Exploring Paris – Ile de la Cite

Today we explored where Paris began – the Ile de la Cite – the island in the middle of the Seine River. We began by walking through the ancient streets and visiting Saint Chapelle. It was originally created as a private place of worship for the king and his household and while it is small in comparison to the great cathedrals of Europe it is very grand. The interior of the upper chapel is covered in stained glass windows depicting the stories of the Bible.

We then went to the great lady, the Cathedral of Notre Dame. It is truly an impressive piece of architecture and a moving place of worship. The gardens surrounding the cathedral offer beautiful views of the building and inspiring meditation areas including a more recent statue of St. John Paul II. The interior of the cathedral is awe inspiring with the massive nave, beautiful Pieta at the main alter, wonderful stained glass and amazing small chapels surrounding the nave. We completed our day with a walk through the Latin Quarter.

Paris – Getting Acquainted

We arrived in Paris and had some time to get acquainted with our neighborhood and viewed the sites from the Eiffel Tower. There are little flower shops, produce markets and patisseries on the street next to lots of cafes with outdoor seating. A simple lunch here is a gastronomical experience with everyone taking pride in the dishes they create. While it has a totally different feel than London, it is truly a magical city.

The British Library and the British Museum

Our final day in London began with a trip through Kings Cross Station (to see the 9 3/4 Platform to Hogwarts) on our way to The British Library. There is a permanent exhibit of amazing printed documents in all areas of interest from music to politics to religious works.

We then went to The British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles (from the Parthenon in Athens) and a number of Egyptian items.

We took a ride on the London Eye with amazing views of the city including Parliament and Big Ben,then headed off to our Farewell Dinner at the Ebury Wine Bar. We traveled with a great group of people, sharing our interests and experiences along the way. Our guide was witty, knowledgable and wonderfully caring and inclusive. We loved our trip to London and look forward to visiting again.

Windsor Castle

We visited Windsor Castle on a rainy day. While the weather did not cooperate for all of the pictures I would have liked to have made, we still enjoyed touring the castle grounds, viewing the State Apartments and St. George’s Chapel. Windsor Castle is nestled in a small village with many pubs and shops, but the castle complex is a city unto itself. The Queen was in residence as evidenced by her standard flying above the castle. The ancient castle’s interiors rival Versailles with golden decorations and ancient tapestries, but it a living, working building.

After we returned to London, we decided it was a perfect day for a hot cup of tea. We had a traditional English Afternoon Tea at the Chesterfield Hotel complete with sandwiches, scones, sweets and a perfect cup of tea.

London – the City and Kew Gardens

We took a walking tour of the small area known as the City of London. We toured St. Paul’s Cathedral. While we were not allowed to take pictures inside, the exterior of the cathedral was impressive.

There was an exhibition of sheep statues all over London decorated like British characters that were whimsical and colorful. The ancient and modern stand side-by-side in London. The small tower in the middle of the business district is a relic of days gone by and is now a private residence. We also learned about the political structure of the City of London and the seat of government for the area – Guild Hall.

In the afternoon, we took a trip out to Kew Gardens. In a small village outside London, Kew Gardens is a huge area with many different types of gardens and hot houses. It was truly beautiful and a welcome change from the fast paced life in London.

London – The Tower, Westminster Abbey and Somerset House

Our day of touring began early. We had a lovely view of Tower Bridge and were then ushered into the Tower of London to watch the Opening Ceremony of the Tower with a Beefeater for our guide. The guards on duty for the day were a group of Gurka soldiers from Nepal. We stood beside Traitor’s Gate where prisoners were brought into the Tower for incarceration via boat. The Tower is a large complex that began in the middle ages as a palace for the king. It houses the Crown Jewels and many other royal items. From The Tower, we traveled by boat up the Thames to Westminster Abbey. We saw the graves of many ancient royalty plus Chaucer, Handel, Dickens, and Darwin. The interior of the Abbey is truly beautiful and not to be missed on a trip to London. We finished our day with a traditional Indian meal and a walk through Somerset House with a view of the Lord Nelson staircase.

London Sites

Our tour of London began at the Washington Mayfair Hotel – our home base during our stay. We visited Covent Garden where we enjoyed a traditional roast dinner for our first group meal. The meal was delicious and the company delightful. Our first official tour day began with a walk toward St. James Palace. We stopped on the street to view Spencer House, the place Chopin lived in London and Her Majesty’s Vintner shop. We saw a plaque regarding the representation of the “Republic of Texas” as a separate country.

We walked through Green Park toward Buckingham Palace and witnessed several teams of horses training for their duties as well as the changing of the guard processional from St. James Palace to Buckingham Palace with band escort. We also witnessed some of the mounted guard riding up “The Mile.” Buckingham Palace is truly grand. Our guide Tom was sure to encourage us to celebrate the birth of the new Royal Princess with a tin of cookies.

We finished our first day with a visit to the Churchill War Rooms where Churchill directed the war effort during WWII. The War Rooms were created far underground to protect government officials during the Blitz.