Europe 2013 Trip Report: Part 1 – Beginnings

With our next trip booked I figured I should get this finished/started.

The cast of our play:

Me: your humble narrator.
Moms: my mother

Moms & me have been to Europe twice before – in ’09 to London & Paris and in ’11 to Italy.

Jules: Moms’ younger sister, went with us to Italy in ’11

Nina: Moms’ older sister & my godmother (hence the title)
Uncle D: Nina’s husband
Cuz: the youngest child of Nina & Uncle D

They’ve been all over the US, but this would be their first trip to Europe.

 

Nina’s lifelong dream was to go to Paris, and shortly after we returned from Italy in ’11 Moms & me were playing the role of instigator to get them to go.  We figured it would be fun to tag along and Jules was down to go back; so our party was set.

The original plan was to visit Paris & Rome.  Nina and family were stoutly proclaiming that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip for them in our initial planning.  Eventually, London was added as was Venice, after Moms & my high praise for the city.  In figuring out how to get to Venice from Paris we chose to take a train to Milan and spend a night there before heading out to Venice.  All of us, except Jules, are big Disney fans, so Disneyland Paris was a must do as well.  In the end we decided on 2 nights in London, 3 in Paris, 1 at Disneyland Paris, 1 in Milan, 1 in Venice, & 3 in Rome.  This was going to be a whirlwind of a trip.


11/1-11/2

We flew US Airways Phoenix to Philadelphia, then crossed the Atlantic to London.
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Something I hadn’t seen on our previous flights was flight info displayed on the entertainment screens.  Along with distance travelled/left, speed, exterior temperature, the map showed locations of some shipwrecks we flew over.  That was neat for a nerd like me.  We landed at Heathrow and found out they have 45 minutes of free wifi, so a couple of us hopped on that for our sweet, sweet internet fix.  We made our way through customs to the Heathrow Express.  After a bit of faffing about on the elevators and getting off at the wrong floor, we eventually found our way underground.  The Heathrow Express is a fairly quick, leisurely ride from Heathrow to Paddington Station.  The Tube can get you into London cheaper, but you may have some more transfers with your luggage.  Plus, we got 1/3 off by buying in advance since we had more than 3 adults.
DSC08123 – London taxi cabs lined up upon our arrival at Paddington Station

 

Due to the size of our group we often had to take two taxis when we travelled.  The breakdown was Moms, Jules, & me in one, with Nina, Uncle D, & Cuz in another taxi.  This first taxi ride set the trend for the entire trip and for some reason Nina and fam were always charged a little bit more for their taxi rides despite us starting and stopping at the same destinations.
DSC08125  DSC08151 – our hotel, Marriott Marble Arch.  This was a big room that even included an American style outlet so you didn’t need a converter or adapter.

 

Our rooms weren’t ready yet so we made our way to Selfridge’s to get some food.  Moms fell in love with this store on our last visit and she couldn’t wait to go back.  Selfridge’s is a department store like Harrod’s.  As an American, our department stores like Macy’s and Target and all one store.  These stores are more akin to an open mall concept.  An analogy would be if you went to a Target and the book section was a Barnes & Nobel and you bought your book stuff in that section before moving on.  We ate in the foodhall at a place called “Eat”, so there’s no getting them confused.  They feature ready-made sandwiches on the cheap and can heat them up if you want.  All of us really enjoyed our lunch.  We looked around the store a little before realizing our rooms should be ready.  We were all tired and ready for some naps.
DSC08143 – inside of Selfridge’s
DSC08133 – this was my lunch at Selfridge’s, a ham & cheese sandwich.  I think we all got pretty much the same thing

 

On our previous visit, Moms and me failed to see Westminster Abbey because we got distracted by St. James’s Park & Buckingham Palace and by the time we got to the Abbey they had closed for the day.  That meant the Abbey was on the top of our to-do list today.  Today was a Saturday, they would be closed on Sunday, and we were leaving on Monday.  That meant today was our only time to see it.  They were scheduled to close at 3:30 today, so we had left Selfridge’s to give us time to get a quick break and make our way to the Abbey before they closed.  I looked them up when we were in the room and of course, they had closed early today.  We decided to hit them up Monday morning before we left instead of going to Abbey Road.

That area of London has so much to see we decided we’d head over there and get our sightseeing on.  First stop – Big Ben.  It really is an impressive sight to see in person and the first timers got their first sense of “Wow, I’m really here.”
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After taking some photos we started walking towards Buckingham Palace.  On our last trip, Moms & me kind of stumbled into St. James’s Park and liked the park a lot.  We walked through the park and stopped at Inn the Park, which is a café in the middle of the park, for a quick break.  We got some drinks and a table and just relished being in London in this beautiful green space.
DSC08198 DSC08199 – some of the bottled beverages from In the Park
DSC08203DSC08204 – St. James’s Park

 

At one end of the Park lies Buckingham Palace, so checking out the Queen’s crib was the next thing on our to-do list.  We all took photos for a bit before trying to find a bus to take us to The London Eye.
DSC08209_HDR.jpg DSC08218_HDR DSC08224 – the gates of the Palace

DSC08228 – a guard out front

DSC08233 – it can be a pretty crowded area

 

The bus dropped us off just down the street from Westminster Bridge, the wind was blowing and it was frigid down near the river.
Parliament – this was a photo I wanted before we left and I’m pleased with how it turned out.

 

The London Eye is basically a giant ferris wheel that has enclosed capsules that give you some great views of London.  You buy your tickets in the building next door, where you wait in line to buy tickets.  If they’re really busy you might also have to wait in line to ride.  Luckily, there was no wait to ride.  It’s a 30-minute ride so we went for a potty break at the McDonald’s next door.  They also had free wifi so some of us hopped on that.

DSC08258 – Big Ben & Westminster Abbey from the London Eye
DSC08253 – St. Paul’s Cathedral from the London Eye
DSC08273 – River Thames from the London Eye
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After our ride in the sky we did some souvenir shopping mainly to get out of the freezing cold.  By now we were hungry and ready for our beds.  Waterloo Station was nearby and we figured there’d be food there and we could easily get back to our hotel from there.  Everyone got some food from Pret A Manger, but I had to be different and ordered a pasty from The Pasty Shop.  I liked mine and I think everyone else liked there’s as well.  When we were done eating we wondered where to put our trash and realized there were no trash receptacles anywhere.  I asked the people at the café and the reason is kind of depressing.  The IRA used trash bins as places to hide bombs.  Now, many places don’t have trash bins out in public.  Made me think how green we actually are to the evils of the world.
DSC08317 – pasty from The Pasty Shop
DSC08320 – sandwich from Pret A Manger
DSC08321 – sandwich from Pret A Manger
DSC08325 – sign outside of Waterloo Station

 

We found a taxi for 6 and went back to the hotel for some much needed rest.

 

 

Continue to part 2 here.

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2 thoughts on “Europe 2013 Trip Report: Part 1 – Beginnings

  1. Europe 2013 Trip Report: Part 2 – I’ll have a full English | Utini!

  2. Europe 2013 Trip Report Depository | Utini!

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