is the area where the portrait artists sit to paint your picture and the best place to get crepes (in my opinion).
The walk up is the perfect excuse to treat yourself to a Nutella crepe!
You can usually see the whole city from up here, but it was so foggy, you couldn’t see much. My sister (who just happened to be in Germany for the week) met up with us for the weekend!!!
Bridge of Locks – where people place a lock to symbolize their love (we didn’t have a lock though). Apparently a section of the bridge collapsed in June 2014 form the weight of all the locks!
My favorite museum in the world is Musee D’Orsay. A train-station-turned-impressionist-museum houses one of the world’s largest selection of impressionist art, including Degas’ original Little Dance of Fourteen Years scuplture (absolutely stunning!)
That night we had some beers and some more local French cheese and charcuterie!
And, of course, we went to the Eiffel Tower. We walked around Paris and just happened across it. Even though I’ve seen it many times, it is just as beautiful as the first time I saw it. There was a crazy line to go up to the top, so we didn’t get a chance to go up, but I highly recommend it!
Around the corner from the Eiffel Tower is Notre Dame, with its crazy architecture and flying buttresses.
It was amazing trip. Paris truly is an amazingly romantic city and London is a ton of fun! Next time we will spend more time exploring Pars.